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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Making the First Down in Speaking Up and in Football

Football always looked to me like a game of violence.  I thought the players were just trying to knock down the guy with the ball and to damage as many others on the field as possible. 

I am now learning that football is a very intelligent game.  The fundamentals of football include

1.  Identifying the goal,
2.  Determining how to get to the goal,
3.  Motivating yourself (and the team) to get to the goal, and
4.  Being prepared to counteract any attempts to keep you from getting to the goal.

In football the field is immense (100 yards long).  Even if you have the ball in the center of the field, you still have to travel 50 yards to the goal line.  If you focus on the goal, the distance could seem overwhelming.  

However, that’s not how it is done in football.  Instead the ball is moved down the field by making downs of ten yards each.

The point of the football game is to keep your eye on the ball and move the ball to the goal line to score. Along the way, you must keep your energy goal-directed and you must get any obstacles out of the path.

Let’s see how this applies to speaking up for yourself.

Identify the goal

In speaking up for yourself, you can set an ultimate goal toward which you are working.  Keeping your eye on the ball means moving yourself toward this long term goal.  Here are some examples of long range goals that a person might set:

Margaret’s goal: “I will meet my goal when I speak up in a corporate meeting in front of at least 30 other colleagues”

MaryBeth’s goal: “I will meet my goal when I successfully negotiate with my husband and take an active part in the decision making in our relationship”

Steve’s goal: “I will meet my goal when I am offered a new job in a higher level position in my company.”

What might your goal be?

Determine how to get to the goal

On the football field, getting to the goal involves moving the ball down the field.  Built into football is the idea of taking small steps toward a big goal.  In football each ten yard increment is a first down.  You get four tries in working to make a first down.

If you don't make the first down in four tries, the offensive team goes to the bench and tries to come up with a better strategy for the next opportunity to make the first down. With each small step toward our larger goal, we make first downs in speaking up for ourselves.

Margaret knew that she needed to try for first downs as she moved toward her goal which was:  “I will achieve my goal when I speak up in a corporate meeting in front of at least 30 other colleagues.”  She set some “ten yard” goals for herself.
  • First play:
1. Margaret volunteered for a small committee (five people) at work on which some of the more vocal employees participated.
2. Margaret committed to speak up at least once in every committee meeting

When Margaret did both of these items, she gave herself credit for getting a first down.  She then planned her next play.
  • Next play:
1.  Margaret decided to write a memo to one of the executives on the 30 person corporate team about an action she would like to use to move an office project forward
2.  Margaret will follow up the memo with a phone call to the corporate team member to see what he/she thinks

When Margaret succeeds at this, she will work to develop another play in which Margaret will speak individually to several other members of the team about her action idea

As you can see, Margaret is steadily working her way down the field toward her goal.

Motivating yourself to keep moving toward the ultimate goal

Margaret wants to keep her energy and motivation high.  To do this,

  • She can reshape and define her goals, based on the previous play.
   If the play went well, Margaret will want to find the successful elements in it to apply to the next play.  If the play didn’t go well, Margaret will make a new action plan
  • She can stay focused on her ultimate goals so that each play is in the right direction.
  • She can develop reinforcement for herself.
  Just as the football player takes a moment on the bench between plays to drink some Gatorade and regroup, Margaret must take care of herself to keep her positive energy up
  • She can have someone cheering her on.
  It’s difficult to meet goals alone, but helpful and gratifying to meet a goal with someone noticing and cheering for you

Being prepared to counteract any attempts to keep you from getting to the goal

In football, the quarterback may attempt to run the ball and be pushed back several yards.  On the next play, the quarterback tries to make up the yards lost and add some more yards in the progress to the first down.

The defensive linebackers in football are positioned to stop the play.  Their job is to keep the quarterback from getting a first down.  Unfortunately in life there often are people who serve as linebackers who block our attempts to make progress.

A smart quarterback tries to see the linebackers and maneuver around them.

Margaret will try to anticipate the ways her attempts to reach her goal might be blocked.
  • She will learn how to counter the disrespectful person who may make fun of her efforts to speak up in the committee meeting.
  • She will practice assertive ways to make her position known in a powerful manner. 
  • She will ask someone else to read the memo she will write in her second play to give her feedback and suggestions.
In a football game if the play fails, the coach and the players simply look at it as a blown play.  It’s not the end of the world.  At the end of a bad play, the football players and the coach huddle and make a plan for the next play.

Note:  The players don’t stand in the huddle and worry about the play that was just made.  They don’t berate themselves: e.g., “if I hadn’t been so clumsy, I wouldn’t have dropped the ball.”  A blown play means that it will now take three great plays to make a first down instead of the four they had available at first.

So in the huddle, they just plan the next play.

After all, the goal is to make a first down on the way to a touchdown.

It’s up to you – plan your goals and begin making plays to get to the first downs as you move down the field!  If one play doesn’t advance you toward your goal, just plan for the next one.  Go for it and good luck!

(Thanks to Friday Night Lights for the inspiration for this article)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Handing off the Baton: Assertive Delegation

In track and field, a good relay race involves the tight cooperation of four runners.  Each runner goes part of the distance and hands the baton off to the next runner.  If the baton exchange is a clean one, the chances for winning the race are much better than if the baton is dropped or the exchange is not handled well.

In a clean handoff, the second runner begins to run as the first runner enters the exchange zone.  For a perfect exchange, the runners’ hands are precisely parallel and the baton is transferred smoothly.  If the runners have to fumble to find each other’s hands; if they are not in step with each other; if they don’t run a precise distance together during the handoff, the race is over for the team.

For the baton exchange to happen well, the runners have to give up their ego needs in the service of the needs of the team.  Each runner’s best strength determines where he/she runs in the relay.  For example, the best starter runs the first leg of the race.  This person must be counted on not to have a false start and must be able to do the baton exchange almost perfectly.  The second and third runners must run strong and fast.  They must each be good both at passing the baton and at receiving it.  The last runner, the anchor, must keep a level head and must be able to handle the pressure well.  He/she cannot start running too soon, even if the team is behind and there is ground to make up.

In establishing a good baton exchange for the team, the coach must consider trust, strength, dependability, timing, and accuracy.

Assertive delegation includes all the characteristics of a clean baton exchange.  Opportunities for  assertive delegation arise at home when dividing household tasks, in our personal lives when working on committees and in clubs or organizations, and in business while working with others.

First in order to delegate assertively, you must be prepared to trust the person to whom you handoff the task.  When delegation is difficult, the person handing off the task is often unwilling to let it go.

Many of us grew up with the adage: “If you want something done well, you have to do it yourself.”
However, if you hold onto the baton in the transfer, unwilling to let it go completely, the receiver is likely to stumble and won’t be able to complete his/her job effectively.  A good assertive statement in passing the baton will assure you that the task will happen as you wish and will increase your trust in the other person.

Be precise in your handoff

Think about exactly what you need at the end of the task to feel good about the task’s completion.  Make an assertive statement to clarify what the other person should accomplish.  To be effective, this statement must not only convey respect to the other person, but must also be very specific about expectations.

Here is an example of a poor handoff:
Hi, Nora.  Remember the vendor accounts?  Well, I need you to finish them up by Friday.”

Now here is an example of a clear assertive delegation:
Nora, I want you to complete the work on the vendor accounts.  To complete the assignment you will need to:
1) contact all the vendors;
2) give them instructions in writing;
3) make sure that all of them have paid you by Friday.”

On the home front a poor handoff is:
Billy, I’d like you to do the laundry this weekend.”  This is not clear enough and leaves much room for misinterpretation.

Assumptions are a big problem when delegation is not precise.  My definition of “do the laundry” may mean something completely different from Billy’s definition.  Billy, for example, may think that “do the laundry” means to put one basket of clothes into the washing machine and start it.

A clear assertive delegation is specific:
Billy, I want you to do the laundry this weekend.  This means that you wash all of the laundry in all of the baskets, dry all of the wet laundry in the dryer, fold all of the clothes and stack each person’s folded laundry on his/her bed.”

Run along beside the delegate for a moment
to complete the handoff well

As the first runner hands the baton off to the second, for a short period they are running together.  In handing off a task, you must determine how figuratively to run beside your delegate.  For example, first you give your instructions.  To run beside him/her for a moment, you say assertively, “OK, Nora, now what is your understanding of what I am asking you to do?

As you hear her answer, you can complete the handoff, knowing that she is clear about her leg of the race.  If she isn’t clear, then stay with her long enough for both of you to be satisfied that the task instructions are understood.

In our home example, you’ll need to hear Billy’s understanding of his instructions.  He may wish to write the instructions down or you may provide him with a written list.  When I taught my children to do laundry, I posted instructions in the laundry room for how to start the washing machine and how to run the dryer so that no child could say, “I forgot how....”

Building in dependability

As the race is run, each runner is watching the other three, mentally staying in pace as the race progresses.  Each runner depends on the ability of the other three to complete the relay.

In assertive delegation, we build in dependability in two ways.

1. We choose our delegate well.

Our history with the person to whom we delegate is a large factor in choosing him/her.  However, sometimes we delegate to challenge another person or to provide them with an opportunity to grow.  (This is likely to be what we are doing in trying to train Billy to do the laundry!)

2.  We build in an action to allow us to follow what our delegate is doing.

For example, in our instructions to Nora, we might say assertively, “Nora, I’d like you to email me every morning to let me know where you are on the project.  In doing this, I’ll have a daily progress report and I can cheer you on.”

For Billy, an assertive comment is: “Billy, I know doing the laundry will be hard, so I’ll check on you on Sunday and cheer if you are doing the job well.”  Another approach for Billy is:  “Billy, if you have any trouble doing the laundry, come and ask me for advice.  I’ll gladly give suggestions, but doing the laundry will still be your job.”

Timing is everything

In a relay race, timing is everything.  The second runner must be poised to start as the first runner approaches.  In fact, the second runner begins to run just as the first runner enters the exchange zone.

In our assertive delegation, we will more likely delegate to someone who can see us coming.  We will choose a person who can anticipate how we might need his/her help and who will already be on the move when we arrive.

Timing is also a key factor at the end of the race.  If the handoffs have gone well, the runners will be as efficient as possible as they approach the finish line.  No wasted time will slow the finish down.

In delegating a task assertively, we can point to timing in our initial instructions to our delegate.  For example, we might say to Nora, “Nora, our deadline for this project is next Friday.  I want the project in on time.  What do you think will help you get to the deadline?  What will be a roadblock on the way to the deadline?

With children like Billy, timing may have to include consequences.  For example, “Billy, I’ll expect the laundry to be finished by 5 PM on Sunday.  Because everyone needs their clean clothes on Monday morning, I’ll expect you to work until you’re finished, even if that means missing your favorite Sunday night show.”

Winning the medal at the end of the race

When a relay team wins the event, each team member gets a medal.  This rewards each individual for his or her contribution to the whole team’s accomplishment.

In delegation, we must think like the coach of the team.  If you delegate a task, plan a reward for the completion of the task.  If your employee finishes the project on or before deadline, reward him/her.  This reward can be simple: an extra half hour for lunch; getting to go home early one day; or a big sign on the team bulletin board: “NORA FINISHED THE VENDOR PROJECT!” 

And if Billy actually does the laundry, I’m sure you and he can create a list of rewards that he would love to receive!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Am Going - An Assumption Undermines Communication

Mo Willems writes children’s books that convey basic conflicts in life in beautifully presented, simple ways.  His themes of friendship, connection, and communication, told for children, reflect issues that adults face as well.

My grandson loves I am Going! because it’s the very first book he read himself cover to cover.  I love I am Going! because it deals with assumptions and how they bring confusion to communication.

Willems’ series about Elephant and Piggie focuses on Gerald, a neurotic elephant, and Piggie, a happy-go-lucky pig.  When Piggie announces to Gerald, “I am going!” Gerald is filled with anxiety.  

He assumes Piggie is abandoning him.  In desperation he pleads, “Go later!  Go tomorrow!  Go next week!  Go next month!  GO NEXT YEAR!”  But Piggie sticks to her original statement, “I am going now.”  

Gerald, who is reacting from his assumption about abandonment, stays in a state of panic until Piggie finally tells him that she is going to lunch.  He spent a tremendous amount of emotional energy when a simple question to clarify what Piggie meant would have saved that for him.  All he needed to ask was either “Why are you going?” or “Where are you going?”  Instead he assumed she was abandoning him and reacted accordingly.

In many couples that I work with in therapy, the issue of assumption often clouds communication.  Sometimes the reaction is an assumption which is the result of history.  He says, “I know what will happen if I try to connect more with her.  She’ll criticize me and tell me I’m doing it wrong.”  His assumption keeps him from taking the risk of connecting with his partner.  

Sometimes the assumption is like Gerald’s assumption, attributing a meaning when a clarifying question would save the day.  She says, “I’d rather go to Florida than to Michigan any day.”  He, a guy who came from Michigan, assumes she doesn’t like his state and maybe doesn’t want to do things he wants to do.  The resulting resentment he feels clouds his next statement to her.  “Well,” he says in a hurt tone, “ we don’t HAVE to go on vacation at all.”

If he had not made the assumption, the conversation could have gone like this:

She:  “I’d rather go to Florida than to Michigan any day.”
He:  “What do you like best about going to Florida?” ⬅ Note: clarifying question
She:  “It’s always warm and sunny when we go.  In Michigan, I always need a coat.”
He:  “With all my relatives in Michigan, I do like to go there.  Wonder how we could go on vacation and both feel good about it?”
She:  “How about if we go to Michigan in late July?  Then it’s so much warmer than it would be now over spring break.  We could go to Florida now for Spring Break and then to Michigan in July.”

When assumptions are waylaid by a clarifying question - in this example: “What do you like best about going to Florida?” then good communication can take place.

Sometimes your assumption may be right.  

She:  “I’d rather go to Florida than to Michigan any day.”
He:  “What do you like best about going to Florida?”
She (in a snarky tone): “Your family ISN”T there.”

But that is for another article about how contempt is a roadblock to connection!