The Heart of the Matter – Adding Value

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Have you experienced a time when someone went above and beyond the “call of duty”?  Perhaps it was a parent, a teacher, a mentor, or a friend.

Photo by Tasha M. Troy

Photo by Tasha M. Troy

When I first starting writing this blog last year, it took me a while to find my voice and my style.  At that time, a friend of mine agreed to help me by previewing my articles.  What I didn’t know was that this friend has a background in publishing.  He didn’t just preview, but he gave detailed feedback, pointing out gaps in the flow of information and providing valuable suggestions.  His input helped establish a firm foundation for everything that has followed.  He genuinely did so much more for me than I had anticipated.

My friend demonstrated the final step in the connected influence model, which is “when you’ve done enough … do more.”  If you want to have principled, integrity-based influence in people’s lives, you have to go above and beyond what’s expected; you have to go the “extra mile.”

John Maxwell says that “leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”  That being the case, his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership provides 21 strategies for increasing your influence.  Law #5, the Law of Addition, states that “leaders add value by serving others.”  He says, “I believe the bottom line in leadership isn’t how far we advance ourselves but how far we advance others.  That is achieved by serving others and adding value to their lives” (p. 51).  This is the essence of connected influence.

Connected listening is the starting point of connected influence (or connected leadership).  Once you truly understand another’s point of view, hopes, goals, and challenges, you may be able to move forward together.  Mark Goulston and John Ullmen, in their book Real Influence, draw a connection between “the 3 gets” of step 3 with “the 3 value channels” of step 4:

  • You get “it” –> you can add insight
  • You get “them” –> you can add emotional value
  • You get their path to progress –> you can add practical value

No matter how much you understand, until you help the other person by adding value to them, you are no more than a sympathetic ear.  Don’t get me wrong – one of our greatest needs as humans is to feel heard and understood, so being a sympathetic ear is adding value to someone.  However, in order to take your influence to the next level, you will have to invest in people by pointing them towards solutions.

My challenge to you for this week is to identify one person in your life who you would like to develop greater influence with.  Make a point of asking about that person’s situation and look for opportunities to provide support and creative suggestions.  If you have never done something like this before, you will be amazed by the results.

 

Links and Resources:

Previous posts on this topic

Previous Posts on the Connected Influence Model

Great Outcomes and Shared Interests

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In 2004, I was living and working in S. Korea.  It was the first time I experienced a US presidential election while living overseas, and I was truly surprised by the interest my Korean friends and connections showed in the election.  In retrospect, it made sense; the policy decisions in the US have wide-sweeping impacts around the globe.  It was at that point that I started paying even more attention to US foreign policy.

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Photo by Tasha M. Troy

In their book Real Influence, Mark Goulston and John Ullmen describe four steps in their “connected influence” model.  The first step is “go for great outcomes,” which they define as “standing for something noble and worthwhile, … about going beyond where people want to be and showing them where they could be” (p. 39).  This is what I hope to accomplish in this post.

Standing for Something Noble:  America was once considered a world leader, promoting democracy and human rights, resisting totalitarianism, fighting for freedom and liberty.  There is something inspiring in the images of Captain American and Superman, however unrealistic they may be.

However, that image was not entirely accurate.  We have not always used our power and influence wisely or ethically.  I was first made aware of the “dark side” of American exceptionalism when I was in high school and I learned about US intervention in other nations having catastrophic impacts on those nations.

As an example, I wrote a report for my history class my senior year in high school on the effects of US intervention in Nicaragua.  I discovered that by supporting a “right-wing dictator” in the first half of the 20th century, the US actually set the stage for the communist regime to gain power in the 1970s.

Strangely enough, we still haven’t learned our lesson; we are still supporting repressive regimes in other countries, leading to the loss of civil liberties and human rights in places such as Iraq and Ethiopia.

Closer to home, we hear in the news everyday of injustices being perpetrated on the disadvantaged, the underprivileged, the different.  We tried to tell ourselves that prejudice was dead, but we see across the country that it is alive and well.  I know I am not exempt, though I strive to identify and eliminate judgmental attitudes in myself.

Where People Want to Be:  Clearly, these injustices can not be allowed to continue, either at home or abroad.  I believe people want to see economic inequality and racial prejudices not merely reduced but completely eliminated, personal freedoms ensured.  What I envision is a world where every person is enabled to reach their God-given potential.

Where I think we have trouble is that we disagree on precisely how to accomplish this.  Some may think it is impossible and have given up, but I still have hope.  A first step is “healing the timeline.”

Dutch Sheets, in his book An Appeal to Heaven, talks about “healing the timeline.”  By this, he means that we as a nation need to recognize the injustices in our own history (and present), not deny or ignore them, and actively and humbly seek reconciliation.

We humans engage in denial at times, because it seems to alleviate the pain, but God doesn’t.  His plan, as Isaiah said, is always to “rebuild … raise up … repair … restore” the broken timelines.  The mending of these breaks allows the pain of the past to heal, not be buried.  … Without true healing, this cycle of pain repeats itself generation after generation. …

Through humility, repentance, God’s love, and forgiveness, we can heal history’s timeline. (p. 22-24)

Showing Them Where They Could Be:  After World War 2, we were the thought leaders of the world.  We were respected even by those who disliked us.  Still today, for good or ill, the US holds great influence on nations and individuals near and far.  To deny that influence is to perpetuate injustice.  We have to get our own house in order so that we can once again be an influence for human rights, justice, and liberty.

 

Links and Resources:

An Invitation – Join me for a live Q&A call, Thursday, July 16, at 8:00 p.m. EDT.

Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen

An Appeal to Heaven by Dutch Sheets

  • A short, quick, easy read, full of hope for the future of America.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler.

  • A systematic approach to difficult conversations that can make or break a relationship; more focused on specific types of conversations than Real Influence.

 

 

Where do we go from here?

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I have been watching current events closely.  It appears that the divisions in the US between different groups are only continuing to widen, and a resolution to our issues seems more and more unlikely.

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US Supreme Court, April 28, 2015; photo by Tasha M. Troy

In just the past few weeks, we’ve seen clear evidence that the racial, social, and ideological divide (which I am trying to bridge) continues to widen.

  • The June 17 shooting at a historic Black church, killing 9 and setting off a series of church burnings.
  • The June 26 Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, causing great rejoicing at the affirmation of civil rights for some and deep mourning at the loss of civil liberties for others.

 

At this point, it seems the only voices I clearly hear are from either extreme end of the spectrum, spewing fear and hate; only those who are deeply entrenched in their positions are heard.  Under these conditions, the situation will only continue to get worse.  Some have voiced concerns of a coming race war; others fear the further loss of first amendment rights.  The future, indeed, looks bleak.

However, I believe that as long as there is life, there is hope.

Yes, I still hope that things can and will get better.  I believe communication is the root of all relationship, and if we are going to truly bridge the divides we see here in the US (and in other countries as well), we have to stop broadcasting our entrenched opinions and start listening.

In the coming weeks, I will write more about what I believe we as a nation need to start doing in order to begin healing the divisions and schisms among us.  I truly believe it begins with what Mark Goulston and John Ullmen call “connected influence.”  If you’ve been reading Bridging the Divide for very long, you probably know I think very highly of their book Real Influence.

I believe their four-stage model is the key to turning things around in our country.

  1. Go for great outcomes: the US was once considered the greatest nation in the world, but not today.  I believe the US can be great once more – if certain criteria are met.  (Clarification – I am not talking about “American Exceptionalism” here; I will write more of my thoughts about this next week.)
  2. Listen past your blind spot: we do too much talking and not enough listening.
  3. Engage them in their there: we have to meet others where they are, not expecting them to come to us first.
  4. When you’ve done enough … do more: there is no short-term fix; we have to take the long view and invest for the future.

In the weeks ahead, I will lay out my thoughts on how we, as a nation, can walk in connected influence in such a way as to bring healing to our society.  Yes, I know I am a bit idealistic, but I am still hopeful that we can find common ground and move forward as a nation.

 

Links and Resources:

Read my review of Real Influence

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

YouTube Playlist of interview with Dr. Mark Goulston

Communication Fundamentals course on Lynda.com, taught by John Ullmen

 

A Response to the Events in Ferguson, Missouri

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As I have been following the reactions to the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, regarding the case of Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, my heart has been troubled. In my Facebook news feed, I hear the voices of liberals and conservatives, of Black and White (and Hispanic and Asian); I hear voices calling for peace, respect, and safety, and I hear voices crying out in anger, frustration, and sadness.IMG_0269

It is not my intention to respond to the Grand Jury decision; I know the members of that jury were privy to information that is not available to me, and I have to trust that they made the best decision given the information at their disposal. Neither is it my intention to criticize those who are protesting and calling for change and reform; I see that there are things within our society that are broken, that are not working as we think they should.

It is my intention to use my unique position, situated between people of different races and socio-economic status, to try to bring greater understanding to all sides of the issue and to find a way forward that encourages justice for all. There is more to the story of the social injustices in America, and we as a society need to hear it.

I recently read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, a book purportedly about success, which opened my eyes to how our current situation has been made possible when so many middle class Americans aren’t even aware. In the first chapter, Gladwell talks about the American belief in the “self-made man” and the triumph of personal determination and grit, and about how this perception of success is flawed.

In Outliers, I want to convince you that these kinds of personal explanations of success don’t work. People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t. (Outliers p. 18)

The rest of the book documents these assertions, and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

IMG_6718I grew up in a middle class White household, which gave me certain privileges that I did not recognize for a long time. As I was growing up, my peers and I were taught not to think in racist terms; we have come to believe that the Civil Rights movement ended all racism and that now we are living in a racial utopia. However, recent events are revealing just how wrong we really are, and we are trying to wrap our minds around a reality we never were aware of. Sadly, many are in denial, but the number of recent incidents, and the protests and riots in Ferguson, should show us that it’s a real issue, not something made up. Privilege is not a bad thing, but it does give us a greater responsibility for righting the wrongs in our society.

Now is not a time for vengeance for all wrongs, real or perceived. Now is not a time to pretend these wrongs are all imagined. Now is not a time for rhetoric and political posturing. Now is not a time to wait for things to “blow over” so we can get back to business as usual.

The time has come for action and change, for the deliberate opening of opportunities to those who have been denied, for whatever reason. It is a time for increasing our awareness and understanding, to practice “connective listening” with those who have long felt unheard. By listening and understanding, we can begin to identify practical steps to heal racial divisions, first in the Church, then in our communities, and finally in our country and beyond.

The Power of Connective Listening

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I recently sat down with a friend for lunch. As we were catching up, I began to feel like I was being interrogated rather than participating in a conversation. I’m not saying my friend was intrusively firing questions at me; she was friendly and cheerful as she asked me about the various situations I’ve been facing. She was even asking some good open-ended questions. However, I ended up leaving the conversation feeling like I hadn’t actually been heard.IMG_6706

I suspect most people understand what it takes to show interest in others – remember what is important to the other person and ask open-ended questions – yet we still fail to connect on the deeper levels that each person craves. How is it that my friend did everything she was supposed to do and still left me feeling unheard?

In an earlier blog post, What if you’re wrong?, I introduced the four levels of listening described in the book Real Influence by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen. The first two levels are generally negative and should not be used if at all possible – avoidance (distracted) listening and defensive (reactive) listening.

The third level, problem-solving listening, is very practical and often effective when facts and reason are paramount. However, according to Goulston and Ullmen, “Level 3 listening, especially when matters are complex or emotionally charged, leaves too much room for misunderstanding” (p. 93).

As I pondered the experience with my friend, I realized that this was the level that she had engaged in. Her questions had me focusing on the facts of my circumstances, not the deeper meaning I am deriving from them or how I feel about them. To an extent, it felt as though she were working her way down a list of topics she had to cover and was less interested in actually hearing what I had to say about the topics.  I have to wonder how often I, too, take this approach in relationships – more often than is good, I suspect.

The highest level of listening, Level 4, is called “connective listening.” This is listening to understand and build rapport; your interest at this level is not even in solving a problem but to get underneath the surface of what the person is sharing. According to Goulston and Ullmen, “It’s listening without an agenda, because you’re not focused on responding or even on helping” (p. 94). Only after fully understanding the situation can solutions be explored.

IMG_6867Listening to another person at this level is a powerful way to build a relationship. Whether someone is simply sharing an experience or is venting, responding by asking for more information affirms the speaker and shows your concern for their feelings. It allows them to release all the negative emotions associated with the situation, and consequently they become better able to listen to you in return, further strengthening the relationship.

As I pondered which Biblical story to reference in relation to connective listening, I settled on one that may at first seem unorthodox – the case of King Solomon judging between two mothers who were both claiming a surviving child. We find the story of Solomon’s demonstration of wisdom in 1 Kings 3:16-28. Every teaching I have ever heard has pointed to Solomon’s divinely-sourced discernment, and I do believe God to be the source of wisdom and discernment.

However, when I read it again recently, I can see this is also a case of connective listening. While it isn’t explicitly stated in the Biblical narrative, I believe that the two women stated their cases in very different styles, and I believe that Solomon was able to hear not only the words of the two women but also their hearts. Can you imagine the tone of voice, the body language, the passion of the true mother when she opens her explanation by saying, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house” (v. 17, emphasis mine)?   Can you hear the coldness and bitterness in the voice of the false mother as she says, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours” (v. 22)?

I was further struck by verse 23, in which Solomon simply summarizes the two women’s argument: Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, ‘No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” This very simple statement indicates that Solomon has practiced connective listening; he has heard what the two women said and understood the situation before making any moves to render a judgment that reveals what I suspect he understood from listening to them state their cases.

I believe that connective listening is a powerful tool. It may have the power to not only improve relationships but also to promote justice and mercy. How much suffering can we alleviate simply by listening with open ears and open hearts to those around us? Who can you practice connective listening with today?

 

Links and Resources:

Bible verses quoted from the English Standard Version (ESV)

YouTube Playlist of interview with Dr. Mark Goulston

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

72 Bible verses about listening

Why Is Listening So Hard?

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Today I want to share with you two very short video clips featuring Dr. Mark Goulston, a business psychiatrist, author of Just Listen, and coauthor of Real Influence.  In these clips from an interview, he shares some observations about how well the average person listens and why people might not listen.

A Key to a Culturally Relevant Church

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As someone who has spent most of her career teaching in short-term, intensive language programs, I have worked with many different classes, and I have found that each class has its own personality. Most groups are simply a collection of individuals largely focused on their own individual goals; however, occasionally the class comes together and forms a dynamic and supportive learning community. As the instructor, I do what I can to encourage the development of a community, but it also depends heavily on the personalities in the class.IMG_6645

I have seen the same patterns in Christian organizations and church groups. In some churches, people simply interact at Sunday service but have little or no contact during the week, while in other churches, the members create strong bonds of friendship, frequently meeting for dinner during the week and sometimes becoming roommates.

It is not always clear to me what makes one group of individuals come together and what prevents another group. However, David Logan’s TED Talk has given me some tools to start exploring this issue. He discusses group behavior from a “tribal” perspective, defining “tribes” as smaller groups of 20 to 150 people.

Based on organizational research that focused on observable language and behavior, his book Tribal Leadership, co-authored with John King and Halee Fischer-Wright, identifies five stages of “tribal” culture based on the language used and the actions taken by members of the “tribe” (the following labels are my own):

Stage 1: Survival Mode.  People in a stage 1 culture have a sense of hopelessness and despair and will do anything it takes to survive, even if it means resorting to violence. David Logan says that this is the culture of gangs and of prisons; about 2% of organizations are in this stage.

Stage 2: Victim Mentality.  While people in stage 2 cultures have moved beyond mere survival, they still have little or no hope for their circumstances to improve, leading to very negative attitudes. I believe most people in such cultures have simply given up and are going through the motions. About one quarter of organizations are at this stage.

While I have seen individual students in these stages, it is rare for an entire class or church group to be here. However, the next stage is very common.

Stage 3: WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). At this point, people have moved beyond hopelessness and helplessness and see the value of putting in an effort. However, at this stage, it is all about personal advancement, even at the expense of peers and colleagues. Nearly half of all organizations are at this stage.

At this stage, I can see the importance of the role of attitude, that intangible quality of people that influences their thoughts and behaviors. John Maxwell, in his book Attitude 101, lists the signs of a bad attitude, which I believe make a very good description of someone in a stage 3 culture:IMG_6651

  • inability to admit wrongdoing
  • failing to forgive
  • petty jealousy
  • the “disease of me”
  • a critical spirit
  • a desire to hog all the credit

Stage 4: Group Cohesion. At this stage, people begin bonding over shared values. It could be as lofty as a shared mission (end human trafficking like the organization A21) or as quirky as a personality trait (be a little weird like the company Zappos). Because of the shared values and vision, people form bonds and are willing to collaborate and cooperate to meet their goals; 22% of organizations reach this stage.

Stage 5: The “Mountaintop.” At this stage of culture, the group no longer forms around a limited goal while comparing themselves to other groups; they are now ready to take on global transformation and compare themselves to what is possible. Only 2% of organizations reach this stage.

In these last two stages, we see healthy relationships being formed, whether within the group or beyond the group. In his book Relationships 101, John Maxwell lists five characteristics of solid relationships. While his focus was primarily on one-on-one relationships, I believe these characteristics can be applied to group cultures as well.

  • Respect
  • Shared experiences
  • Trust
  • Reciprocity
  • Mutual enjoyment

I would argue that Christians are called to develop Stage 5 cultures, and I believe the early church had a stage 5 culture based on solid relationships. The Book of Acts recounts how the first disciples of Christ formed a community that changed not only the individuals within that community but eventually the entire world.

  • They frequently “broke bread” and prayed together (Acts 2:42, 46-47).
  • They shared everything in common and trusted each other (Acts 4:32-36).
  • They bonded through the persecution of the Jewish leadership (Acts 5:41).
  • They worked together to solve community problems (Acts 6:1-7).

As I learned about the concepts in Tribal Leadership, I was not surprised that the majority of organizations have “me-centric” stage 3 cultures. This is the pervasive characteristic of modern American culture, one I believe needs to change. Christians are meant to be known by their unity, but Christianity in the United States today is too often characterized by bitter divisions and self-righteous criticism. If the American church is going to have an impact on the surrounding culture, we must develop a Stage 5 “tribe,” first within individual churches and then among the churches of America and beyond.

 

Links and Resources:

David Logan’s TED Talk Tribal Leadership 

Book review of Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization

Minute with Maxwell: Relationships

31 Bible Verses about Relationships

Minute with Maxwell: Attitude

35 Bible Verses about Attitude