All posts by Scott Robley

Scott Robley is a speaker and Master Trainer at VitalSmarts. With more than twenty years of experience in education, training, and public speaking, Scott is the ultimate professional, a master storyteller, and committed to changing the world by changing behavior.
Crucial Conversations QA

How to Talk With a Struggling Adolescent

Dear Scott,

I have an 11-year-old son who is struggling and I don’t know what to do. We recently relocated overseas, far from home and family and friends. Then the COVID-19 restrictions hit. My boy’s behavior changed significantly. He is always angry and frustrated. I’ve tried to keep him busy in sports and music, but he loses motivation. He used to be a good guitar player, now he rarely plays. When I take him to walk the dog, within a couple of minutes he heads back home on his own. And he doesn’t want to talk. I really want to re-establish open communication with him. For a long time he was my best and probably only friend, and that has changed. I feel we need each other more than ever right now. How can I give him a safe environment so he feels free to speak his mind and express his anger and frustration?

Sincerely,
Struggling Father

Dear Struggling Father,

As a father of four sons, the youngest of which is 11 years old, I appreciate and feel your question more than ever. We are definitely living in unique times. None of us was given an instruction manual on how to raise children, let alone how to do so amidst the circumstances you describe. Fortunately, we have been given an outline on how to step up to these kinds of moments. The skills provided in Crucial Conversations help us develop an environment of open dialogue that can improve relationships and increase trust. Try the following:

START WITH HEART

With any difficult interpersonal situation, it is imperative that you start with heart. To get your heart in the right place, ask yourself, “What do I really want?”

It seems that when it matters most, we are often at our worst. As parents, we let our emotions get the best of us and we end up behaving in ways that are completely contrary to our good motives. And when we reflect on “What do I really want?” we often amend the question with the following words: from them. This approach is limiting. Our motive can’t be merely to have the other person change. We are better to reflect on what we really want for them. This is a stronger motive and one that will encourage dialogue and not provoke emotion.

I remember an experience I had years ago while visiting with a friend’s college-aged son. Matthew had just finished his first semester of college. He was attending on an academic scholarship. I asked him how his first semester went. He went on and on, describing the fun he had been having. Finally, I interrupted and asked him about his studies. He said, “Not good.” I replied, “What do you mean, ‘not good’?” He added, “I got a 1.7.” I responded, “Yes, that’s not good.” Then I asked the question, “What did your dad say?” I was anxious to hear how his father had reacted when learning that his son had not only had a horrible academic semester, but that he also lost his scholarship as a result. Matthew looked at me and said, “When I called him and told him, my dad said, ‘I’m going to have to call you back.’”

Wow! What a response. I imagined my friend’s emotions swelling and him being tempted to lash out and express disappointment and frustration, which would have potentially damaged his relationship with his son. Instead, because he knew what he wanted for his son and not just from him, he took a moment to gather his thoughts and settle his emotions. Yes, he wanted his son to change. But more than that he wanted a strong relationship with his son. He wanted his son to feel safe coming to him in moments of failure as well as triumph.

Embedded in your question lies your true desire. I can see that what you really want is for your son to be happy, free of anger and stubbornness, and for the two of you to have a relationship built on open dialogue where you can support one another. With this desire as your compass, you will naturally be guided in the correct path to approaching your son.

VALIDATE HIS FEELINGS

The other day I watched my colleague, Emily Gregory, share a message about helping teens manage stress. She spoke of the importance of validating our children’s feelings. She told a story of speaking with her teenager about the changes brought on by COVID-19 and then listening to her share her strong emotions, to which she replied, “That is totally normal to feel this way. In fact, I would be concerned about you if you didn’t feel this way.”

Affirm what your son is feeling and assure him that his feelings are normal. By validating his feelings, you are not only providing space to dialogue, but in many ways you are inviting him into that space. A little validation can go a long way.

BE CURIOUS

It is common during crucial conversations for people to shut down and retreat or to respond with anger. To reestablish dialogue and create a safe space, get curious. I once heard it said, “When people become furious, get curious.”

Ask your son questions to find out why he is feeling the way he is. Be sincere about getting to the source of his feelings. When we show genuine interest, people are less likely to retreat from dialogue. Be patient in allowing him to share his feelings. When you ask him how he’s doing, he may respond with a flippant “Fine!” When his tone of voice or body language are inconsistent with his words, try “mirroring.” Mirroring is the act of reflecting a person’s behavior back by describing their behavior. So, respond with a simple, “You don’t seem fine. You don’t play guitar anymore and you’re quiet all the time. Is everything ok?” This is a great way to show your son that you really are curious and that you want him to share.

Also, suspend your inclination to solve his problems. Just listen. This may require a little priming. My sons have never really been the type to naturally share their feelings and emotions, even when I ask. Like priming an old-fashioned hand pump, sometimes you have to put something in to get something out. If your son resists opening up, offer up your best guess of what you think he is feeling or thinking. Don’t worry if your guess is not accurate. If you’re wrong, he will let you know. But if you’re right, he may confirm and open up.

DECLARE YOUR INTENT

Years ago, my third son taught me a valuable lesson. He was 15 years old and had his driver’s permit. On Christmas Day, we went to a movie as a family. When the movie was over, my son asked if he could drive. My wife and I agreed. I was in the passenger seat, his mother and younger brother were in the middle seats, and his two older brothers were the back seats.

On our drive home, my son demonstrated that it’s possible to make a left-hand turn without signaling. He also learned a valuable lesson. As we approached the intersection where he would turn left, the light turned yellow. My son decided he would make the yellow light and advanced into the intersection. But because he failed to use his turn signal to indicate his intentions, an on-coming vehicle also decided to make the yellow light. Fortunately, brakes were applied, and an accident was avoided.

Too often, like my son, we fail to use our blinker. When others don’t know our intentions, they are left to guess. In my experience, we are all terrible guessers. Don’t assume your son will know what you really want. Use your blinker. Let him know that what you really want is for him to be happy and for the two of you to have a stronger, more open relationship. Doing so may allow you to avoid a conversational collision.

In order to help your son and restore your relationship, remember to:

  1. Start With Heart: Know what you really want for him.
  2. Validate His Feelings: Let him know it’s okay for him to feel the way he does.
  3. Be Curious: Ask, listen, mirror, listen, prime, listen, ask…
  4. Declare Your Intent: Let him know what you really want.

Be patient. It won’t happen overnight. It will take time, consistency, and persistence.

All the best,

Scott

Crucial Conversations QA

How to Deliver an Engaging Virtual Presentation

Dear Scott,

I must prepare for a virtual board presentation. I reviewed your tips for leading an engaging meeting and loved them. I am curious if the same tips are applicable for a presentation that is intended to inform rather than entertain.

Signed,
Learning More than Ever

Dear Learning More than Ever,

I love your question, and you are not alone. As we continue in our current state, many are looking for ways to deliver effective and engaging training and presentations. I’ll speak mostly to training, because that’s what I do, but whether you’re leading trainings or meetings I think there are three things to consider: Mindset, Environment, and Technique.

Mindset

For most trainers, virtual delivery is foreign. They’ve never really ventured into the virtual realm until now. Many (if not all) have developed a story that virtual training is not as good as in-person training or that they won’t be as good at delivering it. I was visiting with one of our Master Trainers just the other day and he said, “I have to admit, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about virtual training, but now that I’ve trained a few times I’m finding I really enjoy it.”

To deliver effective virtual training, you must shift your mindset. It’s a limited perspective to think only about how your content will be affected by a virtual platform. Instead, think about how you can create a virtual learning experience.

You must first realize that a virtual classroom behaves similarly to a physical classroom. So start by asking yourself, “How do I deliver a successful in-person presentation?” Then ask the follow-up question, “How would that translate to a virtual classroom?” These questions will help you address everything from classroom setup and slide-deck preparation to classroom management and delivery techniques. Having the right mindset, and seeing the benefits and opportunities of virtual delivery, is the right place to start.

Environment

Another key factor in successful virtual presenting is creating the right environment. This, of course, includes the obvious:

  • Dedicated delivery space
  • Neutral background
  • No distractions
  • Good lighting
  • Good webcam
  • Good headset and microphone
  • Good Internet connection

Additionally, you also should know how to use the features of the delivery platform you choose. All platforms are not created equal, nor do they offer the same features. Get familiar with your chosen platform.

Knowing the makeup and size of your audience, as well as their platform preference, will help you make the best decision. And don’t forget that there are numerous ways to interact with those in your session or meeting: screen sharing, webcam, audio, assessments, or polls. Each feature performs a specific function and knowing how to utilize each will enhance your presentation.

Delivery Techniques

With the right mindset and environment, you are ready to focus on delivery techniques to create an engaging virtual experience. Here are three steps to consider:

Introduce the Expectation

Before your session or meeting, let those attending know that this will NOT be a typical presentation. Explain that they will be asked to engage and participate in a variety of ways. That way they’ll be present. But position the presentation from a place of service. One of my favorite mantras is “serving is learning.” When we share our thoughts and insights, not only does it benefit others, it also encourages them to share their ideas, which lead to further discussion and insights. This is helpful for learners to know this from the onset.

Reiterate the Expectation

When you start your presentation, remind everyone of the goal of presence and engagement.

Fulfill the Expectation

If you set an expectation of engagement, make sure you actually follow through. It’s easy to get so caught up in the presentation that it turns into a typical screen share. Don’t make that mistake. Invite attendees to participate. It doesn’t make sense to establish an expectation and then not encourage engagement.

Here are some “rules of engagement” that will help you foster the experience you seek.

Encourage ALL to share. In any training or meeting, it is easy for a handful of people to dominate the discussion. This can be especially true when delivering virtually. One benefit of virtual delivery is that it allows time for ALL to share, because they can share their ideas via text on screen. Be mindful of who is sharing and who is not. Monitor the chat pod and invite others to share as well. A simple, “These are great comments. I’d love to hear from the rest of you.” can go a long way. And look for opportunities to deepen the discussion throughout your presentation.

Prepare them to share. People are more inclined to share when they are prepared to do so. No one likes to be caught off guard. Try saying something like, “In a moment, I’m going to ask a couple of you to share your thoughts.” This includes giving people time to share. If you are using the chat pods for discussion, it can take people a little longer to put their thoughts into text. There may be extended periods of silence, so be prepared yourself and wait.

Recognize and reinforce sharing. One of the best ways to encourage engagement is to use positive reinforcement by recognizing those that share, both individually and collectively. Be liberal in thanking others for their comments and insights. Try to highlight individuals for their contribution and service to the experience.

In the end, the right mindset, a good environment, and good delivery techniques will improve your ability to deliver an engaging virtual presentation. It also helps to know your content well, have fun, and be yourself.

Good luck,
Scott

Trainer QA

Building Habits to Overcome Disruption

Dear Scott,

COVID-19 work from home conditions have thrown my routines into chaos. I feel like I am constantly trying to keep up and the more I try, the more overwhelmed I feel. How can I get myself back on track?

Sincerely,
Overwhelmed

Dear Overwhelmed,

Frustrating. Confusing. Challenging. Unprecedented. Restricting. Troublesome. Sad. These are just some of the words used to describe our current challenges as a society due to COVID-19. Public closures such as schools, restaurants, facilities, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders have changed where and how we work as well as how we engage and interact with others. For many, who just forty-five days ago were sailing along in a successful routine, these changes have felt chaotic. The word I’d use to describe the experience is disruptive.

Disruption is “disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process.” Our global community has experienced a disruption to our most common daily routines or habits and as our environment changes, so do our habits. In a very short amount of time, we are developing habits which are not delivering the desired results we seek.

This may be especially evident in our health habits. For many, continuous access to the refrigerator and pantry is slowly changing mine and other’s eating habits. The virus is called COVID-19, but for some, it is quickly becoming the COVID-25 due to the amount of weight people are experiencing as a result of the disruption to normal eating habits. Social media posts are popping up every day with messages like, “It is now being recommended that we wear masks while in our homes—not to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but to keep us from eating.” I saw a post in my social media feed with a sign in a refrigerator that reads, “You are not hungry, you are bored. Close the door.”

Additionally, our current COVID-19 challenges have disrupted our personal and professional productivity habits. It becomes challenging to get in the flow of work as we deal with limited home office space, shared internet, children at home either doing schoolwork, crying boredom, and/or growling in frustration from lack of X-box Fortnite gaming victories (I have seen this happen first-hand with my son).

Given these unique challenges, how can we stop the formation of the disruptive habits we find ourselves battling in the new normal? How can we replace disruptive habits with new ones that create improved outcomes? Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit introduces us to the science of habit formation and how to change habits that are negatively impacting us, into habits that render positive outcomes. He teaches: “This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical, mental, or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future: THE HABIT LOOP.”

Here are THREE KEYS to help you leverage the Habit Loop in the new normal.

Be Mindful
Take the time to identify where you are not getting the results you want and where you need to make changes. In The Power of Habit Training workshop, we call it “Identify the Lag.” Living in the lag describes the time between when we SHOULD change a habit and when that habit IS changed. The longer we are in the lag, the more we believe change is impossible. The more mindful we are of the type of outcome we are trying to achieve, the sooner we can spot our lags, pivot to change actions, and move through them successfully.

Be Intentional
Many of us have tried to change our habits without the results we wanted; in doing so, we have been focused on the wrong steps. We have merely tried to change our routines or behaviors at a surface level when we should be focusing on the cues and rewards of the habit itself. Charles says, “If you can figure out the cues and the rewards that cause the routines to occur, then you can start fiddling with the gears of the habits in your own life and you can change almost anything.” Be intentional in your approach to change disruptive habits by identifying what triggers can invite your desired behavior and what rewards make the routine worth repeating.

Be Accountable
Accountability is a key ingredient to success and one we often struggle with. Accepting accountability allows us to make the necessary changes to achieve our desired outcomes. One of the best ways we can hold ourselves accountable to new routines is to let others know about our goal. Ask for support. Others can help us when we fall short as well as recognize our small wins and lend a broader lens to our progress.

We don’t have to let our current situation disrupt our routines. We can choose how we allow this unique, global challenge to impact us. We don’t have to be the consumers of our lives. As we leverage the Habit Loop, and are mindful, intentional, and accountable, we can become the designers of our lives. What does your design look like?

Best wishes,
Scott