When my son was in the second grade, I volunteered in his class. It was a classroom with eight very gifted, yet very challenging, young boys. One particular afternoon, one of the little boys in the class was particularly cranky and angry. I asked the teacher, “How do you reach him?” And she said, “It’s easy. I just give him a genuine compliment.” I replied, “How do you do that on a day like today? He hasn’t done anything to compliment.” And she said, “I come up with something, even if it’s just, ‘I like your t-shirt,’ or ‘I like the way you part your hair.'” Incredulous, I repeated that to her, “I like the way you part your hair?!” “Yes, on the days he’s so upset, so angry, so downtrodden, on those days he’ll accept any compliment. He’s so hungry for someone to notice something positive about him, to throw him a bone, even saying, ‘I like the way you part your hair’ is helpful to him.”
Wow. I found this amazing, and I gave it a try. I looked for big, important things that he and the other students were doing, but when I couldn’t find any, I would say something simple like, “I’m glad you’re thinking about the assignment. I can see the wheels are turning in your head.” Or, “You have your paper out. That’s the first step.”
I find this strategy to be true in my work life as well. Sometimes it’s really difficult for me to find something positive to say to some of the people I have been hired to coach. They don’t want to be there. They don’t want coaching. They never signed up for it. They’re not really motivated by the possibility of growth. In these moments, I say the simplest things, the most obvious things. “Thank you for showing up. Thank you for giving it a try. Thank you for considering what I’m saying.”
Unfortunately, the negative stuff takes up more of our time and our energy. But when we focus on the positive, the positives grow. Here are some things for you to notice:
I like that you followed up.
I like that you started the conversation.
Thank you for drawing it to my attention.
Thank you for doing the research that you’ve done.
Thank you for telling me that you’re going to need some help.
Thank you for letting me know you need more time.
And if all else fails you can always resort to, “I like the way you part your hair.” It will work for all but the bald ones.
It was a foggy, icy day. I was driving on I-95, my son Jeffrey in the passenger seat. We were heading back from North Carolina after visiting colleges.
I broke the silence, “Jeffrey, what did you think of High Point?”
“It was OK,” came his monotone reply.
“That’s it? Can you tell me more?,” I nudged.
“You know, Mom, I’m not really sure I want to go to college.”
This was the moment I had been waiting for since we started touring colleges. Finally, an opportunity to address his ambivalence about his future. I pulled off at the next exit, looked him in the eye and said, “Next year, everything is going to change. Some of your friends are going to college. Some will join the military, and others will get jobs. But one thing’s for sure: everything is going to change, no matter what you do. So, you have a choice – you can either drive the change and figure out what you want, or, you can dragged along by it.”
I was ready for this conversation because I work regularly with people who are at a crossroads and gripped by inertia. And here’s what I know:
Some people are drivers of their futures. They say to themselves, this is what needs to happen, and they create a vision. Others just seem to get dragged along. There are a lot of things that you can’t control in this life, but you can control whether you’re a driver or you’re a dragger.
In order to create change, you need to create the vision. If you want to be more efficient, you have to see yourself being efficient. If you want to advance your education, you have to envision yourself in night school, making it all work. For those retiring, envision helping in the food bank or hitting the perfect golf stroke on a Monday morning! Envision yourself in the new situation.
Jeffrey chose to be a driver and the transition turned out to be pretty simple. He chose a school, started wearing the clothing emblazoned with its logo, and suddenly it became him.
Are you at a crossroads? Grab the wheel and embrace the journey!
A few years ago my husband Bill and I purchased Fitbits. We both set an intention of walking 10,000 steps each day assuming it would improve our health.
For me, it was an idea to consider and it would help to enhance my overall fitness level. To Bill, it was a life commitment which he took very seriously. If the clock struck 9:00 pm and Bill had not achieved the 10,000 steps goal, he went outside in suffocating heat or snow and ice and took a walk. On days when my calendar looked hectic, if I thought I might fall short of the goal, I handed my Fitbit to our daughter Katie and asked her if she would “just bring it along” as she trained with her cross country team.
When Katie wasn’t available, as a last ditch effort, I took out a brownie mix and started stirring. Do you know how many “steps” are recorded when mixing brownies?
Seeing the absurdity in our different approaches, Katie used the content for an English assignment: Deliver a 3 Minute Humorous Speech. Katie spoke on“Does Fitbit cause divorce?”
What I have noticed is that the “Fitbit Principle” extends to our work and to our organizations. What we track and measure improves. It’s so basic!
In our work at Concordia, we are often approached to solve people problems. While many in the organization can cite the problems and the negative impact on the company, we are often asked to start immediately. It’s great when we have data to start with!
And now we do!
One of our government clients hired us to do a change management project. Our task was to improve the scores on the Employee Viewpoint Survey. We designed a comprehensive program that built upon the work that had already been performed. We started with focus groups. Next we conducted leadership visioning, leadership training, employee training, and coaching meetings.
The results were astonishing. Across all indicators but one, there was improvement. With the one that didn’t improve, it held steady.
Interestingly, the Fitbit has been a tool that has improved my husband Bill’s and my fitness levels. Also, we didn’t start at the same level, so we have different data points. In both cases there was an increase and consistent improvement.
If you want to improve your workplace, begin with a benchmark. Conduct surveys and focus groups, and obtain data — then follow with a strategic plan. I am curious: What do you have in place to track and measure your goals – both personal and professional?