Three Skills Every Leader and Parent Should Use

Three Skills Every Leader and Parent Should Use

In the first job where I supervised other people, I made a terrible mistake.

One day, a woman on my team told me she had done something without asking me, something she thought I’d be happy about. As I listened to her describe what she did, I let my facial expression communicate that I wasn’t pleased about the action she’d taken. I don’t think I actually scowled, but I probably came pretty close.

I watched her positive energy and enthusiasm evaporate before my eyes as she realized I didn’t approve of what she’d done. She had expected accolades for taking initiative and ended up apologizing for not checking with me first.

Back then, I wasn’t adept at using these three essential interpersonal skills, which apply to managers, entrepreneurs and parents alike:

Listen without judging.

That means not SAYING anything and not SHOWING disapproval while the person is talking. Be patient and give her time to finish.

Don’t assume you know where the story is going because you might start creating the ending in your own mind. And when you do that, it means you’ve stopped focusing on what the speaker is saying and you’re paying more attention to your own thoughts.

Ask questions to learn more.

Don’t jump to conclusions about what you think the person meant or what his motives were. Asking open-ended questions helps you find out what mental processes he was actually using when he made the decision to take a specific action.

These five questions from the Reflection exercise in our online coaching system, ProStar Coach, work like magic:

  1. What happened? (to find out the sequence of events and who did what)
  2. Why did it happen that way? (to discover motives, cause and effect, what helped or hindered)
  3. What were the consequences? (to explore problems, benefits, outcomes, costs)
  4. How would you handle a similar situation in the future? (to draw out lessons learned)
  5. What are you next steps? (to think about how to apply the learning)

Affirm the person’s actions.

When someone has made a mistake or shown an error in judgment, it’s easy to use language that comes across as criticism of him and not what he did. Separate a person’s actions from his worth as an individual by pointing out what you value about him.

In the situation with this employee, I could have sincerely praised her for taking initiative because that is a behavior I value and wanted to see in the future. Instead, my negative reaction had the opposite effect, at least in the short term. I inadvertently discouraged her from looking for opportunities where she could make additional contributions.

Today I work hard to apply these three skills. I know what a difference they make in my relationships when I use them well, and the havoc they cause when I don’t.

“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” – Sam Walton


Meredith Bell is co-founder and President of Performance Support Systems (PSS), a global software company that publishes 20/20 Insight GOLD, an award-winning 360 feedback and survey system, and Strong for Performance, an online coaching system for personal and professional development. Learn more about how you can use these tools to help the leaders you work with and get the free guide, “The 5 Secrets to Getting Better at Anything.” Connect with Meredith on LinkedIn.

Would You Rather Argue or Have a DIALOGUE?

Would You Rather Argue or Have a DIALOGUE?

Think of someone you’ve had disagreements with in the past…or even today. Do those interactions ever escalate into a heated argument, where you both get upset and end the conversation frustrated, angry or hurt?

Whether it’s your boss, business partner, co-worker, family member or friend, these kinds of encounters can leave you mentally and emotionally drained.

That’s because, in many cases, you’re focused on proving that your opinion is the right one. The stronger and more different your positions, the more you dig your heels in, and the greater the resistance you encounter.

Listening to the other person becomes secondary. You’re busy preparing your next point.

What might happen if you took a different approach?

A powerful alternative to arguing

Dialogue is about maintaining a realistic, humble perspective, keeping your mind open to the possibility of learning from another person’s point of view and helping them understand yours. During the process, you encourage the other person to keep an open mind, too, as both of you explore each other’s opinions.

Dialogue’s focus is to discover what people believe and why, and this requires a commitment to concentrated effort and skillful listening.

If the relationship means a lot to you, learning to do this well can prevent your interactions from deteriorating into verbal slug fests.

Before you can engage in dialogue, you must check your attitude. Resolve to keep an open mind so you can really hear what the other person is saying. Acknowledge to yourself that you can learn from hearing his perspective.

It’s hard to do because you’ve drawn conclusions about most topics. Plus, you may genuinely feel your opinion is the right one. You have to get over the discomfort of hearing opinions that don’t match yours or having someone question your position.

With dialogue your goal is not to prove you’re right.

Instead, your goal is to discover what the person thinks and why she thinks that way. You make it safe for her to open up because she’s not afraid you’re going to react negatively or judge her.

Once you have your focus on understanding where the person is coming from, you’re ready to begin the conversation.

Dialogue involves two parts…

Step 1: INQUIRE – Their Turn

Once they’ve stated their opinion, you ask questions in a non-threatening way to learn more about their perspective. Explore the assumptions they have, the facts they’re basing their opinion on, and the reasoning they’ve used to draw the conclusions that they have.

Before you ask questions, be clear in your own mind that you’re not trying to prove that you’re right. And don’t listen just to be polite.

And the way you ask these questions is very important. You could put them on the defensive with a condescending tone combined with a question like: “Why do you think that?”

A better approach: “That’s really interesting. I’d like to know more about what caused you to draw that conclusion.”

What you’re trying to do here is LEARN. Find out what’s going on in the other person’s brain.

Listen without interrupting or debating. When you sense the logic behind the person’s thinking, check to make sure you understand it correctly. “It sounds like you see it this way because…”

And when you hear something that sounds like a fact, check it out. “That’s interesting. Where did you learn that?”

Step 2: ADVOCATE – Your Turn

This is not the same as pushing for your perspective.

You simply talk about what’s behind YOUR thoughts, beliefs and opinions. When you can articulate the facts, assumptions and reasoning to someone else, it helps them understand where you’re coming from.

Invite the other person to question your reasoning. Say something like, “So that’s where I’m coming from. Feel free to ask me about any of it, if you’d like.”

If you sense that the other person wants to debate or argue with you, try to defuse it. You might respond with, “We could debate this, but I don’t think we really need to right now. I just want to hear your opinions and understand where you’re coming from.”

The goal of dialogue is not to try to convince another person or even to be convinced by them. That could be a by-product of the process.

“It is understanding that gives us the ability to have peace. When we understand the other fellow’s viewpoint, and he understands ours, then we can sit down and work out our differences.” – Harry Truman

What you’re really trying to do is understand them and have them understand you. After all, that is one of the deepest core needs that every one of us has as a human being…to be understood by someone else.

The dialogue process makes them feel valued, and it causes them to really try to think about the reason behind their opinion or belief without feeling threatened or challenged.

It’s possible to elevate every relationship you have if you’re willing to keep an open mind and respond with genuine respect and interest to what they have to say.

Are you regularly using dialogue in potentially volatile conversations? When you don’t, what gets in the way?

At work, you can use Dialogue whether you have the title of “leader” or not.

Find out how you can serve as a strong Support Coach for others in this free series of 9 videos and an ebook.


Meredith Bell is co-founder and President of Performance Support Systems (PSS), a global software company that publishes 20/20 Insight GOLD, an award-winning 360 feedback and survey system, and Strong for Performance, an online coaching system for personal and professional development. Learn more about how you can use these tools to help the leaders you work with and get the free guide, “The 5 Secrets to Getting Better at Anything.” Connect with Meredith on LinkedIn.

The Ultimate Use for 360-degree Feedback

The Ultimate Use for 360-degree Feedback

What’s the purpose of 360-degree feedback? What are the most powerful ways to use it?

The technology for collecting and reporting 360 feedback was developed in the 1980s. Its original purpose was to diagnose leadership performance issues. By assessing a comprehensive set of skill areas, leaders obtained quantitative and qualitative information about strengths and areas that need improvement.

Other innovative uses for multi-source feedback have evolved over the decades (see Appendix). However, when most people hear about 360 feedback, they still think of its traditional use: a global diagnostic of competence and skill.

A much more powerful application of 360 feedback goes beyond the diagnosis to reinforce changes in behavior.

A doctor’s diagnosis can reveal the disease, but this information can’t cure it. Likewise, 360 feedback can identify priority areas for improvement. But this information isn’t enough to improve work habits.

Changing a behavior pattern may require instruction, followed by months of reinforcement and coaching.

Try changing the way you eat or the way you swing a golf club.

Tiger Woods made changes in his swing early in 2004. He didn’t start to win again until almost a year later, after persisting through hours of practice every day.

The problem is that when people try to do things differently, initial attempts tend to feel awkward.

When these efforts don’t achieve the desired result, frustration and discouragement follow. Without a formal program of follow-up and support, people tend to fall back on what feels familiar and comfortable. They eventually return to their old way of doing things.

To achieve the desired changes in behavior, 360 feedback needs to be followed by several months of reinforcement, feedback, coaching and accountability. It takes that long to create a new habit.

After receiving 360 feedback, people may need training or coaching, followed by an extended period of reinforcement.

This sequence represents the most powerful 360 application:
measuring individual performance improvement.

Used in this way, 360 feedback works both as a diagnostic assessment and as a means to check whether weak areas have improved.

The concept is simple. First, integrate behavior-based assessment with behavior-based training. Then several months after training, follow through with a more focused assessment related to the priority areas for improvement. Compare the two sets of scores to determine how much skills have improved.

This approach has significant benefits. First, the results of the pre-course diagnostic allow participants to set quantified, performance improvement goals.

Also, learners are more focused and motivated to improve when they know there will be a follow-up assessment.

Finally, follow-up assessments create accountability.

The assessment results show whether the individual has improved performance. Administer post-course assessments to produce ongoing measures of performance improvement.

You can use the data created by this assessment to calculate a practical return-on-investment (ROI).

For example, assume that leadership skills account for half of a supervisor’s effectiveness. Assessment scores showing an average improvement from 6.4 (before assessment and training) to 7.7 (several months after) would indicate a 20% percent improvement. Since half of a salary of $60,000 is $30,000, the organization would be getting 20% more effectiveness for this cost, worth roughly $7,500—a result many times greater (in dollars) than the investment in the individual’s training.

You can perform simple ROI calculations like this by measuring pre-course and post-course performance improvement if you use a customizable feedback system.

Combine an economical, flexible feedback technology with a behavior-based leadership development curriculum, and you get a fully integrated assessment, training and reinforcement system:

  • Focused, motivated participants
  • Ongoing feedback during reinforcement
  • Performance improvement accountability (Level 3 evaluation of training)
  • An easy method for calculating ROI (Level 4 evaluation of training)

And leaders are empowered to reinforce their new skills over time to create permanent, measurable changes in behavior.

In the end, how well your front-line managers lead affects the bottom line—and every other aspect of your organization. Considering the billions of dollars invested annually in leadership development, you need a way to demonstrate that your programs are actually changing behavior. Using 360 feedback to measure performance improvement is one of the best ways to quantify the return on your investment.

About the Author

Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., is CEO of Performance Support Systems, Inc. He coordinates research and development and provides strategic direction for the company. He is the author of 20/20 Insight GOLD, an award-winning 360 feedback and survey system, and Strong for Performance, an online coaching and development system. Learn more about how you can use these tools to help the leaders you work with and get the free guide, “The 5 Secrets to Getting Better at Anything.”