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Managing Our Biggest Workplace Threat: Fear

Managing Our Biggest Workplace Threat: Fear

What are you so afraid of?

We were probably all asked that question right before our first leap from the diving board at our neighborhood pool when we were 6. Maybe someone lobbed that query your way when you didn’t want to join the group for a rip roaring good time on the fastest roller coaster in the park. You know, the one that goes backwards?! And, oh, don’t get me started on spiders….

Here’s the problem - we’re all grown up now and yet, sometimes, we still feel afraid. What’s more, we often feel those pangs of fear in our work environments. Why? Where do our professional fears originate? What should we do about them? Are the fears and anxieties you feel in the workplace normal? How do we understand our fears so that they drive and refine us versus inhibit and define us?

Know Yourself

First, take a moment as you read this and be honest with yourself. If you’re skilled at self-knowledge and comfortable being inquisitive of your own thought patterns, you’re probably comfortable admitting that you, too, have felt fearful in the workplace while doing what you do for an occupation. If you’re less comfortable looking inside the deepest depths of your own psyche, I want to challenge you, stop and admit it. You’ve been fearful, pensive, anxious or worried at some point in your professional life. We all have. For any of us who care about doing good work and contributing in our roles, performance anxiety is completely natural. We should care. We have enormous responsiblities and accountability for results and people. If we weren’t anxious about the gravity of those realities every now and then, there would be something wrong. Acknowledging our fear is one of the early steps in us mastering it so that we can understand how the gravitational pull of fear impacts our working lives.

Categorizing Fear

After acknowledging the realities of our fears and concerns, we next need to build a framework to understand them. Is our fear rational or irrational? Is it personal or organizational, meaning is it internal or external? Is our fear actionable or merely a data point or early warning system we must monitor and periodically assess?

For me, the first step I take in trying to understand if a fear is ‘real’ or rational is to jump forward in time and imagine that fear realized. I play the worst case scenario gambit in my mind. If the giant man-eating spiders that are capable of injecting me with neurotoxin and making me their paralyzed food store aren’t really amassing around me, I can probably settle down and not worry about them. That’s an irrational fear. Conversely, work-based fears, concerns or causes for anxiety might be more important for me to engage with. Imagining the worst case related to those fears helps me prepare for or prevent those conditions from coming to pass. This process of analyzing the origin for disease is important as a quick threat assessment because managing our energy is critical. As leaders we are constantly playing out scenarios and executing our plans. I can’t afford to spend energy on low ROI tasks, so, eliminating non-critical items is vital. Is a key member of my team underperforming, presenting a risk that will impact my business? Is my coaching adequate and am I serving my direct reports to the best of my ability or am I failing them? Are market conditions changing which show a trend of decreasing comps or revenue?These are examples of data points that relate to logical reasons for us to have concerns for our future performance and our concern for those we lead. It would be inadvisable for us to ignore those leading indicators and, as such, this kind of info can create a healthy fear or concern that we should listen to.

Putting fear/anxiety/concern into its proper place means asking questions about the scope of that concern as well. We need to dig deeper to understand how broadly that concern is being felt. Is our fear based on personal insecurity? Are we concerned about losing our job or role because our performance is not what it should be? Is the fear a market or sector wide issue that impacts not just us, but our team, our firm and the industry as a whole? The scope of just these three examples varies wildly and understanding the breadth and depth of your concern is important if you are to manage your fear.

The Big Fear

In the workplace, one of the most common specters we all grapple with is a fear of failure. We may miss our year… We could botch that project... The new territory opening depends on us and we could make a mess of it... This role I’ve worked for is mine now, what if I fail? Sure, those things could happen, and, we could be also wildly successful with all of them. While, it’s completely natural that we have anxiety about the worst happening, we need to give ourselves the chance to imagine the best happening as well. One could argue visionaries like Elon Musk and Oprah Winfrey created imaginings of their success which were more powerful than the fear of their failures. Hence, they’ve succeeded, and become role models of the power of mission, vision and purpose. Leaders like these and many others remind us that some fear exists only in the mind. Controlling it or overpowering it with our will to succeed or a vivid vision of our goal can be the key to powering through those feelings of doubt and worry. In this way we can use fear as a pole vaulter uses their tool to carry them up and over the obstacle before them.

For those of us who have been around a few blocks and seen a lot of things, our fears may be hard to acknowledge to ourselves because we believe we are supposed to have all the answers and be the steadfast captains of our industry. But coming to terms with our own fear is the first step to understanding how it can cripple us and taking action so that it doesn’t.

Yoda Was Right  

Now, stay with me, I am going to make some of us uncomfortable.

You’re insecure.

Before you agree or argue with that declaration, follow me a bit longer. The most charismatic people I have ever met, imbued with confidence and leadership gravitas are, somewhere deep inside, just a little (or a lot) insecure. It’s part of being human. We have ego, super ego, millions of years of social conditioning, defense mechanisms, tendencies, you name it. In fact, at your next meeting, sit quietly and watch those around you - and yourself - and try and pick out the actions of those around you that can be directly tied to insecurity and masking their internal dialogue. How do they stand? What is their eye contact? Are they repeatedly tugging on their coat tails or sleeves to keep that jacket fitted correctly? Do they have a verbalization or a laugh or something they do which is a tic? How do they mingle and small talk, or, do they simply remain off to one side of the group? There are thousands of social and group dynamic affectations we all fall into, with many of them being veneers we use to hide our insecurities. Not one of us should ever feel alone or ‘broken’ because we feel these emotions. These feelings are a natural part of being human. It’s vital that we understand these emotions will come and go and we should never allow them to amass the power to begin telling our story for us (or stories to us.)

But, why? Why do I need to understand fear which is based in feelings of insecurity or inferiority? Well, that great business coach Yoda was right when he told his young Jedi learner that ‘Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.' Yoda’s philosophies, not coincidently, resemble those of Buddhist or Taoist teachings and this lesson is a strong one for us to understand. Fear, particularly those fears based on places deep inside us where we feel vulnerable, can manifest in things like spite, jealously, anger and other negative emotions. I have seen entire company cultures destroyed by fear-driven venom just because leaders could not come to terms with their own vulnerability and learn to harness their fears versus allowing those anxieties to poison them. Don’t do it. Feel your emotions, understand them, seek to counter them with reasons to feel strong and confident. Don’t allow your fear to be weaponized.

So, after you’ve faced your fear, categorized it and assured yourself that you are normal, what should be our end game when seeking to keep our fear in check, and indeed, leverage it?

Make Your Fear A Tool

Ever have a warning light in your car flash at you and alert you to a condition you needed to address? How about a pain that caused you to take action and address a health issue? Warnings, while not to be celebrated, are a good thing. We need to be alerted to threats and our fears, some of them hardwired into us since the dawn of humankind, serve as necessary warnings to keep us safe and out of danger. 

In our professional setting, these fear-initiated warnings have a little different purpose than in daily life. Our fight or flight fear is designed to keep us safe. But, in our roles, we are driven and expected to achieve, to cross new boundaries. Stasis and safety are not the goal, growth is. The benefit to leveraging the natural fear we feel is all about living on the edge. If we manage our careers and daily performance in our roles firmly within the ‘green zone’ of our danger gauge in order to eliminate the need to ever feel anxiety, we’re not likely to grow. Growth and breakthroughs happen when we take risk and move outside our comfort zone.   

I’m a lifelong car nut and I occasionally take a dedicated track car to various high speed venues as part of my love of learning to drive competitively and to master high speed car control. I’m certainly not racing wheel to wheel or winning any Grand Prix events, but I love it and there is always a healthy amount of fear whenever I circle a track. While working with an in-car instructor on one of my track events, I asked him about knowing the limits of the track we were on that day and how I should push myself to reach new limits as a driver. Specifically, I asked about losing control and coming off the track, a possibility when doing 130 mph at a racing circuit and one that often comes with a warning to settle it down (or worse) from track officials. How do I drive as fast as I can without ever risking coming off the track and being seen as a hooligan who can’t be allowed to remain at the circuit? My instructor’s answer was simple: you can’t. Had he ever lost control of his car and come of the track, I asked. Sure, a few times. His guidance to me - how can you know your limit unless you surpass it? If fear restrains you to such a degree that you never cross the line of what your are capable of today, how can you be capable of more tomorrow? His guidance was skill-focused as he provided instruction to me that day while also helping contextualize the mindset one has to have to realize fear should be there to guide us, not limit us.

As one of my favorite musicians, Peter Gabriel, says in a brilliant song about fear called ‘Darkness’, ‘I have my fears, but they do not have me.’

Leaders Are People Of Action

When it all comes down to it, why does all of this matter? It matters because as leaders we must achieve results. We are in our roles to deliver value and growth for our organizations. There is risk in all of our businesses, and understanding those risks is a key part of understanding how we grow by venturing into uncharted territory while never allowing ourselves to be paralyzed by the threats all around us. Analysis paralysis and other fear-based work disfunctions are products of allowing fear to have too big a hold on our work personas.

Sometimes we have to tell those internal voices of warning and caution to shut up and boldly go where we have not gone before. 2018 was a year of such moves for me and, yes, there were moments I was afraid. But I also did things that inspired and fulfilled me and doing them would not have been possible if I had stayed ‘safe.’

I often return to one of my favorite quotes that serves as a reminder of how I want to live. It actually has a lot to do with countering fear. Attributed to many writers, it’s most often thought to come from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

 “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Take action today despite your fear. Be bold. Be creative. Be brave. Don’t try to be fearless because that notion is foolish and unrealistic. Come to terms with your fear, look it in the eyes and tell it, ‘I see you, and I’m going to accomplish what I came here to do anyway.’

Finally, if you lead a work culture, take action to create the kind of environment where your teams can take chances, face fears and drive their race cars off the track once in a while without fear of reprisal. That is the only way they will ever achieve their true top speeds.

Photo by Leio McLaren (@leiomclaren) on Unsplas

How Does Being A Vulnerable Leader Enable You To Achieve More?

How Does Being A Vulnerable Leader Enable You To Achieve More?

Strength, courage, fortitude - there are so many descriptors that one thinks of when we imagine those we would like to follow. In our proverbial march through the darkness which can sometimes be our working world, we want captains to which we can grant our trust. Their shoulders should be broad enough to carry our worry and their voice should be clear, giving us the confidence to feel safe in troubled times. But there’s another important aspect that we should expect of our leaders. We’ve grown more aware in recent decades that leaders should possess a certain degree of humanity and empathy in the way they govern. The focus on emotional intelligence within the world of business leadership isn’t just a ‘feel good’, these attributes have increasingly become de rigueur as we’ve learned that leaders must think and feel and truly care for those in their organization.

But, why should we care about our bosses showing their soft underbelly to the rest of us? And, how does being a vulnerable, authentic, transparent leader contribute to your firm going farther, doing more and achieving the goals you’ve set?

Knowing How Our Leaders Feel Enables Us To Push Harder

I’ve previously discussed the importance of honesty being an enabler for those who report to us. A senior-level leader or manager of line-level employees has an enormous impact on the performance of their teams simply through being open about the challenges we face. This kind of unfiltered truth empowers the right kind of team. But there’s more to being vulnerable than just stating the facts about how we are trending or how many points we need to make up in our comp growth. Your direct or indirect reports want to know how you feel. Why? Because they want to know how to feel. They are watching you for cues. It’s one of the reasons we all look at the flight attendant when the plane we are on hits choppy air. ‘Okay, she’s smiling and chill… I can go back to watching Kung Fu Panda.’ But, what do I do if I look up and my flight attendant has fear in his eyes? Not a good feeling….

At town halls and roundtables I’ve hosted over the years or at those being facilitated by leaders more senior to me, there is one question which is the number one most asked: ‘What keeps you up at night'?’ Why do so many professionals what to know this answer from their superiors? Because those employees are trying to decide what they should be losing sleep over. What matters? It’s us looking at our flight attendant and deciding when we should adopt crash position.

The flow of us sharing our vulnerable transparency looks something like this:

  • Being transparent about how we feel as leaders helps our teams calibrate and explore their own feelings.

  • Understanding their feelings helps them decide how to respond to them.

  • Responding to and categorizing these feelings is a critical part of our teams getting on with the business of doing their jobs.

  • Our teams doing their jobs well allows us to achieve our goals.

The entire process starts with us, as leaders, helping our teams explore those emotions and our vulnerable transparency is the spark that lights that fire.

Vulnerability + Mission Objectives x Alignment = Achievement

Over an 11 year period I had the good fortune of working with Starbucks Coffee Company and experienced what many of us during those years believed to be a sort of Camelot period of our working lives. Incredibly healthy company culture? Check. Reward and compensation models light years ahead of many competitors? Check. Quality and brand standards that were the envy of many other companies? Check. Those of us working in that organization experienced personal and professional growth and felt proud to play a role in a blisteringly fast-paced growth story. But, the train ride wasn’t without bumps. All organizations have problems and difficult quarters. The way in which they choose to handle them is what makes some firms truly world class.

During a particularly critical period for Starbucks, our quarterly results were even more scrutinized than was typical. The company was opening a lot of stores - five per business day at that time - and hiring, training, building… it was fever pitched. By this time Starbucks had built a model that worked and had strong processes, though some weren’t perfect. On an average ticket which is derived from coffee beverages, you can imagine that profitability and margin efficiency are benchmarks that must be protected. Flow through is critical and pennies on the dollar make a huge difference across thousands of units.

During this particular period of time, Starbucks was experiencing some strain achieving flow through targets and this wasn’t a good look for the street. Some difficult calls had to be made - not of the layoff or shortchanging quality variety - but some spending and cost control measures were needed. Who would lead this effort? Orin Smith, our COO, that’s who. Orin was an extremely skilled operations leader and he had worked with the finance teams to do the math and knew what action needed to be taken at store level. The controls and margin improvements would be mandated for every store in the enterprise. Communicating and executing such a strategy isn’t easy. There were considerations for cascading the plan, assurances for the mindshare required of all leaders in the organization as well as processes for ongoing measurement of how well we had implemented the directives.

How did it start? With Orin’s voice.

On a series of calls and voice mails delivered to the leaders all across the organization, Orin spoke personally about why these actions were necessary, how we would go about them, and most importantly, how he felt about the plan. Partners (Starbucks speak for ‘employee’) from every store heard their COO express his understanding for how hard this would be and of his conviction that this was the right thing for us to do as well as the need for us to be aligned. As efforts continued for weeks, Orin gave regular updates and continued to express his thanks and his understanding that these tactics were not a walk in the park to execute. I can remember his voice and his message to this day - vulnerable, transparent, clear, imperative. Orin wasn’t punitive. He knew the partners across the organization didn’t create this gap, but he needed every one of them to help close it. And they did. The company achieved that quarter. And the next. And many more after those. One could argue it was Orin choosing not to just send an email memo that made the difference. He expressed his own concerns and fears, espoused his faith in our ability to alter our course and together, we achieved our goals. It’s a model I emulate to this day.

A Leader Who Is Vulnerable Is Rewarded With Many Allies

Those of us who have led and spent any time understanding our own styles and tendencies probably know how we respond to pressure. When in the trenches, we each have coping mechanisms, ways of processing information and filters for stress. In hierarchal organizations it is sometimes necessary that not every challenge be shared outward. But, in cases when it’s permissible to share some of the inner workings of an obstacle or deficiency, some unintended benefits can be derived.

Think about the skills on a team you’ve assembled. What are their collective talents and what specialties exist within their midst? Chances are you have some potent superpowers within your team. Additionally, some latent powers and abilities could exist which haven’t been fully explored or leveraged. When you, as a leader, share your concerns, the details of a problem or call out a challenge your group faces, you create an opportunity for the skilled people around you to join in the fight. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking ‘this is my company/business unit/market area... I have to solve this! I’m responsible!’. That is unnecessary martyrdom. While we know we bear the burden for the area we lead, we must remember we hired our teams for a reason. How incredible would it feel to share your fears and burdens with your team and lighten the load on your own shoulders? Then, why aren’t you? Often, when we lay out a problem and our feelings related to it, our teams engage their super powers and solutions we never dreamed of begin to manifest. You were right when you told yourself that you’re responsible, but being responsible for your organization doesn’t mean bearing sole burden for your challenges. If you’ve assembled the right team you should be able to bring them inside your problem and they will circle around you, fortifying your position and marching with collective might toward victory.

Are you leading a team, either as an experienced professional or a new line manager and you’ve recognized an opportunity for that team to be more open and vulnerable? Are there results-oriented aspects of your operation that would benefit from your leaders being more skilled at exhibiting emotional intelligence and authenticity to their reports? Get in touch with me and perhaps I can help. I have led individuals and teams on journeys of self discovery and helped them be more well-rounded in their pursuit of guiding their teams toward consistent results.


— Kimball Carr is a writer, owner and multi-unit leader with more than two decades of business experience across a wide array of sectors. He has produced work for print, film and the software world and has contributed his leadership to 3 of Fortunes best 100 companies to work for. As a consultant, he works with businesses and individuals and is currently the co-founder of Grom Coast Surf & Skate, an apparel brand and retail store built specifically for kids. — 

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Do You Have The Courage To Build A Truly Multifaceted Team?

Do You Have The Courage To Build A Truly Multifaceted Team?

Sports dynasties are the stuff of legends. It can be awe-inspiring to look back on truly great teams and list the talented players that made those champion seasons possible. But, do we think that the athletes on those squads were all carbon copies, cut from the same cloth? No. In fact, those teams were amalgams of many skill sets and personalities. Were these teams a harmonious mix of temperaments, easy to manage and develop? No. The same energy those squads used to win, could have torn the teams apart. Building a multifaceted team is a critical skill and a dire necessity for leaders who want to win in business. But it’s not easy to do. Finesse, discernment, psychology, a relaxed style coupled with firm direction - These are just a few of the tools and skills that the leader of such a team must use in managing these myriad skills and personalities. 

Here are few things to consider when assembling the team you want to help you win year after year. 

1. Skilled teams are made up of big personalities

If you want to build a management or leadership team that is going to ‘crush it’ for you year over year, be prepared to have some interesting dynamics. Think you’re going to have a dozen wall flowers who do everything you command and never have ire for one another? Think again. Skilled people have egos and they have ideas that they want to express. They don’t take things at face value. They are in the improvement and growth business so that means they demand the right to take things apart and make them better, precisely because they have the skill to do just that. You have to be a skilled leader to lead a skilled team. They are going to test you. They are going to challenge you. They are going to make you, and each other, better. But, you need to be ready to handle the energy, intellectual horsepower and dynamism of such a team. Want a team that has an ‘A’ game? Better bring yours too.

2. Winning teams are capable of more than you (and they) imagined

No matter the company, industry or bull market, our results aren’t constant. There are difficult periods we must manage and complex problems that must be solved. When you’ve assembled a truly world-class team, the solutions to these challenges are often right in the room, if you take the time to elicit them. One of the wonderful surprises of building a strong team, even with the aforementioned egos you must manage and high-level maintenance they require, is when the chips are down, these groups can do some pretty impressive things. Down several points on the year and you’ve got one quarter to make it up? Give your team the ball. A global crisis has hurt revenue and you need some genius ideas on which to build a recovery? Give your team the ball. Even paying top labor dollar and running at your fastest to keep up with the sprinters on this powerhouse team you’ve assembled, you will more than get your ROI when you run into situations in which you need to pull a rabbit from the proverbial hat. As long as you have the good sense to use the talents in the group.

3. Top tier teams like things direct and honest

I have never hired a highly-skilled professional for a team I have led that didn’t get a big smile on their face when I told them how difficult the job before us was. Great players see these types of situations as a chance to score and an opportunity to build legends. They relish being the source of that story that will be told years from now in the sales conference… ‘you remember the year of the factory shortfall, yeah, when the blizzard hit, and the fuel spike came, and the aliens landed and still the Central Sales team beat their annual target?! Like a boss…..’ Great leaders want those challenges. The most skilled people I have worked with aren’t afraid to hear about the bad, or the difficult or the daunting. Those situations are why they love what they do. If you interview a leader who asks how hard this will be or seems phased by the uphill climb the role entails, don’t hire them. Being honest with strong players is the most effective way to get those big brains of theirs churning on a path toward the goal. Clearly articulating a metric or a shortfall isn’t just courteous when you have ‘A’ players, it catalyzes. When you’re fortunate enough to have such a team, point to the goal line, give them a good defensive read and hand them the ball. More often than not, they will get you the win.

4. Highly-skilled teams are diverse, in every sense of the word

Much has been said of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership and particularly about the professionals he selected to surround himself with. In the often-cited book, Team Of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin brilliantly covers Lincoln’s courageous choices of seemingly opposing leaders for his cabinet. Easier choices could have been made by Lincoln, but he had the genius to know his cabinet and our country needed the talent and potency of the best people for the job - regardless of if they were going to be best friends or not. If a room full of sycophants is all a leader wants, one can simply hire just that. Sadly, though, taking such an approach means a watered-down, less effective overall squad. Poor leaders or ones who fear being challenged are the only managers who expect their direct reports to be parrots. The naked Emperor who thinks a team exists simply to nod and rubber stamp all they do or say doesn’t have much of a backbone. It takes vision and strength to hire smart people who may clash with one another as well as their boss. It is those strong wills and convictions that save a team, a company or a nation, when times get tough. Despite the current day trumpeting by some leaders who expect to never be questioned and thirst for constant tribute in the form of their underlings ‘sucking up’, the real courageous leaders know better. These leaders understand their legacy will be made rich because of their team, whose collective power is the sum of all of their efforts and talents.

5. World-class teams need you as much as you need them

How wonderful it would be if all of us who have line-managed could hire a great group of leaders and then hit the beach. True, that the measure of a really strong leader is how well their teams perform when the boss is away. But, that chief executive still holds a vital role. Sometimes you must be a filter, helping your expert leaders select which missions to take on. Other times you must be a lens, sharpening the focus of the collective talents in your midst. And, in some occasions, yes, you are a referee. As mentioned above, these incredible thoroughbreds you have chosen are all triple crown potentials. Sometimes they bite. You must be trainer, soother, facilitator and so much more. Like a General, you must also decide which challenges your elite squad will not expend energy on. Knowing how to best utilize your team’s talent and how to keep it fresh is part of your role. Selecting a high-performing group is never easy, managing them is harder still. But if you have the patience and energy to help these players join forces, you could have the makings of a dynasty on your hands, and that, is worth all of the effort.

Are you building a team or trying to assess current players to determine if you have what you need to take your company where you want it to go? I have selected world-class leaders, built talent strategies and assessed field teams in various sectors over the past 20 years. Get in touch and perhaps I can help you ensure you’re selecting the right people and building a talent roster that helps you accomplish all of your goals.

— Kimball Carr is a writer, owner and multi-unit leader with more than two decades of business experience across a wide array of sectors. He has produced work for print, film and the software world and has contributed his leadership to 3 of Fortunes best 100 companies to work for. As a consultant, he works with business and individuals and is currently the co-founder of Grom Coast Surf & Skate, an apparel brand and retail store built specifically for kids. — 

Photo by Kelli Dougal on Unsplash

How Do You Improve Internal Communication Before It's Too Late?

How Do You Improve Internal Communication Before It's Too Late?

Our workplaces are increasingly complex and dynamic. Improving internal communication in the workplace is one of the most foundational things a leader of a team or company should do. With many different disciplines all laboring together - engineers, clinicians, business leaders, sales persons, accountants, marketeers … there are a lot of agendas. Often our backgrounds, our chosen area of expertise or professional disciplines create frameworks for how we communicate and how we get along (or not) with others. For professionals who endeavor to work well in a matrix-managed workforce or an organization that is made up of a wide array of disciplines, the success of your company may be a case of managing different hows while working toward the same whats.

Here are 5 tips for mastering two-way communication that all of us can use.

1: Realize that everything is a negotiation

Whenever two or more people are engaged in a discussion during which a decision must be made, some form of negotiation is taking place. I want one thing, you may want another. Or, perhaps, I want the same thing you do but we have very different ideas of how to get there. So, we negotiate. The sooner you recognize that many of the conversations you have on a daily basis are of the negotiation variety, the sooner you can ask yourself some questions: ‘What do I want at the end of this meeting?’, ‘How do I feel now and how do I want to feel when we are done?’, ‘How do I want the other person to feel?’, ‘Is there a way for us to both get what we want?’. These and other questions are a great way for you to plan for that next conversation, meeting or change management discussion that you must have. Knowing that all parties will be haggling for the things they feel are more important gives you an added level of preparedness.

2: Ask more than you tell

Whether you are simply hanging out with colleagues during a team building or you’re engaged in a stressful alignment discussion about the future of your company, try to remember you aren’t the only one in the room. Give the floor to others and ask them for their feelings, input and ideas. This may seem self-evident and basic, but often we get geared up for a workforce meeting or a face to face discussion and spend so much time reviewing what we have to say, we forget to ask questions of the other party. Expressing a genuine desire for the other person to share themselves and their thoughts with you not only shows you’re not a cold, heartless ogre but you will also likely come to a deeper understanding of your colleague and that is always helpful.

3: Be aware of your own story

‘Oh, I hate this guy!’, ‘Great, I have to meet with her and she never likes my ideas…’. We are full of stories that run through our heads about those we work with. Sometimes we’ve had bad experiences with these same people. Sometimes we are operating on ‘stuff we heard’ or office ‘buzz’. The fact is, we are going to gel with some colleagues more than others. Now, to be honest, we don’t have to like everyone we work with in order for us all to be effective, but, having good relations does help. It also makes it less likely that Stan in accounting is going to take my yogurt parfait every time I leave it in the fridge just because he didn’t like my idea in the last planning session and I know he takes my food on purpose just to tick me off and then lies when I ask how he got a yogurt parfait because I know he never left the building! Er… Okay, overshare. The bottom line is the better we are at leaving preconceived notions outside the room, the better our interactions will go. Even with those you don’t care for, try playing the ‘Anakin’ game prior to an interaction. What’s the ‘Anakin’ game? Well, when I have to interact with someone, that based on previous experience, has me convinced that they have gone completely over to the dark side and become Darth Vader, I tell myself ‘there must be some Anakin Skywalker left in there somewhere… I’ll try to appeal to him.’ Sometimes that works.

4: Know if you’re a zero or one-hundred per-center

We all know (or should know) our tendencies when we frame up others. Are we trusting or are we from Missouri, the ‘show me’ state? Do we open ourselves up to everyone or prefer to wait and see if they are worthy? You likely know if you are a zero or one-hundred per-center. That is, do you start people off at 100, giving your trust and warmth to everyone and then remove points from them only as they show you the dastardly dark depths of their heart, or, do you remain emotionally distant with all you meet and force them to earn every point of trust from you in a grueling climb from being regarded as a zero to you? Knowing how you tend to measure and behave with others is part of the self-awareness you must have if you are to grow your communication and interpersonal skills. Your own biases have a role to play in how you and the other person relate, and if you don’t own your part in the building of a bond through understanding your own leanings, it can make things difficult.

5: Pre-framing how we will communicate solves a lot of problems

Finally, when we have just begun a collaboration or partnership, nothing beats a good ol’ ‘just put it out there’ conversation that establishes some ground rules. ‘Hey, colleague, how do you like to get bad news?’, ‘Do you want to be able to talk out loud when you have an idea, forming it as you go and I will just be quiet and listen or do you want me to interject and help you form thoughts?’, ‘When you step in a pile of it, how should I call you out?’, ‘What do you need from me and what can I do or change to set you up for success?’. These, and many others, are great ways to not only set up some rules of communication engagement but the mere act of you wanting to have this kind of dialogue shows you care and sends a message to those you’re with that you expect to be held accountable for your own role in the relationship.

Are you having a communications debacle? Is your workplace or firm not as cohesive as it could be and is that inhibiting the results you could be achieving? I’ve worked with teams and leaders in a wide variety of situations to help them get aligned, communicate effectively and become powerfully engaged toward the same goals. Get in touch and maybe I can help you solve your communication disconnect.

— Kimball Carr is a writer, owner and multi-unit leader with more than two decades of business experience across a wide array of sectors. He has produced work for print, film and the software world and has contributed his leadership to 3 of Fortunes best 100 companies to work for. As a consultant, he works with business and individuals and is currently the co-founder of Grom Coast Surf & Skate, an apparel brand and retail store built specifically for kids. — 

Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash