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The Soft Skill of Problem-Solving

Was Problem-Solving on your list of soft skills? I can’t say that it was originally on mine. Why is that? I think that we tend to think of soft skills as “positive”. Soft skills are there to present an upbeat environment that everything is okay. It is an improvement mechanism. A reference to problem-solving suggests that there are indeed problems— and that’s a downer. No one wants to go there! That’s just my thought, what is yours?

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” ~Albert Einstein

 

The reality is that no matter your role or the industry you work in, you will encounter problems. How you handle them will go a long way in determining your level of success. It will also determine how you manage the relationships and shared goals you have with your team and/or organization.

In researching this topic I turned to my fairly substantive bookshelf of management and leadership books, looking for words of wisdom. I was actually quite surprised to find that there was not all that much, and what was there was not much help. I then turned to one of my favorite sources of leadership inspiration, Canadian astronaut and author Chris Hadfield. His book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth (Random House Canada, 2013), is full of leadership gems and sure enough, lots of problem solving object lessons. For Hadfield, one of his learnings was to “anticipate problems in order to prevent them… how to neutralize fear, how to stay focused and how to succeed”. My favourite quote though is this: “…we learn[ed] to ask ourselves. ‘Okay, what’s the next thing that will kill me?’”. Most of will not have to ask this a question as radical as this, but it illustrates that problem solving is as much proactive as it is reactive.

In Productive Workplaces Revisited by Marvin R. Weisbord (Jossey Bass, 2004), there is a neat illustration that provides a simple model for problem solving:

First you need to define the problem: Take a holistic view, look at the big picture, and take time to examine it from as many perspectives as possible.

Collect as much data about the problem as you can. This will slow down the process, which among other things, can help prevent volatile emotions from taking over and potential conflicts from happening. Another consequence of slowing down the process is to make sure that the problem is clearly defined so that you end up actually solving the problem and not just creating a temporary stopgap measure.

Once you’ve defined a problem, you can start to generate solutions. Don’t stop at one — look for a second solution, a third, maybe even a forth. Each time you search for an additional solution you delve deeper into the problem, which can create opportunities to uncover additional issues and/or highlight unintended consequences. You may come to the conclusion that the first solution was the correct one, but having examined additional ones gives you an added level of surety.

As you select the best option, check your own emotional stance to make sure you are not favouring one solution over another simply because it is yours. Here is where the soft skill of communications and teamwork come into play.

Finally, be certain, once you have implemented the solution, to evaluate the results. Did the solution generate the desired outcome? Did it cause any unintended consequences? The answers to these questions will help determine your course of action in any future similar circumstance.

 

John Whitehead, MA, CEC, coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

If you would like to get notifications for when I post, please go to my blog site and register. I promise I will not spam or use your email address for anything else. You can visit and register for my blog at http://johnkwhitehead.ca/blog-2/

 

*******Are you wondering if having a Leadership/Personal Development Coach is right for you? Contact John for a complimentary, exploratory coaching session********

 

 

Using Soft Skills as a Member of a Team

tug of war

My last post on Team building was from the perspective of the builder, or leader of a team. However, you don’t have to be the leader to be an integral part of the team-building process. Being a member of a team provides its own opportunities for building and sustaining a team culture. Whether you are a new team member or veteran, the opportunities are there for you to learn, grow and actively participate in team growth. The basics for any team member are to know your role, understand what is expected of you, and what the limits of your role are. If you feel unclear about your role ask the team’s leader for clarification.

Critical to your understanding is to recognize the kind of team you are in. Is it a classic “command and control” organization that is highly hierarchical —  strong, top-down leadership with clear, subordinate roles (think military), or does the organization take a more collaborative approach, in which discussion and free expression is allowed and even encouraged? This discernment will guide you in understanding your place on the team; how you should act and perform within it.

As a member of a team it is also important to get a sense of the other roles on the team. In some more progressive organizations, team members are given the opportunity to experience other roles through job sharing and time spent with other team members. This is a great way to expand the knowledge and effectiveness of all team members.  Recognizing and understanding each other’s’ roles and responsibilities helps the cohesiveness and effectiveness of the team as a whole. It also provides valuable back up should someone be away for an extended period of time. If your team environment does not actively allow for role sharing, then take the initiative and talk to other team members. Find out what they do and how they do it, and what they expect of you in your role.

Whether you are a member of a team or its leader,, the topics covered in these blogs over the past eight weeks are very relevant, and as I alluded to in my last blog, really boils down to the importance of Social Intelligence (also known as Emotional Intelligence). TRACOM defines Social Intelligence as: “the ability to understand and manage our Behavioral Style, Mindset and Emotional Intelligence to optimize interpersonal relationships. It deals with unconscious biases that we may not yet understand, but that can be learned and controlled. At its heart, Social Intelligence is the science of productive relationships. And modern neuroscience shows that it can be harnessed and improved. Organizations that foster Social Intelligence experience higher performance because their teams become more productive, collaborative and resilient.”

A shameless plug here. If you want to know more about Tracom’s programs, I am certified in SOCIAL STYLEs – connect with me.

Social Intelligence

This is the eighth in a series of posts exploring Soft Skills and why they are so important to your success in any endeavour.

 

John Whitehead, MA, CEC, coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

If you would like to get notifications for when I post, please go to my blog site and register. I promise I will not spam or use your email address for anything else. You can visit and register for my blog at http://johnkwhitehead.ca/blog-2/

*******Are you wondering if having a Leadership/Personal Development Coach is right for you? Contact John for a complimentary, exploratory coaching session********

 

 

Setting Targets for the New Year?

Happy New Year

It’s that time of year when we start to take a look ahead at what we want to achieve in the coming New Year and at the same time reflect on where we have come from since this same time last year.  It is fascinating to read the posts that start to appear on LinkedIn and other social media sites as “experts” list off the “best of….” and “Top 10….” things one has to do for the year ahead.

I went back over my blog posts and noticed that there are some years I write something on the subject and other times I haven’t. Last year I didn’t write anything about moving into a new year or new resolutions, I seemed to have skipped it completely. For the end of December 2014 had a title that seemed to position it for looking ahead to 2015 (For 2015, First Know Yourself) but as I read it is pretty generic and could in fact be a post to be read at any time throughout the year. In December 2016 I posted this article which I have modified a little… enjoy.

Why do we concentration so much attention on “what we need to change” at the beginning of every year, year after year, when we should actually be focusing on that throughout the year. One of my core values is learning. I’m a believer in continuous learning and I am privileged to be able to do that week in week out as coach and teacher. We should all be attempting to learn a few new things every week, if not every day.

There is very old saying that the only constant is change and I have found that to be true. Yes, take time to reflect on the past year and to look ahead to what you want to accomplish in 2017. But don’t stop there, make it a practice to do this whether it is quarterly or monthly or even weekly. What are your long, medium and short range plans? Being open to learning new things and the change they create is for everyone but for leaders, especially true and I would say even critical – it is not an option. Akin in his study on learning habits (Varieties of Managerial Learning) found that managers/leaders were “surprisingly congruous… Learning is experienced as a personal transformation. A person does not gather learnings as a possession but rather becomes a new person… to learn is not to have, it is to be.” (Akin, G. (1987). Varieties of Managerial Learning. Organizational Dynamics16(2), 36-48). We become who we are through our continuous learning, especially about self which brings me back to my post of December 2014 and its message; by first learning about, understanding and accepting ourselves … and then learning about and understanding others, we can begin to communication and behave in a way that reduces frustration and stress, and ultimately creates a better environment whether at work, home, or leisure.

 

Over the past four years I have written and published over 200 posts on Leadership and Leadership development.   Click here to access my Leadership series directory:

 

John Whitehead, coaches’ individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

 

*******Are you wondering if having a Leadership/Personal Development Coach is right for you? Contact John for a complimentary, exploratory coaching session at john@johnkwhitehead.ca ********

 

Why Team Building is an Important Soft Skill

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships. – Michael Jordan

There is no strength until there is cooperation – Irish Proverb

Tug of War

John Adair defined “team” as “a group in which the individuals share a common aim and in which the jobs and skills of each member fit in and those of others”.  Working in a successful team can be rewarding. It can be even more rewarding to use your own skills to create, develop and lead a successful team. Team building then is a critical component of Soft Skills.

People have always worked in teams, going back to our earliest hunter-gatherer days when working as a team meant our very survival. It has since moved on to working in collaboration for defense, the success of family, and social interaction. When a task has been too big or complex for just one individual we have banded together, in everything from taking down a big animal to performing a symphony.

Even if you work independently most of the time, there will be times when you need to interact with others, either at work or at play. Working in teams is a major part of the modern workplace experience. More than ever before, collaboration has become the crucial element leading to success in today’s high tech and fast paced environment. Finding ways to build teams that accomplish their required tasks in the most efficient and accurate manner is often challenging, especially when bringing together individuals with diverse sets of hard and soft skills. There are some basic techniques you can use when building, or working, with a team to help create a cohesive unit that leverages everyone’s talents and ensures that each person contributes.

Identifying Capabilities

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life thinking it is stupid” ~ A. Einstein.

When building a team, it is key to identify the different talents, skills, and capabilities each team member brings. Take the time at the outset to ask each member what he or she brings to the team.

  • What skills, abilities and relationships does each team member have that can enhance the project?
  • What does each person feel he or she does well?
  • How can the team use all these talents and capabilities to achieve the best outcome?

Figuring out what which team member does well is critical to the team’s success. Putting the wrong person in the wrong spot can lead to disaster, not only for that person but also for the team. Making sure everyone is using the best suited talents and skill sets, or that, as Jim Collins stated, everyone is in the right seat on the bus, creates a symbiotic relationship that leads to maximum results.

Barriers to effective team dynamics include:

  • Dissonant personality styles
  • Conflicting priorities and work schedules
  • Fast-paced work routines leaving little time for relationship-building
  • Lack of connectedness and understanding among team members
  • Lack of trust in leaders

We need the ability to look beyond ourselves to understand others’ personalities and viewpoints. The soft skill required is to understand how our communication and behaviour styles, and stress-response patterns, differ from others’ in the workplace. The SOCIAL STYLEs model™ of Social Intelligence provides a perspective on first how to recognize our own patterns and then how to recognize others. Once we have done this we can then start to learn how we can “move towards” others and communicate with them better. SOCIAL STYLEs calls this Versatility and it uses the Platinum Rule: treat other how they want to be treated. Once we have developed and implemented this soft skill we can then start to see team dynamics and performances soar.

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John Whitehead coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

*******Are you wondering if having a Leadership/Personal Development Coach is right for you? Contact John for a complimentary, exploratory coaching session at john@johnkwhitehead.ca********

If you would like to get notifications for when I post, please go to my blog site and register. I promise I will not spam or use your email address for anything else. You can visit and register for my blog at http://johnkwhitehead.ca/blog-2/

 

 

Listening… The Secret to Communication

There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak.Simon Sinek

My previous two posts in this Soft Skills series have been about verbal and non-verbal communications: its nature of being a “two way street,” the need for both a sender and a receiver in order for the communication to be anything other than mere noise. Some have suggested that listening is more important than talking for effective communication. You’ve probably heard the old adage, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”. The symbolism is obvious.

Listening is more than just hearing the words someone speaks. It is a total way of receiving verbal and nonverbal messages, processing them, and communicating that understanding back to the speaker. Many of us listen in order to respond – we are formulating our next message while the other is still talking. We should instead listen to understand – to fully take in, process, and comprehend the message that is being sent. We communicate from our own perspective, the reality in which we live, our understanding of our own world. So ask questions to clarify the speaker’s meaning. Reframe what they have said in your own words, to see if you get agreement on their intended message. By doing this you learn to seek their perspective and reality, rather than defaulting to your own.

“Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively.”— Carl Rogers

We need to be aware of our own emotional stance. If you are having trouble understanding the message, or having trouble getting your message across, look for the common perspective. It may be difficult but we need to keep our composure. Try to understand that negative comments are not necessarily personal, but more likely born out of frustration with the situation.

Effective communication then is a two way street, involving both a sender and receiver. It is about the sender making their intention clear, and the receiver being present and in the moment to actively listen. Intent is important – are we being clear about it? Understanding the difference between words and meaning is a vital capability for effective communications and relationships. For example, as John Ruskin stated: “The essence of lying is in deception, not in words.” (John Ruskin, 1819-1900, English art critic and social commentator). I learned long ago that when starting a difficult conversation with someone, it was critical to state my intent, and more importantly what it was not. I have found that this allows the other person to listen to what I am saying, and to understand the message behind the words.

“Without credible communication, and a lot of it, the hearts and minds of others are never captured.” — John P. Kotter

Finally, you can’t make another person actively listen to you, but you can increase the odds in your favour that they will, by understanding the other person’s communications style. Does she only need quick, basic information with few details, or does she need a lot of detail, maybe even to make a list? Does he appreciate it when you infuse your message with emotion,, or does he not want any emotional attachment to the message at all? By recognizing these four basic things you can change how you communicate with others, giving them what they need to understand and process what you are saying or asking.

Openness and Honesty

Open, honest communication is the key to building workplace relationships and demonstrating professionalism. While you do not need to discuss personal or private topics in the workplace, being transparent and honest about work matters and generally being willing to communicate with others is vital. People can sense when someone is hiding something or withholding information, and tend not to trust him or her. This damages workplace trust and relationships, and may lead to lower productivity and morale. Each of us has a different level of comfort with what we choose to disclose about ourselves, but being willing to share parts of yourself with your colleagues also helps to build rapport.

 

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John Whitehead coaches individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.

*******Are you wondering if having a Leadership/Personal Development Coach is right for you? Contact John for a complimentary, exploratory coaching session at john@johnkwhitehead.ca********

If you would like to get notifications for when I post, please go to my blog site and register. I promise I will not spam or use your email address for anything else. You can visit and register for my blog at http://johnkwhitehead.ca/blog-2/