non-verbal Micro-responses

Non-Verbal Matters

non-verbal Micro-responses

Today I’m thinking about the unconscious communications we all make. Someone says or does something in our presence. Then, quick as a flash, we give them a non-verbal micro-response. It might be a sound, a gesture, a facial expression. These non-verbals go by so quickly, we may not even know they happened. Like it or not, other people notice. Some of these non-verbals serve to build relationships. Some serve to destroy them. Really, if you’ll pardon the double negative, none of them have no impact at all.

AN ILLUSTRATION

The other day at a store, I said to the clerk, “Hey, I’m hoping you can help me with something.” Before responding to me, she closed her eyes, lowered her head, and let out a quick breath through her nose. The whole gesture took less than two seconds. Then she looked at me and said, “Sure. How can I help you?”

Before she spoke, I already wished I hadn’t gone into that store.

NON-VERBAL MATTERS

I expect that if you were to ask her how she responded to my request for help, she’d tell you, “I said, ‘Sure. How can I help you?’” But that wasn’t her first response. While it was the first thing she said, her gesture, her body language, was the first response. And it was also therefore my first impression. And it was the communication I believed.

There’s a principle of Adeptability we teach our clients. We humans are, “meaning making machines.” Every bit of information we take in, we make meaning of. We tell ourselves a story to make sense of the information. We fit every gesture and sound, every non-verbal expression, into the story we’re telling ourselves.

I’m a meaning making machine. So, I told myself a story to interpret her non-verbal response — right or wrong — and then I believed my story. To me it meant, “I don’t want to help you. Don’t bother me.” That response and the meaning I took from it had a more profound effect on my experience than her second/spoken response, “Sure. How can I help you.” I may have been mistaken. It’s possible I was wrong.

To the store I was in, however, it doesn’t matter whether my interpretation was correct or not. As a result of her unconscious communication to me, I felt unwelcome. So, I probably won’t go back. I got what I came for, and left as quickly as possible. She likely affected others in the same fashion.

In business, non-verbals are a major part of our brand. They’re a big part of our company culture. Micro-responses play a significant role in everyone’s sense of well-being, belonging, and motivation. Non-verbal communication drives productivity and results or it puts on the brakes.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

There’s another principle of Adeptability that informs where our attention belongs in order to have the impact in the world and our businesses that we’re looking to have.

It’s never about the thing. It’s always about the relationship.

The store clerk was willing to help me. In fact, she did help me. And even so, with her initial micro-response, she tore down the relationship with me.

Non-verbal micro-responses can tear down the relationship, and they can also build it up. How often do you smile at the people you work with when you encounter them? How often do you approach their requests with an attitude of “yes”?

Micro-responses that tear down relationships:

  • Sighs
  • “Oh no”
  • Frowning
  • Head shaking
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Eye-rolling
  • Etc.

Micro-responses that build up relationships:

  • Smiles
  • Nodding
  • “Uh-huh”
  • Eye-contact
  • Slightly raised eyebrows
  • Etc.

THE CHALLENGE

The non-verbal micro-responses we’ve been talking about are pre-conscious and reflect the thoughts you have about the situation (or person) presenting itself. You can’t necessarily control micro-responses in the moment because they come before you know it. You can, however, notice them in retrospect. Often, if you train yourself, you can recognize them even as they come. And you can instruct yourself in how you want to respond in like circumstances in the future.

And if you notice you’ve made a destructive micro-response, you can apologize for your impulsive reaction. An apology, when it’s called for and offered without prompting, is a powerful relationship builder.

You can ask those around you to give you feedback specifically about your pre-conscious micro-responses and enlist them in your effort to improve your collaborative ability.

And you can give yourself instruction and deliberately apply your awareness in advance of the situations where potentially destructive micro-responses come up.  

You know you best. Make an inventory of the places you’re most likely to sneer, roll your eyes, groan, sigh, slump your shoulders, etc.

Here’s a start:

  • When someone makes a request of you
  • When someone comes unannounced to your work space
  • When you encounter someone when walking through the office
  • When someone gives you feedback — corrective or congratulatory
  • When someone asks you for a status report
  • When someone tells you about their personal life, or asks you about yours

Keep track of these triggers. Prepare to build relationships. When you catch yourself tearing down the relationship, make a quick apology, offer a remedy, and move on.

Additionally, if you’ve got a feedback culture (and if you don’t, get to work right away to build one), give and ask for feedback on non-verbal behaviors.

  • When you roll your eyes, I’m left thinking you’re not ready for a project like this.
  • Thank you for nodding throughout my presentation. I knew I had you with me, and I felt encouraged.
  • When you shake your head while a customer is talking to you about a problem, they won’t feel supported. We’ll lose business.
  • When you occasionally say, “uh-huh,” when I’m telling the team about this new initiative, people know I have your support. It helps smooth the transition and get everyone on board.

Even subtle and unconscious behavior affects the team, the customers, and the business results. So it’s part of performance and deserving of feedback — both congratulatory and corrective.

WHY BOTHER

The greatest benefit of the awareness and discipline I’m suggesting… You can change your own attitude through this practice. Our attitudes surely affect our behaviors. It works in reverse too. Discipline yourself to constructive behaviors and your attitudes will shift.

You’ll improve your own outlook, morale, and value in your organization.

Meanwhile, you’ll also affect the impression others have of you. You’ll upgrade the way they think of you, upgrade the way they feel being around you, upgrade the opportunities that come your way, and upgrade the results you get in the many negotiations we all engage in every day.

Whatever your work, this will fuel your career and increase your sense of fulfillment. It’ll drive results for you, for your team, and for your company.

 

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Imagine your team operating with high-level EQ. Trouble is, reading an article doesn’t often change behavior. That’s why we created Adeptability Training for your team for a communication and collaboration culture as a matter of habit and mindset. Want an Adeptable team?

Book a call today.


Five Cent Company Culture Upgrade

With just 5 cents, you can make a major upgrade to your company culture. And are you ready for the kicker? You don’t even have to spend the five cents. You can keep your money and still get the upgrade. Look in the sofa cushions, grab five pennies, and read on.

COMPANY CULTURE

There’s a lot of talk about the importance of company culture. There’s not a lot of clarity about what company culture means. At The Yes Works, we have a useful definition of culture:

A company’s culture is the set of contagious tendencies of behavior, language, and values common to the people working there.

Want to know the secret to this five-cent/free company culture upgrade? Thank you. No, I am not thanking you for your interest (although, thank you for your interest). That’s the secret. “Thank you,” is the secret.

Thank you is a behavior that reflects the attitude of the thanker and affects the attitudes and the behavior of the thanked and of everyone who overhears the thanks. In an environment of recognition and gratitude, people are engaged.

A so-called leader I once spoke to said, “Why would I say, ‘Thank you,’ to my employees for doing their job. I pay them. Their paycheck is my thanks.” He wondered why he had to constantly police people to insure they spent their time on task, and why there seemed to be a problem of petty theft at the office. He didn’t believe in a connection. “That’s how people are.”

Whenever I hear, “That’s how people are,” I know that’s a team that could benefit from a shot of Adeptability.

Another employer I met recently complained that her executive assistant said she’d like more feedback. “I don’t know if I’m doing a good job.” This employer bragged, “I told her, ‘You’re still here, aren’t you? I haven’t fired you. That’s how you know that you’re doing well.’” She added, “You can’t coddle people.”

You may find these exchanges cartoonish. The sad truth is, they’re painfully common.

You’re here, reading The Yes Works blog, so your culture and your leadership are doubtless light-years ahead of that. Let’s take it to the next level. Introduce or turn up the volume on a “Thank You” Culture.

“Thank You” Culture

The research shows that if you want performance, you should be thanking people. Non stop. Thank the people who work for you. Thank your customers. Thank your vendors. Thank the people you work for, and those whom you work with. Cultivate a company culture of thanks.

Why bother?

THE THANK YOU ROI

The reasons are simple:

  1. It’s polite. Don’t get a reputation as a self-centered boor.
  2. It’s good for relationships, and as you may have heard me say before, “It’s never about the thing. It’s always about the relationship.”
  3. We crave it. One of the top complaints people have about work, “My contribution is not recognized or appreciated.”
  4. It’s contagious. When we’re thanked, we thank. Thank a lot, and the thanks are going to propagate all over your company.
  5. It reinforces the behavior you want. Behavior recognized and rewarded is behavior repeated. Thanks encourage performance.
  6. Use it or lose it. Behavior not specifically recognized and rewarded fades away. It’s not because people are peevish. It’s the way our brains are wired. Thanks reward the centers of the brain that crave belonging — and those centers are powerful indeed. “Thank you” is the best kind of peer-pressure.

A management truism is, you reliably get what you measure. That’s true of ourselves as well as those we supervise, so we’ve got a tool for you. It’ll help you drive your “thank you” performance.

Five-Cent Thank Yous

Here’s the five-cent tool you don’t have to pay a dime for. It’s an easy and contagious company culture upgrade.

  1. Put five pennies in your left pocket.

  2. Every time you thank someone for something they’ve done, move one penny from your left pocket to your right pocket.

  3. Every single day, make sure you’ve completed the transfer of funds from left to right. That’s 5 thanks a day. Better than an apple for company health.

Sound simple? It is. Still, it can be quite a challenge. We all like to think we’re gracious bosses and colleagues. Fact is, when the pressure is on, when we’re feeling busy and pressed for time, gracious may go right out the window. Saying, “thank you,” it’s only going to count — only going to deliver the benefits — if you’re received as genuine.

There’s a skill to finding and delivering a thank you that’s genuine even when you’re stressed, even when under duress. We’ve got some suggestions.

Here are a few guidelines from our Adeptability program:

  1. BE SPECIFIC. “Thank you,” even, “Thank you for your work,” is nice but gets limited ROI. Specific is far more powerful. “Thank you for double-checking my work to ensure we’re error free on this report.” That’s specific. That’s powerful. “Thank you for consistently turning your work in ahead of schedule. That keeps us on target for our clients and ensures we have a reputation for value.”
  2. TALK ABOUT BEHAVIOR. It’s not useful to thank people for generalities or for your interpretation of  their attitude — “Thank you for being friendly. Thanks for being awesome.” Thank people instead for behavior. “Thank you for smiling at me this morning.” Thanking someone for being, “helpful,” is fine. Thanking someone for, “giving me a heads-up before the meeting that Greg might need the Klein Numbers,” is better. Not only does that make the behavior easier to repeat. It’s also more gratifying to hear. I know you mean it.
  3. CULTIVATE GRATITUDE. Nothing is too small to be worthy of thanks. Thanks for holding the door. Thanks for the paper clip. Thanks for hearing me out. Thank you for coming early to the meeting so we could start on time. Thank you for always doing what you said, or communicating in advance if there’s trouble. (Gratitude, by the way, is good for you — physically and psychologically.)
  4. DEBT ACCUMULATES. CREDIT DOESN’T. Did you miss all your thank yous yesterday? Get ten in today. Did you get ten in yesterday? You still owe five today. (Need proof that this idea that credit doesn’t accumulate is a practical principle of real truth? If you get a bonus this week, is it okay with you if your employer doesn’t pay you next week?)
  5. SPREAD THE LOVE. Don’t focus all your gratitude on your close-in teammates. Spread some gratitude to others in the group, and also to those outside your department. Together with your teammates, become the “Thank you” department. Build a department reputation for gratitude. Watch how easy it becomes to get things done across silos that used to be like pulling teeth.

BONUS

Are you crushing your thank you numbers? Here are a couple of suggestions for upping your game.

ADVANCED SKILLS:

  1. FORGET 5 CENTS. Go for 10. Go for 15. When you’ve cultivated your gratitude capacity, you begin to notice oodles of opportunities. It becomes an unstoppable habit. Spread this culture contagion even wider.
  2. TALK RESULTS. You’ll notice that some of the examples above don’t end with thanks for the behavior. They go on to name the result of the behavior. “Thank you for checking my work,” names a behavior. The likely result, “We turn in an error free product.” You can also build an Accountability Culture on this behavior-results type of feedback. Actually, you can’t separate the two. “Thank you for pointing out where I was failing to deliver.” Behavior. “I’m beginning to notice a tendency I have to gloss over that area of my work, and I’m taking actions to insure I remain attentive.” Result.
  3. PLANT AND FERTILIZE. Sometimes people hold back the behavior you’re looking for. Maybe they’re not sure you really want it. Maybe they’re uncertain their efforts will be recognized and received. Only getting a shadow of what you’re after? Try thanking people for the whole thing, even if you’re getting only the barest hint. “Thank you for your quality control attention on the whole project like that.” Even if they’ve only been scratching the surface, you’ll watch the behavior grow under a nurturing thanks. Thanking someone for their effort in building a new skill will drive and motivate more effort and faster improvement.

Gratitude is an Adeptability Culture skill. It’s contagious. It’s productive. It’s not the only way to get exceptional results. It is one of the easiest and most sustainable ways to drive ever improving performance and productivity.

And it does a body good. Pass it on.

 

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Communication and collaboration are some of the hardest things to get right in any company culture, and the difficulty increases exponentially as you add more people to the team. Adeptability Training gets teams communicating and collaborating effectively as a matter of habit and mindset. Book a call today.


Collaboration Made Simple in 1 Step

Ok. Here it is. The single step you need to take for world-class collaboration:

Always move the action forward. (Repeat.)

If it’s immediately clear to you how this sentence applies to collaboration, then thanks for reading. If you’ve got an eyebrow raised, allow me to elaborate.

An Adeptability Collaboration Guide

Though we all collaborate every day, in many small ways, some of us are better collaborators than others. What’s better mean? It means making contributions that get us closer to a shared objective together. And some people are more effective  than others at working together to close the distance between us and our objectives.

Take meeting setting for instance. It’s easier to set a meeting with some people than it is with others. And it’s not just because of full calendars. Sometimes it’s about collaboration skills.

Setting a meeting with someone can take a whole lot more time and effort than it should. Just trying to set a coffee meeting between two people can seem like planning a mission to Mars for all the effort and the number of emails it may take. And scheduling coffee is about as simple as a collaboration can get.

Improvisers — people who create theatrical performances together by finding inspiration from each moment (with no advance planning or scripting) — have something to offer on this score. It’s a principle of Adeptability that can truly enhance all business communication.

According to legend, Rabbi Hillel was asked to sum up the whole of God’s teaching while standing on one leg. Pardon me while I stand up from my chair to sum up the whole of collaboration.

“ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD.”

Let me give you couple of examples of failing to employ this principle that may clarify. Warning: This may hit a little too close to home.

EXAMPLE ONE – NOT GOOD:

At a networking event, you meet someone new, or encounter an existing contact where there’s promise of mutual benefit in the relationship. You say, “We should get coffee sometime.” They respond, “Yeah! We totally should.” You both mean it. And then you go your separate ways.

Months go by, and you never go to coffee. No one took any action. Without action, there’s no forward movement.

EXAMPLE TWO – MARGINAL IMPROVEMENT:

You send an email to a colleague in another firm you’re preparing to do business with. You’d like to get together to discuss the details of the engagement. It’s coming up fast and time is of the essence. You write:

Hey Janet,

Let’s get together next week over coffee to discuss the joint venture we’re launching next month.

Janet responds:

Great idea. Let’s do it.

You:

Great. When are you available?

Janet:

Name a time.

You:

How about Tuesday at 3PM?

Janet:

Sorry. That’s the only day I can’t do. I’m out of the office all day, Tuesday.

You:

Ok. Monday then? How about Monday at noon?

Janet:

Yeah. That’s great. See you then.

You:

Terrific. See you then. But I just realized, we didn’t set a location. Where would you like to meet?

Janet:

Name a spot.

Uncle! Ok, that’s enough. I’m ready to shoot myself in the head. We’re ten emails in, and we still don’t have enough information to actually get together.

Obviously, this is an extreme case, maybe even cartoonish. But dollars to donuts, you’ve almost certainly got threads in your email or chat history that bear some resemblance.

Let’s see what happens if you take ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD as far as you can… Even if Janet doesn’t do likewise.

EXAMPLE 3 – BETTER:

You:

Hey Janet,

Let’s get together next week over coffee to discuss the joint venture we’re launching next month.

I propose Tuesday, 3PM, Mulligan’s Do-Over Coffee House on Main St.

Janet:

Sorry. Can’t do Tuesday. All booked up.

You:

Ok. Monday at noon or Wednesday at 10:30? Either way, at Mulligan’s?

Janet:

Either one.

You:

I’ll see you at Mulligan’s on Monday at noon. Please confirm.

Janet:

Yes.

 

That’s a lot better. Six emails, and it’s set and confirmed. Even without Janet’s help.

But what if both correspondents employ ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD?

EXAMPLE 4 – EFFECTIVE:

You:

Hey Janet,

Let’s get together next week over coffee to discuss the joint venture we’re launching next month.

I propose Tuesday at 3PM, Mulligan’s Do-Over Coffee House on Main St.

Janet:

Mulligan’s is great, but I can’t do Tuesday.

How about Monday at noon or Wednesday at 10:30?

You:

Mulligan’s on Monday at noon! Done. See you there.

If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume that still works for you. No need to confirm.

Three emails, and done!

This principle, this tool, ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD, applies to any collaborative project. Scheduling is just one arena.

ANOTHER ILLUSTRATION:

You:

Let’s turn this project over to Cathy. She’s a wiz at simplifying this kind of complexity.

OPTION 1: Janet could respond:

No, not Cathy. She’s good with complexity. You’re right about that. But she lacks the diplomacy to handle the client’s personality, and it’ll be a disaster.

OPTION 2: Or Janet could respond:

Cathy is good with complexity, and she’s likely to clash with the client. Barry’s almost as good with complexity, and he’ll keep his cool with a difficult client.

Which message would you rather receive from Janet? Which one moves you closer to your objective of staffing the project?

Collaboration Wrap:

This principle –ALWAYS MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD — implies that the following do not suffice for effective collaboration. Alone, they don’t move the action forward.

  • Yes
  • No
  • Maybe
  • I like it.
  • Great.
  • Terrible.

This sort of response isn’t enough information for effective collaboration. If you’re committed to moving things forward, if you want to contribute to progress, take the next step. Add to the momentum.

And don’t worry. You don’t need to build the whole thing by yourself. Because…

Collaboration Bonus:

Here’s a freebee. A bonus Adeptability principle borrowed from improvisers:

DON’T BRING A CATHEDRAL. BRING A BRICK.

It can be daunting to try to solve any single problem on your own, in one fell swoop. But one idea, even a piece of an idea is enough to MOVE THE ACTION FORWARD, or as the case may be… BUILD THE CATHEDRAL. In other words, you don’t have to solve the problem. Even the smallest idea might be the lynch-pin to the final answer. Even if your idea ends up on the cutting room floor, it might be just the trigger a fellow collaborator needs in order to discover the big idea that solves it all.

As Lao Tzu — world famous improviser — said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And in collaboration, you’re not the only one stepping.

 

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As G.I. Joe used to tell me at the end of each episode… “Knowing is half the battle.” If you’d like to build Adeptability culture in your company, click to book a call.


Make a friend. Almost kill him. Start a business together.

I made a new friend. One day, we almost killed each other. Then, we spent that afternoon together in misery. Next, we formed a company to teach others to do what we had done — at work. You can do it too at your work.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Meeting:

Adam and I worked together once, years ago, on a project for two months. It was great. Won some critical acclaim. Was beloved by a small number of fans. And ultimately, it failed commercially. Some time later, we entered a competition together (along with some others) with a weekends’ project, had some fun, and won an award. I liked working with Adam. I thought there was potential for a friendship there, so I asked him on an adventure.

“Let’s go on a half-day canoe trip together, Adam. Something local. I’ll meet you at the river.”

On the trip, we almost killed each other. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

“The mindset that improv training breeds is kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine for a moment that every boss you’ve ever had, every coworker, everyone who has ever reported to you was kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine what you could have accomplished together.”

Adventure:

We met relatively early in the morning at a gas station. He followed me in his car to the downriver site where we’d end our morning’s paddle. And then, we drove my car to the upriver site where we put the canoe in the water. After a couple of hours of pleasant, enjoyable calm flat water, punctuated by the occasional mild, short, fun rapids, we came to a bigger rapid, and pulled the boat to the bank to reconnoiter.

I hopped out, scrambled a ways down the bank, climbed up on some rocks and debris, and scoped out the rapid. It was fast, turbulent water, but the chute through the rapid was uncomplicated and clear of any major obstacles. I nodded, returned to Adam, and said, “Let’s do this.”

He replied, “I don’t know.”

“I think we can do it,” I said. “Bigger, but not harder, than what we’ve already done.”

Then I reminded him of a few key techniques for navigating the rapid successfully and what to do if we capsized (I was the experienced paddler in the boat), and we pushed off the bank.

The first half of the rapid was a thrilling, easy, straight shot. We came to the first of two slight adjustments we’d have to make before reaching calm water again, and Adam leaned right when he should have leaned left. We took on water. The boat rode lower, and within one second we were capsized. For a few seconds, I shouted instructions to Adam. “Hang onto your paddle! Feet downstream! See you at the bottom! Left bank!” Neither one of us knows if he heard any of that.

Disaster:

The next thing I knew, my ankle got caught between two boulders. I swung around head downstream, foot pinned, face up in the heavy water. And the torrent played me like a ragdoll. I could not free my ankle. I struggled to keep my face above the water. By trying to sit up, I could just manage to bring my face to the surface long enough to gasp a breath. I did this a few times. I hadn’t been pinned more than a few seconds, I think, but I was already becoming exhausted.

If I couldn’t free my foot, I would drown very soon. But struggling as I was to earn just three breaths, I was losing strength, and hadn’t made any progress toward freedom. I thought, “I’m going to die.” I thought of my unborn daughter growing up without a dad. So I took a breath, and gave in to the torrent. I went limp. My body did a horizontal impression of a car-dealership tube-man in the current.

I was resting.

After only a couple of seconds of that, I summoned my strength and did the hardest situp of my life. I managed the biggest breath so far, and — finally — to wrench my ankle from between the boulders that held it.

Seconds later, the rapids spit me out into the calm but swift water below. I thought, for the first time since being pinned, of Adam. I hoped he’d fared better than I had. I hoped too that he’d heard me say left bank. I swam for that bank myself, exhausted.

By coincidence or by design, Adam had also found the left bank. We found each other, and took stock.

Our paddles were gone. Our boat was gone. Adam had seen it destroy itself against a rock, turning inside out and wrapping around the boulder under the immense pressure of the water. Our food was gone. Hats gone. Almost everything was gone. Drinking water, gone. Adam’s shoes, gone.

I still had my wallet. Still had my keys. Both of us, somehow, had managed to keep our smartphones, and to keep them dry.

The phones turned on, but there was no reception. So we climbed a small but steep hill beside the river.We were somewhere inside Fort Lewis Army Base, and there were no buildings, or paths or other man-made anythings to be seen, even from the hill. The bank was impassable. The river too swift and cold to float the afternoon in. And we could not place a call. Google maps did, however, give us some slight indication of our location and of directions. We identified a possible road on the map and planned to walk there. It was not very near.

Adam’s shoes were gone, and his bare feet already hurt after the small amount of walking we’d done. I gave him my sandals and went barefoot.

Ordeal:

We tried to walk in the direction of the road or path that the map had indicated. It wasn’t easy to do. The forest around us was all but impenetrable. Every foot of progress was hard won through undergrowth and brambles. We zigzagged our way in the general direction we wanted to go by walking along fallen logs whenever we could. They provided paths through the bramble.

The afternoon became hot, and we wished we had water. We became quite fatigued. The landscape of small hills and valleys was difficult. The bramble nearly impossible.

Eventually, we reached my wife by phone and tried to describe the spot we were trying to reach — and told her it was within Fort Lewis. Could she call someone to meet us there — or try to meet us there herself?

We lost reception.

When we regained reception, we learned she’d gotten permission to drive into this remote section of the base to try to find us.

We pushed on. I lost my wallet, and spent some time and energy looking for it, retracing my steps a small distance. I could not tell where I had been, could not see my own path, so I gave up on my wallet, and we pressed on again.

Finally, we came in to a valley we believed our road ran along. But there was no road. So we pressed on, until…

Salvation:

I don’t know whether I saw or heard her first. Bless her, my wife had found our road, driven along it as far as she could, and then, when the road became impassible to the car, she’d left the car to find us on foot. She’d brought water.

Rejuvenated, somewhat, by the arrival of our rescuer, and by the rehydration, we quickened our pace and reached the car.

With the worst of the ordeal behind me, I decided and told Adam, “Now that we’re safe, and only in retrospect, that was kind of fun.”

“Not my idea of fun,” said Adam (a guy who’s run the Tough Mudder because that is his idea of fun).

Retrospect:

That’s when something began to dawn on me. “Not my idea of fun,” was the most negative thing Adam had said all day.

We’d stood on the bank of that river, nearly drowned, already exhausted by the ordeal in the rapids, with no way back to civilization, without water, and facing hours of greater ordeal in the heat of the afternoon. Adam had leaned left when he should have leaned right. I’d taken us into a rapid that I should not have attempted with Adam’s level of experience and confidence. We stood there on the bank facing trouble, but not emergency.

There were lots of conversations we could have had on that bank. Either of us could have blamed the other, shouted, pointed, and cursed. Either of us could have sat on the bank to cry. Either of us could have begun to marshal resources to support his own comfort and ease — to hell with the other guy.

Instead, we took quick stock of the situation, and began to think of the two person unit. Adam was fitter physically. I was more experienced outdoors. I had sandals. Adam’s bare feet were already hurt.

We strategized briefly. And we took immediate action to get the pair of us out of the predicament.

And the day went that way, each of us caring for the other, filling in when we could for the other’s weaknesses.

There was not a moment’s time given to sniping or to blame. We spoke occasionally of the fatigue and the dehydration, but neither of us complained. Instead, we kept the team apprised unemotionally of our slowly deteriorating state of strength and endurance. We took a moment to admire the beauty of a striking caterpillar posing on a tree trunk.

We disagreed about strategy often. At those times, we debated briefly, and one of us would defer to the other, and get completely behind the plan from that point on. We made errors that set us back. We adjusted, and still never pointed fingers.

Revelation:

We had each other’s backs, and we were united behind a single purpose.

I’d been considering a company dedicated to making work good for people. I’d seen how much ineffectiveness there is in many people’s work habits, and how many people feel beat down by work instead of fulfilled. Most people in our society don’t like work. I wanted to make a difference in that because I wanted my daughter to grow up in a culture where work is viewed as a grace and a privilege. I knew that tools and techniques from theater improv could serve to help people focus on what matters, to respond to others with empathy and purpose, and to take inspiration from the most seemingly trivial things — and therefore to like work.

Because Adam is the best improviser I know, I’d thought about asking him to join me in founding this company.

But it was because of who we were together in adversity, because of our focus on purpose, our willingness to keep going when it seemed we could not, because of the resourcefulness and commitment to purpose and team above all else… Because of those extraordinary qualities proven in a true trial of our temperaments, I knew two things.

Company Born:

First, I knew Adam was someone I could work with in the trenches. Come hell or high water, we’d be able to weather the rough seas of a startup.

Second, I knew that it was the improviser’s mentality that allowed us to maintain such equanimity, kindness, and resolve during and after such a trial. I knew we had something we could offer to the workplaces and to working-teams all over our country. And I knew we were already both experienced at teaching it.

Pair that with a life-long passion for developing leadership in myself and others… We were poised to change lives. We asked Rachel (who shares our mindset and devotion to developing it still further) to join us. She rounded out our team, and we started changing the world of work one team at a time.

Our Impact:

The mindset that improv training breeds is kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine for a moment that every boss you’ve ever had, every coworker, everyone who has ever reported to you was kind, empathetic, resourceful, observant, responsive, innovative, and resilient. Imagine what you could have accomplished together. Imagine the joy that would have filled your days. Imagine how you would feel on Monday morning, knowing you were heading to work to be surrounded by minds like that.

That’s why I have found my life’s work in changing lives, by changing work, by changing habits, by teaching improv dynamically correlated to the work you do.

 


Collaboration Culture is "Got Your Back" Culture

Tracy and Cal work for a company that names “Collaboration” as a core value, but no one has ever defined collaboration.

Tracy and Cal head back to their desks after the meeting. Tracy says, “Cal, You told me last month when I started working here that you were going to have my back.”

Cal says, “I did. You heard me tell them you were doing your best.”

Tracy feels hopeless. “Yeah. Exactly. Now thanks to you, they all think I’m drowning. They think my best is crappy.”

Cal asks, “What’d you want me to say?”

Tracy stops walking and says, “Where were you last week to help insure I was better prepared for that meeting before I put my foot in it? You knew I was on the wrong track and you did nothing. You call that collaboration?”

What does collaboration mean?

The expression, “Got your back,” means different things to different people.

In some of the teams I’ve worked with, there’s very little agreement as to the meaning. Tracy feels hung out to dry while Cal knows he’s got her back. Often, the argument is not so much about the facts of who’s doing what, but about what it means to truly have your teammate’s back.

This is something I give a lot of thought to. “Got Your Back” is a central principle in every training program conducted by my company, The Yes Works. Our Adeptability Training is built on principles from neuroscience, organizational psychology, improvisation, and best practices in leadership practice. We help teams to function at higher and higher levels of teamishness through exceptionally collaborative relationships. “Got Your Back” (which we describe as making your teammates look good — and be good) is one of my favorites among those principles. Everyone can always improve in their practice of it.

Ultimate Got-Your-Back, Ultimate Collaboration

As Lon, a recent acquaintance of mine, told me today over coffee, “I ask myself, ‘who do I need to be to amplify my wife’s best?’ And she asks herself, ‘Who do I need to be to amplify Lon’s best?’” That’s not a question with one simple answer. And it’s a question of a higher level than most use when considering how to have a team mate’s back in collaboration.

Colleagues disagree about whether they’re being supportive because few teams have any specific definition of what a supportive attitude or supportive behavior looks like. I don’t have one either. I have eight. Each definition represents a different level of practice, and each level reflects a higher degree of functionality, productivity, and satisfaction on the team.

I’ve got your back:

  • Level 1: I won’t throw you under the bus. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 2: If you’re in distress and you ask me for help, I’ll agree to help. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 3: If I see that you’re in distress, I’ll stop and volunteer my help. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 4: I know where you’re likely to need help, and I’ll ask if you’re struggling and need my help. I’ve got your back. This includes looking for the inspiration in every idea, and seeing the value in intention.
  • Level 5: I know your strengths and weaknesses. My help will come in such a way and at such a time that your weakness will never show. The help is there before you know you need it. I’ve got your back. This includes allowing yourself to be inspired to action by those around you in all that they do.
  • Level 6: I know our strengths and weaknesses as a team. I develop my skills and those of my team and find resources to eradicate those weaknesses and contribute to seamless team production. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 7: No matter what’s going on with me, I’m going to bring my A game. You can depend on me to bring my best, even when I’m tired or overwhelmed or scared. I’ve got your back.
  • Level 8: No matter what’s going on with me, I’m dedicated to your success. I will do what I can to bring out your best. I’ve got your back.

Collaboration and you.

What level are you playing at? What level is your team playing at? What level would you like to play at?  No doubt you want your company to prosper. What level of “Got your back” do you and your team need to play at in order to reach your goals?

Levels 7 and 8 require a whole culture of got-your-back. I can only bring my best, and truly be committed to bringing out your best, if I’m confident you’ve got my back. Someone’s got to look out for my best interests. If I know the team is looking out for my best interests, then I don’t have to.

What are you doing to move your team along the continuum? Leadership coach, Cy Wakeman, suggests a single question for the arsenal of every leader. When the shit hits the fan… When an employee complains about a peer… When a deadline is missed… “What did you do to help?”

Adeptability training is another way to move everyone up through the levels of got-your-back habit. This is simple, but not easy. Each of us plays at different levels at different times and in different circumstances. Each of us has moments where we fall off the Got Your Back track altogether. With practice, repetition, awareness, and intention, you can enhance your relationships — and (as Lon said at lunch today) “who you are,” in relationships — in business and beyond.

 

____________

Communication and collaboration are some of the hardest things to get right in any company culture, and the difficulty increases exponentially as you add more people to the team. Adeptability Training gets teams communicating and collaborating effectively as a matter of habit and mindset. Book a call today.


Improv: Change Your Mind

What would you say if I told you there’s genius in you?  What if I told you that there’s genius in everyone you work with?

You may doubt it.  I believe it.  My experience bears out my belief.

Imagine there’s a Ferrari in your driveway.  You drive it every day, but you firmly believe that only first gear works.  It can only do about 20 miles-per-hour.  You’re convinced this is true.

You’d never shift out of first gear.  You’d never drive faster than twenty.  You’d even be jealous of the neighbor’s Hyundai and its incredible capabilities as it easily passed you doing forty.

Now imagine your business, your company, with a fully functioning Ferrari engine under the hood. What if every person on the team brought five gears of confident genius to the party?  Communications would flow.  Innovation would soar.  Employees would thrive, and morale would be high.  Clients would say, “wow,” and return again and again.

We’ve convinced ourselves that the Ferrari in the driveway is actually a golf-cart.

“I can’t improvise.”  “I’m not creative.”  “I’m not quick enough.”  I hear these things at the start of almost every theater improv course we teach.

It’s flat-out false.

You are a creative genius.  How do I know?  Well, you’re reading, from which I deduce that you are the proud owner of a working brain, and the human brain is the most powerful computer on earth.  For every bit of data that goes in, an association (creatively constructed by your pre-conscious mind) comes out.  The only thing that distinguishes the “creative” among us from those who aren’t is that the “creative” among us give our attention to those associations and bring them into conscious thought while the “un-creative” haven’t learned to value those associations, to bring them forward in the mind, and to express them.

Creativity is not a fleeting, ephemeral quality reserved for the lucky few. Creativity is a habit and a skill.  And like any habit or skill, it can be developed and honed.  Creativity can be applied to any problem, in any situation, to any relationship.  Creativity is the life-blood of any business, and the disease which squelches it is “NO.”

“No” starts internally.  Too often, we tell our own creative impulse, “no,” before it’s even been allowed the full attention of our conscious mind.  “No, that’s not a very good idea.”  “No, that’s stupid.”  “No, I can’t say that.” “No, that won’t work.”  “No, that’s too risky.”

By saying “no” to our creative impulses before they’ve even taken a breath, we train ourselves that the engine of creativity inherent in us all is useless and should be squashed before it’s allowed to make fools of us.  We train our conscious mind to ignore it.

Then we start to judge the creative machine in others as well.  We hear a game-changing idea from someone else, and we say the same things: “No, that’s not a very good idea.”  “No, that’s stupid.”  “No, you can’t say that.” “No, that won’t work.”  “No, that’s too risky.”  And by summarily rejecting the ideas of others before their ideas are allowed to breathe, we train them as well to ignore their creativity, or at least to keep their ideas to themselves.

“No,” for many of us, is a deeply ingrained habit.  We don’t even know that we’re doing it.  We don’t know that we’re doing it to ourselves, and we don’t know that we’re doing it to others.

“Yes,” by contrast, is the engine of creativity.  Say, “yes,” a few times to your creative impulses, and your pre-conscious association-making mind will love it.  Having been rewarded with yes, your mind will ramp up the pace and the volume of the ideas it supplies.  You’ll have fresh ideas flooding through you.  Say, “yes,” a few times to the ideas of others, and they’ll reward your acceptance with even more ideas.

Theater Improv is great “yes” training.  That makes it great business training as well.

A central tenet of Theater Improv is an idea called, “yes, and.”  YES, I accept your input as valuable and relevant.  AND, I will expand upon it with my own perspective – inspired by your input.  It is an incredible, spontaneous feedback-loop of collaborative creativity.

How does this work in a business setting? The other day, I was in a Red Robin restaurant and saw a promotion advertised on the wall: When the Seahawks score from the red zone on game-day, everyone there gets a free burger if they come back in on Tuesday.  I imagine the marketing conversation went something like this.

“Let’s do a promotion to drive more business our way from Seahawks fans.”

“Great idea.  Let’s build somehow on the suspense of the game.”

“Ok. When the Seahawks score, we give out free burgers.”

“That’s a lot of burgers.”

“When they score from the red-zone.”

“Perfect, but we want people to come back, even when it’s not game day.”

“We give them a voucher for a free burger, but they have to come back to get the burger itself.”

You can see “yes, and” at work here, with each idea accepted and refined or elaborated upon.  Of course, I don’t know if there was a room full of people discussing this marketing campaign like this, but the conversation happened – even if it was one person having the conversation in her own mind.

This is a great marketing idea, certain to bring Seahawks fans in the door on game-day, and it will encourage them to return to cash in their vouchers (and spend money besides on drinks and meals for their families).  But the conversation could easily have gone another way.

“When the Seahawks score, we give out free burgers.”

“Yeah, right.  We’ve got a bar full of people watching the game, say thirty people, and the Seahawks score six times.  That’s one hundred eighty burgers, six per person.  Those customers are now full to the point of being sick.  They haven’t bought any food.  And we’re losing money.  Forget it.”

“Yes, and” is a business tool that creates possibility.  It hones good ideas into great ones.  It ignites genius.

But that’s not all it does.  In order to effectively operate the tool of “yes, and,” you’ve got to be actively, attentively listening to others – in every situation – from the perspective that what they have to say has value and merit.  Imagine doing business with a company where every time you spoke, expressed a desire, voiced a concern, asked for a consideration—every time—you were met with the attitude that what you were saying had value and merit.  There are companies that hold this idea sacred: Nordstrom for instance. Sure, they carry excellent products.  But it’s the experience of being valued as a person, not simply as a dollar, that keeps people coming back to shop there.  Nordstrom’s team is known for it.  They value human interaction.  They receive even customer complaints as opportunities to improve relationships and their company.

Many of us have trouble maintaining that posture consistently.  We take criticism personally.  Fear of the unknown makes innovative ideas scary.  Improv training is like going to the gym to build the muscles of embracing possibility and capitalizing on potential.  It literally changes your mind.  The more you practice “yes, and,” the easier and the more automatic it becomes.

Neuroscientists say, “The neurons that fire together, wire together.”  This means that every time I hear a thought, and my response is “yes, and,” the neurons that create that response become physically connected to the neurons that recognize a suggestion.  It becomes easier and easier, not only to say “yes” to the ideas of others, but to your own ideas as well.  Your mind is changed at a cellular level.

“Yes, and” is the single most powerful tool that I have as a theater director, as a teacher, as a manager and supervisor, and as an entrepreneur.  And I’m not alone in that opinion.  The best business schools in the country (Harvard, Duke, Columbia, MIT and many more) have added Theater Improv training to their MBA programs.

Consider adding Theater Improv training to your professional development arsenal.  Spark lucrative innovation. Build teams that operate like clockwork.  Harvest the full potential of your people.  Develop agile, intuitive leadership.  Train for quick, purposeful, in-the-moment thinking.

“The capacity to creatively improvise is an important factor that differentiates successful companies — or teams — from those that are not successful.”

          John Kao, Harvard Business School Professor;  Innovation Advisor

 

“It was as if the three-hour improv session finally, after many years, broke something in my brain loose. I gave the best presentation I have ever given and felt very ‘present’ and in control as I gave it.”

          William Gordon III, President and CEO, Tetragenetics Inc.

 

“After [improv training], I could keep up with the rest of my team, and I suddenly felt so much more alive than I had in years.”

         Amy Marquez, senior user experience designer to fortune 500 companies