Monday, May 4, 2009

For All those Technical People I Admire...

Answer these questions:
What do you think when you are asked to rework something because it wasn’t done right the first time?

What do you think when you’re not given the right information from management, peers, others to do your job?

What do you think when someone doesn’t want to listen to why something is important or why a particular approach is best or why a particular approach won’t work?

What do you think when someone just wants you to get it done and don’t ask so many questions?

Generally, one or more of these questions will trigger an EMOTIONAL reaction in you. You’ll be frustrated, annoyed, cynical, discouraged, sarcastic, dispirited or bothered by the situation. The fact is, learning about your emotional reactions will prove very valuable. So, next time, pay attention to how you are responding to a situation. Ask yourself, “What do I think about this?” Next blog - What Your Reactions Tell You and Tell Others?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Managing Your Internal Critic

Manage your internal critic. Why? (See previous blog) How? By reversing your thinking. Typically, the critic looks at life with the perspective of discovering what’s wrong. To manage this internal critic, you have to 1) Recognize this in yourself and accept it. It’s a gift to be able to see what’s wrong. But don’t stop there. 2) Recognize that it is NOT usually the best approach when dealing with people because it shuts down RESULTS. 3) Keep your critic voice silent. So, that means, don’t blurt out your thoughts/ criticism. (Yes, I know you didn’t mean it as a criticism. You were only trying to help.) 4) SWITCH the question in your mind to “What’s right with this approach? What’s working? What could possibly be good, different or positive about the situation or person?” Now, you at least have some balance. With practice, you’ll be able to train yourself to balance this critic voice by consciously choosing to reverse your thinking.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


“It’s all in the detail.” “Details are necessary evils.” “Details make all the difference.” “Details are great.” “The devil is in the detail.” You’ve heard all of these notions. In fact, you’ve repeated them. And yet, communicating in detail may be the exact wrong approach to take with some people. If you’re a technical person, you probably have great respect for details and when people ask you a question about something you’re working on, you may launch into an explanation that includes the details. If you’re not careful, you may not notice that their eyes have glazed over and their attention has just diverted to the next meeting on the schedule or worse, they have dismissed you and become frustrated with you because you don’t value their time. So, what can you do? First, consider how much they already know about the subject. I was speaking to a banker recently about the mark to market accounting procedure. I happen to have a decent understanding of this subject, yet the banker assumed that I knew nothing and explained it in great detail. Also, consider how relevant the detail is to the intent of the conversation. What is the outcome of the conversation? It’s best to use details when missing them will result in a false understanding of the outcomes. Of course, it’s also critical to assess your audience. How much detail does he or she want? Just remember, details may be critical to doing your job, but they aren’t necessarily critical when communicating with others.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On Being Defensive

Why do people get so defensive? That’s easy! They want to be right. In my experience with engineering, IT, science or accounting disciplines, these logical driven people have spent their entire life in the pursuit of having the right answer to the question. It’s no wonder that “being right” is something that they prize. So, when someone questions their answers or their assumptions, they immediately jump to defend their hard work.

Programming a response other than defensiveness takes a concerted effort. It also takes a huge shift in the person’s assumption. Rather than viewing the questioner as someone who is trying to disprove an answer, shifting that assumption to view the questioner as someone who may help to open a new view to the situation is required. One engineer that I worked with had tremendous success by using a mental picture of the situation. Upon reflection, he said that when he is in a meeting and is being questioned, he feels like he is a professor at the chalkboard and must explain his theory and his case. Others viewed this behavior as arrogant, close-minded, and inflexible. He worked to shift his mental position from being the professor at the chalkboard to being a student in the classroom. All of a sudden, his defensiveness evaporated like a cloud of chalk dust.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Critical Thinking

I love engineers. I love their critical thinking and problem solving skills. I find their raw intelligence to be exciting and interesting. I've noticed a trend though... Here's what I wrote for one of the engineers who took our Index for Emotional Intelligence 360 Assessment of Emotional Intelligence:

"Critical Thinking – You have very high standards and great critical thinking skills that are a true asset to your problem solving ability. Don’t change these strengths. Recognize that these skills work extremely well when dealing with objects and technical problems, but not so well when dealing with people."

Good engineers has been set up and conditioned to be critical. Thinking and responding like "Skippy the Skeptic" (Skippy was coined by Marilyn Reeder - an engineer!) is just a part of what they have been taught. Don't we want engineers to apply critical thinking to make sure the bridge holds or the plane stays up? Don't we want them to "test" rather than take this on faith? Of course we do. I'm sure that applying skepticism rather than blind faith has saved many lives. Critical thinking is how they get their "A's" and their stars. When an engineer solves a problem, that's what kicks in. It's why they are good engineers. So, it's no mystery that they apply the same set of skills when dealing with people. But then, we criticize and label them as having poor people skills.

Is it possible for an engineer to have great people skills? Absolutely. The first step is helping them recognize and separate the people issues and the technical issues and then giving them tools to use for the people issues. And let me warn you... their raw intelligence will make them quick learners.

Stay tuned for more on this topic.