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Posts Tagged ‘consulting’

I’m a bit of a sloucher. It’s an ingrained habit which I’m not particularly proud of. In fact, if you forced me to make a list of 10 things I’d like to change about my physical presence, standing up straight would probably make the top 5.

Until recently, I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. When someone tells me to stand up straight, I would be able to do it for a few minutes, but would always relapse into my slouchy stance.

Over several months of doing yoga, working on building my shoulder strength and opening my chest, I realize why I could never stand up straight – I didn’t know how. When reminded to do it, I’d roll my shoulders back. But it was always a temporary fix.

Really standing up straight, in manner that can be enduring, requires more than just rolling the tops of your shoulders back. First, you need to moving your shoulder blades towards each other, and pull them down your back. This enables you to open your chest without sticking out your boobs, creating breadth across your shoulders and chest and causing you to, yes, stand up straight.

Who knew?

Well, of course, lots of people knew. They just didn’t know that I didn’t know. And they just didn’t think to teach it to me.

One of the biggest challenges of learning new skills is that when you don’t know what you’re doing you don’t know what questions you need to ask in order to learn to do it better. 

This challenge exists when when you’re trying to build technical skills like qualitative research or doing a better asana, but it can be even more difficult if you’re trying to develop fundamental skills like connecting with others or standing up straight. People are used to teaching technical skills, and may even remember learning them, so they have a grasp on what the steps of the process are.

When we’re learning fundamental skills, our teachers may be unconciously compitent, or naturals at something, and therefore unable to effectively teach. Worse, we’re often trying to learn from people who are not actually ‘teachers’. They don’t always teach by breaking down a skill into it’s component pieces and helping you develop them one by one until suddenly, you’re standing up straight more than you’re slouching.

There are a couple of ways that as learners and teachers, we can help make learning fundamentals easiers. First, as a learner, know what you want to learn. But don’t stop there – be on the lookout for when people around you do things well that you struggle with and proactively engage them in a conversation about what they’re doing well, how and why.

As a teacher, take the time to break down the outcome you desire into the multiple elements that can impact success and failure. Then, focus on teaching those elements one at a time. Many basic yoga postures are interim steps that build upon each other and ultimately lead to the ability to do something you never imagined that your body could achieve. If, as teachers, we break down even fundamental skills like listening and leading into their consituent parts, our students can learn one element at a time, slowly making progress until one day, they can stand up straight all day long.

 

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One of my Strengthsfinders strengths that I’ve always identified with is input, which means that I’m a collector of information. In my case, it means that I’m an information addict, filing pieces away in my brain, overloading on data, never shirking a web search when more information might be out there that might be able to help me in some way that I can’t even imagine.

When I was pregnant and a new mom, it actually started to feel less like a strength and more like a weakness. Especially since the more books your read about getting your babies to sleep, eat or play, the more perspectives you can find about the ‘right way to do it.’ Ultimately, after consulting 6 different books about gas and finding 5 different answers ranging from it’s all in the parent’s head to your child could be seriously ill, I made a clean break and decided not to rely on books to help me rear my children.

Instinct, I decided, would be a way better teacher for me than information, and I vowed to stop reading the baby books. Oh yes, every once in a while I can’t resist, and still consult a chart that tells me what my kids should be able to do by now or an article that helps me decide whether they’re really sick or just have some evil cold. But for the most part, my husband and I have been going it alone since sometime before the monkeys’ first birthday.

Enter the era of the tantrum. Lately, my kids have been really stumping me. The whining. The crying. The defiance for defiance’s sake. It makes my head hurt just thinking about it. And while every once in a while I find myself coming up with an inspired way to handle their behavior, for the most part I have no freakin’ idea what to do.

So today, I read that Dr. Harvey Karp has come out with a new book, The Happiest Toddler on the Block. I’ve heard about his first book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, but never read it. And while I’m still really into the idea of parenting by intuition, I’m wondering if it has it’s limits. I mean, how many times can you use the same approach to address behavior and find that it doesn’t really work before you start questioning that approach.  

I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve already learned something from reading the review of the book in the New York Times. The article goes into a bit of detail on Dr. Karp’s method for talking a toddler out of a tantrum. Instead of reasoning, or trying to soothe through calming adult language, Dr. Karp suggests talking toddler speak, mimicking your children’s language and phrasing. In response to a child’s wilful demands for a cookie, “Dr. Karp adopts a soothing, childlike voice to demonstrate how to respond to the toddler’s cookie demands. “You want. You want. You want cookie. You say, ‘Cookie, now. Cookie now.’ ”

Talking directly to toddlers in their own language shows them that you’re listening to them, and, Dr. Karp suggests, reinforces that you’re acknowledging their point of view. My guess is that it may also surprise them enough to shock them out of their tantrum. Gotta try that one.

This idea really resonates with me because it reflects the attitude I try to take when having conversations with clients and colleagues. When folks are frustrated or upset, the first thing I do is repeat their concerns to help them fell heard. Of course, when I do it with my kids, my instinct is to rephrase what they say in my own words. But I really like Dr. Karp’s suggestion of using their words and their phrasing to really drive home the point.

 So I’m intrigued. I probably will even buy the book. And it makes me think about the limits of intuition. As a consultant in an emerging field, I am often asked to solve problems that go beyond my area of expertise. Most of the time, that’s OK, because something that I’ve done before prepares me for what I have to do now. Even if I don’t have the exact experience of doing something, I have enough related experience to figure it out.

But any good consultant knows that some things lie directly outside of their area of expertise, and therefore require bringing in other people who do have the knowledge, or figuring out how to learn really quickly. As much as I think relying on your intuition is a good thing, its also critical for me to know when I’m outside of your zone of effectiveness, and when I need to consult outside experts to get the job done — whether that’s with my children, my colleagues, or my clients.

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Some days I am so tired I can’t imagine spending another 10 minutes playing with my kids, let alone the rest of the day. Often, I find that if I just start jumping around a lot, singing really loudly, or otherwise engaging with them in an overly energetic state, I actually build up enough energy to get myself through the day.

This also works in meetings. As corporations host more and more all day and multi-day meetings, getting through the day is becoming a big deal. And as an outside consultant, it often falls on me to facilitate all day events. If I pretend that I have more energy than I do, I can often help raise the energy level of the whole room. And if I pretend I’m trying to keep my 2 year old kids engaged, I can often keep up the energy I need to keep a roomful of adults engaged.

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One of the things I’ve learned from work is around setting expectations. The work that we do is often ambiguous and we often take our clients through a process is is scary, uncontrollable and unlike anything they’ve ever been involved in before. And we need to get through that process so that we can generate ideas that are both truly new and really good business ideas. (It turns out its easy to come up with ideas that are new and bad, but that’s a whole different post.)

One way that we address the issue of clients calling in a panic about the process is to set expectations as soon as the project begins. We share a document called The Emotional Rollercoaster that gives them a sense of what they’re likely to feel, when. It highlights ups and downs that we’ve seen clients go through time and time again. This is a great opening into a conversation about the emotional side of innovation. It also provides a tool for us to talk about during the moments when people really begin to panic. Reminding them that it’s common and necessary doesn’t ease the pain, but it makes the pain more bearable.

The conversations I have with my kids are, of course, a little less heady. But kids require the same kinds of expectation setting so that they can be emotionally prepared for what’s coming next. That applies to little things: I always have to warn them in advance when I’m about to cut a bagel in half and give them each half a bagel instead of a whole one. And it applies to the big things: their nanny, grandmother, father and I talked a lot about what would happen when they started school and developed an entirely new routine. While helping them anticipate what they’re going to experience and potentially feel doesn’t always mean I can help them avoid feeling it, it does leave the door open to helping them make sense of their emotion and, ultimately, get past it. Which means we can spend less time focusing on the emotional cost of an activity and more time doing it.

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