Wooing Resisters


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When talking about leading change in workshops, we spend some time talking about how to woo the resisters. There are always people who will be opposed to doing things in a different way.

As early into the change as possible, we want to ask for the input of resisters. Often, they have some valid concerns and can point out potential obstacles and challenges that an organization will face during a change. Sometimes, we can incorporate their observations into the change process. Sometimes, the change is set in stone, and all we can do is listen to their objections. It’s important to let the resister know what can and cannot be done.

When talking to resisters, we often hear a lot of complaints. They are very ready to share what is wrong. We want to find out what an ideal situation would look like to them by helping them to find the dream behind the complaint.

When we complain, we are telling others how reality is not meeting our personal expectations. We have a picture in our heads of how we want things to be that we don’t articulate and often can’t see clearly. As leaders, we want to help resisters clearly define the best situation for them.

We can start by asking them, “What needs are not being met?” We can also ask, “For what are you longing?” We want to get to the Essence-level feeling that the resisters are experiencing. Remember, every situation has a fact and a feeling part.

Then we want to get them to describe the ideal outcome for the current change. We can ask things like:

  • What would the ideal scenario look like?
  • What could be better?
  • Can you think of a metaphor that applies to this situation?
  • What is it like here in this ideal situation?

It’s important that we keep focusing on the dream, not the complaint. We are helping the resisters create a solution instead of dwelling on the problem. Once the resisters have clearly defined the situation that they want, it’s important to do a reality check. How much of the dream can be achieved in the current reality? Organizations have requirements, and team morale is always a consideration. We want to ask the resisters what they believe is reasonable and then share our answer to the same question. Finally, we want to ask the resisters, “What are you willing to contribute or commit to in order to make this happen?”

If a resister is in full resistance mode and unable to see anything positive about the situation, we can help. We can ask the resister to rate the current reality on a scale of 1-10. Let’s say that they rate the current situation at a 3. We would then ask, “What keeps it from being a 1?” We are asking them to tell us a few of the positive things that are going on right now.

Then we ask them to define one small change that would nudge their feeling about the situation up one number. Resisters don’t say “1” very often when asked to rate a situation, but if they do, ask them for one small change that would bring it up to a 2.

When facing a change, we all have a high dream and a low dream for the outcome. We hope for the best and fear the worst at the same time. Asking everyone to define their high and low dreams can help the group get through a change more easily. Once each person has defined his or her high and low dream, they go on to tell the group what would support the low dream and what would support the high dream. At the end of the discussion, the group has a simple list of do’s and don’ts that will help them help each other through the change.

When facing a change, the most important thing that a leader can do is listen. By meeting everyone’s personal needs to be listened to, understood, and respected, we are helping them to accept the change by ensuring they feel that their feelings, dreams, and expectations are not being ignored. We all want to be seen and feel that we have some bit of influence over the situations we find ourselves in.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.

Establishing a Group Identity


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Defining a clear team or group identity is one way to create a culture that supports success. One of the best examples of creating a group identity comes from the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. A young man named Paul Butler went to Saint Lucia to save the Saint Lucia parrot. The parrot was on the brink of extinction, and the people of Saint Lucia didn’t have strong feelings about the parrot. He had little money and no staff to help him. He created a campaign around the identity of the people of Saint Lucia. Specifically, his message was “We take care of our own.”

The campaign was wildly successful. The Saint Lucia parrot is now thriving. Paul Butler went on to work with a conservation organization called Rare, where he replicated the creation of a local identity over and over. Creating a specific identity is a hugely powerful tool for any group.

In a business setting, the people in the group get to decide who they want to be as a group. It’s important to write down and promote the group’s identity. The group can come up with a name, a mascot, and t-shirt designs. One group that I worked with decided that an octopus represented them, and they each had a stuffed octopus on their desks as a reminder of who they wanted to be as a group. It’s an opportunity for the group to express its uniqueness and create cohesiveness.

I start by having the group complete the sentence: We are people who… Once we have a list of qualities and actions, they decide what sort of animal or creature embodies those qualities. That discussion is usually a lot of fun and involves some very creative thinking.

Once the group has decided on a mascot, we move on to a name. Sometimes it is the name of the creature. One of the most creative groups I’ve had the pleasure to work with decided that a gryphon was the creature that represented them. A gryphon has the head, talons, and wings of an eagle, with the body of a lion. However, the gryphon seemed a little intimidating to some of the group, so they named it “Andy Gryphon” so that it would seem more friendly, like Andy Griffith.

When faced with a problem in the future, the group can ask, “What would Andy Gryphon do?” or “How would Andy Gryphon handle that problem?” The group has established a clear identity that reminds them of who they want to be and how they want to behave.

It is kind of fun to create an identity for a family, too. The discussion of who the group wants to be and how they want to be seen by others can be creative and enlightening.

The Torreys have always been people who take care of people smaller and weaker than themselves. We are a tall, strong, determined group of people who stand up for others. When my two-year-old granddaughter got frustrated with her not-yet-one brother, she gave him a push, which is normal behavior all around.

However, I took her hands in mine and looked her in the eye. I said in a stern voice, “We do not hurt people who are smaller than we are. That is not acceptable. You are a Torrey, and Torreys take care of people who are smaller and weaker than we are.”

She is a pretty smart two-year-old who got her first exposure to the group identity of the Torreys. If she continues with the behavior or does more than a gentle push, there will be more severe consequences. The same sequence of events would happen in a workplace. We start with gentle reminders and then move on to appropriate consequences for unacceptable behavior.

A group identity is a powerful motivator. When someone acts outside the group norm, the team will remind them, “That’s not who we are.” It’s a quick and easy guideline for a group – or family – to follow that gently helps us all stay on track.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.

Naming the Emotion


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In leadership workshops, we work on noticing and naming the emotions that we are feeling. Knowing what we are feeling and where we feel it in our bodies is a crucial part of self-awareness. Many of us are not aware of the emotions that influence our behavior.

In every conversation, there is a fact and a feeling part. Of course, we want to know what other people are feeling, but it’s also okay for us to share ours as long as we do it in an appropriate way. Telling people that we are frustrated, annoyed, elated, or excited invites them to share what they are feeling.

In life coach training we are taught to pay close attention to the emotions of our clients and to tell them what we notice. If someone talks loudly while scowling and making fists with their hands, I could say, “It seems like this situation makes you angry.” Usually, the client will check in with his or her emotions and then clarify them. The response might be, “I am not just angry; I am infuriated!”

Of course, the technique works just as well for what we consider to be positive emotions. I could say that a client sounds excited about a situation or opportunity. In addition to verifying excitement, the client often goes on to explain why he or she feels excited which deepens the conversation.

Naming the emotional field is a powerful tool during contentious conversations. Paying attention to someone’s negative emotion and naming it is a great way to keep ourselves from reacting without thinking.

Our neocortex is the advanced “adult” part of our brain. It covers the outside of our brain, and it’s where our self-control and creativity reside. When we get super angry, our neocortex disengages and the more primitive and emotional parts of our brain take over.

One way to get the neocortex to re-engage is to step back and become an observer of ourselves and the situation. We can ask ourselves things like:

  • Why might that person be provoking me?
  • What emotion is the other person feeling?
  • What emotion am I feeling?
  • What is triggering me about this situation?
  • Where am I feeling emotion in my body?
  • What is my ultimate [desired outcome]?

I saw the technique demonstrated in an HBO show that I was watching called Gentleman Jack. The series is based on the coded diaries of Anne Lister who lived in the 1800s. An article that I read said that they based a lot of the dialogue on her diaries. If that’s true, the woman had incredible emotional intelligence, and she was a master of naming the emotional field.

Someone she cared about asked her a baiting, sarcastic question in one episode. She paused, looked at the woman, and said something like, “I am trying to understand why you would make a hostile comment to me. What point are you trying to make?” I think I actually said out loud, “Way to go, Anne!” Fortunately, I was watching it by myself.

She didn’t take the bait. She didn’t get angry herself. She got curious! She named the emotion she observed and then asked a question. Brilliant! It’s a wonderful way to manage a person who is working to engage one in conflict.

Naming the emotional field requires being aware of our own emotions and the emotions of others. We can practice naming our own emotions by setting a timer that goes off throughout the day. Each time the alarm goes off, we pause to consider what we are feeling, where we are feeling it, and why we are experiencing that particular emotion.

In order to name other people’s emotions, we must pay attention to all the verbal and nonverbal cues presented. Then we make an educated guess. Our guess prompts people to check in and determine their true emotions. When they confirm or clarify what they are feeling, we’ve moved the conversation forward and begun to figure out what is really going on.

The feeling part of the conversation holds most of the clues that will lead to a solution or resolution. Exceptional leaders can mine for those clues while managing their own emotions. Instead of a brawl or a standoff, a great leader can create a dialogue that maintains the positivity of the relationship.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.

Phases of Life


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I was talking to my oldest son, who has two very young children. We were discussing books that tell us how to live our lives. He said that he was tired of books that advocated grabbing life by the horns and living your passion. It’s not surprising that those types of books would overwhelm a man covered over with diapers who exists in a state of constant sleep deprivation.

The book that did give him peace was called Abandonment to Divine Providence, written by Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade in the 18th century. It’s a Christian book that advocates accepting that all experiences are a part of God’s plan. My son said that the book encourages one to live in the moment and accept life’s challenges as growth experiences. He said, “I’ve accepted that I am not going to make any great intellectual pursuits right now.”

His observations made total sense to me. In my youth, I also had the urge to live life all at once. I felt that I had to achieve everything – family, career, financial success, personal growth – when I was in my 20s and 30s. It’s an exhausting way of life and very difficult to be excellent at everything.

Now, I have the advantage of hindsight. When I look back over the almost 60 years of my life, I can clearly see the phases I experienced. I was a child and then an adolescent. I experienced high school and then went on to college. Shortly after graduating, I got married. Six years after that, I had my oldest son, and then my youngest son almost two years after that. Then I was a mom of children, adolescents, young adults, and finally, mature men. Now I am also single and a grandmother. I’ve lived lots of phases and enjoyed each one.

My first lesson about living in the present phase of life was in high school. Many of my peers wanted to be older. Some of them smoked and drank and looked very cool. Being and looking cooler than everyone else seemed to be their goal. They didn’t want to be silly, and their heartiest laughs were at someone else’s expense.

Frankly, I didn’t understand their behavior. I could see that this was a wonderful time in our lives that would never come again. We were young and foolish because of our lack of experience. Trying not to look foolish must have been exhausting.

My high school peers who tried to be older missed much of what is great about high school because they weren’t all-in. I’ve talked before about the importance of being all-in, but I haven’t discussed the broad perspective that helps us live fully engaged.

When my children were small, I longed to get out the door and begin a career. I felt like I had to do it right that second. For many reasons, I became a stay-at-home mom. However, I remembered the lesson I learned during high school and decided that living one way and yearning for another would not be healthy for any of us. I decided intentionally to go all-in during the Mom of Young Children phase.

And we had a blast! We did library story times, mom-and-me swim classes, and music workshops. I changed a million diapers and slept very little. I read about Peter Rabbit, Mr. Gumpy, and dinosaurs. Every now and then I longed to get out and live some of life on my own, but I didn’t. I went all-in on being the mom of young children,

Now, before you think I am bashing working moms, I am not. I know from experience that completely leaving the job market for 15 years is not the greatest idea. It was way harder to re-enter than I thought it would be. One should always be ready to jump into self-sufficiency. Life throws curveballs at you, and sometimes the ball hits you.

What I am suggesting is that it’s okay not to go full-throttle on everything. In truth, we only have so much time in a day. We don’t have enough time to be stellar at many things. Something has to be a priority. Deciding what’s first makes all of life’s decisions easier. Dropping things that can wait a bit or giving them less emphasis can feel like a weight lifted off our shoulders.

In the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, the author, Greg McKeown, advocates distilling the tasks in our lives down to the ones that bring meaning and joy. The inside jacket cover says:

“Essentialism is more than a time management strategy or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution toward the things that really matter.”

I want to add that it’s best if we determine what is essential for each phase of life. What’s essential when I’m 26 is not what’s essential when I’m 59. We need to apply the principles of essentialism in each new phase of life.

It’s easier if we realize that we have a lifetime to achieve our goals. We don’t have to get it all done right this second. When my grandchildren start school and become more self-sufficient, my son will have a bit of time for intellectual pursuits. When they start driving, he will have long stretches of time to read while he waits for them to come home safely. When they are grown, he will have more time on his hands than he knows what to do with.

Now, I am embracing the freedom that comes from living alone. I can get up when I want, eat what I want, and watch what I want. It’s fabulous! I spend money on plants and pots to my heart’s content. I listen to my 70s music with nary an eye roll or heavy sigh. I call my condo Xanadu because it’s a bit glitzier than what I had in my previous life, and I change the temperature to match my menopausal comfort at the moment. It is glorious.

Once again, I am not bashing marriage or having a partner. It’s all about appreciating what is in your life and deciding in this moment what is most important. There are glorious, fabulous things about being married, as well. We want to identify the life phase we are in, revel in its glory, and focus on the essentials.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a marathon that takes us through some wonderfully diverse places. If we constantly get ready for the next phase, we are missing the beautiful view and the wondrous people around us right now. Pace yourself! Enjoy the fleeting things in your life. They will leave and be replaced by new fabulous things. Don’t miss any of it by skipping ahead to the end. Live each phase of life fully!

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.


Perils of the Brain Dump


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When we visit homes with children, they often want to show us treasured belongings and tell us about things that are important to them. I’ve noticed that some adults behave in the same way. They have an urgent need to expel every thought in their brains through their mouths. I call it a Brain Dump.

The compulsion to say whatever we think is similar to the need we feel to finish things like puzzles. In leadership workshops, I use simple children’s puzzles in one exercise. I often halt the exercise when the puzzle is only partially done. I know from experience that I might as well let them finish the puzzle before they put it away. If I don’t, I hear complaints and there is a tangible feeling of being incomplete in the room. No one is ready to move on to our discussion until the puzzles are done.

I used to be like the children who share their thoughts and observations all the time. I thought it, then wanted to share it. After all, I’m a smart person with brilliant observations to share! Then I realized that no one was really interested in most of what I had to say outside of leadership workshops.

It hit me that my rambling and sharing was actually a colossal waste of time. I was saying things I already knew. The object of my Brain Dump wasn’t listening. Okay, maybe they were half-listening or pretending to listen, but they weren’t taking in the information for later use. Worse yet, I sometimes told stories that hinted at who I was, but they weren’t pertinent to my hapless listener.

I also realized that my Brain Dumps were harming the positivity of the relationship I had with my listener. If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that I’m a proponent of positive relationships. You will also know that you need a 5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative ones in order to maintain a positive relationship. My listeners were not considering my Brain Dumps as a positive interaction.

About this same time, I came across a study, which I cannot find now. If you know of it, please drop me a line. Anyway, whether I’ve remembered it exactly or not, it had an enormous impact on my life.

They put CEOs in a room and had employees go in and talk with them. For the first round, the CEOs received no instructions and they talked quite a bit during the interactions. When interviewed afterward, the employees were not that impressed with the CEOs.

During the second round with a new group of employees, the CEOs were told not to talk. They were to keep silent as much as possible. In the interviews after the discussions, the employees reported that the CEOs were intelligent and good leaders. The CEOs made a better impression when they were quiet! Showing they were knowledgeable experts worked against them.

Unless in a leadership workshop where I was paid to talk, I worked to remain silent as much as possible. It was hard. It takes a lot of self-management to be quiet when you have a burning desire to show your smarts or solve someone’s problem or tell a funny story. It made me feel uncomfortable. It was like sitting and looking at an unsolved puzzle and not moving to put in the piece that I could see fit in one specific spot.

The ability to refrain from Brain Dumping is a sign of emotional intelligence. Quick refresher: emotional intelligence in its simplest form is self-awareness, self-management, relationship awareness, and relationship management. Self-management is one of the trickiest bits, and it relies on self-awareness.

In this particular case, I become aware of the negative effect that my Brain Dumping was having on other people (relationship awareness). I analyzed my need to share and realized that it was tied firmly to my own ego (self-awareness). Then I began to work to change my behavior (self-management), which improved my relationships with others (relationship management). Ta-da! A wonderful example of the power of emotional intelligence.

Exceptional leaders are emotionally intelligent. Like all other skills, we increase our proficiency with practice. I still indulge in bending someone’s ear now and again, but after much time I feel peaceful when I don’t.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.


Are you having a good time? WE LOVE IT HERE!


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Until now, I haven’t shared with many people that I was a cheerleader in high school. Although I would not become a cheerleader now nor necessarily advocate it for any young person, it’s who I was at that time in my life.

I learned some valuable leadership lessons about motivating others as a cheerleader. I mean real lessons about how to get people to do things, not just yelling in unison. Recently, I realized that one of the most valuable lessons was about motivating myself.

Cheerleading camp was a grueling, week-long ordeal. We got up at dawn and were jumping, cheering, and yelling for most of the day. Several times we met as one huge group.

The leader of the camp would yell out, “Are you having a good time?”

Our thundering answer was, “We love it here!”

I used the phrase and technique on my children as they grew up. I remember several times sitting in the car with them when circumstances were less than ideal. I would ask in a loud and cheerful voice, “Are we having a good time?”

They would answer in a grudging, sarcastic tone, “We love it here.” However, it did cheer them up. They smiled. There is something silly about the process. More importantly, it underlines the fact that we do get to decide whether or not we like it here.

Recently, I was reminded of a story I’ve seen online several times. It’s probably not true, but it contains a valuable lesson. The story is about an old woman who is moving into a nursing home. In the story, she has never seen her room there.

As an attendant takes the old woman up in the elevator, she says casually, “I hope that you like your new home.”

The old woman answers, “I am going to love it.”

The attendant displays incredibly poor customer service skills and asks, “How can you know that? You haven’t seen it.”

The old woman says, “Because I’ve already decided to like it.”

I’ve been having some difficulty adjusting to my new and smaller home, so the memory of cheerleading camp and the story of the old woman going into the nursing home came at an opportune time. They reminded me that I get to choose how I feel about things. I am choosing to love it here!

The cheerleading camp memory and the story also give clues to the answer to a question that I am asked in leadership workshops all the time. At the beginning of a leadership series, we discuss the important qualities of a leader. We think of leaders in our lives who were truly motivating and inspiring. I ask the group, “Did that leader have a positive attitude?”

They always answer yes. Then I ask, “Do you feel that the leader cared about you?” I always get a resounding yes. I remind them of the old saying (sometimes misattributed to Theodore Roosevelt): “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

We don’t give our best to people whom we believe do not have our best interests at heart. Caring is a basic motivational technique. However, caring about everyone can be a challenge. The question that I get over and over is, “How can I care about people who I don’t like?”

I struggled with the answer until I realized that like the old woman in the elevator, we decide to.

Deciding to like a situation or care about a person is not easy because it’s not a one-and-done decision. We must continue to decide every second of every day until one day, it just happens on its own. The new way of thinking becomes a habit that we have created with intentional effort.

There are other things that help us care and have empathy for others. Reading books improves empathy. Of course, there is a lot of research behind the Loving Kindness Meditation in which I firmly believe.

We can wave around the Magic Wand of Destiny by making intentional choices in every aspect of our lives. It isn’t always easy and takes constant vigilance to create an attitude or feeling. However, realizing that we can is empowering and life-changing.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.


Learning for the Ones You Love – and Work With


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When my boys were young, they loved Pokémon. They loved the cartoon, the toys, and the card game. The Pokémon card game is too hard for an elementary school child to figure out on his or her own, so I read the rules and taught them how to play.

We spent a lot of time together playing the Pokémon card game. I created my own kick-ass fire deck. We went to tournaments at libraries, where I played other parents while the boys played other children.

Once a month, we went to a mall to pick up comic books and buy Pokémon booster packs. We would all sit on a bench together and open our small pack of cards. We’d squeal over the holographic cards and compare our new cards to our old ones.

Now, if I did any of the activities now, on my own, at almost 60 years old, I’d be labeled a nutcase. No grown woman would collect Pokémon cards and hang out at tournaments gleefully trouncing the puffed-up dads who are pretty sure they are going to win. Okay, wait. That does sound kinda fun – but not the best use of my time nowadays.

It was a good investment of my time when my children were young because it was an investment in them and in our relationship. They loved Pokémon, so I learned about Pokémon so that we could have conversations that were interesting to them. I supported them in achieving their goal of learning to play the card game. I spent time with them doing something they enjoyed.

In order to create a positive relationship, we need to maintain a positivity ratio of at least 5:1. When parenting, we are doing a lot of correcting and disciplining. Finding five positive things to say for every one negative thing can be a challenge – if you are not interested in what they are interested in.

The same concept applies to other relationships. My friend, Bobbi, let me live with her for five months when I was in a life transition. She is 70-something years old, a ball of energy, and an artist. One of the things that she loves to do is create huge pictures on cardboard for her church’s vacation bible school. It’s a huge job, and she creates wonderful drawings of things like polar bears and pagodas.

Bobbi was worried about getting them all done on time, so I spent a day helping her paint. My job was basically to color between the lines. Now, painting isn’t my thing, but this task is important to Bobbi. She is a dear friend, so it’s important to me. We had a great day painting in her garage, chatting, and having a delicious lunch that she fixed. I learned about the best ways to stay in the lines with various brushes.

Positive relationships are also crucial for exceptional leadership. Just like in parenting, we are watching employees and correcting them when necessary, which means that we need to be looking for ways to have positive interactions.

One way to create more positive interactions is to learn about what is important to employees and peers at work. We don’t, however, need to help everyone at work with their pet projects. It’s as easy as listening and asking curious questions.

We don’t even have to do outside research! We can just ask. People love to talk about the things that they enjoy.

This part of asking curious questions is crucial: We must be genuinely curious. If we ask people questions and only half listen – or worse – pretend to listen and care, they will feel slighted. We can all tell when someone is faking interest. It feels very patronizing.

Exceptional leaders are learners. We must tap into our inner learner and look at each interaction as a chance to learn something we didn’t know before. If someone likes to fish on the weekends, he or she is a wealth of fishing information. There is so much to learn from a subject matter expert.

By asking people questions about what interests them, I’ve learned about knitting, drawing, orchid care, football, cooking techniques, technological gadgets, and tires – just to name a few topics. What people know is amazing!

The bottom line is that learning from people about what interests them is a great way to develop and enhance the positivity of our relationships with them. And it’s fun! Learning something new every day keeps our brains working and gives us a broader knowledge base. You never know when one of the tidbits that you’ve learned will come in handy!

If you ever need some large-scale coloring done or want to play a round of the Pokémon card game, I am the person to call!

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.




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breadcrumb trail

In a recent workshop, one of my creative participants created the verb “breadcrumbing.” I love it! It’s a great description of how we work to get someone to follow our train of thought and come to our conclusion.

When participants practice coaching in workshops, everyone uses a real-life challenge. We all coach each other on something that’s been on our to-do list or New Year’s resolution list for a while.

The coaching discussion goes through several stages. It follows the Discussion Process that I also use for effective communication and conflict workshops. We spend a long time asking questions in the Discover and Share step of the process.

And! – not just any questions. In the Discover and Share stage, we ask big-picture questions about how the person sees and feels about the situation. The first goal of coaching is to raise awareness, and we do that by getting the person being coached to try out different perspectives.

Here are some sample questions for the Discover and Share stage:

  • What obstacles are you facing?
  • What feelings are present?
  • Have you faced a challenge like this before? If so, how did you deal with it?
  • Do you see any patterns here?
  • If circumstances were perfect, what would the situation look like? Is there a way to create those circumstances?

If the person is really stuck, it’s time to get the creative juices flowing. We can ask them to look at their challenge from the eagle, ant, gold, flowing, sparkly, or dirt perspective. Just look around the room you are in and pick something. There aren’t any right answers or wrong questions. We just want to get them thinking creatively.

We do not want to lead them down a specific path. After we hear someone’s challenge, we sometimes feel that we know exactly what he or she needs to do. We aren’t supposed to tell people what to do in a coaching session, so we try and lead them to our solutions. We ask questions that begin with  “Don’t you think it would be a good idea to…” or “Have you thought about…” When I listen in on coaching sessions in workshops, I hear these types of questions a lot.

In one workshop, I stopped the group and reiterated how important it was to ask open-ended questions to help the coachees get unstuck from one single way of looking at the challenge. I told them that when they used leading questions, they were laying down a trail of breadcrumbs for the coachee to follow that led to their own solution. I reminded them that our goal is to let them wander around until they find their own path and solution.

When I checked in on one partnership, my creative participant said, “She was breadcrumbing me.” I knew exactly what she meant. Her partner had a solution to the challenge in mind and was trying to get her to find the same solution by asking leading questions.

It’s difficult not to breadcrumb someone. We have an idea and we want to help. The problem is that our solutions won’t usually work for other people. The solution is custom-designed for us and our lives. More importantly, the person being coached doesn’t feel any ownership of that particular answer.

My sister (who has given me permission to use her story) told me that she was due to see her therapist, but didn’t want to go because she hadn’t done her homework. She was supposed to write a list of something. I asked her why she hadn’t done it, and she said that she didn’t want to. As it turns out, it was the therapist’s solution to my sister’s problem.

“No wonder you haven’t done it!” I exclaimed. “It wasn’t your idea, and it doesn’t solve the problem as you see it.”

“You’re right,” she said. “I don’t see the point is taking time to make the list.”

The people we coach feel the same way. We just need to hang in there and have faith that with a little nudging and some curious questions that they will find the answers that make sense to them.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 (Two-Minute) Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.


Conversation Container


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The topic of how to create the best conditions for a conversation has popped up a lot lately. It’s not something that I see in leadership and conversation literature, but it is absolutely crucial to a successful conversation.

So what makes a conversation successful? There are at least a couple of things. From a leadership perspective, we want to develop or enhance a positive relationship. Leadership is all about creating positive relationships. I promise that this does not mean we are going to be pushovers.

Second, we want to have a clear outcome in mind. If an employee has a grievance, our goal is to find a resolution. We do not want to decide ahead of time what the resolution will look like; that’s what the conversation is for. You can read more about holding onto your outcome here.

We know that the beginning of a conversation is important. Couples relationship expert John Gottman found in his research that conversations that start harshly will end harshly more than 90% of the time. Those percentages are a good incentive to pay attention to how we open a conversation.

The way to ensure that we begin well is to pay attention to our mindset before we go into a conversation. Intentionally or not, we bring certain qualities or perspectives with us when we start talking with someone. If I’m angry, I might bring an adversarial attitude. If it’s important to me to look smart, I could bring in a know-it-all mindset. In systems coaching, we call those metaskills, and neither of those examples is going to help create a positive relationship or achieve the desired outcome.

Deciding what metaskills to bring into a conversation is harder than it sounds. In workshops, I ask groups to come up with the qualities and mindset that would create the most helpful container for conversations with a blamer, a screamer, a cryer, a know-it-all, and a person with an excuse for everything. When I walk around the room at the beginning of their discussions, I hear things like, “They need to understand…” and “We have to make it clear…” They are not talking about metaskills; they are talking about how to get to the outcome before they’ve even started this imaginary conversation.

I stop the discussions and redirect them. I ask, “Who do you need to be in order to have a reasonable and productive conversation with these people?” In other words, what type of person do you need to be? Do you need to be a patient person? A calm person? An angry person? An impatient person?

They go back to their group discussions and come up with great lists of qualities. Each group has a different type of person, but their lists contain similar metaskills. They decide they would want to be kind, patient, calm, firm, open-minded, respectful, empathetic, and professional. Being a person with those qualities will help them to have a reasonable conversation because they are creating a supportive container for the conversation. The qualities we embody are the metaskills that create the container.

Several clients have reported amazing outcomes from this practice. One told the story of facing a conversation with an employee who was angry about being passed over for a promotion. She took a minute and thought of how the employee must feel – angry, disappointed, and frustrated. He was entitled to feel that way. Although the decision was a fair one, it didn’t take away the sting of rejection.

My client’s normal style was to meet anger with anger. Instead, she met the employee’s anger with empathy and said things like, “Yes, I can understand why you are upset.” It was not the response the employee was expecting! He was expecting a good row! Instead, his anger dissipated, and the conversation turned to things that he could do to improve his chances next time around. By changing the container for the conversation, my client changed the entire tenor and outcome.

It’s important to note that kindness and firmness are not mutually exclusive. We can hold people accountable in a firm way and also be kind. It’s easy if we truly have the other person’s best interests at heart. Exceptional leaders know that their success is dependent on the success of everyone around them, which means they hold high standards and help people meet them. The best leaders know that figuring out how to meet goals and standards is a dialogue that happens best in a conversation container of respect and a true desire for others’ success.


Creating Positive Relationships


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One of the essential elements of extraordinary leadership is the ability to create and maintain positive relationships. In fact, we are happier and more successful as parents, spouses, friends, family members, and humans if we are amidst positive relationships. As leaders, we cannot cultivate the personal power that we need to motivate others unless we can create positive relationships. You can read more about the power of positivity and positive relationships here.

Research shows we need at least a five-to-one ratio of positive interactions to not-positive interactions in order to maintain a positive relationship. In one study, simply asking a student how homework was going was considered a negative interaction. Wow. That sets the bar for a positive interaction pretty high. The reality is that we don’t have a lot of positive interactions with others.

I first realized how few positive things that I was saying to others when my sons were in high school. I was in my coach training with the Coaches Training Institute. We had talked about the power of appreciation and acknowledgments. I realized that some days, I didn’t say even one nice thing to my children. I committed to saying at least one nice thing a day to each of them.

This tactic is a great way to start creating positive relationships. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it is doable. It’s essential that the acknowledgment or appreciation be sincere. Bad nonverbal communication can kill a nice statement. Any hint of sarcasm will sabotage your efforts. Start by saying things that you truly believe.

The comments must never be about the appearance of a person; that is a compliment and not what we are going for. We want to say something meaningful about the person, which is an acknowledgment. Our other option is to show appreciation for an action. For me, appreciation is easier, so I started with that.

When I saw my sons doing something that I wanted to see them do again, I made a statement about it. I said things like, “Thank you for putting your dishes in the sink. I really appreciate it.” I meant it! I did appreciate them putting the dishes in the sink. I appreciated when they put away their laundry, drove safely, helped each other, and mowed the grass.

After telling them what I appreciated, I then told them why. The why is an important piece of the appreciation message. I was grateful when they mowed the lawn because it was an enormous effort for me that wiped me out for the rest of the day when I did it. I appreciated them putting the dishes in the sink because it made cleaning up after meals much faster – and I didn’t like that task any more than they did.

People are more likely to repeat the action when you comment on it in a positive way. They know you like it, and they like being appreciated. Maybe they never saw it as important before and now realize it’s a big deal to you. For whatever reason, people do things more often when they feel that those things are appreciated. Appreciation also builds the overall positivity of a relationship. It’s a win-win.

Acknowledgments are more difficult and more powerful. When we give someone an acknowledgment, we are commenting on positive qualities of that person – not their actions or their appearance – though an acknowledgment can begin by noticing an action. After all, we show our qualities through our actions.

I could say, “I saw you helping your brother with his physics homework. You are a kind person who takes time to help others.” Here is another example: “I was watching you work out in the driveway. You really are consistent in your exercising, and you are getting stronger. I admire your willpower and determination.”

It’s essential that the things we say are true. We can’t run around saying things we don’t mean. Trust me, people can tell if you are insincere. As I looked for positive things to say to my sons who were and are outstanding human beings, I wasn’t making things up. All their great qualities were there. Some I was aware of. Others I noticed for the first time as I began to really pay attention to who my sons were.

The sad part is that I had not told them much of the good I saw and felt for them. I’m not sure why. Part of the reason harkens back to the fact that we are hardwired to notice and hang on to the negative. Noticing the good around us is not something that comes naturally or that we are trained to do. I’m sure the fact that they were surly teenagers was also a contributing factor. Also, I just wasn’t very good at sharing feelings. Looking for positive actions and the good in others is a new habit that we must form. Forming new habits takes work.

I started by saying one positive thing a day. Weirdly enough, it was difficult, and I would forget my intention. However, over time giving appreciation and acknowledgments got easier. It felt more natural. I was in the habit of looking for good things and commenting on them. Believe me, that is huge! The ability to easily and naturally see the positive qualities and actions of others is crucial for great leadership.

My two sons were suspicious of my new behavior at first. I was talking to them in a different way suddenly. I’m sure that they wondered what I was up to. I told them after a bit. Transparency is usually the best way to go. I told them that I was working to notice and comment on the good things around me and that they were definitely some of the best things around me.

A delightful outcome that I didn’t see coming was that my high school-aged sons began saying nice things back. They told me when they appreciated things I was doing. They even pointed out some of my strengths. I cannot begin to express how touching that is. The dynamics of our relationships changed for the better.

Violá! We created positive relationships by increasing our number of positive interactions. When I say something positive about someone, it is positive for both of us, and vice versa. The boys and I enjoyed each other’s company more and increased our level of trust, which led to more meaningful conversations.

Saying one positive thing to someone every day is a simple way to begin to create a positive relationship. Man, there is no better way to decrease our expenditure of emotional pennies than to create positive relationships. The results are extraordinary, which is what we are looking for in extraordinary leadership.

For a little bit of fun leadership development, join 53 Leadership Challenges at KathyStoddardTorrey.com.

Want to go further with your professional development? Check out the courses offered at PositiveEffectLeadership.com.

If you are interested in taking your career to the next level quickly, contact me for a sample coaching session at KSTorrey@tapferconsulting.com.