Flipping my Lid

james allen thoughts

In order to get intentional about our leadership presence – how we show up in situations & the tone we want to intentionally cultivate – it’s necessary for us to become familiar with our reactive or automatic thought patterns and behaviors. You know the ones; something happens and I’m thinking this thought and saying these words before I even realize it! No conscious effort at all. That’s reactivity.

And it’s a pretty unintentional way to lead (and live!).

The alternative is responsiveness. To respond to the people or circumstances around me, rather than react to them, requires intention.

Responsiveness is being present and attuned to myself as well as to others. Responsiveness is calm, mindful, and intentional.

These two functions, reactivity and responsiveness, live in completely different parts of our brain. Take a look at this video clip of me talking about this to the women attending a leadership conference for mothers, called MOMCon:

And what about in our workplaces? What does “threat” look like in your workplace today?

A co-worker challenges your idea – Threat.
You’re behind on a deadline and not getting the cooperation you need – Threat.
You’re explaining a new process to an associate and he or she doesn’t understand and you’re both becoming frustrated – Threat.
You get the idea…

Fight or flight reaction is triggered, adrenals engaged, cortisol is flowing. Here’s the So What: all of this is very energy intensive and sucks resources away from my higher thinking, which goes right offline. As you learned in the video, we call this “Flipping my lid.” So now, just in that moment when I need more than ever to manage my emotions, to empathize and get curious about the other person’s experience, I literally CAN’T! That function of my brain is temporarily disabled!

I want you to watch for this happening over the next week. Watch for it happening in you and in others. You can literally see when someone’s lid is flipped and they’re working from reactive defensive mode, rather than open listening mode. Without that higher part of the brain available, it is physiologically impossible for us to listen fully to one another or to effectively reason. We must first get our whole brain back online. How? More to come…

In the meantime, the exercise below will help you tune in to your own reactive thoughts.

Exercise: Pattern Interrupt

Purpose: to become more familiar with your automatic reactions when in flight or fight mode. And to interject something new, something different, into all that automatic thinking.

  1. The first thing to do when you become aware that you are triggered and running in reactivity mode… Breathe. Taking a few deep breaths gives your nervous system a moment to calm down and allows your “lid” to close (i.e.: higher brain functions to come back online).
  2. Interrupt the flow of automatic thoughts by interjecting a self-supportive statement, such as “It’s ok. You can do this.” or “Slow down. You don’t have to say anything right now. Just breathe for another moment.”
  3. Once you feel yourself calming down and you sense that you’ve regained access to your whole brain, ask yourself a question to help you consider additional perspectives. Here are a few examples:
    • What’s significant or important to me about this? Do I know what’s significant or important about this to the others involved?
    • What’s my greatest concern or fear about this? Do I know what others are concerned about?
    • What assumptions am I making? Have I checked out my assumptions with others involved?
    • How else can I think about this right now?
    • What is the next wise action I could take?

Practicing this “Pattern Interrupt” type of exercise encourages us to develop flexibility in our thinking and to think more expansively. And as the quote by James Allen at the top of this post implies, choosing our thoughts with care and intention, will positively impact the quality of our experiences.

With all good wishes,

The WHATs and HOWs of Leadership

leadership is an art
With regard to leadership development, I’ve become fond of telling my clients that all the low-hanging fruit has been picked by now. The world is full of 3-step processes, leadership style assessments, how-to books, and nothing else new under the sun. And the search continues for that leadership “magic bullet.”

I believe there are two undeniable aspects to becoming a truly great leader. And neither is easy, quick, or discovered by looking to external resources (i.e.: there is no magic bullet). Which is precisely what makes truly great leadership so elusive. It’s 100% dependent on you. And on me.

“If we really want to understand what leadership looks like, we need to look in the mirror.” – Richard Dillard

The Undeniable

Humanity. Leaders are human beings who are in a position to influence, guide, and inspire other human beings. We will never become a truly great leader until we become truly comfortable with this notion of humanity. Human beings come with free will, independent minds, emotions, personal desires, and a set of fundamental needs including acceptance, validation, and understanding.
As leaders will find out, human beings resist being controlled. Human beings are naturally creative beings. Resourceful beings, who thrive when asked to participate, to share their perspective, and when listened to. This does not bode well for ‘leadership’ that simply seeks employee obedience and adherence.

Attend to our HOW. Any leadership process involves 2 key components. There’s the task. The WHAT. A focus on the tactical: What are we doing? When are we doing it? Who is taking what step; who is performing which task.

And there’s the relationship. The HOW. How I am relating with you while we’re working on the task? How am I BEing? How is the quality of my presence? Of my listening? How am I inviting your opinions, concerns, questions and how am I addressing them?

Becoming a truly great leader means realizing that our HOW makes or breaks our WHAT. You may have experienced a scenario like this…the leadership team spent much time and energy creating a thoroughly planned out WHAT (a process re-design, a new marketing campaign, a change in a role or responsibilities, etc). Leadership communicates the new WHAT to team members through email. Individuals interpret what they’re reading in numerous and various ways, based on their individual filters and priorities. Rather than fostering a sense of curiosity and engagement about the new WHAT, we are now facing a sense of resistance and skepticism.

A poor HOW will undermine the best WHAT every time.

What comprises a poor HOW?

  • Poor quality of presence; that is: being in a hurry, being overly task-focused and inattentive towards people (glossing over or avoiding their concerns), coming off as inauthentic, having a judgmental or close-minded presence, feeling frustrated, etc.
  • Communication that tells, explains, justifies and does not inquire into others’ concerns, interpretations, needs.
  • Poor quality of listening. As Stephen Covey said “Most of us listen with the intent to reply, not with the intent to understand.”
  • Little or no attention on HOW people are feeling about the WHAT that’s been communicated.

So, what do we do? Or, perhaps a better question and in keeping with the theme of this post – How do we BE? I’d like to offer a few practical ideas or remedies for each of the “pitfalls” above.

  1. Pay attention to your presence FIRST. Our doing always flows from our being. Meaning if I am feeling rushed or frustrated, it will be nearly impossible for others to believe that I am open to their concerns or willing to take time for their needs. I wrote this post, which delves deeper into how to attend to our Leadership Presence.The post concludes with an exercise and an audio download for you.
  2. Ensure your communication involves plenty of listening. It’s been said that we have 2 ears and 1 mouth because we are meant to listen twice as much as we speak. I encourage my coachees to develop a habit of asking a question after each statement they make. For example:
    I’d like to talk with you about revising our process of _____ / adjusting the way we handle _____. When would be a good time for you?
  3. If the WHAT involves a change to something existing, be sure to share the reasoning behind the change and any back-story from your own personal perspective. Rather than saying, “Leadership has decided…” try “Joe, Sue, Sally, and I got together to look at the way we’ve been handling ______. We’ve had some concerns because the current process does / doesn’t _______. We thought if we could come up with a way to ______ that it might have a big impact on ______. Here’s what we’ve been bouncing around… OR Here’s what we’d like to try…”
  4. After sharing details around the WHAT, be prepared to spend time listening! Take the time right then and there to listen to how your communication was interpreted and to clarify any misunderstandings. Remember, the other human beings involved are hearing your words through their very individual filters. A misunderstanding or disparate interpretation does not mean someone is WRONG. It simply means someone is HUMAN and has a different brain/mind than you do.
  5. Conclude the conversation by placing your attention on the person him or herself.
    • What are you sensing in their facial expressions? Their body language? Let them know what you sense. “I’m sensing some hesitancy. Would you like to tell me about your concerns?”
    • Ask a question to get a sense of how they are feeling and where they are in that moment: “I realize this is a lot to consider. How is this landing for you?
    • Just listen and acknowledge how they feel. Don’t try to explain anything or talk them out of their feelings. Your sincere presence and authentic caring here go a very long way in building trust as well as commitment.
    • Ask a question that leads to a plan and mutual understanding for how you will both move forward: How can I support you as we take the next steps to move this forward?

Grab our download with a few sample questions to get you started:
effective questions download button
In closing, I’d like to suggest two resources that are helping others to humanize their leadership:

      1. Leadership and Self Deception by the Arbinger Group. Required reading for all of our clients. Click the book icon below to go to Arbinger’s website where you can learn more about this important topic,  read their white papers, and/or purchase their publications.
        Leadership and Self-Deception
      2. Take a look into our Essential Leadership Coaching Groups. Ten group coaching sessions, two one-on-one coaching sessions, curriculum designed to deepen self-awareness, excavate unhelpful thought patterns, develop greater interest in and keen awareness of others’ needs, and to provide instruction in areas including: emotional intelligence, listening fully for increased trust and engagement, question-asking to eliminate misunderstandings, mis-alignments, and wasted time, and taking action from a responsive – rather than reactive – mindset.
        Groups begin February 22, 2016. Each group is limited to 5 members. Click the graphic below to learn more…
        essential leadership button for homepage

With best wishes,

Leading Myself

Lead myself

“Roughly 50-70% of how employees perceive their organization’s climate can be traced to the actions of one person: the leader. More than anyone else, the boss creates the conditions that directly determine people’s ability to work well.” Primal Leadership; Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee

Wow, that’s a heavy responsibility. As Shakespeare so succinctly stated:

“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” – William Shakespeare

You and I, as the leaders in our organizations, significantly influence how people feel about their job. Committed to achieving great results or satisfied with meeting minimum expectations? Sense of team and camaraderie or every man for himself? A fan/cheerleader for your organization or bad-mouthing you behind closed doors?

Leadership Presence.

I create the tone or climate around me simply by how I show up each day. Before I’ve said or done a thing, my presence alone communicates to others. My facial expressions, body language, pace at which I walk & speak, my attitude and the energy or “vibe” I carry into the room with me. It’s all information for those around me. And they will respond accordingly…

Imagine this…
It’s the beginning of the day and I’m sitting at my desk. A colleague comes by to say hello, and looks like he wants to chat. I stop what I’m doing, turn and face him squarely, and return his greeting.
IMG_9243What adjectives would you use to describe what you see or experience from me? When I do this demo in my live workshops, I often hear adjectives like: welcoming, genuine, warm, open.

Now imagine this…
It’s the beginning of the day and I’m sitting at my desk. A colleague comes by to say hello, and looks like he wants to chat. I pause what I’m doing, turn towards him with one hand still on my keyboard, and offer a quick “Hi.”

IMG_9250What adjectives would you use to describe what you see or experience from me here? At live workshops, this time I often hear: busy, stressed, better not bother you, focused.

All I’ve done is say hello (in one way or another) and we’ve got several different perceptions about me. And from each person’s perception flows assumptions, judgments and conclusions. Conclusions about how he or she will choose to interact with me today: how open or forthcoming she will decide to be about that project status, whether or not he will come to me for the support he needs, and what kind of grumbling or praising will be said about me over lunch.

I am the one who created the conditions for the environment and relationships I now find myself in.


So how can I do my best to ensure that the climate or tone around me happens ‘by design’, rather than by default?

Leadership Rule #1: The most important person I lead is myself.

Emotional Intelligence is all about being aware of MYSELF; and using my self-awareness to manage myself. Managing my thoughts, mood, body language, and behavior in order to intentionally influence what is happening around me. To ‘move others’ in a way that sends them in the direction I want and need them to go.

We know that we reap what we sow, right? Below are three self-reflective truths of a wise leader, that help us look carefully at our sowing and reaping:

  1. When reaping something in our team or organization that is unhelpful or undesirable, the wise leader looks first at SELF.
  2. The wise leader has the humility to recognize that he or she is somehow creating, contributing to, or at the very least, allowing the undesirables circumstances to manifest.
  3.  The wise leader asks him/herself questions to explore his/her role in what’s being reaped:
    • How have I been showing up? What’s the tone I’ve been setting through my presence?
    • What am I doing or saying that may be contributing to the undesirable circumstances?
    • What do I want MORE OF now (i.e.: collaboration, ownership/responsibility, positive attitudes)?
    • How will I intentionally BE in order to lead the way in creating more of what’s desired? (i.e.: how will I BE more collaborative; how will I BE more responsible; how will I BE more positive).

This is not to say that the leader does not also expect others to behave in more desirable ways.

Of course we do. And, in order to successfully reap what we want more of from others, we must first sow the seeds by modeling the way. As wise leaders, we are super intentional about our OWN thoughts, words, and behavior, ensuring that we are in 100% alignment with the expectations we have of others.

Exercise – My Leadership Presence

I’ve recorded a 9-minute audio visualization that will help you think about and envision your desired leadership presence. Download the audio file here. Download the accompanying worksheet here.

  • I suggest listening to the audio all the way through once WITHOUT the worksheet. Give yourself a 9-minute space to simply sit back, close your eyes, and envision the various aspects of leadership that the audio file walks you through.
  • Then get out your worksheet. Listen through the audio file a second time (if desired) to help you reflect on the worksheet questions.
  • The worksheet concludes by having you create a couple of “I am …” statements about your leadership. For example, “I am a clear communicator” Or “I am curious about others’ needs.” Choose one of your “I am” statements to be intentional about this week. Perhaps you want to work on your listening, or attentiveness, or balance of asking vs. telling. Whatever it is, choose the I am statement that affirms and reminds you of your intention. Begin each day, each meeting, each interaction by telling yourself, “I am listening fully” or “I am attentive to the needs of others” or whatever is true for you. By consistently acknowledging and affirming the behaviors I desire to exhibit more of, I am telling my brain that this is the way it is. My brain responds accordingly by creating the neural connections to support my affirmation. The net effect is that, over time, the desired behaviors become habits.

All good wishes,


Rule #1 – Everybody Gets to Be Right

woman optical illusion

Perhaps you’re familiar with this optical illusion or one like it. Two of us can look at this drawing and each see a very different picture. One sees a young woman looking away, another sees an old woman’s profile. AND, we are both right! Hmmm, we are both right, EVEN when we are each seeing the picture differently? Hold onto that thought for a moment.

We’ve all been to a meeting or gathering where people later describe it in such different ways that we wonder if we were even at the event. As in the illustration above, the individuals involved were both “looking at the same picture,” yet seeing it differently, from his or her unique perspective. What if both were right?

In my individual and group coaching, I have only one rule, and it’s called Rule #1: “Everybody gets to be right.”


“Everybody gets to be right” is a powerful perspective. It defines a different way of relating with one another; listening for what’s right, useful, or true about my perspective, rather than for what’s wrong with it.

Rule #1 implies a belief that every person has something of value to contribute. Every person. Including the one who is always negative, the one who plays the victim, the one who is producing mediocre results.

To embrace Rule #1 means we actively engage in looking for the value, the “rightness,” in someone else’s words or actions when the value is not immediately obvious to us. Even if we only find 2% that we can consider “right”, it’s a start. Now we’ve got common ground to stand on and continue the conversation from there.

One of my clients told me a story about two members of his team, heatedly debating back and forth. As an observer, he could see that the two viewpoints they were arguing were practically the same, with just small differences. And yet, rather than looking for the sameness or the common ground, the two team members continued their arguing, back and forth, each one trying harder and harder to make their point “right.” And, to make their teammate’s viewpoint “wrong.”

The fear of being “wrong” is a powerful motivator for me to keep my mouth shut. To withhold my opinion, rather than risk your judgment or criticism. Adopting Rule #1 into my interactions helps to alleviate the fears that hold us back in our conversations. The fears that get in the way of us creating more connection, more authenticity, and more compassion in our relationships. For example: the fear of appearing stupid, of offending someone, of being rejected, of alienating ourselves or others.

These fears fade in the face of someone’s sincere listening and compassion. As we open our minds to listen more deeply and hear what another is contributing, we also open our hearts.


Reflection Questions:

  1. What would you be able to say, if you knew that others were committed to finding what’s right about your viewpoint, and not what they think is wrong with it?
  2. What would you be able to hear from others if you knew that they had something of value to contribute. If you knew that they were not “wrong?” Perhaps different. And yet, not wrong.


5 Ways to Amp Up Your Listening

Validation quote





I’ve been thinking about what’s missing in our relationships (which led me to write previous articles, “The Big Miss” and “The Art of Blanking Out” among others). Another miss I am acutely aware of lately is validation.

Validation – Finding the truth of something; authenticating something or someone; acknowledgment, recognition and acceptance of another person’s internal experience.

Invalidation – Negating or dismissing behavior; To ignore, nullify, reject, or dismiss one’s feelings or needs.

Can you relate with any of these unintentional invalidations:

  • A colleague writes off my idea as incorrect or ineffective.
  • A friend dismisses my concern with “Oh well, this stuff happens.”
  • A well-meaning boss disregards or misses my need for empathy (understanding; someone to “get me”) by offering, “You shouldn’t feel that way. She didn’t mean anything by it.”


When I feel invalidated or unacknowledged, I notice how easily I can go to that primal “preparing to fight or flee” place. I either want to defend myself, justify my idea, or withdraw from the conversation by appearing agreeable, “yeah you’re right, it’s no big deal.” The intensity of my fight or flight response depends on how important the situation or issue feels at the time. And I’ll admit, there are surely times when an outside observer would deem my reaction to be out of proportion with the “offense.”

Validation is a fundamental human need. The more importance we place on a particular relationship (i.e.: spouse, boss, parent, mentor) the more we need that person’s validation. And when we receive it, we experience that warm wash of feeling understood and accepted, which fosters trust, connection, and loyalty. Important qualities within our relationships with direct reports as well as peers (not to mention family members).

Needless to say, validating others is an important tool for leaders to become skilled in and to put into regular practice. With that in mind, here are five ideas to support your efforts and amp up your listening.


  1. Focus and Listen
    Slow down, breathe, place your full awareness on the other person and work to quiet your inner chatter. Listen at Level 2…What’s that mean? Read this.


  1. Start with “I hear you.”
    To be clear, validation is not agreement. When I validate someone, it does not mean I am agreeing with what he or she said. I am validating the person, not the content of the conversation. Literally saying, “I hear you” or “I’m listening. Is there more?” sends a powerful message to the other, letting them know that he or she matters to you, that you’re paying attention and that you care about their experience of the situation. And we can do this, even when we DON’T agree with the person’s viewpoint. Being validated in this way has more impact on the relationship than getting agreement.


  1. Accurately reflect or restate what the person has said.
    “I hear that you’re looking forward to getting started on xyz project!” or “I hear you saying that you need more time to finish xyz.”


  1. Reflect and restate what’s unspoken, what is being communicated non-verbally. Acknowledge and name the emotion(s) you are sensing.
    “Sounds like you’re angry.” “You sound excited!” “I’m sensing that you feel annoyed or frustrated. Is that accurate?”


  1. Be genuine and sincere.
    Allow yourself to see the person, the human being, before you, and to care about him or her. In order to listen with an open heart and a blank mind, we must set aside what is past and stay fully present.

Our feelings and perceptions are very real for us, even when they don’t make sense to another person. When someone is frustrated, sad, elated, angry, etc, understanding is infinitely more valuable – and more fruitful – than any amount of information to convince them to feel otherwise.


The Art of Blanking Out

When I work with a team to define Shared Values or Guiding Principles, ‘open-mindedness’ shows up in the conversation every time. We all want it. We often feel frustrated or angry in its absence. We believe we’re doing it well, and we’re wishing others were better at it. What makes open-mindedness elusive? I postulate that we’re asking for the wrong thing. Perhaps it’s actually something else we want, not open-mindedness. Stay with me; let’s break this apart.

Definition: Open-minded – ready to entertain new ideas; receptive to new ideas; not closed or shut
Synonyms include: fair-minded, tolerant, objective, impartial, available
i.e.: I’m receptive to hearing your opinion.
i.e.: I’ll tolerate your views.

What I believe we’re wanting when we ask for ‘open-mindedness’ is:
to be listened to
to be heard
to be understood
to not be judged or criticized
to be free to see things in our individual way
to be validated

Working or living with someone who is ‘open-minded’ does not meet the above desires, though it is a good start. What people really want and need from one another is a deeper level of presence and attentiveness. I’ve been wondering how our conversations would shift if we were BLANK-minded?

Definition: Blank – Devoid of thought or impression, Containing no information, Empty, nothing filled in.

Blank-mindedness implies a complete emptying. My mind is not only open to receive YOUR viewpoint, it is also empty of MY viewpoint. Detached from personal biases, opinions, and evaluations. Having no personal agenda or pre-determined outcomes. The level of listening and conversation flowing from a blank mind cultivates fertile ground for shared understanding, growth, innovation, connection and trust.

Blank-mindedness is not an easily accessed state for many of us. And yet, with intention and practice, blanking out becomes easier and easier. A side benefit of being blank-minded is the authenticity and connection that we experience when fully present with another human being. We listen more deeply. We hear and understand more readily. Offering this quality of presence to another creates strong connection and is at the very heart of trust in relationships.

I present the three steps below as a starting place for experimenting with being blank-minded. In a follow-up post, I’ll write about how to shift our listening to a deeper level to further enable the blanking out process.

4 Steps for “Blanking Out” (who knew it could be a good thing?!)

    1. Be present. Going blank is putting your full focus and attention on only the person and conversation right in front of you. Forget what’s come before. Reel in the thoughts of what might happen next. Philosopher Martin Buber said: “In spite of all similarities, every living situation has, like a newborn child, a new face, that has never been before and will never come again. It demands of you a reaction that cannot be prepared beforehand. It demands nothing of what is past. It demands presence, responsibility; it demands you”.
    2. Listen without evaluating. Stay attentive to your inner dialogue during conversations. Notice when you find yourself evaluating the other’s words or ideas, such as “He seldom follows through on that” or “That won’t be as easy as she thinks.” This is a form of judgment, which is often based in assumption and can lead us to premature conclusions – essentially the opposite of blank-mindedness.
    3. Call on your curiosity. Curiosity is open, inviting, spacious – unattached to any outcome. Curiosity cannot co-exist where there is judgment and assumptions. One clue that we’ve shifted out of curiosity and into judgment is when we find ourselves “knowing”, as in: “I know where he’s going with this…” “I know how she feels…” “I know the way this is going to turn out…” Release your “I know” thoughts. ‘Blank’ your mind to what you know, and expect to learn something new.
    4. That leads us to the fourth step: Believe. Believe in new possibilities. Believe that there is something new for you to learn or experience in any particular conversation. I heard a scientist once talk about the limitless nature of all there is to discover in one lifetime. We could explore, seek, inquire, observe for an entire lifetime, and not come close to “knowing” a fraction of all there is to know about our world and one another. That’s what makes life a magical adventure. Look for the newness, the magic, around you – even in familiar places – and expect to be surprised.

 Print out my reminder card How to Blank Out 1-18-13   or printable picture for your desk!   Be Present Be Curious Be Authentic

Communication Recycling – 3 tips to replace complaints with personal responsibility

Make clear, specific requests. No complaints.

Many workplaces have become breeding grounds for complaint and blame. Behind every complaint is an unmet need or expectation. Often the person voicing the complaint does not own the conversational tools to express their need in a healthy or clear way. Complaining has become a comfort zone that is tolerated and even accepted. When nobody is willing to change the conversation, nobody wins.

Comfort zones convey the illusion of “safety”. But when complaint is allowed to continue, other negative communications sprout. To move the conversation forward requires tools to shift difficult interactions; Tools that the leader teaches and applies in order to:

  • Set clear expectations of behavior that will and will not be tolerated
  • Help team members ask for what they need in appropriate and constructive ways
  • Cultivate an environment where it is safe to ask for help and offer help; and where team members are willing to freely do so.

The first tool a leader must use is that of modeling. Others will know that the leader expects honest communication, not perfection, when he or she models the way. For example, tell your team when you’ve made a mistake or when you’re unsure of something, and then engage them in the problem-solving dialogue. It is important for employees to experience their leader as real, human – even vulnerable. What a powerful way to foster trust, respect, and commitment. And, you’ll also model personal responsibility, which is sadly missing from many workplaces today.

Below are 3 ways that you can minimize the ‘complain and blame’ game and raise the expectation of honest, clear, and accountable dialogue.


  1. Make clear requests for what you want and need

Start by raising your own awareness. Pay attention to the things you hear yourself complaining about, to yourself and others. Write down your complaint and read it aloud to yourself. Then, look underneath the complaint by asking what it is that you were expecting or hoping for that did not happen.

Example, I notice myself complaining, “I’m tired of our meetings never starting on time.” What’s really going on under my complaint is that I feel disrespected because starting late wastes my time. What I want is to feel that you value my time, and I need you to work with me to start our meetings at the designated time. My request becomes: “It’s important to me that we start our meetings at the agreed upon time. Would you be willing to work with me on that?”

I changed my complaint, “I’m tired of our meetings never starting on time”, to a more empowered statement; a statement that clearly expresses my need, is honest, and asks for buy-in from the other.

Think through ways to express your needs using clear, non-judgmental language. Take personal responsibility by using I-language, such as

“I have a request…”

“I would like…”

“I need for us to…”

Be intentional about not using You-language, which may be met with defensiveness, justification, or excuses. For example, don’t start your request with “You need to…” “You shouldn’t…” “You don’t…”


  1. Be Specific & Succinct

Practice succinctness. People tend to pay more attention to communication that is direct, succinct, and to the point. Prior to meetings, presentations, and other communication forums, spend a few minutes silently asking yourself or reminding yourself:

  • What is my point? What are the main things I want to communicate here?
  • How can I best communicate my needs, clearly and succinctly? What words will I use? What words will I be mindful NOT to use?
  • What do I want to get out of this communication? What’s the goal here?

Practice specificity. Being specific AND succinct can sometimes feel mutually exclusive. In an effort to be succinct or to use fewer words, I might say, “That was a great meeting.” However, that really doesn’t convey much about my true thoughts to my listener. Being specific AND succinct might be, “I appreciate how we bounced ideas off each other in that meeting.” This increases confidence in both the speaker and the listener.


  1. Shhhh. Listen. Shhhh.

I’m referring to hearing the other – empathic listening. Empathic listening means shedding our preconceived ideas, assumptions, and judgments. It means listening for the purpose of hearing, receiving, and understanding the human being who is speaking to you. Not for the purpose of providing “fix-it” advice, reassurance, or problem-solving. Philosopher Martin Buber describes this quality of listening:

“In spite of all similarities, every living situation has, like a newborn child, a new face, that has never been before and will never come again. It demands of you a reaction that cannot be prepared beforehand. It demands nothing of what is past. It demands presence, responsibility; it demands you.”

When we listen empathically, we notice body language (theirs & your own), we hear mood, intention, emotion, and what may be left unsaid.  The ability to momentarily set the task-at-hand aside for the sake of deepening the relationship builds trust and creates connection – required ingredients for an organization of engaged employees.

A Bigger Game

Stand for something more

I recently attended a 2-day workshop called, The Bigger Game. The Bigger Game is a program or process for connecting individuals to their work & life in a compelling, purposeful way. It was developed by a tremendous coach and fabulous human being, Rick Tamlyn. In his book of the same title, Rick describes The Bigger Game in this way, “Think of the word “game” as a metaphor for whatever you are doing in life. Some games are conscious choices, like applying to college, pursuing a specific profession, joining the Peace Corps, or becoming a parent. The games we have chosen in the past helped define who we are today.…You’ve seen plenty of examples in the world. Putting the first man on the moon. Cleaning up a corporate waste site. Creating a corporate responsibility initiative. Starting a local neighborhood watch. Working to get healthier food into school cafeterias….Bigger Games are everywhere.”

I want to share a few thoughts about my Bigger Game experience.

First, my personal experience in the 2-day Bigger Game workshop has had HUGE impact on my life. Already. It’s only been 5 days. In the past few days I’ve connected more deeply with my compelling purpose, set wheels in motion, gained clarity about important relationships in my life, and am energized about my own bigger game to play in the world. My Bigger Game involves “going more public” with my message and my work. So, I put out the intention here, that 2013 will be the year that I will finish writing my book (finally!) and step “all in” to my journey as a writer and speaker. (Gulp! Did I just write that out loud?!)


Second, I am inspired by the awareness that Bigger Games are happening everywhere. Regular ole people, like you and like me, are taking game changing actions everyday. Apologizing to your child. Offering care and compassion to your neighbor. Choosing to run your business more sustainably. Saying no to something that violates your core values. Playing a Bigger Game does not mean you’re “saving the world.” It DOES means, however, that you are making conscious choices to more positively impact YOUR world. Today. And tomorrow. One small step at a time.

Sure, there are game changers who have taken huge, courageous actions, leading to positive change in whole industries, communities, even countries. And yet, it is not scale nor geographic reach that defines the ‘big’ in a bigger game.


Lastly, as you might know by now, I firmly believe in purposeful living. I believe that each of us has a unique – and monumentally important – purpose. A reason for living. I want you to find yours. And if you’ve already found it, I want to encourage you to continue to carry it out. To show up more fully in your life, look around, and choose to stand for something more. Be intentional. Don’t settle for less than all that you can be.


As 2012 comes to an end, spend a few minutes with life’s bigger game questions:

1)    What matters most to me?

2)    What’s my compelling purpose?

3)    How do I get stuck in my “comfort zones”?

4)    What’s my next bold action?

I can help you find your answers. Let’s start 2013 off in a “Bigger Game” kind of way!






The Magic Relationship Ratio

Focus on the positive

I’d like to share an important statistic with you. The extensive research of Dr. John Gottman, a psychotherapist, world reknowned for his work on relationship stability, has revealed what is coined as “the magic relationship ratio.”

5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions

In relationships that work, there are five times as many positive things going on as negative things. (You can read Gottman’s books or check out his YouTube videos to learn more about his research).

Here’s why this matters to me. There is a lot of negativity in our workplaces. Nearly every team I work with or leader I coach is dealing with the effects of negativity in their workplace, from grumbling employees to unhappy customers to even his/her own attitude or outlook. The negativity is unproductive, contagious, and literally bad for our health.

Unproductive – Negativity reduces enthusiasm, decreases creativity and disrupts communication. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that US companies lose $3 billion per year, due to the impact of negativity on performance!

Contagious – they’re called mirror neurons and we all have them. It’s the stuff in our brains that allows us to feel empathy for others or to automatically smile when we see someone else smiling or laughing. Negative emotional states are transmittable through our mirror neurons.

Unhealthy – There is much evidence that negativity and a negative emotional state contribute to poor health. Probably the most common connection between negativity and health is its impact on our immune functioning. Persistent negativity reduces immune function and can leave us more susceptible to illness.

Think about Gottman’s statistic for a minute: Five positive interactions to overcome or to make up for ONE negative interaction. That’s well beyond a one-to-one ratio. Gottman says that negativity has a greater ability to inflict pain and to damage a relationship than positivity does to promote healing and closeness in a relationship. Therefore, the equation is not balanced. Couple that with what we know about the many constructive, morale-boosting impacts from affirmative interactions*, and we can see the need to take positivity more seriously. It is a leadership imperative and desperately needed now.

*Read my past articles on related topics to learn more:

Focus Forward

Optimists Make Better Leaders

So, how about we plunge in together? What would shift in our leadership (and in our lives) when we meet or exceed 5:1 in our relationships each day? Let’s give it a try and find out!

Focus Forward

I’ve professed a certain “rule” for a long time now: Put your attention on what you & your team want more of. Take your focus off the current, unwanted realities.

In other words, stop telling yourself, “we don’t trust each other”; “they are so negative”; “this project is not going well. I knew it wouldn’t.” The only purpose these thoughts serve, is to keep you right where you are – in this case, a low trust, negative, unproductive environment.

Wise people throughout the ages have understood this:

“As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.”  – James Allen, from As a Man Thinketh

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”  – Henry Ford

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.”  – Buddha


Last week, I was offsite with a team and, as is often the case, current thinking patterns were holding the group “stuck” from moving forward in the way they said they wanted.

A contrast in the group dynamic presented itself, and became quite palpable.

When the group focused on what they wanted more of, there was high engagement in the room. Teammates conversed in a way that was forward looking, life-giving, and creative. There was a hopefulness in their communication that was open, energetic, and expectant of new possibilities.

When the group focused on their frustrations, the problems they were experiencing, broken processes, and what’s not working, their energy shifted dramatically. The experience of the contrast filled the room. Many felt it. A few commented on it: “feels like we just hit a wall” “feels like the energy just got sucked out of the room.”

Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience?

Let’s look at 3 TRUTHS – scientific evidence – as to why this phenomenon occurs:

  1. Our brain’s primary organizing principle is based on moving “away from threat” and moving “toward reward.” We are continuously and unconsciously categorizing EVERYTHING in our environment as either a threat or a reward.
    • When our brain tells us “threat,” that old automatic fight or flight mechanism kicks in.
    • Fight = defend, justify, counter-attack, criticize, blame, etc
    • Flight = shut down, avoid eye contact, change the subject, leave the room, etc
    • Problem-centric, disempowering language (we can’t, we never, she always, it’s not going to work, we’ve tried this before…) is threat language.  Therefore we often feel a very deep, very old, very habitual, and very stuck energy.


  2. The brain has a super-efficient habit-center, or data-bank, that tells us how to respond and behave in familiar situations, to familiar messages, to familiar tasks. The brain also has “working memory” which takes in new, unfamiliar information and works to make sense of it. The difference in capacity between these two parts of our brain is like the difference between the MILKY WAY and a CUBIC METER (respectively).
    • So what? We have limited capacity for taking in and working with new ideas, new possibilities, unfamiliar situations. In other words, for change. We must go forward very carefully and intentionally when desiring change.


  3. Begin the change dialogue in a way that moves people Toward Reward. Researchers in the fields of neuroscience, emotional intelligence, and leadership, have demonstrated that people are many times more likely to move towards change when it is anchored to something personally rewarding:
    • a compelling vision of a better future
    • a set of resonant core values
    • an environment that respects – first and foremost – our fundamental human needs for connection, positive relationship, respect, empathy, authenticity, and vulnerability. In fact, these needs are pretty much the opposite of how we behave when in “fight or flight” mode. Fight or flight has us disengage, disconnect, retreat into ourselves, hold back, self-protect, and is anchored in fear and ego.

Your interactions with others (and with YOURSELF) will be productive and satisfying when you keep intentionally focused on what IS desired, rather than on that which you no longer want.

Put your attention on what you want more of.

Take your focus off the current, unwanted realities.

These brain-based facts apply to all areas of our lives, large and small. Small shifts in our word choice, our phrasing, our focus of attention – and especially our thoughts – can lead to dramatic results, whether you’re fostering a new company culture or talking to your teenager. Keep pointed towards reward.