Butler Talks

5 Steps to Rebuild Compromised Relationships at Work and at Home

How to Engage in CareFrontation or Radical Candor Conversations

communication-wheel-w-refDoes this sound or feel familiar?

  • Ducking for cover when you see THAT person walk down the hallway
  • Found yourself in endless  complaint loops about THAT person to others, which don’t change anything and just reinforce the unpleasantness of the situation
  • Sweaty palms and flushed cheeks when THAT person speaks during meetings
  • Screening phone calls because you just can’t bear talking to THAT person

These typical symptoms for a missing or incomplete Crucial Conversation, a challenging conversation that seems ominous because the stakes are high, opinions differ and emotions are strong. Even though many people avoid challenging conversations at all cost, when done well, they can be a true gift because they allow you to turn an uncomfortable situation into a relationship building opportunity that can improve collaboration and creative thinking.

Here are the 5 steps to address a challenging situation with candor and honesty:

  1. Data: I saw/ I heard/ I noticed … (communicate observable and measurable facts)
    Describe what the situation looks like from your perspective without associating any value judgment. Stick with measurable facts. Avoid generalizations such as “always” and “never”. What is the specific situation that warrants clarification, exploration and a change of action?
    Example: In your email from (date) you agreed to do (x) by (y). Today marks 2 days past the delivery date. I have not received any written notification from you that your team will not be able to deliver as agreed.
  2. Feelings: I feel … (own and communication your current emotional state appropriately and honestly)
    If you are not comfortable naming your feelings, speak directly into your concerns and what seems worrisome in this situation. This step requires the willingness to be vulnerable. If that seems too far outside your comfort zone, you can move directly into step 3.
    Example: I feel angry because I felt I looked incompetent when the client called this morning and I was not able to answer relevant questions without having seen your report.
  3. Judgments/ Meaning Making: I believe … (state a clear interpretation of the consequences from your perspective)
    This step is important because here you offer an insight into your position without creating a defensive response. You explain your interpretation of the consequences of the issue at hand.
    : I believe that this makes the company look incompetent and that our contract may not be renewed.
  4. Wants/ Desired Future: I want … (create a positive future scenario)
    In this step you create a shared objective and establish why it is important to work together.
    Example: I want to be able to rely on a strong team to support the mission of the organization, a healthy work environment, for us to collaborate more, …
  5. Willingness/ Contribution: I am willing to … (action that is likely to improve the situation)
    This step allows you to take ownership of the situation and to communicate your willingness to take action toward positive results.

During any phase of the conversation, the other person may comment and offer a new
perspective. Good questions to ask after presenting the issue are: What can I do to help? What can you and I do to prevent this from happening again? What was your understanding of the situation based on these facts? What information am I missing?

The key is to enter the conversation from a place of genuine concern for the person and the relationship and with real curiosity about what leads the other person to behave  the way he or she does. Preclude the conversation with reassurance of your commitment to set the stage for a positive experience and with the intent to lay the groundwork for positive future interactions. The Communication Wheel will NOT work if your intention is to prove that you are right or that the other person is wrong. Stick with “I” statements and avoid “Why” questions. Be honest and be open to learn something new and you may be pleasantly surprised!


Successful Millennial Integration at Work – What does that look like in your organization?

millennial_topimageMillennials seem to have a pretty bad reputation with many employers if one is to believe leading articles in mainstream media. Disloyal attention-hounds, short attention span, narcissistic, want a lot and offer little, etc. This does not reflect my experience working with young managers at all and a Millennial Study by IBM suggests otherwise as well.

My millennial clients are hungry for opportunities to learn, stretch and become actively contributing, valued members of optimization initiatives. They have grown up with technology, communicate differently with their peers than older generations, and they have learned by observation that hardly anything lasts forever anymore. The younger generations’ demands on management may be disruptive for traditionally managed organizations but let’s face it, our way of working is being disrupted continuously by advancing technology, changing policies or new market place urgencies.

I have been asked by a student organization at GMU to talk to them about what it takes for Millennials to be successful in today’s business climate, and specifically what college graduates can do to prepare for their transition from student life to the professional world. In preparation to the presentation, I am collecting short responses of what qualities, skills and behaviors leaders and managers in successful companies are looking for in the next generation that is entering the work force and for any new hire for that matter.

Here is your chance to contribute to the discussion:

  • What would be your advice for soon-to-graduate students?

  • What would they need to bring to the table to be successful in your organization?

  • Are you seeing a pattern in the younger generation of potential employees that is noteworthy?

  • What behavior to you wish to see more of? Less of?

I am looking forward to hopefully seeing a lively discussion in response to this request and I will share my keynote talk with all contributors upon delivery.

See other comments  HERE



SOAR to New Heights



Here are some Core Business Questions for you to think about:

  • How many conversations occur at your organization that are only needed because a previous conversation did not produce the intended results?
  • What would change for your organization if you could eliminate or even just cut in half all those corrective and unproductive conversations and get the desired results after the initial, intentional and thoughtful conversation?
  • How much time and money do you think could be saved by creating an active, collaborative and consistent Culture of Accountability?

This spring a colleague and I put together our first open-enrollment leadership development cohort program that addresses these essential questions. In June we celebrated the first group’s graduation and received rave reviews! The participants grew exponentially, shifted their perspectives, took courageous steps and transformed their leadership skills from project management and delegation to powerfully leading complex initiatives. I feel deeply grateful for the privilege of having been part of their journey and for seeing them take flight! We now offer Cohort #2 with some tweaks and improvements. Program details can be found here: SOAR FAll 2016 Flyer.

Non-profit, public service and small business rates available upon request.

  • Module 1:  September 23, 2016 – IQ vs. EQ – Why Self-Awareness Matters
  • Module 2:  October 21, 2016 – Engaging & Managing Coaching People to Optimal Performance
  • Module 3:  November 18, 2016 – How to Create a Culture of Trust, Collaboration, and Accountability
  • Module 4:  December 16, 2016 – Declaring the Future We Want

This program provides a significant boost to professional development and offers valuable tools to create a healthy work-life integration resulting in clear communication, collaborative relationships, optimized effectiveness and a happier work/home life. I would be excited to have you be part of a very unique and high-caliber group of emerging and seasoned leaders!

Event details: HERE

Leadership in Action – Attracting and Keeping Talented Staff

culture_icon_352Please join us for an interesting exploration of what attracts high-performing employees and keeps them engaged:
July 20, 8am-10am, Tysons Corner (right outside of the beltway, 10 min walk from Spring Hill metro station)
Breakfast, great networking, wonderful opportunity to invite your clients to a powerful micro-learning event that gives you a great opportunity for powerful conversations.
Mira Panek, a gifted speaker and treasured colleague of mine, and I will host a breakfast seminar together and invite you to come and bring a client to see a SOAR component in action and to take home an immediate-impact tool. Under the advertised topic below we will highlight the power of language in exploring new possibilities. We will explore SOAR’s Extraordinary Leader’s Blueprint and declaration development and add the lens of appreciative inquiry, a great coaching tool that is easily accessible even for people, who are not trained coaches.
Details and ticket information: HERE

Leadership in Action Seminar Series – The Power of the Promise of Leadership

5DM3-39617Local leaders are invited to discuss what it means in their organization when they operate under the leader label. Using Bob Andersons’ extraordinary book “Mastering Leadership” as a jumping off point, my partner in the seminar series, Sarah Happel, and I will facilitate deep discovery of the explicit and implicit expectations of those who are asked to follow and work with the leader. The expectations turn into the perceived Promise of Leadership.

What are leaders expected to do? How are they expected to do it? What are the criteria of a Great Leader? What obstacles are in the way of fulfilling the Promise of Leadership and what are the consequences?

Through experiential exercises, thought-provoking small group discussions and practical take-aways, experienced and emerging leaders will have the opportunity to examine their own leadership roles and their relationships inside and outside their organizations.

Please join us for a powerful breakfast seminar that will energize you to return to your places of work with renewed resolve to make a difference and raise the bar of their leadership effectiveness.

May 18, 2016 – 8:00am-10:00am – Tysons Corner (McLean), VA
Limited seats – reserve your spot HERE.

SNEAK PREVIEW EVENT for SOAR Program for Business Leaders

I am super excited about the upcoming SOAR program for business leaders in the NoVa region. A sneak preview event provides an opportunity to experience one of the powerful tools that will be introduced by the program.

Sneak Preview Presentation for SOAR Program for Business Leaders:

Feb. 5, 2015    8:00 AM Networking/Breakfast                         8:30 – 10:30 AM Presentation/Workshop                         “How to Create Breakthrough Results”
Learn and try out an amazingly simple yet powerful communication tool for immediate application to boost the performance at your organization AND get a glimpse of what makes the SOAR cohort program for business leaders so powerful and effective. Don’t miss this great opportunity!

$20 per person / $15 VBA members if purchased by Feb. 1, 2016 $30 per person if purchased after Feb. 1/walk-in

Space is limited to 30 participants and the event fill up, so reserve your seat early!

Register HERE.


Logo combo



SOAR Program for Business Leaders

Shape Culture & Generate Results through the Power of Language

Based on proven models and methodologies, the SOAR Program for Business Leaders helps leaders see themselves, their teams, and the world in new ways. Participants learn to shape culture and improve execution through the power of language. SOAR includes a combination of big-picture leadership topics (such as emotional intelligence, change management and establishing clear dialogue) as well as specific managerial topics (such as creating accountability, delegation, and goal-setting).

Each module presents a new theory or model, followed by a group discussion, break-out sessions for practical application, and reflection. Participants engage in powerful experiential learning that they will be able to apply both professionally and personally. They practice how to communicate more effectively, handle conflict, leverage diverse perspectives, and lead teams to higher satisfaction and improved performance. The cohort structure enhances communication and collaboration, boosting productivity and results, and provides a rare chance to deeply connect with other leaders.

How to Inquire About Corporate Culture

A client shared a great article about the importance of organizational culture awareness for job seekers as well as organizations wanting to attract top talent. Rather than asking hiring companies about the uniqueness of their organizations, the author Adam Grant suggests asking and listening for stories will reveal the organizational culture and the hidden shared beliefs that drive behaviors at a work place.


Recently, I have been playing with 5 of Gerd Hofstede’s 6 cultural dimension indicators to see whether they may be useful to assess and compare organizational culture.

  1. Low or High Power Distance
    How accessible are the leaders in the organization and how do they relate to the frontline staff? How complex is the organizational structure? How short or long are reporting and project approval paths?
  2. Individualism vs. Collectivism
    How does your organization celebrate success, for the individual, the team and the organization? Are employees essentially competing against each other or is team effort valued over lone wolf mentalities?
  3. Uncertainty Avoidance
    How quickly are decisions made? How much information is required and how complex is the approval process for new initiatives? How risk averse is the organization?
  4. Masculinity vs. Femininity
    In a cultural context, Hofstede defines masculinity as “a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success.” Femininity is defined as “a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life.” (Weak in this context may mean a less experienced team member or a person requiring or simply benefiting from special accommodations.) While the labels may sound dated and may have to be modified to reflect the current climate for work place discourses, the concept of conquering versus integration is nevertheless an important marker for corporate culture and behavior.
  5. Long-term vs. Short-term Orientation
    Are traditions valued and implemented in long-range plans? Are quarterly results the main decision drivers? Is institutional knowledge valued or does the organization put innovation front and center?

Additional dimensions came to mind when inquiring about an organization’s culture that are not captured by Hofstede’s traditional culture model, which was original developed for national cultural assessments:

Learning Propensity
What does the on-boarding process look like? What does the organization do to encourage continuous learning at the organizational level as well as at the individual level? How are mistakes handled?

Generative vs. Critical Feedback
How do employees know that they are successful? How is feedback given and received in the organization? Is up-chain feedback encouraged? Is feedback used as a constructive personnel development tool or is it usually used to reprimand staff? An easy gauge is to ask whether employees are usually looking forward to receiving feedback and performance evaluations or if they dread it.

Level of Internal Cohesiveness
How would the front line staff answer these questions? The manager? The leader of the organization? Vastly differing responses indicate internal disconnects.

Why are these important considerations for job seekers? While salary and benefits are important to meet your needs for your life outside of your workplace, the company culture will be the driving factor for long-term job satisfaction and professional growth and most importantly, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” (Peter Drucker) – every day and all the time.


We See (and Understand) What We Know (Part 2)

blue 2Dianne Hofner Saphiere (Cultural Detectives) pointed me to a recently published article about how linguistic dexterity is connected with cognitive development and vice versa: No one could see the color blue until modern times by Kevin Loria. The premise of the article directly ties into my own observation that people tend to focus on the familiar and often stop short of taking a closer look and exploring other possible meanings or interpretations. Selective seeing and (subconscious) selective processing of information can thereby easily lead to incomplete or even incorrect conclusions.

What other things, connections, concepts may we be unaware of because we lack the words to describe them or because we have not learned how to decode them? When clients first enter a coaching relationship their bodies are often exhibiting symptoms that are rooted in interpersonal experiences. Tight muscles, clenched jaws, headaches, sweating. The person may even have a “gut feeling” that something is wrong but is lacking the words to describe it. An experienced coach will ask questions, invite explorations and may offer a range of vocabulary to become more and more specific in the descriptions of symptoms, experiences, and stories. With an expanded range of words to explore emotions comes progress and the ability to “see” dynamic relationships and dependencies.

Here are some questions to think about as we encounter unfamiliar people in new settings. How do we recognize invitations to enter  into relationships? How do we discern what type of relationship is desired? How can you predict behavior across cultures if the behavior is grounded in concepts that you may be utterly unfamiliar with? How does that relate to global leadership? All these questions ultimately point to the importance of learning the proper tools and expressions to engage in effective intercultural communication.

Why the memory of the Holocaust is a gift for German culture

holocaust-rememberWhy the memory of the Holocaust is a gift for German culture. (Please click on the link to a very pointed article written by Christian Höfele)

I wholeheartedly share Christian Höfele’s sentiments.

The first time I walked through the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., I cried and I would refuse to speak to my companion inside the museum, fearing that my German accent would be detected and I felt so deeply ashamed at that moment. Years later, I have the gained confidence to “own” that part of my heritage and to talk to my children about what it must have been like for their great-grandparents to live in and through that dark part of history.

Today, I feel the need to draw comparisons between different forms of persecution and scapegoating of visually and ideologically identifiable groups of people and to speak up against generalizations, against oversimplifications and the vilifying of cultural groups and beliefs. If history is bound to repeat itself due to certain limitations of the human nature, then we are all called to remember and be aware of those dark human forces that are rooted in fear and greed, and to do everything we can to prevent similar future atrocities.

We See What We Know


Cultural Lenses Impact Our Meaning-Making: For my American and North-Western hemisphere-inspired audience: What do you see at first glance in the image to the left?

Oft cited interculturalist Geert Hofstede poses that “every person carries within him or herself patterns of thinking, feeling and potential acting which were learned throughout their lifetime … As soon as certain patterns of thinking, feeling and acting have established themselves within a person’s mind, (s)he must unlearn these first before being able to learn soFrosty imagemething different, and unlearning is more difficult than learning for the first time” (2010).

Our mind indeed uses learned patterns, past experiences and familiar context to obtain information and glean meaning from the world around us. These patterns allow us to easily interpret and respond to images and scenarios presented to us. The outline of the first image – especially in the wintertime – most likely will remind many Northern Americans of a snowman – some may even know it by name: Frosty.

When I traveled in Burundi recently, a curious, obviously home-made craft was dancing on the dash board of our driver’s car. It took me a moment and then I realized that I was looking at an “African Snow Man”. Maybe somehow a craft kit from the Northern hemisphere had made its way into an African school and when asked to color the shape, the child used his imagination that was informed by local context, thus creating the image of an African wearing a pink sweater and waving a blue rag.

African FrostyContextual sense-making in its purest and cutest expression. It made me wonder, how often we see outlines and then quickly color them in with what we see based on the patterns in our mind created by the culture that plays the most prominent part in our lives. The trick to cultural dexterity then is not necessarily to unlearn what we know but to ask ourselves:”What else is there to see and what other possible interpretations of this reality might someone else think of?”

What have you encountered that involved looking at the same thing through a different cultural and different context-based lens and thus triggered different interpretations?