“A secret to happiness is letting every situation be what it is instead of what you think it should be, and then making the best of it.”— www.mindsetofgreatness.com
The executive director of a reputable, high performing nonprofit organization lamented that board members should be more actively involved and they needed a more effective engagement strategy. When I arrived at a 7:30 AM breakfast meeting to find a table full of eager volunteers I reached a different conclusion than the executive director. I appreciated how great it was that this group was involved and acknowledged that their commitment opened up many options for them.
The chief financial officer of another reputable, high performing nonprofit organization shared her frustration that the CEO always looked at the negative side of situations in spite of the organization’s actual financial success. When I asked if the CEO’s negative perspective might have to do with her attention to risk management and desire to protect the organization’s success, it opened up a whole new way for the CFO to appreciate the CEO’s perspective.
Here’s what these two situations have in common. Someone reached a conclusion that turned out to be only one view or interpretation of what was really happening. And, that conclusion, limited in its perspective, influenced a negative interpretation on the part of the leader. When the conclusion was reframed or opened up with a different viewpoint, the conclusion changed and with it a different take on reality emerged. The positive shift offered a ray of hope for a different more positive outcome.
JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS
Think about how many negative conclusions at work and in life we can quickly jump to in a day. When a phone call doesn’t come that we are expecting, we could interpret that as being ignored or avoided. When a staff member goes in a different direction then we are expecting, we could interpret that as not taking direction. When someone responds in an angry tone, we might assume they are being disrespectful. Or when an idea is discounted, we might judge that as not valuing a contribution. In every case, when we jump to an unsubstantiated conclusion it has a negative impact on the way we think and feel, and that can ripple out to the way others think and feel as well. It can have an impact that leaves everybody closed off and drained. In the worst cases, it chokes our brain chemistry, cutting off creativity and access to positive productive forward movement. For busy nonprofit organization leaders, it creates time wasting drama that otherwise could be channeled into productive mission delivery.
Hope creates a positive shift in brain chemistry…Judith E. Glaser, in her book Conversational Intelligence, How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results, explains that “imagining pain and rejection” – the kind that comes from jumping to conclusions – “causes us to retreat.” She explains further, “that imagining a difficult conversation causes us to avoid having that conversation.” Alternatively, when we have hope – the feeling of wanting something to happen and thinking that it could happen – we hold the possibility for a different outcome than our initial conclusion might enable us to see is possible (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hope). Judith says, that “the expectant brain uses the outside world to shape and reshape itself for hope – both physically and mentally. When we act hopefully on what we expect will happen in a situation, our brain responds by creating just the right neural pathways to bring about that new reality.
I hold “hope” in leadership as a powerful antidote to jumping to erroneous and limiting conclusions. Managance team member Nikki Ingallina offers this helpful analogy from raising young children. She says, “With kids, very few things you plan turn out exactly the way you planned it. Therefore, to stay sane as a parent you make the best of any situation by finding the bright side, by finding the ray of hope and appreciating that.” And at the end of the day when you focus on what you can laugh about and the opportunity in the time that you did spend together, that’s what matters. On a nonprofit organization team, it’s this kind of experience that builds and reinforces trust.
Two Alternatives to Jumping to Conclusions
Judith’s Ladder of Conclusions tool offers leaders an invaluable framework for shifting negative, often erroneous, conclusions through thoughtful conversations. When we connect through this kind of conversation we activate oxytocin, which is a bonding hormone, and at the same time we lower cortisol, the fear hormone. Oxytocin enables us to appreciate different perspectives, find common ground through greater understanding and as a result find new direction that removes a barrier to taking productive action. The key elements of a Ladder of Conclusions conversation include 1) being honest about what you want to talk about, 2) saying that you want to have a healthy conversation to work through the issues together to end up with a stronger relationship, 3) sharing each other’s experience of the situation without judgement – which means really listening and appreciating other perspectives without making it personal – 4) discovering together the impact of the situation on yourselves and others, 5) exploring options you have for doing things differently and 6) agreeing on commitments to each other for a different outcome in the future. What’s most important is being genuine about seeking understanding about what contributed to the erroneous conclusion and the opportunity to reduce that kind of thinking in the future. With some practice, “jumping to negative conclusions” can lessen and be replaced with easy conversations for understanding from the start.
The Ladder of Conclusions is one way to transform a difficult conversation. Here’s one other option from Judith. She recommends that instead of imagining the worst about an impending hard conversation, imagine it as an impending powerful conversation. Judith says, “By changing the label from ‘difficult to powerful’ we change how our brain thinks about the conversation. When we reframe a conversation, we change how it ‘feels’ to our brain – transforming what was difficult to something that empowers us to take new action! By challenging the hundreds of conclusions that we can easily jump to everyday, and by leading with powerful conversations, leaders hold the space for hope. And hope is the space where nonprofit leaders and their teams make their organization’s mission happen.
Managance Consulting & Coaching is on a mission to ignite passion and energize opportunity in nonprofit work places. Denice Hinden, PhD, PCC, President and her team inspire leaders and teams to their next level of leadership and develop more trusting “we-centered” organizational cultures with transformational leadership development and engaging strategic thinking. Denice is Certified in Conversational Intelligence®. Judith E. Glaser is the founder and CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc., and the Chairman of The Creating We Institute. We are honored to partner with Judith to bring you our 2017-2018 Leveling Up Leadership Blog.
Copyright © 2017 by Managance Consulting & Coaching and Judith E. Glaser