Archive for Conversation Space

A New View of Working Relationships: Part Two—Customers and Suppliers

In last week’s introduction to this series on Working Relationships, we threw darts at the myth that people at work know exactly what they need and how to get it. This simple dictum—a kind of “conventional wisdom—is simply untrue. People generally don’t know what they need, and so part of what we want to do when improving our working relationships is to surface exactly what we do need—and to understand why.

We begin shedding light on the conventional wisdom by first introducing some ideas about being a customer and being a supplier.

From the moment we get up in the morning we are, in one way or another, a customer. You may have your morning coffee while watching the local news, in which case you are a customer of your local cable company (on whom you depend to provide the signal), the owners of the channel you’re watching, and those who put on the broadcast itself. If you channel-surf from the news to, say, a sports or business station, then you become customers of those services and companies as well. Perhaps you stop to get gas on your way to work, in which case you’re a customer of Shell, perhaps, or Sunoco, and if you then take a toll road to the office, you’re again a customer—this time of your state’s transportation department.

The list is endless, and not just in a metaphorical way. From now until your very last day on earth, you will be a customer: dry cleaning, dentistry, movie theater, super-market, electronic store, plumber, airline, bookstore, hair salon, hockey team, university, emergency road service, doctor, manicurist…. There is not a day—not a single day—in which you can (or should) avoid this role.

Yet we never speak in these terms at work. We talk about having customers—those individuals and organizations to which our company sales products and services—but we don’t often think of ourselves as customers of each other, customers inside the company. We don’t imagine that the engineering department, for example, is a customer of the finance department when, in fact, engineering can’t do a thing—can’t purchase materials or hire staff or maintain equipment—unless the finance department approves the engineering budget.

Being a customer is almost like second nature to most of us; given that we have so many customer experiences—every single day, in fact—it should come as no surprise that it’s pretty easy for most of us. In fact, most of the time we probably don’t think of it directly, we simply expect certain things to be provided to us, and to be provided in ways that are easy, that cause neither difficulty nor confrontation. And most of our customer interactions are like that—we walk into some place (or log on some site) with a set of expectations and most times those expectations are met. So used to adequate (one might almost say “invisible”) service, we acknowledge it only in the most automatic ways—a “thank you” and a smile at most.

But for every time we’re a customer, someone, it’s worth remembering, is acting as a supplier, giving something to us. And it stands to reason that we are also suppliers, often and every day. We’re probably much less aware of it, but we provide things to others constantly, mostly without even realizing it.

At work this supplier role takes on very significant meaning, yet it’s a role we almost never acknowledge. Too often we complete work we’re “supposed to” complete, yet never really understand what it’s for or how it’s used.

If you think about it, there is a fundamental relationship between person-as-customer and person-as-supplier. There must be, or else why would any product, service, or work ever happen?

Next week: Defining the “Customer—Supplier Relationship”

Images Courtesy of: stuartphoto / 123RF Stock Photo
and lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo


A Few Thoughts on Coaching Meetings

When we discuss coaching engagements with potential clients, one inevitable question that comes up is “How do you coach and what are your methods?” We encourage this question, and have a thorough response that covers our approach, beginning with the confidentiality and ethical responsibilities outlined by the International Coach Federation, and then continuing on to describe our five-step process: assessment, goal setting, design of an action plan, coaching to plan, and evaluation for continuous improvement.  However, it’s important to remember that the question also has a different meaning, one that clients also care about, and that is “When and how do our meetings occur?”

Many clients not surprisingly prefer face-to-face sessions, and we believe there is an important place for those meetings. (Generally, all of our engagements include some face-to-face time, particularly at the beginning, middle, and closing sessions.)

Face-to-face coaching has obvious benefits. There are advantages, for example, in seeing a person’s body language in order to “read” a mood or attitude. Also, there’s something about just sitting in a room with someone that makes it easier to discuss changes, goals, and commitments.  Face-to-face can also have some downsides, though. Some coaching clients may find it more difficult to answer questions when sitting across from someone and feeling exposed. (This is true even when solid trust between the coach and client has developed.) Similarly, some clients may feel more pressure to respond in the moment (rather than taking some time to reflect) simply because the face-to-face environment often feels more like a “meeting,” and meetings tend to be structured environments where “answers” are expected in the moment.

Face-to-face is only one of several methods we use, however, and it’s worth exploring the others in order to understand why and when different methods might be useful.

Virtual/Visual methods are rapidly becoming a common way to conduct coaching sessions. We routinely work over Skype or Google for one-on-one sessions, sometimes augmented by a shared document that we can co-edit in real time with a client. This environment does a reasonable job of emulating the face-to-face meeting in many respects. While there are some limitations around reading whole body language, along with the occasional delay in response time (you need a good connection for these sessions), the advantage of time savings can often outweigh these minor limitations.

Phone conversations still remain a major tool for coaches, too, particularly once face-to-face sessions have occurred. Those initial sessions give a sense of comfort, friendliness, and trust, all of which can make phone conversations very productive; often these sessions are akin to having a long, comfortable conversation with a friend (albeit a friend with a coaching certification!). Phone conversations also have a subtle but very real advantage over other methods because clients will sometimes say something very important when they feel they have a feeling of removal or anonymity. Phone conversations—with their lack of visual connection—actually provide clients with a thin level of perceived distance, something that can be important for a breakthrough.

Email and texting also have their place, though we use them only for specific, targeted, and brief needs. Because they’re not necessarily in real time (particularly emails), they should only be used for non-urgent requests or follow-up items, and both coaches and clients should recognized that these methods support communications to and from, but do nothing to foster true conversation (which, as we all know, is at the heart of a successful coaching relationship).

The bottom line is that most coaches use a combination of methods, and that clients care what those methods are. So it is very important to ask the question: What kind of method does the client want, and how will it help the engagement to succeed? Given that answer, and given the various advantages of the different methods, the coach can design the right approach for a particular engagement.


Personal and Group Choice: 3 Ways to Change Conversations and Improve Relationships

I recently had the privilege of facilitating a team-building offsite for a team that had, for the most part, worked together for a long time yet had never been given the time to explore how to work more effectively together.  Like a family that has lived together for years and gets entrenched in bad habits, they were treating each other and themselves in less-than-positive ways, burying hurts and pretending to be okay when, really, they weren’t.

The organization’s objective in bringing me in was to broaden and deepen the scope of work that the team performed, so some things needed to change.

And quickly.

Over two 1/2-day sessions (conducted a week apart), we explored different working styles and how we, as humans, often jump to conclusions and embrace our personal assumptions, sometimes without sufficient data. We learned and tested a model that would give the team members language and motivation to share more responsibility, define accountabilities, and become more self-empowered. The team practiced new methods of communicating, coming up with ways to help and support each other, and began to realize that making a choice about changing the conversation can change the outcome of the relationship.

It’s a simple beginning to a new way of being.

Here are three ways that the team members’ choices began to change the relationships across the team. These choices are important for any team and its members:

  • Choose what you see. We’re all familiar with Rorschach images, those inkblots that everyone views differently. By choosing what you see, you’re acknowledging that what you see may not be what someone else sees, that their interpretation may be different than yours, yet equally valid. Covey says, “Seek first to understand; then seek to be understood.” By choosing to view a situation from another’s point of view, there just may be an even better outcome all around.
  • Choose who shows up. There were moments in the offsite when the conversation took on a negative tone, focusing how other parts of the company were standing in the way of the team meeting its goals. But we all know that there will always be issues or roadblocks. We can show up as a victim or as a creator. By choosing to show up as creator, to declare what you want rather than what you can’t have or do, you put yourself—and the team—in a position to think creatively. The creator standpoint says that you “can do” rather than that you “can’t do.” Your peers, then, can contribute by creating a new way with you.
  • Choose to collaborate. When an issue is important to address and the relationship is important to nurture, choose to work together to create a mutually beneficial outcome. Both sides may need to bend a bit to accommodate the other’s needs or wishes. By entering into a conversation space with an intention of good will and collaboration, you and your teammates will move towards building a more solid working relationship.

These choices—and they are choices—are made by each individual and by the group as a whole. And, once made, they have tremendous impact, again, on each individual and on the group as a whole.

What choices do you and your teams make each day?

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Sharing Leadership: 3 Ways to Learn From Each Other

Do you remember Kindergarten?  It’s when we learned to share. Sometimes the idea went against our baser instincts–especially when there were only two toy trucks and four kids wanted to play with them. Still, our teachers knew that sharing was important and we, slowly but surely, recognized at some deeper level that we would benefit through these simple bits of cooperation. We shared the rules of games, our emerging ideas of the world, what we wanted to be when we grew up. Sometimes we’d hand our best friend the towel we were using as a cape just to see if they, too, could fly.

Then we left the “K” and proceeded on the “through 8″ part of our elementary education. For a while sharing was still important, but not so much as it had been before.  Now, a lot of the things we wanted to share were things we weren’t allowed to anymore. We had to work alone, think alone, take tests alone. What used to be sharing they now called “cheating.”

And on it went, through middle school and high school where they tested how much we–as individuals–knew. Despite the occasional joint venture, knowledge became a solitary act.  And then came college, where we were not only tested on what we knew, but on what we knew relative to what others didn’t know–and they called it “the curve.” Now it wasn’t just that there was little advantage in sharing with others; in college they promote an actual disadvantage.

And then we got jobs, and the companies who hired us wanted us to share again, to cooperate, to work closely together for everyone’s (and the company’s) mutual benefit.

Many don’t realize how hard that can be, don’t remember that sharing has been largely bred out of us before we finally hit the workforce.

Why all this preface about sharing?  Because even we, as professionals in this industry, sometimes forget how much we can learn from each other by sharing what we know, what we discover. Without question, the people we interact with are some of the most cooperative and sharing we’ve ever met, but we can all always do more.

Here are three things that we at Charney Coaching & Consulting are committed to sharing with our friends in the HR, Executive Coaching, and Leadership industries:

  • Our thoughts and ideas. We’re always looking for new ways to approach leadership development and executive coaching. We’ve explored ways to analyze levels of behavior, the kinds of exchanges that happen in what we call “the conversation space,” and new techniques for building trust. As we develop these–and test them with clients–we’ll tell you about them here on our blog and through the groups we participate in on Linked In.
  • What’s happening out there. There are–quite literally–thousands of professionals with millions of ideas. There’s no way everyone can keep track of them all.  However, using a new platform called Scoop.It, we’ve begun to aggregate and link to dozens of very interesting articles and blogs, all reviewed and curated by us, and now available as the re-launched version of The Way We Lead.
  • The conversations we have with others. Each Wednesday, starting next week. we will begin a conversation on our Facebook page and invite others to respond. Some weeks it will be a question, other weeks a link to something we find provocative or interesting. Whatever it is, it will always challenge our thinking.

With these new initiatives we hope to participate in–and contribute to–the sharing of knowledge about what we do.  We hope you will come and see what we have to say and–importantly–tell us what you have to say.

Thanks.  We look forward to our conversations.

Renee and Michael


You Just Never Know…

I recently visited my brother, Jeff, to celebrate his birthday, and I chose to stay at a charming Bed & Breakfast near his home in the Stockade section of Schenectady. Normally when I visit, I drive up in time for an early supper, spend the evening catching up with him, and then meet him for breakfast the next morning before sliding behind the wheel for the return four-hour drive.

On this occasion, since my lodging included breakfast, I asked the Innkeeper if my brother could join us for the meal. She graciously invited him; I thanked her and I said I’d let her know that evening whether or not we’d be there. (I mentioned that I would need to check with my brother as he might have planned something else.)

When I asked about bringing my brother, I had some reservations. My brother is not a “morning person.” He wakes up slowly, can be a bit picky about the quality of his coffee, and generally avoids chatting before at least three such cups have worked their way into his system. He also prefers his social settings with people he knows; the “family-like” setting in the B&B’s dining room might not be what he would feel like doing. We couldn’t guarantee who would be joining us at the table—what if we sat there with nothing to talk about?—and he could end up wishing that we were digging into an omelet at the local diner instead.

To my delight, my brother agreed to have breakfast at the B&B.

We sat at a table set for four and started drinking our coffee, waiting for the other couple to join us. In a few minutes, Jim and Cynthia arrived, sat down, and poured coffee for themselves from the communal carafe.

Here’s where it began to get interesting. My brother opened up the conversation (surprising in and of itself) by asking the couple what brought them to the area. Jim replied that they had been coming frequently for over a month in order to be with their 24-year-old son who was in rehabilitation for a head injury sustained in a recent snowboarding accident. They named the rehab facility and described the slow and painful process their son was undertaking, all to get him to a point where he would have enough strength and mobility to go home and be with his family.

What made this interesting—and odd—is that my brother had spent six months in that very same facility.  You see, my brother had sustained a brain injury twelve years earlier: he just woke up one morning unable to move, talk, or swallow, the result of an arteriorvenous malformation (or AVM, a tangled web of blood vessels in the brain) that had suddenly burst. He was taken to the same hospital and then to the same rehabilitation facility, underwent the same kind of therapy and worked through the same painful recovery process that Jim and Cynthia’s son was experiencing.

It turned out that our breakfast was an opportunity for my brother to share his story—and to provide encouragement and hope to the couple sitting across from us. They were fully aware of the severity of their son’s condition and my brother didn’t try to sugar-coat what he went through, but the fact that their conversation centered on a shared experience was truly a blessing, a help and support. It was one of those moments that makes one stop and realize that there was a reason that we were all there at the breakfast table that very morning; the (sacred) space that contained our conversation and connection was one that held special serendipitous timing.

We never really know what’s going on with the people around us and often, in the rush (and self-orientation) of the moment, we make assumptions about how an experience will be or how a conversation will go. Then, suddenly (and often beautifully) it takes a turn in a direction that we didn’t expect.

I know that I walked away from this experience with a deeper appreciation for being curious about what others may be experiencing and where they are in their life’s journey. As leaders, each day, let’s be intentionally curious and interested in those around us. We never really know unless we strike up the conversation.

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3 Ways to Create a “Stay Culture”

We hear a lot these days about employee engagement – how to make sure your employees are fully engaged with their work, with their team, and with their managers.  And it’s a noble and valuable thing that we remain focused on employee engagement. Examining how we, as organizations and leaders, are ensuring that our employees are engaged with their work is a vital step towards retention, productivity and innovation.

Still, regardless of how much attention we in HR pay to the issue, it continues to warrant concern.  A recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that only 52% of employees felt “plugged in” at work.

But, is that the end of the story? What’s going on with other 48%?

Years ago my husband worked for the CEO of a small company who had a mantra of sorts around employee engagement.  “You can quit or you can stay,” he would say, “but you can’t quit and stay.”  That phrase has stuck with me all these years.  So: what about those employees who appear to be staying and working and engaging, but, underneath it all, have at least a few toes already crossing the exit door’s threshold?  How do we identify those signals and, more importantly, work to create what I like to call a “Stay Culture?”

Here are the three clues I often advise others to look for:

  1. Connection – How connected is the work that your people are doing with what’s important to them? These days, more and more Gen Y’ers actively voice their opinions about the need for meaning in their work, for a sense of connection between what they do and what they value. You could be pumping out widgets, but if the end result is that those widgets are being used for purposes that speak to core values, then your employees’ connection to their work will be deepened.
  2. Contribution – How do you and your employees “show up” at work? (notice I said “at” work and not “to” work) This is less about the time on the clock – although a willingness to go above and beyond is often a sign of engagement – and more about stepping up to contribute in ways that go outside the job description. There is a balance, of course, but when you see your folks raising their hand to volunteer to learn about something new or taking on a leadership role for a project, this is a staying sign.
  3. Conversation – How many times do your employees strike up a conversation with you, trying to get to know you more, trying, in fact, to engage? How open and inclusive is your culture of feedback and engagement? Sometimes employees actually try to engage but are turned back. The reasons may be valid—deadlines, urgencies, customer issues—but we should pay particular attention to these attempts to reach out. Ignoring such attempts can easily result in employees who “quit and stay.”

There may be other factors that could be at play that help to create a “stay culture”. What have you experienced in your organization that helps to create an engaged “stay” mindset?

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Gearing up for Emerging Leaders – Three Important Things to Focus on

It’s in the ether. We’re hearing it in the news, reading about it in the newspapers, overhearing chatter in the streets. People are feeling more positive about this coming year. The jobs report had an uptick last week (with over 200,000 jobs created) and organizations are beginning to gear up for hiring and reorganizing to meet a growing economy.

I’m not a political or economic expert, but what I am able to do is notice what’s happening with my clients. There’s a slight and steady surge in preparing to lead new teams with new leaders—and that’s exciting! A new generation of leadership offers us all a new opportunity to embrace possibility for growth and innovation; it’s what our nation is all about.

And with this shift comes a need for focus.

The leaders who are emerging need our help to be able to take on the upcoming challenges of growing our economy and leading our organizations. Perhaps they’ve just graduated from college or they are high-performing, individual contributors ready to step into a leadership role. Either way, all emerging leaders need guidance and partnership to grow and learn how to lead in ways that enable and empower others.

Here are three important things that we should focus on to help our emerging leaders:

1)   Help them to become servant leaders. We know, and have had experience with, two types of leaders – the autocratic leader and the servant leader. Research and experience informs us that those who view their leadership as serving others – their employees, customers and stakeholders – are leaders who gain long-term and deep seated trust and followership. Servant leaders who view their work for the sake of others’ growth, development and empowerment will develop into the leaders who are able to shepherd their organizations through thick or thin, deliver news – good or bad – and secure the understanding and loyalty of those around them.

2)   Help them to empower others. If there’s one thing my experience has shown can guarantee an impact on organizations, it’s this – an empowered organization will get things done quickly and innovatively. Period. Once a leader has embraced letting go and empowering their team to make decisions and take action, their way of leading and their team’s way of working is boundless.

3)   Help them become conversational leaders. Conversations are at the core of building authentic relationships and, as a result, our emerging economy and growing organizations can benefit greatly from leaders who encourage and promote active, engaged conversations. I’ve observed organizations come through some really hard times unscathed due to the integrity, frequency and encouragement of conversations they held as an operating and behavioral norm. Leaders who embrace this notion are leaders who develop relationships with their teams and, as a result, pave the way for sustainable performance.

There are more things that we can model and embrace as leaders. If we start with these three, we are well on our way to developing a strong, cross-generational and emerging leadership capability. What other ways can you suggest?

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