Saying No Effectively

October 30, 2014

Parse_NOb

I’ve written a number of times (see below) on the importance of saying ’no’ to certain business situations even if they sound quite enticing. It’s obviously easier written about than actually done so it was interesting to read how some very successful people handle this.

On his blog, Dan Martell, a Canadian entrepreneur, gives some principles:

I do have some “non-negotiables” for my replies:

  • I never lie
  • I always respond (as long as it doesn’t look like mass spam)
  • I always give a yes or a no

together with some sample responses, including:

Take a meeting

Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, scheduling a meeting is tough, lets start with an email. How can I help?

Attend an event

Thanks for the opportunity, but I’m already committed that day. Appreciate the invite.

Read a long email

Thanks for reaching out, but unfortunately I won’t be able to process your full email. How can I help?

Involvement in a new project

Thanks for thinking of me, but unfortunately I’m over committed with Clarity (his company) + a growing family. I’m going to have to pass this time.

I keep a fairly detailed journal on what I do every day (initially I was curious where all my time was going…). However, in spite of blogging about it, I’ve realised that I don’t particularly write about things that I decide not to do or to follow up.

This is a bit more than having vague ideas and noting them down for further thought but rather definite decisions that are made (some will, with hindsight, be mistakes of course!).

In the examples above, it’s illuminating that whilst the answer is ‘no’ a hand is held out to do something smaller and more manageable (‘how can I help?’).

The skill then becomes to keep involvement at this practical level and for this not to be misinterpreted as the first step in agreeing something more time-consuming.

Related:

Saying No To New Ideas

The Power Of Yes And No Journals (I obviously didn’t decide to implement this on a regular basis!)

Never Say No Immediately


Cultivating Collaborative Conversations

October 20, 2014

I sometimes visit Bill Gates’ blog, GatesNotes, to see what books he’s reading as well as for his occasional and interesting reviews eg here. The leading header on the blog a while ago was an interview he had with a Teacher of the Year (Washington State, 2014).

Although education is not a primary interest of mine, I watched the video above and quickly became fascinated.

From the blog post:

Katie had an insight that really struck me: She said we’ve known for a long time that most students won’t learn if you just stick them in a classroom and make them listen to a lecture. They have to put the learning to use and make it relevant to their own lives. And yet most teachers still get their professional development at seminars and conferences, where they sit listening to lectures. “We would never do that with kids,” Katie said, “but we still do it with teachers.”

This extract relates to quite a few posts on this blog on different ways of sharing knowledge (see knowledge management category on the rhs).

The main points from the short video above are:

  • Time – the school principal is heroic enough to give the teachers time to learn through mutual collaboration (as opposed to cramming yet another task into an already busy schedule; in other words, something else is given a lesser priority!). I can imagine that just doing this one thing sends out a very powerful message. The example given is that the in the monthly 45 minute staff meeting, 30 minutes is spent on discussing ‘instruction’ (how can we all teach better?).
  • Large group collaboration – this is for generating the big picture and is typically not hands-on.
  • Small group collaboration – this is for applying the big picture insights to specific areas, say physics or French and is hands-on.
  • Visits – a group of teachers go around the school to see how well the ideas are working out, taking the whole working environment into account (for example the use of graphics on the walls might be very effective and this approach could be used elsewhere).

An example discussion question is: How do we develop strategies for better student dialogue, how do we help kids have more constructive conversations in class?

This question sounded pretty impressive to me!

I have no experience of teaching in high school although I have taught at various universities during my time in academia. However, in common with many other lecturers, I had no formal training for this, let alone (planned) collaborative discussions about good methods that worked.

I was curious if any of this could be transferred to a business setting, even in an approximate way.

For example, replace the above school discussion question by: How do we develop strategies for better business dialogue, how do we help people have more constructive conversations in their work environments, leading to better understanding, motivation and results?

The first thing that came to mind was a partial overlap with the idea of ‘knowledge cafes’ that are already being successfully used in various organisations eg see here. Typically they start with a question for a whole group which is then discussed in detail via small groups. The full group then gets together again to see what personal insights or actions the discussions may have lead to.

The school approach above could be thought of as a type of ‘cafe’ which roles on month after month and where the questions are collaboratively developed. Importantly it also includes the facility of seeing how insights are realised in particular settings through visits e.g. to working offices. In a business setting, such a ‘cafe’ (based on collaborative conversations) would become an integral way of working rather than a separate activity.


Making Your Own Road

October 9, 2014

01998_routetocastlemountain_1920x1200

Castle Mountain in the Canadian Rockies

A great way of procrastinating is looking for and trying out different (screen) wallpapers. As a consequence of this I have loads of them. I was wondering the other day why some appeal to me more than others. One theme I like is ‘roads’ although admittedly this doesn’t immediately sound very exhilarating.

An example is given above. In some ways it makes me think of a target/goal (lofty, in the distance, although seemingly achievable) and a path to get there. It also makes me feel that the target is drawing me towards it (but maybe that’s just me).

Of course, the real world is rarely so neat, and last weekend I came across the stunning image below which reminded me of the fact that you often have to make your own road and a clear target may be nowhere in sight!

Go Your Own Road by Erik Johansson.

Go Your Own Road, 2008, by Erik Johansson

A bit more on following the ‘indirect path’ in life and work can be found here (examples) and here (the theory).

PS If you feel like a diversion, some outstanding (free) wallpapers, such as the one at the top, can be found at InterfaceLIFT. A wide variety of resolutions and screen sizes are readily available…enjoy!

Photo credits: top and bottom.


Speaking To Oneself

September 25, 2014

“Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses.” – Margaret Millar

Thinking about it, so are some emails!

See also here (on the quality of feedback in conversations).

Originally spotted as a ‘quote tweet’ from David Gurteen.


A Cascade Of Outcomes

August 24, 2014

I’m just back from a short holiday in Italy and I always find these breaks are good for seeing things in a new (or least a slightly different) light. Often this results in changing the amount of time I allocate to my different personal (or collaborative) projects. Some in actuality I haven’t even started and others have meandered so an honest review is always handy anyway.

Part of this is figuring out what activities really matter. I recently came across this thought-provoking quote:

“Good strategy works by focusing energy and resources on one or a very few pivotal objectives, whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favourable outcomes.” – Richard Rumelt

Not just a highly favourable outcome, a cascade of outcomes! This puts things in quite a different light. So, in part, it means saying ‘no’ to things (and being comfortable and disciplined in this) but also to imaginatively think through the possible consequences of a ‘yes’. The use of the word ‘cascade’ emphasises anticipating not just one (major) jump ahead but (loosely) a few more.

The author of the quote is the Professor of Business & Society at UCLA Anderson and he’s written a well reviewed book on this topic: Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. Here are some sample extracts:

Good strategy is rare. Many organizations which claim to have a strategy do not. Instead, they have a set of performance goals. Or, worse, a set of vague aspirations. It is rare because there are strong forces resisting the concentration of action and resources. Good strategy gathers power from its very rareness.

Competitors do not always respond quickly, nor do customers always see the value of an offering. Good strategy anticipates and exploits inertia.

Organizations experience significant entropy—the continual drift towards disorganization. Much of the useful work of managers and consultants is maintenance—the constant battle against entropy. Strategists must battle this never-ending drift towards disarray within their own organization. And they must try to exploit the disarray of their rivals.


The Chemistry Of Conversations

August 14, 2014

Apparently:

Positive comments and conversations produce a chemical reaction too. They spur the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that elevates our ability to communicate, collaborate and trust others by activating networks in our prefrontal cortex. But oxytocin metabolizes more quickly than cortisol, so its effects are less dramatic and long-lasting.

This “chemistry of conversations” is why it’s so critical for all of us – especially managers – to be more mindful about our interactions. Behaviors that increase cortisol levels reduce what I call “Conversational Intelligence” or “C-IQ,” or a person’s ability to connect and think innovatively, empathetically, creatively and strategically with others. Behaviors that spark oxytocin, by contrast, raise C-IQ.

More from the HBR article here.


Taking A Step Back

August 6, 2014

Really good set of points to think about from Bob Sutton:

  1. Sometimes the best management is no management at all — first do no harm!
  2. Indifference is as important as passion.
  3. In organizational life, you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can’t have both at the same time.
  4. Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.
  5. Learn how to fight as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong: It helps you develop strong opinions that are weakly held.
  6. You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; unvarnished self-interest is a learned social norm, not an unwavering feature of human behavior.
  7. Getting a little power can turn you into an insensitive self-centered jerk.
  8. Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.
  9. The best test of a person’s character is how he or she treats those with less power.
  10. The best single question for testing an organization’s character is: What happens when people make mistakes?
  11. The best people and organizations have the attitude of wisdom: The courage to act on what they know right now and the humility to change course when they find better evidence.
  12. The quest for management magic and breakthrough ideas is overrated; being a master of the obvious is underrated.
  13. Err on the side of optimism and positive energy in all things.
  14. It is good to ask yourself, do I have enough? Do you really need more money, power, prestige, or stuff?
  15. Jim Maloney is right: Work is an overrated activity.

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