Tag: intention

Getting The Message Across

Good day team,

This week’s challenge is entitled “Getting the Message Across”, the second entry in my horse sense series. It illustrates the importance of having a strong intention about what you want to have happen and then a very clear message to go along with it.

I arrived at my horse lesson last week determined to have a frank conversation with my teacher about how to get my horse to keep a safe distance from me. The last time I’d worked out with Treasure, my horse, she acted like a disobedient adolescent. As much as I tried, she wouldn’t do anything I asked her to do. She snorted and scraped the ground with her foot. She went the opposite direction of where I was trying to lead her, and wouldn’t look me in the eye or even in my direction. She seemed completely distracted by everything else around us – the owl in the rafters of the arena, the other horses in the stables, and any person that walked by. But, what was most irritating was that I couldn’t get her out of my space.

I tried everything to get her to back away. I jiggled the rope. I tapped her with my stick. I waved my hands up in the air. I even resorted to doing jumping jacks to get her to back up. She’d back away a bit, only to come right back. I finally reached the end of my patience when in trying to get her out of the round pen, she came right up upon me and attempted to shut the gate as I opened it. “YOU NEED TO BACK-UP”, I yelled at her. She looked at me and yawned.

I went away from that day very discouraged. As my lesson began, I explained to Debby, my teacher, what was happening. She asked me a few questions about what had I done to send the message to Treasure that I needed her out of my personal space. As I began to explain, Debby was suddenly right on me. Her body was right up against mine and her face was no more than a ½ inch from mine. “What are you going to do about this, she exclaimed, do you want me in your space, do you want me here, what are you going to do about it?” I squirmed, I struggled to push her back. “I weigh 1100 pounds,” she said, “you can’t move me… I’m not going anywhere. What are you going to do about it?” I tried to grab my stick to put it up between the two of us. I wanted to run away but the wall of the barn was right behind me. “MOVE BACK”, I yelled, but still, she stayed right where she was. I finally acquiesced. “I don’t know what to do”, I said meekly.

Debby backed up. “OK,” she said. “This is going to look ugly to you but if you want to get a message across to your horse, you need to mean it. If you give the lead rope a little wiggle and she doesn’t back up, you have to continue to strengthen the movement of that rope until she does. Give it a huge yank if you have to. You need to have a strong intention about what you want from her so your energy is also saying, ‘Hey, you’re in my space and that’s not ok, move back.’ It’s not angry or mean, it’s effective.”

As I worked with Treasure that day, I found that if I had a strong intention for her to move and made one swift circle with the rope, she backed right up. As soon as she did, I stopped to give her an opportunity to understand what I wanted. Pretty soon, all I had to do was give the rope a wiggle with some intention and she was backing up.

Here’s the lesson I learned. If you say it and don’t really mean it, the message doesn’t come across the way you need it to. Your intention must be strong and the message needs to be delivered without hesitation. If you doubt what your saying, that doubt comes across in your message. Horses, like people, need to know who the leader is. They actually enjoy being led and getting clear direction.

I saw an example of this in my work recently with a client. She needed to deliver a tough message to one of her staff. Her team member had dropped the ball on a big project and her disengagement was putting the whole project team in jeopardy of meeting its initial targets. To make matters worse, the manager and team member were also friends. It’s hard to wear multiple hats, e.g. one as the boss and one as friend, when you’re trying to manage someone.

The manager had already had one conversation with her team member where she told her, “Look, I’m not sure what’s happening here. But you’re responsible for making sure this project gets done on time. You seem to be disengaging. What’s the problem?” Her team member explained that she was having problems at home and it was affecting her work. The manager immediately put on her ‘friend’ hat and the rest of the conversation was about ways to resolve the home situation.

Now, the manager needed to have another conversation because the first meeting with her team member didn’t change anything. This time, she needed to get a strong message across that dealt specifically with her team member’s lack of focus on the project. Here’s how it went:

“I know you’re having problems at home, but I really need you to re-engage here. We have some definite delivery dates that can’t change and you’re in charge.” Her team member agreed that yes, she needed to take charge of this and the meeting was over.

After a few weeks, I asked my client how it was going with her team member. She replied that things were a little better, but she still wasn’t seeing what she needed. I asked her if she thought her messages about the project were clear enough to her team member. She replied that she was trying to get a clear message across but was also being sensitive to her team members personal situation. What I saw here was that the managers intention was two-fold. One, she wanted her team member to re-engage and work on the project. Two, she wanted to be sensitive to her team members personal situation. Thus, her team member was getting two messages.

In this example, you can clearly see that there were multiple factors weighing on the manager that were impacting her messages to her team member. I’m not advocating that managers not take into account the factors that effect their employees but, if you start off a meeting by giving one message, “I know you’re having problems at home” and then state the real message, “I really need you to re-engage here”, then it sounds like your priority is the first message rather than the second. This immediately takes away the power of the most important message.

This week, ask yourself if you’re getting the message across to your team members. Are you being direct and clear? Do you find yourself starting off a tough conversation by filling in with unimportant information just to ease the tension? Are you trying to get too many messages across at one time that are confusing? Maybe you’re trying to lead the person into giving you the right message by asking them questions, when in fact, you already know the answer? The real question is, what’s your intention? If you need something to change quickly, is that sense of urgency clearly in your message? Perhaps you need to have a more exploratory conversation with someone. How do you state that intention? Or maybe you simply need to give someone directions. How does that message sound and look?

This past week, I learned about the importance of giving my horse a clear message. If I need her to move away from me, then I have to let her know that without confusion or hesitation. If my intention about what I want is strong and my message is clear, I’m going to have much more success in getting my message across. I’m going to try doing more of this in my day-to-day interactions with people, too. Your challenge this week is to do the same.

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

Good day, team.

I’ve been reading a good book called “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen, and would like to share some of it with you this week.

Plain and simple, a difficult conversation is anything you find hard to talk about. Whether at work or home, we all face the unpleasant feelings that come up when we know we need to have a difficult conversation with someone.

Here are some great examples:

Firing or laying off employees
Letting a client know that the project you bid on will be twice as expensive as your original quote
Telling a sibling or friend that they need to pay back the money you loaned
Explaining to one of your parents that he or she needs to move into an assisted living center
Describing to a team member that their behaviors are having a negative impact on the rest of the team

This list could go on and on. I’m sure you can remember the last difficult conversation you had and how it made you feel.

At the first thought of talking to the other person, we begin to feel dread and anxiety. Because of our aversion to these anxious feelings, we often talk ourselves out of having the conversation. Unfortunately, the longer we put it off, the greater the anxiety becomes. No matter how you spin it, delivering a difficult message feels like throwing a hand grenade, and as they say in the book, “There is no such thing as a diplomatic hand grenade.”

So, what’s the answer? By taking an in-depth look at what’s actually happening when we attempt to have these tough talks, we can become more aware of the opportunities that the hard conversations can create for all parties involved.

The book presents the idea that each difficult conversation is actually three conversations: What happened? What are we feeling? How are we identifying with this situation?

What Happened – the facts
Most difficult conversations involve disagreement about what has happened or what should happen. For example, a client thought a project was going to be completed within a certain timeframe and now it is well beyond the set deadline. The consultant says she informed the client that the deadline would have to be pushed out since project requirements had changed.

The truth is, these difficult conversations are not really about getting the facts right. According to the book’s authors, “They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations and values. They are not about what a contract says but about what a contract means.”

Instead of arguing about what happened, the trick is to get to the real intention of a conversation. And the real intention (How can we move forward and get this project completed?) can remain invisible unless it is stated up front. Because we all act with mixed intentions from time to time, it can be difficult to understand what our intentions are, let alone express them. Taking some time to clarify our intentions before we start a difficult conversation is one way to mitigate the anxiety. Expressing your intention up front shows your listener that no matter how confusing the facts are, your intention is still the same. And, most important, you can avoid the blame that often results from making negative assumptions about the other person’s intentions.

Every difficult conversation asks and answers questions about feelings. “Engaging in a difficult conversation without talking about feelings is like staging an opera without music,” write Stone, Patton and Heen. They advise us to share our feelings in difficult conversations. If you’re under pressure to meet a deadline and it is making you feel stress, say so. If you’re having anxiety about discussing the challenging situation, name it. The other person will feel your anxiety anyway, and owning what’s happening to you in the moment will let the listener know that this message is as hard for you to deliver as it may be for him or her to hear it.

Hurt feelings are often at the heart of anxiety in a tough exchange with someone, and not speaking about them is a way of avoiding the real issue. Of course, sometimes we need to let sleeping dogs lie to not exacerbate a situation. More often than not, however, honesty about what’s happening to us in the moment and describing our feelings with clarity and sincerity is always a good practice.

For every difficult conversation, we have an internal debate with ourselves about what the situation means to us. For example, the client maybe be asking herself, “What did I do wrong here? I thought we were on the same page in terms of how this project would go. Did I not manage it correctly? How will my boss feel about my hiring him to do this in the first place?”

It’s likely that the contsultant is having his own internal dialogue stemming from their own identifications with the situation: “I’m responsible for getting this project done, and I’ve totally disappointed my client. I can’t afford to have him see me this way.”

If we weren’t having this internal dialogue, it’s unlikely that the conversation would be so difficult. That’s because we’ve identified with the situation and the stakes have been elevated with a challenge. We may begin to ask ourselves deep questions about who we are and what we are doing.

Try asking for a raise. Many questions start to come up as we attempt to put our identity on the line: “Will my boss think I’m worth it? Do I think I’m worth it? What happens if I get turned down?” No one likes to blow their own horn because we don’t want to seem self-centered. The irony is that it’s just as self-centered to focus our inner thoughts on what people think about us as it is to act from conceit. The focus is still all about us and the real message — the facts about our achievements — never gets delivered.

Your challenge
This week, spend some time thinking about the three aspects of difficult conversations. Spend time identifying your intention before you even start the conversation. What’s the result you’re trying to achieve? Don’t be afraid to express your feelings with sincerity and acknowledge that your listener is having his or her own set of feelings during the conversation. Try not to project your inner dialogue into the conversation. Understand the difference between how you see yourself delivering the message and the actual delivery by focusing on how the other person receives your message. Both identities are being challenged in the conversation so don’t be afraid to express how you see that.

As Stone, Patton and Heen advise, “Spend seven minutes and save seven hours later. The earlier you raise an issue, catch a misunderstanding or ask a question to clarify intentions, the sooner you clear it up and move on. The longer you let things fester, the bigger the problem becomes.” So, invest a few minutes and be skillful in delivering your message to save you and everyone in your organization time, money and a tremendous amount of frustration.

Have a good week!

© Copyright 2012 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.