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Saturday, December 30, 2017

What Managers Should Never Say in an Employee Performance Review

Performance reviews are tough for your employees--and that’s before you stick your foot in your mouth. While good performance conversations breed transparent communication, employee development, and healthy relationships, bad ones spell disaster for employee performance and engagement. Whether your reviews are yearly, monthly, or part of a more comprehensive feedback system, take our advice:

Managers would be well advised to avoid saying these things in their performance reviews.

“I was surprised you didn’t beat Bob’s sales this year.”

Don’t compare. No one likes to be held up against their neighbor, and frankly, it only produces resentment and jealousy among colleagues. Instead, measure employees against their own past performance.

"You are always late to work.”

Words like “never” and “always” just add fuel to a potential fire. No one does something 100% of the time, and acting as such will just leave your employee feeling unfairly put on trial. You can have the same conversation without using those words.

“I’ve got no feedback for you; you did great!”

Every employee has things they’ve done well and things they need to improve upon. Not preparing both positive and constructive feedback communicates to your employee that you haven’t paid attention. Even the best employees expect to hear something they need to do better – otherwise, they’ll start to look for development opportunities elsewhere.

“If you hit the $100,000 mark this year, there’ll be a spot at corporate waiting for you.”

Don’t promise, and don’t threaten; avoid “If, then” statements. You don’t know where your company or your employee is going to be in six months.

“You’re lucky to get this bonus.”

Be happy for your employee, don’t begrudge him. This can only come across as condescending.

“Because of your terrible job on the Malone case, you won’t be getting your bonus this year.”

Don’t bring up compensation in a performance review – keep the conversations separate. The development of your workforce shouldn’t be overshadowed by what their pay stub is going to read. Combining the two will only make the employee defensive and unwilling to learn.

“Can we make this quick? I’ve got a 10 AM meeting.”

Make sure you leave ample time for the review. Having to cut an employee performance review before both sides are finished means one side feels cheated and unimportant.

Don’t put your performance reviews in jeopardy by saying the wrong thing - or by using the wrong tools! 

Check out a related blog: Handling Employees Who Disagree with their Performance Review

To your greater success,
Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Performance Facilitator and Trainer

Take the Next Step... 

Interested in learning how Smart Development can benefit you and your organization? We begin with a collaborative discovery process identifying your unique needs and business issues. To request an interview with Peter Mclees please contact: 
Email:    or    Mobile: 323-854-1713

Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, branches, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

26 Ways to Savor Life in 2018

When we get older we start to see the reality of life's fleeting nature. We can use this knowledge as an opportunity to see each day, each moment as a golden opportunity for enjoyment, happiness, and love.

If we live to age 90, from birth to death we have 32,850 days on Earth. Our Earth has been around 4.55 billion years. Our life here is just a blip.

This awareness provokes a lot of soul searching for many of us. We have thought, read and studied a lot about what comprises a happy life and have determined five areas that are key to enjoying life to the fullest.

1. Living in integrity. This is something you must define yourself by creating your own personal operating system. But in general it includes living in alignment with your values and your personal/religious beliefs; being authentic and honest with yourself and others; and living in balance financially.

2. Making a contribution. Whether through our work or otherwise, we all need to feel we have a purpose and have made some mark on the world. We need to feel that our lives have some intrinsic meaning. Having a passion and sharing it with the world provides tremendous joy and fulfillment.

3. Having good relationships. We need loving, supportive, and healthy relationships with romantic partners, family, friends, and co- workers. We certainly know the impact of bad relationships. Good ones offer us joy, contentment, and connectedness.

4. Being healthy. When we feel good physically, we feel good mentally and emotionally. We we feel bad physically, we feel bad all over. It is hard to enjoy life when your physical health is poor.

5. Having pleasure. There are so many things in this big world to enjoy--more than we could ever experience in one lifetime. If we are living in the framework our integrity, then pleasurable experiences should be pursued and enjoyed regularly--without guilt. Having fun is essential to savoring life.

As you examine these five areas in your own life, remember that first defining your integrity and creating your own personal operating system will make it far easier to define the other four areas. When we live outside of our integrity, it casts a shadow over all other areas of our lives.

Here are 26 ideas for savoring life and living it to the fullest in these five critical areas:

1. Define or refine your values and personal operating system. Know what is important to you, and seek to live in accordance with that.

2. Restore your integrity wherever you have stepped out of it. Make amends, correct the situation, shift the balance. This will reduce agitation and guilt.

3. Be true to yourself. Be authentic. Look for ways that you are pretending, acting to impress, or living out some other person's expectations rather than your own.

4. Examine your job. You spend many hours a day in this job. If you don't love it, or at least like it, you are frittering away a good chunk of your life. This is imperative for a happy life. Take control of your career.

5. Know your passions. If you don't know what you are passionate about, find out. Take the time to do this, and then find a way to regularly incorporate your passion into your daily life. Discovering your passion dramatically increases happiness.

6. Give to others daily. Share your knowledge, passions, skills, and time with someone else on a regular basis. This doesn't require a grand gesture. Impacting one life can make a huge ripple on the world. It feels good.

7. Show kindness. In the smallest interactions, be kind. Choose kindness over being right, indignant, smarter, richer, or too busy. Kindness feels good to you and to the recipient. And it's infectious.

8. Release some stuff. If you have loads of material things that you don't use, release them. Give them away to someone who can use them. This is tremendously satisfying.

9. Release some money. If you have plenty of money, use it for good. Contribute it in a way that makes one person or the whole world a better place.

10. Just listen. Listen to someone's story, their pain, their joyful event, their boring anecdote, their fears. Give someone the gift of really hearing them.

11. Nurture your friendships. Be the initiator. Express your feelings for them. Learn more about your friends. Be there for good and bad times.

12. Be the person you want in others. Define what you want in a relationship, then be that person yourself. Like attracts like.

13. Let it go. Be quick to forgive and quick to forget. Holding grudges and nurturing old wounds is unhealthy and makes you unhappy.

14. Know when to let go. However, some relationships can pull you down. Take a look at those in your life. Is it time to let go? How much energy are you giving away to them?

15. Expand your network. Actively meet new people. They can enhance your life, introduce you to new ideas, pleasures, and other new friends.

16. Love yourself. A healthy love for yourself with healthy self-confidence creates healthy relationships.

17. Communicate often. We so often misunderstand and misinterpret one another. Or we say things we don't really mean. Learn healthy communication skills and use them often, particularly in your primary relationship.

18. Educate yourself on nutrition. Read books, blogs, or magazines about proper eating for good health. Then eat that way. If you are unhealthy, it will undermine your happiness in all areas of your life.

19. Go outside every day. Sunlight boosts your mood and provides vitamin D. Being in nature enlivens your soul and makes you feel connected to the world around you.

20. Get moving. You know this. Get some exercise. Walk, bike, run, swim, dance, stretch, lift weights. You can make it fun. Take care of this remarkable house for your soul.

21. Cut back, simplify, reduce stress. Find balance in your life by letting some things go. You can't do or be everything. Pick a few things, and enjoy them fully. Identify where you are stressed, and deal with it.

22. Find an outlet. There are difficult times in every life. Find someone, a coach, counselor, minister, or friend, who can help you through them. Talking about your problems with someone trusted helps you heal and cope and stay mentally and emotionally healthy.

23. Play often. Play shouldn't end at childhood. Have fun regularly. Define what is fun for you and go do it every week.

24. Increase your travel (Local or abroad). The world truly is your oyster. There is so much to explore and see and enjoy. Pick some places that intrigue you. Save your money. Plan some trips.

25. Unplug. Television and computer have pulled us away from real living. Actively reduce the amount of time you spend in front of them. Fill that time with pleasurable activities instead. Read, cook, play a sport, meet with friends, do something creative, make love, meditate, go to the theater, look at the stars, chop wood, carry water.

26. Think less. Be more. Act more. Negative thoughts create negative feelings. Actively seek to stop negative thinking, and just be in the moment. If negative thoughts and feelings are getting intrusive, do something distracting.

Bonus Tip. Prep for a dramatic first week in 2018. Go download Chip and Dan Heath's resource called "7 Days of Memories (from their book, "The Power of Moments,") which guides you through a quest to create a defining moment every day for a week. 

Imagine starting your year that way!

Pick one of the activities above and savor it.

It takes thought, planning, and a dose of wisdom to create a happy life--a life that you can savor. Experience teaches us these lessons, and wisdom helps us to embrace them.

To your greater fulfillment and success,

Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Facilitator and Performance Consultant
Mobile: 323-855-1713

Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, branches, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

The 20/80 Rule: Achieve Greater Results with Less Effort

The 20/80 Rule and Why it Will Change Your Life

Today's crazy-busy work environments demand answers to the eternal question: 

“How can we get more of the right things done with the time we have?" 

There never seems to be enough time to get everything done. Time is limited and demands seem unlimited.

The 20/80 principle asserts that there is no shortage of time (even though it feels that way) but the tendency for a significant amount of time to be spent in low-quality ways. Speeding up or being more “efficient” with our use of time will not help us; indeed, such ways of thinking are more the problem than the solution. What we need to do is distinguish the high payoff from the low payoff activities. The 20/80 Rule (AKA the Pareto Principle) will help towards that end. 

The 20/80 Rule asserts that a minority of causes, inputs, or effort usually lead to a majority of the results, outputs, or rewards. Taken literally, this means that roughly 80 percent of what we achieve in our jobs come from roughly 20 percent of the time spent. This is contrary to what people normally think about. 

The reason that the 20/80 Rule is so valuable is that it is counter-intuitive. We tend to expect that that all causes will have roughly the same significance. That all employees in a particular category have roughly equivalent value. That all opportunities are of roughly equal value, so that we treat them all equally. 

We tend to assume that 50 percent of causes of inputs will account for 50 percent of results or inputs. There seems to be a natural, almost democratic, expectation that causes and results are generally equally balanced. And, of course sometimes they are. 

But this “50/50 fallacy” is one of the most inaccurate and harmful, as well as the most deeply rooted of our mental maps or paradigms. The 20/80 Principle asserts that when two sets of data, relating to efforts and rewards, can be examined and analyzed, the most likely result will be a pattern of imbalance. Let’s look at some examples. 

In business, many cases of the 20/80 Rule have been validated. Roughly, twenty percent of the products produce 80 percent of the profits; so do 20 percent of the customers. It has also been documented that twenty percent of the customers generate 80 percent of the complaints and that 20 percent of employees account for 80 percent of the write-ups. 

In society, 20 percent of the criminals account 80 percent of the value of all crime. Twenty percent of motorists cause 80 percent of the accidents. Twenty percent of those who marry comprise 80 percent of the divorce statistics. 20 percent of the roads cause 80 percent of the congestion. We have observed on numerous occasions that 20 percent of the beer drinkers consume 80 percent of the beer and at a picnic, 20 percent of the people will often eat 80 percent of the food.

In the home, 20 percent of your carpets are likely to get 80 percent of the wear. If you have an intruder alarm, 80 percent of the false alarms will be set off by 20 percent of the households. One spouse will wear twenty percent of their clothes 80 percent of the time whereas the other spouse will wear 80 percent of their clothes 20 percent of the time (Which spouse do suppose gets the most closet space?). 20 percent of a professional development book yields 80 percent of the impact. 

The 20/80 Rule is present in all acts of creation. Take plant growth. Rain is clearly important. And what causes rain? Clouds—but only a few clouds create the most rain. Among all plants, a few vegetables are the most nutritious. Among farming methods, a few yield the greatest harvest. Among all areas of production, a few are the most efficient.

The overriding message is that our personal productivity, organizational productivity and ultimately customer experience can be greatly improved by using the 20/80 rule. The revealing implication of the 20/80 rule is that there is significant waste that is not obvious, and that this waste is robbing precious time.

SMART Leaders Use Leverage to Achieve More with Less effort

To lift a heavy object, you have a choice: use leverage or not. You can try to lift the object directly – risking injury – or you can use a lever, such as a hand truck, pallet jack or a long plank of wood, to transfer some of the weight, and then lift the object that way. 

Which approach is wiser? Will you succeed without using leverage? Maybe. But you can lift so much more with leverage, and do it so much more easily! 

So what has this got to do with your life and your sales career? 

The answer is "a lot". By applying the concept of leverage you can, with a little thought, accomplish very much more than you can without it. Without leverage, you may work very hard, but your rewards are limited by the hours you put in. With leverage, you can break this connection and, in time, achieve very much more. 

“Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I can move the earth.”          ---Archimedes

Applying the 20/80 Rule When Developing Employees and Completing Tasks 

In the book, “First Break All the Rules: What Great Managers Do Differently,” the authors suggested the following application of the 20/80 rule when it comes to leadership and employee development. 

To boost productivity and effectiveness: 

1. Determine which people are the top 20 percent producers. 
2. Spend 80 percent of your “people time” with the top 20 percent. 
3. Determine what 20 percent of the work gives 80 percent of the return and coach someone to do the 80 percent less-effective work. This “frees” up the producer to do what he/she does best. 

4. Ask the top 20 percent to train the next 20 percent. 

Every leader or professional can apply the 20/80 Rule in the area of people development, operations,  strategic planning, personal productivity and even generating greater happiness.

In the area of safety the 20/80 rule applies. Research demonstrates that over 70% of lost time injuries can easily be prevented through stretching and safe lifting techniques. These stretching and safe lifting activities are the 20% that yields the nearly percent of injury prevention. 

My 20/80 Life

In my life, I've noticed plenty of 20/80 ratios and generally they relate to my core competencies and passions. I really enjoy writing articles such as this, and curriculum for our SMART Development training programs and off-site workshops. In terms of rewards, the two-three hours or so per day that I spend writing – when I’m in the creative zone and my best work comes out almost effortlessly – is money time. The articles and training material work hardest to generate income, create business opportunities and allow me to express myself creatively. I get the most financial and intrinsic satisfaction from this time. 

I expect you could tell me a similar story about your life. During times you really enjoy yourself your output is at its peak. Your passion activities probably don’t pay your bills at the moment, which unfortunately means that you can’t sustain your life by indulging only in what you enjoy. I

During some times in my life I struggle and waste time performing activities I don’t enjoy or I am not good at. For example bookkeeping is not high on my fun list. I don’t always like managing keywords in Google AdWords campaigns because I don’t have the patience to thoroughly test the variables and track the numbers. The same can be said for things like Google Analytics. These activities are more numerical in basis, I’m not a numbers person so when possible I leave these tasks, along with other activities like programming, graphic design and proofreading to other people, the specialists who enjoy them. 

Some of my time is spent procrastinating or working inefficiently doing activities that provide very little benefit. This often occurs when I am tired or below peak physical condition. I sometimes lack the mental throughput to motivate myself to be productive, but I’m working on it and getting much better at reducing time wastage. When I’m in this state it’s smarter for me to study – read books and ebooks – because I’m not capable of producing quality output, but taking input – learning – is a good use of time when I am not there 100 percent mentally. 

The more you think about the 80/20 Principle the more ways you’ll be able to use it to achieve greater results with less effort.

To your greater effectiveness,
Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Facilitator and Performance Consultant
Mobile: 323-855-1713

Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, branches, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Why Santa Claus is NOT a Good Role Model for Managers

There are lessons to be learned from Santa Claus. Truth is, like most managers, his heart is in the right place. But as a leader, there’s room for improvement.

His performance review system is shallow. Naughty or nice. That’s it? Boys and girls worldwide are expected to perform by standards that really amount to just “good or bad” for the entire year without any feedback or definitions. How naughty was he? Under what circumstances? To whom? How many times was she nice? Was it sincere? Did it have any meaningful results? C’mon, Santa, the kids are in the dark. A little more guidance would go a long way to improving behavior.

His answers to tough questions are condescendingly blunt. “How do reindeer fly, Santa?” “Magic,” he says. “Ho ho ho.” One-word answers to a person who wants a little more explanation, depth or perspective are lame. “Hey, boss, how did we do on that Simmons contract?”  “Great. (Now get back to work.)”  You see where this is going?  Put a little tact in your communication.

He doesn’t help out in the trenches. The great delegator that he is, Old St. Nick lifts nary a finger in the production of the goods he distributes. Elves, toiling for what could be low or no wages (it’s never been discussed), take on all the grunt work, including loading the sleigh. It would be nice if Santa himself put down his pipe once in a while to show the staff that he’s a team player.

He hogs all the credit. One night of hard work and few weeks of taking children’s orders and he’s featured in all the songs, cards, displays and Coco-Cola bottles. Santa Claus is coming to town! The heck with everyone else who made it happen.

He’s mired in tradition. For centuries, the jolly old CEO has run things pretty much the same way. Where’s the innovation? Progress? Growth? Can presents be delivered  more  efficiently? Maybe Santa should team up with Amazon...just saying.  Can the sleigh  be  updated?  How about an easier way to get inside of a home? Maybe Santa can get away with the “if it ain’t broke” model, but you can’t.

He offers no promotional opportunities. It’s all about the star performer Rudolph. Does Prancer have a shot at leading the team? In fact, it might be beneficial if Santa brought an elf or two with him on the big night as part of a coaching and mentorship program.

Santa could learn something about shared leadership by observing a flock of geese. (Check out our blog WHAT GEESE CAN TEACH US ABOUT SHARED LEADERSHIP AND TEAMWORK)

Seriously, Santa does have one great quality that every manager covets: He can make everyone smile.


That’s magic!

While Mr.Claus may not use the best management practices, the incredible  spirit of Santa embodies some of the greatest human values like kindness, caring and generosity. 

Wishing you the best of the Holiday Season and in the New Year.

Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Facilitator and Performance Consultant
Mobile: 323-855-1713

Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, branches, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The "5 Whys"-- Getting to the Root of a Problem Quickly

Getting to the Root of a Problem Quickly

Learn how to drill down into a problem, to get to its root and solve it quickly and effectively.

Have you ever had a problem that refused to go away? No matter what you did, sooner or later it would return, perhaps in another form.

Stubborn and recurrent problems are often symptoms of deeper issues. A "quick fix" may seem convenient, but it's really just a temporary solution and it may solve only part of the problem.

To solve it properly, you need to drill down through the symptoms to the underlying cause. This article looks at Sakichi Toyoda's 5 Whys technique – a simple but powerful tool for quickly uncovering the root of a problem, so that you can deal with it once and for all.

About the Tool

Sakichi Toyoda, one of the fathers of the Japanese industrial revolution, developed the technique in the 1930s. He was an industrialist, inventor and founder of Toyota Industries. His technique became popular in the 1970s and Toyota still uses it to solve problems today.

Toyota has a "go and see" philosophy. This means that its decision making is based upon an in-depth understanding of the processes and conditions on the shop floor, rather than reflecting what someone in a boardroom thinks might be happening.

The 5 Whys technique is true to this tradition, and it is most effective when the answers come from people who have hands-on experience of the process being examined. It is remarkably simple: when a problem occurs, you uncover its nature and source by asking "why" no fewer than five times. Here it is in action:

Problem: Your client is refusing to pay for the leaflets you printed for them.
1.Why? The delivery was late, so the leaflets couldn't be used.
2.Why? The job took longer than we anticipated.
3.Why? We ran out of printer ink.
4.Why? The ink was all used up on a big, last-minute order.
5.Why? We didn't have enough in stock, and we couldn't order it in quickly enough.

Counter-measure: We need to find a supplier who can deliver ink at very short notice so that we can continue to minimize inventory, reduce waste, and respond to customer demand, in line with our Just in Time  approach.

When to Use the Tool

You can use the 5 Whys in troubleshooting, quality improvement and problem solving, but it is best for simple or moderately difficult problems.

For more complex or critical problems, it can lead you to pursue a single track of inquiry when there could be multiple causes. Here, a wider-ranging method such as Cause and Effect Analysis  may be more effective.

This simple technique, however, can often quickly direct you to the root of the problem. So, whenever a system or process isn't working properly, give it a try before you embark on a more in-depth approach.

The simplicity of this tool gives it great flexibility, too, and it combines well with other methods and techniques. It is often associated with lean manufacturing  (also part of the Toyota Production System), where it is used to identify and eliminate wasteful practices. It is also used in the analysis phase of the Six Sigma  quality improvement methodology.

How to Use the Tool

The 5 Whys is a simple, practical tool that is very easy to use. When a problem arises, simply keep asking the question "why" until you reach the underlying source of the problem, and until a robust counter-measure becomes apparent.


The 5 Whys uses "counter-measures," rather than solutions. A counter-measure is an action or set of actions that seeks to prevent the problem arising again, while a solution just seeks to deal with the situation. As such, counter-measures are more robust, and are more likely to prevent the problem from recurring.

Each time you ask "why," look for an answer that is grounded in fact: it must be an account of things that have actually happened – not events that might have happened. This prevents the 5 Whys becoming just a process of deductive reasoning, which can generate a number of possible causes and, sometimes, create more confusion.

Keep asking "why" until you feel confident that you have identified the root cause and can go no further. At this point, an appropriate counter-measure should become evident. If you're not sure whether you have uncovered the real root cause, consider using a more in-depth problem-solving technique like Root Cause Analysis .

Key Points

The 5 Whys strategy is an easy to use, effective tool for uncovering the root of a problem. You can use it in troubleshooting, problem solving and quality improvement initiatives.

Start with a problem and ask "why" it is occurring. Make sure that your answer is grounded in fact, then ask "why" again. Continue the process until you reach the root cause of the problem, and you can identify a counter-measure that prevents it recurring.

Bear in mind that this questioning process is best suited to simple to moderately-difficult problems. Complex problems may benefit from a more detailed approach (although using 5 Whys will still give you useful insights.)

To your greater success,

Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Trainer and Performance Consultant
Mobile: 323-854-1713

Smart Development has an exceptional track record helping service providers, ports, sales teams, restaurants, stores, distribution centers, food production facilities, nonprofits, government agencies and other businesses create a strong culture, leadership bench strength, coaching skills and the teamwork necessary for growth. Having worked with several companies throughout their growth cycle, we have valuable insights and strategies that would help any late stage startup, small or medium sized company achieve sustained growth and prosperity.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

How to Be Emotionally Agile during Difficult Conversations

Negotiating a tough contract. Dealing with an irate customer. Confronting Uncle Joe at the holiday gathering for saying something disrespectful. Asking for a raise. Ending a relationship. Giving critical feedback. Saying no to someone in need. Disagreeing with the majority in a group. Terminating an employee. Apologizing.

At work, at home, and across the backyard fence, difficult conversations are attempted or avoided every day.

A difficult conversation is anything you find it hard to talk about.

Feelings Matter: They Are Often at the Heart of Difficult Conversations

Feelings, of course, are part of what makes good relationships so rich and satisfying. Feelings like passion and pride, silliness and warmth, and even jealousy, disappointment, and anger let us know that we are fully alive.

At the same time, managing feelings can be enormously challenging. Our failure to acknowledge and discuss feelings derails a startling number of difficult conversations. And the inability to deal openly and well with feelings can undermine the quality and health of our relationships.

Working to get feelings into the conversation is almost always helpful as long as you can do it in a productive way. If you are able to share feeling with skill (A skill anyone can improve with practice), you can avoid many of the potential costs associated with expressing feelings and even reap some unexpected benefits.

There are many methods you can use to include emotions in a way that is healthy, meaningful, and satisfying. One of the most powerful is learning how to "negotiate with your feelings."

Don’t Treat Feelings as Gospel: Negotiate with Them

Most of us assume that our feelings are static and nonnegotiable, and that if they are to be shared authentically, they must be shared “as is.” In fact our feelings are based on our perceptions and our perceptions are negotiable. As we see the world in new ways, our feelings shift accordingly. Before sharing feelings in a difficult conversation, then it is crucial to negotiate—with ourselves.

What does it mean to negotiate with our emotions? Fundamentally, it involves the recognition that our feelings are formed in response to our thoughts. Imagine that while scuba diving, you suddenly see a shark glide into view. Your heart starts to pound and your anxiety skyrockets. You’re terrified, which is a perfectly rational and understandable feeling.

Now imagine that your knowledge of sharks enables you to identify it as a Reef Shark, which you know doesn’t prey on anything as large as you. Your anxiety disappears. Instead you feel excited and curious to observe the shark’s behavior. It isn’t the shark that’s changed; it’s the story we tell ourselves about what’s happening. In any given situation our feeling follow our thoughts.

This means the route to changing your feelings is through altering your thinking. Our thinking is often distorted in predictable ways, providing rich ground for negotiating our emotions. First, we need to examine our own story. What is the story we are telling ourselves that is giving rise to how we feel” What is our story missing? What might the other person’s story be? Almost always, an increased awareness of the other person’s story changes how we feel.

Stephen Covey shares a personal story in his classic book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, that illustrates this point.

“I remember a profound shift in thinking I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.

Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. 

It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt like was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what do think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My story about the man changed. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. 

Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant because my story about the man changed.”

Many of us when we approach a difficult conversation want to push our negative emotions aside. While that emotion is an authentic experience, we have to be careful that we don't get hooked by these negative experience. Negotiating with your feelings means there is a balance between acknowledging how you’re feeling or some negativity and yet not getting hooked by it.

Viktor Frankl, who survived the Nazi death camps, speaks to this very compelling idea that between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose, and it's in that choice that comes our growth and freedom.

When there's no space between stimulus and response, we are hooked. What that might look like is being undermined in this meeting, so I'm going to shut down. I feel really angry, so I'm going to give the person a piece of my mind. What we do is we start attaching our emotions to an action, almost treating those emotions as fact.

When we're doing that, when our thoughts, our emotions, and stories are driving us, that's not effective. Our emotions are data, not directions. We can tap into them, we can notice them with curiosity, we can notice them with compassion, we can say, “What is this thing that I'm feeling strongly about, and what does it tell me about what's important to me, my values? What is critical in my workplace,” and so on. We can tap into these, but without treating them as directives to action. Ultimately, who's in charge here, the thinker or the thought?

Too often we confuse being emotional with expressing emotions clearly. They are different. You can express emotion well without being emotional, and you can be extremely emotional without expressing much of anything at all. Sharing feelings well in a difficult conversation requires thoughtfulness. 

Negotiating with your feelings is a skill that can be developed.

Here are two simple things you can do to become more emotionally agile.

The first is, often when we experience emotions, we'll say things like, “I am stressed. I am anxious. I am sad. I am pissed off” What you're doing when you're saying that is you are basically identifying you, all of you, 100% of you, the “I am,” as being sad or stressed, angry or whatever it is.

There's incredible power in noticing that emotion, but creating some distance. I'm noticing that I'm feeling stressed, I'm noticing that I'm feeling sad, I'm noticing the urge to leave the room, I'm noticing the urge to shut down, I'm noticing the urge to blame." When you prefix the emotional story with simply, “I am noticing,” and calling it for what it is, a thought, emotion, a story, not a direction, you create incredibly important space that allows you to then decide who do you want to be in the situation.

Second, is that often people get very hooked on the idea of being right. “What if I'm right?” “What if my colleague is an idiot?” “What if I'm right?” “What if my team member really is a slacker?” Sometimes we get so focused on being right, that we forget that what we're doing might not be serving us. Think about an area of your life, it might be at home, it might be to do with a specific project or product, or even with an individual, where you’ve become so focused on being right that it's actually stopping you from being effective.

Now, if the gods of right came down and said to you, “You are right. You are right. You are right. You are right. Your colleague is an idiot. The team member is a slacker. You are right,” you still get to choose who you want to be. What is an action that can take you closer to being the person, the leader, the parent that you most want to be?

In the words of George Eliot, "it's never too late to be who you were meant to be."

To your greater happiness and effectiveness,
Peter Mclees, Leadership Coach, Facilitator and Performance Consultant
Mobile: 323-855-1713
P.S. Check out a great Harvard Business Review article entitled 7 Tricky Work Situations and How to Respond to Them. The author outlines verbal strategies that along with the agility tips presented in this post will help you send messages in a clear and emotionally impactful way during difficult conversations.

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