June 2008

The 2008 Power Lunch Series

The Managing Your Life Power Lunch series will conclude in June with a final inspiring topic, Managing your Image.

Because of the summer holidays however, no Power Lunches are scheduled for July and August.

These popular events will of course resume in September with an exciting new series that will be announced in the upcoming summer newsletter.

Applied Improvisation Network – Spreading the Transforming Power of Improvisation

Improvisation is a “process in which something new and exciting is created in a moment of spontaneity–a flash of discovery ignited by a spark of inspiration.”

The members of the Applied Improvisation Network (AIN) are business professionals and academics who use improvisational tools, experience, and theory to promote human development and training in communities and organizations.

Learning to improvise can give you the confidence to be more flexible, spontaneous, and fun loving in your own authentic way. By looking at scenes within you own life, you’ll find countless scenarios, both in business and personally, where an enhanced ability to think on your feet and react with self-assurance is an enormous asset. Some practical examples include customer service, sales, teambuilding and leadership.

For more information about AIN, visit http://appliedimprov.ning.com.

International Coach Federation

The International Coach Federation is a professional association of personal and business coaches that seeks to uphold the integrity of coaching around the globe. Its mission is to be a global forum for the art and science of coaching, inspire transformational conversations, advocate excellence, and promote awareness of the contribution coaching can make to the future of humankind.

For more information, please visit www.coachfederation.org.

June 2 ASTD (www.astd.cz): Panel Discussion on Coaching: One mission, many approaches.
June 5 to 8 Applied Improvisation conference in Trondheim-Norway http://appliedimprov.ning.com/conferences
June 24 Managing Your Image Power Lunch
June 26-29 ICF European Coaching Conference www.ecc2008.ch.

Success Lessons from an Unlikely Source: The 1955 Good Wife’s Guide

Way back in 1955, the monthly magazine Good Housekeeping published a no-nonsense article called a “Good Wife’s Guide”. It was a different time for women and gender-based codes of conduct were far more rigid. In that May 13th issue housewives were given an unabashedly direct guide on how to cater to their husbands’ needs and to make them happy. Among other fascinating things, it recommended that women “have dinner ready, greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him”.

While most of these recommendations would send my 15-year-old niece into a fit of laughter, I can still remember my grandmother‘s dismay when I was 15 and started to challenge the passive and accommodating role women held not only in the family but in society in general.

2008 marks the 40th anniversary of the Prague Spring and the French student and workers uprising of May 1968. It is also the anniversary of women’s emancipation. The freedom and independence that women in the western world enjoy today has been marked by three important milestones in the last century: in February 1946 the United Nations established a Commission on the Status of Women; in March 1953 the Convention on the Political Rights of Women was instituted; and just 40 years ago, in November 1967, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was signed and ratified.

Clearly women’s rights have advanced, but what about the lessons from that 1950s era guide? Are they no longer relevant? For centuries, women were expected to attend to men’s well-being and to even pamper them. Although most men today prefer a more equal share of the family life and are becoming experts in the kitchen and the children areas, I have found that many of these old words of advice from more than a half-century ago still hold true today. With a little tweaking for our times, of course. Some of these suggestions are actually valuable principles one can use to foster positive relationships – both personal as well as professional. Our success in life often depends on how we attend to the well-being of other people and how efficiently we cater to their needs and expectations.

Principle #1 Determine and analyze the needs

“Have dinner ready: Catering for his needs and comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction”

To understand and take care of people’s needs we have to identify them and realize that they come in two forms: explicit needs and implicit needs.

Explicit needs tend to run a more predictable and rational path, whereas implicit needs tend to be random demands triggered by emotions and circumstances. Explicit needs are pretty simple and easy to address, such as: “we need to expand our production in China” or “we need to develop the company’s brand image”.

Implicit needs are more subtle because people usually don’t talk about them and would even deny them if confronted with them. For example, let’s imagine a scenario involving the arrival of a new manager. His colleagues might ask what he expects from them, but their real question (which they keep to themselves) might actually be “Why should we believe you and follow your lead?” At the same time the manager can openly say that he welcomes any news ideas and suggestions while his implicit needs would be “help me demonstrate my creative capacity by coming up with some great ideas that I can rearrange and take on as my own.”

This brings us back to our Good Housekeeping tips from the fifties: An effective manager first tries to understand the explicit and implicit needs of his team members before assigning them new challenges. An ambitious and single sales lady will be a lot more open to accept a new account which may require working late evenings than the mother of a toddler who needs to be home by 5pm sharp.

Principle #2 Empathic listening

“Listen to him: remember, his topic of conversation are more important than yours”

Management guru Stephen Covey defines empathic listening as “listening with the intent to understand”. Typically we first seek to be listened to instead of listening to others. The strong impulse we have when we say “ listen to me” can mean many different things, such as “Please pay attention to me, or hear me out and admire the great ideas I came up with”. Behind this is an implicit need to show how smart we are or perhaps even how important we think we are or wish to be.

Unfortunately, everyone assumes that people process information the same way that they do. This can lead to misunderstandings because we have the tendency to communicate on the basis of our own needs only. Most of us believe that what we have to say is important and often we also believe that our topics of conversations are more meaningful than what others have to say.

Adopting more empathetic listening habits can get around this communication obstacle. Of course, it depends on what we are listening for. In other words, why are we making the effort to listen to someone – what do we expect to get out of it? Developing this proactive listening style with others is a powerful way to validate them. It makes them feel appreciated and important. Face it: We all value people who make an effort to listen to our ideas and opinions. Listening and showing interest in the people you meet is one of the surest ways to make them feel good about themselves and validated.

Principle #3 Make people feel comfortable when starting a conversation with them

“Make him comfortable”

It’s important in a conversation to help the other person feel at ease talking to you. The best way to make this happen while interacting with them is to demonstrate some interest in who they are and what they have to say. Listen to their opinions.

Try to make conversation easy for the other person by asking sincere questions that they might enjoy answering. A Czech person might be happy answering a question about their hobbies and outdoor activities, whereas someone from France might prefer to discuss good food and politics. Either way, the answer you’ll get will probably stimulate other questions and deepen the dialogue.

Another way to make people feel comfortable in conversation is to share information, rather than interrogating someone with only questions without saying much else. People respond to what they receive. So if you say to me, “Hi, I’m Peter,” I’ll say, “Hi, I’m Karin.” But if you engage yourself a bit more into the conversation by saying, “Hi I’m Peter, I’m a friend of the host, John. We used to go to school together. What’s your connection with him?” That additional background info is more likely to make me feel comfortable telling you how I know John.

Identifying people’s needs, listening to them with empathy and making them comfortable are key components for success. However, I realized something just as important while reading these old guidelines advocated in the 1950s.

During the past 40 years, women have gained a lot more than just the right to vote and a chance to earn a decent salary. Women found their voice. They learned to pay attention to their own needs as much as the needs of others. They learned to speak up for what they believe in. Women have a more confident and comprehensive grasp of the crucial role that their voice has in either maintaining or transforming the patriarchal world that my mother and grandmothers lived in.

And thanks to the women’s emancipation process, I realize that my own success depends just as much on the efforts that I make to attend to the well-being of other people, as the effort I make to take care of my own well-being.

This article was written for the Prague Leaders Magazine: http://www.leadersmagazine.cz/data/pdf/1110.pdf