I was geek-ing out this weekend on tips, hacks and deeply researched articles on how to lead more effectively, and it struck me that NONE of these things were hard to do. Yet, even knowing the three steps to providing effective feedback, or the 5 parts to having a difficult conversation, you still may not always get the outcomes you’re striving for.
Of course, there’s the need to remember to do them (and explains why my desk is littered with yellow sticky notes – maybe yours is the same?). Here’s what I’ve learned; knowledge can inform, but it can’t shift mindset.
This explains why, after reading a fantastic book on leadership principles, you still cannot apply them even when you agreed with every word. Knowledge lights the way for where you want to go, but it’s not as simple as just following the light to get it right. For that you need to look at your mindset.
Here’s an example from a past client who was trying to navigate a difficult conversation with someone they didn’t trust. Even though my client was working hard to be open, and follow the steps they knew would successfully support leaving this relationship intact, their lips were doing something completely unrelated to their intention. My client was so frustrated because they knew that during the difficult conversation their lips were twisting funny as they said the words that were the right thing to say, but were the opposite of their beliefs about this person and their relationship.
Unsurprisingly, their behaviour (facial expression) was not convincing, and so their results in this conversation were inconsistent. What this points to is the need to understand your mindset to get the outcomes you need.
Mindset is what nourishes behaviours and, as my clients’ story shows, is far stronger than knowledge alone. What’s difficult is our mindset is invisible to others, and (most annoyingly) sometimes invisible to ourselves as well. Mindset is also at the whim of your emotions, so even though you have a path (knowledge), your emotions may hijack your mindset and muddy the waters of your intention. For my client, emotions made it difficult for their non-verbal body language to consistently express their intentions, even with the mindset of being collaborative.
Emotions just happen, you don’t control their occurrence, but you can control what you do with them once you know they’re there (that’s the tricky part).
What the books (and articles, and TED Talks and podcasts…) can’t do is help you to see your mindsets and the accompanying emotional GPS that may sabotage your efforts – these resources can only provide knowledge. Without looking at what’s sourcing your mindset, it’s difficult to line up your behaviour. And mindset, like the roots of a tree, runs deep.
In my client’s case, they knew going in that this would be a difficult conversation, so they’d re-read the steps they wanted to follow to get to win/win. What they didn’t do was acknowledge the way speaking to someone whom they didn’t trust would make them feel. That’s what brought them into coaching and their work with me. When they learned how to work with their emotions, they were better prepared for the resistance their emotions threw up. When you don’t acknowledge your feelings, you are at their mercy. What I helped my client to build was a plan.
With their plan they were prepared for the emotions that difficult conversations brought up, allowing them to work with those strong emotions. The shift for my client was this: They built a mindset of compassion for their difficult person, as opposed to a mindset of “follow these steps”. The first mindset puts the person at the heart of what my client was trying to accomplish, the second put actions and result at the heart. No mystery then as to why my client’s first efforts fell short AND why (with a plan) they were successful with difficult conversations thereafter.
The next time you’re trying to apply something you’ve read and want to use at work, consider asking yourself these three questions to support applying that knowledge with the emotion, intention (and impact) you need:
These four questions are incredibly empowering - a simple way to check your emotional baggage while adjusting your mindset, setting you up for success (they come from the book Crucial Conversations; Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler).
While this looks simple, working with your mindset isn’t always easy. If you’re finding it difficult to have the emotional impact you want at work, working with a coach can help you become more influential and successful in your career.
Carleen inspired me and helped spark the passion within myself to stretch beyond what at times I thought was possible. She nudged me to change by contemplating and changing both my internal and external environments. I highly recommend working with Carleen."
If you’re thinking about changing jobs because you’ll be happier elsewhere, here’s something to consider to ensure your next career move delivers.
When work is harder than it needs to be you have a “stressor” actively impacting your happiness at work (sometimes more than one). Work stressors will be unique to each person, but here are a few obvious ones:
Notice what’s missing on the list? Work-related tasks. Notice what’s on the list? Circumstances that create unwelcome feelings. This is a very important distinction, and here’s why:
Frustration is a feeling of annoyance that occurs when something doesn't go as you expect (despite your best efforts … and expertise). Frustration is stress’s evil twin.
Frustration is a by-product of life, but too much of it and our bodies have no way of dealing with the overage. So, it gets stuffed down, stored:
Because you’re a professional; you get frustrated, you suck it up.
Frustration doesn’t just go away. It finds a place in your body to wait until you can let it out. Many people don’t let their frustration out later because that would mean you’re at risk of taking it out on the people you respect (or love). It sits inside you, stored with your memories.
When the level of frustration cancels out the benefits of work many professionals change jobs. Change your environment, and you’ll leave behind your stressors.
That’s possible, except for one thing….
You may have removed the causes of your frustration (the stressors), but you still have unprocessed frustration inside you (stress). It didn’t just go away because you changed jobs (particularly if it’s been building for a while).
That “frustration bank” goes with you to the new job, so if there’s any hint that things may be similar to what they were like at the old job, all that frustration comes flooding back (and the energy aftermath that comes with it).
Here’s an example:
Jane was 2 years into her promotion when her team was given a massive project, responsible for 20% of revenue over the next 3 years. She was excited. As the project unfolded, she realized they had neither the staffing levels, nor some of the expertise needed on her team to successfully deliver. She put together a business plan to address the issues and presented it to her VP. After being told for weeks that a decision hadn’t been made yet, she pressed. She was then told by her VP that they felt her team had everything they needed to be successful, if only she would believe in her own team.
Jane recognized this for what it was: gaslighting. She was incensed and understood her boss wasn’t going to help her or her team. Jane was an accomplished professional and had no trouble finding a new Director role elsewhere, joining “The Great Resignation”.
However, a few weeks into the new role and Jane again faced the circumstance where there was missing expertise on her team. She put together a business plan to address it, but could feel a familiar tension building in her. Her plan was not immediately adopted and as a result Jane spent a weekend at home being really angry (and then completely worn-out) because she was in the same circumstance she’d left behind in her previous position.
Monday came, and a tired Jane dreaded going into work, just like at her last job. It was an effort to keep her game-face on to get through the day. Her new boss asked to speak to her about her proposal. Jane’s stomach dropped. She wasn’t sure she could handle getting feedback or rejection today…
I’ve seen this pattern with so many amazing and talented people, and it’s a tough one because when you make the not-insignificant move to change roles (or employers) the impact of frustration from your previous role will still be there, almost as if you’d never changed jobs at all.
For Jane, the meeting with her new boss was to clear up some questions on her proposal that had come from the CEO, and once those were addressed Jane’s proposal was approved. But Jane, rather than feeling the full accomplishment of her expertise (and excitement for her expanding team), could only see all the things that needed to be done to put her plan in place at a time when she felt completed exhausted. Jane questioned her own ability to do this work.
Just moving positions isn’t the whole answer. You need to work with the emotional after-math of frustration from your previous role, especially if frustration is why you left, or it will impact you in your new position.
If you’re finding this difficult to do, working with a coach will ensure you set yourself up for all the success and happiness you work so hard to have in your career.
I’ve worked with hundreds of “Janes”, helping them find their joy again at work. Everyone deserves to be happy at work.
Carleen opened up an entire world that I never knew existed. She helped me see how important it is to live and work while fulfilling every part of what makes you your own person.
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I believe in empowering others in many tangible ways. When I learn new career strategies or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website.