Tag Archives: Communication

Piercing Through

I’ve had many requests to write about bullying on my blog about the intersection of leadership and parenting. It’s a difficult, complicated topic. In today’s post, I explore applying advice for handling teen bullies to the workplace.

Pic of big bully painted as a yellow sign on asphalt road.
Most of us first saw it in our childhood, on a playground. Maybe we spoke up for the person being bullied, maybe we didn’t. Either way, we didn’t like it.

At times, maybe we were the bully. We made fun of another kid to gain something that seemed important at the time: laughs, high-fives, or a seat at the table with the cool kids.

At its essence, bullying is using power or strength to make someone feel worthless. It comes from a position of privilege. And it doesn’t matter what the privilege is: taller, funnier, wealthier, or the right gender or race. With this privilege, the bully has power.

Perhaps you’ve also seen bullying in your professional life.

Workplace bullying can take many forms. A colleague who takes credit for another’s work. A steamroller who hijacks meetings to further an agenda. A boss who yells at subordinates. A founder who removes a co-founder’s status. A team leader who decides against listing one of the inventors on the patent application. An online stalker who makes someone fearful. The idiots who delete the open source contributions from people they don’t like.

Rosalind Wiseman is an internationally recognized expert on children, teens, parenting, and bullying. Her advice for parents and teachers? When you hear or see bullying, “pierce through it” by speaking up. Say things like, “Don’t use <derogatory adjective> in my classroom” or in my home. Kids need to see adults putting their foot down to put-downs.

As leaders, can we pierce through workplace bullying by speaking up? By pulling someone aside and saying things like, “Don’t talk over other people in my meetings” or “Don’t yell when you’re working in my building.”

Speaking up may not be the only solution, but it’s got to help.

What do you think?

–Karen

© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

(Photo credit: BigStock.com)

 

The six-word phrase that matters most

Picture of boys playing soccerDid you know there is a parenting phrase that brings student athletes happiness, confidence, and a sense of fulfillment? It’s just six words: “I love to watch you play.”

Years ago, I first came across a variation of this phrase in the program for a local Nutcracker performance. My friends’ daughter was playing Clara, and they placed an ad in the program saying, “We love to watch you dance. Love, Mom and Dad.” It made an impression on me. It was so simple, supportive, and beautiful.

I like to think that I’ve used it many times since then to encourage and praise my kids, but I’m not so sure I remembered to. However, it was top of mind when my husband and I sat down to write a letter of love and affirmation for our daughter, to be given to her at a high school retreat. Our daughter is a talented writer, and in our note to her, we said: “We love to read what you write.”

Coincidentally, a few days after the retreat, I came across Daniel Coyle’s article in the Huffington Post: Five Ways to Nurture Talent (Without Being a Psycho Parent). In the article, he shares informal research done by collegiate coaching experts about ways parents had made a positive or negative impact on their children’s development. One of the “aha’s” from their interviews is what Daniel Coyle says may be “the wisest parenting tip I’ve ever read.”

The kids reported there was one phrase spoken by parents that brought them happiness. One simple sentence that made them feel joyful, confident, and fulfilled. Just six words. I love to watch you play.

Given how important the phrase is to student athletes, and the impression it made on me when I first saw it, I started wondering how it could be adapted by leaders to make their teams feel confident, happy, and engaged with their work.  For example,

I like to watch you lead meetings.
I like to read your reports.
I like to watch you give presentations.
I like to see you help customers.

What do you think of this phrase, as a parent or as a leader? Have you used it yourself? Thinking of opportunities to use it more in the future? Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts. After all, I like to read your comments.

–Karen

© 2014 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

(Photo credit: BigStock.com)

Use your words!

How often do you share your thought process when you’re asked a question? If you’re like me, and in a permanent state of feeling pressed for time, you don’t do so nearly enough. What’s the downside? Your kids and your employees miss out on a chance to learn from you. And you might not discover that you missed key information when forming your decision. So, use your words at every opportunity!

A few weeks ago, my teenage son and I were in my car on our way to a nearby town. He was behind the wheel, taking advantage of the opportunity to practice driving. When he asked me if we had enough gas to get to our destination, I glanced over at the fuel gauge, saw that we had about 1/4 of a tank, and replied with a quick “Yes.”

I don’t know why, but I didn’t share my thought process with him. That I estimated it was 10-15 miles to the town. That my fuel gauge displays a warning when there is only one gallon left. And that, since my car gets about 25 miles to the gallon and we had more than a gallon left, we had plenty of gas for our trip. Instead, I just told him yes, we’d be fine.

A few minutes down the road, I started to think about what would happen if my son was driving by himself and was wondering if he had enough gas to get somewhere. Realizing I’d missed out on a teaching moment, I turned to him and explained my thought process. His response was a surprise: “But Mom, the reason I asked in the first place was because the fuel gauge warning light came on!” I had to laugh at myself; I hadn’t seen the light! Fortunately, we made our way to a gas station before hitting empty.

As you can tell from my story, sharing your thought process not only teaches others how you break down problems, but can also help avoid surprises. And it’s equally applicable to parenting as well as leadership.

Starting today, I’m making a personal pledge to share my thought process whenever I answer a question. How about you?

–Karen

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

The $100 Test

Each week, Startup Edition poses a single question to a group of bloggers from the startup community. This week’s question is “How do you discover what people really want?” My answer? Use the $100 test, whether you’re creating software or planning activities with your family. 

Picture of a Hundred Dollar Bill

Image courtesy of nuchylee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Every software development team has a long list of features they want to build into their product. At the same time, they are constrained by how much time or money they can spend writing and testing the code. To meet most of their customers’ needs, they end up identifying a “minimal viable product” of the most important features.

When I worked on the Dreamweaver team back in the late 1990s, we used a technique called the “$100 test” to help us prioritize our backlog of feature ideas into an MVP. Here’s how it worked: we gave the members of our customer advisory board an imaginary stack of 100 dollar bills and asked them to spend their money on the list of features we were considering. They could spend all $100 on one feature that they were passionate about, or $50 on two features, or any dollar amount on any number of features. They could even put their money toward new features. Any combination was fine, as long as it added up to $100 and represented what they wanted to see in the next release of Dreamweaver.

Today, many software teams use this test, or something similar, to discover what their customers want. I’ve also seen it used in brainstorming sessions to prioritize ideas that merit further investigation. It’s an effective way for a group to prioritize things when they have more ideas than their resources can support.

Does the $100 test have a role to play in parenting? I think it can! Let’s look at my family as an example.

My family consists of my husband, our two teens, and myself.

Do we want to do more than we can given our free time and our budget? Always.

Do we have an effective approach to prioritize things? Not really. After consulting with everyone, I make most of the decisions. While efficient, it’s not exactly effective, and I often feel burdened by it.

Coincidentally, we have a vacation coming up, and we haven’t yet decided what to do each day. I think we need a family brainstorming session to come up with loads of ideas, and then use the $100 test to figure out what activities we’ll do. It will be a great way to discover what we really want and to get everyone engaged and excited about the vacation.

What do you think of the $100 test? Have you used it outside of product development to discover what people want? Please leave a comment; I’d like to hear from you.

–Karen

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

NOTE: This post is part of Startup Edition, weekly wisdom from founders, hackers, and designers who answer a single question each week. Click here to see other answers to this week’s question: “How do you discover what people really want?”

When was the last time you made someone feel smart?

drawing of a light bulb

Image courtesy of bplanet / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Are there some people you enjoy spending time with because they make you feel good about yourself? My husband and I know an older couple who have a knack for asking questions that make us feel like we are the most interesting people in the world. (Believe me, we’re not.) This couple refers to conversations we had years earlier, complimenting us on our achievements since then and encouraging us to stretch ourselves in new ways. Given their advanced years, I’m pretty sure they must keep a diary of their activities, and read it before seeing us to be able to remember what we’ve told them. Whether this is their secret or not, they make us feel great every time we visit them.

I thought of these friends when I read “7 Tips for Making Other People Feel Smart and Insightful,” a blog post by Gretchen Rubin. (Gretchen is the author of the best-selling books “Happiness Project” and “Happier at Home.”) She writes

We all want to get along well with other people, and one way to do this is to help people feel good about themselves. If you make a person feel smart and insightful, that person will enjoy your company. The point is not to be manipulative, but to help other people feel good about their contributions to a conversation.

She goes on to share some suggestions, including taking notes about what others are saying, referring back to comments that they made earlier in a conversation, and asking someone to finish a thought if they got side-tracked. Each allows you to show respect for their ideas and their experience, and that you are paying attention to what they’re saying.  My favorite is asking for advice and acting on it. As Gretchen points out, we all love to give advice, and we feel smart when someone seeks our counsel. We may even feel brilliant when that person follows our recommendations.

Not only will Gretchen Rubin’s tips help you make others feel good about themselves, they can also help drive engagement. Are you a leader who wants to increase  employee engagement with your company’s mission and future? Or, perhaps you are a parent who wants to  improve your teen’s engagement with your family? Think about making them feel good about the contributions they’re making to any conversation, and making them feel insightful when you seek their advice.

Professionally, I ask others for advice frequently. I’m a collaborative person, and I appreciate learning from others and including people in my decision making process. But, do I do this at home? Turns out not nearly enough.

When I asked my kids if I looked to them for advice, they both shook their heads “no.” Whether they realize it or not, I learn from them all the time. Yet, learning from someone is different than asking them for input. When we seek advice, we’re trying to sort something out; we’re gathering perspectives to help us understand a broader picture. By default, we reach out to people whose opinions we respect and trust, and this, in turn, makes them feel smart and insightful. With teens who are still developing a sense of who they are and the adults they will become, seeking their advice gives them the opportunity to practice sharing their ideas and to develop confidence in their opinions. Chances are, they’ll also teach us a thing or two.

So, I’m making a resolution to include my kids in my decision-making process more often. Please share your ideas, or your stories about when you’ve sought your kids’ advice. I’d love to hear from you.

–Karen

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Why You Should Ask about Bucket Lists

Pic of a red check markMany of us have a personal bucket list, but what about a professional bucket list?

We fill our personal bucket lists with our dreams: travel to far-away places, adrenaline-filled activities, famous people we’d like to meet.  I get a chuckle out of my kids’ bucket lists, which give me insight into their aspirations, however simple or crazy. A few years back, their bucket lists included ordering room service, riding in a limo, and jumping out of a moving car. As a parent, I could help make some of these happen, once I knew about them. (Note to my kids – Don’t even ask me to help with that last one!)

My bucket list is a jumble of ideas, not well formed except for a handful of professional things I want to get done some day. It includes things like contributing content to wikipedia, publishing a book about the intersection of leadership and parenting, and joining the board of a non-profit whose cause I care about.

By sharing these bucket items with all of you, research shows that I’m more likely to accomplish them. (You can read a summary of this research by Gail Matthews, PhD, published on the Dominican University web site.) In fact, since writing the first draft of this article, I took the plunge into wikipedia! For the Dreamweaver page, I wrote a brief history of how the project started, and I added some ACM publications to the IRIS Intermedia page. I worked on both of these software projects earlier in my career, and it felt good to add to their wikipedia pages.

Leaders can use bucket lists to increase employee engagement with their company’s mission and future. By asking about an employee’s list, we can discuss otherwise unspoken career goals and dreams. Whether it’s traveling internationally, developing code for a 1.0 software release, shadowing an executive for a day, becoming a patent holder, or something else, once you know you can make introductions. You can look for stretch assignments for them to take on. You can open doors!

What do you think of using bucket lists to improve engagement, with your family or your employees? I’d like to hear from you!

–Karen

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Going extreme with questions

Picture of the book, Occasionally, I come across parenting advice in a leadership book. When this happens, I smile and do a little cheer under my breath. It’s validating to see someone else writing about the intersection of parenting and leadership. 

One such example is in the book “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter” by Liz Wiseman, with Greg McKeown. From the book jacket,

“We’ve all had experience with two dramatically different types of leaders. The first type drains intelligence, energy, and capability from the people around them and always needs to be the smartest person in the room. These are the idea killers, the energy sappers, the diminishers of talent and commitment. On the other side of the spectrum are leaders who use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. When these leaders walk into a room, light bulbs go off over people’s heads; ideas flow and problems get solved. These are the leaders who inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results that surpass expectations. These are the Multipliers. And the world needs more of them, especially now when leaders are expected to do more with less.”

The book is full of stories of both kinds of leaders, and provides practical ideas for how to become a stronger “multiplier.” I enjoyed reading about how to develop a key trait of Multipliers – being a “challenger” vs a “know-it-all.” Most leaders spend their days answering a barrage of questions, and it’s tempting to stay in answer mode and be the boss. But, Multipliers know to stop answering questions and begin asking them.

Easier said than done? It was for the author, Liz Wiseman, who shared a story about how she had become horribly bossy with her young children, barking orders when it was time for bed: put on your pajamas, brush your teeth, pick up your toys, and so on. When she told a colleague how frustrated she was by it, he challenged her to ask only questions that night at home. No orders, just questions. She agreed to give it a try, and that evening she asked things like, “What time is it?” Her kids answered, “bedtime”. “What do we do at bedtime? They responded with, “We get on our pajamas and we brush our teeth.” Liz stood in shock as her kids then scampered to get ready for bed.

Are you up for the Extreme Question Challenge? Start by asking 100% questions, at home or in a meeting at work. The next day, adjust your approach to find a comfortable balance of asking and answering questions. You may be surprised by what your family or your employees already know. You may find you’re transformed as a parent or a leader, just as Liz Wiseman was.

Do you know of other leadership books that also provide parenting advice? Please share them in the comments. I’d like to read them!

–Karen

© 2013 by Karen Catlin. All rights reserved.