Kerrying On

Pablo, Where Are You?

Two weeks into my sophomore year of high school, I overheard a student speaking Spanish in the hallway. I was taking a Spanish class at the time and was aware of no student who actually spoke the language, so the sound of a trilled r caught my attention.

“I am here on exchange,” the stranger explained as I introduced myself. “I am called Pablo and I come from Mexico.”

And thus began a rather odd alliance. After making small talk for a few minutes, Pablo and I decided he would help me with Spanish and I would help him with English. We completed this feat by tutoring each other as we walked through the halls en route to several classes we shared.

One morning, as the school year drew to an end, Pablo said he had been talking to his father on the phone and they had a surprise for me. I was shocked—not because Pablo had a surprise for me, but because he had talked to his father. On the phone. All the way to Mexico. At the Patterson household we used long-distance services solely to report a birth or death. Even then, Dad would pace back and forth as the phone conversation unfolded and shout out numbers as if counting down a rocket launch.

“Did someone die?” I asked. “No,” Pablo explained “it was just one of our weekly chats.”

“Holly gazillionaire!” I thought to myself. “Who has international long-distance chats?” It was at this moment I first suspected that Pablo’s parents back in Mexico weren’t driving a dented 55 Chevy like the one parked in our driveway.

“As soon as this school year is over,” Pablo explained, “Papá said it would be okay for you to spend the month of July with us at our family’s hacienda in the mountains. We could continue our language education, plus it would be fun.”

“What the heck is a hacienda?” I wondered.

“I think you’ll like it there,” Pablo continued. “It has stables, tennis courts, swimming pools, boats, a private lake, a landing strip, and more. So what do you think?”

“I’ll have to ask my parents,” I explained as I tried not to look too eager while jumping up and down and squealing like a six-year-old girl.

“Good,” Pablo replied, “and while you’re talking to your parents, mention that Papá thinks it’s best if you pay for your own flight.”

Really? Would a pig be soaring alongside that flight? Because that’s what it would take to get my dad to buy me an airline ticket. And thus ended any hopes I had of spending a glorious month cavorting at a Mexican hacienda.

In an effort to save embarrassment (and not hurt Pablo’s feelings), I fabricated a conflict. “That’s the month of our big family reunion,” I lied. “Maybe you should invite somebody else from school.”

“But you’re my best friend,” Pablo said. “It would be more fun at the hacienda with my best friend.” I was his best friend? I had never even invited Pablo over to our house. We didn’t play poker on Friday nights. We didn’t hang out. We had only talked in the hall—and then mostly about grammar. We were acquaintances, at best.

I don’t remember what I said to Pablo that day as I tried to gracefully decline his generous invitation. I do remember wondering if Pablo had been lonely and I hadn’t even noticed. More importantly, what kind of a friend is someone who doesn’t even know he is a friend? Decades passed until one day our ten-year-old granddaughter Rachel once again brought to my attention the fact that making friends can be tricky. After returning with her family from a stint overseas, Rachel had entered school mid-semester and was having trouble finding a playmate. At lunch she would approach each clutch of girls her age and politely ask if she could play with them. Each said no. Rachel continued with this tactic for two weeks until she finally gave up. When my daughter told me about this, I felt sick. The image of a sweet little girl being rejected over and over tore at my heart.

“Teachers need to watch for that,” I thought, “or a kid could be scarred for life.”

“Schools aren’t staffed for that kind of monitoring,” explained my neighbor who was teaching school at the time. “Besides, you can’t force kids into friendships. They have to form naturally.”

My thoughts turned to these two events after hearing several news stories—all reporting that feelings of loneliness, isolation, and social discomfort are on the rise (and not merely with exchange students and late arrivers). Apparently electronic devices are making it difficult for some individuals to make human connections and to enjoy them once they do. Young people are particularly vulnerable. Since many of today’s youth spend a good portion of their time silently playing side-by-side at game consoles and then when they do talk, doing so via text, many are entering the workforce with an aversion to face-to-face (and group) interactions. According to one report, many Millennials appear as if they’d rather be texting their responses during a job interview than talking in person. Others are having trouble empathizing. Still others are feeling lonely.

Having watched what happened to Rachel a few years back, my own offspring are doing their best to combat the effects of both machine and human-based isolation. To begin with, they ensure that their kids belong to sports, music, academic, and/or special-interest groups where participants are required to (1) meet face-to-face, (2) talk, and (3) cooperate. Nothing else will do.

“Think about participating in band,” my daughter explained. “Band members know who they’ll sit with at lunch before they even show up at high school. That’s a big deal.”

I mentioned this to my fifteen-year-old neighbor and he eagerly responded, “I went to band practice the summer before high school and when I nervously walked through the high school doors the first day of school, I realized that I knew dozens of my classmates and had lots of friends! All in the band.” His brother explained that he had experienced something similarly comforting, only with the robot club.

Clubs and teams can be a great help in providing social experiences, but not without work. Make sure that as youngsters gather to build robots or shoot baskets, they also learn how to interact effectively. Blend music, sports, and science skills with tutoring in social skills. Blend physical fitness with training in social fitness. Watch to see if participants know how to carry their part of a conversation, work through differences of opinion, graciously include a new or shy member, talk comfortably in a group, and encourage teammates who are struggling. When you observe problems, teach solutions. For years we’ve helped young people study math, biology, and literature. What a blessing it would be if we started teaching them how to bond with peers, strengthen groups, and make life-long friends.

And Pablo (wherever you may be), do you still own that hacienda? I was just wondering.

Crucial Application

Holding Crucial Conversations in Law Enforcement

By Charles “Chip” Huth
Captain, Kansas City Police Department

Police officers are frequently faced with challenging decisions that have the potential to dramatically impact the safety of the public and their fellow officers. They are trained to deal with some of the most stress-inducing circumstances imaginable, and a great deal is typically riding on how well they perform under pressure.

Among the most critical skills an officer must possess is the ability to artfully engage in high stakes conversations, both with members of the public and their colleagues. Police officers are confronted with the opportunity to courageously address serious issues that impact safety and effectiveness on a daily—and oftentimes—hourly basis.

Lacking the Skills

Years ago, as a newly promoted supervisor, I was assigned to lead a high-risk tactical operation. While briefing the team, I noticed a veteran officer about to embark on a dangerous auxiliary assignment who was not wearing his body armor. I immediately recognized his decision was in violation of department policy, was ill advised, and could have a disastrous impact on his safety and the safety of his teammates. I felt I should pull him aside and address the issue on the spot, but I was at a loss for how to approach him. Worried that I would bumble the conversation, I chose instead to ignore the situation and hope for the best.

While I recognized how potentially damaging my inaction could be, I simply lacked the necessary skills to guide me through what I knew would be a touchy discussion. When faced with the option of taking on this very important issue and risk appearing foolish or overbearing, or staying silent at great cost to the safety of all concerned, I lacked the confidence to make the right choice.

Unfortunately, in our business it’s not unusual for a police officer to witness a colleague doing something that is potentially career-ending—whether it be taking miscalculated risks or behaving disdainfully toward a citizen—and fail to address it directly.

Moment of Decision

Even in a profession ripe with examples of valor and bravery, there is often a moment of decision between recognizing that something important needs to be said, and having the ability to engage with others in constructive dialogue in the face of competing interests.

The thoughtful team at VitalSmarts has developed a comprehensive program that bridges that gap.

Importance of Training

Training in Crucial Conversations provides a helpful set of tools to police officers and supervisors who are faced with issues that challenge their commitment to acting for what is right. Effective communication is a life blood issue for any police agency; failure to engage in critical dialogue can erode trust, and systematically damage accountability.

The Crucial Conversations curriculum does an excellent job of exposing the reasons behind our failure to hold ourselves accountable for directly challenging issues on principle. Participants in the course learn the physiological and psychological mechanisms that help drive us to “silence” or “violence” when faced with perplexing issues. These intricate concepts are broken down and explained in simplistic and easy to digest language.

Applicable to Law Enforcement

Last month I had the opportunity to attend Crucial Conversations training. Immediately I recognized its validity for law enforcement.

During the training, we were taught how to look for Mutual Purpose when engaged in vital discussions. This act is imperative in law enforcement—a police department must gain both employee and stakeholder engagement to instill safety and security in the community.

In order for a police department to promote engagement, everyone must believe their opinions and ideas are respected and valued as relevant. I found the methodology presented in the training particularly helpful when one is seeking to disentangle the person from the problem—and remain objective and open to influence from alternative perspectives.

Taking Responsibility

One very important aspect of the training was personal accountability. The facilitator promoted this idea by encouraging us to take responsibility for holding these conversations—rather than expecting our superiors to handle the issue.

This practice is essential for law enforcement professionals, especially considering the autonomy of the average officer. Conversations around critical topics need to be handled at the lowest level possible due to the span of control in typical police organizations. Employees must feel empowered to take responsibility for seeking resolutions at the first opportunity.

To Better Serve the Community

Police officers are all about serving others. They are expected to model respectful and honorable behavior. This responsibility requires that they not only act honorably toward others, but also recognize opportunities to engage in critical dialogue to help others solve their problems.

Beyond learning to recognize the need to act (motivation), police officers must be equipped with a skill set to guide them along the path to action (ability).

The way in which police officers interact with and communicate with members of the public significantly affects the community’s prevailing opinion about the police. And certain critical interactions with the police—in life and death circumstances—occur in which poorly communicated intentions can lead to tragic results.

Training in Crucial Conversations skills provides a template to help drive accountability and communicate intentions and expectations in a way that invites cooperation, increases officer and community safety, and improves neighborhoods and communities.

Further comments from Crucial Conversations course facilitator Paul Luster:

A significant amount of peace officer training is anchored in principles of officer safety and street survival. Unfortunately, you do not have to watch any news broadcast for a significant amount of time to determine this training is not without great merit. Research has revealed that the daily pressure associated with high stress professions, such as law enforcement, can quickly lead to hypervigilance—a heightened startle response and abnormal awareness of environmental stimuli. Observing the world in this paradigm can often lead to a host of emotional and physical problems. When this occurs, a downward communications spiral is often observed. This not only affects peace officers professionally, but in their personal lives as well.

I have recognized this “downward spiral” in numerous co-workers as I have progressed through my own career. I realized department members were damaging relationships with citizens, peers, and loved ones simply because they lacked the skills to hold high stakes conversations in an effective and respectful manner. To put it simply, silence or violence was present in numerous conversations. I searched for a solution and found Crucial Conversations to be a perfect fit.

The response to Crucial Conversations has been overwhelming. Participants are excited to leave the training with a skill set specifically designed to allow high stakes conversations to occur in a manner that produces genuine results. Numerous participants have contacted me after attending the course indicating how well the skills work. They no longer resort to silence or violence, but rather utilize the skills to effectively share thoughts and opinions while encouraging others to do the same.

Paul Luster is operations supervisor at the Kansas City Police Crime Laboratory and also facilitates Crucial Conversations courses at the Kansas City Regional Police Academy.

Crucial Accountability QA

How to Forgive, Forget, and Move Forward

Dear David,

How should I handle a very opinionated person who says things to me that are hateful and mean? This particular person is so opinionated that I could try giving my point of view until I’m blue in the face and they won’t hear a word I say. When I’ve tried expressing how their comments make me feel, it doesn’t seem to matter to them and they respond with, “Well that’s just the way I feel. That’s my opinion.” However, they want to then continue on with the relationship and act like nothing has happened, yet I’m left harboring negative feelings about the hurtful things they’ve said. This relationship is very important to me so I want to get past it. How do I forgive and forget so that the relationship can move forward?

Drowning in Opinions

Dear Drowning,

This is the point where a parent might say, “Just find better friends.” But I’m betting that’s too simple, right? For example, let’s assume that this opinionated person isn’t just a friend—she’s your mom. I’ll try a few suggestions.

What do you really want? You say you want to “forgive and forget so the relationship can move forward.” This is a worthy goal, but it’s also a goal that demands a lot from you. I’ll focus on the “forgive” part. I’m not sure the “forget” part is as important as “moving forward.”

Negative stories. This person (let’s say it’s your mother) is telling herself an unflattering story about you—about your character, your capabilities, your motives, or your future. Some of this negative narrative is based on facts, i.e., her experiences with you over the years. But this narrative is also affected by her own strong opinions, which are obviously different from yours. The result is that your mother is more likely to see your flaws than your strengths because they fit the storyline in her head. In addition, instead of giving you the benefit of the doubt, she’s likely to assume and expect the worst—again because that fits her narrative.

Next, cope with her negative narrative about you.

Take responsibility. Be accountable for the parts of the story that are actually true. For example, if your mother is accusing you of being thoughtless and mean, and she has evidence, then admit it. Apologize. Do your best to repair the damage you’ve done, and then move on. If you don’t own your past, you won’t be able to clean the slate, and earn a fresh start. But don’t expect to ever really earn a fresh start. Your mother’s narrative is based on a long history, and her opinions are bolstered by multiple sources of influence.

Center on areas of Mutual Purpose and Mutual Respect. Focus on the parts of the relationship where you have Mutual Purpose and feel Mutual Respect, and then build from there. Focus on commonalities instead of differences. I’m not telling you to avoid touchy disagreements. You won’t hear that from the folks who brought you Crucial Conversations. But don’t turn disagreements into wedges that drive you further apart. Instead, be direct, honest, and frank about your differences, while—at the same time—reiterating Mutual Purpose and Mutual Respect. Remember, you don’t love your mother because of her opinions; you love her regardless of her opinions.

Stop using her as a reference for your own self-respect. This is more difficult than it sounds. Quit looking to her for approval in areas where the two of you disagree. Find better ways to determine your self-worth. Decide that her disapproval doesn’t matter to you—at least not as much as it does now. Your mother will continue to make opinionated statements, but you can determine whether her opinions hurt you or not. Make yourself invulnerable to them.

Now, influence her opinions.

Explain natural consequences. You suggested her opinions are unlikely to change, and you know best. Verbal persuasion is not a very powerful way to change hearts and minds. But here are a couple of suggestions for when she says, “That’s just the way I feel. That’s my opinion.”

Personal Consequences—natural consequences to herself. Point out the inconsistency between her opinion and the person you love. “I know it’s your opinion, and I respect that. But I don’t think it’s who you really are. I know you as a loving person. When I hear you say something hurtful, I don’t see it as the real you.”

Social Consequences—hidden victims. Explain the impact she is having on others—that she may not be aware of. “I don’t think you knew that Mary—the eight-year-old at the table—her grandfather died of cancer earlier this month. When you said smokers deserve to get sick, she left the table. I found her sobbing in the bathroom.”

Model your values. Direct and vicarious experiences are the most powerful ways to change attitudes and opinions. You provide these experiences, so make sure they are positive. For example, imagine that your mother is hearing hateful opinions on TV about a certain aspect of your life, but is seeing that contradicted in the way you actually live your life. Your living example is more powerful than any media. But don’t expect her to change her words—at least not at first. She may be too prideful for that. Instead, look for her to soften her actions. Allow her actions to speak louder than words.

I hope these ideas will help,

Crucial Application

Society’s New Addiction: Getting a “Like” over Having a Life

New research by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield shows obsession with posting photos and checking phones corresponds with lower enjoyment. More and more of us are losing connection with our lives in order to earn “likes” and social media praise. We have, in a sense, turned into social media “trophy hunters.”

Ultimately, the study reveals this obsession with social media trophy hunting isn’t just distracting—it’s dictating lives. Consider:

  • Nearly 3 out of 4 people admit to being rude or disconnected from others because they’re more focused on their phone than on the other person
  • 91 percent have seen a tourist miss enjoyment in the moment trying to get it on social media—and many acknowledge doing the same thing themselves
  • 79 percent have seen a parent undermine their own experience in a child’s life in an effort to capture the perfect post
  • 14 percent have risked their own safety to try and get a good posting

So how can we enjoy the moment and overcome social media addictions? Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield offer the following four tips:

1. Look at yourself. Before going to great effort to take a picture, stop and ask, “What would a reasonable third party think of me if they saw what I was doing?” It’s easy to do risky or inappropriate things when caught up in the moment. Reflecting from an outsider’s perspective can help you stay morally centered.

2. Limit your postings. The best way to stop unconsciously intruding in your life is to become conscious of it. Keep track of—and limit—how many things you post. If you post more than once a day, you probably have a problem. Most people appreciate your postings more if they come once or twice a week rather than daily—or more. If you cut off the demand you’ll naturally reduce the supply you create.

3. Snap, look and listen. Far too often, once we snap a picture in an inspiring place, we turn and leave. Fight the impulse to “call it good” just after taking a picture. Slow down. Breathe. Look around. Listen. Engage your senses and enjoy the experience not just the trophy.

4. Take a vacation from your device. Spend a day, evening, or even an hour with some physical distance from your devices. If you feel anxious, you’re on the right track. Once you fight through the initial discomfort, you’ll learn to be present and connected to your immediate environment in a way that will produce genuine happiness and enjoyment.

View the results of our study in the infographic below or download a copy for yourself.

Infographic_LikesOverLife_Trophy Hunters_March 2015

Crucial Conversations QA

How to Deal with Delicate Family Issues

Dear Joseph,

My sister is the executor of my parents’ estate. When my dad died last May, the estate went to my mom who is living with my sister. Recently, my sister helped my mom re-write her will. The new will leaves all of the acreage of my parents’ property and sole decision-making authority for distribution of all other assets to my sister. When I talked to my sister about our parents’ estate she said she believes no one in the family deserves another dime. I think it is wrong to have such a partial fiduciary for the estate and would like to discuss this with my mother. How should I do that?

A Way for the Will

Dear Way for the Will,

Please hang with me for the next few paragraphs. It might be hard here at the start.

One look at your question leaves me worrying that your sister is setting herself up for big problems—either perceived or real. Either she may play an inappropriate role in the division of the estate, or she may unwittingly act in ways that make it likely you and others will feel that way.

But after a second pass, there are small suggestions that this is a more complicated story with multiple strong and valid concerns. For example, in the facts:

• Since your father died, your sister has had primary responsibility for the care of your mother.
• Your question raises only issues about estate division and not about shared responsibility.

See why I asked you to hang with me? Please don’t take offense. Of course I know nothing—I am only inferring. I believe my primary value to you is not in perfectly understanding the situation but in offering alternative ways of approaching it. These are easier for me to offer due to my detachment and naiveté. So, here goes.

• Focus on what you really want. These situations bring up all of the old victim, villain, and helpless stories of your youth. Perceived inequities, rivalries, and disappointments of yesteryear can be triggered in an instant with the smallest cue. Be very attentive to your own motives—pay attention when you get caught up in winning, being right, avoiding conflict, or punishing. Think deeply about what you really want—for yourself, for others and for the relationships in years ahead. Commit these desires to writing so you can keep them front and center in your mind. I don’t know what is fair or right—but I can assure you that the biggest influence on your future happiness will not be the outcome of estate. Rather it will be your emotions about the estate. And the best way to manage your emotions is to monitor your motives.

• Talk about responsibilities first, assets second. Be sure to think about all of the family issues. Discuss them systemically because they are all connected. For example, don’t raise issues about who gets the farm without validating its connection to who has worked the farm. If your energy is all about asset distribution, this should give you pause to reexamine your motives. If your motives are right, the estate will be an element of your conversation not the soul of it.

• Empathize deeply. Before opening up conversations with mom, sister, or other siblings I recommend you take yourself through a powerful empathy exercise. On various sheets of paper, write the names of each family member who has a stake in these issues. Then, one at a time, become that person. Underneath each person’s name write out their concerns, feelings, needs, opinions—as best you can guess them. Make sure you do this from his or her perspective. You will know you have succeeded in empathizing when you feel a reverence and respect for his or her view while writing it. It will feel reasonable. If the writing exercise provokes resentment or resistance in your mind, keep at it. You’ll get there! The purpose of this process is not to cause you to surrender your own interests or needs. Those are important. It is to simply create space to consider the needs and interests of others.

• Practice rigorous transparency. Now you’re ready to talk. But by no means should you talk exclusively with your mother. The estate is your mother’s so she is the ultimate decision-maker. But because she may be open to influence from others, be sure to avoid creating rivalries by holding closed conversations. Encourage your mother to be inclusive, if that seems appropriate to her. Let all family members know your broader motives. If someone becomes contentious—validate their concerns. Listen deeply. Empathize. Unilaterally commit to getting a fair hearing for everyone. With all this said, I know there are times when feelings are so deep-seated or motives become so clouded that the future could still be painful. But I am confident that if you keep your own priorities right, and approach these conversations with compassion and understanding, you will reach as good an outcome as is possible.

Best wishes,

From the Road

What Happens in Vegas . . .

Oh, the Vegas Rule. What a simple little phrase: “What happens here, stays here!”

Being raised in Nevada, I always enjoy a solid reference to the state of my heart (feel free to join me in the first verse of “Home Means Nevada” if you’re a Nevadan at heart, or take a short Google field trip to enjoy someone else singing it in case you’re not familiar).

Now that you’re back from your mini parenthetical field trip, what, if anything, does this have to do with training? Well it’s only one of the most commonly invoked ground rules by trainers to insure confidentiality in a class. And I’ve noticed an upswing in the number of trainers who include this rule during the expectations—setting portion of their classes.

I think it provides participants some comfort to know that anything discussed with their learning partner won’t leave that room. And unfortunately, all too often it never does. Participants work on tough messages, practice useful skills, and then, “what happened there, stays there.” They treat their application case-related discussions as a guilty pleasure only to be indulged in the secret, dark corners of a training room. And since they miss the opportunity to further grow and develop their skills with a real world application, they are left with vague, but positive recollections of a safer place where all skills were good, and all conversations productive—if only they could transport back to the safety of the classroom experience.

So as much as it pains me to even allow the words to escape my mouth, you need to be actively working on ways to counteract the long-term affects of the Vegas Rule. And make sure you’re approaching it in a balanced manner. Be very clear that while participants won’t be required to “go public” with all of the details of their learning partner discussions during the class, the whole point of the training is to make sure that “what happens here, transfers to there,” wherever their “there” happens to be.

Trainer QA

E for Encourage Testing

We’re full steam into Lesson 4 on STATE My Path. In my experience, participants are eager to put everything together into a formula that will permit them to speak up in tough situations. We’ve thought the issue through, planned and practiced, controlled our emotions and focused on what we really want so we can be persuasive by using our powerful reasoning as we STA!

And we should be excited! But let’s stop there for just a minute, because we don’t want our new level of enthusiasm to get in the way and shut the other person down. Since we know from the get-go that there are different views on the subject, we also need to prepare to meet the other person where they are—maybe a bit caught off guard and apprehensive about our motive or where the conversation might be going.

Enter the “how” skills: talk tentatively and encourage testing. That E isn’t tacked on just to make a clever acronym, it’s there for a reason. Consider the following when you use and teach this powerful skill.

1. Your STA is your best guess, your hypothesis about the way things are. How do you show concern for the feelings and opinions of the other person? Do so by clearly articulating that you’re so interested in dialogue they should speak up especially when they disagree. (e.g., “If you see it differently, I’d love to hear your view.”)

2. If you are the subject matter expert or the problem solver of the issue you’re discussing, be extra careful to use E. The other person might be overwhelmed by your logic and expertise. Give them space by encouraging them to challenge your position. (e.g., “How does this sound/look from your perspective?”)

3. Even when spoken tentatively, a good STA paints a detailed picture of where you’re coming from. We might assume that the other person will just jump in and engage with us, but we need to give them room to formulate their response. E gives us the chance to pause and make it clear that we’re not so much interested in being right as in having a clear picture of the entire situation. (e.g., “If I’m missing something, or haven’t gotten it right, I’m interested in hearing what that is.”)

4. Let’s face it—stopping after STA can seem a little awkward. One way to give both parties a little extra courage is to use the E skill. (e.g., “What’s your view? I’d really like to hear it.”)

Look for ways to teach your participants that it’s our responsibility to get all the meaning into the pool—and that the skill encourage testing helps us do just that.