Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Building Teams; Confidence vs. Arrogance

Image credit; Funders and Founders
One of the biggest challenges we face as designers is how to assemble and participate on effective teams. This is particularly true when interviewing someone for a job opening or looking to bring someone new onto an existing team.

One of the most important skills is being able to distinguish between confidence and arrogance because both project a "capable" image and you want someone who is capable of seeing what needs to be done and getting it done. Here are five things to consider when building teams or reflecting on your own effectiveness. Each behavior is an indicator of whether the person you are considering is confident and capable or an arrogant poser.

1. Condescending remarks

Confident people feel good about themselves without desiring to judge or offend others. They usually optimistic, seeing the good in others, their potential, and want to help others succeed. They will talk about their own achievements in the context of the successes of their teams. Note this is at odds with the competitive attitude often espoused and cherished by those who value short term success over long term sustainability.

The primary attitude which an arrogant person manifests is superiority. They are very concerned with figuring out where in the pecking order they are and judging their relative strengths compared to others. This may be a tell-tale indication that they have deep feelings of inferiority and insecurity, particularly when interacting with someone who may be more capable, better educated or more successful than they are.  One consequence of this is that arrogant people try to improve their own status by tearing others down. 

2. Self-perception

Confident people typically feel comfortable with themselves because they have an accurate self image. They are aware of their weaknesses and know how to deal with them. Arrogant people diminish their own shortcomings and struggle to admit their own mistakes.

3. Relationships

Relationships with arrogant people can be very stressful. The proud and arrogant live in a world of self-importance where nothing affects them and they typically dismiss or ignore corrective feedback.
A self-confident person is able to show vulnerability and admit their past mistakes. This quality is highly appreciated by others.  Arrogant people fear failure and loss of control and will sacrifice friendships and relationships if they think it will improve their own chances of success.

4. Communication Style, Eye Contact and Conversational Flow

Confident people rarely lecture, preach or point out how others are wrong. They typically show respect while listening. Arrogant people have difficulty listening and love to be in the spotlight. They are often critical and blame others if things don't go as planned.

Communication with arrogant people is challenging. An arrogant person will always try to one-up everything you say. They only care about their own position and making others accept their ideas. That’s why people try to avoid conversations with them; it’s difficult having a productive, two way conversation with someone who is never wrong. Confident people don’t try to impose their vision of the situation on others. They enjoy collaboration and the increased accomplishments of their teams speak for themselves.

Eye contact is part of any conversation. Confident people will make appropriate eye contact with you and make you feel as though you are the most important person in the room. Arrogant people will be looking past you for someone else to talk to, or act like they have something better to do, because they think another person will benefit them more than talking with you. It is difficult to catch and hold the eye or ear of an arrogant person. Note that there are deep cultural differences between western and eastern cultures on this point which you must take into account.

5. Root Causes

Arrogance and confidence have different origins. Arrogance is usually the result of an unconscious defense mechanism to prevent criticism. Confidence comes with patience, optimism and experience.
The deep issue with arrogance is the fear of being inferior blinds people to the value and power of collaboration and relationships. Unfortunately, the arrogance-fear cycle is self perpetuating as the arrogant person drives away the people who's help they need to succeed beyond their own personal limitations.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Problem Solving as Storytelling

Image Credit Disney/Pixar

I recently came across a blog post called  10 storytelling tactics to help you solve a tough problem at work, which I enjoyed enough to include the link here. It got me thinking about the bigger idea of storytelling, both as a problem solving approach and in the context of Design Thinking, starting with the ten tactics;

Embrace the problem - All good stories have problems. Embrace them. Take a moment to write the problem down in detail.

Understand the stakes - Write down what your company stands to gain or lose as a result of dealing with the issue at hand. Be specific. What would be possible if you address all components of the problem and the client gets more than they bargain for?

Ground the problem in your surroundings - Understand the institutional forces at play. What prevailing attitudes are present that may be contributing to the problem? What attitudes can you tap into to fix the situation?

Identify sources of tension - Take a moment and reflect on tension with clients and within the office. What are the sources of tension for your boss? What about for the company?

Look at previous conflicts - Write down a few other conflicts you’ve had in the office relating to the issue at hand. See if you notice a pattern developing.

Look at previous crisis moments - Crisis moments offer the biggest breakthroughs for companies. How did people in the office react during the last crisis? How does your boss handle a crisis? What about your boss’s boss?

Pick apart the themes - You may notice themes (i.e. accountability, trust, integrity) appearing. Write them down. Pick them apart.

Don’t judge yourself - Judgment is the enemy of story and a hindrance to problem solving. Make note of your judgments of yourself. Then quit it.

Don’t judge your boss and/or the company. It won’t help you. Seriously.

Embrace the problem again - The precise solution may not be there, but the problem will seem a lot more manageable.

We've spoken before about Who, What, Why, When, Where and How in the context of good storytelling. There is another application of the Five W's; they form a framework for good project management. If you have simple, clear and credible answers for What will be done, by Who, Why, When, Where and How, you understand the situation and have a good start on an executable plan and a compelling story to motivate others to help execute it.

Powerful stories resonate and motivate us to action.
(Note: When something goes wrong, and we make a mistake, it is crucial to be honest and work toward making the wrong right. In most cases, people will forgive the mistakes they are made aware of but are furious when even little things are covered up or ignored.)

Powerful stories reveal the truths and conflicts within the situation.

Powerful stories point to a greater cause.
Your company, and your life, are not all about youThis can be the hardest lesson we ever learn. Our lives must point to a purpose greater than our own well-being. People will rarely align with your self-interest, but they will align for a common goal.

Powerful stories teach—but in a different way. To speak the truth, we can easily put together a chart, graph, collection of numbers, or bullet points. Those have their place, but we need to use them to support why a story is powerful. In your life, telling a powerful story and being open to your true self is one of the best ways to lead others. When they see your honesty, it inspires them to lead honest, open lives as well.

Powerful stories leave room for interpretation. We don’t have to explain everything! This is such a temptation in our culture, which seeks quick answers we can easily file away. When you explain, it’s true for you and expresses your point of view, which becomes a part of the listener’s interpretation.

Leave room for the listener to have their own ideas, and ask questions! This will create the opportunity for future conversations and engagement which is a hallmark of effective management.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Dangerous Face of Ambiguity

In a recent article by Forbes titled The 3 Secrets to Conflict Resolution, August Turak asserts that good leaders resolve conflict and great leaders leverage conflict to clarify ambiguity. 

Over the years Turak has labored to uncover the root causes of workplace conflict and has always found hard-working, well intentioned people who had unintentionally ignored the Ambiguities in the underlying situation.

He gives an example of a sales department and shipping department which were at each other’s throats. Both sides were convinced that they were the victims of a combination of incompetence and evil intentions on the part of the other. Digging deeper,  Turak discovered that the sales department was upset because product was not being shipped “on time.” Shipping was fed up with getting a flood of orders late in the day which couldn't be filled without working overtime. 

The real problem was that both sides were operating from entirely different assumptions about what “on time” meant. (In Design Thinking terms, they had conflicting Points of View)

The resolution was that any order received before 2:00 PM would ship the same day. Later orders would ship the next day. Once the new policy was adopted and distributed, the ambiguity disappeared along with the problem and the rancor.

This is very powerful stuff. The vast majority of the problems at work aren't technical and don't start out as financial, they are relational, having to do with out emotional side. That is why the first step in the DT process is Empathic Inquiry. Listening for the feelings.

Tuak and Adizes agree that problems are solved most creatively by using the tension produced by ambiguity and resolving differences in opposing points of view.

Turak suggests that of all types of ambiguity ambiguity about execution is most likely to lead to disaster. This is the How and When elements of the Why, What, Who, When, Where, How problem solving/story telling framework. Ambiguity about when who is passing what to whom almost guarantees that the task won't eb done "on time "and the postmortem recriminations will begin. Turak states; 

"In business, “crisp execution” is the Holy Grail, and crisp execution relies on eliminating ambiguity."

In clarifying ambiguity a key question is; “Where’s the paper trail?” If all you have are verbal communications based on memory, there will be a near infinite variety of contradictory interpretations.  Internal friction is usually not the result of either incompetence or bad intentions. It is the result of people operating from very different assumptions about their respective responsibilities. (POVs)

One of Turak's tactics to eliminate the problems caused by ambiguity before they can arise is following up with a summary note; While his memory is still fresh, he records in writing everything that was agreed upon during a meeting or phone call and sends it to all the participants. He invites everyone to either “sign off” or get back to him if his summary is either incorrect or incomplete. He also copies everyone who wasn't at the meeting that might be affected by the decisions, in order to avoid anyone being “blindsiding” further down the road.

(The rest of the article was so well written that I'm going to basically quote it directly from here on. -df)

We often hear that success is largely a factor of how many friends we make. However, success also depends on how many enemies we don't make. Clear, written communication is remarkably successful at keeping enemies to a minimum. This record keeping discipline also forces meeting facilitators to focus on negotiating clear, unambiguous, mutually agreed upon action items. This in turn moves the meeting, project or sale along much more quickly.

The vast majority of internal squabbles are leadership problems rather than people problems. Management’s job is to make sure that the process by which people enter into agreements is formalized without becoming burdensome. When disputes arise from miscommunication and misunderstanding, it is the lack of records, policies, procedures, and processes which allows conflicts in the first place.

Substantive meetings should always produce an internal “contract;” and those contracts should be clearly written, mutually agreed upon, and meticulously kept.  Staying on top of this process takes discipline, but in the long run it pays off in increased productivity, team work, and perhaps most importantly, morale. Once people have discovered that, without the proper documentation, pleas for “justice” will fall on deaf ears, they quickly start taking notes and disputes begin to disappear.

Step One in crippling ambiguity is accurate note keeping. A commitment to follow up “soon” is ambiguous. A promise to follow up at 3:00 PM on November 16th is not.

Step Two is overcoming the misconception that creating a paper trail is a waste of valuable time. A typical summary takes three minutes to write. These communications not only make things run far more smoothly, but save countless hours in ex-post-facto conflict resolution. On a side note, actually recoding the meeting is a powerful way to capture what happened.

Step Three is overcoming our tendency for using ambiguity as tool for staying off the hook. Ambiguity in business is often connected with fear of accountability. We resist making clear commitments because someone may hold us accountable if something goes wrong. (Fear of Failure -df

Much of human interaction, consciously or unconsciously, is an attempt to hold others accountable, yet we all also want some wiggle room in ambiguous, complex situations. As a result, we default to ambiguous commitments like “I’ll try” rather than “I’ll do.” Ambiguity begets ambiguity. The way to head the problem and conflicts off is to clarify things as soon as possible and record the finding and decisions.

BTW - If you insist on accountability from others, you'd best have it first in yourself.