Does your organization hold meetings as a proxy for meaningful human interaction?

Do you find yourself in meetings in which, just as you’re all about to reach a decision, someone raises another objection or reason for further investigation?

Now ask yourself if you spend more time in these meetings that you do speaking to people one-on-one.

If you answered yes to both, your organization may be culturally replacing meaningful human contact with controlled group interaction.

Possible reason:

Your organization started small with a lot of collaboration, then grew and virtualized. Now, except for meetings, you only communicate by email or chat. Meeting as a group was once a fertile collective ideas-generation activity. Now it has become the only way for people to connect with each other.

People need human contact. For people who work long hours, their colleagues at work are often the only trustworthy resource they have. When people don’t have a way to connect one-on-one, they will use meetings to get what they need. And when final decisions threaten to end the possibility for continuing to connect, people will find a way to preserve the ongoing resource for connection by blocking the decision.

Test the theory:

For two weeks, encourage everyone to meet one-on-one with two or three colleagues for a few minutes each before the meeting. Tell them the goal is to be curious, listen and ask questions – perhaps suggest 2-3 minutes for each person to ask questions of the other. Then hold the meeting. Notice if some of the meeting behaviour changes.

Next encourage them to switch the colleagues they meet with before the meeting, so they aren’t always having one-on-ones with the same folks. Ask each participant to eventually meet at least twice with each of the other participants who regularly go to the meeting. Again, the goal is listen and ask questions.

When the participants avoid one-on-ones with specific people repeatedly, take note of how they interact in the meeting. There may be an opportunity to join the two of them and, rather than rescuing them or facilitating their conversation, simply model asking questions and listening. Ask them to work on their interaction together on behalf of the rest of the group who want them to be able to work together more effectively.

And let me know how it goes ūüôā




I’ve been reading and rereading Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton and Heen. I find it particularly useful because it identifies the thing that has always baffled me about “those” conversations: they’re not about facts and logic. Even though we spend inordinate amounts of teeth-grinding time on “But you said…” and “I don’t remember saying that, but if I did that’s not what I meant”, what happened is just one of three conversations we are really having.

The book tells us there are 3 conversations:
The “What Happened” conversation – what was the intent, who’s to blame and what is the truth
The Feelings conversation – we both have feelings and if we don’t make them explicit in a non-threatening way, they can take over, leaving us overwhelmed and confused.
The Identity conversation – what does this say about me? Am I a good person, am I worthy of love, and am I competent?

They follow on with examples, words to say, and ways to correct common mistakes.

It’s exciting to think that conversations that seemed so obscure and confusing actually were! Have a look.

What would Atticus Do?

I just read a great blog from Harvard Business Review based on the work of Rafe Esquith, the author of Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire. It’s all about morals. ¬†Morals in Management. ¬†Ring any bells? ¬†HBR has gone to an award-winning 5th grade teacher in Los Angeles for help.

According to the blog, Esquith has “adapted a framework from psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg called the Six Levels of Moral Development. In some ways, Esquith’s formulation is more useful, translated as it has been into something a fifth-grader can relate to. Here’s Esquith’s channeling of Kohlberg:

Level 1: “I don’t want to get in trouble.”
Level 2: “I want a reward”
Level 3: “I want to please someone”
Level 4: “I follow the rules”
Level 5: “I am considerate of other people”
Level 6: “I have a personal code of behavior and I follow it”‘

Sound like anyone you know at work? Where are you usually on the scale? ¬†Where are you in a crisis? According to the Wikipedia article on Kohlberg, most adults stop at level 4 in terms of consistent behaviour. ¬†And the instance of empirical evidence of level 6 was so low, Kohlberg couldn’t prove it existed, but believed it did.

One of the tools Rafe uses in his classroom ¬†for Level 6 is the question, “What would Atticus do?” Atticus Finch is the dad in To Kill A Mockingbird, the readers choice all time best book ever in every poll ever taken. ¬†Atticus always does the right thing, even if it might hurt or will be painful. ¬†If you haven’t read it, read it.

Where are you on the scale?

In your immediate challenges at work, what would Atticus do?

Are you ready to do that?

Quitting to succeed

Seth Godin, author of Tribes and Small is the New Big, has another book out – The Dip.

An important and audacious premise of The Dip is that quitting is sometimes the very best action to take to get what we want. Godin says, “we fail when we get distracted by tasks we don’t have the guts to quit”.

I see this in business often – the distraction of failing work. The project that started off as a good idea and has become a death march but no one will pull the plug because $2M has already been spent. ¬†The job you stay in because you can’t imagine starting again despite knowing in your heart that it will only get worse and suck every last ounce of energy out of you for the rest of your career.

It happens at home too: The marriage that is being held together “for the kids”, thought the kids are miserable watching their parents slowly give up living. The children’s sports that parents keep the kids in even when the kids no longer love it, just because “we’ve invested so much already”.

Godin says in some situations no amount of work will lead to success, or there may be a light at the end of the tunnel but you’ll be almost out of oxygen by the time you get there. ¬†The trick is to know when you’re at the decision point, when it’s time to throw one more log on the fire or move on to a better place.

His premise clicks nicely with reading I’ve been doing on Strengths, particularly the work of Marcus Buckingham in Now Discover Your Strengths. The premise there is to replace the painful and limiting improvement of weaknesses to a subjective level of “normal”, with the recognition of and improvement of natural Strengths. In the Improving Weaknesses model, you start at D or C- and get to B. ¬†In the Strengths model you start at B+ and get to A++ with significantly more fun and less wasted energy.

Both approaches nicely work for clients in Adaptive Coaching Рnotice where you are in your journey and connect with others about the potential for success and how your strengths will help you get there.  Then take action to either quit and start something new based on your strengths and current resources, or keep going.  Based on the result, learn, adapt and start again.

Perspectives and Emotions

Changing perspectives is a great way to open doors to new understanding.  After all, our perspective is what creates our reality.

“Pretend” was the biggest perspective-changer in my life.¬† A great coach and friend, Michele McCarthy, told me, “Pretend that everything that happens to you happens because you want it to happen and you always get what you want.” ¬†Good and bad.¬† Conscious and unconscious.¬† Now, if I always get what I want, and I don’t like what I get, I know I have to change what I want. ¬†

Pretend can also get me past the “It’ll never work” stage.¬† If I can pretend that it will work, I can quiet the critic and begin to take action. ¬†If I have a bias toward action, and am willing to contain my impatience for the thing to be finished, before I know it, it’s done!

Another perspective that has helped me is that “Emotions are transitory and each has a purpose.” ¬†Mad means there’s a problem (take action to fix it); Sad means something is lost (comfort yourself until it passes); Glad means things are going well (take action to use the energy you have now); Afraid means something is unknown (take action to get information, or comfort yourself until you can get information). ¬†

In a business environment we are often told to “leave your emotions at the door”. ¬†But we have all seen the result of that obligatory suppression – hidden agendas, resentments, turf wars, high turnover, and poor performance. ¬†By making emotions explicit and understanding how they work, and what to do with them, we can use what they give us to get results and make better and healthier connections with people and build more trust in our lives. ¬†This is especially true between bosses and employees. ¬†By naming and explaining what emotions are and how to use them, they lose their mystical and unruly aura. ¬†If we understand that emotions are inevitable outcomes of people interacting with their surroundings, and we can communicate with awareness and responsibility to people who matter to us, we can use the energy they create to get what we want. ¬†An example is using anger to change a situation that is unsustainable, or using sadness to communicate a lack of trust or disappointment. ¬†If no action can be taken, we can at least realize that the emotion will pass, and give ourselves comfort, or use the energy constructively.

The Adaptive Coaching Framework

I have observed the following skills of people who successfully adjust in a highly volatile environment:

  • Knowing what matters
  • Noticing what matters
  • Knowing when and with whom to connect
  • Taking action to connect
  • Knowing when and how to respond
  • Taking action to respond
  • Learning and adapting to the results of their action
  • Committing to repeating the cycle to grow and become strong

From my observations and discussions with those adaptable folks, I’ve developed the following simple approach for thriving in a world of constant change:

  • Notice
  • Connect with others
  • Respond¬†
  • Learn and adapt
  • Repeat

Of course, “simple” doesn’t imply “easy”!

Adaptive beings, whether human or otherwise, notice things happening, connect with each other about what they notice and whether it’s important, they respond to the change, they learn and adapt, and repeat again and again.  Notice that the response occurs before the learning.  Action is important to adaptation.  

In fact, the two most important steps are connecting and responding.

Life on earth doesn’t wait to be told what to do.  It self-organizes, makes mistakes, tries new ideas, and adapts.  If we can give up the machine model of people and organizations, we can learn this too.  

My clients and I work on the goals they want and build their adaptive capability by loosely following the Notice, Connect, Respond, Learn, Adapt framework and adjusting as we go.

It’s a great journey! ¬†

The Adaptive Coaching model – Step 1: Notice

The first step in my coaching model is Notice.

Noticing things gives us subjects to connect to others about, and respond to, thus ultimately learning from. ¬†We tend to notice things that disturb us, just as the rest of the living world does. ¬†Disturb doesn’t necessarily mean something negative, but has the connotation of a thrown pebble disturbing the still surface of a pond.

My husband tends to notice things like people walking close to him or me, or moving vehicles. ¬†Even in the middle of a conversation he will look, turn his head, stop talking, and wait until he is satisfied he has the information he requires to continue. ¬†Some people would call it “distraction”, but that has a negative connotation. ¬†He admits it is probably an adaptation from being a father of 4 small children, the sole income earner in his former family, and from over 20 years of commuting by car into a large city every day.

The capacity to be disturbed is an adaptive trait. ¬†In the living world, organisms that are skillful at noticing things have a head start on those who aren’t. ¬†Now, whether or not they are later able to effectively respond to what disturbs them is another story. ¬†We’ll talk about that in my post on the Adaptive Coaching Model step called “Respond”.

So, when we talk about noticing, what are we talking about with people in a business setting?

Let’s say you are in a meeting with your boss and your peers. ¬†You’re talking about a new project for a team you’re on. ¬†You will notice lots of things: the boss looks tired, the head of another department keeps having side conversations with the head of HR, your rival for the next promotion is sitting right next to the boss and seems to be smiling, the room is stuffy, the coffee tastes worse than usual, there’s a high-pitched whine from the air vent. ¬†The list is endless.

All of those things are external to yourself Рthe usual suspects.  But do you notice anything about yourself?

Is there tension in your body? Where is it? When do you feel it most?

Are you moved to speak or stay silent? Are there people you choose to respond to and others you choose to ignore?

When you speak, how is your voice? Loud? Soft? Hoarse? High-pitched?

Are you mad about anything? Sad? Afraid? Glad?

This is a very short list of the kinds of things that are important for any business person to add to their repertoire of things to notice in a meeting.  Once you notice them, you have more information about the things that are in your control, the things that matter in business.  Those things may be as obvious to others, including your boss, as the stuffy room is to you.  

Of course, the hard part is staying present in the moment to integrate all the input you are getting from the environment, the people, and your own body and thoughts. ¬†It’s vitally important to keep noticing even when your mind starts to process the information. ¬†You may start to imagine that your rival for that promotion is the boss’s favourite. ¬†You remember how often you’ve seen the two of them together lately. ¬†Without giving you any value, those thoughts are taking your attention away from the present, and you are missing what is actually going on. ¬†Over time, if that is what you accept in yourself, you may make serious mistakes in your interactions with others, mistakes which can create stress, fear, regret and other unhelpful feelings.

But if you can think and feel at the same time, if you can be aware of what you notice and use that information to get the best results for you and your boss, your team, your family or your world, you will be able to take the next steps with grace and professionalism. ¬†That’s noticing, the challenge of now, and the first step to becoming skillfully adaptive in any business environment.

For more information about The Adaptive Coach, see – 20 years of adapting in business.