All posts by Steve Willlis

Crucial Conversations QA

How To Leave A Job Gracefully

Dear Steve,

I’m an RN and recently took a staff position at a private pay, long-term care facility. Naturally, the expectations of the residents who can afford to live at this facility are very high and the administrator is committed to keeping them happy.

I became very concerned about the culture at this facility on my first day of orientation when it was explained that there were no chairs at the nurse’s station because of the “five-minute rule” regarding answering call lights. In an attempt to improve compliance with the rule, the chairs were removed and the staff must now complete charting and computer work standing up. As a professional who is expected to prioritize care and be accountable for my decision making process, I found this administrative move to be insulting and ridiculous. It has caused me to seriously reconsider my position with this company. Should I stay and hope things improve, or cut and run?

Sincerely,
Stay or Go?

Dear Stay or Go,

This can be a tough choice because “if you go, there could be trouble, and if you stay, it will be double” (a thank you to Mick Jones for his insight here). It’s good to realize that this new organization might not be a good cultural fit for you early on in your employment. Many people either don’t recognize the harmonic dissonance until much later or talk themselves into putting up with it—setting themselves up for a lot of potentially avoidable pain and suffering.

At the same time, there are many reasons people would choose to stay at such an organization, despite experiencing adverse circumstances: having a job in the first place, having a schedule conducive to pursuing other interests, working in a place of high reputation, or even gaining experience that allows you to further your career goals. Their net experience is overall positive so they decide to stay. And that’s ok, if they recognize that they are choosing both the positive AND negative aspects of the job.

However, by your description of the culture and your particular discomfort with how things are run, I do think that staying would set you up for the “double trouble” alluded to in the opening paragraph. I’d encourage you to consider leaving, and here’s how I’d recommend you approach this situation.

First, give the organization a chance. Now I realize this seems to counter the advice I just gave, but hang in there with me for a moment. I’d encourage you to set up a time where you can talk with your boss and confirm your assumptions about the culture and if it is the right fit for you, your skills, and your expectations. Use your very best STATE skills to address your concerns and the conclusions you’ve come to.

Start this coversation by sharing what attracted you to the organization. Do this before you outline the gaps in your expectations. As you transition the discussion to the gaps you’ve found, make sure to be specific in your observations—cite the removal of the chairs and any other facts you’ve noticed. Next, lay out your tentative conclusion to leave. Don’t apologize for it, or weaken your position here, but don’t overwhelm your manager either. Own your conclusion with phrases like, “It doesn’t feel like the right fit for me,” or, “The way I see it…,” or, “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not the right fit for me.”

Many people shy away from this approach because they don’t want to come across as threatening: a kind of “change this or else I quit” type of demand. You can avoid this by ending with an inquiry. This is the point where you give the organization a chance. Put your meaning on the table and then invite your boss into the conversation with an ask like, “Before I made any decisions, I wanted to talk with you to get your take on the situation,” or “As you can see, this is really weighing on me, so I wanted to check in with you to get a sense of how you see things.” Your inquiry is an opportunity to test out your assumptions while at the same time determining the organization’s commitment to continue with the cultural patterns that have you worried. This is also the place where you can test whether or not there are other positions or places in the organization that would be a better fit. You may not have to leave the organization to find a better fit.

Now in this process, be careful not to allow yourself to be talked back into a position you don’t want. Your concern is not about unfair compensation or other concerns unrelated to the work environment. It’s about cultural fit. And, you shouldn’t settle for a resolution that is, in essence, being paid more to tolerate a bad fit. That won’t address your concern. For this to work, you need to be comfortable with the decision to leave the organization.

I think you’ll find that this approach gives the organization a chance to change if they feel that you are the exact type of employee they want. If they have no desire to shift, it at least gives them some data about how good employees perceive their culture. It also gives you the chance to exit the organization gracefully, if needed.

At the end of the day, if none of what I’ve recommended works for you, you can always try Paul’s way. “Just slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan, Stan. You don’t need to be coy, Roy. Just get yourself free.”

Best of luck,
Steve

Crucial Conversations QA

How to Broach a Difficult Topic

Dear Crucial Skills,

As the mother of two adult children who are each very intelligent and gainfully employed, I try and stay out of their personal decisions. However, one of them started smoking during his high school years. The smoking has continued for almost twenty years. His father and I worry about his health but have trouble understanding how to (or if we should) broach this topic productively with him.

Signed,
Uneasy Parents

Dear Uneasy Parents,

To broach or not to broach—that is the question. Or even better, how to broach without reproach? And it’s not simply a question of whether or not to bring up a particular topic, but also how to do it in way that’s positive and impactful. I find that when people are facing this, and similar challenges, they merge these two separate and distinct questions into one. And since they usually don’t have a good response to how to be positive and impactful, they easily dismiss the answer regarding whether to bring up the topic in the first place. In essence we think, “I’m not sure I’d be able to address (fill in your concern here), so it’s probably not worth bringing up.” We choose to “live” with the situation despite the negative consequences. So let’s tackle these questions one at a time.

First, to broach or not broach? The outcome from either choice seems to have a big downside—accept his smoking habit or ruin the relationship—especially in light of the current strains on an already weak relationship. In Crucial Conversations, we describe the pull toward these two alternatives as choosing between silence and violence. And in case you didn’t already notice, regardless of which you choose, you lose. So we end up choosing the more palatable option out of two bad alternatives—silence. Essentially, this means we’ve lost from the outset, before we’ve even taken any action. By choosing silence, we believe that we’re voting in favor of maintaining the relationship while really undermining the relationship we’re trying so hard to maintain. Let me give you an example:

Years ago, my wife’s sister and her husband had their first child—happy day for everyone! Well, maybe not everyone. In my wife’s family, it is assumed that her mother will be invited to the home to help take care of the new arrival. So my mother-in-law started to make travel arrangements even before the baby was born. However, these arrangements had to be undone because my sister-in-law had already invited someone else to come and help with the new baby without alerting her mother. You see, my brother-in-law had some mother-in-law issues. Instead of addressing the concerns in the open, my sister-in-law tried to brush them under the rug and created a whole new set of mother/daughter issues. This is a good example of the principle that what we don’t talk out, we act out. It never ends well.

To get out of this trap, try drafting a more complete consequence list for smoking. What do I mean by that? When faced with a difficult conversation, our head quickly volunteers to do the hard work of calculating the potential outcomes for speaking up and quickly saves itself from any additional hard work by quickly convincing you that a conversation won’t be worth it. We tend to focus on the short-term, negative consequences (like straining your relationship) and look past the long-term, positive consequences of actually sharing our concerns (like helping your son avoid a terminal illness). Relieve your brain of this responsibility by capturing all of the consequences on paper. When you’re able to consider a more complete and accurate list, you can make a more informed decision about how to proceed.

Once you decide the topic’s worth broaching, how do you go about it? Most often in these types of situations, my first thoughts are aligned with the STATE skills in Crucial Conversations. They provide the perfect framework to help people raise tough, controversial issues or concerns in a way that minimizes defensiveness and invites the other person into the conversation. And yet, how you describe your son in your question pulls me in a different direction—especially your description of his intelligence.

Many times, when talking with intelligent people about strongly entrenched habits like smoking, our approach invites defensiveness—even when using STATE skills. Why? Because we approach it as if the person needs more information about the negative impacts of his or her choices (the unsavory smell, coughing, emphysema, lung cancer, the list goes on). The other person has seen the ads, and likely know the statistics. More information is not the problem. Your son is already well-informed. Instead, try getting him to consider an insightful question.

Here’s what we’ve found: it’s very natural for people to resist when confronted head-on about issues that require significant effort to change. They hear your argument and treat it as an argument. That means taking a position, digging in to defend the position, and actively looking for ways to reinforce that position—which is not very conducive to an honest exploration. If you’re looking to create motivation, don’t start with sharing more information.

Bill Miller pioneered an approach that focused on influential questions. He found that exploration can be more powerful in creating the conditions conducive to change than explanation. For example, lead with a question like, “I was wondering how smoking interferes with (insert your son’s favorite activity or even an important role he plays, like at work, for example)?” This probing question produces far less defensiveness than, “let me tell you why I wish you wouldn’t smoke.” You’re not forcing him to take the opposite position from you, and it’s directing him towards something he regularly experiences. Get him to explore the implications of his choices so he is less ambivalent about making different choices.

These types of conversations are tricky and usually require a lot of love, concern, and patience. Hopefully these ideas will give you some options for approaching your son. I wish you the best in beginning this conversation and as you create the conditions to explore and reinforce the motivations for change that he probably already has.

All the best,
Steve

Crucial Conversations QA

Are You Being Passive-Aggressive?

Dear Steve,

I recently took the Crucial Conversations course and learned about the silence-dialogue-violence spectrum. I believe my tendency is to go to silence at work, but violence at home. I’ve wondered why I react differently in these two situations. I speculated that perhaps the reason was that I felt safer at home. However, I recently realized that what may look like silence at work may truly be passive-aggressive behavior. This prompted the following question: Where does passive-aggressive behavior fall on the spectrum? Is it silence or veiled violence?

Sincerely,
Earnest Self-Reflection

Dear Earnest,

Some years ago, I happened upon an article in the Money section of USA Today. The section started with an article about former IRS repo men, and, quite frankly, I couldn’t imagine anything being more riveting. I was wrong. There on the next page, appeared a title as if illuminated in neon lights: “When You’re Smiling, Are You Seething Inside?” Hmmm . . . repo men? Or smiling while seething? I think you can guess that I quickly switched articles. What I thought would be an exposé on specific individuals’ behavior turned out to be an exploration of organizational behavior—or, more accurately, collective behavior within organizations. It not only outlined the impact of passive/aggressive culture, but also the industries that were most prone to foster this type of culture. Reading this article started me on a path of thinking about and observing (and on occasion participating in) both individual and collective passive/aggressive behavior patterns. And so, after years of study, I can definitively say that the answer to your question is yes. If that seems confusing, let me explain.

Over the years, I’ve noticed something interesting about the silence-violence continuum. It doesn’t always behave like a true continuum. There are many instances where it is more accurately represented as an arc—and not the altruistic kind like Noah’s or Joan’s. In the case of this arc, silence and violence remain the anchors, but instead of being represented as polar opposites, they bend back toward one another. In many situations they touch, facilitating the surprisingly quick jump from silence to violence or from violence to silence. And so to your question. Passive-aggressive behavior can easily assume the form of veiled violence or silence because it is.

This may seem a little counter-intuitive, but silence and violence are rooted in the same value—fear. And while it might seem easy to make the connection between silence strategies and fear, the fear-to-violence connection wasn’t as easy for me to figure out. Some examples of violence motivated by fear might be: “I’m afraid you won’t agree with me so I have to assert control,” or, “I’m afraid I’ll be seen as less, so I have to go on the attack.” So if we think about silence and violence strategies as different expressions of the same feeling, what used to be well established boundaries start to blur. And sometimes, they blur to the point of not being able to clearly categorize the behavior.

And now, on to a question you didn’t ask but that I feel warrants being part of the discussion. There are two types of passive/aggressive behavior that I see most often as I work with different organizations. They take different forms in different regions of the world. So as you review them, see if you can identify how and where they show up where you live and work.

Sarcasm. This first type is more of an aggressive/passive strategy. It’s one of the most common signs that someone doesn’t feel safe while, at the same time, causing feelings of insecurity in others. Because it’s readily available—and we are surrounded by so many examples—it’s widely used. To be clear, there is such a thing as playful, fun sarcasm. But a lot of what I see in organizations is sarcasm rooted in the origins of the word. Derived from the Greek sarkazein, sarcasm literally means “to strip off the flesh.” Ouch! And in a lame effort to ease the pain of the cut, it’s always followed-up with some version of the old classic, “I’m only kidding! Can’t you take a joke?”

Gossip. This second strategy is more of the tried and true passive/aggressive approach. The idea is that whenever you feel you’re in a weaker position, you launch an assault behind the other person’s back. Never share your concerns, reservations, or controversial perspectives in the moment while talking directly to the other person. Instead, wait until you find an uninvolved third party with absolutely no ability to resolve any of the issues you bring up. Extra bonus points if you can talk to someone who might eventually leak the details of your concerns, without naming who had them, to someone who can do something about it. This version may seem less vicious when compared to the previous example, and yet it’s just as real in its long-term impact on the health of both the relationship and the culture of the organization.

Just to be clear, I don’t dwell on these wedge-driving behaviors for fun. I believe that the sooner we recognize we aren’t in dialogue—especially when we find ourselves on more artful, subtle departures—the faster we can get back to dialogue and the fewer the casualties. I wish you many passive/aggressive-free conversations!

Best of Luck,
Steve

Change Anything QA

Changing Behavior in the Classroom

Dear Steve,

I teach a class of eight- to nine-year-olds in church. They are high in energy and enthusiasm, but low in self-restraint. How do I encourage and teach and inspire them while keeping order? I’ve thought about helping them establish class rules of conduct, but am short on ideas for rewards or consequences.

Sincerely,
Bouncing Off The Walls

Dear Bouncing,

It seems like you’re experiencing that age of wonder, inquisitiveness, curiosity, and wild, unbridled enthusiasm (i.e., wall bouncing). It seems that eight to nine is a magic number because just a couple of weeks ago, I was working with a group of eight to nine executives who suffered from the same problem. I think I have a couple of ideas that will work with high energy kids . . . and executives.

It’s not uncommon to want to move immediately to rewards and consequences when faced with this type of challenge—it’s both easy and fast. However, it’s often not as effective as you would hope. You also spend a lot of time wrapped up in discipline rather than teaching and inspiring. My suggestions will require a little more patience, but should yield better results over the long-term. Here are three big ideas to add to what you’re currently doing:

  • Focus on practice.
  • Build some wiggle room into your rewards.
  • Create audibles.

Focus on practice. Focusing on practice in this case means practicing to focus. Kids come from a variety of different home environments, each with their own set of norms and expectations. Some children will come to your class more calm and with a higher capacity to focus. Others—not so much. The difficulty is that those with a higher capacity to focus will soon conform to the norm set by those that don’t. Many children simply don’t know how to focus, so you will need to help them develop those skills. Take time in your class to deliberately practice paying attention.

Start with shorter time periods and work your way up to longer ones. Let them know that you’re going to practice and allow room for them to fail as they practice. They will need help and coaching throughout the process, and probably won’t get it right the first time they try. Make sure to use a large timer in the process so they can get a sense of how long they need to focus. If necessary, give them something to focus on, and keep track of their progress so that they can see their improvement.

With this approach, you’ll want to introduce challenges to make it fun. Things like, “Our record is two minutes. Let’s see if we can do two minutes and ten seconds.” Or, “Let’s start off with the quiet game. The first person to make a noise makes the timer start over for the whole group.” If you make it a game, they’ll find it’s more fun to practice. Then, you’ll get the group involved in encouraging one another in the process.

Build some wiggle room into your rewards. Let’s be honest. We’re talking about eight- to- nine-year-olds—they are inherently wiggly. And when pent-up for any extended period of time, they will eventually explode in a fit of flailing arms and legs (and that’s the mild version). So a smart approach is to create opportunities to let it all out. This can actually be a great reward for good behavior. I became familiar with a church class run by a neighbor of mine who had music she used to allow the kids to “go wild” to for the duration of the song. Another teacher would choose a child that had demonstrated good focus during the class to lead his or her classmates in a series of wiggle exercises of his or her choosing. There is a movement (pun intended) being championed by Nike and others to get kids active in the classroom for short bursts to break up some of the longer teaching segments. I think similar to them, you’ll find that these types of breaks will be a great reward for the kids, and help them focus by providing an outlet for their need to move.

Create audibles. Along with the previous two ideas, you’ll want to have a strategy to deal with the times that the class falls back into old behavior patterns. And it’s not a matter of “if,” it really is a matter of “when.” The Boy Scouts of America have a great way of dealing with kids when they get too rambunctious. To bring attention back, the leader holds up his or her right hand with three fingers extended straight up. When scouts see this, they are supposed to stop talking and respond by making the same sign. Everybody recognizes this sign and knows what to do when they see it.

With younger kids, I’d recommend something similar, but adding an audible command. Something like, “If you can hear my voice, pat your head.” You can use all kinds of variations on this such as clap your hands, stomp your foot, pull your ear lobe, make the high-five sign, etc. So mix it up and be creative—the kids will love seeing the new things you come up with.

Something like this will allow you to see who’s responding and who still needs help. If you find some are not responding as quickly, you may want to add some additional information to your audible. Something like, “If you can hear my voice, pat your head. Okay, it looks like we’re still waiting for so-and-so, and what’s-their-bucket.” It usually takes a couple of rounds of commands before you’ll get the entire class, but with practice, they will get better at it.

Hopefully, implementing these ideas will help bring the bouncing under control . . . or at least reduce it to a manageable dribble. Remember, consistency is the key in these situations. Good luck and carry on with the impactful teaching assignment you’ve undertaken. I’m sure there are many grateful parents associated with those kids.

Sincerely,
Steve

From the Road

Music You Can Dance to, and Other Hidden Training Tips

Music is a big part of my training experiences. Anytime I’m laying out the flow for a training design, or stepping in front of an audience, I have a song playing in my head. Setting the tone, driving the pace, bringing everything together. I’ve used music as a pre-session and break filler, and even, on occasion, as examples in training (I find the best examples tend to be in ¾ time).

So, no surprise that as I’ve been putting together my REACH presentation on trainer tips over the last couple of weeks, there was a song playing in my head. I was about halfway through the presentation when the lyrics from this song became very clear (not always the case) and triggered one of my favorite sayings from my past: “Most of the significant problems you face can be solved in the lyrics of songs.”

I hadn’t reflected on this sage advice in a long time, so I started to wonder: is this as applicable today as it was in those lovelorn late-teen to early-twenties years? Could it apply to training problems? I decided to put it to the test. For those of you who enjoy a good “hum-along,” here is some advice that I was able to tap out as I considered a couple of common training challenges.

Training Challenge: A participant asks if it’s all right to miss the afternoon.
Response: Should I stay or should I go? If I go there could be trouble.

Training Challenge:
Participants want to stay with their table groups instead of pairing up with a learning partner.
Response: It takes two to make a thing go right. It takes two make it outta sight.

Training Challenge: How do I memorize everybody’s name in the session?
Response: Well I remember, I remember, don’t worry. How could I ever forget? It’s the first time, the last time we ever met.

Training Challenge: No one seems to be responding to the questions you ask.
Response: Yeah, let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be. There will be an answer, let it be.
So next time you feel stuck, it might help to turn on the radio and, “Oh, oh, listen to the music!”

P.S. Can you identify all the songs referenced above? Comment below and log your guesses.

Influencer QA

Influencing Good Study Habits

Dear Steve,

My son is twelve going on thirteen and is in the seventh grade. I understand seventh grade is a difficult adjustment, however he simply refuses to do his classwork and homework. He has been tested for learning disabilities as well as emotional problems, but was declared a bright and healthy young teen—both emotionally and physically. We have tried many methods of both punishment and rewards systems, but nothing seems to work. He simply refuses to do his work in class and at home, and he only does his homework when I am watching him. This method is not helping anyone. Additionally, his attitude toward school has greatly affected his ability to make friends and connect with his peers; his grades are so poor, he has been prevented from joining social clubs and activities. I am truly at a loss as to how I can help him achieve success in life. What would you suggest?

Regards,
At Wit’s End

Dear At Wit’s End,

In my experience, one of the biggest contributing factors to why you feel so stuck is that you don’t know why you’re stuck! And you don’t know if it’s something he’ll eventually grow out of or even how long it might last. For me, it’s actually the worst kind of stuck. It feels so frustrating because no matter what you try, nothing seems to change. This feeling is compounded by the fact that this problem is not inconsequential—it’s his education.

First of all, when you find yourself in this type of situation, you need to resist the temptation to jump from solution to solution. You try something, it doesn’t work, so on to the next idea until finally, you feel your only option is to administer consequences in increasingly creative, and severe, ways. Now you’ve entered The Escalation Zone!

Now, what to do. I’d submit that these types of situations require a second or third look at what is driving the person’s actions. Our assumptions are often partially, and sometimes completely, wrong. As a result, our solutions and remedies fall short, leaving us frustrated. These types of situations are well suited to the Six Sources of Influence™.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the model, it’s based on the idea that in order for people to do something, they have to be both motivated and able—they have to want to do it, and know how or be able to do it. We’ve found this very useful in understanding behavior choice. The Six Source Model helps us examine those two conditions at three levels: Personal, Social, and Structural. A close examination of all six of these sources of influence helps us be more effective. We can expand our view of why people do what they do and consider factors outside of those we naturally gravitate toward when diagnosing.

So, here is a quick run down of the sources and how each might be contributing to the problem:

Source 1: Personal Motivation.
This source assesses the intrinsic motivators that affect behavior choice. So, does this your son find value in or derive satisfaction from doing schoolwork? It sounds like from your comments the answer is a big “NO!” And before you start to think, “Tell me something I don’t already know,” let me say that there is a catch to this source that can be tricky. If a person is facing significant barriers over a long period of time, their overall frustration builds up to the point that it boils over into personal motivation. So an, “I hate this,” might not really be an “I hate this.” Hmmm. On to Source 2 for a little more explanation.

Source 2: Personal Ability. With Source 2, examine the skills, knowledge, and overall wherewithal a person has to engage in any given behavior. The sad truth is that when people feel like they aren’t able to do something, it affects their motivation—they start to like it less.

I was working on a literacy project many years ago in Tennessee. We researched causes of illiteracy and found that those who rated reading very low as an activity they enjoyed also indicated that they didn’t know how to read. Years of not being able to read affected their overall feelings toward the activity. We also discovered that if we worked on their reading skills, they found the activity much more enjoyable. So maybe your son doesn’t have good study skills (how to take notes, skim vs read, etc.), or doesn’t do as well with organization and prioritization skills.

Sources 3 & 4: Social Motivation and Ability. How are other people affecting him? Does he have new friends that encourage or discourage certain behaviors? Does he need help from a tutor? What impact are you, his family, having on him? In our house, we realized that when one of our sons (the oldest) said negative things about schoolwork, the youngest started to do the same.

Source 5: Structural Motivation. In source 5, we take a look at incentives and punishments. As parents, we tend to rely on these too heavily when it comes to getting our children to do what we want them to do. I know that I’ve relied far too often on punishment to teach my kids what I hope they learn instead of coaching and training.

When it comes to this source, I’d encourage you to think of how to use rewards also. For example, we used to get our kids to identify something they enjoy doing like playing a board game. They could use this to reward themselves for staying on task.

Source 6: Structural Ability. Here we look at the tools and resources a person has versus those he or she might need. Is there a system, or method that your son would benefit from? Is there a structure or schedule that would get him to perform better?

And while all of the solutions cited above are good ideas, the best and most effective ideas are those that address the barriers the individual person—in this case your son—is facing. Even though you’ve already done an analysis, it can be useful to look again to make sure the root causes aren’t being masked by something else.

Now, you will probably find that those whom you are trying to influence also face barriers from each of these sources. This is a fairly common occurrence. But many of us, when faced with multi-faceted barriers, look to only one source of influence for solutions. Instead, try implementing solutions from the sources you diagnosed as “at risk” concurrently and see what happens—especially with challenges that seem intractable and insurmountable.

Good luck, and may the “source” be with you!
Steve

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Crucial Conversations QA

Recovering From Childhood Stereotypes

Dear Steve,

I’ve learned much about interacting with people through my career experiences and training—including some of your training—as an engineering project manager. I have been quite successful at putting these skills into effect, and have even taught some of them to my kids. However, I have had very little success in applying the same skills with extended family members. In particular, these are people who have not been a part of my daily life for many years i.e., we get together occasionally but don’t interact regularly.

Although many relatives relate to me as the person I am today, my siblings, parents, and some cousins insist on treating me as the person I was many years ago as a child or teenager. They refuse to acknowledge any of my growth. I find it difficult to have meaningful relationships with people who treat me as they remember me as a child despite the fact that I am in my 50’s, have had a successful career, and have raised three successful children. Do you have any advice for how to hold these kinds of conversations?

Signed,
Stuck in the Past

Dear Stuck in the Past,

I can relate. I married the second youngest of eight children, which at the time seemed to be all upside. I was instantly part of a large family with lots of brothers- and sisters-in-law as well as many nieces and nephews. They are a wonderful family and I really enjoy my interactions with all of the siblings. What I didn’t realize at the time we were married, is that I was joining the family in a pre-established position of sorts.

My wife’s oldest brother is ten years older than she is, and for years, treated me like his little sister’s boyfriend when it came to certain matters. It wasn’t that he wasn’t nice and inviting, he just discounted my experience and wisdom on important topics. And it took years to change the overall tenor of our shared experiences.

So first of all, remember to be patient. This can take time—especially when the frequency of your interactions is every two years versus every four to six months. The challenge you face is a data challenge. The impression members of your extended family have is based on experiences, third party information exchanges between relatives, and distant memories—the kind that feel 100% fresh and accurate, but are more likely half distorted and fuzzy. All these things come together to form impressions which remain long after the data supporting them has ceased. And while communication can help in this type of situation, what really needs to happen is to alter their data stream, or in most cases, create a whole new data set based on who you are today. Let me further illuminate my meaning.

Some years ago, I was working on a project where we tried to showcase the skills and knowledge of recently hired employees. Or more specifically, get these employees to demonstrate their ever-growing knowledge base and understanding of their industry. These new hires tended to be younger and had little-to-no industry experience. This being the case, they found that leaders, especially those who had been in the organization for a long time, had trouble seeing these newer employees as much more than punk kids who’d just barely graduated from school. The people who worked closely with this group of younger, newer employees (especially members within the peer group) could see their growth and treated them with more respect. Those who were more removed (similar to your extended relatives and my brother-in-law), continued to hold the group to the same level of knowledge and experience at which they first experienced the group. These impressions and conclusions were so strong, that even when one of the newer employees had a breakthrough achievement, the members of the longer-tenured leadership group would attribute that success to some fluke of circumstance.

We discovered that the key to changing these assumptions was to change the experiences—or data—that created, and perhaps more importantly, reinforced these assumptions. They needed to find a way to demonstrate their new knowledge in a way that wasn’t overly showy or ostentatious lest they give rise to a new and different story.

So if it’s really important to you that your relatives see you as “all grown up,” then here’s some ways to think about demonstrating your knowledge and otherwise changing their data streams.

1. If others aren’t giving you credit for specific knowledge (whether it’s how to raise kids, or manage finances, etc.) find a way to engage with them on that topic. Share an article or video with them and create an opportunity for discussion. It could also be as simple as finding that person at the next family gathering and starting up a conversation on the topic.

2. Another great way to give them new data is to experience the outcome of your work. Let them spend time with your children so they get the sense that you’re a more skilled parent than they give you credit for, or let them see the template you created for a smashing financial plan.

3. You might also want to start with those who have the most sway with others in the family. If you can create shifts in their perceptions, they can start to reinforce who you really are rather than who everyone remembers you used to be.

Along the way, you may still have need to use your best crucial conversations skills to correct misconceptions and inaccuracies so be prepared for that. This will be most particularly needful for the ones you interact with least. And if you find that it’s not that important to you, then take comfort and satisfaction in the person you’re becoming and the immediate outcomes you have produced.

Best of Luck!
Steve

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