Category Archives: leadership

Are You Making These Mistakes in Getting the Results You Want?

At times, we all need to get someone else to make a decision. Whether it’s about signing off on a project, buying our product or service, or making reservations for dinner, results depend on someone  making a decision.

The thing is, they will make the decision their way. They can’t do it any other way, and if they try, they will most likely be unhappy with the result.

Have you seen this to be the case? Have you, or someone close to you, said, “I knew it wasn’t going to work out. I shouldn’t have gone along just because I was talked into it.”

When we really want something for the other person, or need something from them, our good intentions can actually get in the way of how they NEED to make the decision.

Here are three common mistakes that block our effectiveness at helping others make good decisions.

Mistake #1: Putting our attention in the wrong place. When we are so attached to our own agenda, or really working on the best way to present our offer, or just nervous and worrying about how we are doing, our attention is on ourselves and not the other person. This not only keeps us from getting the information we need from them, it also unintentionally conveys that we are not really interested in them. Bad move for gaining trust.

Mistake #2: Being logical. Or, more specifically, using your own logic rather than the logic of the other person. Even if you listen carefully to what the other person wants, you are likely to organize the solution using your own logic rather than the sequence or emphasis that feels natural to them. If you offer services to others, the more you know about how they think and decide, the better service you can provide for them.

Mistake #3. Leading too soon or too much. People who are great at influencing have a wide range of behavioral flexibility. They can move quickly or they can be more deliberate to match the pace of their client. They don’t rush decisions. It’s a lot easier to avoid this mistake if you are avoiding mistakes 1 and 2 – so that you are listening and following the other person’s logic.

Correcting these mistakes shows the other person that you are being responsive to them. If you genuinely want to get decisions that are mutually beneficial, follow their logic and provide the information that they need to make a good decision for them.

Not only will you get better results in the short run, your relationships become stronger over the long run.

How to Break the Communication Barrier

Is there someone with whom you have built up a barrier to communication?

Perhaps you reached an impasse years ago and still work with this person. Perhaps you know what you want to say and do not feel you can say it, or maybe you are not clear at all. For whatever reason, there’s a wall between you.

It’s hard to talk with him or her, and it’s different from the many work relationships where you and others get along fine.

If you would prefer that the wall weren’t there, here are some steps to take.

First, what are your assumptions? We commonly assume that the correct solutions are obvious, the other person’s position is unchangeable, that they are not rational, and that we have no responsibility for the breakdown.

Recognizing and questioning those assumptions can open the door for dialogue.

The next important step is to be careful NOT to jump in and give a good explanation of where you are coming from. Invite a conversation and then listen.

Listening through what the other person has to say may be difficult. Listen without interrupting, and with empathy.

If you find you are not able to listen through, take time to reflect. Maybe take out a piece of paper and write out your thoughts. Speak with a friend or communication coach to sort out what’s in the way and to build the skill of listening well.

If you can do this, there are few barriers to communication that will stand.

What Coaches Bring

Invaluable resources that help you get where you want to go

Some of the most important benefits of coaching may be the least quantifiable. Coaches come from a variety of backgrounds, different types of coach training, many motivations for wanting to help others in this way. Some of the gifts coaches bring are more tangible, some less obvious.
We can’t always put our finger on exactly what made a difference. From the clients’ perspective, it’s the outcome that matters, in whatever way the coach helped them get there.

Some of the gifts coaches offer:

Listening. When the coach listens, the client has a witness. While talking about a situation, the client has an opportunity to sort through what is important and what is just a circular story. Through deep listening, the coach provides a safe space for exploration as well as the sense of being understood, which meets a profound need we all have. Goals that are spoken have added clarity and strength.

Discernment. The coach gets to know you and can offer feedback that is finely tuned to where you are. Discernment comes from experience and intuition. When you don’t see how you are contributing to a negative situation, or holding back, or missing an opportunity, the coach’s discernment calls it to your attention.

Expertise. Many coaches offer specific expertise, such as business, finance, speaking, sports performance, wellness, parenting, relationships, etc. At times a coach may give instruction or direct advice, observe you in action and give feedback, or recommend readings or trainings. While coaching is not the same as teaching, an expert coach can greatly accelerate learning.

Devotion. Coaches are devoted to their clients’ success. They help define and hold the space for people to reach beyond their current level of skill, satisfaction, and accomplishment. When the client loses track or begins to flag, the coach is there to remind and redirect. The coach holds the client in positive esteem while mirroring the hopes and dreams that make the journey worthwhile. Coaches are there consistently while the world swirls around.

Creativity. When you run out of options, call on your coach to help break through to a new level of creativity. Whether as a sounding board, brainstorming partner, or cheering section, the coach helps keep creative juices flowing.

Each coach brings unique qualities and techniques to the process. Working with a coach in any field ensures that you have these resources available to you.

(This article originally appeared in the June newsletter of the Silicon Valley Coach Federation).

Are You Walking Your Talk?

What does it take to live up to our ideals?

We all hold certain theories about how people should behave, from our earliest family teachings to the great new technique we learned in a seminar. How fully do we put our theories into practice? It’s easy to see how others are behaving and not necessarily how we are.

We want to believe that we act according to our values. What happens when someone gives us feedback that they don’t experience that from us?

Often, we deny it, or say we didn’t mean it. Or do we take that feedback and really explore what kept us from acting as we believe we should?

Whether we espouse our theories of behavior to others or simply think them to ourselves, it takes effort and attention to get out of automatic responses and be conscious of what we do. Once conscious, it takes practice and sometimes mentorship or coaching to act consistently according to what we believe.

For example, there are plenty of people who don’t think you should speak negatively about someone behind their back. Even so, it’s easy to find instances where we may be venting our feelings and in the process trashing someone else.

Or we think of ourselves as being open and honest, and then find we are holding back information because we fear others’ reactions.

Or we want to be compassionate and then someone steps on our last nerve and we feel justified as we snap their head off.

At that moment, theory holds no sway. We may or may not even be observers of our own behavior. It’s amazing how much we can delete the aspects of what we do that we would not approve of in someone else.

Some people have a basic life position in which they feel superior – they see themselves as more likely to be responsible and effective than others.

Some think they do OK – most of the time, meeting their expectations and not being overly critical of themselves or others.

Some people assume they are falling short, and will find evidence to support their self-criticism.

No matter whether we believe in our superiority, adequacy, or inadequacy, the gap between our intentions and our actions may be equally large.

In fact, when we hold ourselves as superior, it may be harder for us to take in feedback that we aren’t living up to expectations. In this life position we may blunder on even more than someone who assumes they always need to do better.

Once we have recognized that it’s a continual process, not a one-time deal, to bring our intentions into practice, we can set up the internal and external support that we need. Then we are walking our talk more than we are in the common state of denial.

Awareness and willingness to take feedback and work on it are more important than having a perfect shining record that we have to defend.

A Space for Learning
To live up to our ideals, we need

permission for ourselves to make mistakes and to be aware of them,
permission for others to give us feedback,
and opportunities to try out new behaviors.

We also need unconditional support, i.e. to remind ourselves that we are OK and not damaged goods that have to be hidden or fixed.

Whatever our life positions (and tendencies to ask for help or not), a coach can accelerate our learning by helping us with that support, permission, and practice. And playfulness as well.

Acceptance without Complacency

A life paradox is that when we accept something in ourselves or others, it’s easier to change than if we continue to resist and criticize.

Thus a kind of moebius-strip thinking is required: we learn new ideas and hold certain values about how to be in the world, spoken aloud or to ourselves. We have to recognize the gap between where we are and where we want to be.

We need to make changes while accepting ourselves as we are.
That last part, accepting ourselves as we are, may be the bridge to walking our talk. It may also be the most challenging.

(Read this issue of the Syntax Messenger here.)

Knowing Our Limits

Finding the edge without falling over
If you set high expectations for yourself, you push until you reach a limit. It could be that you run out of time, or knowledge, or stamina. It could be that something breaks or doesn’t work for what you need. This is part of everyday life for all of us in the techno-business-media world.

We live in narratives of unlimited possibility – you can do or be anything you set your mind to. And we have our limitations. How do we balance on the edge?
We are amazing creatures, to be able to manage the systems we deal with on a daily basis. Just think of all you have navigated so far today: car, computer (or several), cellphone. Did you visit Facebook or LinkedIn, and go through your email? Did you use a spreadsheet, a calendar, presentation software, and a word processor? And communicate effectively with family members and co-workers both near and far?
Last week I was listening to a talk about expanding our awareness and our recognition of how multidimensional we are. Later, in yoga class, the teacher asked us to hold the entire field of our body and all our sensations in mind at once. It was very enjoyable to feel the energy and potential available.

In my moment of expanded self-awareness, I decided that I would like to increase my compassion– beginning with kindness to myself as I held the more difficult poses!

Given the limitations of what I could physically perform, I was aware of my frustration and self-criticism. Pushing oneself in yoga or in any form of workout is a great chance to observe both limitations and how we respond to them. Often the frustration is something we just tolerate, without awareness or conscious choice.

When we are up against technology, i.e. computers and electronic communication, we get to deal with other kinds of limits. We are so blessed to have these extensions in the first place, and then we get to deal with their limitations!
In the flow of working on a team project, I received several email messages about attachments I had sent, due to having used Oracle’s (formerly Sun’s) Open Office program. I had not remembered that whenever I use this software I have to save it into the dominant software format for others to read it.
I imagined a dialogue with the makers of Open Office. They have certainly done their best to get their free software out there – no doubt working hard to make it compatible with other programs, enticing corporate customers to adopt it as a standard, asking for feedback. Yet, there are limits to their reach, which cascade out to their users and the users’ networks. Their competitors are clearly not on board, not even offering to convert the files.

When confronted with these limits, we choose the workarounds that we can find most easily. Sometimes we jump through a lot of hoops to get from point A to point B.

In this material / technological world, no one knows enough to manage all of the systems. If we tried to learn them all, we would run into the limitation of time anyway. We just can’t.

Whether the limitations are due to history (we can’t change the programs too much or they won’t be able to read earlier versions) or technical capabilities or competitive strategies or human frailty, we will keep encountering them as part of the overhead of progress.

Eric Berrne, the founder of Transactional Analysis, said that we are motivated by thinking we are irresistible, immortal, or omnipotent. Advertisers know this. It’s popular to act as if there are no limits. Especially if you buy their product, subscribe to the belief system, attend their training.

Ironically, I like to quote Richard Bach’s famous line, “Argue for your limitations, and they are yours.” Today the message is more about gentleness and tolerance.

When we experience limitations we are reminded that we are not omnipotent. In fact, we live in a world so complex that we must overcome apparent limits all the time.

Without lapsing into self-pity, we can stop the criticism and channel the frustration. Despite the transformational hype, the limits to what we can do are not a reflection of inadequacy.

Rather, they can serve as reminders to be compassionate to ourselves and others, and to ask for help, sooner rather than later. One of the most valuable skills of a good coach is to help clarify our priorities. We will not overcome every limitation, and we need to address the ones that really keep us from the joy and satisfaction we seek.

As I began to put this together, reflecting on our limitations, the power went out. The full realization of our interdependence – and our shared limitations – comes when some system that we depend upon breaks down. I could still type on the one computer that had Open Office, as it was charged up. Couldn’t get to anything on the desktop computers or online. This time I could get to the workaround and laugh about the coincidence of timing.

My hope is that as we are faced with many challenges and limitations, the seemingly individual ones and the collective ones, we will have enough humor and compassion to untangle ourselves and focus on what’s really important – and what we CAN do.

How Curious Are You?

The quality of curiosity may be our most valuable hidden asset.

What Curiosity Does For Us

With curiosity, we are open to learning more than “the right answer.”

We get unstuck. We go places that give us new perspectives. We ask questions that open unseen possibilities. We bring our attention to other people and experiences. We test our imagination in concrete reality. We find things in reality that we could never have imagined. And even better, we feel good and have fun when we are being curious.

As Jay Cross (author of the wonderful book Informal Learning) blogs, “A study of some 3,000 creative executives, conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University and the INSEAD business school, found that what linked all of these Steve Jobs-types, perhaps more than anything else, was their curiosity and willingness to question—‘the same kind of inquisitiveness you see in small children,’according to Hal Gregersen, one of the authors of the study.”

Cross also notes that Einstein said if he had an hour to come up with a solution on which his life depended, he would spend the first fifty-five minutes figuring out the right question to ask.

Real curiosity pushes the boundaries, thinks a lot of “what-if” questions, and actively exercises creativity. Creative thinking exercises, from provocateurs such as Edward DeBono (see Lateral Thinking), help find new things about which to be curious.

Last week, after a radio interview; I reflected on how Hollis, the interviewer, had successfully brought out many aspects of how Syntax helps people have good relationships. She asked very simple questions, with curiosity. It was easy for me to follow her lead. It’s a well-honed skill demonstrated by the best TV interviewers. Charlie Rose’s curiosity mines his guests’ knowledge and opinions, resulting in a depth of understanding that shallow questions don’t offer.

Being curious is an asset in both work and personal relationships, motivating us to be truly interested in the other person’s perspective. If we could just be curious when there’s a breakdown, instead of mad or confused, we would find many good pathways to resolution.

What Keeps Us From Being Curious?

Since this quality is so valuable and enjoyable, what dampens our curiosity?

In part, our cultural beliefs and practices. Another part is our fear of being embarrassed when we take risks.

Kids naturally ask a lot of questions. Parents and teachers can break down under the barrage and discourage the questions. Adults do this most when they are uncomfortable with the subject of the child’s curiosity. This can shut down kids’ curiosity across the board.

Plus, we are flooded with stimuli and information in today’s plugged-in world, and sometimes it is hard to stay curious. We have a kind of learning fatigue. Hence we may need to renew our curiosity on a regular basis, by engaging in play and rest and unstructured time. Fortunately, curiosity seems to be an endlessly renewable resource.

Leaders or experts may not want to show curiosity, especially at work, since they feel obligated to provide answers. After all, wasn’t that why they were hired?

Curiosity may appear naïve or childlike, making people feel vulnerable. It’s exactly this kind of authenticity that brings forth a willingness to risk being open. Both organizational and technical leadership are well served by valuing curiosity and demonstrating it at every available occasion.
Share Your Curiosity

Sharing curiosity leverages it in several ways. One is to provoke others to question their assumptions and come up with new approaches.
Creating a culture of questioning increases innovation. Recent research shows a trend in science toward citing team research more often than individual research, an indicator that collaborative innovation may be more productive than working alone.

That poor cat killed by curiosity lives on today, warning us against taking risks and following our noses, so to speak. For whatever reasons, societies and organizations have wanted to pull people back to the cultural center and keep them off the fringes.

Perhaps they do this for the same reasons that I worry when my curious cat, Charcoal, starts climbing a tree. The first time he did that, he didn’t know what he was doing and got stuck way up high in a rather dangerous situation. The cool thing is that he seems to have learned. Exploration leads to experience and he has gotten smarter about trees.

We can extend that same expectation to humans – that curiosity leads to learning, which we then – hopefully – apply.

So the bigger risk is in not being curious – in staying walled inside old patterns or routines. Rather than being childish, it is an ability to be child-like.

How do you encourage yourself and others to be curious? Think some playful thoughts and ask unusual questions. You may open unexpected doors to success – and whatever comes of it, you will have a good time!

Everyday Integrity

How often do we betray ourselves or others?

One of our most highly valued – and highly defended – qualities is integrity. Who doesn’t aspire to wholeness, accountability, and honesty in our actions and relationships?

The interesting aspect of this is how we can hold these intentions and then in daily life slide away from them, mostly outside of our own awareness.

We can ask ourselves: what is so important to us about believing in our own integrity?

We know from childhood on that being in integrity – telling the truth, being trusted, taking actions that lead toward what we care about – feels a lot better than lying, cheating, or breaking promises. It is a significant aspect of self-esteem for most people.

Integrity in the sense of making and keeping one’s agreements is practical as well. When you don’t know that someone will do what they say they will do, it’s very hard to organize, plan, and deliver results.

We may not think we are losing integrity when a deadline passes without acknowledgment, or when we make excuses to ourselves for not doing what we promised.We aren’t living up to our own expectations. Then we tend to get out of integrity with others as well.

Bit by bit, not keeping agreements without renegotiating them nibbles away at both integrity and self-esteem.

I would add that this happens when we are not honest with ourselves about our own feelings and needs. Short-term thinking, such as, “I can let it go this time,” leads us not to tell others when we are hurt or something we care about is being trashed. Or, “I shouldn’t be upset. They didn’t mean to step on my toe.”

We gradually lose the sense of our center and our boundaries. The other person doesn’t know they should remove their foot.

This is not to say that we should confront every single disappointment. We need to know where to draw our own line and what is really not worth fussing about.

If we practice reflection, meditation, or other forms of introspection, we can check our internal compass and guide ourselves back into balance.

Sometimes that will involve being courageous enough to clear up an issue with someone else. Doing it with integrity would mean owning that we are speaking about our own responses and feelings, accounting for our part of the situation, and taking responsibility for what we will do in the future to avoid similar breakdowns.

Or we can decide to release our negative feelings without discussing them with the other person – if we really do release them.

The way that I can tell I that I am out of integrity is when my internal conversation is one of justification. I make a case for the rightness of my position and how the other person is wrong. I am more likely to complain than to make a clear request.

Several of the common justifications to watch out for are ways of discounting oneself, the other, or the situation. For example, “She’s just not able to handle feedback,” so I don’t give it. “I am not good at conflict. I’d rather work it out by myself.” “It won’t do any good anyway. Things around here never change.” They definitely won’t change if no one speaks up.

Real integrity requires a good deal of skill, not just good intentions. As we mature, we need to examine our own abilities and keep expanding them.

One of the main benefits of practicing the Syntax of Effective Communication is that it keeps us in integrity. That means knowing our goals, both the big picture and the details (PLAN). It means meeting other people where they are (LINK). Getting and giving relevant accurate information keeps us in integrity (INFORM). Taking in feedback and making changes is part of our integrity (LEARN). And, as mentioned before, making requests and keeping agreements is central (BALANCE).

Is there something you are holding onto and justifying today, on which you could instead take a new approach?

Who are the role models whose integrity you admire?

What are the potholes you tend to fall into and what are you doing to build the muscles that keep you out of them?

Integrity is a huge subject and there is much more worth exploring. The only time we have to live it is today. May these thoughts inspire and encourage us as we step through today in wholeness, accountability, and above all, honesty with ourselves.

Are You Coachable?

Good Leaders are Good Learners – Are You?
Oh, sure, I am always open to feedback…
Is it true? Or is it hard to ask for and receive feedback? Even if we know it will have value, learning about ourselves is a risky business.

Coachability is a word that struck me the first time I heard it. It puts the responsibility on the client, not on the coach. I had to ask myself, how coachable am I really?

There’s a huge variation in our learning strategies, especially in the arenas of communication and behavior. In school, we were taught many subjects. Only a fortunate few learned the most important thing: how to learn. Many of us learned instead to perform what was asked of us. As adults, we can revisit our learning strategies. We need to reclaim our ability to be self-directed learners who can also accept coaching from others.

What distinguishes a good learning strategy?
It asks questions such as “How can I apply this?” rather than “Where won’t this work?”

Good learning strategies assume that there is a positive intention behind most behavior rather than assuming that people who disagree must be irrational.

Outstanding learners go after feedback: they want to know more about how others respond to them and what they may be missing. Their strategies include not taking the feedback personally, a rare skill. If you can take it as being useful for you and as much about the person who is giving it as about you, you can glean much insight without umbrage.

A logical / analytical option is to use a tool known as an assessment instrument that yields data about workstyles, communication styles, perceptual biases, and so forth. (See the upcoming events column for a program on assessments happening this week in Silicon Valley).

Many of our non-coachable responses are invisible to us. For instance, when I first taught a Transactional Analysis 101 course, I was supervised by my mentor and dear friend Dr. Jo Lewis. As she gave me feedback, I felt I needed to respond to each item, either justifying what I had done or commenting in some way. When she pointed it out, it was glaring.

I was not very coachable, even though I professed to want the feedback (which, by the way, was very valuable). I don’t know where I learned that pattern, and it was very helpful to become aware and stop doing that. Without someone to coach me into being a better learner, I wonder how long I would have hung onto it.

In our three-day seminars, we observe that some people come in with good learning strategies. Others spend the three days working through resistance and beginning to create new strategies. By the third day, hopefully, they are ready to learn.

What is so threatening about learning, and specifically learning to be better communicators?

First of all, the idea that we need to learn something hints that we are not already totally skillful. If you had a family like mine, you grew up with the expectation that if you were smart, you already knew things. Being a good learner wasn’t valued: being a good performer was. There was no graceful way to navigate the learning process and maintain a polished exterior.

I’ve had the good fortune to be in a career where there are many ways to ask and receive interpersonal feedback. Training as a therapist, trainer, coach, all involve much personal interaction in small and large groups and one-on-one. If you have not engaged in process-oriented learning, it’s something to consider. Many leadership programs have a least some component of this kind of process. This is embedded in Syntax leadership courses, and is more fully developed in coaching and culture change engagements.

In collaboration, someone will always have more expertise than you in one or another aspect of the task you are working on together. If you have a knee-jerk defense or know-it-all reaction, how helpful is that? Somehow, being a smart kid didn’t necessarily equip us for learning from our teammates. Unless we focus on it, we may not even recognize we are creating a less than optimal space for learning.

Learning about our behavior and the choices we have moment-to-moment is as present as air and often as invisible.

Being a learner means being willing to be open about the trials and errors along the way. Learning as a communicator means seeking out coaching from peers, a professional coach, or a mentor. We do NOT know the impact of our behavior without feedback from others.

When a leader is willing to learn openly, and can receive feedback authentically and graciously, he or she is demonstrating true leadership. Role modeling is the most powerful form of permission for others to be open about their learning as well.

Changes drive much of our learning. All of us are learning like crazy these days — the new Facebook and Twitter pages, Go-to-Webinar, your new smartphone–and who knows what other emerging platforms will pull us in next.

Whatever the specific technology, learning to use it so that it enhances mutual understanding is one of the great social learning assignments of our time.

The amazing thing is how much we actually do absorb and utilize from the masses of stimuli out there.

We can expand our ability to learn throughout our lives. They say that people who are too old to learn were probably always too old to learn. Instead, seek out ways to be consciously coachable and lead the way.

Balance: Where’s Your Sweet Spot?

Most of us want to live our lives in a harmonious flow, not underachieving or overdoing. Balancing our goals, the demands of others, what we have to do and what we want to do, is our own personal recipe for satisfaction — or dissatisfaction. It’s good to find the ‘sweet spot’ – the right amount of give and take – to keep ourselves in balance.

We strive for that flow in our day-to-day management of time and priorities. With so much to attend to each day, we have to make a conscious effort to make time to step out and re-balance. That may mean talking with a friend or advisor. It may mean taking a walk or meditating to hear our own inner voice and feel our center.

Balance is a dynamic process, guided by our inner compass of what is important. When in balance, we thrive. We are able to meet our own needs and be responsive to others.

We are thrown off balance when we buy into these myths:
I can (should) make others happy.
Others can (should) make me happy.

The way we get hooked is when these faulty expectations are not met. For instance, we get exhausted by saying yes to make someone happy. We get depressed or angry when others aren’t doing what we want them to. We can go into a spiral of dissatisfaction.

We begin to make a case inside our minds. Either we, or they, are at fault.

Whenever I find myself in an internal dialogue of justification – “She was unreasonable in what she asked; she should know better; it’s not my fault…” – it’s a good clue that I am already out of balance. When I wake up and observe myself in that conversation, it’s an opportunity to go back and see where I lost track of my own values. That will bring me back into balance a lot faster than finally settling whose fault it was.

Of course it does matter how our actions affect other people. People who succeed at relationships AND results are those who balance FOCUS – i.e. keeping your eye on the goal – with FLEXIBILITY – i.e. taking the current situation and other people’s perceptions into account.

At work, sometimes we go off balance with too much focus on our goal and not enough input from others. Sometimes we go off balance with too much flexibility: consulting everyone and not forwarding the action. Consider how implicit beliefs about making each other happy or unhappy may be creating an imbalance.

Actions that create balance take the form of clear requests and agreements. Asking and saying yes or no are skills to cultivate in personal life as well as in business.

The way we know that we have found the right balance for ourselves is that it feels sweet!

"That’s Not What I Meant!"

Impact – Not Intent – Is What Matters

Most of the time, we really don’t want to irritate or upset the people with whom we communicate. Misunderstandings and hurt feelings happen anyway, and we have our own personal syntax that shows up in how we respond to them.

In a conversation at O’Reilly Media’s Web 2.0 Summit last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg spoke about how they are managing privacy and user control issues as Facebook becomes nearly ubiquitous. It provided an interesting angle on the impact of our communications on other people.

On Facebook or any electronic messaging system, you make judgments about who will want to receive what messages. The Web 2.0 Summit discussion focused on who gets to control ‘opting in.’

If your friend wants to send you something – or put you into a group where any group member can send you something – the friend is gauging what you want to receive.

This weekend I received about 20 messages in a language I don’t speak, because a friend included me in a group of mostly Croatian psychologists. It was a curiosity, not a nuisance, to me, illustrating the ripples we send across our global network. If it multiplied I would for sure be opting out!

On Facebook, we can opt out, often without letting the sender know. We may have to set controls in order to keep some sanity in our inboxes. Our friends may or may not know whether or how their messages are received.

At a personal level, when we are communicating face-to-face or voice-to-voice, we are gauging our listener’s interests and state of mind as we express ourselves. People may opt out and we can probably tell when they do!

Whatever our intention, sometimes others will respond in an unexpected and possibly unhappy way. It’s part of being
human that we can’t always gauge how our listener will take something.

A big differentiator of mature communicators is being accountable not just for your intention, but for the impact on the other person.

A friend confided in me about a breakdown in a new dating relationship. When the guy insisted she had confirmed a date that was only tentative in her mind, she checked with a third party who heard the conversation to ensure that she remembered it correctly. Even though she was right, he hadn’t heard it that way.

Surely, if he consistently hears something she hasn’t said, she may want to opt out altogether. In the short term, what is important is the impact, not her intention.

Being right in this case would just continue a dispute that is probably unnecessary. Right and wrong are pretty much irrelevant in misunderstandings. What’s relevant is to clear it up going forward, not going backward.

As you spend time with people you know well this week, you may want to be especially aware of your impact. If you hear yourself beginning to defend your intention, “That’s not what I meant,” consider reframing and putting your attention on what the other person received. That is what will determine how the communication proceeds from there.

To get the ball rolling, a gentle, “What did you hear me say?” (NOT accusatory, please) can tell you what the meaning of your communication was for the other person.

For good communication, it’s impact, not intention, that matters.

What Can Communication Coaching Do For You?

Especially at work, what we communicate is who we are. As leaders and co-workers, we enhance or detract from the success of our enterprise with the communication competence we demonstrate. This is a skill set that has to grow to keep pace with complexity.
Working with a communication coach is a high-leverage way to accomplish several objectives at once:
-dedicating time and focus to this crucial area of your work life
-learning new skills tailored to your style and your goals
-and, perhaps most important, having an observer who can give you feedback and a place to test your thinking.

Many well-known C-level executives and other leaders rely on coaches, particularly to prepare for communication situations. If you want to reduce the stress and optimize your traction in communicating, it is likely that your HR folks or your department’s budget can provide funds for coaching.

No longer seen as remedial, communication coaching is fuel for career advancement and business success. For entrepreneurs, the return on investment is easy to measure through direct results.

Some criteria for selecting a communication coach:
– they make a clear contract for a number of sessions and / or a measurable outcome
– they do not have a conflicting relationship with you, i.e. they are not your boss or your best friend
– they are able to explain their approach, the communication models or assessments they use, and how this is applicable to your goals
-they will have an introductory conversation with you to determine best fit.

One of the criteria for choosing a coach is what you can learn from him or her. Coaches who are skilled with communication models help you put them into practice on a daily basis.

We all have blind spots, or simply preferences that don’t match up with those of co-workers or customers. Coaching can help prevent breakdowns or help us learn from them. An extra benefit is getting a reality check from a trusted advisor. Priceless.

We live in an amazingly complex world and an information-rich environment. The more intelligence you bring to it, the more you gain. Communication coaching helps you focus on what matters most to reach your goals. If you’re ready, let’s talk!