Find out how focusing on your own behavior could positively impact others
The following blog is inspired by Scott Watson’s work, an emotional intelligence speaker and trainer who focuses on education. I hope they will complement what you are already doing well and help you create a tactical plan to improve your own emotional intelligence and the emotional climate in your team. You might find that focusing on how your behavior is impacting others can change the emotional climate in your team — and positively impact your career. (Do you privately believe the issues on your team are all the Product Owner’s fault? Review How to Improve your Emotional EQ for Product Owners article.)
1. Find Your Voice
You can’t give away what you don’t have
As a leader, you must overcome any of your own emotional insecurity and speak up, even if you naturally shy away from conflicts. It’s not about standing up to others; it’s about finding your own voice. If you cannot speak up for yourself, how can you defend your team?
Consider your natural stances when you are faced with some uncomfortable, but low-impact scenarios. Perhaps something as simple as sending back a food order that isn’t right, in a polite, but unapologetic way. A slightly more critical scenario might be asking a friend who is habitually late to your meet-ups to show up on time.
Now, move to a scenario that has more gravity to it, such as starting or stopping events on time. You might have a teammate who consistently shows up late. They might slide in, late again, and say something like “Oh, so sorry I am late. I had a meeting that ran over.” Do you find bringing this up in a retrospective to honor your time and that of others by planning to leave the previous meeting on time, or do you give them an easy out with the casual “Oh, that’s okay. It happens.”
If your team does not witness you standing up for yourself, or for them, when the stakes are low, imagine how they might anticipate your ability to confront a more difficult scenario.
A great way to note your personal habits and emotional growth over time is to keep a coaching journal.
Pause here, and write down 3 memories of an uncomfortable scenario — particularly those that occur on a regular basis, where you wish you would have spoken up, but didn’t. Pick one uncomfortable, repeating scenario in your life and a new, healthy response. Write out the script and practice it in order to be comfortable delivering a new response.
We can’t spend all day ‘should-ing’ all over ourselves. This practice is to help us identify those areas where we need to focus our intentions. Just make a short note of those three scenarios, write out a healthy script, then move onto working toward the solution.
Do you have the opposite problem? Is yours the predominant voice in the room? Read on.
2. Create a safe environment for other voices
Scrum Masters with high social sensitivity intuitively know how their actions, tone of voice, or expressions are affecting others. Even if you are not naturally intuitive, you can learn how to create openings for others with nuances in language, active listening, and collaboration techniques.
Pay attention to who is speaking up in events. David Marquet, in his book “Leadership is Language,” describes analyzing transcripts of major disasters such as when two ships collided. He found that subordinates talked dramatically less than leaders, to the peril of others. Google, with their study on high-performing teams in Project Aristotle, also found that a common trait of high-performing teams are those where people had equal time to speak up and voice their opinions. Ask yourself: How much are you talking in comparison to others?
Note the Stress level. Stress interferes with the ability to learn, therefore it impedes the ability to innovate and solve problems. When team members get stressed, it manifests with negative emotions. The team can actually stop looking for solutions and start to withdraw from participating in events. Take note of disengaging behaviors in addition to not speaking up. Pay particular attention if you are passing on stress from your own perspective. Ask yourself: How might you be adding to the stress level on your team?
Pay attention to what happens when you speak or act. This can be difficult to do by yourself, particularly if you are facilitating an event. Consider asking a trusted team mate to give you feedback directly after the event to help answer these questions: What happens in the team immediately after you convey a message? What are people’s facial expressions saying to you (consider body language if you are in person). What are they saying? What specific words convey what they are feeling?
Employ Collaboration Techniques. One of my favorite sources for a large variety of games and interactive sessions you can share with your team to get them talking is at www.tastycupcakes.org. To go further, you may also borrow fundamentals from Sharon Bowman’s body of work “Training From the Back of the Room.” Bring her adult learning techniques into any event to quickly and positively change dynamics.
Pause here and consider your last team event. Who was doing the most speaking? Are you the loudest voice ?What could you do in your coaching sessions or retrospectives to ask those predominant voices to help create more balance?
Write down the names of one person on your team who appears to be disengaged to you in some way. Write down three ideas to safely invite them to collaborate more.
Even if your teams have been working together, it’s still a good idea to pause to reflect and adapt at a personal level.
3. The value of open-ended questions
The act of asking questions can help warm-up the emotional climate and the collaboration in a team with just a few nuances in language. We might feel that we are asking the right questions, but a good practice is to pay particular attention to who is responding and how they are responding. People respond more openly when small nuances in our language helps the tone feel more collaborative. This is a natural for some, but with regular practice, this can be a learned skill for those of us who need this.
In our desire to pull people into the conversation, we may come across too intrusive. Particularly if you find yourself working with people who might self-identify more as introverts. Practice replacing direct call-outs such as “What are you thinking?” with these nuances:
“What are your thoughts on this? Please share them with us.”
“May I share my thoughts and then hear yours?”
Consider an emotionally charged situation. Often, particularly if people are upset, it’s not what someone is saying — it’s what the person hears. When people are upset, don’t just ask ask, “Why are you upset?” This will just make them more upset or defensive. Try phrases like:
“Will you tell me more about <xxx>?”
“What can I do to resolve this matter so we can return to the topic and get on with our event?”
My favorite source to practice open ended questions is the book “Coaching Questions” by Tony Stoltzfus. Each chapter has scenarios you can practice with a friend and a variety of techniques to use to achieve different outcomes with your audience.
Pause here and think of a recent situation where you were asking trying to get others to share. Write down three questions you used, and then consider how you can adapt them to be more open-ended or employ a more collaborative approach. Then practice your new powerful questions so they become part of your natural language.
The power of 8 seconds!
According to scientists, the human attention span is so short that goldfish can pay attention longer than we can. The results of a Canadian research study showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in the year 2000 (around the time we all started reaching for our smart phones) to eight seconds.
Goldfish, meanwhile, can focus for nine.
Most facilitators do not give people time to think. They ask a question and want an answer. Your job is to resist the temptation to jump in. Switch off your brain from “I need to speak” to “let me listen.” With just a little mindfulness on your part, you may find that giving yourself time to prepare your next thought or response will help you apply some of the points made here.
Give yourself 8 seconds with each invitation to speak or to collaborate. It will give your team time to think, understand and respond. Even better, give them time to really problem solve with a clear invitation such as: “I’ll come back to you in two minutes.” Even better, it gives you time to check in with the group to observe non-verbals, consider how to move forward, and use intentional language.
Pause now and write this down as a prompt that you can see when you facilitate your next event: “Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said, right now? Does it need to be said, right now, by me?” It takes me 8 seconds to say those three phrases with a slight breath in between. How long does it take you?
In conclusion…practice and share
This blog is not about not trying to change anyone. It’s about helping others to explore different ways to behave or communicate that is more effective for them as individuals and their team. Everyone on the team should be invested in furthering the safe environment that fosters innovation. Perhaps, if you show your vulnerability and willingness to improve your own emotional EQ, others will too.
I’m interested to know… what will you do differently? If you have been practicing these or similar tactics, please comment here and let us know: Did practicing any of these 3 tips change the emotional climate in your team? How did waiting 8 seconds change your emotional EQ?
Live your truth; hone your craft; show your thanks
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