CG #44 – Why Your Boss Has Stopped Listening

Word Count: 727

Reading Time: About 3 minutes

Welcome to the leader’s dilemma:  Staying open to input without dying from all those tiny cuts.

+  +  +  +  +

Leader:   “It’s time to plan the annual Christmas party.  Where would you like to go?”

Staff 1:  “Can we really afford to do this?’

Staff 1:  “I want to have a Hawaiian theme this year.”

Staff 4:  “I don’t have any Hawaiian shirts.”

Staff 2:  “I don’t like Hawaiian food.”

Staff 3: “I love the music though.”

Staff 5: “If we’re going to do a Christmas party, I want to veto country-western music.”

Staff 6:  “Can we have a dunk tank?”

Staff 7:  “I want to bring my family this year.”

Staff 2 to leader: “We’re discussing the Christmas party and you’re looking at your Blackberry.”

Leader: “Sorry about that.  Have you decided where you want to go?”

+ + + + +

Is it any wonder the leader reaches for her Blackberry as soon as she can?   She opens a conversation, knowing she needs input.  But the conversation like being stabbed with 1000 tiny knives:  an irrelevant comment, a complaint, a suggestion from left field, everybody has their agenda to advance.  It’s no surprise that an open discussion goes this badly:  Groups don’t do well with so little structure, and leaders are exhausted by the amount of complaining they are subjected to.

The surprising thing is that this despair-inducing volley continues to play out in meeting after meeting when there are much more effective choices.

Let’s replay this with a more skillful approach from both the whine-resistant leader and the complaining staff.

+  +  +  +  +

Leader:  “It’s time to plan the annual Christmas party.  Is everybody willing to spend the next 20 minutes agreeing on a venue an approach?

Staff 1:  “I can spend 20 mins on this, but no more.  Let’s go.”

Staff 2:  Me too.”

Staff 3-6:  <head nods>

Leader:  “Staff 1, can you watch the time for us?  Thanks.  Let’s start by looking at the plus-delta list from last year:


  • The DJ was very popular
  • The food was great
  • The location was convenient


  • Can we bring spouses?
  • The music was too loud
  • Can it be shorter?
  • Can we skip the speeches?

Leader:  “Can someone summarize the themes for us?”

Staff 3: “A speech-free dinner with our spouses and some eclectic, quiet music.  Good food in an easy-to-get-to location.”

Staff 2:  “I also hear we shouldn’t structure it and we should keep it short.”

Leader: “What else?”


Leader: “Do you want to add anything to the list for this year?”

Staff 5: “Can we go back to the same place?  The food was fantastic!”

Leader: “Here’s the trade-off:  If we include spouses, we’ll need to go someplace less expensive.  How shall we decide which is most important?”

Staff 1:  “That’s a tough one.”

Staff 6: “Can we ask employees to pay for their spouses dinner, or drinks, or something to defray the expense of bringing a spouse?  I’d hate to penalize single employees by going to a lesser restaurant.”

Staff 1: “We’re at 15 minutes.”

Staff 4:  “How about we ask for some hard numbers so we can make an informed decision?  How many spouses would be coming, what is the cost per person, what was the alcohol tab from last year.”

Staff 3: “How much would we save at a less expensive restaurant.”

Staff 5:  “I like that approach.”


Leader:  “Excellent.  I’ll ask Admin 1 to get this for to us for next week’s meeting.  Thanks everyone.”

Staff 1:  “18 minutes.”

Leader:  “Thanks, Staff 1.  Well done, team.”

+ + + + +

Staff:  You don’t have to fawn over your leader.  Just help them get their decisions made. Help them help you.

Leaders:  You don’t have to let every discussion go free.   You don’t have to let any of them go free.  Using a meeting process like plus-delta, starting a conversation with brief, relevant data, asking for help, and keeping your group tightly focused on achieving a result are all welcome.

And here’s a tip for both staff and leaders:

When every option is met with an objection or criticism, it sucks the energy from the room.  Instead, ask each objector for a suggestion.

Even better, make “If you oppose, you must propose” a standing ground rule, and watch your leader put away that Blackberry.








CG #43 – 5 laws of fearless collaboration

Collaboration isn’t complicated.

You don’t need to wait until you attain enlightenment or become the person you’ve always dreamed of being.  You can collaborate with everyone, every time if you keep in mind these 5 laws:

1. Letting go isn’t failure.
2. Influence isn’t persuasion.
3. Listening and understanding (paraphrasing) isn’t agreeing.
4. Exploring options isn’t committing
5. Collaboration isn’t consensus.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be fleshing out these laws and describing the practices that bring them to life.  For this week, I’m asking you to think about these.  If you are a Collaboration Genius subscriber, we’ll be talking about these on our monthly call. If you have a moment, I’d appreciate your thoughts about these 5 laws.  My aim is to take the deluge of tips and tricks and skills and show that there is an elegant, simple, and unifying way to work easily, creatively and happily with other people, no matter their rank.

I’m working on another list of the 5 skills that act like a collaboration passport:  With only these 5 skills, you can cross any interpersonal border.  We’ll be working on those skills in upcoming editions of Collaboration Genius and on our future monthly calls.

CG #42 – Persuasion or Influence?

I’m not saying persuasion has no place in collaboration…or am I?

Word Count:  521

Reading Time:  1.5 minutes

Eric is well-spoken, dapper and energetic.  I’m watching him home in on and slowly tear apart a point someone has suggested that he disagrees with.  He never raises his voice, never gets personal and never utters a judgmental word, yet he conveys his distaste with every syllable he utters. His boss nods, apparently agreeing with Eric.

The rest of the team freezes when Eric starts his relentless campaign.   You can see them wilt, feel the energy go out of the room.  It’s hard to believe this is the same team who had just engaged in an electrifying give and take.

Candace cocks her head to one side and looks interested as she follows the conversation of her teammates.  When she speaks, she asks a thoughtful question that ignites the conversation and knits the team together.  Even when she expresses a difference of opinion, it increases the connectedness of the team.  By the time the team has reached a decision, it feels inevitable.  If asked who’s decision it was, no one would say “Candace,” yet it’s impossible to imagine this particular decision without her involvement.

Eric and Candace are real people.  The dilemma we share with them is also real:  How does a group of people with wildly different ideas come to an authentic agreement that everyone will fully support?

Persuasion is domination.  Persuasion values the “right answer” over any other consideration, and relentlessly eliminates options.  Persuasion feeds the ego. I’m not knocking it:  There are times when I’ve made the choice to be persuasive and ignore all other considerations.  Perhaps it’s just me, but I have always regretted it.

Influence creates more and better alternatives.  It’s a 2-way street:  all parties to a decision influence and are influenced by each other.  Because Influence generates power for everyone, it’s a better platform for collaboration than persuasion.  It stands the best chance for getting a unanimous agreement.

When I find persuasive language coming out of my mouth, I make the following changes to shift myself back to a more collaborative place:

I change:  “You’ll want to do this,” to “I’m liking the second alternative.  What do you like?”

I change: “I think you should do ______,” to “The way I make a decision like this is by thinking about what would give me the most peace of mind.  Which choice would do that for you?”

I change “What are you waiting for – confront them?” to “What have you done so far??”

In every case, I go from giving advice (telling someone what to do) to getting back in my own business with an “I” statement and an open-ended question.  When I’m really on my game, I say the the “I” statement to myself and go right to the open-ended question.

Persuasion and advice narrow options; staying in my own business and inviting others to stay in theirs expands alternatives.  More alternatives means we’re more likely to find one that does the job best.

I’m working hard on this right now. It requires constant vigilance.  I want to be the kind of person who leaves others with more power, not less.  Join me?

CG #41 – How Math is the Key to Change


It’s finally ready!  My new 52-week program, Honing Your Consulting Skills is ready for sign-ups.  The program begins on September 25, but you can sign up starting today.  Read all about it by clicking here. 


You probably learned the laws of mathematics in elementary school.  Who knew they were really about transformation?

 Word Count: 517

Reading Time:  Under 2 minutes

It’s embarrassing to admit how deeply soothing I find reducing messy complicated life situations to simple mathematical equations.  Math is so orderly, concrete, and reliable.  It has laws that all the numbers obey.  I find that refreshing.

When I’ve got a sticky situation, I relax my mind with a simple equation.  Here’s one of my favorites:


I do a and b to get c.  It works that way every time.  If I want a different outcome to this equation – a different c – it’s a simple matter of changing a or b or both a and b.  This applies to recipes, processes and mixtures of all kinds.  It applies to collaborations too:

Me + you = a result

If I want a different result, my choices here are simple:  I can change myself or I can change…you?

Well, no.  I can’t change you.  Which can be discouraging if I believe it’s my only choice.

Here’s where math really, really helps:  If I can’t change one of the variables in an equation to get a different result, I can change the other.  If I don’t like our result, I can change my part of the equation.  That is powerSpecifically, it’s the power of agency, the power of being 100% responsible not for the result, but for my contribution to it.

All real change is born of changing the only variable in the equation you can change:  You.

What can you change?

1. You can change your thinking.  Instead of casting myself in the role of victim or of hero, I can choose to cast you in that role and see what options it gives me.  Power is the ability to generate many choices.

2. You can change your behavior.  What if your usual way of working isn’t a fit for this situation?   Are you doing too much?  Too little?  How can you tell?  Stop the analyzing and simple do something different.  Try doing less and see if another doesn’t step up.  Try clearing your calendar for a day and knocking something out.   Try the one thing you haven’t yet tried, because you think it’s not allowed.  No one is going to get injured.  Probably.   Don’t stay in your rut and hope for someone else to do the changing.

3.  Take total responsibility for yourself and your mood.  This means refusing to complain or gossip about the situation or the people in it.  Either confront people directly to get to the bottom of things, or start writing down what you are grateful for.  Do this daily.  Being 100% responsible for yourself makes you 100% free.

Any one of these three things will alter the equation because they will alter you.  Other people are out of your control.  The result is out of your control.  You’ll feel much better if you focus on the one thing that is yours to manage:  Your contribution.

Don’t you just love math?

CG #40 – Complaining Got You Down? Let’s Change That.

 Productive complaining makes improvements; bad complaining feeds the ego and withers the brain.

Word Count: 483

Reading Time: 1.5 minutes

My partner came home from a week-long retreat with a tidbit of information that astonished me:

75-80% of conversation is complaining.

If it’s all the productive kind, that means most conversations are focused on solving problems, which is…not at all what’s happening.  At least not to me.

Most of the time I’m not trying to solve a problem, I’m kvetching.  And here’s the part that made me cringe:  That kind of complaining is all about the ego.  I complain to prove that I know more than the person I’m complaining about.  That’s so true it makes me cringe.  (Not that I’m complaining about being caught out.)  Even worse, bad complaining wears deep, unproductive grooves in the brain.  If you’re a manager or executive, it’s probably wearing deep grooves in your patience too.

We’ve been laboring under the crazy idea that complaining – “venting” – is somehow good for us, or at least an necessary evil.  But unproductive complaining just leads to more unproductive complaining, and that’s not good for anybody.

3 Ways to Get Bad Complaining Out of Your Meetings

Anthropologist Angeles Arrien tells the story of a Native American elder appearing before Congress to discuss a problem they’d come across.  After presenting the problem, the elder said “I must apologize.  It is our custom to propose 10 possible solutions when we point out a problem.  I regret that we were only able to think of 3.”

The goal is to convert bad complaining to the good, problem-solving kind, not to shut people down.

Strategy #1

“If you oppose, you must propose” is a meeting ground rule that eliminates negativity without shutting down conversation about what needs to improve.  You’ll need everyone’s help to enforce it.  It’s a big relief to give a group the freedom to watch its own negativity.

Strategy #2

When someone is going on and on (and on and on and on) about why your idea is the worst idea they have ever heard and probably the worst idea since the dawn of time and really you must be mad to think anyone would like it, why not stop them and ask them what they suggest.  I do this in meetings I facilitate when the group can’t seem to stop criticizing ideas.  I do it in 1-on-1 conversations too.

Strategy #3

Go first.  When you catch yourself complaining, give people around you permission to ask you for 3 possible solutions, then let them press you for action steps.

Bonus Strategy #4

This is not for the fainthearted, but it will shift you from bad complaining to problem-solving instantly.  Recruit someone to stop you when you are complaining or ranting by asking “What are you anxious about?”  Asking this question is like giving your ego a little hug.



CG #39 – Authenticity is Like Bleach

Too much can be overpowering; too little makes no difference.  How do you get it just right?

 Word Count: 706

Reading Time: Under 3 minutes

I’m having one of those summers where answering the question “How are you?” is tricky.  There are many authentic truths to tell. I choose the true response that is appropriate for the relationship and the circumstance we’re in together.  I want it to serve the goal we’ve agreed to, whether that’s  with a client or a personal relationship.

It’s a lot like using bleach:  You’ve got to match the strength you’re using to the task at hand, and you can’t always know ahead of time whether you got it right.  That’s why you have to watch carefully and adjust as you go.

Which is where the fun begins.

I watch 3 indicators to match the strength of my authenticity to the moment:

1. Is it useful?  Does it serve the goal of the relationship in this moment?  I find the answer to this question changes moment-to-moment.  My intention makes all the difference:  If my intention is to be helpful (with clients) or deepen my connection (friends, family, clients), then I’m more likely to connect.

2. How are they reacting?  You can see people backpedal when you’ve got it wrong.  Or can you?  You can certainly see a reaction, but it’s almost certain you don’t know what it means.  You can ask what their reaction means, or you can simply be silent and wait for them to proceed.

3. How are you reacting?  What are you thinking and feeling?  Are you feeling exposed, like you’ve said too much?  Are you aching to say more?  Are you more anxious than when you started speaking?  If you don’t factor yourself into the equation, you aren’t being authentic.

Here’s a sample conversation using the 3 indicators:



I’m talking with a client about something he’s doing that is affecting our work together.  I’m clear about what I want from the conversation.  In our initial meeting I asked “What if I discover that something you’re doing is the root of the problem on your team?”  Read on and see how much bleach I had to add as we went along.


“Jerry, remember when I asked you ‘What if the problem is something you’re doing?’”

“I do – and I’m 100% committed to improving.”  (He could also say “Sure – I remember telling you that would be impossible,” and laugh.  It doesn’t matter.  At this point I’m focused on my need to make our relationship fluid and productive.)

“It’s annoying me that you make changes to the agenda we agreed to before you send it out to the team for their feedback.  It takes time and energy to try and understand your thinking.  Even worse is when you can’t make the meeting and I’m put in the awkward position of explaining something I don’t understand and may not agree with.


“You’re annoyed with me?”

“I am.”

“I don’t like that.”

“Neither do I.”

“Do you want me to not make the changes then?  Because that would slow us down.”

“Making changes on your own is slowing us down.  Which you don’t see because you’re not in the meetings where the team and I try to read your mind.”

“Is it that bad?”

“Yes.  The way it reduces otherwise intelligent, talented people to blithering idiots would be funny in a movie.”

“I need to adjust the agenda as I see fit.”

“Absolutely.  And you’ve hired me to help make this day productive, and you want to involve the team.”

<Thoughtful silence>

“I have a proposal.  Do you want to hear it?”


“Your decisions on the agenda are final.  They’ll be better if you consult with me first.  Where we need help, we’ll involve the team.  Is that right so far?”

“More or less.”

“More or less?”

“I don’t like some of your ideas.”

“Neither do I!  I’m not attached to the idea; I’m looking for the best one.”

“Shouldn’t you just know?”

“I like it that you see me as all-knowing, Jerry.  Sadly, I’m human, just like the guy who keeps changing the agenda.

“You’ve got me there.  <pause> I’m the final decision-maker, right?”


“Alright, you’ve got yourself a deal.”

CG #38 – An Easier Way to Say “No”

Because shouting “Have you lost your mind?” isn’t an option.

Word Count: 464

Reading Time: Under 2 minutes

This is for when a client or boss wants something done exactly their way and they want it done NOW and you just cannot see how it can happen their way or in their timeframe.  At that exact moment, you will suppress the most powerful, easy-to-hear response because you believe it is somehow not allowed.

Don’t go for the whole enchilada

Saying “No” is not black and white:  It’s more skillful to say no in shades of gray, that is, to say no to certain aspects of a request or demand.  It’s more skillful to say yes in shades of gray too, but that’s for another post.

Your immediate, unfiltered, authentic response will open up the shades of gray in  black and white thinking of your client or boss.  It will open up the shades of gray in your thinking too.

All you need is a tiny chink in the armor of their urgency. If you are willing to go step-by-step, you can use that opening help them see the impossibility of their initial request.

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 4.45.59 PM

Try saying “no” in 2 steps this week, and let me know how it goes.


CG #37 – How to Get Your Motivation Back

What if everything we know about motivation is wrong?

Word Count: 624

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It’s not the corner office, the parking place with your name on it, a high salary or the perks that motivate.

Motivation is making progress on what has meaning for you.

Screen Shot 2013-07-19 at 3.32.30 PM

That’s what Harvard researcher Teresa Amabile found in her extensive study of people at work.  She published her results in a book called “The Progress Principle”

“Strive for progress, not perfection.”


How to Make Progress

It doesn’t matter how small your progress is.  Taking even a tiny step forward motivates, and motivation frees up energy and time.  Accountability is accepting responsibility for finding a way forward.  Here are two keys to making progress, even when the situation seems hopeless

1.    Find the tiniest steps and take them

When we are fixated on the big win, it’s hard to see that there might be another way forward.  And when the big win is out of our control, it’s tempting to stop and wait for help.    But not making progress saps our motivation.  Finding one small thing to do isn’t about the shouldering the whole burden for a project or changing the company.  It’s about keeping your motivation strong. There is no need to take on the world.  Instead, make it tiny.

I’ll give you a recent example.  A client was feeling discouraged about the lack of support for her department’s work.  “It doesn’t help that we have no CEO right now,” she said.  “With executive support, our partners would support these new marketing tactics.”

Ugh.  There was no way to speed up the CEO hiring process.  Her progress was blocked and her motivation was low.

We played with ideas until we came up with this:  “Our partners lack a convincing  business case for our new marketing approach.”  While not beautiful prose, it does suggest an action my client can take:  Rather than wait for the new CEO to be hired and hand down a business case for the tactics she’s itching to implement, she can look for ways to make that case herself.

Tiny ways.  Eensy, teensy ways.  Ways that keep her motivated and moving forward, no matter what the CEO does or doesn’t do.

2.   Remember what you want

“Discipline is remembering what you want.”

–Steve Chandler

I don’t know what meaningful work is, but I know what matters to me.

When I focus on what I care about most, I’m tireless.  When I lose that focus, I droop, then sputter to a halt.  Isn’t it lucky that where I place my attention is the one thing I can always control?

I care most about excellence.  It still feels like a privilege coach a person or a team that is already brilliant, and help them get better, or start something new.   I will turn myself inside out to help them.  I inconvenience myself.  I take risks and grow for them.  I commit to their success.

Situations where I am asked to remediate a person or situation, bore me to the point of madness.  Most are easy to spot:  The protestations of deep, deep commitment are not backed up with adequate funding, staffing, infrastructure or planning.

Remembering that I love working with high potential people and situations gives the discipline to say things like this:

“What is it you think my involvement will do for this situation?”

“You say you are committed to making this situation work, yet I see no evidence of that commitment. “

“What are you willing to do differently to make this situation a success?”

“If I say yes to this work and find out that the problem is something you’re doing, how will we handle that?”


How do you nurture your motivation?


CG #35 – How to Escalate Without Offending

The distance between agreement and commitment can be vast.  Here’s how to bridge that gap.

Word Count: 735

Reading Time: under 3 minutes

“I’ve asked, I’ve explained, I’ve sent email reminders, I’ve suggested strongly.  Every agrees it should happen, but it’s not getting done.”

What do you do when you need your boss to take action, but he isn’t?  Here’s a template for getting results without giving offense.


There are good reasons for the gap between agreeing to do something and getting it done.  You aren’t interested in any of them.  You are interested in results.  Results don’t come from telling the story of why – why it should happen, why it hasn’t happened, why it’s so hard to get things done around here.   Results come from a relentless focus on movement, no matter how small.


Get clear about what you need and when you need it.  Gather evidence that supports what you are asking for.   Pick a date.  All this preparation creates clarity, and clarity creates movement.  Clarity is more powerful than job titles are.

If it’s hard for you get clear, that’s an indication you’re still stuck in the story of why.  Choose clarity instead.


This is not a job for email.  You’ve got to interact with the person who can help you in real time.  Schedule a short (10 min) phone call or face-to-face meeting.


Here’s an extended example of getting your boss to commit to open a new position for which there is no money.  Watch for the narrow open-ended questions, which I’ve put in bold type.  Notice the lack of conversational filler.

YOU:  Thank you for making the time to meet with me.  I need your help filling the assistant manager position by the end of next month.  I‘m not getting any traction on this.  What am I missing?

BOSS:  Approval for starters.  I don’t recall agreeing to fill this position.

YOU:  Great!  Let’s start there.  What would it take for you to approve this position?

BOSS:  I’d need to see sufficient volume to justify the position.  But I don’t have budget.

YOU:  Setting aside budget for now, What would convince you that there was sufficient volume?

BOSS:  Data, perhaps a chart that shows a month of volume against available staff hours.

YOU:  Would project delays be of interest?

BOSS:  What delays?

YOU:  Let’s not get distracted!  I’ll include that in the information I’m putting together for you.  So, volume against available staff time, project delays…what else would help you establish the need for this position?

BOSS:  That should do it

YOU:  I can get all that for you.  (pause.)  Assuming I can establish need to your satisfaction, what else would it take to get this position posted and filled?

BOSS:  A Job description, a hiring manager, a workspace and budget.

YOU:  We’re ¾ of the way there!  I have an approved job description, an open cubicle and I’m the hiring manager.  That leaves budget.

BOSS:  Yes.

YOU:  I have 3 out of the 4 requirements, but no authority to approve budget for this.  Who does?

BOSS:  I do, but I have no money for this.

YOU:  How are these situations usually handled?  When there is a clear business need that the budget doesn’t yet cover?

BOSS:  I ask for a budget exception.  But it won’t be approved.  There’s no money.

YOU:  That’s OK.  What do you need from me to prepare the exception?

BOSS:  The volume information.

YOU:  Is that all?

BOSS:  That’s all.

YOU:  I’m going to get you the volume information, the Job description and the date we need to have the position filled.  (pause.)

What other information would make getting the exception more likely?

BOSS:  A short description of what this position contributes to service or cost savings.

YOU:  The impact it has on the business?

BOSS:  Yes.

YOU:  Alright.  What else?

BOSS:  That should do it.

YOU:  I’ll get all this to you by Friday at noon.  Can we meet on Monday to follow up?

BOSS:  That’s fast!

YOU:  Yes.  We’ll only need 5-10 minutes.

BOSS:  I don’t know about Monday.  I’ll ask my assistant to give you my first available 10 minutes next week.

YOU:  That’s wonderful.  Thank you very much for your help.


I’m looking for the right mix of example and explanation for these CG posts.  What did you think of this one?  Please consider leaving your feedback as a comment on my blog so others can benefit.  Thanks so much!







CG#34 – How About Some Examples?

Word Count:  682

Reading Time: Under 2 minutes

Sometimes an example is the best way to learn.  Here are responses to sticky situations you might have encountered.

I’ve gotten feedback about putting more examples about in these newsletters (thank you and please keep the feedback coming).  Here are several real situations and how to respond to them, without the theory.  Let me know if this format is helpful.  I’m aiming to put examples in all future editions.  If there is interest, I can also publish an all-example edition from time-to-time.

If you’ve got other situations you’d like a response for, please send them my way.  I like a challenge.

The All-Example EditionThe All-Example Edition pt 2