GET REAL

Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Practicing empathy when frustrations are high

I was inspired to write this brief post after a business associate expressed that she’d like to learn how to be empathetic when frustrations are high. I thought that was a brilliant goal. And a hard one to reach. It got me thinking and this is what I came up with………

People who are striving to be more empathetic at work can generally find small ways to practice. They can ask more questions at the beginning of a conversation to better understand where someone is coming from. They understand when someone who is grieving is not at their best. They may reach out and offer support to someone who is struggling with a specific work issue.

It’s difficult to practice empathy at work with someone who frustrates us over time. When we’re focused on our own feelings we’re less likely to have a genuine interest in understanding others. We tend to judge and defend. We’re less equipped to influence or experience collaborative results.

It’s even more difficult when our buttons get pushed in the moment. We have an immediate physical reaction. Our heartbeat increases. Our palms sweat. We become defensive, resentful, angry or frustrated. Being empathetic to what the other party is experiencing in that moment is near impossible. We’re way too busy inside our own heads!

Not impossible though. One effective approach is to better prepare for those sensitive meetings or conversations. Prepare to tap into your self-awareness. Commit to noticing your sudden physical reactions. And when you do….Stop, Probe, and Listen. Prepare to learn more before responding. One hallmark of empathy is considering others’ feelings. Perhaps the other person is not equipped to receive your idea in the moment. Maybe a calmer conversation in a follow-up meeting will be more effective.

Choose a specific upcoming meeting or conversation and practice. Increase your contributions, influence and results.

City Living: Forget the Car, Grab Your Walking Shoes

In the spirit of Summer and life/work balance, I thought I’d share the following article I wrote some time ago. I updated the number of years now spent in our neighborhoods, but the enjoyment of walking in the city remains the same for us.
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I grew up in Rochester, on the east side of the city, and I’ve continued to live in the city for most of my life. The sounds of the city, including passing traffic, lull me to sleep at night. I find myself missing the traffic buzz when I’m traveling and staying in a suburb or country setting. I understand that a small city like Rochester, NY is a far cry from what you might experience in Chicago or Boston, but I love it here.

My husband and I have felt at home in the Park Avenue/Neighborhood of the Arts neighborhoods for over 30 years. We raised our children here. They attended city schools and enjoyed a diverse group of school and neighborhood friends.

One of the things we love most about living in the city, is that we can go out to dinner, take in a movie, shop, or people-watch, without ever getting in the car. If we want to take it slow, and enjoy our surroundings and each other, a pair of walking shoes will carry us from dimly lit neighborhood bars, to casual bistros, bright diners, European-style coffee shops, and a variety of international restaurants that offer casual to fine dining.

We can walk to a supermarket, bakery, ice cream shop, gift shops, a beauty salon and spa, and the Post Office. We have Cobbs Hill Park, the Memorial Art Gallery, a variety of small art galleries, the Eastman House, and the Museum and Science Center and Planetarium, all within a three-mile radius. We can walk downtown and check out the calm or raging river depending on the day. And we can enjoy a mix of modern and old architecture along the way.

We share our neighborhood with many long-standing merchants and residents, as well as a robust rotation of businesses and neighbors. Our neighbors—from the Monroe, Park, East, and University Avenue areas—range from affluent to poor. It’s not unusual to encounter a wealthy business man sitting at an outside café with his client, while another man is pushing a clanking grocery cart full of returnable cans and bottles, reflecting his hard work and his day’s wage. Once in a while we’ll encounter the transient or familiar individual who will pass through and approach us for money. Or we’ll enjoy guitar music from the guy who’s playing on the sidewalk hoping to collect a few dollars in his music case.

On a walk through the residential neighborhoods on a summer afternoon, from one vantage point on the street, we might hear jazz coming out of one house and hard rock from another. We’ll see children playing, college kids gathering on a nearby roof patio, and an elderly couple walking on the sidewalk that they’ve shared for 30 years. Or, we might pass a formal garden wedding reception taking place in the yard of an old and beautiful home. After dark, while walking through the same neighborhood, the glimpse of flickering lights and movement in each house window profoundly reminds us of the simultaneous realities taking place only 50 feet apart from one another.

We have our share of visitors in the area—people who might take an afternoon or evening to visit this part of the city. So, if you’re in the mood to slow down a bit, even just for a couple of hours, take a break—park the car, grab your walking shoes, and enjoy.

Administrative Assistant as Strategic Partner

To create that top-notch working relationship between you and your assistant, and have it work in a way that’s ideal for both parties is truly an art. The Administrative Assistant profession, like no other, runs the gamut relating to roles, responsibilities, and status. The role offers a blank canvas for all kinds of possibilities, levels of support, and opportunities.

Most important to the foundation of the executive and assistant relationship, are the interpersonal dynamics in the partnership, how highly you both value the partnership and business results, and how clearly you have both worked to set expectations and standards for the relationship.

There are multiple strategies that you can take to help you and your assistant elevate and fine-tune your support of one another. Here are just a few strategies that may help you get started.

• Position and jump-start the shift.

Talk with your assistant and let her know that you’re taking the time to think about how she might become more of a strategic partner. To start, ask her to schedule a meeting for the two of you in a week, where she’ll come prepared to discuss at least one area where she feels the relationship is going really well and one area where she feels you can both improve communications and/or increase your support of one another. Let her know you’ll come prepared to offer her the same. Prepare for the meeting and be ready to listen, compare notes and discuss. Once you meet and have the discussion, identify one action that you both agree to collaborate on. Set a reasonable target date when you can both evaluate and discuss your successes and challenges in taking that action.

When the time comes to evaluate, and if all’s going well, keep discussing and adding best practices that you both agree are well-worth trying. To start, the change may be minimal such as: You might agree that your AA’s new responsibilities include recommending specific changes to your calendar based on what she sees as your upcoming demands and travel times. Or, you might agree on texting versus email under specific circumstances, etc. Your agreement may relate to a larger responsibility such as: Your assistant taking over your expense report, or managing a budget, or taking the lead on a committee or department initiative.

• Meet with each other one-on-one formally, and often. Keep each other informed.

In addition to your on-the-run conversations and on-demand communications, schedule regular one-on-one meetings (10-15 minutes) where the two of you have the uninterrupted opportunity to discuss upcoming demands, expectations, and needs, from both perspectives. These meetings—and your focused discussions with each other—should be treated as a priority and take place at least twice a week. If you’re primarily on-site, every day may not be too often to meet. If you’re generally off-site, adjust accordingly. Ask your assistant to come prepared to your meetings with a checklist of what she needs to discuss and you’ll do the same. And if your scheduled one-on-one cancels for any reason, ask her to reschedule, ASAP.

When I ask executives what their number one goal is relating to support from their assistants, they say they want their assistants to “anticipate” more. The surest way for an assistant to anticipate your needs is to keep her consistently well-informed!

• Periodically explore changes or expansions in your assistant’s role and responsibilities. Expect your AA’s role to continue to evolve over time.

To start, ask your assistant to prepare and document her thoughts about the following. Schedule a time for the two of you to discuss.
– Where specifically does she feel she may be ready and able to expand her responsibilities to best support you?
– If she’s swamped in a particular area of detail, what are her recommendations for specific strategies that will allow her to eliminate some of the pressure and increase her availability? And, how can you best support this?
– Where does she feel she may need more mentoring or training?

The answers to questions like these will provide a basis for exploring how you might go about coaching, developing, or providing training for your assistant, which will increase your contributions to each other’s success.

• Appreciate and recognize your assistant’s contributions to your success.

We all know a simple thank-you goes a long way. However, highlighting an individual’s specific contributions to your success during a thank-you is more powerful. In addition to the traditional or typical thank you card or gift-giving during Administrative Assistant month, you may want to take the time to give something that is especially chosen with your strategic partner in mind.

Notes: Early in my career, before entering management, I spent several years as an Administrative Assistant. I served as Secretary to Sales, and then Executive Assistant to the President, in a telecommunications company, and as a Legal Secretary and Office Manager in a law firm. I’m very grateful for those years where I learned so much about business, service, and building relationships. In the earliest years of my consulting business, I specialized in providing management and communication skills to administrative assistants in varied business environments. I still sometimes have the opportunity to serve as a consultant to executive and assistant teams, to help them elevate their strategic partnership—which is what prompted me to offer a few ideas here. Interestingly, 95% of Administrative Assistants in the US are female. I have met and read about men who are thriving in the Administrative Assistant role. Whether male or female, the right person in an AA role with the right set of skills, can create their own career path, and catapult an executive’s ability to be successful.

(Btw, in this post, I’ve written as though I’m talking to the person in the executive role. However, if you’re in the assistant role, and you’re looking to increase the level of your service and partnership, I encourage you to take the lead and the initiative, and recommend these joint strategies to the individual(s) you support.)

Strong Decision-Makers Strike a Balance Between Asking and Telling

Strong leaders make tough and effective decisions, promptly. For others, the fear and risk of making the wrong decisions may slow their ability to decide. Meanwhile, indecision may chip at their confidence to offer direction, often when direction is needed most.

Soliciting feedback from colleagues and advisors—or employees who may be significantly impacted by a decision—can be a good and strong practice. However, the practice of soliciting too many perspectives before making a decision, can stall progress and sabotage successful outcomes.

Here are a few key points that may help move decision-making along, and strike the crucial balance between asking and telling:

– Note the areas, relating to your decision, where you’re confident in your direction. If you can isolate the area(s) of indecision, you’re less likely to be crowding your thinking or decision-making process with needless information.

– Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer yes to all of them, chances are you’ve done your due diligence, and it’s time to step up and make your decision.

o Have you carefully reviewed the related data and/or feedback that you’ve already solicited?
o Will the decision you’re leaning towards generate a strong business impact if successful? If so, are you prepared to explain the value?
o Are you prepared to manage the outcome if it’s less than successful?
o Are you prepared to build in target dates for evaluating interim outcomes in the event there may be a need for a shift in direction?

The balance between soliciting the opinions or perspectives of others, and arriving at a decision based on your business experience, confidence, and leadership is crucial to you, your organization, and the people you lead.

Another Look at Building or Rebuilding Trust

Originally published in the Democrat & Chronicle, Sun, Feb 26th, 2017
3 Simple Ways to Build or Rebuild Trust
By Donna Rawady
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Trust is at the core of any successful relationship. At work, when we trust someone it fosters confidence in their discretion, integrity, and decision-making.

You may think that to establish trust, you need to demonstrate or deliver something highly impressive or noteworthy. In reality, it’s your daily interactions, communications, and behaviors that build trust. Although trust takes some time to build, and can be tough to rebuild when it’s broken, it can be strengthened through small incremental efforts.

Here are a few behaviors that can have a high impact:

1. Deliver on what you promise. Be cautious of promising more than you can manage, or promising an outcome over which you may have little-to-no control.

Here are a few examples of where you would have full control over follow through on a promise:

o I’ll get back to you with an answer, either way, by mid-day tomorrow.
o The minute I have approval to communicate the direction we’re taking, I’ll call a meeting and keep you all informed.
o I’ll serve as an advocate for your budget request.

2. Maintain the esteem of others. Whether you’re talking directly with someone or you’re talking about someone in their absence, do your best to regard your leaders, colleagues, and employees. Avoid spreading negative information or negative assumptions about others. If you’re required to be in a discussion about a performance issue relating to another person, avoid judging the behavior. Stick to the impact that the performance may have on business or organizational standards or objectives.

3. Uphold confidentiality, as appropriate, and as agreed upon, at all costs.

Building trust is not always easy, but it is simple. If we want to be trusted, we need to be trustworthy.

Exploring a Reorganization? Think “ideal” team.

Here’s a great way to explore your next reorganization…..Focus on the ideal roles and responsibilities of the new team. At first, avoid taking your existing employees’ strengths and/or weaknesses into consideration. If that sounds cold, I assure you it’s not. It’s a way to fully explore your best organization while avoiding barriers relating to existing talent and/or limited resources.

As you’re exploring the new infrastructure, ask yourself these questions to help you stick to exploring the “ideal” team:

– What leadership and support roles are needed to move the new organization forward?
– What specific skills, knowledge, and experience will each role call for in the new organization?
– What skills and/or knowledge are crucial to each role and which skills and/or knowledge may be negotiable or transferable?

Once the ideal roles are defined, then it’s time to take a close look at the individuals and talent you currently have to fulfill those roles. You’ll be better-equipped to identify strong matches and/or where there may be skill gaps. The skill gaps will offer a guide to an individual’s professional development and coaching plan. Or, they might disqualify someone from being considered for a role. This will depend on how wide the gaps may be, or how transferable the needed skills are.

Ultimately, you may decide to adjust a role to best fit a highly-valued employee who is making significant contributions. Or, you might adjust the org chart to best suit the ensemble of talent and resources available to you in your existing organization.

Whatever the outcome, you will have fully explored your options. You’ll have a handle on your team’s current and future development needs. And, with your chosen team in place, you’ll be free to focus on further maximizing the success and outcomes of the new organization.

Are you leading an organization? Checklist to help you maintain that crucial bird’s eye view.

Your ability to maintain a comprehensive view of the organization you’re leading is crucial. It’s a bird’s-eye view that will enable you to guide, facilitate, strengthen, and grow the business.

Healthy organizations have leaders who:

– provide strategic direction
– set expectations and require accountability for performance
– maintain their understanding of where the strong and weak links/talents are
– identify, coach, and maximize talent
– delegate effectively (without micromanaging)
– engage employees in problem-solving
– swoop in, as needed, and promptly return to the helm to guide and facilitate success

In the midst of incredible pressures to perform, making it a priority to maintain your bird’s eye view will increase your ability to lead and succeed.