Judging Others

I recently heard something that stuck with me as a good little adage to remember about judging others: “Logic doesn’t equal fact”.

I think this is an important thing to remember in every aspect of our lives; but particularly in regard to how we might unwittingly treat other people because of the assumptions we make about their intentions and abilities:

When we to try understand someone’s behaviors, we tend to base our explanations on what we think we see. We make a quick assumption given the limited data we have, and if the assumption seems logical we accept it as fact.

In one of my old social psychology textbooks, the authors (Brehm, Kassin, and Fein) explain that when judging another’s behaviors, our explanations come in the form of us making either personal or situational attributions. In other words, we make assumptions about whether the success or failure of another’s actions were do to his own skill and ability, or whether he lucked out or got burned because the environment had set him up for automatic success or failure.

The authors note that where we typically err in our attributions is through the use of cognitive heuristics (rules of thumb that allow us to make quick, but often erroneous assumptions) and the fundamental attribution error, in which we overestimate the role of personal factors on the impact of a situation.

In other words, the assumptions we make based on our own logic is often wrong. So the next time you’re in the position to praise, acknowledge, condemn, or dismiss the results someone’s actions, ask yourself whether you might be making an inaccurate assumption, and why. If things went well did you overestimate his contribution because you like him? If they didn’t go so well did you so for unfair reasons?

Communication In The Workplace

Communication in the workplace has to do with how we interact with our colleagues on many different levels simultaneously. It has to do with how we plan and convey the messages we want to give, both verbally and nonverbally; and with how we listen to, interpret, and respond to others’ messages.

And one way to characterize the successful execution of this is to say that we’ve engaged in effective dialogue.

We can call these interactions many things, of course: discussions, conversations, arguments, etc. – but I quite like the term ‘dialogue’ as it’s defined in Clutterbuck’s (2007) book, Coaching the Team at Work. Here he defines it as “approaching an issue with as open a mind as possible, with a view to understanding other people’s perspectives and perhaps creating a new perspective”.

This is a pretty powerful definition, I think. It highlights the fact that we all have our different viewpoints, values, and beliefs that have been shaped by everything we’ve ever experienced – and that we carry these with us everywhere we go, into every interaction we have.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it can be a dangerous thing if we don’t recognize it and deal with it appropriately. It’s important to acknowledge, and even celebrate, the fact that we are coming from a very different place in many ways from the person sitting across the table from us – and vica-versa. With an open mind we can embrace our differences as well as our similarities; and we can identify and capitalize on the unique experiences that everybody brings to the table.

And, as Clutterbuck points out, we have the opportunity to shape these diverse perspectives into a new perspective.

I believe that these “new perspectives” should be the primary goal of dialogue. They can serve as the underlying philosophy that creates and guides a more effective culture for the partnership or team. (Because culture happens everywhere, all the time; with or without our conscious input. So we really should be proactive about it.)

Culture is a word we use to explain how we see and do things together. It speaks to our collective understandings about the explicit and implicit rules, roles, expectations, and protocols that govern how we approach problems together and how we interact with one another. If not handled actively, honestly, and purposefully, we leave the culture that develops to chance. And as we all know, that can be an ugly thing.

So the bottom line is that we can, and should, take charge of shaping our culture – and that we can do so by learning to engage in effective dialogue. It starts with cultivating our own sense of self-awareness; and it continues by keeping an open mind in trying to understand and integrate the healthiest and most helpful viewpoints, values, and beliefs of all involved.

What is Your Leadership Style?

What is you leadership style?

The study of leadership is certainly not a new one, and there are almost too many theories to count. A quick internet search, however (psychology.about.com), identifies that most of the different leadership theories that have emerged over the years can be classified into a handful of major types:

“Great Man” Theories
Trait Theories
Contingency Theories
Situational Theories
Behavioral Theories
Parcipitative Theories
Relationship Theories/Transformational Leadership
Management theories/Transactional Leadership.

There are various theories and models listed under each type, and they’re well worth looking into. The style of leadership you adopt can either be a success or a failure, depending upon a myriad of factors: what works with one personality in one environment may not work in the next. Understanding the theories listed above (and any others floating around out there) can help you clarify what you believe to be true about leadership, and how you might best approach your own leadership development.

Within any of these theories, however, the individual leader and his or her preferences also need to be taken into account. In addition to the leadership theories that have been studied, there are also many leadership “styles” listed in the literature. Again, a quick internet search identifies some of the more common ones discussed:

Autocratic or Authoritarian Leadership

Participative or Democratic Leadership

Laissez-Faire Leadership

Servant Leadership

Transactional Leadership

Transformational Leadership

Situational Leadership

Again, these appear to be some the most prominent; but there are other leadership styles identified in the literature that would be worth researching for yourself. I’ve included these ones in particular for two reasons: one because they seem to have the most written about them; and two because these are the styles I see most often in my own leadership coaching practice.

Unfortunately I see examples of Authoritarian Leadership more often than I’d like; where the leader makes decisions unilaterally and often unfairly. And outside of military or paramilitary organizations, this never works. The other styles listed can be more or less effective depending on the environment, culture, and people involved; and you’d be wise to know the difference.

Transformative Leadership is one of the more contemporary styles to be identified, and is often touted as one of the most effective. It is about inspiring others and sharing a greater vision. This type of leadership is great, of course; but it’s often best balanced by a Transactional Leadership style based on role compliance and incentives for achievement. Of the styles listed above, my own bias falls toward Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership; where the leader is able to adjust his or style in response to the unique situation or task at hand.

So what is your leadership style?

How To Build Trust

A solid level of trust is paramount to any situation where individuals and teams need to reach a common set of goals. And the cornerstones of trust are assertive communication and consistency in behavior.

People often confuse “assertive” with “aggressive”, but they couldn’t be any different. Assertive basically means standing up for one’s own rights while respecting the rights of the other. Aggressive, on the other hand, means standing up for your own rights while disrespecting or disregarding the rights of the other.

(These are both different from passivity: the third style of communication. Being passive simply means allowing your own rights to be violated in your interactions.)

So with this definition in mind, assertive communication implies interactions that are clear, direct, respectful, and purposeful. In order for people or teams to develop trust between one another, both parties need to know what they want from their interactions; and they need to communicate their needs and desires in a way that is understood. They also need to be sure that they understand the other party’s positions and requests, and they need to be focused on outcomes that best meet the interests of all involved.

(Of course this isn’t always possible, but the more all parties strive for this ideal the greater levels of trust will be built.)

In addition to this assertive communication, trust requires a high degree of behavioral consistency. In other words, in order to build trust people need to “walk the walk and talk the talk” in a variety of situations over time – and they need to have a solid track record of integrity and results.

Basically stated, when we know what to expect of one another – and we’re usually happy with the results of their actions – trust is maintained. (And as they say, trust takes forever to develop but is broken at the drop of a hat.)

So in order to fortify and develop trust between one another, we need to regularly engage in assertive communication and be consistent in our behaviors – and we can only do our own part in this equation; modeling this way of being in the hopes that that’s how others will begin to interact with us.

And on a final note, it also helps if we can develop some sort of relationship with the people around us: people do business with people they know, like, and respect. Sharing a bit of ourselves and building rapport with others in a meaningful way can help us all interact more assertively and consistently.

How Well Do You Know the Important People in Your Life?

A big part of developing and strengthening your relationships is about really knowing the important people in your life. We all know many people on a superficial or even friendly level; but how much do we really know about who they are under the exterior we see and interact with every day?

I got thinking about this question after receiving an email from my mother some time ago. The structure of the email was that it asked a bunch of personal questions, and you were supposed to fill it out and send it onto your friends. Your friends were then able to see how much they knew about you; as well as learn some new things they didn’t know.

Truth be told, I was a little surprised (and more than a little ashamed) that seventy-five percent or so of the answers completed by my mother was new information to me.

My mother’s responses contained some obvious things I couldn’t help but know after being acquainted with her for 40 years; but there were also a lot of things I would only have known had I actually asked. It made me realize that I actually know very little about the people in my life outside the regular stuff I see every day.

Despite “knowing” certain people in my life for many years, I realized that within each one resides a whole world I’ve never seen: a world filled with hopes and dreams; likes and dislikes; goals and fears; victories and disappointments.

Within each one lies a history of choices and experiences that have shaped who they’ve become, and have brought them to where they are today: experiences rich with lessons to be shared and morals to be embraced.

I hope that you’ve put more effort into knowing the important people in your life than I have. If not, think about how much more enriched your life could be; simply by asking them about the things they don’t generally share for the sake of casual conversation.

How Do You Relate to Others?

The way to strengthen or develop a relationship is to identify what is already working – or at least the possibilities and potential – as well as an awareness of what isn’t. We can then maximize the positive aspects of the relationship while working together to develop and practice more adaptive alternatives to what’s broken. Exactly how to do this is beyond the scope of this article (and is explored in depth in Building Better Relationships) – but a good place to start is looking at how you relate to others:

Having this awareness helps foster successful relationships because it gives you the opportunity to identify what you do well, as well as identify new behaviors to try on. It also fosters insight into which types of personalities, environments, and situations you prefer.

Knowing this allows you to make some conscious decisions and plan accordingly. It allows you to decide with whom and where you can easily develop relationships, and with whom and where you choose to step out of your comfort zone (or not). You can decide which relationships will come more naturally and easily; and which will take more time, energy, and skill.

Begin by looking at the relationships you’ve had in the past. Start with your childhood and move forward to the present day. Here are some example questions to ask yourself:


Who was your best friend? Why?

Who did you get along with best in your family? Why?

Who were your favourite teachers? Bosses?

What drew you to various romantic partners or adult friendships? What sustained them?

Who do you feel most comfortable around currently?

Who makes you challenge yourself to be a better person? How?


Think of all the people in your life, past and present, that you connected with on the deepest levels. What were the common features of these relationships? Of these people? Of the situation you were in together?

What was your contribution?

Now think about who you’ve had the most difficult times with. What made it difficult? What part did you play in this?

Think about what your answers to these questions mean: after you’ve decided what you want from the relationships in your life – and which relationships you want to work on – think about what it is that you’re bringing to the table.

Think about how you typically relate to others in a variety of circumstances; and decide which traits and habits to build upon, which to change, and which to let go of completely.

What Do You Want From Your Relationships?

Solid and meaningful relationships are critical to our happiness and success. The connectedness we experience with others provides comfort when we need it; intellectual stimulation when we want it; and reciprocity of love when we share it. It allows us to get our needs met and to meet the needs of others.

We’re all in this thing together and we need one another: humans are social animals. When we develop the relationships in our lives we become filled with abundance and prosperity. And the further we branch out of our small troupes to connect with others in meaningful way, the better off we all are.

But a wider circle of connectedness begins with strengthening the connections in our immediate environment. And even before that it starts with an understanding of our needs…

What exactly do you want from your relationships? What are your goals?

– Do you want to strengthen the existing connections in your home or work life? Or maybe just one or two in particular?

– Do you want to be more effective at getting along with others in general? Or just have more quality people in your life?

– Do you want to expand your social circle for personal and/or business reasons? Or do you just want to overcome your shyness?

And why do you want these things?

– To experience more enjoyment in your life?

– To shield yourself from feelings of loneliness?

– To foster greater levels of confidence?

The list could go on with any number of reasons, but it’s important to be clear about the ‘whats’ and ‘whys’. The clearer you can be about your purposes, the stronger your intentions – and the more likely it is that change will happen.

So decide what it is you’d like to accomplish with your relationships, and why. And choose a specific target. Decide what the ideal outcome for this relationship (or set of relationships) would look like, and start to think about ways to make it happen!


Common Mistakes in Leadership and Relationships

Leadership skills and relationship development are two of the biggest themes I see in my coaching practice. This article is about two of the most common mistakes (and remedies) I see in these areas:

A common mistake I see with new leaders is that they too often try to jump in too quickly without establishing a solid framework for who they want to be as leaders and what they want to accomplish (and why they want to accomplish it). Too often the new leader will try to assert his or her authority too quickly; changing systems and delegating tasks without really thinking it through. This often sets up power-struggles and/or sets the leader’s reputation on shaky grounds.

On the contrary, I’ve noticed that exceptionally good leaders have a high degree of self-awareness. They also take the time to observe – to really understand the past and present workings of their environment, and to understand the explicit and implicit lines of influence and sub-cultures that have evolved over time.

So the first step to being a good leader is exploration. Take the time to engage in some solid self-reflection; and then slow down and observe – asking more questions and giving fewer answers.

A common mistake I see in relationships is when people hold all of their hopes on the other person changing. But blaming the other person (no matter how justly so), and holding out for them to change, just doesn’t help.

So the important first step is to really be clear on what relationships you want to build or improve upon, and why: develop compelling reasons for why you want this to work – and keep these in mind so that you can persevere with things get tough.

The next step is to really empathize and understand where the other person is coming from. You don’t have to agree with their logic, but you do need to understand their unique perspective if you want to move forward with them. Understand non-judgmentally how they came to they see things as they do, and then you can work together to start bridging the gaps. (Also develop the perspective together that people themselves are not the problem: it’s the relationship itself that needs your focus).

So in any type of relationship, as a leader or otherwise, always keep in mind that the most successful people are the ones who first do their own self-work. They question their own motives, understandings, skills, and abilities – and they take the time to discover what is and what could be before charging ahead!

Managing Expectations

I’ve been reading some marketing stuff from Dan Kennedy lately, and one of the sections in that material talks about managing others’ expectations of you:

Kennedy referred to an experiment done years ago about people’s expectations: Esteemed art critics and gallery owners were invited to an art show featuring five up-and-coming artists. They were all given information about these artists ahead of time, while they rode in limos and were wined and dined at a fancy reception.

It seems that this whole “set-up” of the artists had shaped the critics’ and gallery owners’ impressions of them before they even saw their work. This was evident because they all gave the highest marks and praise to the five new artists, even among the other twenty or so well-known artists in attendance.

What the critics and gallery owners didn’t know was that out of the five artists, only three were legit. The other two were an 8-year-old child, and an elephant who splashed paint onto the canvas with his trunk.

The point of this story is that people are going to form an opinion about you and have certain expectations of you – and that you can control these beliefs and assumptions to a great degree by “setting the stage” for them.

People often use “rules of thumb” that allow them to make quick (but often erroneous) assumptions about what they see. We can take advantage of this tendency by making it easy for them to see what they want to see.

Simply stated, as shown in the story above, you can be anyone you want to be in the eyes of another – simply by playing the part. And this is not about being deceitful, but rather about “putting your best foot forward”. By talking the talk and dressing the part (literally or figuratively), people draw conclusions about your experience, intellect, skill, and ability.

And who are you to argue with their perceptions?

So decide who you want to be in this life, and step into that role. And that’s how others will view you. Then a self-fulfilling prophecy is born: the way people view you is how they’ll treat you – and so that’s who you become.

How To Ask For Help

Good leaders in any capacity, whether managers at work or parents at home, need help from others. And they need to know how to ask for help in a way that they’ll get it. They need the right people to take on the right tasks – the tasks for which they don’t possess the right amount of knowledge, skill, or time to do themselves; or the tasks that others should be doing for their own learning and growth.

So how do we get others to help?

People usually want to help because of who it is that’s requesting the help: if you’re an authoritative, person-centered type of leader, then getting people behind you probably isn’t a difficult task most of the time. But sometimes it’s not enough. You can also rely on the basic but time-tested behavioural principles of reward and punishment – but sometimes, despite our best efforts, the external consequences we apply still aren’t quite worth the effort of completing the task.

Thankfully the field of social psychology offers some additional tools in its principles of persuasion and helping behaviour:

When asking for help its important initially to be viewed as credible and likeable. This is definitely something to pay close attention to – but it will also only take you so far unless there are better reasons for continuing to help. Similarly, you’ll also need to go beyond the important but limited behavioural principles of reward and punishment; you’ll need to enable a wider perspective of cost versus benefit by presenting a strong argument for why the person should help.

Your argument should be long enough to include all the necessary details of, and reasons for, your request (make no assumptions and leave no room for misinterpretation), but short enough to keep the other’s attention and interest. The points in your argument need to be consistent, realistic, and personally relevant for the other person. They should evoke positive emotions, and appeal to his or her sense of moral reasoning and empathy. Finally, you should encourage the other person to think critically about your argument (and debate you on it if appropriate).

The other factors to keep in mind when planning your request are the timing of the delivery (it’s helpful if there’s a concurrent or precipitating event that makes the action more important, meaningful, or urgent); the mood your audience is in; their unique personality traits; and whether they would perceive the action as being socially acceptable through the eyes of their peers.

The next time you have a request that you know will take a little more work to gain compliance, try writing out a solid argument. Make a checklist of all the points raised above, and try to include as many of them as you can. Try to anticipate the objections that might arise to your request and argument, and develop answers to these using the same principles. Practice your argument well, and try to deliver your request at the most appropriate time and place.