The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

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Insightful Leaders Coaching Programs

Your work situation is unique. Your challenges are yours and yours alone. Your career is your responsibility to manage. As good as group workshops and books are, you know that you’d benefit from individual coaching.  After all, you get coaching for golf, tennis, math, music, Excel, Java and more.

Most people hope for success but rarely invest in themselves to make it a reality. If you are not “most people” and are serious about your personal and professional growth invest in one of the Insightful Leaders Coaching Programs.

Whichever program you choose is tailored and personalized to meet your goals. Plus, each program includes a DNA Behavior self-assessment in either the concise or complete form. Between the assessment and coaching with Shelley, you will walk away with new insights to grow your leadership abilities and make your best choices.

In your coaching program, your goal may be to:

  • Enhance your ability to collaborate even with those who frustrate you.
  • Better communicate through constructive face-to-face meetings or presentations.
  • Improve complex decision-making so that you stop over-thinking.
  • Self-manage more effectively to reduce reactivity and stress.
  • Gain confidence to better represent your views and make choices that serve you well.
  • Understand and maximize the value you bring to your work.
  • Position yourself for the next career move.

Here are three Insightful Leaders coaching options.

Insightful Leaders Individual Coaching Program

The Insightful Leaders Individual Coaching Program is designed for maximum benefit and value. It includes six-months of unlimited coaching with Shelley. It is tailored around your identified goals and includes the complete version of the Business DNA Self-Assessment. $1497 

Micro Insights Coaching Program (link paper)

The Micro Insights Coaching Program is fast, simple, impactful and designed to fit into your busy work life. It includes the concise Communication DNA Self-Assessment and a targeted coaching session with Shelley. $297

Insightful Team Coaching

The Insightful Team Coaching is designed specifically for each team that Shelley works with. It includes a DNA Behavior Self-Assessment for each team member.  Contact Shelley directly to discuss this option and design a program to meet your team’s needs.

I was in my hometown of Smithville, Texas for the big Jamboree celebration. Jamboree includes a coronation, parade, dances and a livestock show and sale. For the livestock show, kids raise steers, pigs, goats, chickens and rabbits to be judged and sold. The two-year old granddaughter, Kyndall, of my childhood friend was fascinated by the rabbits. An eighth-grader holding a white bunny walked past and Kyndall was ON IT. She patted the rabbit, rubbed its ears and, in a moment of brilliance, she bent over to be at eye level with the rabbit as though she was communicating with it. It was an adorable moment that captured my attention. Here’s why.

In today’s world where email, instant messenger, LinkedIn messages and more are a predominant form of communication, the insightful leader understands the importance of relating person to person (or, for Kyndall, person to bunny). Here are three tips to be more relatable, particularly for high-stakes conversations.

  1. Make eye contact. Kyndall got it right. She made every effort to make eye contact with the rabbit. You, too, must make every effort to make eye contact and that can only happen in person. Increasingly, the staff I work with seek to hide behind email, but an insightful leader meets in person and makes eye contact – for real. Yes, it’s easier to email but the personal touch makes all the difference. Force yourself, make the time, and make the effort to talk to your staff face-to-face and eye-to-eye. That’s how you connect as people.
  2. Use language that is relatable. Multisyllabic, pretentious (big, showy) words may make us feel educated but they create a barrier to communication. Recently, I assisted a client to craft an important communication to all employees in the company. We intentionally used words that are simple and understandable to all. You create connection via your communication. Think about the simplest terms you can use to communicate effectively. Simple, concise and clear are the recipe for relatability.
  3. Show your interest. Kyndall carefully ran her tiny fingers through the rabbit’s fur and over its ears. As I watched, it was clear that she loved the rabbit and the rabbit sat calmly under her touch. Your staff may not have soft ears and fluffy fur but you can still communicate your interest through sincere curiosity about their perspective and interest in their work life. How do you express your interest in your staff? What do you know about their thoughts and ideas? Do you inquire about their suggestions to improve their work? Like Kyndall’s rabbit, people respond to those who they sense are interested. What would your staff say about your level of interest in them?

Let’s learn from Kyndall and her rabbit. As insightful leaders, you can take a few simple steps to be more relatable to your staff. It’s pays off in dedication and the hard work that comes from feeling connected.

 

Best Audience: Association staff or boards, association chapter executives and their elected leaders, organizational teams, mid or upper management staff, new executives who want to fast-track their understanding of staff talent

insightful teamwork - keynotes & workshops with Shelley Row

Boost your team’s performance ….NOW! This timely and relevant professional development program will share the characteristics and traits top team members possess.  Specifically, everyone will take a self-assessment using the specialized DNA Behavior Self-Assessment tool (abbreviated or full version). The assessment transforms human-based behaviors into a science-based approach that is easy to understand and apply. For new leaders and managers, this program will save time and frustration in learning the skills and characteristics of staff. The workshop uses insights from neuroscience to create practical actions for enhancing teamwork.

This professional development program results in tangible steps to aid teams to enhance individual strengths and adapt to differences. As a result, complex work is accomplished effectively and with less drama. Team members learn to work with their natural behavior style and that of teammates. Divergent opinions will not bog down progress and those with similar opinions won’t skew results.

Learning objectives:

  • Discover your natural behavior style and preferred work environment.
  • Learn how your strengths benefit the organization and where they can torpedo effectiveness.
  • Recognize and leverage the differences between you and your team members for improved communication and reduced tension.
  • Uncover and overcome team blind spots.
  • Leverage natural decision styles to optimize complimentary views

“There’s no place for feelings at work!” I heard it frequently as a young engineer. Thankfully, I learned this admonition was impossible to achieve and very bad for my career. Today, after interviewing 76 effective leaders, it is clear that the skillful use of feelings is essential to leadership success. To deny feelings is to deny a key part of your intelligence. To use feelings is not about being carried away by each whim or passing flutter in your gut. It’s about having the self-awareness to discern the source of the feeling and how to constructively put it to work as a leadership asset.

Here are five skilled ways that leaders use their feelings that merit attention and practice.

1. Emotional feelings are red flags. Your nervous system is a sophisticated sensing network. Over time, your brain became hard-wired to know situations or events that run counter to what it believes it best for you. Your body, via the nervous system, picks up the warning signs and launches a red alert. Your body will hijack your brain with an old story. Left unchecked, your brain will generate a knee-jerk reaction that is unlikely to benefit your career. Effective leaders learn to recognize when an emotional feeling is coming. They develop the skills to slow down the knee-jerk reaction and rebalance the nervous system so that the cognitive brain has time to catch up. Techniques such as relaxing the face, breathing deeply or counting to ten can buy just enough time to engage the brain. This key skill allows you to separate productive feelings from those that are emotionally reactive.

2. Feelings alert you to issues you might otherwise miss. I heard it over and over from leaders. When faced with a difficult decision, leaders paid attention to their own hesitation. “Something is bugging me.” “This is just not sitting right.” They described a nagging feeling that was….well, nagging. Effective leaders pay attention to that feeling. Then they dig in. What is the feeling? Where is it telling me to probe further? What other questions should I ask? They don’t necessarily seek more data. Instead they seek more insight about the context or impact of the decision. The nagging feeling points the way to issues that transcend mountains of data.

3. Feelings align decisions with values. Effective leaders are clear on their values and principles. These values ground their decision-making. Complex decisions frequently have great latitude and range of choice. Without values, it is hard to chart a course through an open sea of options. Leaders describe searching for and trusting in the decision that is in alignment with their value system – the decision that “just feels right.” They also point out the importance of having a personal value system that aligns with the company culture. In that case, they trust their feelings to guide them to the best solution for the company and for them.

4. Feelings point to the higher goal. Early in my career, I over-thought everything (before my recovery began). Every career choice was agony. Should I or shouldn’t I? Is now the best time for a change or later? Is this the best next step or not? Over and over the options tumbled in my mind. In one instance, by boss called. Others asked that she call and ask me to stay. Instead she said, “Follow your heart.” Over time, I learned to check in with and trust my feelings. My gut seems to instinctively know the choice that is best suited for me at a particular time. My biggest career decisions were made from the gut. It required courage and trust…and a lot of hard work, but each instance brought success and life-changing experiences. My boss was right. Today, my heart points to goals and my head manages the steps to reach it.

5. Feelings underpin authentic communication. What is it about some leaders that make them seem more attentive and more human? Research shows that leaders who are better listeners are viewed as having more charisma. These leaders do more than listen for facts, dates, and results. They listen for and hear feelings. They pick up on the atmosphere in the room, the tone of voice, the comfort or discomfort of the other person. They validate discussion content and feelings – proud, frustrated, exhausted, striving. It’s the feeling that makes real communication happen between person to person instead of from boss to employee.

The next time you try to push your feelings aside…stop. Consider the wisdom they bring, unravel their message and put them to work to create more effective leadership.

It’s a cold winter’s day and the fireplace is blazing.  Yellow flames grasp upward and their heat warms the room.  It’s the gas fireplace in my living room. Down the road the fireplace is blazing at my friend’s house.  Yellow flames grasp upward, heat warms the room and the burning logs crackle and pop as the embers fall under the grate. It’s a “real” fireplace. While both functionally use produce heat from fire to warm the room, the experience of the real fireplace is different. Many would say that there’s no substitute for a “real” fireplace.

Similarly, every day as we communicate with others, we choose whether to communicate via email or voice-to-voice.  In both situations, we use words to share information but the experience of voice-to-voice communication is different. As an insightful leader, you need to know when you use each approach.

Email is quick and easy, like my gas fireplace. Most of us use email as an easy and quick way to communicate and, for some needs, email is the perfect tool. In fact, we couldn’t do without it. But sometimes, email is not the best fit. Email can create more harm than good.

Email is your best choice anywhere simple communication is appropriate, the opportunity for misunderstanding is small, and the situation requires little nuance.  Use email to:

  • coordinate schedules for meetings or events
  • distribute meeting agendas
  • confirm action items
  • summarize key discussion points
  • relay short, simple or low-sensitivity messages
  • document conversations, meetings or events to serve as a record
  • distribute technical information or other data such as specifications, price quotes or reports
  • disseminate a non-critical message to many recipients (such as, holiday greetings, thank yous)
  • solicit input for future discussion

Voice-to-voice communication provides opportunity for nuance. My friend’s wood-burning fireplace is, admittedly, more time consuming, messier and requires frequent caretaking. And, it provides a more complete fireplace experience. Talking in-person and, to some extent, talking on the phone, allows a more complete communication experience. Voice-to-voice, we pick up subtleties and the intangible factors that can make or break good communication. Tone, volume, pace, urgency, facial expressions, and body position all provide additional communication clues. That’s why voice-to-voice communication is essential for any situation where nuance is key, multiple interpretations are possible and where emotional reaction can sway the outcome.  Use voice-to-voice for

  • conversations to reach complex decisions
  • performance feedback and mentoring conversations
  • discussion of goals and objectives
  • sensitive subjects
  • confidential information
  • delivery of good or bad news with significant implications
  • personnel issues or disciplinary action
  • topics that need full understanding, discussion and interaction

Like the “real” fireplace, voice-to-voice conversations take more energy than email. However, just as there’s no substitute for a “real” fireplace, there’s no substitute for a “real” conversation when the situation calls for it.

Use your insight to assess when you need “real” discussion. Then, make the time and bring the energy to engage and connect.

Photo Credit: Romolo Tavani

It was a beautiful fall day in Keystone, Colorado. The aspen were gold and the sun highlighted the crevasses in the mountains that guarded the lake. It was a perfect time to rent a kayak and paddle around under the blue sky. My friend is an experienced kayaker. I am not.  But…how hard can it be? It’s a kayak.

Truthfully, it wasn’t hard to paddle around. It was just difficult to get to a specific point on the lake – just as it can be difficult to reach the goal that you set in your organization. Here are three points gleaned from paddling on a Colorado lake that can help you reach your organizational goals.

  1. Set a clear goal. “Let’s paddle to that grove of trees on the point,” my friend said. I replied, “Which grove of trees on which point?” It took discussion and lots of pointing to clarify which grove of trees on which point of land.  It’s the same in your organization.  The goal may seem crystal clear to you. It’s unlikely to be that clear to others. Talk about the goal with your staff and team. Engage them in discussion. What behavior will you all see when the goal is achieved? What specific outcome will be realized and how will you know?  This is the only way to ensure that everyone is working toward the same end.
  2. Adjust constantly. Off we went toward our grove of trees. But it wasn’t that easy. We negotiated how we would paddle together without knocking each other’s paddle. Plus, the light breeze blew the kayak away from the point of land.  We were constantly compensating for the breeze and an occasional boat wake. Similarly, how will your team work together and not get in each other’s way? It’s not that easy. Personality conflicts, incomplete communication and busy schedules get in the way of coordinated work. I’ve seen it first hand in my organization and in those organizations with whom I work. Busy staff don’t talk to co-workers – even briefly – to discover that they are doing the same work or that they are working at cross-purposes. It takes constant communication to make course corrections. In my office, each project had a detailed road map to guide the work. Even with the road map, it was essential that we read the “breeze” in the organization and adjust. As your work progresses, what do you know today that you didn’t know when you started? What course corrections are called for? Become an observer of the staff and their communication styles.  Who is working well together and who continues to paddle at cross-purposes? An adjustment in staff roles can better align natural communication styles for more productive work.
  3. Anticipate. As we paddled, it looked like we were on track – heading straight for the point – but with one extra paddle stroke, we’d gone too far. I didn’t anticipate the momentum of the kayak and adjust my paddling in time. It took more time and effort to reach the point. Are you reading the situation and anticipating the next steps? Every office has momentum – work flows that are set in motion, processes that are half completed. You must anticipate where the momentum takes you and adjust in advance before the need is obvious. This is the work of the insightful leader. Are you a keen observer of the work flow, the patterns in the office and the external influences? It’s only then that you can anticipate the trajectory and course correct before others realize it’s needed.

We made it to the point – eventually. I learned that I have a lot to learn about kayaking. On the surface, it looks easy, but the art of kayaking takes skill and intentional thought. Providing wise leadership is the same. Data isn’t enough. You must be an astute observer of the people and work to stay on course.

 

Copyright: wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo

InfotuitionOne-and-two-and-three-and-four… My dad sat next to me counting out the beats as I practiced the clarinet. Night after night he taught and I learned. I was good but was never going to be the next Bennie Goodman. Nonetheless, I read and play music and appreciate the true virtuosos. My life is enriched by my knowledge.

Today my work is in helping others discover how to use both cognition and intuition in complex decision-making when data alone is not enough. I call it infotuition – the intersection of business pragmatics with gut feel. Frequently I hear, “You can’t teach an intuitive business sense. You have to be born with it.” Au-contraire. I firmly believe you can enhance your infotuitive skill because I’ve done it. To be clear, I’m not talking about gazing into a crystal ball or reading tarot cards. Infotuition is accessing the wisdom stored in both the cognitive and intuitive part of your brain for use in a business environment.

Decisions that swim in uncertainty and ambiguity can’t be made by using the cognitive part of your brain alone. You must tap into gut feel. It’s real and it’s valuable. Like learning music or another skill, you must want to learn. Here are five tips.

1. Value it. You must place value in infotuition. Of 75 leaders I interviewed, 74 of them attest to the value of their intuition or gut feel. They learned from trial and error that the nagging feeling provided wisdom that warranted their attention. Neuroscience shows that we store information in parts of our brain that communicate through feeling. Further, your gut has the same neurotransmitters found in the brain. But the gut and the intuitive brain do not access language. Nagging feelings are their communication tools.

2. Apply yourself. Let’s say that you’re the analytical type (like me). You cultivated, developed and value logical, rational thought. The logical part of your brain is skilled and it feels good to use it. Great. Hold on to that information and balance it with intuitive wisdom. It’s as though you go to the gym and only exercised your left arm. It’s strong but the right arm is neglected. You must commit to exercising both the left and right arms. It’s the same with your brain – which is a muscle. If you apply yourself you can develop the intuitive part of your brain and use it in a skilled way. Neuroscience tells us that we develop new behaviors and skills through intentional focus. It’s called self-directed neuroplasticity.

3. Start early. The brain is plastic particularly early in life. That’s why it’s easier to learn new skills – like music – early in life. Start early in your career to engage in diverse activities that build a storehouse of experiences in your brain. And I don’t mean just work activities. Your brain draws on lessons from all aspects of life. Put yourself is positions where you must make decisions. Look for opportunities that allow you to take some risk. Then consider both fact and feeling as you decide. Notice the nagging voice and give it a name. Naming the feeling makes it more tangible and allows you to work with it. With each decision you develop experience…and your brain.

4. Start now. Okay, so you’re not early in your career. You can still cultivate infotuitive skills because the brain retains some plasticity throughout your life. It’s not too late! Plant reminders to prompt you to think, “What am I feeling about this issue? What’s bugging me about the decision?” Pay attention to your answers. Those prompts will surface additional information to inform your decision.

5. Practice. Whether early or late in your career, practice cultivates your infotuitive sense – your gut feel. You don’t have to find the time because you are always practicing every minute of every day. Are you practicing behaviors that serve you? Do you practice noticing the nagging feeling? Practice plus intentional focus will teach your brain new tricks. In time, infotuition will become a habit. It’s takes effort and, to end at the beginning, you have to want it.

Sure, some people have a knack for sensing the intricacies of a complex situation. They intuitively sense how others will respond and how a scenario will play out. They are the virtuosos. Just because they are virtuosos doesn’t mean you can’t develop your own skill to a new level of competence. My musical ability will never rival Shakira’s, but I learned enough to enjoy playing, appreciate the great artists and enrich my life. You can do the same with infotuition.

truck

It was hot…really, hot. In front of us was a large SUV with the back open, waiting expectantly.  Behind us were boxes, a chair (really, a chaise lounge), a table and an assortment of odds and ends anticipating the ride from Texas to Annapolis inside the SUV. Our challenge was to get all of it inside the truck so that the items would not shift and we would still be friends when it was all said and done.

It went smoothly and efficiently. Together we found a way to fit in all the stuff, and we were both amazed at how well our collaboration went. Here’s what I learned.

Discuss the objective in advance. Without realizing its importance, we stood in the garage next to the pile of stuff and talked about our objective. We clarified the key items to pack in case we ran out of space and any items that needed to be retrieved on the way. Only when we were clear were the first items shoved into the truck.

It’s that way with any collaborative project.  Clear understanding of the objective is essential. Yet, too often we zip past that step because we assume that everyone understands. We might as well believe in mindreading. But the others on the project don’t understand and can’t read minds. Clear communication is one of the most difficult parts of any collaborative effort. Take the time to discuss the project’s objectives and keep discussing them until everyone is clear. It will make the rest of the work go more smoothly.

Use and respect each other’s skills. As the packing proceeded, it became clear that the original plan wouldn’t work. The chair didn’t fit in the slot we’d left. We’d need another approach. He has years of experience with logistics around trucks, boats, road trips and business. I see items as volumes. Together we had the skills we needed if we could capitalize on them. It’s all about mutual respect and trust. I trusted his experience and he respected mine. It was our ability to use the diversity of skills that made the difference.

What skills are on your team?  Do you know?  Take the time to learn the skill sets of those with whom you collaborate. And, then, use them. Too often we don’t think of skills like organization, brainstorming, listening as skills but they are.  For example, who is the innovator in your group and are you using that skill?  Who is that logical person who can dissect a problem with no effort? Who is the person on the team that everyone wants to work with? Put all of the skills to work and that’s when collaboration is at its best.

Take advantage of common values. If you know that the team shares a common value system, take advantage of it.  In our case, we quickly realized that we both share a passion for efficiency (I know. It’s lame but it worked!).  That became our mantra.  If we load the truck this way, it will be more efficient to unload.  If we leave this space for luggage, it will be more efficient to get out the items we need while traveling. Without realizing it, we capitalized on a common value system and it aided in collaboration.

Are there team norms that provide a platform for collaboration?  Maybe your group also cares about efficiency.  Maybe having fun along the way is critical.  Perhaps mutual support makes people on the team feel good.  Whatever it is for you and your group, take advantage of it as you manage the project.  Reinforce efficiencies; plan for fun moments; ensure there are plenty of pats on the back as the project unfolds.  Whatever your common value system, find it and use it to enhance collaboration.

Discuss midcourse corrections along the way. The chair simply would not fit.  We turned it backward, frontwards, upside down and sideways. Ultimately, boxes had to be rearranged to make room. As our packing project unfolded, we would not have been successful without lots of discussion and willingness to try alternative approaches.  Throughout the trial and error phase, we talked and debated options. That dialog is what made the project work and achieve its objective.

How about your project? Sometimes we hold too tightly to our original plan and can’t see or discuss better options that emerge along the way. Yes, we need a plan and we must prepare to listen to others and adjust the plan.  Throughout your project, are you constantly evaluating direction and progress? Are you open to hearing new approaches even when underway?  Collaboration is a continual process that doesn’t stop when the plan is created.

The truck was packed and it arrived safely in Maryland. Our collaboration achieved the objective. What about yours?  Try these tips with your next project. Hopefully, it will be easier than packing a truck!

 

Copyright: anskuw / 123RF Stock Photo

Stay calmIt’s going to be a tough meeting. The topic is controversial and you feel strongly about the outcome.  Plus, there’s a person in the meeting who routinely unnerves you. It’s the kind of situation that could easily cause you to over-react and not behave at your best.  If you let the situation get the best of you, you are unlikely to achieve the outcome that you wish. What steps can you take to resource yourself to remain calm and in control of your emotions?

Recognize the Situation in Advance.  To manage yourself in situations that are challenging, it helps to know in advance when you will be in that situation.  It’s not that hard to do as triggering events are repeatable.  Think about it. Who regularly gets on your nerves at work? What situations annoy you every time? Maybe it’s when people show up unprepared despite your efforts to provide materials in advance. Or those people who just don’t care and you do. The more you can identify the types of situations and the people that knock you off center the more likely you can prepare in advance.

Make a Plan. Before the meeting, take a break to clear your thinking and make a plan.

Understand your Communication Style. What is your natural communication style: direct, engaging, hands-off? Consider the people in the meeting. How do they typically communicate and will they react constructively to your style? How will you adapt your approach to enable them to be at their best?

Prime Yourself. Priming is a technique where you feed your brain positive information so that it is in that mindset. Because of the mind/body connection, priming the brain results in subtle but powerful shifts in behavior. For example, before the big meeting you choose the story to tell your brain. “I dread this meeting. Brian is always so difficult in meetings and I’m concerned that the meeting won’t go the way I want.”  Or, “This will be a good meeting. I’m capable of managing my reactions and I’ll exhibit calm strength if others over-react. And, we’ll accomplish our objectives.” Priming with the second option is much more likely to yield the outcome you wish.

Use If/Then Planning. Consider examples of how the meeting could unfold and the actions you’ll take to manage any problems.  Examples could be: If Brian starts interrupting everyone and dominating the meeting, then I will calmly ask that he allow others to offer their ideas. If Brian takes the meeting off-track, then I will restate the objective and re-focus the discussion. If the discussion begins to go in a direction with which I don’t agree, then I will make an effort to be open to new ideas and objectively consider the best option.

Work the plan. You’ve primed yourself with positive information and you have a plan. Now, pay attention to yourself and others to stick with your plan. Notice your level of agitation. Is Brian getting to you? If so, notice your tension and consciously think about slowing your breathing; relax your jaw. These simple techniques help to rebalance the nervous system.  Also, attend to the level of agitation in others. Intervene if you notice someone getting anxious. Listen to and validate their comment and redirect the discussion so that the agitated person has a chance to settle their nervous system. Summarize the discussion frequently to make progress.

With a little preparation, you can transform a damaging situation into a productive one and you remain calm instead of becoming testy. Testy helps no one; calm helps everyone.

Consensus

We talk about creating consensus all the time.  What we do, however, is have a meeting and hope to reach agreement without appreciating what “consensus” really is and the benefits it provides when done well.

Consensus when well-executed will:

  • Generate a wide range of ideas and discussion;
  • Feel satisfying to participants; and
  • Create a collaborative spirit.

Range of ideas. Consensus brings together people from a range of backgrounds who represents varying perspectives of an issue. Just as important are their behavior characteristics in a meeting environment. There we have people who are vocal, quiet, fast thinkers, careful thinkers, data-driven decision-makers, relationship-oriented engagers and more. Unless these differences are consciously recognized and managed, it is easy for individuals to feel drowned out, annoyed or over-looked.  It’s most effective to use techniques designed to equalize voices so that a wide range of input and opinions will be generated and discussed without favoring the loudest, most insistent voices. Consider, for example, real-time polling apps or simply going around the table to give everyone a chance to share their thoughts.  Also valuable is the use of a communication assessment tool. Used in advance, these tools inform participants and organizers of differences in communication styles.

Satisfaction. Consensus is best achieved when people feel engaged and heard. Inevitably within group discussions some angst emerges unless carefully managed.  Angst may arise when people don’t feel that their idea was heard, or when conversation strays into tangents that waste time, or when they are interrupted before completing their thought. These situations cause participants to pull back and keep their thoughts to themselves, …that is until they are in the hallway complaining at the coffee break. For consensus to feel satisfying, the use of reflective listening skills is imperative. Reflective listening not only ensures that people have a turn, but that their ideas are heard and understood. You must also attend to the emotion in the room.  Negative, frustrated or aggravated feelings shut off consensus. Research in neuroscience shows that the brain becomes more agitated when negative emotions are suppressed. The brain calms down and returns to cognitive functioning when emotion is acknowledged. With attentiveness listening, the ebb and flow of emotion is managed within the consensus building environment so that negative emotions are quickly diffused through skilled acknowledgment. The result is a sense of satisfaction with the process. Participants leave feeling heard even if they don’t agree.

Collaboration. When you skillfully build consensus, the group feels like a team with a common cause rather than disparate individuals with individual agendas.  Again, insights come from neuroscience. Research shows that people who feel connected with a common cause are more likely to collaborate, feel empathy and trust each other.  Conversely, should an us/them atmosphere develop, research indicates that trust and empathy are lost and the likelihood of collaboration diminishes.  Build a sense of cohesion by naming the group, setting regular meeting times, rewarding the group process and acknowledging the work of the group.

Next time you are tasked with creating consensus, give it some thought. Consensus building is more than hosting a meeting with flip charts and colored dots.  It involves the skilled understanding of the people in the room, artful engagement for idea generation, management of communication tendencies, validation of feelings and the creation of a common goal.

Photo credit: vantuz / 123RF Stock Photo