A friend of mine asked me what is going on with all this touchy-feely people and personal growth stuff – “What’s it got to do with Agile?” My answer: everything! So this post ties together: Agile, High-Performance Culture with People skills and Temenos Workshop among others.
Here is my current roadmap of focus areas related to rebooting organizational culture:
The arrows indicate support. For example, People Skills such as communication models lead to Relational Flow where people trust one another and are emotional supportive. This in turn leads to or supports High Performance Culture.
High Performance Culture is the Goal, but Need to Focus Elsewhere
My goal is to help organizations develop high performance culture through the creation of environments where people can bring their best every day. We can see there are a variety of things to focus on that will lead to support this goal.
Let’s take meditation as an example. There is no direct connection to high performance culture – it’s indirect. But in my experience it is 100% relevant and salient for bringing about a sequence of changes that support the goal. So, we need to focus on the things that will lead to a great culture and the ensuing results. Of course, there are many routes and practices – so nothing is mandatory: meditation works for me, but you may have an alternate route to personal growth.
This is not an exhaustive map of all the elements that lead to High Performance Culture – for sure there are lot’s of things we could add. My purpose in creating and sharing this is to create a call to action to focus on these or related elements so that we can really help organizations succeed.
Examples of Posts on these Topics
My hope is that you are curious about some of these content areas, so I will share some of my blog posts for further reading.
What is High-Performance Culture?
- Workshop on Characteristics of High-Performance Organizations
- Diverse Paths to High-Performance Organizational Culture
- Lululemon – A Stellar Example of Break-Through Organizational Culture
- The Power of Vulnerability
- Understand Shame to get to Root-Cause in Your Life
- Deep Insights around Fear, Risk, Safety and Vulnerability
- Change your Culture or Die
- Tactics, Strategy, & Culture – A Model for Thinking about Organizational Change
- KrisMap: An Organisation’s Persona
- Ways to Make Progress with Culture Gaps
- An Influencer’s Playbook
- Hierarchy = The Matrix
- How to Build a Culture Bubble
- How Change Initiatives Damage Organizations and Fail
- Organizational Transformation Checklist
- Visual Summary of Agile Adoption and Transformation Survival Guide
- Agile Failure and Culture – Agile 2012 Workshop Results
- Transformation? Leaders Go First!
- Personal Transformation is the Heart of Organizational Transformation
- How to Incubate Transformational Leadership
In a recent post I talked about the nature of transformation as personal activity and the need for leaders to go first. But, how do we as change artists and leaders go first?
Traditionally we think about learning skills and capabilities to effect change. We learn models and frameworks. We learn facilitation techniques. We learn new tools and ways of thinking. All of this is good, but this is not personal transformation. This is illustrated in the diagram below as the parts outside the heart.
In the classic personal growth book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey states that private victory precedes public victory. We need to look after ourselves before we can effectively help others. We hear the same message when we are on airplanes: “In the event of a drop in cabin pressure, put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.”
Personal transformation is about the shifting the structure and character of ourselves – learning to alter our own identity, values, and beliefs to become better human beings. How do we do this? We improve our empathy skills or better yet develop our compassion. We use mindfulness of meditation to become more focused and present with others. We acknowledge our flaws and love ourselves as human beings not despite them but because of them. We trust others. It’s all about forming a better relationship with ourselves so that we can form richer more valuable relationships with others.
My own personal journey has centered around letting go of ego, insecurity and perfectionism to develop self-kindness, caring and being present. Although the road is hard and painful, it is also joyful and liberating. I can see a manyfold increase in my effectiveness in my personal and professional life. Now I know I am in a place where I can participate in leading a transformation – I wasn’t before and didn’t recognize it.
We can only transform to the extent that we have a capacity in something. To build environments of high trust we need to be trusting. We need to value other human beings for them to feel valued. We need to embrace and love our shortcomings so that others can feel safe making mistakes and learn from them rather than feeling inadequate.
Of course in a transformation, leaders will need to attend to external matters such as vision, purpose and culture, but these will not fully succeed without their personal transformation.
I have recently been writing and will continue to write on topics around personal growth as I see this as central to organizational transformation.
Lululemon – An example of Break-though Culture
My last post was on the amazing culture at Lululemon. Christine Day, the CEO, is a living example of what Good to Great calls – Level 5 leadership – she is humble and nurtures those around her grow and learn.
Everyone at Lululemon gets free Yoga classes. Can you imagine the power of a workforce that is more balanced, at peace, and present with others? Wow. That’s the kind of shift I want to see cultivated everywhere.
Brene Brown’s work on understanding shame and empathy kick started this journey. Siraj Sirajuddin’s Temenos retreats had a profound impact. Most recently, I have found Oneness meditation to help me connect with my humanity and love myself more deeply.
Brene Brown had an amazing discovery: The people who have love and belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging. These people, dubbed the “wholehearted” were able to overcome the shame issues that limit people’s lives. This post is based on Brown’s video The Power of Vulnerability and in her book The Gifts of Imperfection.
The wholehearted have a set of common traits shown in the infographic below.
The definition of the word vulnerable is “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm”. How can this be a good thing?
At her TED Talk Listening to Shame, Brown surveys the audience to show that people see vulnerability as pure courage – as long as it’s someone else!
Browns research shows that practicing vulnerability is essential for building the social connections required for living a life of joy and belonging. We have to risk being hurt in order to build strong connections with people. Yes, you do have to talk about that difficult issue if you want a strong relationship. Yes, you do have to ask that person out and risk rejection to make progress.
Many organizations are concerned about how to bring creativity and innovation to the workplace. Brown argues that vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation and change. How people inter-relate and function as a social network is at the core of this.
The following three elements are all necessary aspects of vulnerability: Courage, Compassion, Authenticity.
Courage is not about heroics and it’s not about a character trait. It is about regular practice in daily life. Each day we have many opportunities to practice our courage: to do the right thing, to be vulnerable, to be authentic. It can be as simple as telling someone that you don’t want a meeting that you don’t think is valuable – even though you know it may lead to conflict. It may be in some areas of your life you are very courageous while others could use work.
We are imperfect. We all want to be seen as good, fair, reasonable. And yet the reality is that we are human, not perfect, and we make mistakes. We forget. We ignore our inside voices telling us what is right. The wholehearted not only recognize their imperfections, but see them as part of who they are and embrace them lovingly.
Compassion is a deep form of empathy where we co-suffer with the other person. Pema Chödrön writes “When we practice generating compassion, we can expect to experience the fear of our pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently towards what scares us.” Wholehearted living requires that we be compassionate to ourselves as well as others.
I have noticed over the last few days as I have written about empathy and shame, I have room for improvement in practicing compassion towards myself. After a troubling event, I immediately went into the trap of “looking on the bright side”. When I noticed this, I slowed down and gave myself the grace to experience a flood of emotions around the issue. To allow myself to be heard and acknowledged. It was difficult in the moment but allowed me to discharge the feelings so they did not impact the rest of my day.
A critical piece of this is kindness to ourselves. Brown states: “We can only be kind to others to the extent that we can be kind to ourselves.” I have kids and this struck me through my soul like a sharp burning knife. At the time I was aware I had low levels of self-kindness, so the implication that I could not be fully kind to my children really hurt. This truth, has led to a year+ long quest for self-kindness. (But that’s another post).
Authenticity is about being true to who we really are 24 hours a day. It means that we know who we are (imperfections and all) and let ourselves be seen that way. It means that we say and do what our true identity requires. And yes, this means taking on risk. But that is what we need to do to fully reclaim our lives.
I would like to add Brown’s Caution: “If you trade in your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment and inexplicable grief.”
The good news is that there is a path forward for fully living our lives. The bad news is that there is a world of difference between knowing what you need to do and knowing how to do it. There are some guideposts (starting places) for learning how to make changes in your life in The Gifts of Imperfection. If you are interested in making changes in your life, it is best to start with Brown’s first book I Thought it was Just me since this is much more helpful in understanding what challenges you are up against.
I would like to close with the following quote from Brene Brown: “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging”. (p.1)
I thank Brene Brown for her excellent job modeling the power of vulnerability and for helping me in my life. I would also like thank everyone who participated in the “Gifts of Imperfection” meetup group for a safe space to practice vulnerability.
In this post I am going share a book that has changed my life in deep and profound ways: Brene Brown’s I thought it was just me (but it isn’t).
A good friend expresses the power clearly: “With this book, I am finally able to get to the root-causes of the problems in my life.”
If you want to play a leadership role in building great workplaces or you want to live a richer life, then read on. One word of warning: the core of the book is about the topic of shame. We tend to avoid and ignore this topic since it is uncomfortable. But that’s why it is key to understanding what’s going on in our lives.
“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”
When we are in shame, we are in deep emotional pain and experience strong physical symptoms. In shame we feel like we have little or no value as human beings. Brown argues that shame has no positive purpose in our lives – it does not accomplish anything for us.
Guilt is a different story. With guilt we believe we are a good, valuable person, but have made a mistake. Guilt helps us correct our mistakes. It is very useful and has a positive effect in our lives. The confusion arises since much that we label as “guilt” is actually shame.
SHAME is at the centre of the infographic below. We will first consider the causes and then the outcomes of shame.
Unwanted Identities and Shame Triggers
- Who we should be
- What we should be
- How we should be
See diagram (p.19) on right from the book (used without permission). Hint: click on it to get larger image.
Twelve categories for shame drivers emerged when researching women: appearance/body image, motherhood, family, parenting, money/work, mental/physical health, sex, aging, religion, being stereotyped/labeled, speaking out and surviving trauma. (p. 73)
For men, many of the categories in the list apply, but there are some key extras around the need to look strong and succeed. Weakness, failure, and fear often lead to shame.
Each of us has a unique set of ways to feel shame. To survive and thrive, the first step is to identify our shame triggers. These are the the unwanted identities that impact us. Shame is about how we wish to be perceived in the world. Here are the two questions to ask to help understand your triggers (p. 83):
- I wish to be perceived as __________, ____________, ___________ and __________.
- I do NOT want to be perceived as __________, ____________, ___________ or __________.
When you do this exercise, please take special measure to be kind to yourself. We are all human.
Consequences of Shame
The top part of the infographic above shows some consequences of shame. In addition to feeling unworthy and inadequate, we loose any sense of safety, suffer from fear and with it our ability to take effective action. We feel disconnection from those around us and believe that no one will understand or appreciate us for who we are. Shame is an extremely debilitating state where we are very unresourceful. What can we do to recover?
A trap we fall in is to use blame as a “way to discharge hurt and pain”. When we blame others we shore up our emotions and it feels better. Sadly, this does not resolve the shame and only serves to mask our painful emotions.
How to Manage Shame
We can never be truly immune from shame, but we can develop what Brown calls “shame resilience”. Her prescription is:
- Understand our Shame Triggers – as discussed above, introspect on yourself when we are calm and capable.
- Practice Critical Awareness – in the moment, recognize that you are feeling shame and say it out loud or in your head.
- Reach Out – Call someone who is able to be supportive and listen with empathy around your issue. Do it immediately.
- Speak Shame – Tell the supportive person how you are experiencing shame and believe them when they tell you that your are a good person.
I have practiced this for over a year and it has worked wonders for me. Like all of us, I experience shame issues on a regular basis. The difference is that I now call people so I can recover and get back to living my life. This one thing has made a huge difference in my life.
Brown says that “Empathy is the opposite of shame”. Speaking shame is critical since empathy dissolves and diminishes the effects of shame. Sadly, when we are in shame, we have a diminished capacity to practice empathy so we cannot help others. Fortunately, empathy can be learned.
I read the book a little over a year ago and it triggered very positive sweeping changes in my life. The power of the book is in providing clarity in understanding a key problem and a simple model to make changes. The rest is hard work.
I would like to thank Brene Brown from the depths of my heart. This book has profoundly altered my life for the better. And everyone I touch.
Thanks to Suzanne Daigle for organizing a global conversation on Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection and inspiring me to create a meetup group.
I would like to thank everyone who participated in the “Gifts of Imperfection” meetup group. I appreciate everyone sharing stories of shame and for listening with care and understanding.
Photo of woman in shame comes from Building Your Resilience to Shame by Margarita Tartakovsky. Check it out – it’s a great article.
This past Fall I delivered a training module on Empathy as part of a day long communication and teamwork training. In this post, I will give you step by step instructions on running an empathy workshop as well as share some interesting results from my session. Please see How to Express Empathy – Avoid the Traps! for my understanding empathy.
Let’s start with the workshop results.
How to Express Empathy
- Sharing or relating experiences. DANGER! DANGER! It is easy to use this to avoid expressing empathy – see How to Express Empathy – Avoid the Traps!. It is only after you have expressed empathy already that you can share something that shows you understand them. Good: “I can only imagine how difficult this time is for you. I know had great difficult time dealing with the loss of my mother.” Bad: “YeahIt took me a while, but I got over it.” (implies that they need to start recovering and that they need to ‘get over it'”.
- Unless you can tell the future, it is not helpful to say “It’s going to be OK.” A better alternative is to say “You are OK” to acknowledge them in that moment. This is to validate them as human beings – “Yes, I hear and understand that you did that and you are OK as a person. It could happen to anyone.”
How to AVOID Expressing Empathy
- We actually had a good laugh while people recounted these. I imagine this was because we all had committed these acts at various times.
- Offering a solution or advice without permission can be considered a form of violence. The easy fix is to ASK for permission to provide advice or a solution. e.g. “Hey, do you just want me to listen or are you soliciting advice?” or “May I offer you a suggestion?”
We all have the basic understanding of what empathy is and what it is not. It turns out that traps and our attention are the key limiting factors in empathy practice.
- Opening. Ask people to describe what empathy is. The goal is to get everyone oriented around a working understanding, not a crisp definition. Optional: ask or brainstorm why empathy is useful.
- Break into small groups to list behaviours on a) How to express empathy, b) How to AVOID expressing empathy. Let the groups go until it looks like they are running out of ideas.
- Large group sharing. Write each question on a flip chart. Have people shout out answers. Give time for large group discussion of items.
- Test items for group support. We used decider protocol for seeing if there was consensus around items to see if everyone agreed that they were correct. This allowed the group to come up with their own operational definition of empathy.
- Discussion of tricky items such as sharing or relating experiences.
- Practice giving and receiving empathy by forming pairs and taking turns telling stories.
I would like to thank the participants of the WEAO new professionals organization who created the content shown in the photos. I would also like to thank Andrea Tomasini for organizing the train the trainers event at the Atlanta Scrum Gathering that allowed me to develop this workshop.
It was the Fall of 2011 and I began to cry as I was reading Brene Brown’s book I thought it was just me. I discovered that at age 42 I was unable to express empathy. This came as a huge shock.
In this post you will learn the common empathy traps that we tend to fall in. Once you know the how to avoid the pitfalls, you’ll be ready to start building your emotional muscles. Fortunately for us, awareness and a little practice goes a long way to improving empathy.
Why care about empathy?
The practice of empathy builds trust and increases safety in your family and work environments. It supports the social fabric required for communication and shared activities. A world with empathy is nurturing and supportive – it creates an environment where people can be creative and take risks.
Empathy Traps (Anti-patterns)
Most of us have a basic understanding of how to express empathy.
The HUGE PROBLEM is that we are really good at BLOCKING EMPATHY to protect ourselves from feeling.
Imagine someone is in emotional distress. By blocking their emotions from our reality, we can avoid acknowledging and connecting to their pain. In the short run, this is great – we avoid pain. In the long run, we destroy the fabric of our relationships and our environments.
Three common traps and pitfalls are indicated in the diagram below. I am (sadly) an expert in the use of each one and am still working on being authentic and not running these anti-patterns.
Trap #1: Even Worse – the basic idea here is to compare the person’s problem with someone else’s problem that is even much bigger. On the surface this may seem like we’re helping them: we’re letting them know that their problem is not that substantial and that surely this will help them see how unimportant it really is. What we are really doing is that we are saying that their problem and feelings are invalid or unworthy. Brene calls this “stacking the deck” and give this example from being trumped in cards: “I’ll see your ‘drunk mother’ and raise you a ‘drug-addict sister'”
Trap #2: Look on the Bright Side – in this approach we ask people to focus on the positive outcome of the situation. Remember the saying “Every cloud has a silver lining?” or “The glass isn’t half empty, it’s half full.” While I believe strongly in both of these statements and the related NLP technique of reframing, these have no place whatsoever when seeking to express empathy. When we focus on the positive, rather than acknowledge a person’s feelings, we ignore and dismiss them as unimportant. The net result is that we invalidate the other person. Hint: once someone feels fully heard and supported in their emotion, it maybe it may be appropriate and helpful to help them see the bright side.
Trap #3: Problem Solving – rather than be with the person in an emotion, we immediately jump to problem solving mode: How can we fix this problem? Typically, we start by assuming the person has invited us to solve their problem by telling us about their situation. (Why else would they tell us?) With this trap, we avoid acknowledging or recognizing the emotion and keep it just to the facts of the situation. We discuss how the situation came to be so it can be avoided in the future.
What to do about this?
- Notice when you are running these anti-patterns and STOP TALKING. Saying nothing is much better than falling in these traps. Rewind the conversation if you need to. It’s never too late to go back.
- Be kind to yourself. You are human like the rest of us. You’ve probably been running these patterns for years and years – it’ll take time to get better.
- Take a deep breath and practice your empathy muscles. Yes! You can learn these skills. See below for one way to do this.
Four Elements of Empathy
The following infographic show four elements of empathy as defined by Theresa Wiseman:
- See their World – to be able to see the world as others see it. This mean that you cognitively understand what they are saying and can see it from their point of view.
- Appreciate them as Human Beings / No-Judgement – to be nonjudgmental. I have restated the original “non-judgmental” in the positive, so it provides an actionable checklist. Judgement is actually another trap. We go into judgement to discount the persons situation so that we can avoid experiencing their pain. For us to express empathy, we need to see the person as a human being – someone who is valuable in their own right. Warning: this can be very difficult to overcome. I have an upcoming post on the “Anatomy of Peace” that will help clarify.
- Understand Feelings – to understand another person’s feelings. We need to get in touch with our emotions in order to truly connect with another person’s feelings. There is lots of brain research on mirror neurons and how we are neurologically wired to relate to other human beings. A common reason to skip this element of empathy is that we don’t have our own emotions sorted out. So, you may need to do some of your own mental housekeeping in order to be in a place where you can acknowledge other people’s feelings.
- Communicate Understanding – to communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings. The final element is that someone feels like they are understood – that they are seen and heard. This part for me has been a real struggle since I often don’t know what to say. Here is a great phrase from Brene Brown that can be used verbatim or as a starting point: “It sounds like you are in a hard place now. Tell me more about it.”
My Experiences with Empathy
It has been a little over a year since I developed a clear intent to increase my practice of empathy.
The good news is that I am much better at it. Over the last year, I have seen many people touched by the simple act of listening and just being there for them. It is so simple and so powerful.
The bad news is that I still struggle at times. I respond without thinking. Or my own feelings or wounds interfere with my ability to see someone else as a valuable human being. Continued and persistent success with empathy requires higher levels awareness of ourselves as well as healing of past trauma.
The ugly news for us a society is that the empathy deficit is very large. I have noticed that it is commonplace for people to avoid emotions and empathy altogether. Many are lacking empathy skills and, far worse, not even aware that they are missing.
I encourage you to make a difference in the world. Practice empathy on your own and tell others about how they can too.
I am deeply grateful to Brene Brown for creating such a wonderful book – I thought it was just me (but it isn’t) – it has helped me in so many ways. The subtitle of the book is “Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame”, but men are in just as desperate need for reclaiming empathy and courage in a culture of shame.
Thanks to my dear friend Olaf Lewitz who suggested I read Brene’s book which has launched me on a tidal wave of change. I would also like to thank Pierre Lagacé and my “Gifts of Imperfection” meetup group for a chance practice empathy.
Update 2020: What I Learned Since I wrote The Original Post
As I look back on this work, I realize the most important part of growth is not just learning what good looks like but learning how to identify the traps and challenges that often go without notice.
The other, perhaps more profound learning is that empathy is “table stakes” or a basic requirement for human relationships. I have learned that it is an effective steppingstone to start the journey towards compassion.
The journey for me has been to walk through my own darkness so that I am comfortable with myself. It is only from that place, that I can be comfortable with the darkness, the challenge, the hurt in others. I find I no longer need to block my feelings and experience a genuine response of care for others when they are in suffering. For me today, crying is not a shock, it’s a happening that is welcome. Empathy is a way of being, I have an ability to hold a person, without expectations or trying to do it “right”. My heart is more open to express authentic connection.
To quote Nickelback:
“If everyone cared and nobody cried
If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
Then we’d see the day when nobody died
… I’m Alive”
At Scrum Gathering Orlando, I ran an experiential workshop titled Improve your communication through non-verbal rapport. The session turned out really well so thanks to everyone who participated. My only tools were a flip chart and some markers, so the purpose of this post is to provide details for attendees as well as provide visibility to anyone interested in better communication.
(Part 6 of 5 blogs on the Scrum Gathering in Orlando – ok, so not very good at counting 😉
Amazingly, only 7% of communication is based on words while 38% is based on tonality and 55% on physiology.
The Mehrabian Study produced these numbers to quantify the importance of non-verbal communication.
Briefly, rapport is about making and feeling a connection with another person. We do this automatically with our friends: we match physiology and tonality. The key practice for connecting with others is to:
- Face a similar direction
- Be at the same or lower height
- Match the angle of their spine and head tilt.
This goes a long way towards making a comfortable connection. For more on rapport refer to NLP: The New Technology of Achievement by Steve Andreas, and Charles Faulkner.
Keys to great communication
There are some important approaches that complement non-verbal rapport skills.
I just posted on Crucial Conversations.
Win/Win is about seeking a good outcome for everyone involved – seeking a long-term, sustainable relationship.
“Seek first to understand, then be understood“ is about really listening to people around you. To really connect, you need to understand the person and where they are coming from.
Exercise to understand rapport
Caution: These exercises are here for those who attended the workshop and want to use them to help others. Please attend a workshop before trying these on your own.
This exercise is about getting an internal sense of how important rapport is in conversation.
Exercise to sense broken rapport
This exercise is about practicing rapport and getting a sense of what it is like for rapport to be broken.
Want to learn more?
These are some of the skill that I learned as an NLP (NeuroLinguisticProgramming) Practitioner. I have found Practitioner as well as Master Practitioner skills to be an important part of my toolkit as an Agile Coach.
I strongly recommend Wauneen McMonagle Innergize Training if you are interested in building skills in this area.