Circle of Influence: Shapes

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Circle of Influence: “Tower Build”

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It’s not a magic trick … working with introverts

When I work with teams, educators, and corporate groups we always spend a significant amount of time processing what we experienced together. I hear it from people all the time, “how did you get her to talk?” …”he NEVER speaks up, how did you do that?” … “I can’t believe she was willing to share, I swear she hasn’t spoken in a year!”

Let me be clear, it’s not a magic trick! To get more people to speak up, you simply need to create space where they feel comfortable sharing. This can be a challenge when working with introverts who need time to process their thoughts internally. However, statistically, 50% of people are considered to be introverts, so when we create space for them to participate in the dialog everyone benefits.

Here are a few tools I utilize when working with groups:

  1. Research says that most people who were born and raised in the US are uncomfortable with silence after 3 seconds. If you aren’t sure that is true, the next time you are in front of a group just stop talking for 3 seconds and see what happens! As a result, our culture tends to fill the silence with more chatter since we fear the perceived awkwardness. As a result, the extroverts keep talking and the introverts struggle to get their thoughts together amid the noise and chatter. Individuals with a preference for introversion typically need 8-10 seconds to process their thoughts before they are able to share. When we give them that silence they can hear what is in their heads and share it with the group. Knowing this I usually do two things when I’m working with a group:
    1. Explain the process/purpose: I explain this concept to the group. In fact, I test the “3-second theory” by pausing for 3 seconds after I make that statement … 3… 2… 1… clue the laughter! By explaining to a group that I will wait for 8-10 seconds before I move on to the next question I remove the pressure that some people may feel to fill the silence. I explain that while some people may feel uncomfortable I, as the facilitator, am not uncomfortable and they don’t need to worry about how I am feeling. Instead, they can see this as a process which invites everyone’s voice into the space.
    2. Put the process into action: When I ask a question to the group I will typically ask it several times. The first time someone will often answer right away. The next time that may also be the case but when I ask it again and it isn’t answered right away I count to 10 in my head. It never fails, when I get to 10 someone raises their hand to share because they have had the time they needed to collect their thoughts. Explaining the process/purpose and putting it into action has been a valuable tool for me.
  2. When you want to debrief as a large group consider how you can allow people to process before a large group conversation. When I want a large group to share their thoughts on a closing question I will often explain to the group that they have three options for processing the question before we gather as a large group to share our thoughts:
    1. Option 1: Go to the back of the room in a group and talk about the closing question. Typically those with a preference for extraversion will be drawn to this very verbal and high energy process.
    2. Options 2: Find a partner and discuss the closing question together. Generally, those with a preference for introversion will be drawn to this process since it creates deep, meaningful connections.
    3. Option 3: Spend some time in quiet reflection writing your thoughts about the closing question. This process is often selected by those with a preference for introversion as it gives them the space they need to organize their thoughts.

Allowing people to first process a question in a way that is most natural for them prepares them to be able to contribute to the large group conversation. When we ask a people to share off the top of their heads we are catering to extroverts who are energized by the process of talking through things. If we want to hear the voice of introverts we need to understand they need time and silence to hear their inner voice.

I would encourage you to think about how you can apply these techniques. You may be surprised how much others have to share when you create the right environment for them.

If you are interested in learning more about introversion and extroversion I would be happy to talk with you about my work with Myers-Briggs. Understanding how you and those around best function can be life-changing! You can request more information here.

The Storm is coming

The storm is coming!!!

During the month of August, I worked with a large number of athletic teams, college student groups, and educators who were gearing up for the school year. Most of them brought me in to do team building. While the focus for each group was different most teams/groups at least touched on communication issues, conflict resolution, and teamwork.

I worked with one college group that had just moved into their dorm rooms that day. They literally just met each other. After our first session, one of the students said to me, “thank you so much for being here! We’ve never been this close as a group!” I fought the urge to say, “Um, yeah, well you just met 12 hours ago, so you haven’t had much time for drama!”

Team Development

We know that in the process of building a team/group you will go through several stages of development. The four standard stages are: forming, storming, norming, and performing. The clients I worked with this month were all in the forming stage which is a very happy place to be. Everyone is on their best behavior, the sky is the limit, and life couldn’t be better! But with each group, I warned them about what was coming – the storming stage!

Too many teams/groups fear the storming stage. While it can feel like a set back (“we were so happy and now we are not happy”) this is NOT a setback, it is actually a step forward towards a healthy and authentic team or group! Here are some ways to deal with the storm:

  1. Prepare and plan! During the forming stage, it is important to educate your team/group on the four stages of team development. There is a natural assumption that the forming stage will last forever. This is a false sense of reality, in fact, a team/group can NOT be successful if they stay in the forming stage because they aren’t an authentic team yet. By talking with your team/group about the different stages you can prepare them for what will come. It is also important during the forming stage that you develop the skills you will need to navigate the storming stage. I often remind teams/groups that the work we are doing now will be needed when the storm arrives. If you don’t prepare and have a plan you may have a team/group that gets stuck in the storming stage.
  2. Acknowledge where you are. Too many teams/groups fail to even acknowledge that they have entered the storming stage! When you acknowledge where you are you can put your plan and skills into action. Remember the storming stage IS a step forward and you should celebrate progress! By simply acknowledging that you have entered a new stage you are able to refocus your team/group on your plan for this stage of development. 
  3. Clarify roles. Teams/groups often get stuck in the storming stage because the lack of clarity leads to chaos and in the chaos a team/group loses their sense of connection. For the leader, it may seem obvious in regards to who needs to fill what role, but as shifting takes place a sense of direction may be lost which can lead to frustration.  It is critical in the storming stage that leaders clarify roles with great detail.
  4. Articulate the value of each role. While team/group members may be asked to serve in a role they would not have picked for themselves they are more likely to embrace their role if they understand the value in their given role. Look for moments to celebrate people who are making the team/group better within their given role. Make a point of articulating the value of every single role.
  5. Communicate that this isn’t a permanent role. It will be important that you help your people to develop additional skills so that in the future they have the potential to serve in more desired roles. For example, on a soccer team during the storming stage, a player may discover that she is the 3rd string goal keeper and she isn’t likely to get playing time this season. This may be a disappointment but it is manageable if she understands that this role isn’t permanent, it is simply where she ranks today.

While the storming stage isn’t easy we need to repurpose this stage of team/group development. Instead of seeing it as frustrating, disappointing, or as a set back consider celebrating this stage because you are one stage closer to become an authentic high performing team/group.

Ultimately, the storm will lead you to a better place.

If you’d like to talk about how I can help your team/group to be better equipped to move through the storm please reach out. Remember, the first step is to prepare!

More Gentle Blog

“I had to tell her to be more gentle.”

I recently had the opportunity to work with some young elite level soccer players. My work with them focused primarily on how they communicated with each other and how effective communication skills build a stronger team. I believe there is power in what we say and how we choose to say it. I was fortunate to not only work with this team in a classroom setting but also to observe them in a game.

The day of their game happened to mark one year since my last day as a college soccer coach. After giving 20-years to the game I had made the decision to resign from coaching to focus my work on developing people. Since my resignation, I had not been to a single soccer game. It felt strange to unpack my coaching chair and sit on the sidelines again. The question I am most frequently asked is, “do you miss coaching?” I often say I miss the day to day connections with my players but no, I don’t miss coaching because I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.

During the first half, I enjoyed seeing how the player’s insights in the classroom were being applied on the field. It was also fun to see what soccer skills each player brought to the game. There was one player I really enjoyed watching. She wore #2 and she was physically smaller than many of the other players, but she was really good on the ball. My guess is at some point in her young career she got tired of being knocked around and a good coach probably told her that if she could dance on the ball, she’d get knocked around less. Clearly, she listened.

When the whistle blew for halftime something very bizarre took place. The truth is, it was so strange that I had to follow up with an email to the coach to ask if this really did happen. Sadly, it did take place.

The players came off the field, they grabbed their water bottles, and they began to chat with each other about how they could each do better in the second half. Then the Referee came over the sidelines. He knelt down in front of the two female coaches, leaned in, and calmly said, “Coach, I need to let you know that #2 fouled the same player two times and so I had to tell her to be more gentle. I just wanted to let you know.”

As I said before, there is power in what we say and how we choose to say it. Here are some of the questions I wrestled with after contemplating his words:

1. When was the last time a boy was asked to be “more gentle” in an elite level soccer game? Seriously, when does that happen? Do Officials pull boys aside and ask them to be “more gentle?” My first coaching job was a U18 boys team and no Offical ever asked one of our players to be “more gentle.” When one of them committed a foul, a foul was called and that was it. Our culture celebrates when boys go in hard on a tackle, play fearlessly in the air, or push themselves physically. We don’t ask boys to be “more gentle” and we shouldn’t ask this of girls either.

2. What does it really mean to ask a girl to be “more gentle?” Here are some synonyms for the word gentle; benign, mellow, quiet, soft, tame, domesticated, trained, bland, docile, soft-hearted, and sweet-tempered. As a former Head Coach at several NCAA schools, I can tell you those are not the words we used to describe our future student-athletes. To ask a girl to be more gentle in a contact sport is to ask her to be less than her full potential.

3. Why did the Official need to let the coach and player know that she needed to be “more gentle”? The truth is he didn’t need to share this because our society already makes this statement to girls and women. We hear this message on the radio, it’s plastered on our social media, and it is an undercurrent of pop culture. The world screams to girls and women that we need to embrace a role which is soft and tame. You don’t need to tell us, we hear it loud and clear.

As I sat on the sidelines that day I found myself reflecting on how I used my words to express my expectations for my players and I wrestled with the profound power of those words. If you’ve ever played for me, coached with me, coached against me, or found yourself within 200 yards of a field I was coaching on, I can guarantee you’ve heard me yell, “GOOD BATTLE!” This is a phrase I frequently used in training and in games. I wanted to let my players know that I celebrated their courage to battle on the field.

So do I miss coaching? Maybe some parts, but I have too much work to do in helping people to understand the significance of their own influence. This work includes teaching adults about the power of their own words and teaching young people that no one has the right to use their words to try and limit who someone can be.

I am certain this Official didn’t intend to use his words in a harmful way, but as many great scholars have shared, “words create worlds.” So what kind of world do you want to create?

There is power in telling a girl to be more gentle and there is power in consciously choosing your words to encourage a girl to be brave and strong. We need to be aware of the words we use and how we use them. And when words are used in a deconstructive way we need to speak truth to power.

So girls … step into your space, hold your head high, be proud of your bruises and scars, follow your chosen path, speak your truth, use your voice, be yourself (your full self) and make sure you hear all of us who are yelling “good battle!”

You’ve got this …


2017: The year of the student-athlete?

2016 was a great adventure for me! Six months ago I left my career as a college soccer coach to focus on the one piece of coaching that I enjoyed the most – developing my players as people and as leaders.

Over the last six months I have had a chance to work with a wide variety of clients; high school and college teams, Residence Life employees, Student Affairs Staff, and Corporate groups. We’ve worked on leadership development, communication skills, problem-solving and conflict resolution. Every group is different but the joy in seeing a group move from here to there is always rewarding.

I love the diversity of my clients and I will continue to serve a wide variety of people but for the next eight weeks, I will focus my writing, videos and social media posts on the needs of coaches and student-athletes. I am deeply concerned about the trends we have seen in athletics at the high school, college and professional levels in 2016. I want to start off the year by talking about some of the problems, proposing solutions and cultivating action. I’ll also provide some resources that you can implement right away. Please feel free to share, retweet, like, reprint and forward anything I post to others who might benefit from them. Additionally, if there are other topics you’d like me to address please let me know.

The platform for students-athletes and coaches to be a part positive change in our world is a significant one and I want to help us all move in that direction. 

I hope you’ll join me in making a change in 2017! Let’s use our platform for good.

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“Come in, they’re OPEN!”

You would never see a sign that says “Come in, they’re OPEN!” That statement just doesn’t make sense, we all know it should say “Come in, we’re OPEN!” Changing one word on that sign seems to change everything.

It is amazing how much you can learn about an organization’s culture by simply listening to the words people use. I once had a colleague who worked in another department, a rather dysfunctional department,  but we worked for the same institution. When she would speak to others about the work of our institution she would refer to it as “they”… “they” offer this service, “they” provide this resource, “they” are a good value for your money… It always bothered me when she would speak like this. I wanted to stop her and say, “you mean we, we offer this service, we provide this resource and we are a good value for your money” because we are a part of this institution.

My colleague seemed happy at work but the fact that she used the word “they” told me over and over again that she did not truly feel like she was a part of something bigger than herself. She was working in an environment that fostered top down decisions with bottom up engagement and this constantly put her on the outside looking in. She didn’t feel valued and didn’t feel like she truly had a voice in what “we” were doing.

When you hear people using the word we, even when their department is not directly responsible you know that they feel connected to a larger picture. You also know that they are empowered to take ownership of that larger picture.  Using the term we is a reflection of a healthy culture full of empowered people.

Listen carefully for the words people use, the words will tell you far more than a brochure or website about the people and the overall health of the culture you are doing business with!

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Conflict Resolution

Last week I had the privileged of taking my team through a classroom session on Conflict Resolution. The session included defining conflict and the feelings associated with it, understanding the different ways people handle conflict, placing yourself in groups with others who handle conflict in a similar way, listing your strengths and weaknesses in conflict resolution and some very fun role play regarding stereotypes in conflict.

I was amazed at how well my team of 18 to 21 year-olds handled the topic. Because they were so willing to be honest and to share with each other we were able to pull back some layers and better understand how to resolve conflict.

At the end of the session I asked them to share their general observations and insights. They made some wonderful points but then one of our freshmen casually said, “we aren’t defined by who we are in conflict” and I was amazed. If an 18 year-old can understand this then I think we can expect other adults to grasp the concept as well.

The reality is growth can be a painful process and if we, as leaders, want to lead people then we will have to lead them through some difficult moments. Conflict is not all about pain, it also about opportunity and it is critical as leaders that we set the tone in dealing with conflict. If we see difficult conversations as negative and something to fear then the people whom we influence will do that as well. We need to go into those difficult moments grateful for the opportunity to grow.

We must also lead the way in communicating the idea that who we are in conflict doesn’t define us. Because we don’t live our lives in a constant state of conflict we are often not at our best when we are in conflict, we are outside of our comfort zone. Our styles might be different but as long as make an effort to understand the style of the person we are trying to work with we will be able to communicate effectively and find a resolution. As leaders we have tremendous influence in how those around us will feel about handling conflict.

Ultimately we aren’t defined by who we are in conflict but the decision to not work through conflict will define us.