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Emotional Safety® – Tell Me What I Don’t Want To Hear

There’s an old saying that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.

When I deliver keynotes to leaders explaining why Emotional Safety® is the key to making smart decisions, I point out that if people don’t feel safe bringing you bad and/or challenging news, they won’t do it.

Now, on the surface, that might sound pretty nice. You only have to hear about the good stuff. But let me challenge you to think about it another way: You can only make decisions based on the information you have. If people aren’t bringing you the truth about what is happening in the organization, it means you are making decisions with extremely limited information.

Your perspective alone is almost always incomplete.

Getting people to feel “just okay” bringing you “bad” information puts you at a below-average level. You have to strive for more than that. You need people to have the Emotional Safety® to bring you any and all information that could affect your decision-making process.

In our book Step Up, Lead in Six Moments That Matter, we outline the steps to achieving Emotional Safety®. Let’s take a look at how you could put into practice one of the first steps, which is to give the people around you the gift of your invitation.

You might say something like this:

In the past, I may have acted in a way that made you feel I was resistant to bad news — and you know what? Maybe I was. That may have led you to think you should just tell me what I want to hear. Moving forward, please tell me what you think I don’t want to hear. It could be about a customer or vendor problem, an internal issue, or maybe you need to openly challenge a decision or offer feedback on my leadership style. I rely on you to be a second set of eyes and ears for me as I make decisions. So, going forward, please make it a habit of telling me what you think I don’t want to hear.

The more consistently and frequently you ask people to tell you what they think you don’t want to hear, the more they will be willing to try. Make them feel rewarded for doing it, and they will generate a constant flow of what you need to make smart decisions: the truth.

Try giving the people around you the gift of your invitation in one of your next conversations with your team members. Because the reality is, it’s what you don’t know that will usually come back around to hurt you.

If you want to learn more about the value of building Emotional Safety®, check out our post, “Get Angry, Not Stupid™.” You can also take the complimentary “Step-Up Assessment” at dynamicresults.com. For even more practical tools and a deeper dive, consider enrolling in our Emotional Safety® eSchool.

Permissive Approach

3 ways to engage difficult people and build collaboration.

Think of a discussion that you know is important to have and that you have been avoiding. Perhaps you have given up on it because you don’t feel listened to. Maybe you are not addressing the issue because, in the past, you have had a bad experience with the person you need to speak to.

Sometimes bringing up an issue, challenge, or offering constructive feedback to your another is a sensitive task and requires a thoughtful approach. With your boss, it can be outright dangerous, or something we call a CLM, a “career limiting move”.

How do you do it? In our Amazon Top-10 business book, Step Up Lead In Six Moments That Matter, we talked about using a “permissive approach”.

This means that you ask the boss (or challenging co-worker) to tell you what time and place would be good to have a discussion. Here are three approaches for you to consider.

Find the one that works for you;

1. If I had a topic that I thought was important for you to hear, and may also be difficult for you to hear, what would be the right time and place to offer my observation?

2. I know I may be completely wrong and still, I think we have a roadblock and would like to brainstorm a solution with you. What could be the right time and place?

3. I’m hearing a buzz that may be of interest to you. It involves the way some people perceive you. If you are interested in hearing more about it, what would be the right time and place?

For all of these options, don’t suspend your intuition when using this approach. Remember what Einstein said, good decisions are a combination of head and heart. When approaching this person, if your intuition tells you that the time they picked is not a good one, believe your gut and reschedule. For example, if you said “when would you want to talk about this and they aggressively said “right now is GREAT”, clearly, this is not the right time.

If this happens, try saying something like, “thanks for being so flexible. I actually didn’t organize my information yet and would like to. What time tomorrow or the day after might work?” You could also say, “wow, you’re fast, thank you. Let me go collect some more information and how does tomorrow look on your calendar?”

Mostly we want you to avoid the suckers’ choice of thinking, “should or shouldn’t I have this discussion?”. Instead and using the techniques we just gave you. We would rather hear you ask, “what is the most intelligent way for me to have this discussion?” or “what is the right approach to having this discussion in a successful way?”

The best leaders rise above the anxiety of having a difficult discussion and practice ways of doing so effectively. We hope that today, you picked up at least one approach that works for you.

Managing Your Emotions

In our Amazon Top-10 Business book, Step Up–Lead in Six Moments That Matter, we have a chapter called Get Angry, Not Stupid and we also have a previous blog with the same name. The idea is that it’s okay to feel and express feelings like anger or frustration, even at work, as long as you can express those emotions in an intelligent and productive way; one that you will feel proud of later.

Most of you are familiar with the famous Amygdala Hijack. This is when a primal part of your brain senses or perceives danger, and, as a reaction, takes blood out of your pre-frontal lobe (where intelligent thought occurs) and pushes blood into your arms and legs so you can fight or take flight.

Some of the foundational work we do with leaders is coaching them to manage their emotions when they are feeling hijacked. How do we remain intelligent and objective, when facing challenging situations and/or people? It’s not always easy but it gets easier with focused practice. The feelings you experience are joined by physiological changes in your body. Afflictive emotions might make your chest tight, your breathing shallow, your hands clench into fists, your shoulders tense, or your jaw tighten. In other words, your body always gives you a heads-up that you are about to realize a feeling. When you sense that, you are getting hijacked by your amygdala. Here are two of the four techniques we offer in our book that can help you stay intelligent. (If you have the book, you will find the details starting on page 24):

Breathing. Deep, controlled breaths help restore blood back into the neo-cortex and stop the production of the chemicals that cause you to react suddenly and with great force. Sometimes it’s hard to take a deep breath when upset. In those moments, try breathing out. Do it now. Breathe all the air out through your mouth and you will notice that you cannot help but take a deep breath in.
Breathing out through your mouth may work well while sitting alone but may not work quite as well when sitting at a meeting or a dinner table surrounded with people looking at you. So, try an alternative for those situations. Slowly push the air out of your lungs through your nose. Again, you will notice that you can’t help but breathe in afterwards. Really, try it now. I promise you will have more oxygen available to you after you breathe out.

Questioning. When you ask your brain a question — any question — it forces blood back into the neo-cortex where intelligent thought occurs. So when you are triggered, ask yourself a question. Start with simple questions. What did I eat for breakfast yesterday? What is the last good movie I saw? What time did I wake up yesterday?
While any question will produce the desired result of a calmer emotional state and more rational thinking; as you progress in this practice, you can ask more sophisticated questions that are appropriate to the situation at hand. What can I say to make this person feel safe right now? What am I really trying to accomplish in this situation? What can I say or do to build this relationship?

Managing your emotions in the moment is not always easy. It requires practicing these techniques when you’re not being hijacked, so that they are readily available to you when you are.
Remember that your body will give you a heads-up. If you are aware of what is happening in your body, you can interrupt the cycle, stay at the stage in which you are simply irritated, and not let your emotions get out of hand.

Thank you, we look forward to hearing your thoughts. Let us know how you are doing.

As always, we appreciate your attention, and for additional ideas, follow me on twitter: @HenryJEvans

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Thank you.