Calm and the 2nd Agreement

An earlier post (here) talked about understanding the nature of complaints and one royal road to feeling calmer through the speech act of making clearer requests.  This post discusses an important point made by Don Migel Ruiz in his bestseller, The Four Agreements, in particular, a point made in his 2nd agreement, “Don’t take anything personally,” but before getting to that point let me recount a short story of my introduction to the text.

I was introduced to this text by my coach Bev Jones (here), but I must confess that I was a reluctant reader of the book, resisting her suggestion for the better part of 9 or 10 months. When I originally looked at the book in early 2010, it seemed like a lot of soft-side hooey, and as an engineer, my strong left brain resisted the idea that it might contain anything useful for me.  Later, when I was taking training as a coach myself, I had been softened up sufficiently to open and read the book, and I must confess that the four agreements almost immediately blew my mind and changed my life.

The poster to the left reproduces the agreements with some elaboration.  The agreements are easy to state, and not so easy to apply, but if you do apply them, they can result in a calmer, easier existence.  Here they are:

    1. Be impeccable with your word.
    2. Don’t take anything personally.
    3. Don’t make assumptions.
    4. Always do your best.

This post is not the place to go into each of them, and for a fuller treatment, just read the book (here and don’t wait 9 or 10 months to overcome your hooey filter), but I do want to spend a bit of time on the 2nd agreement: “Don’t Take Anything Personally.”

A major source of lack of peace in our lives is the words that people say about us or the actions that they take with respect to us, and our interpretation of those words or actions and our resulting feelings. When someone says something that offends us, for example, there are three distinct parts to the chain of events:  (1) The thing said, (2) our interpretation of it, and (3) our emotional reaction to our interpretation.  Two of the three things are occurring in our minds, but oftentimes we experience the three collapsed into one.

This unity of experience is revealed in the way we talk about such events, words such as “He made me feel bad,” “She snubbed me at the party.” and the like, but the simple decomposition of the discrete events (speech or act by another, interpretation, and feeling) shows that there is a way to nip the bad feeling in the bud by refusing to interpret the words or deeds personally.  In other words, when you are about to feel bad as a result of something someone says or does (or doesn’t say or doesn’t do) with respect to you, invoke the 2nd agreement.

When I first discuss this with clients, they tend to resist, and say that it is impossible.  After all, how could you interpret the act any other way? It was intended, wasn’t it?  But even when harm or insult is intended, we have a choice, and recognizing that we are always in choice about our interpretations (and thus our feelings) is liberating in a way that is hard to fathom at first.  The trick to this is catching the reaction before it happens, and neuroscientist Dan Siegel says that we have a magic quarter of a second to invoke our awareness before a reaction takes place. If we use this quarter of a second, and invoke the 2nd agreement, we can have greater and longer lasting calm, even in the face of controversy or other external turmoil.

To get on the road to greater calm, read The Four Agreeements here or visit Don Migel Ruiz’s website here.

 

To Complain or Not to Complain

In coaching, one of the ways to help clients to achieve greater peace is to work to help them reduce the proportion of their day they are occupied with negative emotions, and one of the regular sources of negative emotion is complaining, especially complaining about particular others.

What is a Complaint?

What is a complaint? Merriam Webster gives the following definitions:

  1. expression of grief, pain, or dissatisfaction
  2. (a) something that is the cause or subject of protest or outcry (b) a bodily ailment or disease
  3.  a formal allegation against a party

The first sense of the term is the usual one in everyday usage, particularly the sense of expression of dissatisfaction.  To complain is to express dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and to lodge a complaint against a person is to express dissatisfaction with something they have done (or not done) or the way in which they have done it.

Are Complaints Like the Weather?

Now here’s the interesting part.  What is the usual source of complaining about others in our lives?  I hadn’t really thought deeply about this question and previously assumed that complaints were like the weather, something that just happens to us. In the same way that some days are sunny, and some days are rainy, I used to think that my complaining was a state of nature, and that some days just had more complaining built into them.  

I started to learn otherwise on the first day of my training as a coach at Georgetown (here).  Great coach Neil Stroul was our instructor that day, and he was talking to us about five types of speech acts (here): assertions, assessments, requests. commitments, and declarations, and that morning he was emphasizing the importance of clarity in request making as important in the coordination of human action.  In the middle of that seemingly abstract and fairly theoretical discourse, he asked us to think of a time when we had a complaint against another person.  He went around the room and debriefed a few individual examples, and then generalized the pattern as follows:

Complaints against others arise because you believe an agreement exists between you and another, but no request has ever been made. 

I thought about this and realized that, at least in my experience, Neil was right.  In thinking back over my own lifetime of complaining, I realized that most of the time my unhappiness was unjustified, because I had never made a request or my request was so fuzzy or unclear as to be extremely difficult to satisfy.  Of course, there were times when I had made requests clearly and well, and there were times were someone didn’t do what I had asked, but the frequency with which my complaining was completely unjustified surprised me, and from that moment forward, I resolved to (1) be more intentional about request making and (2) to make better requests.

Making Better Requests

To make better requests, first, signal you are making one by using a simple preamble: “I request….” or “May I request…?” Too much of the time we miss the mark oftentimes by being overly polite (“Would it conceivably be possible for you to….”) or indirect (“The trash hasn’t been taken out yet.”), and as a result, we risk that others will not recognize that a request has been made or our politeness suggests that it is OK to ignore the request without a response one way or another..

Second, make sure that you have the elements of a clear request in both the situation you are addressing and the words that you utter:

  • An engaged speaker.
  • An engaged listener.
  • A clear description of the thing requested.
  • A time of fulfillment of the request.
  • Conditions of satisfaction of the request.
  • A common context of the request.

These things and others are well described in the book, Language and the Pursuit of Happiness (here), but the main point here is to recognize that much of the unhappiness that arises from complaining can be eliminated by simply recognizing the need to make more and better requests.

Are You in Judger Mode or Learner Mode?

There are many things to like about Marilee Adams book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life (here).  Written as a business parable, this book explores the role of asking questions and curiosity in effectiveness at work and in life.  Routinely in my coaching and training practice, I use many of her particular questions as well as her idea of Q-storming (brainstorming with questions) to help clients become more creative and less stuck.

One of the most useful distinctions in the book is the distinction Adams makes between judging and learning.  Oftentimes, someone behaves in a manner we are unaccustomed to or tells us something unfamiliar, and we immediately judge it, oftentimes as something bad.  This is entirely natural, as human beings we are “living-breathing assessment machines,” and the making of assessments and judgments is part of our evolutionary apparatus that once protected us from harm on the savanna.

Of course, what is good for survival in a hostile and dangerous environment  may not be as appropriate in modern civilization, and nowadays we find ourselves in a stream of unconscious judgment during much of our waking hours, a stream of judgment that is misaligned with the relative peace and tranquility of our everyday lives, a stream of judgement that serves us poorly, especially when we need to be innovative, creative, or collaborative.

Adams suggests that being in judgment this way prevents us from learning very much.  By rejecting something as bad, we don’t reflect on it sufficiently long to learn whatever lessons might be embedded in the thing that we are judging.  This is such an important lesson she depicts it graphically in the choice map shown below. When we judge, our judgment locks us into a particular point of view leading to the judger pit, a self-induced morass from which reflection and learning are nearlyimpossible.  When we switch from the judger path to the learner path (through the asking of “switching questions”) our ability to be curious and reflect and learn returns.

A useful exercise is to self-observe your own thoughts and feelings during the course of 2-3 days, and notice what portion of the time you are in judgment of what is happening or being said (or not).   Are you in judgment, 10% 50%, 90%, or exactly what percentage of the day?  In the exercise, you should simply be aware or notice your degree of judgmentalism, but try to not judge yourself (about the degree of judgment) regardless of the outcome.  Awareness is the first step to change, and once we are aware, we can do something different, but especially in this exercise, moving to harsh critical self-judgment misses the opportunity to learn from the observation.

What we do with the results of self-observation is up to us, but a good follow-on question is this.  In what ways does the degree of judgment observed serve me and what ways does it not?  Knowing the percentage of time you are in judger versus learner and then reflecting on whether that serves the life you want to live is a good starting point for effective personal growth and change.

More Accomplishment, Less Worry: Follow the Epictetus Square

Epictetus was a Greco-Roman moralist who shared practical advice and wisdom with his countrymen.  Once a slave, Epictetus was freed and then went on to influence his followers, who captured his teachings and passed them down to us. One piece of wisdom that comes to us in the Enchiridion (here), is the following:

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions. 

We can visualize this advice and take it a step further on what I’ve called the Epictetus Square in the poster. On the y-axis, we have activities and whether we control them or not, and on the x-axis we have our internal state of mind and whether we are concerned with the particular activity or not.

In the West, a particular quadrant of concern is the quadrant of accomplishment.  In this quadrant, we can control an outcome, we do, and we achieve something we desire.  A lot of self help is focused here.

In the East, a particular quadrant of concern is the quadrant of peace of mind. With activities we cannot control, we are not concerned with them, and we achieve a peaceful inner state.  Buddhist notions of attachment as the root of all suffering are relevant to this quadrant.

The other two quadrants arise when there is a mismatch between the degree of control we can exercise effectively in a particular situation and whether or not we exercise concern for that activity.  In the upper left quadrant, we could have controlled events and don’t .  In other words, we forego an opportunity, which may lead to regret.  In the lower right quadrant we do not have control over events but exercise concern for them nonetheless.  In other words, we suffer needless worry, which may lead to wasting energy that might have been better spent in the upper right quadrant.

Good coaching helps clients focus toward the upper right and lower left and away from the other two quadrants.  Write to deg@threejoy.com to learn more on how this is accomplished.

Posters as Pattern Interrupts & Reach Boosters

Karen Salmansohn has a nice blog post (here) in Psychology Today on her use of posters (such as the Big Beacon poster displayed) and flash cards as pattern interrupts. 

I began calling my daily posters I was writing and designing my “Daily Inspirational Flashcards” — because their goal was to quickly remind people of the positive psychological beliefs and productive habits which lead to the happiest life. Soon, my “Inspirational Flashcards” began to go viral — with thousands — then hundreds of thousands — then even millions of shares for a single poster. I began receiving hundreds of emails from people — thanking me — explaining that my daily “Inspirational Flashcards” were truly helping them battle depressed emotional states — even when it came to dealing with majorly challenging issues like a bipolar disorder or a loved one’s death.

 

In terms of getting your message out and communicating with others, the use of graphical posters seems to be much more effective than a simple text posting alone.  In a month of using graphic posters Rajesh Setty reports an nearly 30-fold improvement in Facebook reach in going from text to images. Read the full post here.

What’s Your Authentic Swing?

When I work with coaching clients, I recommend a variety of resources.  Some clients are voracious readers and love book recommendations.  Others are more visually oriented, and movies are often a good source of reflection and forward movement for them.

httpv://youtu.be/XVer9zA3gfA

It’s almost a coaching cliche, but The Legend of Bagger Vance (here) is a terrific movie to share with a client who is trying to find better alignment between what they do and who they are.  Watch \some of the key scenes in the clip above, and then watch the whole movie with the following questions in mind: What is my authentic swing?   What lessons do I take from the movie into my life?

A great book to pair with the movie is Stanier’s Do More Great Work (here).  A previous blogpost about that book is available here.

2+1 Tips for New Deans and Department Heads

‘Tis the season of high profile “steps down” as well as interim and late appointments.  A google search of “dean steps down” (search results here) reveals a number of smooth and not so smooth cases, but the news in these postings for new appointees is that academic leadership can be rewarding or fraught with career danger, depending upon how the new position is approached.

One of the difficulties in assuming academic leadership (or assuming higher academic leadership) is that so little effort is expended by academic institutions in the development of their leaders.  It is widely known that the private sector invests enormous amounts in leadership development–General Electric is a good example–but the seriousness of, for example, the US Federal government in developing leaders is less well known.

This was driven home to me in emotionally salient style, when I took training as a leadership coach at Georgetown University (here), When I enrolled in class, I was struck by three things. First, I was surprised to see coach trainees from so many representatives of the Federal alphabet soup of agencies (FBI, CIA, NIST, State Department, and on and on), Second, I was surprised to learn how many of these agencies regularly engaged OD consultants and executive coaches to help develop their organizations and their leaders.   Third, I was one of only two members of the 35-person cohort who worked for a major university, and both of us had already made the decision to leave the university.

If you look around major universities and colleges, they all have human resource departments, but those departments are more tactical and bureaucratic than strategic and developmental, and you have to look really hard to find anything even remotely constituting organizational development (OD) or leadership development in the academic world.  One happy exception to this rule is Michigan State University’s FOD or Faculty and Organizational Development unit (here), but the rising academic leader at most organization has poor or no choices when it comes to furthering his or her own growth as a leader within the extant organizational structure.

This lack of intentionality on the part of universities in developing their leaders is a double whammy for the leaders themselves.  The new or rising academic leader is usually chosen for his or her disciplinary expertise, an expertise that is often developed by singleminded concentration on research and scholarship, something that doesn’t usually leave much time for studying up on the latest in administration, management, and administration.  This lack of intention by the organization and lack of preparation by the candidate, is especially difficult, because universities are notoriously difficult organizations to lead, and much of what is written in the private sector about leadership does not apply directly.

So what’s a new or rising academic leader to do?  Here, I offer 2 reading suggestions and one tip for the new or rising academic leader:

Read The First 90 Days.  Read Michael Watkins book on job transitions, The First 90 Days (here). This book has both nice strategic models and tactical advice about how to navigate the change.  One of the most important pieces of advice is to promote yourself, that is to not think of yourself as having the same role as before, and to reflect carefully about what that means.

Read What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Read master executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith’s take (link here) on the key ways in which you need to think differently about the skill set you require moving forward.

Hire an executive coach.  You’ve taken the job, you don’t have time to go for an MBA or other leadership training, and you’ve got a department or college to run, so now what do you do?  One of the fastest and most effective ways to develop your leadership skill is get a coach.  Coaching is hot, but it is not mentoring, or consulting, or advice giving (see a related 3joy post here).  Instead coaching provides you with a skilled practitioner to notice, listen, and question (NLQ) and help you find your own leadership style in your own context with a minimum of disruption and maximum of help.  Coaches can work with you & your situation, they can believe in your resourcefulness, creativity, and integrity, provide just-in-time & relevant resources for reflection and action, ask you the tough questions that the situation demands, and listen to your reflections to help forward your progress.

To get more helpful resources for the new or rising academic leader, to find out more about leadership coaching in an academic context, or to schedule a complimentary introductory coaching session, write to Dave Goldberg at  deg@threejoy.com.

Video: Karen Salmansohn and Perfectionism

Friend of ThreeJoy and the Big Beacon, author and artist Karen Salmansohn has a usefully funky take on perfectionism in the video in the viewer below:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGkQP0giXOM

Karen did the cool graphics on the Big Beacon Manifesto and the head-heart-hands poster here.  Her mission statement in life is quoted below:

My mission in one long run on sentence: To offer easy-to-absorb insights and advice to help you bloom into your happiest, most loved, highest potential self – and have fun in the process – because I use playful analogies, feisty humor, and stylish graphics to distill big ideas (from the latest scientific studies to ancient wisdom) into short, easily-digestible, life-changing tips.

Read more about Karen’s books and work on her website notsalmon.com

Give the gift of coaching

Stacia Garr at Bersin & Associates has a nice blog post about the value of coaching to organizational culture:

Consider giving the gift of coaching.  In our 2011 High-Impact Performance Management research on coaching (click here for free webcast replay), we found that organizations with a coaching culture have much stronger employee engagement, employee productivity and customer satisfaction (see Figure 1).  We also found a strong relationship between the effectiveness of organizations at teaching coaching and business outcomes.  In short, coaching organizations are more effective organizations.

Read the full post here.

What coaching is not

Coaching as hot & what it is not. Executive or leadership coaching is hot according to a recent article in Forbes magazine (here), but what coaching is and is not is a topic of debate and confusion among coaches and clients, both. Some of the confusion stems from the number of practitioners who use the term “coach” in their service offerings without any training or study in coaching methods. ThreeJoy practices coaching according to the body of knowledge and ethical guidelines of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), and a consequence of that orientation is that a coach is not a mini-consultant or personal advice giver. Rather, in the ICF framing, a coach comes in service to a resourceful, creative, and whole client by engaging in a process of reflective inquiry to help the client uncover and strengthen the leader within.

Coaching as questions & listening. Practically, what this means is that clients come to coaching looking to the coach for answers or solutions to particular problems they face and the best coaches will not know–or even think they know–what the client should do in response to this or that problem or situation. Instead of answers or solutions, clients get questions, usually open-ended questions–that help sort out the problematic situation–the presenting issue–clearly and at an appropriate level of detail.  Moreover, instead of advice, clients get listened to in a very deep way, in a way that can be powerfully enabling in and of itself.  Feeling felt by the coach’s listening, to use a term used by Dan Siegel (here) and Mark Goulston (here), can be deeply satisfying in a way that builds a client’s confidence to be able to examine and address problems him- or herself.

Coaching as building meta-skill. And at the end of the coaching day, as an engagement progresses, the client finds that what he or she is learning is not solutions to particular problems or situations at work. Yes, the presenting issue gets solved (or resolved), and the other situations that were once so daunting no longer seem much like problems, but the reason this occurs is not so much that the coaching is addressing a series of challenges or issues.  What happens in the coaching process is deeper and more profound–and much longer lasting and effective.  Successful coaching engagements help clients build a certain kind of meta-skill, a skill about about building skill, that the client can use in their work lives, in their lives generally.  This meta-skill is composed of the heightened ability to

  1. notice their own thoughts, feelings, and stories and the thoughts, feelings, and stories of others,
  2. reflect and make sense of those thoughts, feelings, and stories,
  3. move forward based on those reflections,
  4. and learn from the overall experience.  

Of course, these deep skills are not built overnight, but in a certain sense a good coach is working hard to put him- or herself out of business by enabling the client to manage more frequently, effectively, and reliably without the coach’s aid.  For more information about coaching, contact Dave Goldberg at deg@threejoy.com.