Remember that conflict last week? Which were you displaying: habit, preference or good old Amygdala Hijack?

It’s the end of January, and many of us are struggling to honour the resolutions we boldly made as part of the New Year celebrations.  If you still have a clean sheet and haven’t reverted to your previous (probably bad) habit, congratulations!  Go and pour yourself a large drink or eat a chocolate biscuit to celebrate!

Habits, defaults, preferences, whatever you want to call them, have been on my mind this week, and I realise I have been guilty of some lazy thinking on the subject (one of my bad habits, as it happens).

I recently made a video about Conflict Preferences, based on the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), about which I have blogged several times before.  The film attempts to portray each of the five Conflict Preferences we may have, and how the interaction between preferences can play out.

TKI_Table_smallHere’s the thing.  In the introduction to the video I recorded a short explanation of the five TKI Preferences.  I didn’t script it, just shot it in one take from the hip, as it were.  I found myself saying that your Conflict Preference is the one which will come out under pressure in a conflict situation.

This was wrong.  I have been misleading people by saying this for over 10 years now.  My apologies to all of you, and no, just to be clear, I am not issuing refunds or paying out compensation for my professional incompetence.

I stand corrected by a leading authority on this subject, namely the co-author himself, Ralph Kilmann.  I happened to show him a preview of the video and he picked me up on it, thankfully.  Here’s what he has to say on the matter:

Ralph_Kilmann When people are under “a lot” of pressure/stress, the five conflict modes collapse to fight, flight, and freeze.

The TKI is intended for mindful choices of conflict behaviour, or habitual choices, but not when there is either too much pressure/stress or too little pressure/stress (the latter may not motivate people to approach the conflict situation with any mode).”

This makes so much sense now.  I have been confusing habitual behaviour (or preferred behaviour) with stress reaction, which as Ralph says is a very different thing.  Habits and preferences are learned over time.  I read somewhere years ago that a habit takes 27 goes to form into an unconscious behaviour.  They evolve as well, so your preferences can change, often based on experience, or the way people around you behave.

My preferred (habitual) response to conflict is Accommodate, so I like to be helpful and co-operative.  My preference is to build a relationship with you, and be popular.  Ask me if you can borrow £20 because you left your wallet at home and I will habitually say yes.

My stress response is very different.  Ask me to borrow £2,000 because you crashed your car and had no insurance and I will probably be totally unco-operative and say you have only yourself to blame (Fight) or I’ll avoid you (Flight).

Ralph says the model describes “mindful choices” of behaviour.  This is the province of what some call the “Mammalian Brian” – using the thinking part of the brain, deploying the more recently developed neocortex.  When we become emotional the “Reptilian Brain” or the limbic system takes over.  It’s what Daniel Goleman calls the Amygdala Hijack in his 1996 book “Emotional Intelligence:  why it can matter more than IQ”, and it brings out the Fight, Flight or Freeze response.

People with well-developed Emotional Intelligence and self control have developed strategies for letting this moment wash over, so that they can go with their second, more considered or “mindful” response.  Strategies I recommend are pausing, playing back to the other person what they just said, or asking a question such as “that’s an interesting comment, do tell me more about why you think that.”

So: your preferences are very different to your stress reaction, which is likely to be unpredictable.  I guess you knew that.  So did I, it’s just that I forgot it when I was in fact under pressure (5 people and 3 cameras watching me, in a small room, expecting me to improvise a Thomas Kilmann introduction in one take).

Here’s the resulting video (edited to remove the offending “under pressures”).  This is a shortened version with just one scene: there are 4 altogether in the full version, which you can find on my video website,  Enjoy!

Thomas Kilmann profiles are available through CPP in the US and OPP in the UK. 

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How to use Myers Briggs to help you influence people

Last year I took part in some research carried out by CPP into the way Myers Briggs preferences impact the way we influence and are influenced.  I’ve blogged before about various aspects of Myers Briggs, but until now never had anything concrete to offer on specifically how your profile relates to influencing.  Whenever I work with groups using MBTI, I find people are always particularly interested in what insights this gives them into influencing others (especially their boss and their partner, for some inexplicable reason!), so it’s great to have some recent research to base the discussion on.

If you’ve never done your Myers Briggs profile, it’s about time you did if you’re reading Blogs like this!  You can contact CPP in the US, OPP in the UK, or your local Myers Briggs distributor.  Or comment on this article below and I’ll get someone to contact you.

CPP published the research results recently, and I thought I’d share a summary of the findings with you.  You can read the full report here, but here are my takeaways.  The report is called “MYERS-BRIGGS ® TYPE AND INFLUENCING: EFFECTS AND IMPACTS”

Your influencing style and the way you like to be influenced is driven by the middle two letters of your 4 letter profile.  So there are 4 styles which come out of the research.  Here they are:

ST (Sensing and Thinking): “Straightforward, direct and efficient” influencers, these are best handled by being clear, direct, honest and credible.  Apparently we mustn’t be overly emotional or too personal with these types.  ST’s need to work on making an emotional connection with others and their values to build their influence.  I work a lot with engineers, who often have an ISTJ profile.  I can certainly relate to all of the above.

SF (Sensing and Feeling):  “Practical, positive and collaborative” influencers who are best handled by showing you have listened and understood them.  Don’t use big words to try and impress, and don’t exclude important facts and  feelings.  SF’s can build their influence by not feeling so guilty about trying to influence.  Makes sense!

NF (Intuition and Feeling):  “Encouraging, inspiring and impactful” influencers, who like to form an emotional connection with the topic and motivate others to think differently. They like to see passion and authenticity and to have others engage with their values.  They don’t like detail and they detest lack of energy or belief. They have to work on keeping the facts relevant and not overwhleming with their big ideas if they want to influence more.  I used to work with a team of NF’s, and we used to dream up the craziest schemes about which we eulogized all day, without ever making them relevant to others.  I think everyone else used to think we were mad . Either that or on drugs.

Finally the NT’s (Intuition and Thinking):  “Confident, reasoned and convincing” influencers, who like people who acknowledge their expertise and listen to their ideas.  They don’t like fakes or people who get too emotional.  To influence them, prepare well and have plenty to back up your claims.  They have to work on their patience and acknowledging the feelings of others.  Talking with NT’s is a constant sparring match, in which argument is seen as a form of sport.  Exhausting, but great fun if you can keep up with the pace.

I can see plenty of meat on this bone.  A great topic for a coaching style conversation with someone who is trying to work out how to influence someone with a different profile.  Very useful for planning that big presentation to one or two key people.  An excellent discussion for a team working on improving its effectiveness.  Handy for relationship counselling, planning a sales strategy for a new client – you get the gist.

I’ve already thought of one or two people I can use this insight with to help build the relationship. What about you?  How about resolving to adapt your approach using this information?



Posted in Communication, Personality types | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Can you coach? No, seriously. Can you coach?

If you were to ask a sample of managers how important coaching is to success in their role, what do you think their answer would be?

Coaching session from hell 0 02 33-26(1)I’ve worked with thousands of them over the years on Leadership and Management skills programmes, so I can state with some confidence that the answer is a little disappointing.  I would say that less than 20% of them see coaching as a core activity, and even fewer of them really get what coaching is.

After some discussion, in which I introduce the concept of using coaching as a vehicle for helping others to find answers to their own questions, we usually have a go at coaching.  I get people into triads, where one person coaches another, and one observes.

The two traps they fall into almost every time are:

  • Jumping in with the answer rather then letting the coachee find it
  • Asking closed questions to test the conclusion they have already come to.

When we debrief and I ask why this happens, the answer is predictable:  we do it this way because it gets us to a conclusion most quickly, and we are always short of time.

It does get you to a conclusion quickly if you do this.  Trouble is it fails to let the coachee grow, and leaves them reliant on the coach for answers.  Instead of coaching, the manager has been directing, leaving the coachee dependent on them, and no further developed than before.

I wonder what your experience of being coached has been?  I’ve had some good coaching and quite a lot of bad coaching over the years.  The video below  is a deliberate example of how not to do it.  As it is improvised it is based on my own real life experiences, which gives you a clue as to the quality of coaching that is out there.

Have a look at it to see how many errors you can spot.   Make a list of them if you like, and I’ll send you my list if you comment below.  And if you want to really spread the word and do your bit to address the woeful state of coaching skills on planet Earth, I’ll send you a link so you can download it and share with others.




Posted in Coaching Skills, Management Skills | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“One of the finest and most uplifting speeches of all time.” How Chaplin still speaks to us.

75 years ago, with America on the brink of joining in the Second World War, Charlie Chaplin made his film “The Great Dictator.”  It is a satirical political comedy-drama designed to confront Hitler, Mussolini, fascism, anti-semitism and the Nazis.  It was Chaplin’s first talking movie, and became his most commercially successful film.

Charlie-Chaplin_I’ve only just come across it, for some reason.  I bumped into it on Facebook, where people are making all sorts of statements of support for France in the light of the atrocities there last week.  It made such an impact on me when I first saw it that I had to learn more about it.

I feel compelled to share it in case you too have never seen it.

According to several analyses, it is one of the most moving and uplifting speeches of all time.  It seems so relevant today – almost impossibly so.  Let me quote you a few lines from the text, the full version of which you can click on here:

“We think too much and feel too little.  More than machinery we need humanity.  More than clevernesss we need kindness and gentleness.”

“Without these qualities, life will be violent, and all will be lost.”

Ponder that.  I’m working with a group of leaders in an American tech business this week.  The main emphasis of our work is on emotional and social intelligence, helping them to find ways to connect with other people more meaningfully, and to build better relationships across the business.  It takes time, but when people gradually start opening up to each other as human beings and sharing what they really think and feel, the connections between them as people start to grow, and you can feel the humanity asserting itself over the “machinery”.

The war on terrorism is indeed the war for our generation, but we are also fighting a second war, against “machinery” and the increasing need to protect our humanity.  As Chaplin puts it in the speech:

“You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.”

We can only hope that we have the sense to use our power in an Intelligent way.

Enjoy the speech, and ask yourself not only how it is relevant to what is going on today, but also what impact these words have on you as a human being.

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The Wisdom Of Crowds. Really? Are you sure?

In 1906 Francis Galton carried out an impromptu experiment at a country fair near Plymouth.  There was a “Guess the weight of the ox” competition, in which 800 people tried their luck.  It was a tricky one to get right, because you had to guess the weight of the ox after it had been slaughtered and dressed.

oxenBeing a statistician and at 85 no less curious than ever, Galton borrowed the tickets after the competition winner had been announced, and did some analysis.  He worked out the mean of the group’s guesses, thus identifying the collective wisdom of the Plymouth crowd.

He anticipated that their answer would be way off the mark;  mix a few very smart people with a large group of probably quite technically ignorant people and you might expect to get a pretty dumb answer.  The crowd guessed 1,197 pounds.  The answer was 1,198 pounds.

I’ve just started reading James Surowiecki’s book “The Wisdom of Crowds”.  Published in 2004, so I’m only 11 years off the pace.  Sounds about right.  The book has grabbed my attention.  I assume it is going to go on an give me more and more compelling examples of why the collective wisdom of a large group of disparate people who are not able to confer is always going to be as good as if not better than any one expert.  The TV show “Who wants to be a millionaire?” is another good one:  when asked, the audience gets the right answer 91% of the time (as opposed to 65% when you phone your supposedly expert friend.)

The book may have been written a few years ago, but crowd theory is still very much alive and kicking.  The MD of one of my clients, a very successful top end bespoke cabinet maker, espouses Wisdom of Crowds so passionately it has pretty much become a company value.

All well and good, BUT……something about this doesn’t quite resonate for me.  It doesn’t feel right. I want to check it out, and this week I am going to invite you to help validate this important theory.

I use an exercise when running team building courses to see how well a group communicates.  I analyse how many contributions people make, and when we debrief we look at who did all the talking, who said nothing etc.  Normally the talkers influence everyone else to agree with them, and as a result the whole team “dies”.

seaplaneThe exercise is called “Arctic Adventure”, and it involves the group agreeing the ranking in importance of various items of equipment they have with them when their plane crashes in the Arctic Circle.

I am going to give you the brief below and invite you to write down your ranking, starting with the most important item.  Assume the group has decided to stay and wait to be rescued rather than walk to try and seek help.  (Apparently that is the correct decision, according to experts in this field).

Then can you invite as many others to do the exercise as you can, and collate their rankings.  Remember, for this to work, they must not confer.

You can then work out what the collective ranking is – the wisdom of your crowd, by adding up the position (score) of each item from all the responses.  The items with the lowest aggregate score have the highest priority, in your crowd’s opinion.

Here is the brief:

It is approximately 2.30 p.m., 5th October, and you have just crash-landed in a floatplane on the east shore of Laura lake in the sub-arctic region of the northern Quebec-Newfoundland border. The pilot was killed in the crash, but the rest of you are uninjured. Each of you are wet up to the waist and have perspired heavily. Shortly after the crash, the plane drifted into deep water and sank with the pilot’s body pinned inside.  

The pilot was unable to contact anyone before the crash. However, ground sightings indicated that you are 30 miles south of your intended course and approximately 22 miles east of Schefferville, your original destination, and the nearest known habitation. (The mining camp on Hollinger Lake was abandoned years ago when a fire destroyed the buildings.)  Schefferville (population 5000) is an iron ore mining town approximately 300 air miles north of the St. Lawrence, 450 miles east of the JamesBay/Hudson Bay area, 800 miles south of the Arctic circle and 300 miles west of the Atlantic coast. It is reachable only by air or rail, all roads ending a few miles from town.

Your party was expected to return from north-western Labrador to Schefferville no later than 19th October and filed a Flight Notification Form with the Department of Transportation via Schefferville radio to that effect.

The immediate area is covered with small evergreen trees (one and a half to four inches in diameter). Scattered in the area are a number of hills having rocky and barren tops. Tundra (Arctic swamps) make up the valleys between the hills and consist only of small scrubs. Approximately 25% of the region is covered by long narrow lakes which run north-west to south-east. Innumerable streams and rivers flow into and connect the lakes.

Temperatures during October vary between 25º and 36º Fahrenheit, although it will occasionally go as high as 50º and as low as 0º. Heavy clouds cover the sky three quarters of the time, with only one day in ten being fairly clear. Five to seven inches of snow are on the ground. However, the actual depth varies enormously because the wind sweeps the exposed areas clear and builds drifts 3’ to 5’ deep in other areas. The wind speed averages 13-15 miles per hour and is mostly out of the west-north-west.

You are all dressed in insulated underwear, socks, heavy wool shirts, trousers, knit gloves, sheepskin jackets, knitted wool caps and heavy leather hunting boots.  Collectively your personal possessions include $153 in bills and 2 half dollars, 4 quarters, 2 dimes, 1 nickel and 3 new pennies. 1 pocket knife (2 blades and an awl which resembles an ice pick) one stub pencil and an air map.

You must now rank these items from 1 to 15, where 1 is most important. 

A Magnetic Compass
A Gallon Can of Maple Syrup
A Sleeping Bag Per Person (Arctic Type)
A Bottle of Water Purification Tablets
A 20’ x 20’ (6 x 6m) of Heavy Duty Canvas
13 Wood Matches in a Metal Screwtop,
Waterproof Container
250’ of Braided Nylon Rope, 50lb test
An Operating 4 Battery Flashlight
3 Pairs of Snowshoes
A fifth Bacardi Rum
Safety Razor Shaving Kit with Mirror
A Wind-Up Alarm Clock
A Hand Axe
One Aircraft Inner Tube for a 14” Wheel
A Book Entitled “Northern Star Navigation”

There is fun to be had running this as a team exercise anyway.  Give people 10 minutes to read the brief and prepare their ranking, then 30 minutes to agree it as a team.  Have an observer give feedback on team behaviours etc.

I would love to hear from you how well your “crowd” did, and whether they got close to the expert ranking provided below by survival experts.  If the deviation between your positions and the official ones is more than 30, apparently you die, by the way!

Please let me know what happens.  Is your it experience that collective individual wisdom is better than shared wisdom?  If so, is it time for a rethink on how you go about making those big decisions?

Good luck!  If you are interested enough I can let you have the reasoning behind the Official list.

Here are the Official rankings:

A Magnetic Compass  13
A Gallon Can of Maple Syrup  5
A Sleeping Bag Per Person (Arctic Type)  4
A Bottle of Water Purification Tablets  15
A 20’ x 20’ (6 x 6m) of Heavy Duty Canvas  3
13 Wood Matches in a Metal Screwtop Waterproof Container  1
250’ of Braided Nylon Rope, 50lb test  6
An Operating 4 Battery Flashlight  10
3 Pairs of Snowshoes  7
A fifth Bacardi Rum  11
Safety Razor Shaving Kit with Mirror  9
A Wind-Up Alarm Clock  12
A Hand Axe  2
One Aircraft Inner Tube for a 14” Wheel (punctured)  8

A Book Entitled “Northern Star Navigation”  14

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The dreaded Annual Appraisal. Is the writing finally on the wall?

At last!  Could the end finally be in sight for that annual ritual dreaded by both managers and staff:  the Annual Appraisal?

"You're a 4" "Oh no I'm not!"

“You’re a 4” “Oh no I’m not!”

You know the one:  the meeting you both hope will be over quickly, in which the manager loads up her gun with lots of surprise feedback ready to fire at the victim when they start arguing over what the performance rating for the year will be.

And the appraisee’s only two questions are “How much are you going to pay me next year?” and “Can I go now?”

I read today that companies like Accenture and  GE are moving towards a more ongoing approach towards performance management which is being called Agile Performance Management.  Here’s what the article’s author Pamela Harding wrote about it:

“Human Capital Institute has just launched a new two day certification course – Agile Performance Management (APM). The course provides a framework for a new process that includes setting goals; helping managers coach individuals; providing more continuous feedback, support and growth or change; and bringing more collaboration that is social and faster-moving.”

You can read the full LinkedIn article here.

According to recent research by Deloitte, 89% of companies plan to change their appraisal process in the next 18 months.

I can’t help raising a wry smile. Think about the irony of this.  Some of the largest organisations on the planet have concluded (at last – what took them so long?) that having a formal annual discussion with employees about their performance and objectives is not effective.  So instead they are going to “performance manage” through ongoing coaching and feedback.

Correct me if I’m wrong.  AREN’T YOU SUPPOSED TO DO BOTH?  Isn’t performance management something you do all the time, through regular reviews, feedback, coaching, revision of objectives, reprioritisation and so on?  And then every year one of these reviews happens to be more formal, with a record of the discussion being made and kept on file.  It’s called an Appraisal, but it’s no big deal, and there are no surprises.

The fact that “Agile Performance Management” is being positioned as “HR’s next big move” seems to me to be an indictment of the way managers have managed people in the past.  Oh, and maybe, just maybe, it’s an excuse for consultancies to make a shedload of new money in offering certification in the art of managing people using leading edge tools called coaching and feedback.

Let’s be more constructive just for a moment.  Whatever this says about the way people have been managed in the past, it can surely only be a good thing?  If it works, and if this becomes the latest buzzword in the corporate world, it will make a difference and individuals will benefit.  If it does lead to more quality one on one time between managers and their staff, with a more meaningful dialogue and decent feedback and support, it will improve morale and engagement and maybe even make the relentless strain of being at work more sustainable.

There is nothing new here, only what should have always been in place.

Is your organisation planning to move in this direction, or is it one of the few that is doing it right already?

Let’s finish on a lighter note on this one.  Here’s an abbreviated take on the dreaded annual appraisal featuring myself and an unsuspecting colleague, Spencer Holmes.  Enjoy!



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