Hear and be heard: Achieving high-quality advocacy and inquiry at work

Do you ever feel like you can’t quite get your point across at work? Or maybe, you want to understand more about a decision that has been made? It’s frustrating to feel like you aren’t being heard, or that you don’t understand the motivation behind particular decisions that are being made. We sat down with Paul Larkin, Senior Facilitator and Executive Coach at WLNZ to find out how we can hear and be heard at work using high quality advocacy and inquiry techniques.High-quality advocacy occurs when one states their point of view, explains their thinking and reasoning behind it, and invites and listens to another person’s point of view. High-quality inquiry is when one asks a question, shares what is behind their question and truly listens to the other’s response.Most conversations typically involve each person putting forward their point of view.  If you listen in to others conversations sometimes, you will likely notice very few questions asked, and those are often posed in a way that invites confirmation of one’s own point of view; very little real listening is undertaken. These is how low-quality advocacy and inquiry occur.What’s the difference between low-quality and high-quality advocacy and inquiry? According to Paul, the key difference between high-quality and low-quality advocacy and inquiry is your preparedness to reveal what is behind what you are saying and asking, and your openness to being genuinely interested in others’ views.“Low-quality advocacy, or everyday advocacy, could involve you making a simple statement. For example, ‘I think we should have paid parental leave in our company.’ Now, while that is a very valid belief, that statement doesn’t reveal anything about why you think that, or how you came to that conclusion.  It also doesn’t invite the other person to share their views,” Paul explains.Similarly, low-quality inquiry occurs where you ask a question, without providing context, or meaningfully engaging with the person with whom you are speaking.What does high-quality advocacy look like? There is a simple formula for high-quality advocacy.State your belief, opinion or ideaReveal the thinking or reasoning behind your pointInvite the listener to share their ideas about the topicActively listen With low-quality advocacy, you will find yourself stopping at the first step. There’s no real problem with this, but it’s also not very useful – you aren’t having an engaged, two-way conversation. Other barriers to achieving high-quality advocacy lie in feeling certain that you are right, or an unwillingness to consider other points of view.According to Paul, the best way to encourage your team to use high-quality advocacy is to practise it yourself.“The best way to influence others is by being a model of the behaviour you are trying to achieve.  People may be so amazed at the conversational outcomes you get that they will want to know how you do it.”What does high-quality inquiry look like?As with advocacy, there are four steps to achieving high-quality inquiry.Ask your questionExplain why you are asking the questionActively listen to their responseSeek to understand their point of view With low-quality inquiry, you will once again find yourself stopping at the first step, instead of going further to provide context, and to meaningfully listen and engage with the other person’s ideas. Barriers to achieving high-quality inquiry include the desire to be right, and a desire to be the person whose ideas are listened to and ultimately taken on board, leading to a disregard for the ideas and opinions of others on your team.Paul gives this advice for achieving high-quality inquiry: “Be constantly curious; suspend judgement; offer more questions than statements.”He adds, “whilst high-quality advocacy and inquiry may, on the surface, seem to take longer, the radical increase in understanding that arises leads to faster, more meaningful conversations and outcomes.”Once you and your team have practised high-quality advocacy and inquiry, you can have more meaningful conversations, more fully understand each other and have more open, robust, and fruitful conversations.How will you encourage your team to use high-quality advocacy and inquiry? Share with us in the comments below.

Creating a culture of clarity: expert tips for effective conversations

Do you ever leave a conversation with a colleague and feel like you aren’t quite sure what you were discussing? You might feel like you don’t have the full picture of what they were trying to convey. This is quite common - but nonetheless it can make it hard to gain clarity and communicate clearly and effectively in the workplace.As a leader, there are things you can do to recognise and address these confusing conversations, creating clarity for yourself and your team. We spoke with Paul Larkin, Senior Facilitator and Executive Coach at WLNZ, about what to look out for when conversations become clouded.Generalisations occur when someone makes a sweeping, all-encompassing, everything or nothing statement. For example, ‘everyone’s unhappy about that decision.’ While this is a concerning statement that needs to be addressed, it is unlikely that every single person is totally unhappy about a decision.Distortions occur when we take information and add meaning to it that may not be there. For example, a team member may look at their phone while someone is giving a presentation. The person presenting might take that gesture to mean that this individual does not care about the work they have done, or does not find it interesting. This may be the case – or there could be a family emergency, or an urgent alert. However, the person presenting has applied their own meaning to the action, and this is when a distortion occurs.Deletions occur when a crucial piece of information is left out. For example, ‘this is important.’ Who is it important to? Why is it important? Another example is ‘there’s no time.’ No time for what? Why is there no time? Most of the time, this will be clear. However, in situations where it is not immediately clear, or where further information is useful, it is important ask follow-up questions to truly understand what is going on.Blinking words are words that have multiple meanings, or that may lend themselves to different interpretations. Paul explains that often, there is ambiguity in a statement that needs to be addressed. But by identifying blinking words, you can ask further questions to figure out precisely what someone is saying to you.“For example, someone says, ‘The culture of this place is not healthy.’ Many people would either simply agree or disagree, aligned with their existing point of view,” explains Paul.“But by using generalisations, distortions and deletions, and by looking for blinking words, we can recognise that there is a lot in the statement that demands clarification, for example: where precisely is ‘this place’? Is it the company, department, team, city, country? What precisely is meant by ‘culture’? What precisely is meant by ‘healthy’? By recognising that there is a lot of ambiguous information in the statement, we can become curious and invite the person who said it to share some of their thinking more deeply.”In the above example, the words ‘culture’ ‘place’ and ‘healthy’ are all blinking words. To fully understand your colleague’s meaning, you need more clarity around what all these words mean to them.What happens next?Using high quality advocacy and inquiry techniques will allow you to clarify the issues and prompt your colleagues to communicate more clearly. Questions like:Who doesn’t agree with this decision?What is it about the culture here that is unhealthy?What does a positive culture look like to you?Who is this important to?Could it mean something else? Are you sure? By understanding generalisations, distortions, deletions and blinking words, and asking the right questions, you can help both yourself and your team to communicate effectively and with clarity.How will you use this information to communicate more clearly? Share with us in the comments below!

A new way of thinking: Systems thinking for leadership

As leaders, we need to look at the big picture to identify challenges and support our team to find productive solutions. We sat down with Paul Larkin, Senior Facilitator and Executive Coach at WLNZ, to discuss how systems thinking can allow us to strategically address issues for our teams.What is the difference between systems thinking and systematic thinking? Paul uses a frog analogy to explain the difference to the leaders he coaches.“If you wanted to understand a frog systematically, you’d take it to the lab, put it to sleep and methodically dissect it, learning about each part of its makeup in a linear, structured fashion,” he explained.“If you want to understand the frog’s system you’d go to the pond where it lives and observe how it interacts with its environment, what it eats, what eats it, how the nearby farms that fertilise their crops affect the ecosystem in which the frog lives etc. We see the bigger picture of the frog, how it is interdependent with other parts of the system in which it lives and how small changes can effect big change,” Paul concluded.So, rather than following a set process to look at individual parts, looking at something using systems thinking allows you to take a broader view, and identify the interdependent and external influences that can have an impact on the system and its parts that we want to understand. It’s about observing the environment – ecologists and economists are examples of professions that engage in systems thinking.Why don’t I already use systems thinking? As leaders, we are often thinking and problem-solving systematically. Taking action to resolve an issue is usually praised and seen as an indicator of positive influence and performance. There is nothing wrong with solving problems in a systematic fashion. But some problems are more complex and cannot be dealt with as readily.Systems thinking affords us an approach for working with complex problems in creative and sometimes counter-intuitive ways.How can I use systems thinking to create positive change in my organisation? By using systems thinking, you can step back from day-to-day problem solving, and consider the root causes of problems. You can identify interdependencies and understand the bigger picture.Paul uses the example of an IT department in a big corporation. Their team set KPIs around how quickly IT issues were resolved (90 percent of issues being fixed within a day). While this was an important measure, the team was focusing on ‘fixing’ problems, not on ‘eliminating’ problems – that is, addressing the causes and preventing the problems happening again.By taking a systems thinking approach, the team was able to shift their mental model and improving their performance. The team’s KPIs switched from the percentage of problems fixed to the percentage of problems eliminated, and within just a couple of months achieved a 70 percent reduction in problems and associated cost.This example highlights how a shift to systems thinking can increase productivity and solve recurring issues.How can I move into a systems thinking mind-frame?Taking a wider look at your organisation or team is the first step towards systems thinking.“Mentally stepping back and observing what is going on is crucial,” Paul explains. “Talk to people who are new to the organisation and who are not yet imbued with the culture and mental models that come with it – fresh eyes with different perspectives are critical.Paul also encourages leaders to have open conversations with teams: “Have a conversation with your team that explores their thinking, beliefs, mental models and values that inform how the team operates. Find out why they do things a certain way. Looking at other sectors and organisations with similar issues can also be a huge help.“Consider how success is measured in the organisation, as this often determines how people respond to different situations. There is a saying which goes, ’People will do what you ask them to do. Make sure you ask what you really want.’ What gets measured gets done. And over time, it creates beliefs (mental models) about what is the ‘right’ way to do the job.” Paul explains.What are some tips for systems thinking? The following, although not exhaustive, can provide some ways into addressing issues with a systems thinking approach:Identify a recurring problem in your team or organisation – look for patterns in results and people’s behaviour, individually and collectively.Look for interdependencies; how different parts of the system interact and affect other parts.Explore processes, performance measures and decision-making criteria to try and surface the team or organisation’s beliefs, values, and mental models (which is extremely challenging, involves many conversations and can prove the most fruitful).Do not expect easy or immediate results. Systems change usually involves many people, often with different agendas, to engage in dialogue and work together to achieve a common outcome. Is there an issue in your team that you can address using systems thinking? Share it with us in the comments below!

Four Doors

Dealing with change? These four doors could help Have you heard of the four doors of change? This model, created by Australian innovation expert Jason Clarke, demonstrates which doors are open (available) and closed (not available) in times of change.The model allows you and your team to categorise and understand the effects of a change, big or small, in your workplace. Whether it’s a change in people, process, location or resources, you can use this information to help your team understand what will change and what will stay the same.The first door: Things that you did before, and will continue to do now This door is an open door; it signifies everything you do now and will continue to do in the future. This is a particularly important door to talk about with your team if they are apprehensive about a change, or if there is a very significant change coming. It gives them and you stability and certainty that there will be some familiarity.The second door: Things that you didn’t do before, and won’t do now This is a door that was closed before and will remain closed. It remains consistent; this door focuses on things you didn’t need to do or think about before, and will continue to not think about or do in the future. Often, change will bring new tasks and challenges, which is exciting; but it can also represent more work and cause you or your team to feel a bit nervous about trying new things. Knowing that there are unfamiliar tasks that you won’t have to handle can be reassuring as you lean into to a new way of doing things.The third door: Things that you did before, and won’t do now This door is a closed door, that used to be open. Tasks that used to be manual might now be automated; and your team may feel unsure about whether this will be a success, and how it will affect their activity on a day to day basis. Something as simple as a change in office location meaning you or your team will no longer visit your favourite coffee shop is a closed door.  Helping your team focus on letting go of these things, and replacing them with new routines, processes or activities will allow them to accept that these activities are no longer neededThe fourth door: Things you didn’t do before, and will do now This door used to be closed and is now open. It has all the new things you will be taking on, to replace the things you have let go of. This door represents an opportunity for learning and growth, both for individuals and the organisation. These are new skills and processes that will allow you to develop your role, try new things and hopefully, see better outcomes as a result of your hard work in embracing these changes.Putting it into practiceAs a leader of an organisation or a team, it is important that you look at this model of change from different perspectives; your own perspective first, and then the perspective of the people you lead. Each of these doors will look different for every individual in your team, regardless of whether you are all experiencing the same change, or different changes.Understanding what the change will look like for you, and working through any nervousness you have, will help you better support your team and your organisation more broadly.Some useful questions to ask yourself are:What changes am I looking forward to? Why are these changes exciting for me? What changes am I apprehensive about? What do I need to feel better about these? What can I rely on to stay the same?  Once you have worked through these, ask your team the same questions. It will allow you to have an open and honest dialogue with them, understand how they are feeling, and create a space where they feel listened to and supported.Are you dealing with any change at work at the moment? Tell us about it in the comments below.

What’s on your recovery rocket?

Look, I am not a big believer in balance.I am a believer in balance being an admirable goal, one that should you find it, will probably mean you live a much happier, healthier life. I have just spent so long searching for it that I am sure I am running out of places to look. And this is coming from someone whose biggest responsibility outside of herself is a kelpie. (Perhaps I could have found balance in a greyhound?)I lamented this problem to a much wiser colleague of mine, who is in possession of two golden retrievers, a husband, adult children, and, if memory serves me correctly, a cat. Rather than clipping me over the ears and telling me to get on with it, she took the time to introduce me to the Recovery Rocket. I looked at it with the requisite apprehension, but delightfully, there was nothing on there that seemed unattainable.Essentially, the recovery rocket provides a model for maintaining a baseline of mental wellness over a year, and then gives you activities to do during the week to top up your engine fuel. It was originally designed by an organisational psychologist called Andrew May, who created the model for the Australian Cricket Team.For your baseline, the model recommends:300 nights of good sleep (7 + hours of unbroken sleep) every yearOne big stretch break or ‘off season’ (a good week or two on holidays)Three mini breaks (long weekends in different locales)10-15 minutes of ‘slow time’ every day (going for a walk, preparing veggies for dinner, meditation, etc)30 weeks where you accumulate 100 recovery points. What are recovery points? Recovery points are points that you get for doing activities that you enjoy. Each has a certain number of points attributed to it, and the aim is to do enough activities each week to accumulate 100 points.In the model, points are attributed to massages (50 points), going for a walk (20 points), talking with a friend on the phone (15 points) and so on. However, you can make your own up instead.For instance, I have my weekly dance class racking up a solid 30 points for me every week, along with walking my dog on the beach (20 points), walking along the beach with my friend (10 points), sitting down to do some crochet or other craft activity (10 points), watching a few episodes of my favourite show (10 points), getting takeaway (15 points), dinner with a friend (20 points) and playing a video game (5 points).What I like about the recovery rocket model is that it is set up for success, rather than failure. To tell someone that they need 365 nights of a solid seven hours sleep every year in order to live a well-balanced life is, frankly, rude. One hour of meditation every day is somewhat excessive for your average executive and you won’t always rack up 100 points every week. And with this model, all of those things are okay. There’s no need to beat yourself up because you only managed 80 points one week. One night of tossing and turning doesn’t automatically mean you have failed for the remainder of the year.So, I have a challenge for you all. This week, sit down and make a list of 10 activities you enjoy, that are easy to fit into your week. Give them points based on how refreshed or rejuvenated you feel at the end of them. And next week, see if you can make it to 100 points.What will you put on your recovery points list? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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Catherine Fox, WLNZ's Director of Diversity, on the importance of women coming together. 

three pictures, one of a woman giving a speech at a lectern, one of three women talking on a panel and one of two women having a conversation at a table

By Catherine Fox.

 

On the same day the Australian Prime Minister recently explained to a Perth forum that we don’t want to see ‘women rise only on the basis of others doing worse’, I was wishing a happy International Women’s Day (IWD) to an audience of more than 450 Women in Construction Victoria members on the other side of Australia.

Sure it was an afternoon tea. But the discussion was far from the ‘cupcake feminism’ that critics have dubbed these kinds of gatherings. In fact the talk about the history and success of women’s solidarity which is celebrated on IWD drew cheers from most of the audiences I spoke to around Australia.

These were not simply token efforts in the face of daunting gender equity issues nor were they a bit of corporate box ticking. In fact the women I spoke to, from all kinds of sectors and jobs, seemed fed up and were vocal in a way I’ve rarely seen before.

A few years ago the organisers of these presentations were struggling to fill a room. This year many sold out. Something has changed.

That doesn’t surprise me. The reboot from #MeToo and women supporting each other while standing up to poor behavior, such as the brave few who called out the bullying in the LNP, has put women’s rights back into the spotlight.

There was much more open acknowledgement of the barriers and less appeasing than I’ve seen before. This dialogue had moved well beyond the old theme of whether discrimination exists and was focused on working out how to tackle it.

Speakers on panels at several events were talking about the need for uncomfortable conversations to make change; some blokes were challenging power structures that remain male dominated at the top and making opaque networks and patronage visible; of many leaders with a blind spot when it comes to how traditional masculine styles are self-perpetuating; the depth of the backlash and ways to debunk the argument that if women have ‘merit’ they will get ahead.

There were women who told painful stories of their lives to help understanding of how race or disability combine with sexism in devastating ways. Aboriginal women spoke of the extra hurdles they face at every turn; and why younger Aboriginal women don’t take hard won women’s rights for granted because for them there are virtually no obvious signs of change, much less role models who look like them.

I heard a visually impaired woman talk about being patronised and of having her husband constantly mistaken as her carer when she is out; and that she is not ashamed of her disablilty because it’s what has made her the person she is.

And at Macquarie University the story emerged of a concerted push to fix the system, not the women (partly inspired by my book Stop Fixing Women) by reviewing rules and practices. At the School of Engineering, once dubbed the ‘man cave’ on campus, a different approach to identifying and promoting senior academics led to increasing the women at senior levels from 5% to 25%.

There’s been a real spike in the number of women asking why they are blamed for outcomes of bias in the workplace; many who grapple with inflexible attitudes and double standards. They were figuring out how to identify and address bias in areas such as recruitment and promotion to change the landscape.

One other observation from the week was about men – both as speakers and in the audience. Some on the stage were clearly trying hard but failed to come to grips with the causes of discrimination and defaulted to well-worn advice about women being the problem – either not studying maths at school or failing to speak up more in the workplace.

This didn’t go down well.

But some urged other men to step up and tackle the entitlement of the boys’ club, use procurement policies to ensure suppliers have gender equity strategies, hand the microphone to a woman at events, and push the envelope on flexibility by taking paternity leave.

And that’s why IWD remains a potent rallying point and of course keeps me busy – and I obviously have a vested interest in supporting it. But as an advocate for change over several decades, I am pragmatic too.

IWD allows public conversations to unfold that might not happen otherwise. It takes women’s concerns seriously and celebrates the enormous steps forward in the last century: winning the vote, the right to education and a fair wage (in theory if not in practice).

There’s no denying much remains to be done to deliver fairness for women and improve understanding of what is at stake – as our PM’s comments reveal. But I think we have to remind ourselves of not just what has been achieved but how it happened.

I came away from a few days of celebrating IWD without eating a single cupcake but with a surge of optimism at the wave of energy from women working together just like the suffragettes did a century ago. That’s why we need to keep loudly and proudly celebrating IWD.

 Follow Catherine Fox on Twitter.

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