Well, what did you expect?

Blue-on-blue "expectations"Last week, I facilitated a two-and-a-half-day boot-camp-style workshop. It was intense.

Especially since after the first hour and a half, participants were upset, complaining, and threatening to leave.

By the end of the second day, they were raving fans.

It all came down to expectations

The marketing and pre-workshop emails hadn’t set expectations about what was going to happen. People arrived expecting a traditional workshop format: they would sit and take notes, and the presenters (there were five of us, though I was the program designer, developer, and the primary speaker and facilitator) would stand at the front of the room with bullet-pointed slides and teach.

A boot camp is different. A boot camp requires the participants to participate.  It requires them to think, extrapolate, discover, and be actively involved in on-the-spot learning.

To say I felt distinctly ill by the first break is putting it mildly.

To say I felt exhilarated by the end of the second day is putting it just as mildly.

Resetting expectations

We should have done a better job setting expectations up front. We should have been clear about what we expected the participants to do, and what they should expect to experience.

But even when expectations aren’t set correctly, there are often ways to salvage the situation.

And that’s what we did.

When everyone re-assembled after the morning break, we explained the format, including why we were conducting the program in this way. There were still plenty of doubters, but as we proceeded through the material – continuing to explain why along the way – they began to experience shifts in their thinking, knowledge, and understanding. And that resulted in shifts in their appreciation for the program as a whole.

Our expectations

Those of us designing and teaching the boot camp expected the people marketing the program and informing the participants to provide information about the format … information that, in hindsight, they probably didn’t have or know they needed to provide.

Expectations and assumptions

When you don’t set expectations, people make assumptions, and those assumptions can often be quite different from what you intend.

Because you’re familiar with the situation, you may think you don’t need to be explicit in setting expectations. In our case, we’d been working on this program for half a year. We were thoroughly steeped in the why, how, and what we were going to deliver. We assumed it would be obvious.

Obviously, it wasn’t.

What’s the purpose of the meeting you’re scheduling? Why are you conducting that survey? Why did you choose to do things this way instead of that way? What’s the context?

Don’t let your assumptions lead you astray.

Set clear expectations, even if you think you’re stating the obvious.

You’ll save a lot of time, frustration, and anxiety.

gljudson Leadership

Want better conversations?

Photo of man's hand breaking through paper and pointing at YOUI have what may be bad news for you: better conversations start with you.

They start with the conversations you have with yourself, with that rotten-tomato-throwing peanut gallery in your head that’s constantly on the alert for any mistake it thinks you’ve made.

The peanut gallery holds us back from acknowledging ourselves for our success, it hates the loneliness of having opinions others don’t share, and it always thinks we could do better.

When we learn to manage the internal debate, we begin allowing ourselves to be the brilliantly flawed humans that we all are.

And then we come closer to allowing others to be who they are. We come closer to accepting the fact that someone else’s disagreement isn’t a threat to us or to what we believe.

The benefits of having better conversations with yourself are immense.

Because when you stop having those internal rotten tomato fights about whether you’re “good enough” … you’re a much happier person. You’re much more fun to be around. You’re far more likely to succeed at what matters most to you.

And that leads to better conversations for everyone.

gljudson Better conversations

Sometimes it just doesn’t work

Image of heart-shaped chain being pulled apartYou thought and wrote about what you wanted to happen till your pen ran dry and your hand cramped up.

You practiced what you wanted to say till your voice got hoarse and your heart cracked open.

But sometimes it just doesn’t work.

My brother and I have been out of touch for a long time now. It wasn’t anything huge that created the divide; more of a drifting apart, misunderstandings, and differences of philosophy and opinion.

The other day – the day after his 50th birthday, to be precise – I sent him an email to say I’d be very open to re-establishing connection.

It didn’t work.

Sometimes it doesn’t work.

No matter how pure your intentions, no matter how heartfelt your words, no matter how deep your wish, no matter how expert your communication skills – sometimes it doesn’t work.

It takes two to create the miracle of transformation.

gljudson Conflict

What’s the elephant’s name?

Closeup photograph of an elephant's faceThere’s an elephant in the room.

It’s the conversation you don’t want to have.

It’s the thing you’re uncomfortable about sharing.

It’s the topic you’re anxious about discussing.

Whatever it is, you think about it often – but never straight on; always kind of sideways, like when you look out the corner of your eye because you don’t want to get caught staring at someone.

And this elephant stands between you and another person. It’s a barrier in your relationship. It keeps you from being open, natural, and comfortable together. It might even keep you from spending time with them … and if it’s a good friend, close family member, or important professional colleague, that’s very sad.

You might believe the other person doesn’t know about the elephant. I assure you, they do. They may not know its name – the specific topic or issue involved – but they know it’s there.

Continuing to dance around the elephant is exhausting. It’s the worst kind of emotional labor: the kind that has no real value, and just drains your energy.

Whatever the elephant is, it’s time to name it. Time to look it in the eye and make a choice.

Will you let the elephant go – really, truly let it go, let it stop bothering you, let it move out from between you and the other person?

Or will you say what you need to say, speak the elephant’s name out loud, and have the important conversation you need to have?

Photograph of an elephant

gljudson Better conversations

Do you know how to ask? 3 steps to get the best response.

Photo of woodcarved question marksDo you know how to ask?

Your mother taught you to always say Please and Thank You. And that’s a good thing, of course.

But, assuming you want the best, most useful response to your ask, there’s a bit more to it than that!

1. What do you want?

All too often people make vague, unclear requests that require the recipient to make a guess or an assumption about what’s actually needed.

“Please review this document – thanks!”

You know exactly what you want, but the recipient of this request has no way to know if you’re looking for a quick proofreading scan, or an in-depth editorial and fact-checking review.

Define the result you want very clearly. Double-check to make sure you’re not expecting someone to read your mind.

2. When do you need it?

“Please review this document – thanks!”

No clue there when it’s needed. Five minutes or five days from now? If you need it in five days, but the person you asked thinks you need it right away, they may unnecessarily drop everything to get it done. On the other hand, if you need it in five minutes but they think tomorrow would be fine – well – you’re not going to get what you want, they’ll feel bad, and everyone’s time will be wasted.

You’ll save time and avoid frustration if you specify a deadline.

3. Are they the right person?

If you know someone isn’t a great writer, don’t ask them to edit your document.

If they don’t understand technology, don’t ask them for help figuring out why your computer isn’t talking to your printer.

If they drive a tiny car, don’t ask them to car-pool your daughter’s soccer team.

These are obvious examples. In real life, it gets a lot more subtle. I’ve been burned several times by asking for feedback from people who, while lovely people I’m happy to call friends, didn’t have the right frame of reference for what I needed. You get very well-intentioned, but really bad, feedback in that situation, and it can take you down some very wrong paths before you discover your mistake.

We tend naturally to reach out to the nearest person, or to someone we trust to respond willingly. But that may not be the right person for the specific request we need to make. So ask yourself if the person you want to ask has the right mindset, attention to detail, frame of reference, and tools to complete the task.

And then be clear about what you’re asking for, and when you need it done.

gljudson Leadership, Negotiation

Will you or won’t you?

White board with red lettering that says "Today I will..."“I can do that.”

But will you?

“I can do that” means you have the capacity, skills, knowledge, time, and resources to do this thing.

“I will do that” means you have the motivation, intention, desire, and drive to do it, as well as the capacity, skills, and so on.

I’d much rather hear someone say, “I will do that,” than “I can do that.”

“I will” leaves no doubt that the thing will get done. It’s a commitment to take action.

“I can” leaves a lot of room for doubt: will you or won’t you?

If you intend to do something, be clear: “I will do that.”

Otherwise, you risk creating confusion, frustration, and muddled expectations.

gljudson Better conversations, Leadership

Why are difficult conversations so dang difficult?!

Colorful graphic of talking heads and speech balloonsThose conversations.

The ones that make us anxious, frustrated, worried.

The ones we postpone and avoid.

Whether it’s an ongoing disagreement with your partner, an employee who keeps making the same mistakes, a kid who persistently “forgets” to take out the trash, an aging parent, or your neighbor with the barking dog – whatever it is, there are some conversations we know we need to have, but … oy.

Why are they so difficult?

Two reasons.

Reason One: it matters

The situation is important. The outcome matters. We’re concerned we might not achieve that outcome.

Reason Two: vulnerability

Something about the issue touches secret places inside you – something that (see Reason One) is deeply important to you, or perhaps something you’re ashamed of or feel guilty about. Or you might feel that conflict is unsafe, or want everyone to like and approve of you. And vulnerability is challenging.

Bonus reason: you’re tired

Sometimes it feels like we’ve had the same blasted conversation too many times. We’ve repeated ourselves ad nauseum about why it’s important, but nothing changes. Why, we wonder, should we bother to go around this loop yet again?

What to do

Either the issue matters, or it doesn’t.

If it doesn’t, then let it go. Really let it go. If you can’t let it go, then it matters to you. Whether you think it “should” or not is irrelevant; it does.

And if it matters, eventually you’ll need to address it, or suffer the consequences: resentment, frustration, exhaustion, diminished self-worth, anger, distance … you get the picture.

Know what you want. Write it down. Seriously. You need that level of clarity.

Initiate the conversation when everyone is calm, not when the issue is front and center. For instance, don’t explain yet again to your kid that Tuesday is trash day and responsibility is a virtue, when it’s Tuesday and the trash truck has been and gone, leaving your wastebaskets overflowing. Wait till the weekend when things are going well.

Identify next steps, and make sure you both agree on what will happen, and what to do if it doesn’t happen. You may or may not get what you want, but at least you can take action toward something better.

There are many tools and options for negotiating these types of conversations – too many to list here. Stay tuned: I’ll be posting more under the topic of “negotiation.” You can click here to sign up to get these posts via email.  Or click here to schedule time to talk with me about your specific challenge.

gljudson Better conversations, Negotiation

Negotiating evolving roles – with ease

Colorful profile outlines of heads in a circleA few days ago, someone in my Facebook group asked how to open a conversation with her daughters about how their roles are changing. She’s getting older, and her daughters are adults.

It’s what happens. Children become adults, and the parental role evolves. Adults grow older, and the children’s role evolves.

It happens in business, too. Newbie employees gain experience, and the manager’s role evolves. Individual contributors are promoted to management, and their role with colleagues – former peers and erstwhile managers – evolves.

And so on.

We’re all constantly evolving our roles with the people in our lives. But we seldom stop to talk about – much less think through – what that actually means and, even more importantly, how we can make it work well instead of just haphazardly.

1. Don’t assume it will “just happen”

My Facebook friend is wise to wonder how to have this conversation, rather than just letting matters drift. Parent-child relationships have deep roots and long-established habits – and those habits often become inappropriate when the child is an adult. (I still remember my mother forbidding me to buy a moped when I was in my 30s!)

2. What do you want?

Before opening the subject with your kids, your partner, your professional colleagues, whomever it may be, stop to really think about what you want. What does “ideal” look like? Given the personalities involved, is that realistic? If not, can you adjust your expectations to be more aligned with reality – and still keep what you want front and center?

3. What does your counterpart want?

This will be speculation, or at best an exercise in informed imagination. Nonetheless, taking a moment to consider what their feelings, thoughts, and desires might be will help you plan your approach.

4. How much emotionality is there?

Are you upset, anxious, concerned, happy, intrigued, curious – or some mixture of all that – about this change in roles?

What about your counterpart?

5. Open the subject

“Things are changing – we’re stepping into different phases of our lives / careers / jobs.” (Choose whichever applies.) “I’d like to see how we can make this an easy and fruitful transition. Can we set a time in the next week or so to sit down and talk about it?”

Whatever words you choose, be prepared for the other person to be surprised, maybe even resistant. Don’t expect them to be ready to jump into the conversation right away. Instead, schedule time on your calendar to meet – and yes, really schedule it, even if it’s with a family member. If it’s not written down, it will tend to slide away into “someday” instead of “now.”

6. Be willing to be surprised

You’ve set your sights on what you want, and that’s a good thing. However, as master negotiator Chris Voss says, “Never be so sure of what you want that you wouldn’t accept something better.”

In other words, be open to suggestions from your counterpart!

And don’t forget to enjoy the process. You’re having a meaningful conversation with someone important in your life – and that’s worthy of celebration.

gljudson Better conversations, Negotiation

The dance of connection

A friend mentioned recently Cartoon of children dancingthat she and her partner experience a lot of near misses in their interactions. As she put it, “communication zings by,” and it’s only later that she realizes what she heard maybe wasn’t exactly what was said – and vice versa. And this is a couple who’ve been happily together for over 20 years!

We all know that different people have different communication styles. Some people want details, others want the high-level picture; some wait till they have a concrete plan, others brainstorm fledgeling ideas; some talk easily about feelings and emotions, and others are more private and reserved.

Of course there’s no right or wrong in whatever style we prefer. But no matter how much we may be aware of these differences from a conceptual standpoint, when it comes to our closest relationships we often struggle to really get it on a day-to-day practical level. Instead, we start thinking things like, If she really loved me, she would listen better, and If he really cared, he’d ask me what’s wrong.

The closer we want to feel with someone, all too often, the further we actually do feel.

Then there are those moments when the communication clicks instead of zinging by … and we experience the connection and mutual intimacy that, in the end, we all yearn for.

Logic, facts, practicality, rationality, planning …

Feelings, emotions, sensitivity, intuition, flow …

The dance of connection asks us to take all of that into account.

There’s no blueprint for this dance. I can’t paint footsteps on the floor to lead you through the waltz, tango, or jitterbug. But there are some guiding principles that, if you adopt them, will help you stop stepping on each other’s toes.

I’d be willing to bet you’ve heard at least some of these suggestions before. But don’t just click off this page. Instead, take a moment to read my commentary, which might offer some different perspectives.

1. Assume good intent

We know this is a good and generous approach. But what typically happens is that we put conditions around it, conditions that are usually about agreement – or at least not-too-differing disagreement. If he’s more or less in the same ball-park I’m in, I’ll assume good intent. If, however, we’re far apart in our opinions, then I’ll assume he’s wrong, malicious, and possibly an idiot.

Assume good intent no matter what you may be thinking about whatever they’re saying or asking. (If you absolutely know someone is untrustworthy, of course, this no longer applies – but then, if you absolutely know they’re untrustworthy, you’re probably not attempting to connect more closely with them!)

2. Listen to feel

We’re all guilty of listening to debate.

What if you listened … not just to understand … but to feel?

This is similar to what I wrote about in this post about practicing empathy. What is the other person’s experience as they talk to you? What feelings are they describing or displaying?

And how do your answers to these questions change your awareness of what they’re communicating?

3. Interpret and validate

As you converse with someone, you’ll find yourself doing a certain amount of interpretation.

Don’t assume your interpretation is accurate.

My husband is an idea-bouncer. He loves to explore possibilities out loud.

I’m a planner, and I tend to assume that people’s suggestions are definitive statements of what they want.

I have to remember that he isn’t making demands and isn’t necessarily wedded to the things he proposes.

He has to remember to preface his idea-bouncing with, “This is just me trying something out.”

Life is a lot better when we both remember to interpret based on what we knew about the other person, and then validate what we believed we were understanding.

4. Don’t tackle big stuff when you’re emotional

It’s easy to think you have to resolve the issue right now because you’re upset, they’re upset, and it needs to be resolved in order for everyone to stop being upset.

A far better choice is to acknowledge everyone’s upset and choose to tackle the resolution at another time.

But don’t make this an excuse to postpone the conversation. There’s always a temptation to let things go when they’re not in-the-moment hot issues – but if it’s still simmering, it’ll come back onto the boil sooner or later. Much better to take the time when you’re calm to think through what you each want and have the conversation in a quieter moment.

It’s always a practice

I was going to write “practice makes perfect,” but of course, there’s no such thing as reaching perfection in this dance.

But there are always ways to improve, and practice will move you closer.

gljudson Better conversations

Three steps for handling chronic complainers

Cartoon of whining manThe chronic complainer. We’ve all encountered them. They love describing all the things that are wrong in the world – and not just once. It’s the same story every time we encounter them.

And they suck the energy out of the room! We quickly start avoiding them, whether by running to the bathroom when we see them coming, or choosing not to answer the phone when their name pops up on caller ID.

Often, though, we either don’t want to cut them out of our lives, or we can’t (a co-worker, for instance). So what can we do? Here’s a simple three-step process.

Step One

Begin by making sure the person has a valid reason for coming to talk with you. Do they have a question? Is there something that needs to be done or information that needs to be conveyed? If there’s no specific issue, well, you’re a busy person. “Hey, great to see you! I wish I had time to talk, but I’m on a deadline – gotta run!” (Or, of course, if they’re hanging out next to your desk – “Sorry, can’t talk right now! I’m on a deadline – see you later!” They’ll have a hard time standing there whilst you continue with your work … as long as you stay firm and avoid getting sucked in.)

Step Two

Assuming there’s a real reason for communicating, begin the conversation by saying, “Hey, look, I’ve only got ten minutes right now. Is that enough time?”

If it is, great.

If not, then schedule a meeting later in the day (or week) for exactly the amount of time they say their issue will take. (If you do this, be sure to meet at their desk rather than yours, so you can easily walk away when the time is over.)

Step Three

When you reach the time limit – either the initial ten minutes or the longer time scheduled on your calendar – be firm. “Okay, I’ve got to go now – we’re at the end of the time I had available!”

It’s that simple.

One more thought

It really is that simple, but that doesn’t mean it will feel easy and natural – at least, not at first.

As nice people, we tend to get sucked into listening for longer than we should. It can feel not-nice, unsupportive, or unfriendly to cut someone off.

But respecting our own needs and setting firm boundaries is an important part of keeping ourselves sane. Interestingly enough, it actually increases other people’s respect for us.

Of course, if someone has a real problem that they want your help with (and they actually take action to improve their situation), you’ll help them.

But the chronic complainer is a different story. And while you may feel sad for them, that doesn’t mean you have to join them in the complaint cycle.

gljudson Better conversations