Managing our Biases

We define coaching as being nonjudgmental. Yet we know that we do have judgment, biases and filters that pop up as interference from time to time as we are acting as thinking partners with another. The first step in managing our own biases, filters, judgments, and assumptions is to recognize that we have them and then to recognize the moments that trigger them.

Many of our biases are implicit. That is, we do not even recognize that we have them and would even vehemently deny that they exist for us. Unrecognized biases are the ones that are most harmful to our effectiveness as coaches and leaders. Implicit biases are unexamined. These unexamined biases may create blind spots, filters that allow only certain information in, and assumptions that may limit our access to a broader range of approaches to new or perplexing situations.

What are some ways to recognize implicit biases? One way is to begin to notice the events, words, or situations that cause us to have a strong emotional response, such as immediate disagreement, pushback, defensiveness, or avoidance. The intense need to convince others of our way of thinking is another potential indicator of a strong bias that may be holding us hostage. Lack of desire to listen to or consider the viewpoints of others may signal that we have a bias that we have not yet examined. Our innate desire to stay safe sometimes conflicts with our strong desire to grow and change in our responses to more positively impact those we lead.

Once we have identified our biases, we can be intentional about determining ways to set them aside in order to be more fully present with others. During those times we find we are being triggered, we are more able to recognize the hot button and push the “keep calm” button instead.

Ways to Blab Less

Summer Reading Connections – Part III

The last author, Dan, from Saturday Solutions offered a catchy title: Clarity without Blabbing. It caught my eye for the very reason that a reflective leader was working on self-assessment and decided he wanted to blab less and so he wrote Dan requesting some strategies. He was very wise in recognizing that he had a great team and that his over communicating must be very frustrating. The column author, Dan, responded with some very insightful information. What follows is an authentic response to what may seem humorous, and yet very important for a very unproductive pattern of communication.

First, Dan commended the leader for being self-aware and desiring to explore the power of piping down. Then he offered three reasons leaders become blabbers.

  1. Position, authority, and responsibility loosen lips. The person with the highest job title usually talks the most.
  2. Concern about unnecessary mistakes makes leaders jaw-flappers. It feels safer to say too much than too little. Talkative leaders are protecting people from wasting time and resources.
  3. Experience with people who nod in agreement, even when they’re confused, invites windy leaders to talk more.

As we read the above, no doubt a person or two may come to mind – even ourselves. Ouch!

And here are the recommendations made for us – “sometime blabbers.” 😊

1 – Set a positive goal: (for example) “I will be an effective concise communicator, not simply talking less. I will seek clarity and brevity.”

2 – Prepare: Leaders with the gift of gab need to prepare more than quiet introverts. It takes more preparation to speak effectively for a short time than for a long time.

  • With a project in mind, make a complete list of every topic you want to address.
  • Rank the items on your list in order of importance. Which items could be eliminated or combined? Start with big stuff.
  • Craft one or two sentences for each important item. Don’t begin with ad

3 – Leverage Relationships:

  • Include others in your development. Be transparent with your goal. It will set an example and strengthen connections.
    • Ask team members, “What suggestions do you have that might help me communicate with brevity and clarity?”
      • Explain the goal
      • Ask for suggestions
      • Dig into their ideas
      • Put one idea into practice during the next meeting.
    • Give a project to your team members. Explain your goal. Ask them to give you a knowing nod when they feel you’ve provided enough clarity. If you want to have fun, let them create the signal to you.
    • Seek feedback from team members regularly. (especially after meetings). Ask three questions:
      • What did I do that provided enough clarity?
      • What was I doing when I talked too long?
      • How might I communicate with brevity and clarity?

What a cool way for a leader to model self-awareness and self-assessment. Great leaders know that talking too long invites confusion, not clarity. Another reminder of how important it is to be authentic and always desire to “be” our best self.

Focused Practice Feedback – a Kick Starter!

How do we grow people? How do we build and grow their talent, their knowledge and skills? Use those wonderful conversation skills and ask about the goals they have set, the vision for their work, when it all is celebrated, what will they be celebrating? With highly committed employees they just usually need to reconnect to their vision, their passion, and get into a new skill or tool.

With those few who are less than highly committed, there is the opportunity to support their thinking in determining the three most important areas for their focus that will increase the performance desired. Hopefully the data they have gotten from colleagues, students, data, will speak to the direction required. Focus tightly on these folks with frequent conversations to celebrate what they are seeing and learning. Your conversations will result in strong insights about data and narratives. Offer simple options for action that they might use immediately. Short, frequent and focused conversations that celebrate the small steps and the small changes ultimately builds confidence and motivation.

Consider letting all meetings focus on practices that are working and letting employees learn from each other as they – under your leadership – keep the eye on the prize; ensuring all kids and staff are learning and growing at high levels. How do you know? What evidence are you seeing that is working? You will see it and hear it and watch as the learning environment begins to grow from its own enhanced energy and motivation to simply be better and better at what they do!

Stop Giving Feedback – Start Asking for Feedback

Continuing with what the Neuroleadership Institute found in their research on FEEDBACK, here are a lot of common misperceptions:

  1. We think we hate feedback. When someone asks if they can give us feedback, we hear, “Can I criticize your work so I can feel good about myself?”
  2. It’s best to focus on errors. The brain is built to detect errors, so that’s how we focus. The belief is that poor performance is from not knowing one’s errors and that people will change once they know what the error is. You have learned in Results Coaching training that what the brain focuses on – gets stronger. So when we focus on errors you never know what to do more of.
  3. Feedback must be giver driven. Up until the 20th century the view was that supervisors knew more. It really felt good to be helpful to others. The giver had a nice boost to their status and autonomy.

The new approach is to STOP GIVING FEEDBACK and to START ASKING FOR FEEDBACK! When we do, both sides feel less threatened; people get feedback more quickly and regularly; you can ask many people, and you can get the specific feedback you need.

So how do we teach and support our teachers and employees to ask for and share feedback?

  • Explicitly – what to build on and where to focus.
  • Broadly – ask and share with many – it lessens bias.
  • Often – get feedback close to the source and make it a habit.
  • Start from the top – what are the standards/expectations for the work; not just what someone says, what does the standard say? Provide examples of top performers in what they do, not who they are. What does the standard look like?

It’s Time For A Feedback Revolution

In February, Karen Anderson shared the opportunity to review and reconnect to the most essential and required skill in your everyday use. The ability to give skillful reflective feedback influences others to:

  • keep working,
  • reconsider,
  • reflect, see possibilities,
  • study more,
  • give more effort,
  • think about another point of view,
  • desire more learning,
  • be affirmed,
  • get motivated,
  • and so many more behaviors and thoughts that inspire and energize their commitment to the work in schools.

Recently I had the opportunity to think about FEEDBACK with the Neuroleadership Institute. Their leadership is on a focused path to support leadership in the use of effective and powerful FEEDBACK that will accomplish the change and growth needed in all people. Here are the main points they offered after researching 30+ models and interviewing over 10 neuroscience, psychology, creativity, and business researchers:

  • People need to grow and learn more and faster.
  • They need frequent, targeted input from many sources.
  • Yet feedback is broken, despite decades of effort.

The Neuroleadership Institute determined that it was time for a FEEDBACK revolution. Some reasons include:

  • The research taught them that engagement is highest with weekly feedback, yet fewer than 20% of employees get feedback weekly and of those, 27% say the feedback is useful. When asked, employees believe feedback does nothing or it make things worse.
  • Supervisors need to be reminded, encouraged, cajoled into giving more feedback and trained to do so.  Yet, after 40 years of training programs of all kinds, this skill is still a huge problem globally.

Choosing When to Give Feedback

As educators, our days are full of opportunities for giving reflective feedback. Typically, one of two situations appears as the time for giving feedback. One is the cycle of listen and give feedback; the other is observe and give feedback. Both are opportunities for growth.

Listen and Give Feedback. Listening and giving feedback is an opportunity for growth that consumes much of our day. A teacher stops you in the hall and says, “Is this okay for my first parent newsletter?” Once we move from the distraction that the question can be answered “yes” or “no” along with the temptation to give the quick response, “Good job!” we hesitate because we are reminded that this kind of feedback is short lived. It lacks the specificity of what constitutes a good job. Not only does the teacher leave with the uncertainty of what was good, the likelihood of repeating or sustaining the behavior or action is diminished. One option for our feedback may be a value/value potential statement coupled with a reflective question such as, “Knowing you want a consistent message to parents, what feedback are your teammates offering you regarding this plan?” Another option is to ask a clarifying question such as, “Who collaborated with you on this grade level information?” This question accomplishes two goals. It gains clarity about potential partners and holds up the expectation that the grade level was included in the development of the content. Depending on the response to the clarifying question, a reflective question may be, “How are you wanting to ensure you and your colleagues are on the same page?”

Now, it’s your turn. You receive an email from a fellow colleague asking for feedback on his/her plan for an upcoming professional learning day with staff.

What value/value potential statement would recognize the effort/core value of this person? _______________________________

What clarifying question, if any, might you ask? _______________________________

What reflective question for possibility will “push” the colleague’s thinking for additional considerations? _______________________________

Check Up – Ask someone to give you feedback on your language to ensure internalization of presumption of positive intent.

Observe and Give Feedback. The second situation where feedback can motivate and inspire growth is after a walk-through or a formal observation. This is where reflective feedback holds the potential to make the greatest difference. Many of you tell us about observation processes you are currently using in your schools. Often the conversation rolls around to the fact that the observation is well and good; yet, there is uncertainty about the language to use in the conversation following the observation. Because we know the potential for real learning IS the conversation, reflective feedback becomes even more critical. We know language matters because it will keep us engaged and listening or it will push us away. Hmm!  Here’s the real dilemma! A threat state is an inherent part of feedback. So, what can we do (say) that immediately moves the conversation to a safer state? One possibility is we can feed status with a value/value potential statement. Again, the brain calms down and we are all breathing again! Here are other possibilities that come from the work of Jenny Rogers in her Coaching Skills book.

  • Ask for permission, when appropriate – “Knowing you are working to incorporate language that presumes positive intent, what data would you like about the questions you asked?” or “Because we are all working to include literacy strategies in our classroom, what feedback would you like on your word wall activities?”
  • Stick to the facts – Use the specific data you have collected to offer feedback. Separate fact from opinion. “Of the ten questions you asked, half presumed positive intent. How might you flip the remaining five?” or “Of the ten questions you asked in this lesson, 2 were asked of girls with the remainder going to the boys. What system will ensure equitable opportunity to respond for your class?”
  • Avoid assumptions – We know about assuming! It can really get us in trouble. Making up our own stories about what is really going on or interpreting through our lens can be dangerous to hearing the real message. As a result, our feedback can be off-base and not heard because it may come across as advice.
  • Offer as “the truth” vs. “THE TRUTH” – When feedback is offered as “the truth” it comes across tentatively as possibility rather than the certainty of something being in fact “THE TRUTH” with ALL CAPS. Even a paraphrase, “You’re angry,” stated as if it were fact can affect me differently that you saying, “You seem to have strong feelings about this,” or even, “You seem angry about this.” It’s left to me to confirm or not; it’s possibility rather than a given. Another example might be when you are talking with another person and you sense there are two conversations going on at the same time. For the sake of clarity, you know you want to raise the intuition. It might sound like this, “It seems we might be talking about two things in this conversation. Let’s just put them on the table and see if there is any truth to that possibility.”

Another possibility, given today’s focus on transforming evaluation systems to the growth mindset is:

  • Know the teacher’s growth goal – Many of the current evaluation systems have a goal-setting component. Learn what is important to the teacher and you will have insight into the language of your value/value potential statements and your reflective questions.

Again, it’s your turn. Your campus has a peer review process for visiting classrooms to observe for specific areas of focus. High engagement for all students is the goal everyone is working on. On today’s walk-through visit, data was collected to show that three students were off-task without redirection for the duration of the visit.

What value/value potential statement would you say to this teacher? _______________________________

What clarifying question, if any, might you ask? _______________________________

What reflective question will hold up the data for the teacher in a question that presumes he or she wants to take action? _______________________________

Check Up – Ask someone to give you feedback on your language to ensure internalization of presumption of positive intent.

Feedback and coaching are the dynamic duo for promoting growth!

What evidence are you seeing that your feedback is growing others?

Feedback AND Evaluation: Two Pieces of the Growth Puzzle

Imagine teachers saying . . . “give me more” . . . “your feedback is critical to my ongoing growth as a professional.” Well, that is a reality in more and more schools. Schools are making the shift to a coaching culture with a growth mindset that presumes positive intent. And, they are using the evaluation process as the way to make it happen.

Take for example, Principal Keith McGee from the Little Rock School District, who after attending our Level II seminar committed to increasing his use of reflective feedback in the evaluation process. Specifically, he wanted to include more value and value potential statements in his conversations with teachers. When he said, “Your commitment to educate our students for the PARCC assessment is valued and is evidenced by student’s engagement in your class as they prepare,” the teacher expressed her appreciation for the feedback and requested more feedback. She asked the leadership team to give her more feedback because she viewed it as a way to improve as a teacher. In other words, she had a shift in her thinking and mindset about the value of evaluation for ongoing growth and development.

McGee’s testimony is just one of many examples we hear from you about the impact of reflective feedback. According to emerging literature in the business world, the kind of feedback that promotes growth + action will be the required skillset for leaders who are exceptionally successful in the 21st century. Jenny Rogers writes, “giving feedback is a high-level art . . . more talked about than done.”  Additionally, while Rogers admits effective feedback is tough, she challenges us by saying, “You have to become an expert in the art of giving feedback.”

So, Why Do We Want to Provide Reflective Feedback?

Because . . . The SCARF research from neuroscience coupled with over 3 decades of work from the Gallup group sends us a very clear answer. People do not grow from their weaknesses or deficits. They grow from their strengths and gifts. Status is a key factor! Knowing what I do well and seeing that you see it too, acts as an accelerant for what I will do next. When feedback sends the message that “you see me!” my brain can calm down and hear what you have to say to me. That acknowledgment is an essential feature that has been missing from most feedback. When my brain feels threatened, I stop listening and move to defensiveness or some other coping mechanism.

Previously, David Rock taught us that the best way to improve the performance of another is to improve his/her thinking about the performance. In a new article, he and others note that when talent is seen as fixed, it becomes a limiting belief. Most performance management systems built on indicators, scales, or checklists inadvertently encourage a way of thinking that limits the ability to grow talent. “By contrast, a belief that talent can be developed, will lead to more effective feedback, goal achievement, evaluation effectiveness, and a culture of collaboration and growth.”

In the educational arena, John Hattie and Helen Timperly speak about the power of feedback to improve the process of teaching and learning. They say, “Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative. The evidence shows that although feedback is among the major influences, the type of feedback and the way it is given can be differentially effective.” Following is another story from you that describes the desired shift from fixed to growth mindset.

How Reflective Feedback Supports the Evaluation Process

School leaders across our country are working to integrate reflective feedback into their coaching conversations that support the observation/evaluation process. Principal Andy is working to show how evaluation and feedback are best accomplished through a coaching mindset. He, himself, had a mindset shift when he began to see the evaluation process as a tool for supporting his core value of growing teachers. As a result, he totally revamped his process for evaluation. Knowing the importance of certainty for the brain, he and his assistant principal, Sean, developed reflective questions that presumed positive intent, which they gave to their teachers prior to the observation. The questions became the focus of the growth conversation following each classroom visit. Teachers expressed value for this new process and feedback that was centered on their strengths and celebrations.

Andy, Sean, and others are finding their shift from a technical change challenge to an adaptive mindset change has a huge ROI (return on investment). Being in classrooms and holding reflective coaching conversations is the essential work of school leaders so that a coaching culture emerges with a clear focus on the growth mindset for all.

Five Ways to Reduce Blind Spots

be-aware-listening-engagedWe talked earlier this month about possible blind spots in our current view of reality related to our workplace culture. Here are a few thoughts on ways to reduce blind spots. These ideas are embedded in our soon to be released Results Coaching Next Steps: Leading for Growth and Change.

  • Listen to understand from the other person’s perspective.
  • Refrain from jumping to conclusions that may or may not be accurate, or seeking to impose our own views rather than understanding their views.
  • Use the skill of paraphrasing in responses to demonstrate respect, understanding and make connections so that the person feels safe to continue.
    • If people do not feel safe to continue- they will shut down or elevate an aggressive state (fight, flight or freeze). This is a Trust Buster.
    • Hormones are released in the brain (Oxytocin – feel good hormone, or Cortisol – feel bad hormone). We seek Trust Building.
  • Maintain an attitude of presuming positive intent, which shows up in our language and our internal thoughts. Remember, chemical reactions are happening internally for everyone during a conversation.
  • Ask discovery/powerful questions where you do not already have the answers.
    • This is what coach-leaders do.
    • If you ask questions where you already know the answers – that is called a leading question and that is not the behavior of a coach leader.

Organizational Culture – A Living Definition of a Shared Reality and Overall Success

group-of-happy-business-peopleWhen you look out across the dynamics of your workplace culture, what do you see? And, as you describe what you see, how clear is your view? How does it compare with those who live and work within the same culture? Where, if anyplace, might there be obstructions in your view – obstructions that are unintentional or perhaps intentional?

Judith E. Glaser, in Conversational Intelligence (2013) describes culture as the conversational rituals and practices of organizations. She says it is the way in which we harmonize experiences and create shared language, which in turn bridges and connects us together more fully. Culture creates a shared reality. Organizational culture defines the success of the organization. As organizations desire to move to the next level of greatness, it is all dependent on the quality of the culture and the culture depends on the quality of the conversations. “Everything happens through conversations.”

Back to your view of your organizational culture – how do you ensure that what you see is clear and accurate in your eyes and the eyes of others? What, if any, blind spots may be obstructing your view?

Below are 5 blind spots to consider as you hold conversations with others. We thank Dr. Glaser for her articulation of these blind spots. After all, and as we have been saying for years – conversations are the threads that bind us together in rich relationships. It serves us well to be on the look out for blind spots, such as:

  • Holding assumptions that others see what we see, feel what we feel and think what we think.
  • Failure to realize that fear, trust and distrust changes how we see and interpret reality, and therefore how we talk about it.
  • An inability to stand in each other’s shoes when we are fearful or upset.
  • Assuming that we remember what others say, when we actually remember what we think about what others say.
  • Assuming that meaning resides in the speaker, when in fact it resides in the listener.

Blind spots spring from reality gaps. Dr. Glaser says, “Your reality and mine are not the same. You and I have different experiences, we know different people, we came from different parts of the world, and we use different language to label our world. Even those of us who are in the same room at the same time will take away different impressions of our time together.”

As we work with leaders from across the country, we are continually impressed with their desire to positively impact the culture of the organization. That means they create time and space for open and honest conversations where they listen first to understand from others’ perspectives before they speak, in a desire to create a shared understanding of the current realities and a combined effort on best ways to move forward in a productive manner. They know that the quality of the conversation is imperative for success in relationships and in results. And, they are committed to reducing their own blind spots.

Listening and Paraphrasing – Communication Bookends

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and to be understood.
The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”

Ralph Nichols


Paraphrasing is the skill that is evidence we have listened. It is the skill that feeds the human need Nichols speaks of in the quotation above. When we paraphrase what the person wants or the emotion they are feeling, we also send the message we are fully present and we understand or are trying to understand. Thus, listening and paraphrasing go together much like bookends for the communication process.

Described as the most underutilized skill, paraphrasing is often a skill we have learned is at the bottom of our tool kit as communicators. When we ask you why paraphrasing is not used, here are some of the responses we hear:

  • We learned parroting rather than eloquence in paraphrasing.
  • We are afraid we will get it wrong.
  • It sounds inauthentic; more like a pattern of speech we have learned.

Paraphrasing is a skill most of us learned prior to the more recent neuroscience regarding SCARF and in particular the S or Status of SCARF. What we now understand about the importance of making our language about the other person reinforces the potential power of this skill. Learning to flip the language from “I” to “you” now makes sense when we consider it from the brain’s perspective. The metaphor we use to illustrate this concept is a flashlight beam or spotlight. Our goal is to keep the beam of light on the other person. So, instead of “what I hear you saying” which makes it about us, we change the language to “you want . . . your goal . . . your desire . . . or you’re feeling . . .“ which makes it all about the other person, giving status and keeping the ray of light focused on the speaker.

Worrying about getting the paraphrase wrong is not necessary. We say, “When you get it wrong, you get it right!” because you bring clarity to the conversation. An example that teaches this valuable lesson was a time when someone came to one of us visibly upset. The paraphrase was, “You are very angry about the way you were treated in this interaction.” The person responded, “No, I am not angry. I am hurt and disappointed.” NOW . . . , we knew what we were taking about. Hurt and disappointment are very different from anger. When you demonstrate a sincere attempt to “listen for”, the person will sense the intent, feel the safety, and will let you know when you have not hit the nail on the head. It may sound like, “Not exactly.” or “Kind of, but what I really meant was . . .” On the other hand, when you have hit the nail on the head, you may hear, “Exactly!” or “Yes! That’s what I meant and you said it better than I did.”

Two additional lessons we have learned that add power potential to paraphrasing are the importance of silence and the notion of less is more. As educators, we are highly proficient with language. Often we use a lot of words in an attempt to ensure we are understood. We have learned that “less is more” with regard to a powerful paraphrase. When we listen for essence, passion, or possibility, we need fewer words than when we thought we had to repeat everything the person said in our paraphrase (parroting). When we flood the person with an abundance of language, it confuses the brain and invites fuzziness into the conversation. We listen for the heart of the spoken word and give it back in a brief, crisp paraphrase. Often, fifteen words or less, or even three to five when applicable, will convey a much more powerful message than a paraphrase with an “and” that extends the sentence and invites old patterns of speaking into the equation. In our seminars, when an “and” creeps into our conversations, we playfully say, “Put a period at the end. KISS it – Keep it simple sweetie!”

In her book, Fierce Conversations, Susan Scott (2002) writes, “silence is sometimes the answer.” In the context of paraphrasing, deliver the paraphrase followed by silence. Do not utter another sentence AND most certainly not a question. Let silence do the heavy lifting. Silence is where thinking lives; it’s where I can discover awareness, create my own answers, and consider my next steps. This is where we learn that paraphrasing followed by silence can replace many of our questions. Suzie McNeese, one of our elementary principals discovered this for herself when she proclaimed, “Today, during a coaching session, I realized that when I wanted to ask clarifying questions, it was for me to try to solve the problem for the other person. Instead, by listening for and paraphrasing, I was allowing the person to solve the problem themselves.”

When done eloquently, paraphrasing holds the potential for a highly effective communication skill. It can even replace the need for a question. Paraphrasing is evidence of our committed listening. Without our full presence, we cannot paraphrase eloquently. So, how is this done? – by simply “listening for” which was fully developed in the March ezine. Here is a reminder of what we “Listen For”:

  • What the person wants
  • Emotion
  • Passion
  • Options, possibilities, potential
  • What is already working
  • Reframes
    • Negative to Positive
    • Problem to Solution
    • Complaint to Commitment

Putting these two skills together as if they were bookends, demonstrates our full presence for what is of value to the person. Rather than parroting back exactly what the person has said, we go deeper for the essence of what they want, the emotion they are feeling, or their vision of possibility. We will practice putting these two together in this month’s blog.