Sep 2012

Personal Coaching Tip: Assertions (Facts) and Assessments

Life CoachingA helpful way to understand the key differences between these two common “language acts”, as well as the ways that not operating with this distinction can negatively impact our emotional well-being, relationships and identity.  While we describe with our assertions, we create with our assessments.. and we are doing so whether we see it or not.  Being conscious of how we use assertions and assessments is crucial for all of us seeking to improve our interpersonal communication skills, as well as to live a life grounded in reality and also open to possibilities.

Assertions (Facts) and Assessments

Virtually all of us have a basic understanding of the difference between facts and opinions. Facts are seen to be objective and not debatable, while opinions are seen to be subjective, personal judgments.

Have you ever known someone who did not operate with this distinction (who thought his or her opinions were actually facts)? To create healthy relationships, as well as an environment supportive of ongoing learning, the following distinction can be extremely helpful:

“Bob is the bank president” is an assertion. “Bob is a good (or bad) leader” is an assessment. Key points:

  • Assertions can be true or false, and are always verifiable (or not) by an objective 3rd party. Assessments are personal judgments and can be grounded (consciously connected to standards and facts) or not. They can never be “proven” true or false objectively.
  • Assertions belong to the thing being observed. Assessments belong to the observer. This is because different people observe thru different standards. Natives of New York City will see light traffic, while those from small towns look at the same highway and see horrendous traffic… and the traffic just is.
  • The standards out of which we create our assessments are often hidden and unspoken. Conversations to share these are often extremely helpful in improving relationships and building trust.
  • Assertions are not impacted by moods and emotions. Our assessments are dramatically and obviously impacted by our emotional space, and the vast majority of our beliefs are assessments.
  • Assertions are descriptive, and have a past or present orientation. Assessments are profoundly creative… today’s assessments influence how we interpret tomorrow’s events. We will easily see evidence consistent with our assessments and somehow miss evidence to the contrary… because we human beings love being Right!

The invitation is to share your standards and become more conscious of assertions and assessments in all of your conversations… including those with yourself.

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Sep 2012

Leadership Coaching Tip: The Blinding Power of Paradigms in Corporate Culture

Leadership Training by Chalmers Brothers

A description of the ways our paradigms – our ways of believing and seeing things – can dramatically impact our ability to embrace new possibilities and take advantage of new opportunities. Especially relevant for leaders seeking to create a corporate culture of adaptability and creativity, it highlights the ways in which we can hinder our own effectiveness.  Including some memorable quotes shared by Steven Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it highlights in dramatic fashion the ways some well-meaning people have been blinded by their own paradigms.


The Blinding Power of Paradigms

What is meant by the term “paradigm”? And why does learning something about paradigms matter for leaders? What do they have to do with creating and maintaining a corporate culture of openness, adaptability and creativity?

Paradigms can be simply understood as ways of thinking, believing and taking action that we operate out of that allow us to produce certain results. We have paradigms in the domains of language, science, medicine, manufacturing, sales, leadership, personal relationships and every other important dimension of our lives. There’s nothing wrong with paradigms, of course; in fact, human beings cannot operate without them. But the danger comes when we move from seeing our paradigms as “a” way of thinking, believing and taking action… to “the” way of thinking, believing and taking action.

In a world characterized by ongoing change, holding our paradigms lightly can serve all of us. Perhaps the most important first step is seeing them as “our” paradigms in the first place, instead of the truth. Sean and Steven Covey, in their work with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, shared a list of memorable quotes that demonstrate the ways in which our paradigms can blind us to new possibilities and opportunities, in a variety of ways. Notice also how the authors were people “in the know” – that is, people within the industry involved and thus perhaps deeply invested in the old paradigms.

There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home. (Kenneth Olson, president and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, in 1977)

Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value. (Marshal Ferdinand Foch, French military strategist and future World War I commander, in 1911)

Man will never reach the moon, regardless of all future scientific advances. (Dr. Lee DeForest, inventor of audion tube and father of radio; February 25, 1967)

Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months.  People will soon tire of staring at a plywood box every night. (Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, in 1946)

We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out. (Decca Records rejecting the Beatles, in 1962)

 This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.  The device is inherently of no value to us. (Western Union internal memo, in 1876)

Everything that can be invented has been invented. (Charles H. Duell, U.S. Commissioner of Patents, in 1899)

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Sep 2012

Leadership Skills Coaching Tip: Confidence vs. Competence

Leadership Coaching

“You need to be more confident in front of the room.” “Jim is so effective in his role because he is so confident in what he’s doing.” “I need more confidence in order to be successful in this job.” “I have a lack of self-confidence.”

Do these sound familiar? For many of us, they do. Let’s make some brief distinctions that can help de-mystify this thing called confidence, and support genuine movement in a positive direction.

First, confidence isn’t a “thing” – it’s an assessment, a subjective judgment, made by an observer (possibly ourselves, possibly others) about our actions or lack thereof. It’s made on top of some standard, which is often hidden and unspoken. Our assessments about ourselves aren’t permanent, unchanging aspects of our personhood. Clarify or change the standard, change the actions, over time… and the assessment will change. Where I used to see Bob or myself as “awkward”, now we are “confident.”

Our assessments of ourselves are very powerful influencers, of course, of our behaviors. The problem for many of us is that we don’t see our assessments as assessments – we see them as “the truth.” And this greatly limits our possibilities, especially with negative assessments. In the case of confidence, it limits what we say we can be, do or have. Furthermore, we often make negative assessments of ourselves without being conscious of the underlying standards! All we know is we’re “not enough” this or “not enough” that.

If we hold confidence as some entity that somehow we weren’t born with enough of, we can paralyze ourselves into inaction. Learning = time + practice, but holding confidence as something that we simply inherently don’t have means that we never practice. And without practice, learning – increased competency – never occurs.

I believe that we are indeed born with biological predispositions and a genetic inheritance. But just because I’ll never dunk a basketball like Michael Jordan doesn’t mean I can’t get better at basketball. Just because I’ll never dance like Mikhail Baryshnikov doesn’t mean I can’t improve how well I dance.

Let’s start by understanding that confidence is an assessment, made by us and/or by others, based on some standards and some actions (or lack thereof). Let’s be clear about the new actions we want to learn how to take, and focus on competence and learning instead. We can declare ourselves beginners, give someone permission to teach or coach us, and move into learning. Learning and competence are aspects we can dramatically impact, and by focusing on these we can improve both our effectiveness and our emotional well-being.

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Sep 2012

Personal Coaching Tip: Promises Broken vs. Silent Expectation Unmet

life coaching

A distinction that is essential for healthy relationship building, as well as avoiding needless “drama” and unnecessary problems in our interactions with others.  Because we human beings do virtually everything we do in community with others (family, work, civic, social, spiritual) we are continually making, managing, keeping (and sometimes falling down on) promises.  Understanding this fundamental distinction – and its impact on trust and on our ability to cultivate healthy, enjoyable relationships – is a starting point for lasting improvements in many areas of our lives.


Promises Broken vs. Silent Expectation Unmet

We see with our eyes, but we observe through our distinctions. Distinctions allow us to see what we previously could not or did not see… and to then take actions we did not previously take… leading, of course, to Results we did not previously produce. Many of us are indeed seeking to produce these new Results in our lives: more peace, less stress, and more enjoyable and authentic relationships.

To this end, I offer a fundamental and very powerful distinction:

Not operating with this distinction almost always takes us away from the fulfilling, authentic, enjoyable relationships we say we want.

If you break a promise, the other person has legitimate grounds to make a Responsible Complaint. When we don’t manage our promises, we damage relationships as well as our own public identity. Break enough promises and you will soon find that many people will not want to spend time with you, and many of your relationships will be extremely precarious.

But if you simply don’t fulfill a silent (unspoken) expectation, the other person has no leg to stand on regarding a complaint. We cannot read each other’s minds… in this situation, no promise was broken at all. You just simply didn’t spontaneously do what he or she desired. Here, he or she may certainly make a Request… but not a complaint. I believe there are many people walking around offended because other people didn’t spontaneously do what they expected them to do! This obviously impacts their relationships in a negative way – and it doesn’t have to be this way.

The word “expect” comes from a Latin word that means “to wait”. Not a very powerful orientation – waiting. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with expectations…. as long as they’re held as expectations and not as a debt someone has to you!

Do you have clear awareness of this distinction? Do others in your life? The invitation is to begin making effective requests and clear commitments as the basis for doing everything with others… and to minimize the extent to which you use assumptions and expectations in your personal and professional relationships.

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Sep 2012

Personal Coaching Tip: Dealing with “Difficult” People

Career Coaching for Seeing PossibilitiesImagine you’re in a workshop of one sort or another, and the facilitator in front of the room asks: “OK, anyone here who considers him- or herself a difficult person… please raise your hand!” How many hands are going up? You guessed it… in virtually every case, zero.

We do not consider ourselves to be difficult.  Other people do not consider themselves to be difficult.  So who are these difficult people? Where are they? As we know, it’s all a matter of perspective. Below are some suggestions that may serve us as we work with and deal with the wide variety of human beings that are part of our world.

Remember – we are each unique observers. We each truly “see things” differently… and these differences have nothing to do with our retinas. What’s really going on is we are different interpreters, different explainers. We interpret differently, we explain the same events differently. This isn’t good or bad, right or wrong… it just is. The Chilean neurobiologist Humberto Maturana and many others state that there’s nothing in the human biology that allows us to know “how things are”… all we know, and all we can know, is “how things are, for us.”

Understanding and accepting this – as well as the fact that you also do not have privileged access to the truth, you also are interpreting and explaining in your own unique way – creates a context in which we don’t automatically make others wrong simply because they interpret or explain differently than we do. It’s a different starting point, a different come-from in our dance with others.

Second – Adopt the belief that nobody ever does anything that they see as wrong. That is, given the way they interpret, given the way they explain, given their standards in area X or area Y, give their beliefs in area A or area B… they come to conclusions that they see as totally logical, completely normal, utterly OK.

The opening that these orientations provide is to have new conversations, ones in which we can explore “how did you go from observation to belief in such a different way than I went from observation to belief?” We can enter into genuine dialogue, which is a type of conversation focused on deepening the level of shared understanding (vs. coming to some agreement or conclusion). In a space of respect and safety, we can begin to understand more about the often-unspoken standards and beliefs of those close to us… and in the process, deepen relationships and open new possibilities together.

Find other great personal relationship building tips in these eBooks:

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