What Is a Big Deal To Me, May Leave You Wondering WTF

In this increasingly sensitized world, we sometimes wonder how others will interpret our words.

On the receiving end, we may be offended by others’ comments and wonder, at a minimum, how this person could have been so insensitive.

Layer on to these differences in cultures and life experiences; while some may hear a comment as a big deal, the sender may be left scratching their head. 

For me, the solution lies in dialogue and seeking first to understand. Understand what others are sensitive to, the life and ancestral experiences that may have led them to feel as they do, and why others appear to “not get it.”

Two conversations, one recent and one I had a few years back, brought this home to me at a personal level. In the recent conversation, as a Jewish person, I felt offended by comments I heard from a friend—comments that my friend may have felt were neutral. 

This recent experience reminded me of a conversation a few years ago with a black friend when I was perceived as insensitive. “You don’t understand my history and lived experience,” she said. I felt sad and misunderstood at the time because I thought I did understand. I realize now that her comments were accurate; I do not understand. Each of us sees the world through our filter.

Sometimes, we think what is right and what is wrong should be obvious, yet it often isn’t. One of my favorite examples comes from Trevor Noah’s biography. 

According to Noah, in South Africa, where he is from, children are taught that Hitler was a powerful man; the atrocities he committed were left out of the history lesson. Trevor goes on to say that black South Africans often name their children after “great leaders,” emphasizing that great does not necessarily mean good. With this background in mind, Noah shares a story about a friend named Hitler. Yes, that is his given name, not a nickname.

As young adults, Trevor and Hitler were entertainers; Trevor was a DJ, and Hitler was a dancer. The two of them were invited to perform at a school in a white neighborhood that turned out also to be a Jewish neighborhood. When Trevor introduces Hitler to the stage to dance, the room falls silent. Trevor doesn’t understand why and carries on with his spiel using Hitler’s name over and over.

Finally, a teacher comes on stage and demands that they leave. An argument ensues; the teacher is horrified that “you people” had the indecency to come here. Trevor hears “you people” as black people; now both are horrified and offended. Trevor and Hitler leave, and it isn’t until years later, when Trevor travels outside of South Africa, that he understands what happened that day.

When I read Noah’s story, I was struck by its absurdity and reminded that we must try to assume positive intent, which is hard to do sometimes but so important, especially today.

It Only Takes A Moment

Appreciation is a leadership action. As leaders, we tend to focus on monetary signs of appreciation, e.g., gifts or bonuses. Yet, as humans, we most value specific appreciation directed just to us. And most of us find it challenging to do this. We celebrate or complement the team, but we rarely notice and communicate with simple appreciative words or a carefully selected card or a note to just one person.

Here’s an example:

Instead of, “You did a good job on this report,” why not say, “You did a good job creating the status report this week. I like that it was succinct and included the due dates. It helped me see what was pending and how much was due at the same time”.

The great thing about this simple appreciation is that it doesn’t take any planning and costs nothing. It only takes a moment and can be done in the moment.

To whom will you give specific appreciation today?

What is the Future of Writing in the Era of ChatGpt?

As a writer, I’ve pondered this question off and on. 

I’ve played around with ChatGpt, asking it to draft a story that I edited extensively or giving it an outline and asking it to turn it into prose. Frankly, I’ve not been overly impressed with the result and concluded that ChatGpt is suitable for generic writing tasks, e.g., condo rules and standard letters, not creative and inspirational writing.  

And then…

Last week I asked ChatGpt to write a 200-word blog on the value of reunions. Below is the blog it wrote. It’s good! So good it caused me to wonder, does writing have a future in the era of ChatGpt? 

As part of my pondering, I’ve been reading about the impact of ChatGpt in schools. In particular, I read that the college essay is dead. Some teachers have stopped giving writing assignments at all. 

On the other hand, there are teachers who see ChatGpt as an opportunity to challenge students with a more difficult task. These teachers ask students to use ChatGpt to write the essay, and then the assignment is to fact-check and critique what ChatGpt wrote and then revise the ChatGpt response (students turn in their critique, the ChatGpt composition, and their own).

So maybe the better questions are:

  • How will writing change in the era of ChatGpt? 
  • For those of us who seek to inspire with our writing, how do we ensure our contribution is unique?
  • When is it ok to ask ChatGpt to write for us and then share, with attribution, what it wrote? 

ChatGpt’s Blog 

Embracing the Joy of Reunions: Connecting Across Time and Distance

In a world where time races ahead, and life’s demands pull us in various directions, there’s something undeniably magical about reunions. These gatherings have an uncanny ability to transport us back in time, rekindling memories and emotions that have been tucked away. Reunions offer us a chance to bridge the gaps that time and distance have created, allowing us to connect and cherish the bonds that define us.

The anticipation leading up to a reunion is like a crescendo of emotions – excitement, nostalgia, and a touch of anxiety. As the familiar faces come into view, it’s as if time melts away, and we’re left with a profound realization that some connections remain unbreakable, no matter the miles that separate us.

Reunions are not merely events but windows into our past, present, and future. They provide an opportunity to share stories, reminisce about shared experiences, and catch up on the latest chapters of each other’s lives. Laughter reverberates, tears are shed, and hearts are warmed as we celebrate the beauty of human connection.

In a digital age where virtual interactions often dominate, the physical presence of a reunion is a poignant reminder of the significance of face-to-face connections. The joy of holding a friend’s hand, the warmth of a hug, and the unspoken understanding that passes between loved ones are experiences that can never truly be replicated through screens.

Whether it’s a high school reunion, a family gathering, or a long-awaited meeting with friends, reunions offer us a chance to rekindle bonds that time and distance may have momentarily obscured. They remind us that despite the challenges life throws our way, the ties that bind us are enduring and precious. So, as we gather once again, let’s embrace the magic of reunions and savor every moment of connection they offer.

Perception ≠ Reality

We often hear the phrase perception is reality. We learn early on that we cannot perceive reality directly; perception is all we have. “If a tree falls in the woods…..”

As leaders, we transfer this rule into behaviors, i.e., how we perceive a product becomes what it is. How we perceive a person or a company’s reputation is who they become to us. And organizational experts tell us how we are perceived at work becomes reality for our peers, subordinates, and bosses.

Yet, perception is often far from reality. 

An example from the physical world, without knowing the time, darkness can be perceived as night or a storm.

A personal human interaction example. A while back, I attended a gathering of coaches designed for learning and connectivity. On the first day, we did an exercise that was to be a “fun” icebreaker. Hmm, well, at least it was fun for the extroverts; for the introverts, it was uncomfortable rather than a light exercise. 

When I checked in with one of my fellow introverts, I was reminded of how misaligned perceptions can be. I asked my friend why it seemed that he didn’t recognize me when we passed each other several times during the exercise, and he responded, “Wow, I didn’t even see you; I was just trying to get through it.” On that day, my perception was that he wasn’t interested in engaging with me. His reality was that he was so uncomfortable with the exercise that he disengaged completely.

Another way to say this: perception is about us, reality is about the other person.

The learning for me…

Ask a question and seek to understand the reality beyond our perceptions, and life will hold some lovely surprises.

You Say Tomato

In my work as an executive life coach, I am constantly reminded that even though we are all part of the human species with many common characteristics, we see the world differently.

We expect this to be so when we travel internationally or interact with people of differing ethnic, cultural, and national backgrounds. Most of us have a heightened awareness of our differences in these situations. We realize we need to pause, think about the norms of the other person, think about what we have learned about their culture, and modify our interaction and behavior accordingly. 

An easy example is how we exchange business cards. In the U.S., when we even use business cards, we toss them on the table. In Japan, a business card is “presented”; held in two hands and a formal exchange.

Yet, when dealing with people who speak our same language, we often forget to pause. We forget that just because we speak the same language, may even come from the same community, we see the world differently. 

The closer our relationship with the other person, the more likely we will forget. We carry on and behave in a manner that comes naturally to us, and when it works, it works. And when it doesn’t, we leave a wake. Sometimes we recognize the wake we are leaving and work to repair it; sometimes, we don’t see it.

When we are in a leadership position and leave a wake, it is rarely brought to our attention directly. Instead, we learn about our impact on the actions and behaviors of others. Often we don’t connect the dots and see that our wake caused the behavior in others we don’t want to see.

So, what to do? Here are the questions I am asking myself:

  • How do I slow down to have this heightened awareness in all conversations?
  • Once I notice the conversation requires special attention, like the business card exchange, what do I already know, and what do I need to learn about the other person that will help me handle my delivery in a way that lands as intended?
  • When have I left a wake, what do I need to do to clean it up?

Does Style Matter?

Many tools are available for assessing personality style, each having its nuance. With few exceptions, these assessments produce a matrix of 4 primary personalities.

These personality styles result from an understanding of extroversion vs. introversion and the relationship of each type to detail orientation. Add to this a person’s propensity to focus on an outcome or seek harmony.

In my experience, no matter what your leadership role is, knowing and understanding your own style and that of each person you work with is the key to achieving the results you want.

I recently had a conversation with a friend that drove this home for me again. My friend is an advisor to the CEO of a large company. This company is in the midst of a reorganization, and my friend is struggling with one of the new organization’s leaders. As we talked through the situation, it became clear to both of us that the root cause of her challenge was style. She is outcome-focused; he is harmony-focused; she is an introvert (goes within to process); he is an extrovert (processes out loud). 

The result: he is talking too much from her perspective; she is trying to move the project forward; he has unresolved fears and is resisting.

Once she realized their style differences were causing her challenge, she had the answer; I could see it on her face. We then moved into a more extended discussion about the characteristics of each primary style and then a plan of action.

Bottom line. When I struggle to communicate, and I pause long enough to get some perspective, I’ve come to realize the answer always is: I need to modify my style to adapt to the other person’s style. Easier said than done, I know, and like everything else, it’s a journey.

Oops, I Was Thinking Out Loud – Part II

A while back, I wrote the following story one of my clients shared about his experience with the unintended consequences of thinking out loud. 

I was sitting in my office with my VP of Operations. I was thinking aloud, wondering what we needed to do next to get to our growth goals. I was going on and on about my frustrations and concerns. The next day, he returned to my office and asked if I was planning to sell the company. He apparently had gone home and thought about what I had said all night.”

Recently, one of my clients shared a different thinking-out-loud story about the ripple effects.

My client was walking the floor of her office, and to engage with the team, she sat down with a couple of team members and shared her observations about their current process of servicing customers. Her intent was to learn their perspective and see if anyone had ideas to streamline the process. Instead, she heard from the direct manager of these team members the next day that they needed to change the process because of their conversation with “the boss” the previous day! 

You may be thinking (silently?), so are you saying I want to be aware of what I am saying all the time? Yikes!!

My sense is the answer is yes. When we think out loud, sometimes we create expectations, alarm, or even actions we did not intend. 

In my own experience, when I have the presence to say, ” I would like to hear your perspective, may I think out loud for a moment?” that frames the conversation. And then, I remind myself to craft the wrap-up so that my listener doesn’t take action based on our think-out-loud conversation unless I want them to. And sometimes, this pausing reminds me that in this circumstance, it is best to ‘zip it.’ 

The Wisdom Years

Coaching CEOs, Presidents, and C-Suite executives for the last 20+ years has taught me a lot about what matters to leaders. While I’ve heard it said a variety of ways, it turns out that what matters to leaders is the desire to impact and make a difference, and this desire is there whether the leader is 25 or 95.

This need to make a difference seems to accelerate when we enter the last third of our lives, the so-called “wisdom years.” We often hear that the benefit of age is “wisdom,” the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.

I am fortunate to have advisors and mentors of all ages, and in my experience, wisdom is not the sole purview of age. 

Indeed, experience counts; if I’ve done something before, it’s familiar the second time. I am likely to do it faster and better, and I may be able to teach you how to do it faster and better. 

On the other hand, knowledge and good judgment are qualities possessed by people of all ages. And here is where the caution comes in. While I may have more experience than someone younger, do I have more knowledge and better judgment? My sense is the answer to this question is situational. 

Perhaps the recognition that time is running out drives many of us to want to impart our wisdom. Yet, if we stop and pause for a moment, we know that regardless of how much I think I know and can help, Socrotes’ teachings always apply. 

I wonder if true wisdom lies in knowing when to offer what we perceive as wisdom and when to wait to be asked. 

Good Intentions

One of the key things we learn as coaches is the Socratic Method. Stay in a questioning mode and let people come to their own answers.

Most humans want to make a difference and have an impact on others. Sometimes when we want to be in service, it is tempting to tell others what they need to do. And, yet, the impact of giving advice can often have the exact opposite result.

The thing is, we all hear through our own filter. And sometimes, what we intend and what is heard are often not the same.

I have learned, and continue to learn, the hidden benefit of questioning, i.e., our filter becomes visible.

Telling is passive; I can choose to take it in or not; I can react or not.

On the other hand, when I am asked a question, the engagement is active. I am a participant, and I have the opportunity to pause and consider rather than react and respond.

No surprise that Socrates had the influence he did as a man of few words.

Leadership Quote: Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit

Reprising my shameless self-promotion in case you missed it. In October, I was a guest on the Northern Trust Advisors Podcast, and I just learned that this podcast made their top ten for 2021. So exciting! Here’s a link if you want to listen to a 1.5-minute excerpt. 

Rufus Miles, an American government administrator in the 20th century, is the originator and namesake of the aphorism “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”  As with most great quotes, it is as relevant today as it was then.

This message was driven home to me when I spent an evening with nine women who began our careers in the ’70s and ’80s. All of us were at the gathering at the invitation of one of the people present, i.e., we all knew at least one person and none of us knew everyone. We talked about many things and then serendipitously began to share stories about challenges early in our careers. In the spirit of full disclosure, the stories mostly were about challenges of being young women faced with inappropriate situations in male-dominated companies.

A few days later, I talked with a male colleague, a longtime friend, and mentor. I told him about our shared history conversation and the direction it took. After telling him a few of the stories, he shared his own stories from the other side. Such as when he was in a leadership position and falsely accused, offered sexual favors, etc. I was struck by the reminder that the more we share, the more common ground we find. And that these stories are really about the personal side of business.

Like my women colleagues and me, my male colleague had his own stories to tell. We talked about how these stories shape us, and that for women and people of color, because of the power equation, sometimes they shape us more.

I was struck by the value of shared histories in creating connections and overcoming stereotypes.

Wouldn’t it be cool to sit at a table with men and women and people of all colors and backgrounds and tell our shared histories of career and life challenges that shape the people and leaders we have become…?