Designing Effective, Efficient, and Emotionally Intelligent Phone/Web Conferencing: Part VI
"The Dynamic Dozen + 1"Skills, Structures, and Strategies for Mastering the Medium, the Message, and the Meeting
The foundation of this series captures one of the ironies of our ever-changing and expanding technical world: when it comes to electronic meetings, phone conferences, webinars and webcasts, the need for traditional "soft or people skills" - emotional-interpersonal intelligence, verbal and nonverbal communication/presentation, group dynamics, and leadership-facilitation - is more critical than ever. Increasingly, an organization's capacity to survive and thrive depends on the adaptation of these skillsets across a range of interactive media. The operational and tactical challenge becomes generating something like a parallel or analogous "live" and engaging experience that is "effective, efficient, and emotionally intelligent" in the virtual realms of individual and group learning, sharing, and decision-making.
If you are up for the challenge, here are the final three "low or medium tech and high touch" recommendations, "The Dynamic Dozen + 1 Skills, Structures, and Strategies for Successful Phone/Web Conferencing":
11. Is an Existential Decision Really On the Line? In a seminal article, "The Four Faces of Anger," written in the '90s, I also noted the "Four Angry 'I's": we tend to have an angry response (constructive) or angry reaction (destructive) when we perceive another's communications or actions as being unjust, injurious (or insulting), or invasive, and we have the intention to do something about the above injustices, injuries, insults, and/or invasions. And this aggressive energy pours out when the issue stirs our "passion."
Passion! What does it evoke? Intensity, heat, steaminess…the "s"-word: "soap opera?" No, of course it's sex? Actually, we in Washington, DC know the "s"-word for passion…It is "Senator." (Or it was until Bill Clinton ruined my joke.) Interestingly, if you have a good dictionary the "s"-word for "passion" is neither "sex," nor "Senator," (nor even "silk"…it's "suffering," as in the Passion Play. This relates to the sufferings of Jesus or, more generically, to the sufferings of a martyr. (Imagine all this time I never knew my Jewish mother was such a passionate woman!)
Actually, the best free association I've heard to the word "passion" (from a workshop audience member) has been "Rosa Parks." It's an image that inspires speculation around the connection among "suffering," "passion" and being a powerful leader or motivator? For me, a passionate individual recognizes personal, organizational, and/or social wrongs, feels their own and others' pain, (or, at least, has a low threshold for "constructive discontent"), and is capable of learning from and being motivated by past inequalities and injustices, without being a slave to self-righteous retribution. And of, course, this knowledgeable, determined, principled, and persistent individual is willing to take a courageous stand in the present - even if by sitting down - in the face of adversity or danger.
The Conference Call Battlefield Encounter
Let me provide a small group phone meeting vignette, and you make the call on my critical "intervention" or unnecessary "interruption." The recent phone conference meeting was of a time-sensitive nature, involving a Company Principal, two Company Consultants (an IT Design Consultant, I'll call A., and a Communications-Team Building Consultant, yours truly), and a Vice Chancellor of a major southern state university. (The two consultants and the university administrator were all meeting for the first time.) The call was related to winning a significant division computer system upgrade/team retreat contract. So the IT Consultant was the major presenter; I was on board as there was also interest in some team building around a variety of organizational-operational changes.
After some brief intros, the Principal instructed the IT Design person, A., to begin his "how we can help you" technological pitch. A. started, continued…and never stopped; five minutes passed and he was still going strong, periodically peppering his monologue with some abstract terminology. I was becoming increasingly antsy and eventually "interjected during the presentation: "A. you're making very important points; I'm wondering how C. is taking all this in?" (From my perspective, mine was a sensitive and tactful intervention; according to some present, my behavior either threatened the perception of team unity and/or was an impatient if not attention-seeking "interruption.") Professionally speaking, the glaring problem was not the quality of my colleague's selling points, but the quantity...and a lack of contextual awareness and "message sent/received" connection. Mr. IT Design was not pausing and checking in with any audience members, especially the client being wooed. I feared he was inducing TIO -Technical Information Overload - first cousin to a TIA - Transient Ischemic Attack! (You know those mini heart/brain attacks that often are a prelude to a stroke. Okay, I can be melodramatic.)
In response to my query about how she was handling the info load, after an awkward silence, the client satisfactorily paraphrased key points of my colleague's presentation. (He took this as a sign that my interruption was unnecessary, I believe a questionable assumption.) She did not, wave off my question and instruct the IT Consultant to soldier on. What do you think of my action and analysis?
The Interface of Concern and Confrontation, Courage, and Conflict
When you have challenged the status quo, and stepped on egos and pushed "hot buttons," many emotional qualms, questions, and issues must be anticipated, acknowledged, and addressed. As indicated in my Four Faces of Anger Model, there can be a fine line between constructive "passion" and disruptive impulsivity or even destructive "rage." Some Mutual Venting and Face-Saving Problem-Solving Steps need to be taken:
a) Ask For and Provide Real Feedback. After the VC left the "room," I asked for a team debriefing; I wanted to give my colleagues a chance to express their frustration and concern. I also wanted them to know that it was not easy to intervene; I knew intuitively that phone protocol, if not unspoken group norms, were being challenged. Fortunately, the Principal and I have a successful, longstanding relationship. He realizes I can be an intense, "March to the beat of a different drum" type, but he also knows I'm a team player.
b) Do a Rapid Self-Inventory. When I broke in on A.'s presentation, was I responding to a higher calling or was my empathic pain more subjective than objective, was my increasing frustration polluting A.'s space and our team image? It may be hard to predict whether you will be seen as hero or villain or both. A decision-making lesson learned for future critical conference turning points: You may have to do a quick "hot button" survey, and decide if you can trust your heart and gut. Assessing risk and reward is also vital; for example, are you willing to make a precarious high dive, and are you prepared to face the consequences, maybe even hitting bottom?
c) Acknowledge Any Excess. In hindsight, my counter to some of A.'s critical feedback regarding my "interruption" added some fuel to the fire. During the debriefing, stating my concern with, "You seemed to be shooting yourself in the foot," clearly was not the best way to express a desire that he maximize connecting with the client.
d) Learn to "Let Go." At some point, I realized our interaction and A.'s emotional state meant he was not ready to hear my message of concern: that talking without checking in may affect the reception of his presentational data. (At this point, he likely wanted a message of contrition, not concern which, alas, not being sufficiently "cooled down," I was not able to provide.) A. was unwittingly erecting barriers to, or at least missing the opportunity for, meaningful MS = MR connection and relationship building with the client. Now with more sadness than frustration in my voice, I acknowledged, "We aren't getting on the same page today." Especially when time is limited, you have to accept that some issues may remain unresolved and may need to be addressed at a later date. For example, while not apologizing to A. outright, I expressed genuinely looking forward to a future meeting (upon us winning the contract).
e) Humbly Follow-up. I wrote the firm Principal a note acknowledging my "passionate" tendencies. I reaffirmed recognizing his lead and my being a team player. I also suggested a new phone meeting norm: no interrupted talking longer than 2-3 minutes without checking in with a client or the audience. I received a quick and wise text reply: "You're still on the team. Conflict will only make our product and process stronger." I suspect he knew my intervention was more than personal ego eruption.
12. Design Time for Motivating, Personal Sharing, Mutual Strategizing, and Summarizing. I have emphasized that the application of insightful and purposeful cognitive and communication skills and techniques will enable an electronic conferencing leader to play two vital roles: 1) directing a "time- and task-conscious" agenda and 2) facilitating group participation and "effective, efficient, and emotionally intelligent" interaction. At the same time, a dynamic leader knows how and when to put on the table/tablet his personal, inspiring, and focused message, story, and/or vision.
Consider these "Four Interrelated Motivational-Communicational Tools and Techniques":
a) Project "Passion Power". A former salesman, now a Human Resources Professional, reminded me that "Logic Tells and Passion Sells." As Francois La Rouchefoucald, the 17th century French classical writer, observed (quoted in Kay Redfield Jamison's Exuberance: The Passion for Life, Random House, 2004), Passions are the only orators which always persuade. They are like an act of nature, the rules of which are infallible; and the simplest man who has some passion persuades better than the most eloquent who has none.
And based on my "Five 'P's" Model - a 2 x 2 - Mind ("Cognitive-Affective") and Mood ("Gravitas-Comedia") Matrix, a communicator can take "passion" to an even richer conceptual, behavioral, and synergistically strategic gestalt: being Purposeful-Provocative-Passionate-Playful -Philosophical - that is, "Passion Power" Compels. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org for the essay, "The Five 'P's of Passion Power.")
Primed "Passion Power" doesn't only persuade and compel; it also inspires and helps bridge gaps and bind wounds. According to Jamison, such a dynamic and insightful commander has the ability to unite a divided or dispirited group, organization, or nation: "In times of adversity, inspired leadership offers energy and hope where little or none exist, gives a belief in the future to those who have lost it, and provides a unifying spirit to a splintered populace." Why shouldn't more people cultivate their own version/vision of an inner Joan of Arc, Lincoln, Churchill, Gandhi, MLK, Mandela, Clinton (Hilary), or even Steve Jobs? (Naturally, we are also aware that some leaders, not to mention writers, lose sight of the fine line between vision and hallucination. ;-)
b) Personalize Your Message: Reflect and Reveal Feelings. While embracing the big perspective, it's also vital to personally touch individuals and small groups. In addition to many of the above mentioned qualities, e.g., conveying humility, openness, and inviting feedback, add these two relationship-building, tactful steps:
1) Reflect Feelings (Tentatively). To reflect someone's feelings means to lightly or kindly ask about or to acknowledge overt or underlying feelings that are attached to the other party's communication. A tentative or tactful approach is often best: "I know you are on board, still it sounds like you may have some frustration with the decision. Care to discuss it?"
2) Reveal Feelings (Appropriately). Sometimes you may not know what the other is feeling. Instead of trying to guess or saying, "Gee…you must be angry," if you want to comment, better to say, "Based on what I've been hearing, when I've been in a similar situation, I found myself becoming…" (Be careful; don't suddenly shift the focus and make yourself the center of the conversation.) And then pause; give the other person time to respond or not. Also, especially regarding the emotional component of messages, both listening and looking for verbal and nonverbal cues - depending on the medium, these include voice tone and volume as well as pausing and pacing, facial and other bodily gestures, for example, lowered head and eyes or arms crossed over the chest - will facilitate more accurate reflection or discretion.
c. Mutual Strategizing and Summarizing. And finally, two concept-, application-, and relation-building tactical steps:
1) Strategic Listening-Sharing-Dancing Interplay. "Strategic Listening-Sharing-Dancing" takes active listening to a greater interactive level. The goal is more than awareness and empathy. Now you want to invite the other to engage in a mutual, problem-solving dance. Common and disparate, structured and spontaneous ideas and emotions as well as goals and objectives are freely shared and spun around, akin to a brainstorming. Though in this strategic interplay, give and take questioning - for understanding, as well as for calculated coordination and triggering imaginative possibilities - is encouraged. The purpose of such strategic back and forth is generating "synergy" - a sharing-listening-sharing-challenging-mind opening, fluid, flexible, and fertile dialogic dance-feedback loop yielding expanded insight and relating: a) the consciousness whole is greater than the sum of the communicational parts (because of the free-flowing information and emotional exchange amongst the individual elements) and b) individual parts are (seemingly magically) transformed into partners.
2) Mutual Summarizing. Finally, you are ready to review and pull together such problem-solving elements as mutual agreements, outstanding differences - factual as well as psychological-cultural - broad strategies and action plans to be executed (including the parties responsible for implementation), time frames, ongoing monitoring or interim report back and follow-up procedures. And depending on the communicational context, a written summary is often advisable.
13. Don't Forget to Debrief…and Audience Relief. As noted in #10 above, "The Conference Call Battlefield Encounter," the wisest move I made during this contentious conference call was asking for a debriefing session after the formal meeting. I realized my colleagues needed to vent their anger and reaffirm their self-worth. And as the initiator of the conflict it was my responsibility to carefully listen to their angst and arguments. Here are two benefits of debriefing:
a) "Yes, but" Rebut, Reversal, and Reinvigorated Problem-Solving. Do I wish I had been more patient and measured in my reaction-response? Absolutely! Alas, I'm not a saint. However, I'm savvy enough to know and apply some "hands on" research: allow people to question or challenge your actions, plans, or point of view, even to say "you're wrong" and "I'm right!" You want an exploratory or conflict problem-solving atmosphere that encourages the freedom to disagree and to be contrary, to give antagonists a full hearing before other people and parties are "set straight." And this climate actually has a counterintuitive result: enabling others to exercise their difference in a conflict situation often helps the antagonist move closer to your original position. Remember, much of the time we don't clash over facts and figures but over the status of the relationship. (As noted above, most people want the freedom to disagree.) As I've been known to say:
If you can allow people who say, "Yes, but"
Even if they may be a pain in the…
(But you know what I mean)
Then we may get them to say, "But, yes!"
In addition, debriefing potentially helps parties address misunderstandings if not "step back" and engage with new problem-solving. As I like to say, Grieve, let go, and go with the flow.
b) Recognize both the Danger and Opportunity in Conflict. I suspect the conference call conflict and tough debrief gave each one of us plenty of food for thought, as well as fertile ground for cultivating new insights and perspective, including some common understanding. As endings often replicate beginnings, I can't think of a better way to close this essay than by returning to the Part I opening quote from John Dewey, a pragmatic philosopher and "Father of American Public Education": Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It shocks us out of sheep-like passivity. It instigates to invention and sets us at noting and contriving. Conflict is the "sine qua non" of reflection and ingenuity.
c) Audience Relief. End early so people have time to refill their water/coffee before the next meeting.
Part IV-VI conveyed the closing seven "The Dynamic Dozen + 1," that is, key cognitive and communication "Skills, Structures, and Strategies for Designing Effective, Efficient, and Emotionally Intelligent Phone/Web Conferencing." From disarming the "Monarchical Monologue," or Defusing "Hot Buttons" and the "Assumption, Aggression, and Anonymity Axis" to "Asking Good Questions" (GQs) and employing "Mentally Massaging Mantras" along with assessing "Existential Decision Points" while sharing knowingly from the head and heart, you will gain tools, techniques, and tactics for mastering the medium, the message, and the meeting.
"The Dynamic Dozen + 1"Skills, Structures, and Strategies for Mastering the Phone/Web/video Conferencing Medium, Message, and Meeting are:
1. Take Time for Pre-Conference Call Planning
2. Integrating Agenda Setting, Time Consciousness, & Directive-Interactive Leadership
3. Be Aware of the Obvious Challenges of Phone Communication
4. Find "Small" and Meaningful Areas of Personal and Cultural Connection
5. Connect to Pain and Passion Using Client's Words and Language
6. Deliver Meaningful Messages in Organized Chunks and Concise & Colorful Stories
7. Beware the "Monarchical Monologue" - Concisely Pause, Curiously & Carefully Seek Clarity, and Show Concern
8. Ask Good Questions (GQs) - being Humble, Curious, Mistaken & appearing Naive
9. Define and Defuse Sensitive "Hot Buttons" along with the Assumption, Aggression and Anonymity Axis
10. Listen to Feedback; Strategically Assess, Don't Simply Launch or Counterattack
11. Is an Existential Decision Really On the Line?
12. Design Time for Motivating, Personal Sharing, Mutual Strategizing, and Summarizing
13. Don't Forget to Debrief…and Audience Relief
With the Dynamic Dozen +1 you are ready to design and build your own "high tech and high touch" bridge. Let's give the medical pioneer, Jonas Salk, the closing words: Evolution is about getting up one more time than you fall down; being courageous one more time than you are fearful; trusting just one more time than being anxious. Words to help you adapt to our rapidly transforming "Brave New World" and to help one and all…Practice Safe Stress!