AVP and CTO Update, June 8, 2020
I hope you had a beautiful weekend – the weather was outstanding!
Would you agree that seemingly small acts can equal big actions and outcomes? Even the smallest interaction we have with another may result in a huge ripple effect, even if that impact is unbeknownst to us. Smiling at someone who is having a hard day, showing kindness when a person feels hopeless, helping someone with a challenge or a problem they can’t resolve, standing up for, or with, someone who is fighting a good ‘fight’. What may seem an inconsequential or ‘easy’ effort for us, could make all the difference in the world to another.
One of my favourite quotes is “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” (Dr. Seuss). I read about this historic, literary remembrance of just such a seemingly small act in the latest BrainPickings and it made me smile at the kind of ripple effects we may have when we do what is right for just one person. Of course, doing right for one, is doing right by everyone.
With that in mind, it is the time of year when we reflect upon and summarize our achievements as part of our end of year performance reviews. And if you lead, manage and supervise others, you must also prepare to hold these end of year conversations with your team members. This is an incredibly important activity that we are accountable for, and the impact can be very positive, or may possibly be negative, depending on how we engage in the process. This isn’t to say that we cannot offer constructive feedback to those we are guiding, in fact constructive feedback is most helpful. Rather, it is the way in which we step into these critically important conversations, regardless of the feedback, that makes the difference. Equally important is the way in which we engage in these conversations when we are receiving feedback. Both individuals have choice in how they enter into the conversation, and in how they articulate feedback. It can actually be an amazing opportunity for connecting.
This article outlines the importance of “conversational intelligence” regardless of your role in any conversation, however it seems particularly timely given the world around us, and these end of year conversations in front of us.
The author talks about the importance of ” clear, two-way, compassionate, non-judgmental communication” where we ‘stay curious’, minimizing the ‘time you own the conversational space’, and not jumping to conclusions. Conversations that matter are hard. They need conscious attention and even practice. And most importantly, they requires listening skills: listening to the person you are sharing the conversation with, and listening to how you are listening and speaking with (rather than to) that person.
For many of us, myself included, conversations are often a step towards getting something ‘done’. The engagement sessions we had during our McMaster IT Strategic Planning process, and as we began rolling out the IT Strategic Plan, were great opportunities for me to practice my ‘listening’ skills. On one occasion, someone asked me whether or not I really wanted to know what their viewpoints were. It stopped me cold, and I will admit it hurt my feelings! Of course I did! However, I also know that while I was trying to move things along, I had to own the possibility that I might not always be as good a listener as I could have been, or I might have subscribed too firmly to my own ideas, creating conversational ‘blind spots’. I do believe this is a job hazard for those of us in leadership as we are often limited on time and most definitely overloaded with things that need to get done- which can lead to the impulse of pushing hard on things that seem ‘right’ to us. We all have the potential to subscribe to ‘right-itus’, holding firm to our own ideas versus seeking a shared understanding, especially when there isn’t agreement.
Improving our conversations is an enduring lesson, and it is even more challenging with the constant presence of technology between us. Many of you know that I am a big fan of Susan Scott, who wrote Fierce Conversations. She provides her own thoughts about technology and our ability to connect in our virtual meetings. Whether online or in person, we can often overlook the importance of taking our time, listening harder, asking questions, and clearing assumptions. We may indeed have an agenda and, although it feels like a success when we get through that agenda, we may be missing out on what could be really meaningful, fulfilling, learning opportunities. As we enter into our year end conversations, (or any conversations) let’s ensure that we make time for questions, understanding, acceptance of differences of opinion, empathy and reconciliation. We aren’t always right in our beliefs and we need to be open to hearing the other side, and to receiving feedback, too, not just giving it. It is an important part of our own growth. In every interaction with another, we have an opportunity to learn new ideas, perspectives or approaches and to make those important connections.
Whether you are leading or participating in year end conversations, I wish you every success as you enter into this important process of discovery and feedback. I know you will do your very best and I want to thank you in advance!