Empathy Matters

I’m in the process of reading a book by Chris Voss, called “Never Split the Difference”.  To be fair, I’m about 70 pages in, but it has captured my attention.  It’s a book on negotiation, but it doesn’t follow the normal processes.  The ones that follow a logical thought pattern.  In fact, it captures the way we all make decisions emotionally.  He describes how, as an FBI negotiator, he aligns himself with the other party and connects with them.  This is in a life of death situation. 

Our world, at NineRuns, is not life or death negotiations, but I subscribe to his teachings.  What we work with sales team on is the same thing.  Understand your customer.  Understand what is driving their needs.  What are the initiatives of the company that are driving the individual needs? 

What Mr. Voss talks about are the techniques he has used.  They are subtle and effective.  He uses tone of voice.  He uses empathy.  I’m excited to read the rest of his book, and that is saying something for me.  Most books on business start with a premise or concept that I can get excited about, but then they spend the next 10 chapters justifying the concept.  I’m not being critical, but that doesn’t work for me.

This past week I had a lot coming at me personally.  My 90-year-old mother came down with bronchitis.  I came down with the flu and had to cancel a business trip.  As I was trying to reschedule the trip, I found that there were conflicts with my customers schedules and they are fighting the flu as well.  My initial reaction was frustration because it was not easy for me.  Then it struck me that this is an opportunity to put into practice, what I have been preaching, and what I’ve been reading.  Practice some empathy.  It’s not all about me.  I can use the excuse that I’m not feeling well, but that is just that; an excuse.  I needed to be more self-aware.

Self-awareness is critical, yet it is extremely difficult. When we look at the world through our own eyes, we see it as we wish to see it.  We see it as centered around us.  Other people are just in our way.  Unfortunately, they may be seeing it from their center as well and this leads to poor communication and misunderstanding.  Ultimately it leads poor relationships. 

We recently worked with a client where we sent our assessment tool to the field prior to meeting them individually.  The participation was very low, initially.  We had the leader of the team send a couple of messages cajoling them to take the assessment.  We explained how it would benefit them.  We took a more demanding tone, yet nothing seemed to work.  We then reached out to each of them via telephone and talked to them.  We spent time getting to know the team, as well as allowing them to get to know us.  The results were staggering.  The assessments were finished within 24 hours. 

When we review assessment results with team members, we find that most will open up to us.  They feel safe, as they must.  We also find that they don’t hold themselves in high regard.  There is a lot of negative voices in their heads.  They don’t feel like they are good enough and they must put on a façade to fit in.  We must earn their trust to help them.  We must earn their trust to be able to break through the façade.  We need to point out their strengths and talents, so they can work from them, and not try to fix the “weaknesses”.

If we focus on our strengths, and be aware of how our actions affect others, we can build trust.  We can have a positive impact in our business and our personal lives.  While the title of Mr. Voss’s book is catchy, I don’t see it as a book on negotiation.  I see it as a testament to how we should address our interactions with others every day.  In that case, it is life or death.

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Give Respect to Earn Respect

Last night was awesome.  I met up with a friend from high school.  Even though we haven’t seen each other on a regular basis, we never miss a beat.  Our conversations are not light or surface.  We talked about failures in our lives and what we have learned from them.  And the failures have been tumultuous. From deaths, to bankruptcy, to divorces, and business failures.  The challenges we have faced together and separately have been great, but we have always had each other to lean on.  No judgement, no fear. 

My friend has lost his two sons.  One to addiction, and the other to suicide.  He gave a forceful, provocative testimony at both of his son’s funerals.  It was not the glossed over, their life was a joy, they are in a better place now, speech.  It was a testament to my friend’s character.  He didn’t shy away from sending a message to the people gathered.  The message was, your friends count.  Who you surround yourself with counts.  If you hang with drug addicts and drunks, you become them.  If you hang out with slackers, you become like them.

I’ve been blessed with lots of business friends and acquaintances.  But I only have a limited number of friends that I have a deep relationship with.  For me, it’s work to have deep relationships.  I don’t mean that in the sense that it is drudgery.  I mean that in the sense that I have a responsibility to my friends to show them I’m accountable for my life.  I’m accountable for my performance.  I’m accountable to them, to be a good friend. 

I recently had a long, hard travel schedule and it ended with a 3-day golf outing with one of my very close friends.  This is a friend who dropped everything he was doing when my brother died, and drove to see me, just to have lunch.  When he was going through his divorce, I flew to see him and spent time with him.  We are that close.  When he asked me if I would join him, I knew it would be a long time away from home.  I was leaving on Monday and wouldn’t return until the following Monday.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it.  So I asked my closest friend, my wife, what I should do.  I shared that it was going to create stress with travel and shipping golf clubs and being away from home.  She said to me, “Did you ever think this isn’t about you?”  “Your friend may need you.”  That is the ultimate in accountability.

I usually tie these life lessons into business and this is no exception.  When you are working with a customer, how much time to you spend being accountable to them?  How much time do you spend thinking about their situation and how you can help them?  Maybe it’s not about you.  Maybe it’s about their needs. 

I would also offer that having a deeply honest relationship with your customer helps them realize you are credible and real.  You are working to be a part of their business to benefit them.  You are engaged with them and I believe they will respond in kind.  It’s been my experience that you don’t really earn trust until you give trust.  You don’t earn respect until you give respect.

I’ve been blessed with great friends and great mentors and it’s my responsibility to be accountable to them.  I start by being accountable to myself.  I’m not great at it, but I’m working on it.

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The Wake We Leave

In 1992 Black & Decker launched the DeWalt brand of power tools.  There are many interpretations of how people remember those days, but they were a spectacular time to be at B&D.  The quality of the people that worked together to “save” the company, and “save” America made it a tremendous place to work.

I remember recruiting on the campuses of many universities over the four-year period that DeWalt was a separate division.  We interviewed over two thousand candidates.  We hired over 400.  Each contributed to the success of DeWalt in their own way.  

This was a highly focused company.  We were focused on the customer and focused on the market.  We were a market driven company that worked hard and played hard.  As we were recruiting, our mantra was to hire the next president of Black & Decker.  We weren’t hiring just entry level sales people.  Fast forward another 25 years, and a large portion of the people who joined us, are now in leadership roles.  Not just at Stanley Black & Decker, but at many great companies.  

There were three of us that were field based sales and marketing leaders for DeWalt.  I still talk to my former counterparts on a regular basis.  We shared an experience that few get to share in.  John Allenbach is the President and partner at AgoNow.  Heber Anderson is the VP at ereplacementparts.com. Through the years I’ve been in contact with people they hired off the campuses.  Their teams they built.  The impact they had on those teams can be felt, still.  They left a strong wake.  I realized that it is the same with the teams that were built in my group as well.

I recently had an experience that was a wake up call for me.  I was so focused on myself and my opportunities that I couldn’t see how it affected others.  For me, it was my family.  I took some actions in my personal life, without thinking of the effect it would have on my family.  And the effect it would have on others and their families.  I’m blessed to have a daughter who isn’t afraid to point it out to me.  When she explained the impact, I was having on the family with my laser like focus on myself, it woke me up.  She had great examples of my blind spots.  I saw the wake I had left.  It was disappointing and a little embarrassing.  The wake I left was not a good one.

Early in my career at B&D I worked in marketing and product planning and I was fortunate to be a part of the organization that Joe Galli lead.  Joe had a profound saying that in business you either give energy or you take energy.  That hit home.  Not many of us want to be around someone who takes energy.  

When we work in our businesses today, are we giving energy?  Do we leave a wake that creates energy, or do we leave a wake that takes energy?  Does our wake have a lasting impact, or does it dissipate quickly?

I believe the wake that has the most impact is the wake we build around positive relationships.  Relationships that are long and deep and honest are the best.  Striving to build those relationships with our family and with our business partners are deeply satisfying.  Asking questions and listening intently is good start.  Doing what we say we are going to do and having empathy for others is critical.   Being aware of what we are giving to others is essential.  

With my family, I lacked self-awareness.  I’m working on doing better at listening and being aware of my impact.  I’m still learning.

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The news is so bleak

The news is so bleak!  There are terrorist attacks, unethical and morally bankrupt politicians, economic upheaval, and countless crimes against humanity.  It all sells.  We are focused on the celebrity of the times.  Why?

I believe it’s a way of measuring ourselves against others.  I’m certainly not as bad as those people… and I believe we find it as a way to escape our mundane world.  

If you find this depressing, welcome to the club.  As we focus on it, we manifest it.  We have the power to change this.  We have the power to set a new course.  It, like everything we do, is a choice.  We can’t be naive and ignore it.  We must focus on the positive.  Focus on how we can help.  Focus on the future we want to see.  

In the depth of the great recession, I was focused on financial woes.  I was concerned my company wouldn’t be able to survive.  We cut costs, we prospected hard, and we survived.  Survival is great but it can’t be a way of life.  It causes too much stress and it sours everything around you.  It did for me.  

The more I worried about finances, the more I stressed.  The more I stressed, the more poorly I made decisions.  Choices.  I stressed and the company stressed.  I manifested additional financial challenges.  Then one day it changed.  When we shut down the partnership in one company, and I revived my old company, the tide turned.  We still had financial concerns, but the stress lessened.  The confidence grew.  Our clients came to us more readily.  

Did our growth proceed the better attitude or did the economy improve and our growth improved?  Honestly, I don’t know.  All I know is that I was much happier once I let the stress go.  When I opened myself, and our company, up to the possibilities, we expanded and grew.  When I slowed down the rapid fire thinking and focused on a vision of what success looked like, it came into being.  Perhaps it was just an improved economy.  But I’ve witnessed failure in a great economy as well as success in a listless one.  

Einstein said that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  It’s true in force, but also in our lives.  If we spread fear and doubt, we attract fear and doubt.  When we spread unconditional love, we receive it in return.  

I shared my chapter on the tribute to my mother, with my mother.  When she realized that I wasn’t just a wise cracking jerk who looked down on her for her lifestyle, our relationship changed.  She became much less protective of herself and much less defensive.  When she realized I valued her and her experiences and the lessons I learned from her, she reacted and opened up to the same from me.  

I’ve been married to my wife for 39 years at the time of this writing.  We were married when we were still in college.  We started a family 3 years later and our life changes started.  As the years passed, we grew together, and we grew apart.  It was a constant, uneven growth, based on our life experiences.  Eventually her little quirks became a big irritation to me.  I was again, a condescending jerk.  It almost ruined our marriage.  The question became, besides the kids, what do we have in common?  

We continued to grow apart until she had her work, and I had mine, and we had little else.  The kids were in high school and we were nearing becoming empty nesters.  What would that be like?  Our relationship was pretty shallow.  We were never really mean to each other, and on the surface, we looked like the perfect couple.  High school sweethearts that had made good.  But the reality was, I was getting what I was giving.  

As the kids left the home for college, we started to drift further apart, but somehow we survived.  We sat down and built a vision of what we wanted our marriage to be.  We set goals and starting communicating deeply.  We began to find common areas of interest and things we could do together.  Not 100% of the time.  We still left room for us to be individuals, but we shared our common future, not just our history.  Her quirks that bugged me no longer seemed so bad.  In fact, they are kind of fun.  My quirks became less abrasive as well.  We are a team, working toward a common goal of what we want our marriage to be.  We still need to work at it.  However, the vision we have for our marriage is manifesting itself in perfect ways.

I can’t (and wouldn’t) change the way my wife thinks or acts.  I can only change the way I think and the actions I take.  It’s amazing how focusing on my behavior, has changed her…. Well, how it has changed my view of her.  I love my wife now more than I did 43 years ago.  

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The more valuable part of projects… Discovery!

When do you know the least about something you’re working on? … At the beginning. When do you develop the plan for what you are about to work on? … At the beginning.

President Eisenhower’s quote may sound like great news for those who don’t like the tedious nature of writing a plan down. The thought behind this is deeper than that, and it certainly isn’t prescribing “wing it”. The process of planning allows for thought, expertise, intentions, and reflection to happen. Once the plan is written and put into play, the unforeseen elements start to unfold. With the planning fallacy driving overconfidence in our minds, you may find yourself spending all your effort proving why the plan was right and no longer working, rather than adjusting to the reality of what’s happening. No matter how hard you try, you cannot predict the future 100%. But don’t let this stop you from trying.

Every planning cycle allows you to reflect and learn about what you are trying to accomplish

Projects are great for discovering new things about the product, service, or process you are setting out to improve or create. Google defines discover as, “find (something or someone) unexpectedly or in the course of a search.” The discovery side of projects is often overlooked or left for some obscure “lessons learned” database that an organization has or one day aspires to hold. History has shown that more often than not:

There is more value in discovery over time than producing results in the moment

When is it least valuable to learn about something you’re working on? … At the end. When are “lessons learned” generally performed in a project? … At the end.

The trick is in figuring out how to increase the amount of times the planning process and lessons learned happens in an individual project. To accomplish this may require a mindset change on what the purpose of a project is. Look at projects as the primary means to discover, that just so happen to produce a result along the way…

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A Tribute To My Brother, Steve

Over the past year I’ve written tributes to some of the people who have had great influence in my life.  This week is the 8th anniversary of my brother dying of a heart attack.  With that in mind, I wanted to update a blog I wrote the week after my brother died.  There have been many changes in my life and the life of his wife and daughters over the past 8 years.  His oldest daughter has married, started her professional career in counseling, and has twin toddlers.  His youngest daughter has married and just had their second daughter.  She is a doctor in Knoxville, TN.  His wife has remarried, and she and her husband own a restaurant in a small town outside of Oklahoma City.  We are still close.  She is still my sister. One thing that hasn’t changed is the influence Steve has had on my life.  I still quote him.  I still miss him.  This is what I wrote 8 years ago…

“There was this ole boy from Kansas”.  That’s how my brother started about every one of his stories, and that was how the eulogy for my brother started.  It was written by his friend and boss, Robert Followell, the gentleman that hired my brother almost 13 years ago.  My brother died of a heart attack at 55 a week ago.  He was a good man.

I’m writing this with the hope that it will be therapeutic and help me understand why this would happen.  He is gone too soon.  When you grow up with someone, you never really stop to think about how he has impacted your life.  You never really stop to think about how he is viewed by others.  My brother had four distinct groups of people that he touched; his work friends, his Cowboy Action Shooting friends, his personal friends, and his family.  My view of our relationship was very comfortable.  

We talked via telephone almost every week, sometimes as much as every day, and sometimes once in two weeks.  The conversations were comfortable.  There was never any judgment of each other.  There was never any disappointment.  They were conversations about life, about the kids, about work, and about nothing.  When we were together at his home, or mine, we could go for hours without even talking.  We didn’t need to, it was comfortable.  He was my best friend, my mentor, my brother.  He offered advice in a way that you never felt you had to heed it, but it was priceless.  He calmed me when I was wired up.  He fixed things that were broken.  He was an engineer by education and aptitude.  He would help anyone in need, whether it was building a deck, or helping understand relationships.  Sometimes when people die, we put them on a pedestal and lionize their life at a level they have not earned.  While my brother was not perfect, he earned this.

It was really interesting for me to see how he impacted other peoples’ lives.   As I stated earlier, he touched several distinct groups.  The funeral and viewings were a celebration of his life.  I loved the stories of his exploits in his business career.  Robert told of the first meeting he had with Steve.  My brother dressed in the dark that morning and had on one brown shoe and one black shoe.  It didn’t bother him.  While it would have driven me nuts and embarrassed me, for my brother, it was just shoes.  Robert also told of the time when Steve ordered tamales for lunch and chewed and chewed and chewed.  Robert told him he didn’t know how they ate tamales in Kansas, but in Memphis they removed the husks.  It didn’t bother my brother.  He did admit they weren’t as chewy after that.  He was confident without one ounce of arrogance.  He could talk with a CEO or with someone on the production floor of a plant and both would feel a kinship with Steve.

Steve leaves behind a true legacy.  He could fix anything.  He was an old school engineer.  He leaves behind a family that will miss him greatly.  His oldest daughter is earning her masters in psychology, and is getting married to a wonderful man in May.  His youngest daughter is in her second year of Medical School.  He has a great wife who was his perfect mate.  They loved each other deeply.  He leaves behind a brother who hopes that he can become half the man he was.  Dan Fogelberg sang a tribute song to his father, “The leader of the band.”  The chorus says “I am the living legacy to the leader of the band.”  I hope that I can be that for my brother, Steve.

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I must admit I was wrong.  I didn’t really want to see Molly’s Game.  I knew nothing about it, but my son told me it would be great, and he wanted to see it.  In retrospect, he was right.

I’m not a movie critic.  I know little about cinematography or even acting.  I know that I enjoy the movie because I laugh, or cry, or feel something.   Molly’s Game caused me to think.  I’m not going to spoil the movie for those that wish to see it by revealing any secrets to the movie.  My only comment is, it makes you think.  

I was struck by the responsibility for her own actions, that Molly displayed.  She was not a victim.  I was also struck by how an action early in her life shaped her relationship with her father.  Not just from her view, but from her father’s view.  

We see things through our filters, consciously or subconsciously.  We then act or react from the views we have.  

My son and his wife came to Austin for a late Christmas celebration this week.  The family gathered at my daughter and son in laws house for the celebration.  It was a fun time with a great family dynamic.  However, it hasn’t always been that.  I still see my son and daughter as they were growing up.  They are not kids anymore.  Whether its conscious or not, I still feel the need to mentor, protect, and sometimes control them.  They do not need that anymore.  They need a cheerleader more than a critic.  They both are very successful in their lives.  They both have great spouses, strong core values, and a great balance of business and family.  

The triggers that we face come from years ago, not today.  They come from how I view their actions and their words, based on a perspective I’ve held on to.  As I’ve worked to be more self-aware, I’ve come to recognize this.  Sometimes it’s after the fact, but most of the time I can stand back and see it.  

It’s my nature to like to stir things up.  I justify that by saying tension creates innovation.  I like to give my family a hard time by dropping in a zinger to see where it goes.  I’m starting to see some unskillful behavior that I have allowed to continue, and I need to change.  It comes from my desire to control and keep everyone on their toes.  It’s not skillful behavior.  

One of the things that I work with my clients on is to be more self-aware.  To understand how their actions are driven from past experiences.  To understand what is skillful and what isn’t.  I trademarked “Intuitive to Intentional™”V because I used that phrase in every meeting.  We use our experiences as proof that the actions of others are as we choose to see them.  The phrase was meant to let people know that when we just use intuition (experiences) we may miss the opportunity.  Intentionally viewing actions from a distance can help us see the true reason.  Asking questions helps us understand the true reason for the action.  

I believe this holds true in all forms of life; family, self, and business.  I’m working on slowing down so that I don’t just react.  I make better decisions.  I’m also working on breaking down my filters so that I can see my family, friends and business associates from their perspective, not just my filters.  I’m still learning.

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The Charm of Charleston

I stay in hotels a great deal.  It goes with the job that I do.  I have loyalty to one specific brand.  Not because it is so much better than any other, but because it’s easy to use the points and with the level I’m at in the loyalty program, I take advantage of some perks. 

Recently I made my first ever trip to Charleston, SC.  I’ve been to South Carolina before, but never to Charleston.  The state is beautiful, and the city is so very unique.  It has a charm to it that few cities have.  I was thinking about what made this place so special. 

The city has restaurants and shops like any other city.  The hotel I stayed at had rooms and a fitness center like any other hotel.  What makes them both special is the people. 

We met friends here for a business meeting and fun.  We chose Charleston because we both could fly in and out with decent flights and we had never been there.  We will make it a regular meeting place now. 

We had dinner at High Cotton the first night we were there.  The GM of the place met us at the door and took our coats for us.  The service all night was impeccable.  The staff was well trained and very efficient, but that wasn’t what made them great.  The way they made us feel welcome and appreciated was the difference.  They truly enjoyed having us there and it was a wonderful experience. 

The next morning, we were to meet in the lobby.  When I arrived, Jack had introduced himself and had helped us put together several opportunities to enjoy the day in the city.  His love of the city, his job, and people in general was so sincere.  It made us feel very welcome and appreciated.  Again, he enjoyed having us there and it was a wonderful experience. 

I work with sellers in many industries and many different companies.  Some love their products, some love what they do, some even enjoy their companies they work for, but rarely do I see someone who loves all three.  When I do, they are always the best sales people.  It comes across to their customers the same way that the people I met in Charleston does.  The customers see it as a wonderful experience.  They feel appreciated and welcomed.  They want to return.

A city is nothing but buildings.  A hotel is nothing but a building with sleeping rooms.  The difference maker is the people who live in the city and work at the hotels.  The relationships they develop are what separates them from their competition. 

We are grateful for a great year in 2017, and we are excited about the possibilities for 2018.  As we slip into the new year, let’s make a difference.  Let’s be the difference.  Our love of what we do, the product and the company will show through.  We will make our customers feel appreciated and welcomed.  Our relationships will be real, and we will have mutually beneficial, long term relationships with our customers. 

We will be back in Charleston in 2018.  We will stay at the same hotel, and we will eat at the same restaurants.  They have earned it!

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