marzipan layer

The marzipan layer refers to the level of corporate executives just below the top echelon – the “icing,” typically the C-Suite or partners. Although important to bakers as it prevents icing sugars from leaching into a cake, an organization’s marzipan layer may act as a barrier that prevents advancement.

For aspiring professionals, breaking through this layer can be extremely challenging. As part of the process, a candid self-appraisal is imperative but what often triggers a breakthrough, is a straight-shooting mentor who delivers tough-to-hear, yet pivotal information. Sometimes, a wake-up call is an accidentally overheard put down or criticism…

Acclaimed economist and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett is profoundly open about her own transformative experience. Daughter of a “working class Welsh bloke,” today, she’s an internationally recognized for her innovative thinking. Dr. Hewlett is the author of 12 critically acclaimed books including, Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, and the founding president and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation.

Growing up in the 1960’s, in the industrial, impoverished coal-mining valleys of Wales where unemployment reached 38 percent, Dr. Hewlett was an excellent student. She applied and was accepted at Cambridge University. Although she excelled at passing exams, “every time I opened my mouth, I let myself down.”

She sounded rough and raw; she mispronounced words and her grammar was shoddy. Like My Fair Lady’s Eliza Doolittle, she dropped the letter H, so Henry Higgins became ‘enry ‘iggins. At the age of eighteen, she wasn’t well read, had never been to the theater, and had spent family holidays at trailer park rentals. Conversation with her well-educated fellow-students was beyond her. She was awkward and ignored.

Dr. Hewlett overheard her tutor saying to a colleague that she “sounded uncouth.” Tough to take. She realized that to get anywhere, she would need to up her game. Unable to afford elocution lessons, BBC broadcasters became her voice coaches. She listened to the radio, read newspapers and bought cheap theater tickets. Her journey had begun.

Dr. Hewlett understood that she had to revise the signals she sent. Although today, it’s nice to think that a tutor would provide feedback to help a struggling student on her way, the point is that criticism not meant for her ears propelled Dr. Hewlett forward. Her genuine, heartfelt story and journey of self-discovery marked the beginning of her drive to excel. This has culminated in her passionate research about the very issues that got her started – the signals people send.

What is so important to understand is that performance and goal achievement alone, are insufficient to break through the marzipan layer. The cornerstones of Executive Presence – the first impression you make, how you behave, communicate and look – often underrated by detractors, actually send the specific signals mandatory for breaking through the marzipan layer.

The skills to communicate that you really know your stuff, that you can present your ideas and that you look like a member of the top level are fundamental to the ultimate selection process of who gets to move ahead and move through the marzipan layer.

Toronto Executive Presence 2-Day Workshop, November 29-30, 2017
We still have space. Learn more

difficult conversation

Learn how a coolheaded leader prevented conflict and animosity by mentoring a team member to conduct a difficult conversation with a colleague.

Spring, 2017

Meet Carol, Marketing Director in charge of several teams working in an open office. She has just hired Mark to head up product development and his enthusiasm is immediately apparent. He is obviously thrilled with his new job and shares his excitement in a very loud voice.

Early Monday morning, two weeks later

Just as Carol is about to make a call, she’s approached by Sarah, a clearly distraught junior copywriter; “Mark is driving me crazy. He is just so loud. You have to do something!”

Carol, a seasoned manager adept at working with her high-energy, millennial teams, realizes that Sarah has been fretting all weekend. Carol also understands that by moving the loud team member to another cube, she only transfers the problem to another area. No solution.

Carol knows this is not the time to be dismissive with, “Excuse me, I must make this call.” Nor is it wise to tease with smart retorts like, “Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed.”

Instead, Carol calms Sarah down, “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” She then suggests an action plan for Sarah and concludes with; “Make Mark an ally, not an enemy.”

One hour later

Sarah had considered confronting Mark but now equipped with Carol’s strategy, she heads toward his area to suggest coffee. Sarah has realized the benefits of getting to know Mark and discovers he, too, is a trained writer. They share a professional perspective.

The next morning

Sarah drops by Mark’s cube. It’s early and he is so animated and hyped about a project, he invites her to attend his debut presentation later that morning. Hmmm, still she bites her tongue.

Early afternoon

Again, Sarah stops by Mark’s cube. He is actually composed and quiet. After congratulating him for his presentation, she takes the plunge; “Can we change gears for a moment? We need to talk about something that’s important and find a solution together.”

“Sure Sarah, and thanks for making me feel so welcome.”

“Here’s the thing, Mark. The acoustics here mean noise bounces off the walls like crazy…”

“I hear you, Sarah, people joke that I’m a member of the Loud Family. Mark Loud, get it?”

Takeaway

Chances are, that if Carol had become involved, tension would have escalated. She coached Sarah to deal with her frustrations in a non-confrontational, meticulously choreographed approach.
Sarah took time to begin to know Mark and vice versa; he was receptive when she touched on a difficult conversation.

Key Conversations Course

Join us Monday, December 4, 2017 for this 90-minute, interactive session at our Toronto Head Office from 4:30 to 6:00 pm. Fee: $225.00
To enroll, contact Michelle Yuen at: 416-967-1221 Ext 107 or Click Here.

internal leadership

“It’s not like there’s this overwhelming abundance of great leadership talent, and every company gets who they need.”

—Bernard Banks, Associate Dean for Leadership Development, Clinical Professor of Management, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

Bernard Banks is a retired Brigadier General who believes the corporate world can learn about leadership development opportunities through a closer look at U.S. Army strategies. Banks joined Kellogg last year following his retirement from the Army, where he most recently was at West Point’s Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. Previously he led numerous military units.

4 key strategies for internal leadership success

It is his combination of academic and field experience that caused Banks to see the disconnect within the corporate world on how businesses manage leadership development. He has 4 key strategies that enable organizations to internally cultivate leadership potential:

1. Groom future leaders before they “make the leap”

At Corporate Class, we know first-hand the benefits of grooming high potentials before promotion. People ill-prepared to take on challenging new roles often produce poor results and high frustration – for everyone. Pushing future leaders forward based on their potential, not their readiness presumes employees will immediately become productive in their new roles.

2. Bet on everyone

Clearly, Banks acknowledges that no organization has unlimited resources to invest in talent development. He makes the point that although some select candidates may warrant greater investment, more mainstream employees should not be expected to find their own way. In the Army he learned the benefit of this approach. This broader scope of PD helps to retain talent as well. When an organization invests in ongoing talent development, it sends a clear message to employees: they are valued team members.

3. Immersive Training

Banks recognize that although the Army is well known for placing people in situations to make them better at thinking and responding, this is far more challenging in the corporate world. He believes that going forward, more companies will send employees to business simulation training. According to Banks, “organizations have to learn how to take smart risks in service of growing their people. The challenge is, are you willing to invest those resources?”

4. Keep employees in the driver’s seat

The message here is self-directed development. This encourages people to take responsibility for their future. Leadership training is a door-opener for employees, not a commitment to their advancement.

Leadership Presence: Training for team leaders

Executive Presence Is neither exclusive nor elusive. ™

working a room

When it comes to professional social gatherings the reality is that people at almost every organizational level experience some form of anxiety, faced with the prospect of meeting new people. The underlying reason is that ultimately, there’s little preparation or training for what’s known professionally as “working a room.”

Hollywood has fuelled the myth of the young, new hire who confidently enters his first after-work reception and within seconds holds the floor in a compelling conversation with the company president. In the real corporate world, this just does not happen; it’s straight from a script. Working a room refers to maximizing networking opportunities at meetings, conferences and social events. This takes time, genuine effort and determination

“My anxiety about this conference defied all reasonable dimensions.”
— Amy Cuddy*, Presence, Little, Brown and Company, 2015

From Working to Commanding…

Fundamentally, ”working the room” is something of a misnomer because the expression really refers to friendly interaction with fellow-attendees at an event. Mastering the skills to work a room is a fundamental Executive Presence skill that carries a positive connotation. Ultimately, the goal is to be sufficiently experienced with these ever-present interactions to confidently command a room. Or simply put, to achieve a comfort level – and the ease, grace, and poise – to speak to anyone, at any event. Far more than working a room, today the ability to command a room is compulsory for everyone with aspirations to senior leadership.

“Owning” the room has a different dynamic, predicated by the event
If the occasion is to honor an esteemed colleague, for example, the event belongs to the honoree and this is not the time to be center-stage and own the room.

Truly successful leaders carry themselves with innate social grace and aptitude at every single event, bar none. From industry-wide networking functions to exclusive, upper echelon affairs, their actions appear effortless and their ability to connect, seamless. It’s often because of these qualities that people begin to speak of their charisma. Unquestionably, circulating is absolutely mandatory, assuming the event is not taking place around a table, either dining or boardroom.

Yet, sometimes the downside of a crowded calendar and its requisite events results in 
an unconscious lack of enthusiasm for these endless “appearances.” Because consistent behavior is one of the hallmarks of presence, we suggest fine-tuning before every function. A great place to start the process is with a simple question, “Who will be there?”

Consider, for example, an event centered on an important announcement with well-known names and celebrities in attendance. This event category calls for meticulous preparation.

What do you know about the special 
guests? What if you’re asked to make an 
impromptu introduction or say a few 
words? Or perhaps you’ve never before 
met the special guests and will need to introduce yourself, and welcome them. Prepare your notes, rehearse, and then throw your notes away! You’re not making an Oscar acceptance speech. Eye contact is key — with everyone in the room.

When it comes to engagement, part of every leader’s mantle of responsibility is actually remembering names. Make a conscious decision to just try harder. Sounds absurdly optimistic, but concentration actually works!

* Harvard Business School Professor and social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, is known around the world for her 2012 TED talk, the 2nd most viewed talk in TED’s history.

Back to school countdown!
Classes will soon be in session:
How to Command and Work any Room

Join us Monday, October 2, 2017 for this 90-minute, interactive session at our Toronto Head Office from 4:30 to 6:00 pm. Fee: $225.00
To enroll, contact Michelle Yuen at: 416-967-1221 Ext 107 or Click here

In our complex, challenging and competitive world, Executive Presence is not an optional asset. Executive Presence is an expectation. We encourage you to take stock of your presence to take charge of your future.

leadership styles

There are six distinctive leadership styles, based on Harvard University research that leaders need in their repertoire. The skill is recognizing when to activate, and how to blend or merge the various styles. How do you measure up? Take inventory of your personal leadership styles.

Three long-term styles:

Visionary

A Visionary style sets standards and monitors performance in relation to the larger vision. Sometimes, a visionary style may be described as inspirational. Consider for a moment how it would feel like to work on a team with no vision.A thorough understanding of the organization’s vision and the skill to articulate it to team members is fundamental to this leadership style:

  • Do you know the vision of your company?
  • Can you articulate it to your team?

Participative

This style complements and combines well with a Visionary style. Because it recognizes teams versus individuals, it can be a challenging environment for achievement-driven team members. This is particularly true when it’s overused; leaders may appear incapable of making a decision without team consensus.

Leaders with a Participative style:

  • Hold regular meetings
  • Listen to employees’ concerns
  • Drill down to the How
  • Identify opportunities for positive feedback
  • Stress the importance of how employee morale impacts performance
  • Avoid performance-related confrontations

Coaching

A Coaching style is focused on long-term development of team members by providing ongoing instruction, as well as balanced feedback. Leaders with this style are typically very experienced in their roles and as a result, have a high comfort level with delegating. In the best-case scenarios, coaching leaders are prepared to trade off immediate results for long-term development of team members. A willingness to accept short-term failures and disappointments is indispensable for this style. Without this component, the “coach” will be viewed as phony and fake.

Three short-term styles for specific, usually limited application
Affiliative

An Affiliative Style:

  • Identifies opportunities for positive feedback
  • Stresses the importance of how employee morale impacts performance
  • Avoids performance-related confrontations

Although a leader with this style may appear to be supportive and want to be friends with everyone – when overused, these leaders may have a hard time making tough decisions. With time, people may take advantage. Following innumerable chances, opportunities and latitude, when there are disappointing results, this leader may become frustrated – shifting to tight reins and more control.

Pacesetting

This style pairs well with both a Visionary style and a Coaching style.
The Pacesetter:

  • Is apprehensive about delegating
  • Takes away responsibility when high performance is not forthcoming
  • Rescues risk-prone situations

Faced with tight deadlines, this can be a very effective style. It can lift spirits and resonates with people who learn by watching. If overused, even the highest achievers may start to decrease their discretionary effort while other less performance-focused team members may feel overwhelmed by the Pacesetter.

Directive

This style best reserved for critical situations. The captain of a fire department is a prime example of a leader who must use this style.

The Directive leader:

  • Controls tightly
  • Explains by directing or commanding
  • Motivates by stating the negative consequences of noncompliance
  • Offers short-term clarity and action plan

When overused in non-threatening situations, it’s often demotivating; nothing happens without the input of the leader – creating a bottleneck with the team.

Learn more about our Leadership Presence workshops for corporations and individuals.

leadership styles

No single style is more important than any other. What is important, is to be aware of the six essential leadership styles.

In today’s competitive business environment, leaders face a daily challenge to exceed expectations. The ability to remain focused and proactive, while steering the ship with a steady hand and delivering results requires Leadership Presence. Unquestionably, a nimble ability to adapt to the shifting swings in corporate life is a mandatory component.

At Corporate Class Inc., we recognize that Leadership Presence requires this repertoire of leadership styles for varying situations. Consider playing a round of golf with just one club – would you play a good game? Likely not. The same holds true for a repertoire of leadership styles. While golfers must learn to choose from 14 different clubs for every shot, aspiring leaders are faced with only six leadership styles.

Leadership Presence for aspiring leaders

It’s imperative to understand that there is, indeed, a learning curve. It’s steep, but attainable. One of the first principles of Leadership Presence is that there is no single profile:

“There’s a tendency to equate leadership with command…yet leadership comes in many forms.”
— Dr. Kathleen Kelley Reardon, USC management professor, leading corporate consultant, author and blogger (Excerpt from The Secret Handshake)

These six styles are applicable to any company, any industry and any culture

Although studies have shown that leaders typically have a very narrow range of styles, according to Harvard University findings these six styles create an optimal toolkit and equip people for every situation:

1. Visionary style

A Visionary style provides short, and long-term vision, direction and goals. It’s a style that cannot be overused but it’s most effective paired with other styles to influence employees by explaining both the organization’s interests and employee interests.

2. Participative style

A Participative style invites employees to participate in the development of decisions and actively seeks opportunities for consensus. It is often characterized as a supportive style. A Participative style does not reward individuals but the group as a whole.

3. Coaching style

A Coaching style encourages long-term development of employees. Leaders should know the individual short and long-term development goals for every team member and strive to help them achieve their objectives. A coaching style is logical and persuasive; it relies on careful explanations and reasoning.

4. Affiliative style

An Affiliative style focuses on people, not results – and places emphasis on developing relationships with employees.

5. Pacesetting style

A Pacesetting style leads by example in an atmosphere where there is little patience for poor performance. Pacesetters actively jump in and steer, instead of delegating.

6. Directive Style

A Directive Style uses tight control and demands immediate compliance of employees. It provides instruction, not direction, by telling employees what to do.

What’s important to understand is that when it comes to Leadership Presence, the emphasis is on having a full repertoire of styles. Visionary, Participative and Coaching are all categorized as “long-term styles.” They may be applied in combination and set the tone for sustained productivity.

Affiliative, Directive and Pacesetting are categorized as “short-term.” These three are often effective in highly emotional, difficult and extreme situations. Consider the golf club analogy. Some, like the sand wedge, have very specific and limited application and this applies to short-term leadership styles.

Learn more about our Leadership Presence workshops for corporations and individuals.

addictive technology

“Summertime and the living is easy.” Yes, it is indisputably summertime but instead of enjoying it, many of us are as tied to our smartphones, tablets or computers as during the darkest days of winter. Even when we’re on vacation.

In his recent TEDTalk, Alan Alter, psychologist and NYU Associate Professor of Marketing, describes how excessive indulgence in screen reading has become a behavioral addiction controlling our lives. According to Professor Alter, we all work longer hours each year and many of us apparently, spend an average of three hours on our smartphones – every day.

Miraculous and wonderful as technology is, Professor Alter explains that since 2007, the approximately three hours we then dedicated to personal time, or downtime, including time we spend with family and friends, has dropped to almost nothing – a mere blip on the screen, so to speak. Usually, we’re clueless that our less than happy state is the result of this diminished personal time,

Early in his TEDTalk, he recalls an unexpected Steve Jobs’ revelation about his own family and the iPad. At the time of its release, he famously described the device as “the best browsing experience” and “extraordinary,” yet when questioned by a journalist about how his children must love it, the reply was astonishing:

“They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”
— Steve Jobs commenting on his children’s use of the iPad.

No boundaries

In addition to limiting screen time, the Jobs’ family proactively used dinnertime for conversational engagement. Step into any busy food court at lunchtime and you’ll see vast numbers of people eating together. Instead of chatting, they are independently glued to small screens, even as they raise their soup spoons!

It is the absence of boundaries or what Professor Alter calls “stopping cues,” that enables endless screening. With most media today, unlike a newspaper or magazine, there are no stopping cues. The news just rolls on forever.

Work-life balance initiatives within organizations:
Europe leads the way

It was several years ago, when we first learned about some genuine efforts to sustain a healthy work-life balance. Germany’s ministry of employment banned managers from emailing or calling staff outside official business hours except in absolute emergencies. And even then, the guidelines made it clear that staff should not be penalized for failing to pick up the message.

The ministry was following precedents imposed by Volkswagen, BMW and Puma. Just 30 minutes after the workday’s end, VW stops the clock and no more emails are forwarded. The other firms make it very clear that employees are under no obligation to check emails over the weekend

According to Professor Alter, this innovative mindset continues in Germany. At Daimler, incoming emails to people on vacation are deleted. Senders are advised that the intended recipient will never, ever see the email – and to resend it in a few weeks, or email someone else!

He also describes a Dutch design firm that transforms into a yoga studio promptly at 6:00 pm. Desks are raised to the ceiling and remain suspended in space, totally inaccessible. Namaste.

Watch Adam Alter’s TEDTalk

Learn more about Adam Alter’s book:
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

And finally, take some well-deserved downtime and listen to George Gershwin’s Summertime, with lyrics by DuBose Heyward. Composed for the 1935 debut of Porgy and Bess. Stephen Sondheim characterized these lyrics as “the best lyrics in the musical theater.” Here’s Ella Fitzgerald.

feedback

Last week we introduced Deloitte’s latest report that encapsulates results from its global survey on human capital trends. The report is very clear; in the future “feedback” will increasingly replace the more traditional employee appraisals.

Today, these feedback reports are often 360-assessments. At CCI, we frequently conduct these reports for corporate candidates. The process includes debriefing and coaching sessions with each individual.

Also known as multi-source feedback, anonymous comments from an employee’s direct reports, colleagues and boss, along with the person’s self-evaluation make-up the feedback. The objective is to bring to light top attributes for professional development purposes. The debriefing/coaching segment is critical to help the individual read between the lines.

Case study: Tony’s actions were at odds with his goals

One of the surest signs of true candidates for high-level advancement is their acceptance of less than positive feedback. In CCI’s recently published White Paper, we describe a situation with challenging circumstances that involved unfavorable feedback.

When we first met “Tony” at a workshop, he absolutely dazzled us with his effortless, graceful ability to engage people and his profoundly professional presentation skills. During a preliminary review of his 360-assessment, with feedback from across Tony’s organization, we were stunned by the discrepancy between what we had witnessed and the reported behavior. Colleagues and senior leaders found him prickly and short-tempered, especially during group meetings. We were baffled.

Shortly after reading the feedback, we were scheduled for more extensive training sessions at his firm’s HQ. Immediately, we connected with Tony to informally chat about the disparity between our experience and the comments about his imperious “performances” in the boardroom. We did not mince words, but told him straight out about his unrestrained conduct.

Tony got it immediately. He explained that he became impatient; he was trying to move things forward. Tony also revealed his personal ambitions to advance to a very specific role within the C-Suite. Our role was to help him understand that his actions were at odds with his goals.

Feedback timelines

Typically, there is an 18-month hiatus between the first series of feedback and coaching sessions, and the follow-up series. This allows participants time to evolve. With a narrower window of only three to six months, there really isn’t sufficient time to see significant development. An interesting sidebar to the opening initiative is how participants respond to feedback. Many are surprised by the comments and perceptions. “I didn’t know people saw me as a leader,” is a frequent admission. Obviously, this positive information spurs the person to welcome L&D opportunities and reinforces a maturity of action and behavior.

The other side of the coin, often apparent among corporate stars, occurs when the feedback reports arrogance. As more and more frequently today, leadership roles go to people with highly advanced “people skills,” in this case, the organization is giving the person a heads-up!

By drawing attention to address this potentially career-limiting flaw and providing sufficient time within the 18-month time frame, there is a better chance for awakened empathy.

If you would like to read details about our Assessment process and its application for your organization… Learn more >

If you missed last week’s blog about Deloitte’s latest report…Learn more >

The pace of change within organizations is operating at a break-neck speed. This week we take a brief look at Rewriting the rules of the digital age: 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends

“Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate and these innovations have completely transformed the way we live, work and communicate.”
– Josh Bersin, principal and founder, Bersin by Deloitte,
Deloitte Consulting LLP

Just five years following its inception, this is the largest and most extensive Deloitte report to date. It includes a survey of more than 10,000 HR and business leaders across 140 countries and reveals new concepts for leading, motivating and training people.
“This workforce is changing. It’s more digital, more global, diverse, automation-savvy, and
social media- proficient. At the same time, business expectations, needs, and demands are evolving
faster than ever before.”

The 2017 report sends a very clear message that organizational success will increasingly depend on building teams of people, instead of the traditional structural hierarchy. Recruitment and talent acquisition are integral to this shift, with HR departments on the frontlines. Their challenge will be to meet the ever-growing demands for talent as the pace of change escalates. The report lists the 10 trends in order of importance; we take a look at the top two.

Trend 1. The Organization of the Future: Arriving now

This trend speaks to replacing the traditional corporate ladder and its chain of command with networks of teams, newly empowered to take action. What is particularly noteworthy about this top-rated trend is that last year’s survey placed the emphasis on designing the new organization; this has now progressed to actively building it. In other words, in one year, organizations have moved from addressing the planning process to actual implementation.
The report supplements each trend with a table that compares the “old rules” that have guided organizational life, with the “new rules” mandatory to move each respective trend forward. These new rules affirm both the survey results and the practices high-performance companies have already introduced. Here’s a sampling from the table for Trend 1, for example:

  • Old: Organized for efficiency and effectiveness,
  • New: Organized for learning, innovation and customer impact
  • Old: Roles and job titles clearly defined
  • New: Teams and responsibilities clearly defined but roles change

Trend 2. Careers and Learning: Real time, all the time

This trend is very much in the air at Corporate Class. Organizations are constantly looking for learning and training that enables employees to build skills that advance their careers. We know Millennials’ expectation is that employers must provide opportunities to learn and progress.
As a footnote to this observation, learning and development (L&D) was in fifth place in Deloitte’s 2016 survey and has now moved up to second position.
Old rules versus new:

  • Old: Careers go “up or out”
  • New: Careers go in every direction
  • Old: Managers direct careers for people
  • New: People find their career direction with help from leaders and others

For all of us engaged in training and coaching people for workplace advancement opportunities, Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends is a fascinating precursor of where our industry is headed: Talent acquisition, performance management, pushing the boundaries of leadership with young leaders, diversity – all are addressed in a very easy-to-read format. We encourage you to explore this insightful undertaking.
Here’s the introduction.
Or, download the pdf

challenging conversations

Challenging conversations occur across the globe every minute of every day. Some are handled well and result in decisions and actions that propel organizations, teams and individuals forward. Conversations not handled well, may result in conflict that could lead to incorrect decisions – and even business or individual failures.
Unfortunately, when it matters most, we’re often at our worst. When opinions differ and emotions run high, the hair on the back of our neck stands straight up, a trigger releases, our adrenaline pumps. Some of us say something that makes complete sense to us in the moment, but inflames the situation. Others shut down, hoping the moment will pass. Whether it’s manager to employee, employee to manager, or peer-to-peer – studies have shown that close to 32 percent of employees deal with conflict on a regular basis. It makes sense to prepare to deal with conflict in a constructive fashion.
Whether you foresee an emotional trigger, or it just appears unexpectedly, it’s best to take a deep breath. Therapeutic benefits aside, taking a deep breath prevents you from blurting out something you’ll regret later. It’s impossible to speak when you’re breathing in. And, breathing in gives you a chance to think, while you:

  • Develop a positive mindset; make it about we, not “me.”
  • Identify the backstory; what buttons are being pushed?
  • Define the ideal outcome, not only for you, but for other participants as well
  • If you think something good may come from it, it likely will.

Reframe the other person’s role – from opponent to partner:

  • What are their needs, and fears?
  • What are your needs, and fears?
  • What solution might they suggest?

6-Step Guide
Once your preparation is complete and you re-enter the conversation, adopt this course of action:
Step 1: Create a composed, cool-headed atmosphere

  • Stay calm
  • Don’t speak over others
  • Never interrupt
  • Don’t withdraw, or give people the cold shoulder
  • Stay in charge of yourself; this keeps the other person centered, too

Step 2: Get to the heart of the matter, emotion-free

  • Inquire politely
  • Be curious
  • Even when you know the backstory, allow others the chance to get it out –people really want the opportunity to speak
  • Listen attentively – say something like; “I’d like to hear what you have to say.”
  • Empathize – show compassion
  • Borrow the phrase; “I didn’t realize this was going on, tell me more.”

Step 3: Acknowledge that there may be a difference in how you both see the situation

  • This doesn’t equate to agreement, but it does make it safe for both of you to express your point of view
  • Consider saying something like; “I really need to say something that might upset you, and I’m concerned.”

Step 4: Show respect

  • Politely clarify your position, without minimizing theirs; “Your opinion means a great deal, thanks for providing it.”

Step 5: Ask them what they think will work

  • Build on their answers
  • If the conversation starts to become adversarial, try saying; “Can we continue talking about this later to see if we can come up with solutions?” Or, “Both of us need to put more effort into this if it’s going to work out.”

Step 6: Closure

  • Always try to end the conversation with clearly expressed actions
  • Summarize who will do what
  • Check for any obstacles that remain
  • Invite the other person to work with you, to make matters better

Let’s be at our best when it matters most. As author Vivian Greene reminds us, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”