Language Really Can Become Your Reality

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a management workshop that had been organized after our full week of meetings and I found it incredibly valuable in terms of new insights and learning. For one, it allowed me to meet my colleagues out of a workplace context (even though it was held at our workplace.) Being in jeans and more relaxed gave me a sense of being able to talk to people outside our usual frame. The day also gave us lots of opportunities to work on short exercises and talk to each other in different ways about ourselves and our work. We learned new things about each other, and we shared some of our concerns about our work as managers at a big institution.

The other thing that I found incredibly valuable was the opportunity to see for myself how language affects people (at least me). This is one management insight that I am sure will help me in the future. This is something that I learned through AI, Appreciative Inquiry, and today was an excellent example of this particular principle.

When I left the workshop, I felt tired. I was a bit down, and a little overwhelmed at how challenging being a manager was, and felt some doubt about my ability to give people good feedback and actively listen. Why was this? Normally I am a very positive person, I take management and leadership as one of my personal improvement goals, and do my best to be a good team member. When I thought through the day, I realised that many of the activities were framed in a way that emphasized the hard parts of being a manager. We first identified our challenges in the workplace, we did an activity that demonstrated how hard it is to give good feedback (no one could do it on the first or even second go). Words like ‘battered’ and ‘trapped’ were used to describe our feelings for our jobs; we talked about what we hated about our jobs and what aspects of job satisfaction that we did not have.

We also talked about lots of good things here and there, and at the same time, the deficit discussions seemed to affect me more at the end of the day. Lizzie told me that she heard a podcast from MindTools recently in which, during an interview with an author of ‘The Power of Nice’, Robin Koval spoke of how it takes seven good actions to undo one negative one. You have to do so much more on the positive side of things to bring people around from a negative frame. Somehow those aspects were what I took away with me that day. I asked myself as I was leaving, do I feel energised, do I have ideas I am eager to implement, am I excited about my work and my role? How do I feel?

I got some good ideas during this workshop and I also learned something very valuable for myself. For some people, like me, we go in the direction that we are questioned, and language can become our reality. These discussions focus a spotlight on a part of reality for us. What part of reality do we want to choose (or do others choose for us?) I don’t deny that there are challenges in the workplace; I guess I would like to address these in a more appreciative way, so that at the end of my query process I understand more about my situation, have some clues as to what I can do about it, and I have the enthusiasm to make those changes.

If I use an appreciative approach here I would ask myself, “So how could this workshop have been different?” How would I feel about my job as a manager after a day where we practiced how to give great feedback and help our team members identify what they do well, and how to apply those qualities and skills to the things that they (and we, as managers) would like to be different?

1 reply
  1. dormgrandpop
    dormgrandpop says:

    Some time ago, I asked my conselor, Peggy Treadwell, how I could sustain a climate in which members of my group would be willing to communicate ‘bad news’ to one another and especially to me. Her response was that this is one of the hardest and most important things to do in an organization. It must be a daily task!! Here are some things I have found to be helpful.
    (1) Constantly nurture a climate of arrimation and love in which every manager is regularly acknowledged for positive qualities that make them special. For example, each member of my group has a nickname that higlights unique qualities that make a difference. examples – “the good steward”, “the visionary”, “the good and faithful servant”, “the sound of one hand clapping” (one of my managers is a Zen Buddhist); “the rock of Gibralter”, “still waters”, “clear path,” “cool head,” “creative energizer,” “deep wisdom”, “the good steward” etc. Not long ago, AU’s new Chief Information Officer (my counterpart on the hard technology side) joined our group at our mid year retreat. Instead of having members of my group introduce themselves, I introduced each one of them to him, standing behind where they were sitting at our conference table, highlighing their great qualities and mentioning their nicknames.
    (2) I seek out opportunities to acknowledge when I have screwed up, take responsibilities for my screw ups and make amends. I tell my managers – and even junior staff members – that pointing out my mistakes is one of the greatest contributions they can make to our organization. When someone comes into my office to point out that I have done something they think was wrong, I always try to be begin by praising them. (this is not always easy, of course) Often I will then try to reinforce the behavior still further by discussing the interaction in our next management group meeting;.
    (3) Whenever our group is ackonwledged for doing something great – happily this happens fairly often, I make sure that the individuals most responsible are publicly acknowledged, by name to my direct report – the Provost of the University – and, when appropriate, to other members of the community: the President, Vice Presidents and Board Members with whom I have personal realtionships.
    Last week, the Provost and three deans of a University in Nigeria visited CTE for a briefing and we decided to give the meeting that special quality of warmth combined with professionalism that we try to create at all our high priority events. Among other things my chief administrative and budget officer (nickname ‘deep wisdom’) baked cookies – and decorated them with the colors of the Nigerian Flaq. Our meeting was great success and fun for all.

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