When in the Fog you have two directions you can take to get out of it. Spiraling Down is the easy way. As I noted in my last post, your self-talk is made in statements that, left unchallenged, become more absolute. Spiraling Up, on the other hand, takes effort, skill, and intention both in doing it yourself and helping others to also. The biggest difference is that the self-talk migrates quickly to questions and those questions add information that allows us to be effective and productive in our responses to the situation that initiated the Fog.
To encourage yourself and others to chose to Spiral Up and do that work, ask the above questions. Remember to lead with compassion, empathy, and grace. Yes, I will keep beating that drum!
Now, if you are there and your team is there, you are not there! Sustaining Spiraling Up takes attention and reinforcement. You have to notice these behaviors when they happen; acknowledge people (yourself included) when they engage in this manner; and celebrate these behaviors and efforts as wins.
And one more thing…when you get one of these wins, be sure to take notes on how you got there so you can reference back and do it again, and again. We need to analyze and learn from success. That is how you sustain Spiraling Up.
What Spiral Up celebrations do you have this week?
I am putting out a series of posts getting specific on how to use the Spiral and will give some examples of how it can play out during this challenging time.
I have had several recent posts about the Fog so let’s start with some clarity around what Spiraling Down looks like and how to address it.
Self-talk will be in the form of statements that become more and more absolute as you further Spiral Down, and your behaviors become more destructive.
Do not confuse people bringing up issues with Spiraling Down. The difference is…are they seeking or offering ideas or solutions or are they only complaining as if it will never get better, they have no role in fixing it and/or blaming others. It is okay to stir the pot, so the bottom doesn’t burn, that is taking responsibility (a Spiral Up behavior).
Here is how to address Spiraling Down…
If it is you Spiraling Down
If it is an employee, a colleague, or a friend Spiraling Down
Now, this all sounds so easy, right? It isn't! It requires intention, focus, authenticity, and persistence.
How do you see this playing out in your current situation? How best do I support you? (like for real!)
In the next post I will speak to Spiraling Up, what it looks like and how to sustain it.
I have been having those up and down days and I have been trying to figure out why I am so inconsistent, why can I not stay Spiraling Up and keep slipping back into the Fog or worse yet starting the Spiral Down?
So I “Rumbled” with that…for you Brené Brown fans such as myself. Here is what I discovered…
I had set my intention, when this whole COVID thing began, to be a “good example” of processing the Fog and Spiraling Up. I did the things I suggested in my previous blog:
Several weeks ago, I had coffee with my friend and colleague Stuart Chittenden. I love our conversations because he is really gifted at questions and at giving a unique perspective. The thing that really stuck with me after that conversation was when he asked, “is there ever a time when staying in the Fog is the right thing to do?” I remember fumbling with a response that probably made very little sense. Well now I know the answer, “YES.”
In my attempts to “process” the Fog I would slip into, I moved too quickly—trying to be that “good example”. It was like I was scrambling up a hill and I would make progress, and think I have it, just to slip back down. So today, I am staying in the Fog and in doing so I realized I was not naming the feelings correctly. What I wanted to see as frustration was really fear. I will not get into what these fears are for me, it is way too personal for a blog post—even for me, but suffice to say that getting the feeling named correctly is a good solid foundation for getting out of the Fog. I am on much more solid footing to trek this hill.
What is your self-talk right now? How are you processing your Fog? Do you have your feelings named correctly?
In the Spiral of Accountability, the “Fog,” represented by the grey blob in the middle of the model, is those moments of uncertainty, confusion, worry when we have no clear path forward. I think we can all agree this experience with COVID-19 is definitely a Fog.
One of the chapters I have been outlining is around navigating the Fog. I find this current Fog very interesting since everyone is in it at once. Like everyone, on the planet!
One of the things that is very important in navigating the fog is being clear about what we are feeling and why. It is easy during this time to mis-name our emotions and thus we act on the wrong feeling with behaviors that are more Spiral Down than Spiral Up.
A few key things I think need to happen in order for us to Spiral Up:
The big picture message I want to send (if it isn’t already clear) is that we are all in this together. It is together that we will Spiral Up. It is together that we will be going forward. Love to all!
Even when we think we are clear we are often “adding” information that we really don’t have. Here’s a very personal example: as I was leaving my fitness studio the other morning, I asked my trainer (who is also my best friend—that is an important point) if she “had a busy day”. She replied, “yes”. I noticed, about 30 seconds after I left, that the thought in my head was, “she does not have time for me today.” Followed very quickly with, “Really, Carol, that was not the question you asked. You asked if she had a busy day. Why are you attributing her answer, yes, to the question you didn’t ask but really wanted to ask?” The question I wanted to know the answer to was, “Do you have time for me to process a situation with you?” Now I know, without a doubt, that my friend cares about me and would make time if I needed something and yet my self-talk went to “she does not have time for me today.”
How many times do we do this with our colleagues, our leaders, our followers, our friends and family? We just make stuff up. This is a common occurrence in the Fog, when we are not clear. When we start to make stuff up it sends us down the Spiral.
Here is a deeper point to consider. Why didn’t I just ask the question I wanted the answer to? Why did I ask a vague question and set this whole thing up? I decided to take the advice of Brené Brown and “rumble” with this situation (if you have not read Rising Strong, you should!).
Here’s what I discovered (and admittedly a bit scared to share):
I think it is about vulnerability. To ask if she had time for me to process a situation means I needed help. Not an easy thing for me to admit especially since what I needed to process was around a failure. Failure if very embarrassing for me. I am scared to look bad in front of others, especially those whom I strongly value their opinion of me.
This led me to the other issue...It also would have set me up for rejection, what if she said, “no?” Rejection is my greatest fear. But this is my best friend, one of the few people I trust will my most vulnerable self and she has proven herself very worthy of that trust. None of what went through my head in the few seconds after I left the studio was the least bit rational or even accurate. And yet, there I went. I am grateful I was able to catch it in seconds versus let it Spiral Down within me. I am also grateful that I learned from this.
That I think is the challenge in front of us. Can we catch ourselves quickly? Can we reframe and change that self-talk to something more positive, and more importantly more accurate? Can we learn from these experiences and apply that to future experiences? Can we be vulnerable because it leads to the courage we need to grow ourselves and better our relationships with each other. I believe the answer to those questions is, “YES!”
One of the books that has greatly influenced me over the years is (surprise!) Synchronicity—The Inner Path of Leadership by Joseph Jaworski. I have read this book several times, consistently taking something new from it each time. But there is one quote that has rung in my ears during the entire 20 years of reading this book.
“We don’t describe the world we see; we see the world we describe.”
There is so much in those words. Today, I want to discuss the power of those words. The idea that we control, through our thoughts, how we perceive something, now that is powerful! And how we talk about something can influence how others could see the world, too. That is a lot of power as well.
In the “consideration” phase of Spiraling Up you challenge your perceptions of a situation or a person. You control that inner monologue and ask yourself to describe something in a much more positive way (and most likely a more accurate way). You have that power!
As you continue to Spiral Up you bring others into the picture and how you talk about a situation, an issue, an idea, a person, influences how others see it. This provides you even more power to influence the situation. Which brings me to a favorite quote from Voltaire, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” (I know you were thinking Uncle Ben in Spider Man!). This power is leadership and needs to be used with great thought and care. Think about how you describe things to others. There is so much in those words. Be In Synch!
As I read the announcement for this month’s Omaha Organization Development Meeting (thank you Laura Roccaforte), there was a link to a YouTube video of Brené Brown, author of Dare to Lead, sharing her extensive knowledge and experience around vulnerability and leadership. The quote that really struck me came at the end when Brené was asked about one thing that leaders could do to be more vulnerable,
“Clear is kind, unclear is unkind. Stop avoiding tough conversations because you think you are being polite or kind to people, that is not kind.” -- Brené Brown
This avoidance is part of the “ignore it” phase of the downward spiral. When our self-talk is telling us “this feedback will hurt their feelings” or “they will think I am mean or don’t care” or “they will have to figure it out on their own.”
To be clear with someone and to, as Brené put it, “stay in those tough conversations”, is the “taking responsibility” phase of Spiraling Up and puts you on the path of finding solutions and collaborations to be In Synch.
I will take this opportunity to bring in some other content around Spiraling Up. I have had this 5 C’s of Accountability that I have used in working with leaders for nearly 20 years. I know, everyone had some number of some letter of something back then, I just wanted to play along! They have served me well in my work.
The first C, of course, is Clarity (I will get to the others at some point). Are your people clear about the goals, expectations, processes, outcomes, tools and resources? Has there been specificity so that they know who is doing what by when and what’s next? People need this level of clarity in order to easily hold themselves and each other accountable to the results (especially collective results).
As leaders, we must offer this clarity and give feedback around the performance associated with it, even when it feels like a tough conversation. No one wants to be off track or disrupt their team’s performance. When we aren’t clear in the feedback or ignore when someone is off track, we set up the entire team to fail and make it really easy for people to spiral down and generate commiserators. Be willing to be vulnerable, “stay in tough things when they get uncomfortable and awkward!”
I had the wonderful opportunity to present to the Union Pacific Asian Employee Resource Organization at their annual conference this week. I am consistently looking for cool and interesting analogies for The Spiral of Accountability. I spoke of how easy spiraling down is compared to spiraling up. One participant mentioned it was like “gravity” in that it is always easier to go down in favor of gravity vs. go up against gravity. That sparked my interest and as a closet science geek I needed to explore this idea.
As I thought about the concept of gravity further, I realized that yes, escaping it is harder than working within it but it has a quality that I think works in both directions in The Spiral. Gravity is the invisible force that draws objects together and holds them together. I think this really is the heart of momentum that both sides of The Spiral indicate as the loops get larger.
In spiraling down, as we generate commiserators we become the drawing force of that destructive behavior and we build momentum that perpetuates the misery. In a sense, we become gravity.
In spiraling up the same phenomenon applies. As we work towards building collaboration we will draw people to us and grow productive momentum.
As we have learned over the past 50 years of space exploration, we sometimes need to escape one gravitational force in order to explore and reach for another gravitational force. In addition, we often do not know what that other force will be like and there is real risk. I believe the same with spiraling up. There is risk. I also believe the risk is well worth the journey as it is the only way to learn, grow and discover what’s next.
When you look at gravity as part of a system, in connection with all the other forces, things get more complicated. Organizations are also quite complicated. Thus, the added difficulty in navigating spiraling up. This is where such things as emotional intelligence, vulnerability-based trust, productive conflict, and dialogue skills play a huge role in setting an individual, a leader, a team and an organization up for success in spiraling up. This is the development I see that surrounds the use of The Spiral. What ideas do you have?
In Spring of 2018, I was very restless. I couldn't seem to get anything done. I hated to go into my office and work was getting a little boring. This was so unusual. This feeling had been intensifying for about a year. I was getting stagnant.
Fog: What is my problem? I can't get motivated! I finally get my health in great shape and the rest of everything else goes to pot. Maybe I need some change.
A little spiral up: I rearrange my office. Nope that didn't work.
A little spiral down: I try ignoring it. I start working at the table or in my lounge chair (yes, that will work, not!). I find so many little things to do that I rationalize that I am "swamped". I was looking for excuses not to go into my office. I thought, "my creativity is shot but it will bounce back". Only I wasn't taking any responsibility, I was just waiting and hoping it would magically fix itself.
By late April I was going nuts. Time to Spiral UP! I was at our Rotary Poker fundraiser and over heard my friend Jason James, an awesome realtor, saying that his listings for mid-priced houses was normally at about 30 was at 16 due to the interstate expansion. I don't know what hit me but I barged into the conversation and said, "Would you like to make that 17? I am going to sell my house!" Not only do I need to take responsibility and find a solution to my stagnation problem, I need some help.
Now this might sound crazy but I have only been so sure of a decision one other time in my life, when I left Texas to go home to Iowa and open Synchronicity and that turned out to be a sound decision (and it was made just as quickly).
To make a short story shorter...my house was put on the market and sold in 2 1/2 weeks! I told you Jason was awesome!
I moved into a renovated historical building in downtown Council Bluffs. It is a 2 bedroom "flat". Completely different from my house. My brain was "shook up", this was some serious change in environment. It was exciting and all of a sudden my creativity was back and I was thrilled with my work again. I still have a messy office but I am not adverse to going in there and tackling it!
I honestly don't believe that The Spiral of Accountability would have emerged had I not taken these steps. What's your Spiral Up story?
I believe I have consistently had passion for my work my whole career, but I haven’t always had passion for my job. In my last job (now realize this was 20 years ago), I loved my work, but I felt pigeonholed into certain things and I wanted to grow. I came across this opportunity to really learn a great deal more about group dynamics, dialogue, and OD (Organization Development) from someone much more experienced than I was. So, here’s how I handled it…I hid it from my bosses—ignore them, work around them. I was afraid they wouldn’t let me continue and they would give these projects to another facilitator—my excuse. I actually had my client contact help me hide it from them (not that I was working but the content of what I was doing) --generating a commiserator. He wanted to work with me, so he happily came along with the omission. Are we seeing downward spiral here? Definitely. I fought the guilt of my lack of integrity with my excitement to learn from a great OD professional--excuse. Statements such as, “since they don’t want me to grow, I am going to have to do things like this.” “They would never give me (or trust me with) a project like this.”—blaming and complaining.
I never did come clean and about 6 months later I was laid off. At first, I wanted that act to just justify why I had not been truthful with them. The reflection after that was about my lack of integrity. That bothered me, a lot! As I analyzed what was really true for me (on a sailing trip in the Gulf of Mexico aptly named “You must be present to win”), I realized that I needed to take responsibility for my own growth, not expect a boss to do that for me. I am an adult and a professional after all. Synchronicity was born—my solution. There is a lot more to this story but another time.
Fast forward to the present…
So yesterday, I facilitated the staff retreat for The Nelson Mandela School. I love this place and these people and what they do. I love, love, love my job! It brings me incredible joy. I have found this feeling is most intense when I am most authentic in front of the group. I ask them to be vulnerable so I must be vulnerable, too. This is my place of integrity, when I am most true!