Thursday, September 16, 2010

Communication: Defining Roles and Asking for What You Need

How many times have you been in a conversation with someone and thought to yourself, “Ugh, I really just want to share this and not have them try to solve the problem”? Or, on the flip side, “Hmm, I don’t know how best to support this person right now”? In both cases, whether you’re the one sharing or the one on the receiving end, it’s important to get clear about what’s needed in the moment for the conversation to be useful. Here are some recommendations on how best to do this:

When Sharing
When in the position of having something to share with someone – whether it’s venting, seeking counsel, brainstorming options, etc. – it’s key to get clear from the beginning what you need and to ask for it. For instance, if you really need to get something off your chest and you just want to be heard, then say: “I am going to share something and I just want you to listen.” In this example, you let the person know what you need (to be heard) and what role they can play (listener, and nothing more). Another example: “I have been dealing with a challenging situation and want to get your objective input on how best to approach it.” Here you are saying that you need input and suggestions, and the person can be prepared to have his/her ears and thinking hat on simultaneously.
When Receiving
When on the receiving end of communication, it is helpful to establish what role the person wants you to play. This may happen at the beginning before they start sharing, or after they are finished sharing and you are preparing to respond. In either case, I find it helpful to say: “Do you need me to listen, or are you looking for a response from me?” You can ask: “Who do you want me to be here… a partner, a friend, a manager, a coach, an objective 3rd party…?” This helps guide how to listen, as well as allows you to offer the kind of feedback (or not) they are looking for.

Another recommendation is to ask permission from the person before giving your input. For example, you could say: “I have some thoughts about this. May I share them with you?” Or, “I have a few suggestions… are you interested in hearing them?” In these cases, if the person really is not interested in getting feedback, they can say so. Even if they are not sure they really want feedback, if they gave you permission to do so, they can’t hold it against you because you prepared them for it.
Communication is challenging. We all have varying degrees of experience, training, and facility with it. Consider whether you need to take steps to improve your skills in this area and seek it out. Listening in particular is an area where most people could use an upgrade. Objectively assess yourself (or ask for feedback from others) and determine where some training would be beneficial.

At very least, if you can get clear about roles and what each party needs when communicating -- and actually have a conversation about it -- it can be a much more positive, productive experience.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Planning Your Procrastination

Throughout my life, I have been challenged by that pesky practice of procrastination. I know I'm not alone. Whether private or public about it, so many others have the same issue – for a variety of reasons, with a variety of results. However, with some thought, it’s possible to work with your tendency to procrastinate so that it doesn’t completely derail your effectiveness… or piss people off.

It's helpful to understand why you procrastinate, then recognize how your energy works, to determine how best to cease or employ this practice. Each situation may have a different reason for it, so it’s important to anticipate early-on if procrastination is going to enter into the picture. Don’t make yourself wrong for your tendency to do it, so that you can be objective in understanding what’s behind it.

Some do it because they are avoiding a task or project that is either difficult (outside their abilities or comfort zone) or uninteresting (perceived as dull or menial). Some set themselves up to fail because of fear of failure or success – in both cases, based on indulging or fighting their inner critic. While others, like me, get a lot of juice from the focus and adrenaline rush generated leading up to completing a task before deadline – and actually feel the pressure helps them produce better work/results (which may or may not be true).

Whatever the reasons, there is nothing wrong with procrastination per se. However, it has an impact on you, others on the team, the people in your life, and on the final result. Your health can be affected, when your mind/body try to recover from the burst of energy and resulting exhaustion. You find yourself stressing and agonizing in anticipation of doing the work, and can debilitate yourself. You may also feel guilty whenever you are doing anything but the procrastinated work – and take yourself out of being present and enjoying those activities.

For others, those who are forced to endure the “madness” as you rush to finish something can get angry and resentful. Team members who do not procrastinate or who have a different form of it may not be able to adequately complete their parts of the project – impacting not only your relationships, but the final product. And that end result may not actually turn out as good as it could have, particularly in cases where the project would have benefited from time for reflection, development, evolution, and/or review/revision.

A Personal Example
When I was in school, I would do things the night before. Over time, I learned that it was a losing proposition, even if I managed to pull out good grades from my severely flawed process of procrastination. It took me recognizing the negative impacts it has on me mentally/physically to alter my process. By the time I was in grad school, I knew my process and embraced it. Yes, I tend to do things closer to the deadline, but by being honest with myself, I was able to create a workable process that allowed me to produce better results, with less stress – while still leveraging that focused burst of energy. I could account for others on the team, and not upset the people in my life by being a crazy, stressed out nut around deadlines. It just took a little introspection and planning.
Planning Your Procrastination
  1. Assess. At the outset of a task or project, ask yourself: What is the likelihood I will want to procrastinate on this? Be honest with yourself.
  2. Scope. If there are concerns you will procrastinate, consider how long it will take for you to complete the task or portion of the project. Generally speaking, things take longer than we believe they will. Reflect on past experiences doing similar work and take into account the variety of bumps that can occur along the way (people not getting you what you need in time, technology issues, learning curve, etc.) – and plan that into your time.
  3. Plan. Determine what the deadline is and work backward, building in buffer time in case your assessment of how long it will take is flawed. If the project involves other people, and they need your portion of the material for their part, use that as your deadline so they can incorporate your piece at a time that is workable for them. Be sensitive to others’ needs here so you don’t make enemies in the process.
  4. Schedule. Put the relevant dates on the calendar, and most importantly, block out time in advance of the deadlines so that you don’t give it away. This is crucial because if you know you are going to do the work last minute, you will not want to have other things going on that will get in the way from you getting it done.
Obviously, the ideal is NOT to procrastinate. But, the reality is, you probably will. So, while you work through whatever issues you have that cause you to procrastinate, you might as well set yourself up to win by planning for it. You and the people around you will be less stressed, you’ll get better results, and you just might learn something in the process.