“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair; but manifestations of strength and resolution.” — Khalil Gibran
During a recent therapy session, I talked about my frustrations working with people, currently, that I have yet to encounter as much in the past. Two significant areas were challenging: collaboration, which has always been easy for me, but now seemed difficult to navigate smoothly, and second, my ability to bring prominent personalities and busy people together onto the same page. It could be the complication of virtual collabs (oration), the mentality of people after 3 yrs of COVID, or maybe humanity is more fragile these days . . . Let me elaborate.
When we are passionate about something, we put out more energy. We share ideas and thoughts; sincere effort delivers results. When faced with questions about our ideas/thoughts/actions, we can take them personally. It feels like being picked apart as a person, not just the ideas. We also need to be valued and trusted. I’m guilty of feeling all of the above.
In reality, people participating in any ideation process likely feel the same. The key is to figure out how to recognize this, be kinder in critiquing ideas, and acknowledge that we can build on the myriad of ideas to come up with an agreed-upon solution. To collaborate successfully, keep people engaged, and deliver results, we must acknowledge how people are experiencing the process and put ground rules in place.
FEELINGS & FEAR
I’m listening to Michelle Obama’s new book, “The Light We Carry,” and the second chapter is Decoding fear. She describes Lin Manuel coming to the White House to perform a rap piece that he had been working on but isn’t sure how the President and First Lady will receive it. Granted, this was before his show Hamilton (Lin Manuel sang the first song he’d written about Alexander Hamilton for this event), but he had already had success on Broadway with “In the Heights.”
The first lady shared a story that showed how even a talented, successful person feels anxiety and fear. Michelle suggests fear can prevent us from experiencing anything, or we can “get on top of our fear.” Can you imagine entering a room to sing before the President and the First Lady?! Finding a less intimidating person to lock eyes with would be hard.
When he met Michelle’s mom’s eyes, she helped him ground himself. Lin Manuel could focus on her and held the audience rapt for 3 minutes. He shared with Michelle afterward that he felt the song had two possible outcomes and, depending on its reception, whether he would continue to develop it or not. We know it’s never all or nothing. It takes courage to work through the fear and devise realistic solutions.
Order of operations is critical. Before we jump in, we must create a plan of action.
We have a choice when asked to lead an initiative and deliver results. We can use the sense of responsibility to level up or allow fear to overpower our capabilities.
When there is a significant project, we must overcome fear and deliver. Any part of the process can throw us off track. The fear that we might not be able to produce this time, the stress of getting and staying on a timeline, the pressure of assembling a team that can work together toward a goal, and then getting on the same page about the vision. I describe this more in my blog, Check Your Attitude. Go read it!
Clear roles and lines of responsibility must be agreed-upon and established. Methods of communication and best practices must be shared and continually improved.
I’ve let enthusiasm blind me before and jumped headfirst into a situation that almost destroyed me. I felt uncomfortable, like having my intelligence challenged, and the team didn’t believe in me. I walked around for days feeling like I was under sludge, and it wasn’t until I leaned into several difficult conversations that we got to a good working place. I could have quit at any time, overcome with fear of failure. My husband, being protective, wanted me to. But I’m made of sturdier stuff.
VIRTUAL UPS & DOWNS
Because of technological improvements, we can schedule “facetime” quickly, even across distance and geography. A video call is often more efficient than driving to a meeting, saving more time for actions! But competing schedules and different locations also tend to drag out projects through side calls for updates and conversations that can get convoluted because all the stakeholders need to be together to work and discuss.
We used to pick up the phone or walk down the hall when we had questions. An email or text can help in some scenarios and hurt other situations when the tone or meaning is misconstrued.
Fewer meetings, concise agendas, and action items are my recommendation. And cut down on side chats! Yes, we can remind ourselves not to take things personally but to reduce the chances of these misunderstandings, meet with all the stakeholders, take notes, and be accountable. It will save time and energy, plus we will be more productive.
Remember, don’t let bullies into your head (brainstorming is supposed to be throwing out ideas without judgment), or be a bully to others as they are courageous in sharing their thoughts.
Continue encouraging brainstorming together as the global workplace becomes more diverse. Get people to throw out ideas and consider them together as a team. Differing backgrounds and experiences offer up a more significant variety of perspectives and possible solutions — and improve the capability of everyone involved. Share ground rules in advance, allowing the collaborators to respond from the beginning.
1. I recommend fewer meetings, concise agendas, and action items. And cut down on side chats! Yes, we can remind ourselves not to take things personally but to reduce the chances of these misunderstandings, meet with all the stakeholders, take notes, and be accountable. It will save time and energy, plus we will be more productive.
2. Identify parameters (cost, effort, timing) and value each collaborator’s idea as a possible element of or a complete solution.
3. Kindness counts and can take us much further. In the words of Khalil Gibran: “Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair; but manifestations of strength and resolution.”