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."