Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Thinking-Feeling Scale

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We’ve been discussing the MBTI. We talked about the history and overview of the instrument and then the important considerations of the Extrovert-Introvert scale. Last week, we talked about the Sensing-Intuitive scale, which describes how we perceive the world. Now, let’s discuss the Thinking-Feeling scale, which describes the values that we use to judge the world.

Thinking types (T’s) are rational and logical. In their minds, fair decisions are consistent and take the circumstances into account. T’s will maintain principles of fairness, even if it means losing a relationship. T’s believe that it’s important to be honest and aren’t always tactful.

T’s are logical and fair-minded. They value consistency and consider it more important to be truthful than tactful. T’s tend to discount someone’s feelings if they can’t back them up with logic. They like to be known for their accomplishments.

Feeling types (F’s) place emphasis on harmony and relationships. A person’s individual situation must be taken into account when making a decision. F’s feel that harmony and relationships are more important than arbitrary judgments of what is “right.”

F’s always consider the effect of an action on others. They are empathetic and value harmony. They like to please others, and they show their appreciation easily. F’s believe that feelings are valid; it doesn’t matter if they make sense or not. Relationships are more important than rules.

F’s can bring some important insights to a decision. It is okay to sometimes bend the rules for someone. Showing mercy and humanity can go a long way to create efficient working relationships.

Differences in the T-F scale can lead to serious disagreements. T’s and F’s use completely different criteria to make decisions.

F’s sometimes see T’s as heartless freight trains roaring down on them. A T’s blunt style can seem rude and hurtful to an F. An F can see a T as insensitive and uncaring. It’s important for leaders with a Thinking preference to remember how their actions and decisions might look from an F perspective. Although it will feel uncomfortable for them, T’s also need to address the feeling part of the situations that they face with others.

T’s sometimes see F’s as overemotional and illogical. The fact that F’s take everyone’s needs into account can make them look weak to a T. T’s feel strongly that being fair and following the rules is the best way for them to help people. It’s important for leaders with a Feeling preference to remember that T’s aren’t callously ignoring individual needs.

F’s also need to maintain some consistency around rules. I had a boss once who could not take any sort of discord. As a result, he told each person exactly what they wanted to hear, even if the requests conflicted. It made for a very confusing work environment because the way we did things was constantly changing.

Neither preference is right or wrong. They are just different. Good leaders can use both Thinking and Feeling skills.

In workshops, I split the group into T’s and F’s. I give them the following challenge and ask them to come up with solutions: Your child is on a Little League baseball team. They’ve won the championship and are going to Japan for the next level of competition. The problem is that there are 15 kids on the team and only 12 can go.

The T’s generally come up with very objective, measurable criteria. They list things like highest earned run average, fewest errors, least number of missed practices. They set fair criteria and are ready to let the three who come out on the bottom of the list stay at home.

The F’s, on the other hand, cannot stand to leave anyone out. I haven’t had a group yet that didn’t decide to have fundraisers to ensure that everyone gets to go. Harmony and relationships are what is important to most Feeling types.

The T-F scale is the only one that can be predicted by gender. There are more female F’s and more male T’s. We are socialized that way. Females are brought up to be nurturing and to maintain harmony. I am one of the minority. I am a female T, and that often results in me being labeled a big “B,” if you know what I mean.

Here is a good place to point out that it isn’t always easy to decide on someone’s type by watching their actions. I am a Thinking type, and I was a volunteer leader in the military community for about 20 years. My first inclination, as a T, is to go into a meeting, state what needs to be done, and dismiss everyone. My mostly female volunteer cohorts didn’t take kindly to that kind of behavior. If Feeling type volunteers don’t get the relationships and harmony that they crave, they tend to leave.

So I learned to leave some time at the beginning and end of the meeting for some chatting. I would introduce a topic and then ask each person how they felt about it. After that, we would compromise our way to a decision. Everyone bought into the end result because they were a part of the process. It was a way better way to interact with the group that required me to move away from my Thinking preference and toward a more Feeling approach.

Great leaders can move up and down the scale as needed to bring out the best in their team or organization.


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Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Sensing-Intuitive Scale

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We’ve been discussing the MBTI. We talked about the history and overview of the instrument and then the important considerations of the Extrovert-Introvert scale. Now we are going to discuss the Sensing-Intuitive scale, which describes how we perceive the world.

Sensing types (S’s) live in the moment. They use their five senses to soak in the world around them. S’s like concrete facts and routines and are very matter-of-fact. They like the safety and security of doing things the same way. Intuitive types (N’s) live in the possible. They notice patterns and like to plan and brainstorm. N’s like dealing with abstract ideas and concepts. They are very imaginative and thrive on innovation.

S’s are really good at noticing details. When I give a workshop, I hide my feet and then ask the group what my shoes look like. The ones that can tell me are mostly S’s. They can also describe what’s on the wall behind them without looking. I have a friend who is an S. We were both standing at a function listening to violin music and waiting for the next event — cake. We were standing by the cake table. There was a large sheet cake with some writing on it, some plates, forks, and napkins. She leaned over to me and said, “That table is really bothering me.”

Now I hadn’t seen it say anything rude, so I was puzzled. As far as I could tell, there was nothing wrong with the table. A few violin notes later, she said, “I can’t stand it anymore,” and she charged for the table. I expected a major confrontation between woman and table. She strode over, picked up the plates, and separated them into four piles, one at each corner of the table. Then she took the pile of forks and laid them out neatly. Finally, she strategically fanned the napkins on the table. With a self-satisfied grin, she returned. I am an N, and I honestly had not noticed anything wrong with the table, but my S friend notices details, and they bug her.

S’s like concrete ideas and facts. Practicality is the watchword that they live by. They use their five senses to take in the world around them, and they ground themselves in the present. S’s like ideas and plans to be presented in an orderly fashion.

S’s can get bogged down in details. It’s important for them to make a mental note that change is OK and can even be good!

N’s bring a “big picture” perspective to most situations. Their input can be valuable and help an organization plan for the future. They are good at seeing patterns and realizing the future implications of a decision.

N’s live in the realm of the possible. They love to talk about theories and concepts. Everyday details are mundane and boring. There’s always a better way to do something, and N’s have so much fun figuring out what that way is! “We’ve always done it that way” is an invitation to an N to find a better way. Their minds are in the future more than the present.

The two types can complement each other and drive each other crazy, but it’s important to note that both types are valuable and add value to a decision. N’s have a tendency to ignore issues of practicality. S’s can keep them grounded in what’s really possible. N’s keep S’s from stagnating in routines that are no longer serving a purpose.


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Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Extravert-Introvert Scale

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We’ve broadly discussed the MBTI and its history. Now, I want to talk about each of the four MBTI scales from a leadership perspective. The first scale is the Extravert-Introvert Scale. As Jung began studying people’s behavior, he first noticed how involved they were in the outside world.

He separated people into Extraverts (E) and Introverts (I). I’s are mostly interested in ideas and concepts inside their own heads. E’s interact more with the outside world. We all lie somewhere on the scale between the two extremes.

Your place on the E-I Scale tells you how you get your energy. Es get jazzed from being around a group of people. I’s recharge their batteries by being alone.

E’s and I’s process information in very different ways. E’s tend to think out loud. They process information by talking about it. I’s like to really think about an idea before they share it. When I give MBTI workshops, I ask the E’s to get up and stand on one side of the room and the I’s to stand on the other. Most of the time, the E’s chat with each other all the way to their side of the room and continue to talk once they form their group. The I’s, on the other hand, stand up and walk quietly to their side of the room. They usually stand silently watching the E’s talking animatedly across the room.

E’s tend to have a number of good friends. They are expressive, demonstrative, and easy to get to know. They like being around other people. I’s tend to have a few really close friends. They are more controlled and don’t share much about themselves with others. They are usually quiet and like to spend some time alone.

As far as learning styles go, E’s like to learn by being actively engaged in discussions and activities. I’s learn best from written material.

Neither way is better than the other! Both types are equally valuable. E’s like to refine their thinking by talking about it. They sort their ideas verbally. I’s like to refine their thinking internally. They don’t like to talk about an idea until they’ve given it some thoughtful consideration.

Our society promotes and rewards extraverted behavior. In school, teachers call on students and expect an answer immediately. E’s don’t have a problem, but I’s really like to give thoughtful answers. In business meetings, we are often asked to think on our feet and answer quickly. That behavior is much more challenging for an I.

Does that mean that I’s won’t be successful or able to hold their own in meetings? Not at all! Your preferred style is just that — preferred. We can each learn to behave outside our comfort zone. The more we practice, the more comfortable we become. The most successful people can operate inside and outside of their preferences.

Extraverted leaders are usually outgoing and friendly. They speak their mind honestly and frequently. They have a wide circle of friends and are energized by being around other people. In life, they like to be active and engaged.

Extraverted leaders have a tendency to run over I’s. In a meeting, it is important to create time and space for I’s to answer. I’s need some time to think about their answers. They REALLY don’t like to be put on the spot. Being the center of attention is not a good place for I’s, and they don’t share their feelings easily.

An Introvert can give valuable insight into challenges and topics if we create a safe environment for them to share. Sending out an agenda before a meeting gives an I time to think about the topics before arriving. We can also ask for written ideas to be turned in after the meeting instead of relying totally on discussion.

Introverted leaders think through an idea before they say it out loud. They must develop a sense of trust before they will open up and share their feelings. Introverted leaders have a few close friends and do not like to be in the spotlight. They recharge their batteries by spending time alone. They like to observe what’s going on around them for a while before they decide to join in.

E’s need time to discuss issues. Introverted leaders must create time and space for active discussion. It’s essential to have time in the meeting for the E’s to refine their thoughts through discussion.

It’s also important for leaders to understand how conflicts can arise between the two types. Let’s consider how each type might see the other. E’s could see the thoughtful I’s as aloof, maybe even rude when they don’t talk freely. I’s could consider the E’s to be chatterboxes who say things they don’t mean.

It’s important not to expect others to behave the way that we do. Remember that we each have our own unique Frame of Reference. Part of our Frame of Reference is our MBTI type. As leaders, it’s important that we understand and accommodate both types.

The two types will complement each other if we, as leaders, recognize their strengths and support each’s way of processing information and recharging their batteries.


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

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Leadership Nerd Alert: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) History and Overview

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 Whatever the circumstances of your life, the understanding of type can make your perceptions clearer, your judgments sounder, and your life closer to your heart’s desire. – Isabel Briggs Myers

I am an accredited facilitator of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and administer it to many of my leadership participants. I know that not everyone is an MBTI fan, but I call the MBTI workshop my “Give Peace a Chance” workshop.

Many times, we believe that people see and judge the world the same way that we do and that they are purposefully annoying us with their behavior. When discussing the MBTI with a group and doing some exercises together, it becomes obvious that what we notice and how we decide what is good can be very different.

The MBTI was developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers and is based on Carl Jung’s theory of personality type. Briggs explored and elaborated on Jung’s theories and introduced her daughter to the concepts at a young age. Isabel Briggs entered Swarthmore College at age 16 and graduated first in her class in 1919. She married her junior year and became Isabel Briggs Myers. The suffering of World War II motivated her to find a way to help people understand each other. Her tool for human understanding is the MBTI.

By developing individual strengths, guarding against known weaknesses, and appreciating the strengths of the other types, life will be more amusing, more interesting, and more of a daily adventure than it could possibly be if everyone were alike. – Isabel Briggs Myers

Isabel reveled in people’s differences and felt that most arguments are merely misunderstandings. She wrote a book about the MBTI and its underlying concepts with her son, Peter Briggs Myers. She died just before the publication of the first edition of Gifts Differing. In the preface, her son writes:

“…while not trained as a psychologist, [Isabel Myers] devoted the entire second half of her life to interpreting and adapting Jung’s theory to help ordinary, healthy, normal people understand that it is all right to be unique individuals, often quite unlike those around them, and that many, if not most, of the differences, problems, and misunderstandings they may have experienced with others can be explained in terms of the perfectly normal, but different, choices in the way people take in and process information.”

The MBTI classifies people along four dichotomies. Your type will tell you your preferred position along each dichotomy. It’s important to note that you are not limited by your type. Your type points out your preferred style of perceiving, judging, and orienting yourself to the world. Your type does not define who you are or limit your behavior to your preferred skills. Just as you can learn to sign your name with your nondominant hand, you can learn to use skills outside your preferred type.

There are no wrong answers on the MBTI. There are no “abnormal” types. Every type is valuable and normal. You are never obligated to share your type with anyone else.

As Jung began studying people’s behavior, he first noticed how involved they were in the outside world. He separated people into “Extraverts” and “Introverts.” Introverts are mostly interested in ideas and concepts inside their own heads. Extraverts interact more with the outside world. We all lie somewhere on the scale between the two extremes.

The second scale defines how we perceive the world around us. Sensing types notice small details and live in the moment. Intuitive types live in the world of possibility and focus on the future. Intuitive types don’t always notice the details around them.

The third dichotomy tells us how we judge the world. Thinking types are very logical; they feel it is important to be fair, logical, and consistent. Feeling types value relationships and harmony over logic; they feel that individual circumstances and people’s needs and feelings must be taken into account.

The last dichotomy is the Perceiving – Judging scale. Perceiving types like to keep their options open. Finishing a project means losing options. Perceiving types also have a very fluid sense of time. Judging types, on the other hand, are punctual and organized. They like to finish a project so that they can cross it off of their list and stop thinking about it.

We all fall along the scale on each of these dichotomies. It’s important to remember that our type is merely a preference. The most accomplished leaders move up and down the scale as needed.

For example, I am an Intuitive type, which means that I am not good at noticing details. However, for a while I administered a test to adults and figured out that some of them were cheating.

I began to watch them very closely and noticed that most people keep both hands on a desk while taking a test. Anyone who had one hand in their lap could be holding a cheat sheet. It wasn’t always true, but I began noticing details and walking behind anyone with one hand not on the desk.

We can learn to function efficiently outside our preferred type. In fact, extraordinary leaders have learned to move up and down the four scales as needed to achieve the best outcome, interactions, and results.


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.

 

Perfectionism: Adversary to Paradigm

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For most of my life, Perfectionism was my adversary. It felt like we were fighting all the time. I envisioned us with swords and shields duking it out. Unfortunately, back then Perfectionism had the bigger sword and won most of the battles. I didn’t feel like anything that I did was good enough.

That feeling of “not good enough” led me to leave things unfinished. I didn’t write much because I never felt that it was good enough for other people to read. I cleaned the house but never felt that it was good enough for company. I avoided some careers that I didn’t feel that I could master to the level demanded by my adversary Perfectionism.

Eventually, Perfectionism didn’t even have to put out much of an effort to win. I got so used to losing and falling short of perfection that I gave up on a lot of stuff and felt like the loser that I was.

Let me clarify that; I was only losing to Perfectionism. I wasn’t really a loser in any other way, but I felt like it. However, I found a book that really resonated with me and helped me change my relationship with Perfectionism.

The book is Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky, and I remember one story in particular. (I don’t have the book with me at the moment, so I’m going off of what I remember.) There was a group of artists who all agreed to produce and share one piece of art a day. It could be anything!

After a year, only one person had shared one piece of art every day, and he is the one who became famous and got rich! He wasn’t necessarily the best, but he was the one that didn’t let Perfectionism convince him that his art wasn’t good enough to publish. He ignored Perfectionism every day for a year! I liked that!

I decided to redesign my relationship alliance with Perfectionism. I acknowledged that she was actually perfect, but that as a human being I was never going to be able to be perfect. Instead of an adversary, I turned Perfectionism into a paradigm – something that I wanted to strive toward. It is powerful to realize that one can get pretty close to perfection and that “almost perfect” is good enough.

I write all the time now! I’ve written a weekly blog for more than three years. I rarely believe what I write is perfect. I feel I could continue to improve each one for weeks! However, I have made a deal with myself that I will put one out each week no matter what.

I also made a deal with Perfectionism. I agreed to have an editor look over each blog to make sure that there were no glaring errors.

The result is that Perfectionism and I are both satisfied now. She is happy, up on her pedestal serving as inspiration. I am happy getting as close to the base as possible while accomplishing goals and getting stuff out the door where it can do some good.


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.

 

Twenty Wishes

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I just finished reading an incredibly sappy romance novel – for the second time. It’s not a steamy novel; it’s a sweet one. I like it because it is full of hope, friendship, redemption, love, and new beginnings. Right about now, I could use some hope and positivity. Most of the people that I see around me look like they could, too.

Twenty Wishes is about a group of widows who meet on Valentine’s Day full of sadness and regret. They have been widows for different periods of time. Each has a unique story and a common sense of drifting without purpose.

Man, I recognize that state. Lately, it feels very easy to fall into the habit of focusing only on the next step, the next thing that needs to be done. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this way of proceeding if you have a lot to do in a short amount of time. I use that process and wrote a blog about it.

However, it stinks as a way of life. Just plodding along and only looking up long enough to see what needs to be done next is boring and disheartening. Life is better with a little fun and wishful thinking in it.

The widows in Twenty Wishes decide to add some spice into their lives when they start talking about making a list of 20 wishes. The wishes are as unique as the women. One wants to buy a car all on her own. Another wants to dance barefoot in the rain in the moonlight. Another one wants to go to Paris with someone she loves.

They only started with a couple of wishes. The power of their transformation started when they began scanning their environment for things that appealed to them. Instead of looking down, they looked up. They checked in with themselves and asked, “Do I like this? Does this sound interesting?”

As they began moving toward their wishes, they expanded their worlds. They met new people and broadened their definitions of themselves. One took belly dancing lessons, and another became a lunch buddy for a second grader. Those steps altered the courses of their lives for the better.

You can’t read the book without thinking about what your own wishes might be. I couldn’t come up with any in the beginning, but I began paying attention to the things around me and asking myself which ones piqued my interest.

The first nudge came when I was talking with a friend about languages. She said that she wanted to take a language-intensive course of study in another country. I thought, “That sounds like fun! It would be even more fun if we did it together!” We started making some loose post-COVID plans on the spot.

I have something to look forward to! There is something unique that I have never done before on my distant horizon. Truly, the pandemic does put a damper on wish fulfillment, but it is a time when wishing is needed. Wishing gives us something to look forward to and pulls our eyes up from just watching our feet take the next step.

I have about five wishes now, and I’m not in a hurry to find the rest. The looking is as much fun as the dreaming.


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.

Outcome v. Ego

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I was talking with someone who was quite put out with their coworkers who were refusing to wear masks. This person has immune-compromised people in their family and tries to take as few risks as possible.

After asking the coworkers several times over a few weeks to wear masks, the conversation got heated. The person said, “I have no respect for them and will not treat them with respect because they have no respect for me or my health or my family’s health.” They make a totally valid point. When we depend on others to help keep our loved ones safe, the lack of control can be infuriating.

However, getting into a battle of wills and making the confrontation personal is not going to help the situation. When we are having a difference of opinion with someone, it’s crucial that we put our personal feelings aside and focus on the outcome that we want.

In this situation, the person wants their coworkers to wear a mask, as required by the organization. It’s a rule that they are not following. If they attack their no-mask peers, they make them feel defensive. The no-mask coworkers are not going to wear a mask because it’s become a point of honor. If they wear a mask, they have lost.

As leaders, when we want someone to do something, we must not make them feel that the course of action that we want is a loss of face or honor for them. We must continue to focus on the desired outcome and not get angry or make the conflict personal.

The coworkers should follow the rules and behave with respect towards others. However, they are not, so some influencing is in order. The model of the rider, elephant, and path from the book Switch: How to Change When Change Is Hard can be useful. When facing change ourselves or when helping others through a change, we must deal with the logical rider and the emotional elephant, and we must do what we can to create a structure to ensure the desired behavior, which is the path.

mask meme

The mask meme above speaks to logic and could influence the rider. There is a reason to wear a mask, and it’s not just to protect ourselves.

A photo of the vulnerable family member could reach the noncompliant coworkers at an emotional level. A picture of a cute baby or adorable grandpa could help the coworkers make a connection and stir feelings of protection.

Finally, if all else fails, a trip to supervisors and HR is required. If logic, respect, kindness, and emotional connection do not do the trick, it’s time to create consequences for unacceptable behavior. This is the path part of the model. We could consider continuing gentle reminders as part of the path, as well, but since it hasn’t worked yet, it probably won’t in this case.

We achieve the goals that we want by keeping those goals in mind and our egos in check. No matter how much someone deserves a piece of our minds, we must instead use our influence on their logic and emotions. Finally, when we can, we create consequences for their actions that are as impartial and fair as possible. What we don’t want to do is create a personal battle.


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.

 

Dealing with Overwhelm

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I will confess that I am a bit overwhelmed at the moment. I’m preparing welcome boxes for the 18 participants of my first-ever completely virtual leadership series, packing for a three-month stay in Austin, writing this blog, and getting my condo ready for guests to stay here while I am gone.

When I have a long way to go and a short time to get there, I begin by making a list of things that have to be done. The first step is a brain dump. Everything that is cluttering my mind goes down on paper.

Next, I put the tasks in priority order. Once I have a list of things to do, from most important and time-sensitive to least, I start moving. The trick is to only focus on one thing at a time. No emotional energy goes into hemming or hawing about what is the next best thing to do.

I also take a lot of deep breaths to stay calm. I want to move quickly, but not hurriedly. Wasting emotional pennies on feeling rushed isn’t helping the situation. I can do this by practicing some mindfulness. I focus on whatever I am doing right now. No thoughts of what still needs to be done or feelings of overwhelm are allowed. The only thing in my mind is what I am doing in this moment. And when I’m done with that task, I move on to the next thing on the list. Staying mindful turns a forced march into a brisk, intentional walk, which is much more sustainable.

For my current tasks, printing off the handouts for the welcome boxes and ordering items to include in it were first. Then I began to lay everything out across the living room floor and dining room table. Next, I began assembling the boxes. Currently, they are all filled and waiting for bubble wrap, sealing, and labeling.

I am also facing the effects of Hurricane Isaias, which has led me to switch up my priorities. I paused on leadership welcome kits so I could pack and load the car before the deluge hits. At 6 pm, I will stop packing and loading and finish off the welcome boxes. They will go in the car tonight so I can go to the post office first thing in the morning, when I will mail the welcome kits and ask them to forward my mail.

The great thing about prioritizing is that I do get the most important stuff done. There is only so much time between now and when I must be on the road. There is a chance that I will run out of time and not get everything on the list completed – and that’s okay! I’m a human who needs sleep before I can drive for hours on end. Not stressing or feeling overwhelmed also helps me stay fresh for the long drive.

Leaders often face time challenges. There are many responsibilities and tasks that pull on our attention. We can maintain a calm demeanor and manageable life by mastering the skill of prioritizing and then staying in the current moment by practicing mindfulness.


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.

 

The Horrible Danger of a Harsh Start

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I received an email, and the opening line labeled a decision that I’d made as stupid and unthinking. The person went on to make some valid points, but they totally lost me at the initial attack. I was triggered. I was angry. I was not in the ventral vagal state that is required for creative thinking, problem-solving, and open-mindedness.

Beginning a conversation harshly, either virtually or in-person, is not a good choice for leaders. John Gottman, world-renowned relationship researcher, agrees. According to his research, a conversation that begins with a harsh start ends harshly more than 90% of the time. Those are some pretty steep odds to overcome if you are working to create positive relationships.

As leaders, we want to know the outcome that we are looking for from each conversation before we start it. One outcome that we always want is to increase the positivity of the relationship with the person we are talking with or emailing. That’s an important point to remember. I can tell you that I do not have positive feelings toward anyone who starts a conversation by insulting or blaming me.

However, as a leader I recognize when someone is using a harsh start. I may initially feel my hackles go up, but I use some emotional intelligence to self-manage those emotions. We do that by stepping outside of ourselves and becoming an observer. Here are some questions that we could ask ourselves:

  • Why did it make me angry?
  • What point is the other person trying to make?
  • What feelings are they experiencing that would lead them to start a conversation in that way?

When we become an observer, we re-engage our neocortex, and all of our adult reasoning comes back online.

In addition to creating a positive relationship, we usually want another outcome or two. Perhaps we would like to change someone’s mind about something. We might want to understand a person’s rationale for a decision. In the case of the email, the person wanted me to know that the decision I’d made was not one that worked with their priorities and schedule. They were disappointed and angry. They also felt misled by a series of events. All reasonable arguments and feelings.

For the record, the decision was made for a group and was totally a reaction to the unforeseen consequences of COVID-19. It was never going to make everyone happy, which is sad and frustrating. And that’s what leaders do; we make hard decisions. This one was made after asking for input from the group.

Because I can’t see the true intentions of another person, I can only guess at the outcome that they were looking for. My hypothesis is that they wanted me to change the schedule. Although that wasn’t a possibility in this case, I was not likely to change it after receiving a scathing email.

I would be much more likely to consider an email that begins with a soft start such as, “I received your email about _____, and I am sorry to say that I cannot participate because of _____. I am disappointed and wonder if there is any possibility of working around my challenges. I am also concerned about _____. Could we schedule a time to talk?”

When facing a harsh start, we can ask what outcome the other person is looking for from the conversation. People are sometimes looking to hurt our feelings, although they will seldom admit to that. By focusing on specific outcomes, we guide the conversation in a more productive direction. If we interact regularly with someone who uses harsh starts, we could create a Designed Alliance with them.

As leaders, we can create positive relationships and help create the outcome that we want by beginning in a non-confrontational manner and asking some curious questions. This approach doesn’t give the immediate emotional satisfaction of venting and attacking, but the long-term results are much more satisfying.


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.

 

Literally, Change Your Mind

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path

Note: This is a blog that I wrote back in February 2014. I’m publishing it again as much for a reminder to myself as anything else. I’ve added additional thoughts at the end.

When we think the same thoughts over and over, we create well-worn paths in our brains.  The metaphor of a path is more than just a metaphor.  It’s a description.  We do create neural pathways in our brains.  The more we take a particular neural path, the stronger the connections become, and the more quickly our brains use that path as a default.

The mental image of a path always makes me think of the last lines of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”:   “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all of the difference.”  Taking the brain path that is less traveled, or even creating a new brain path, is the way to change thought patterns that are not serving us.

Let’s say I have worn a very clear and wide “poor me” path in my brain.  In any circumstance that I face, the easiest, quickest path to take is the “poor me” path.  The car breaks down—poor me!  Economy takes a dive—poor me! Daughter won’t do chores—poor me! Hangnail—poor me!  You get the idea. I could just as easily have worn a clear and wide “stupid you” path.

Most of the time we glide into thought patterns without thinking.  We could be imitating a parent. Perhaps our current thinking is influenced by a set of circumstances in our past.  The first step is to ask, “Is this way of thinking serving me now?”  It might have been useful when you were a child and under the control of others, but it might not be useful now.  Maybe it never was useful. It’s time to take a fresh look.

Sometimes an event can put us on a mental path that is keeping us stuck in the past or in a negative way of thinking.  Way back when I was in high school, I would obsess over any mistake that I made.  If I said or did something that hurt someone’s feelings or embarrassed me or was just plain stupid, I would play it in my head over and over.  After a while, I realized that replaying it wasn’t useful.  It made me sick to my stomach and kept me on the “I am an idiot” path.  I came up with a solution that I learned 30 years later is called cognitive restructuring.

First, look at the offending situation.  What lesson can you learn?  How can you avoid repeating the mistake?  Decide on a one-sentence lesson you have learned. Then take the lesson forward and leave the details behind.

I will share a particularly humiliating example. In high school, I was head-over-heels for a guy who dropped me and started going out with someone else.  I was so hurt and angry.  I drove past his house one evening and saw that his car was out front.  I stopped.  It was unlocked.  I don’t remember the details, but I messed up the inside and outside of his car.  No permanent damage, but afterward I was so ashamed and humiliated.  He had to have known it was me.

First step: What happened?

I acted on impulse out of anger.  I acted childishly.

Second step: How could I avoid the same mistake in the future?

No acting out in anger.  I have poor judgment when I am angry. No childish behavior.  That wasn’t who I wanted to be.

Third step: Create a takeaway phrase.

“No childish actions when angry” was mine. Each time I started to relive the humiliation, I stopped myself.  I said, “I’ve learned my lesson.  No childish actions when angry.”

Step four:  Think about something else.

I forced myself to go over my to-do list or start reciting song lyrics, anything to get me off of the path of replaying the event.

I didn’t just have to redirect my thoughts once.  I had to do it over and over again.  The key is consistency and determination. I had to stay off the well-worn path to let the branches, vines, and grass take over and make it disappear. Eventually, the path grew over.  Today, I can only recall the lesson, not the details.

In the time since I’ve discovered that replacing the offending thought pattern with a thought that creates a feeling of gratitude is even more effective.  If you are feeling grateful, you cannot feel any other emotion.  It replaces fear, unhappiness, and resentment.  How cool is that? Way better than to-do lists. The key is to make the gratitude path wide and clear—very easy to follow.  Line the gratitude path with images and memories that touch your heart because those have the most power. Then you can call them up easily and take that alternate gratitude path whenever you are tempted to take the one you’ve declared off-limits.

A friend pointed out that we don’t control individual thoughts that surface unbidden.  I guess that’s true to some extent.  However, what’s important here is that we have the power of choice.  We decide what to do with any unbidden thoughts and how long we let them linger.

Like the traveler in Robert Frost’s poem, we get to choose our paths.  We influence new thoughts by which paths we keep clear and which we let grow over.  We choose the tone of our internal dialogue.  We choose which paths to cultivate in our minds, and through those choices we choose the types of people we are going to be.

Final note: Man, 2014 feels like a very long time ago. It was most certainly another life. Rediscovering this blog feels providential because I am working to release a lot of anger and resentment over some life events that have happened in the interim. All of them are infinitely more serious than a high school prank.

The actions are not necessarily my own, but the events, circumstances and anger have had me firmly in their grip. I have been caught in an endless loop of negative thinking and blaming for quite some time.

I’ve decided that my takeaway phrase is “Shit happens, and most of it isn’t my fault.” I am not absolving myself of all responsibility, but stuff like injuries, illnesses, other people’s decisions, and COVID-19 are definitely not my fault!

This time around I am using one song lyric consistently to replace unbidden, negative thoughts and emotions. It honestly came to me while I was asleep, and it brings me great comfort. It feels like a message from Spirit. The song is “Just Remember I Love You” by Firefall. The specific lyric is “Just remember I love you, and it’ll be alright. Just remember that I love you more than I can say.”

A spiritual grounding is important for leaders. We must stand on a firm foundation to lead effectively. Choosing to master ourselves and our thoughts in an important proficiency. Connecting to our higher power gives us the strength and confidence that we need to do that – especially when we are running low on our own.


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.