Bette George & Associates, Inc.                                                                                                                        (703) 734-0101

July 2010              ---------------  Issue 21 ---------------    

"We must be brave enough to start a conversation that matters and trust that meaningful conversations can change your world."
Meg Wheatley

Welcome to Conversations on Leadership and Life,  my newsletter that I hope will become a favorite of yours.

Poetry Corner

those people  
Wouldn’t it be lovely if one could live in a constant state of we?
Some of the most commonplace words can be some of the biggest dividers
What if there was no they?
What if there was only us?

     From “clothesline” by Marilyn Maciel


Life is a Verb by Patti Digh




Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman




Difficult Conversations by Doug Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen


Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott




Dialogue by William Issacs




Immunity to Change by Kegan and Lehey


Leadership Lessons: I’ve Been Hijacked!

"I never saw an instance of one or two disputants convincing the other by argument."
Thomas Jefferson

“I totally blew it—lost my cool and began arguing with him just like I’ve always done. I know others in the meeting were looking at me thinking ‘there he goes again,’ but this guy just makes me furious.”  Doug, a chemical engineer who is the newly appointed leader of a division of a large international corporation, was struggling mightily with some of his peers.  From his point of view, they stood in the way of the business expansion he was proposing for the company, and their requests for data to back up his proposals were insulting time-wasters.  He was the one with the business acumen and the technical knowledge to back up his ideas, not them.  This arrogant stance fueled by his highly judgmental attitude was not working for him, he acknowledged, yet try as he may, conversations with these folks seemed to knock him so completely off balance that he went on automatic pilot acting in ways that did not serve in the least. It was as if his very identity was somehow being threatened. 

 “This exchange happened hours ago and I’m still shaking with frustration.  It has ruined my day.  I can’t seem to let it go.  Why is this stuff so hard?”  What’s going on for Doug happens to all of us at times.  Doug had experienced an amygdala hijack.  The amygdala is the “fight or flight” part of the brain that holds emotional memory, and its job is to react to threats to our safety. It will react similarly to the threat of being eaten by a grizzly bear as it will to an ego attack.  According to Daniel Goleman, an amygdala hijack occurs when our response to a situation is out of proportion with the actual threat bringing on our fight or flight reaction that leaves us with little ability to rely on intelligence or reasoning. Studies indicate that the immediate result of a hijack is a decrease in working memory.  Adrenaline is released and will have an effect for 18 minutes, and other hormones are released into the bloodstream that can take 3-4 hours to clear. 

“The first thing you can do is sit quietly for a minute or two and breathe,” I suggested.  Doug settled down. He literally seemed to come back to himself. Now beyond his anger, he did a gut check.  “I feel a great sense of regret. This was a lost opportunity,” he said quietly. Drawing on some earlier work we had done together on his immunity to change, Doug talked about how quickly he judged others as not as smart or competent as he, and how this assessment leads him to miss opportunities to learn from and connect to others. Underneath this pattern was the fear of making a mistake—a need to be perfect thereby proving he was smarter than everyone else.  As gifted and successful as he had been up until now, Doug knew that he had to find a way to manage himself differently if he was to succeed in this hugely important leadership role. Never before had so much been at stake.  “I know what I need to do but I don’t know how. I’ve got to find a way to work with not against these guys which means I’ve got to think about them differently. ”

Doug’s Plan

Doug’s goal is to build productive partnerships rather than adversarial ones among his colleagues.  He admits it’s slow going.  He feels awkward and makes mistakes, but he sees progress which inspires him to keep going.  This is a work in progress!  Here’s how he proceeded with Joe. 

1.      Take preventive measures to prevent a hi-jack

Doug identified physical signs to alert him to his emotions before they took over his behavior.  So when his heart starts to race and his throat tightens, he knows to pause, breathe and push his reset button. He takes a deep breath and asks himself “What is my intention here?  Is it to be right and make him wrong OR is it to find a way to work together?  With practice, these questions can lead him back to a place where a productive conversation might actually occur.

2.      Examine my story

After a conversation goes awry, Doug has a conversation (with himself) about what just happened.  First he examines the story he’s telling himself about his own intentions and those other person.  Simple enough….but is it really?  Problem is--we tend to misunderstand the intentions of the other person assuming the worst and we treat ourselves more charitably in the intentions department focusing blame on the other.  “It’s clear Joe does not want me to succeed and he does everything in his power to put road blocks in my way.” 

3.      Seek to understand Joe’s story

Next, he steps outside of his own story and imagines himself into the other person’s story. The experience of being understood rather than being interpreted is unbelievably powerful.  “Where is Joe coming from?  How might Joe see this situation? What’s at stake for him?  What if he does have information that I’ve missed or don’t have access to? How do my actions impact him? How am I contributing to the problem?”  In this way, Doug is learning to see the problem as the difference between the stories of stakeholders who see the world differently and have powerful feelings about what’s going on.  

4.      Invite him to partner in figuring things out  

Doug knows how important it is to change the dynamic from arguing to understanding, and now  that he has recognized that Joe has his own version of things, he will ask Joe to meet with him to better understand each other’s story and how they can work together to accomplish mutual objectives. 

“Somewhere between right and wrong is a place we can move and talk.” Rumi

TIPS, TOOLS AND PRACTICES: Choose with Integrity

Choosing with integrity means finding ways to speak up that honor your reality, the reality of others, and your willingness to meet in the center of that large field.  It’s hard sometimes. 

"When we are real with ourselves and others, the change occurs before the conversation has ended." Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations

Choose with Integrity

Speak up, yet detach from “rightness.”

Stand tall, yet bend to meet others.

Move from Why aren’t they doing more? To Why aren’t we doing more? To Why am I not doing more?

Do something.  Extend yourself.

From Life is a Verb by Patti Digh

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