Using The Right Side of the Brain

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I’ve had the privilege of recently working with some right-brained thinking experts — expert inventors like Scott Hilton-Clarke at Confida.

My first exposure to right-brained techniques came by accident. I read what I think was Tony Buzan’s first book on Mind-Mapping as a teenager, and have used that technique over the years to study for high school exams (CXC and A’levels), write papers, give speeches, brainstorm business opportunities, etc. The technique is useful for depicting the space around a problem or issue or question, and in seeing the space as a whole, and what I’m calling its “vibe.”

As an engineer deeply trained in the use of linear logic to solve problems, this whole approach is difficult to describe, but powerful in its effects. Peter Senge was one of the first to apply the idea of systems thinking to the business arena, and he spoke about the separation of cause and effect in time and space… although systems thinking could be used to fill the gap with essentially linear cause and effect chains of actions.

He pointed to the fact that there is more to organizations than meets the eye… hidden dimensions. And if you could see these dimensions, you could take an action in once place that would produce a result at some other place in space in time, and that others would not be able to see how the result could possibly be produced by taking that action.

Some sales trainers know that having a trainee clean up their desk, their car and their closets can help jump-start sales.

Forgiving an old boyfriend can lead to meeting someone.

Recently, I’ve been using more right-brained techniques to understand wholes, and to read spaces, and “see” and “hear” what they are saying. Of course, it’s not possible to “see’ and “hear” a space literally, but these are the best ways I know to describe what I’m doing when some internal antennae of mine is picking up information from…. a void.

For example, when one is entering a room filled with people, there is a “space.”

When one is in a Carnival band, say Poison, versus another band, say Harts, the “space” is very different.

While I have a relatively “new” antennae, I have found it becoming increasingly reliable, and I’ve been able to say and do things that make no linear sense, but do produce results I want to produce, much in the same way that balancing your checkbook allows an unexpected check to arrive in the mail.

There will be more on this later, to be sure.

Un-confronts

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Scott (my partner in crime) just came up with an additional insight — that un-confronts are a precursor to issues.

More on this later…

OK, it’s now later. A company I was talking with seems to have an executive team that is riddled with un-confronts.

Their corporate culture is a very polite and civil one, which is another way of saying that they don’t go out of their way to cause confrontation with each other. That’s another way of saying that they do whatever they can to not create a fuss, or an upset, and do their best to avoid getting involved in any way in anything that might “get out of hand.”

The result is like a married couple in which the husband and wife have learned not to talk about the things that might be upsetting. The short-term result is that there is no conflict.

The long term result is disastrous (this I know from first-hand experience! LOL) Important issues go unaddressed, which just means that they go underground as little seeds only to emerge later as scary, evil plants that consume the life around them. Yikes.

Anyway, these un-confronts have filled up the space between people on this executive team. This can be appreciated as more of an image, or a mental picture held only in the mind’s eye. Not a literal picture…. but something that is seen only from the right side of the brain.

Looking to fix certain problems in the organization takes seeing the situation with the right side of the brain, or in other words looking for and seeing the space between people in the company. Certainly, changing something like company culture or engaging in activities like team-building can be facilitated by seeing the space of the company.

One of the things to see is the space created by un-confronts.

Un-confronts don’t lend themselves much to left-brained techniques like adding up the number of them, putting them in priority order, assigning them a time slot in your schedule for resolution, etc. One can always do these things…. but they don’t make much of a difference.

Instead, we must look at the entire space, and tune into it’s “vibe” so to speak and act accordingly. In the case of this executive team, there are huge significant issues … yet. But there are un-confronts, which, as Scott says, are just the precursor to real issues.

I’ve been working with these executives to convert the un-confronts into opportunities — which is what good consulting is all about. Sometimes I facilitate a conversation, and at other times I consult with managers and coach them in how to be effective in conducting successful confrontations.

The Space of Accountability

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I was in a meeting recently with someone who had the accountability of driving sales in a non-profit. After the meeting was done I was truck by the fact that the salesperson had no goals.

He did not have goals that were set by his boss or anyone else… only 3 years goals. He was not working against a specific short-term target, and was not operating like someone whose job depended on producing results.

In fact, as I sit here typing I realize that I don’t know if the person is a volunteer or an employee, and whether or not they are paid by commission. Usually, I can tell by the level of attention whether someone is paid on commission, and in this case I think that they were not, due to the lack of accountability I felt in the meeting.

The space was “loose,” and seemed filled with what I’m now calling “un-confronts.” No-one in the organization was confronting the fact that the results were paltry, and that there was no plan in place to hit any particular target.

Unless there is some lucky strike, this operation is driving it’s own demise.

Un-confronts” are critical confrontations that are being avoided, either consciously or unconsciously by an organization. They remain in this state either because the people in the organization lack either the skill or the will (or both) to convert the un-confronts into successful outcomes.

As a consultant, part of what I do skillfully is to turn the light on un-confronts, and assist people in converting them. The underlying assumption here (which often goes unstated) is that the people who work in the jobs are the most informed and know exactly what needs to be done, if they could only have the conversations to get them done.

As an outsider, I am often given the power to bring up these conversations, and if I have the trust of the participants, I can facilitate the conversation that they are unable to have without my being there.

This happens on projects, in workshops, in training, in consulting — they are always at work in the full range of interventions that my firm engages in.

Some of the indicators of un-confronts are:-

  • specific justifications as to why the confrontation needs to be avoided — “I can never say THAT to them”
  • bringing up prior failures as a reason for not trying again — “If you had the experience I had, you would never try again either.”
  • a denial that anyone could possibly be successful — “The only thing that will work is them leaving.”
  • an unwillingness to look at developing the necessary skill or will to be successful — “There is no way I could be successful — I hear what you are saying, but what if I fail again?”

Each of the interventions that we design are about creating opportunities to have these conversations successfully, by offering the following:

  • creating the right kind of will (their attitudes and ways of being gets changed in courses that produce a personal shift or change)
  • developing the necessary skill (courses that use video-taped feedback and introduce cutting-edge principles)
  • creating an environment with sufficient positive consequences (by changing reward and pay structures, public awards, promotion criteria, policies)
  • introducing shared communication software (to enable data sharing that vastly improves the content of the data that project team-members share)

Creating this space of accountability takes courage, and is not for every employee (by their own choice). It is, however, for every company that wants to be successful. This is absolutely unavoidable for long-term success.

Management via Critical Confrontations

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Managers are hired and paid well to confront people.

After all, anyone and everyone can tell you that you are doing a good job and to keep up the good work. In fact, everyone does — it’s one of the easiest conversations to have and required a relatively low level of skill.

However, confronting others when performance is below expectations, or when promises are broken is another matter.

Also, confronting others when the stakes are high, either because there is a great deal riding on the conversation, or because there is a high probability that things can go badly….that’s another story. There are those who say that they shy away from confrontation and try to avoid it wherever possible. If that person is a manager, then they cannot be successful if they persist in that behaviour.

I’ve heard it said that the job of management is to “interrupt the drift” or in other words to creatively disrupt the inertia of business as usual. A manager’s most basic tool, the one used most frequently, and the one that they receive almost no training to employ on a daily basis is a critical confrontation.

They fear of being caught in these more than some people think they can bear. They will give money to avoid them. Some employees see that they would have to have these conversations and are unwilling to have them.

Most Caribbean managers try to avoid them completely, and in my opinion among the three major territories, Jamaicans, Trinidadians and Barbadians are in that order increasingly likely to avoid the conversations entirely.

The beauty of critical confrontations is that when they are done skillfully they are contagious, and they spread in very direction. An employee who has been handled skilfully by their boss is more likely to confront his project team manager (a peer) more readily and skillfully.

In a meeting, employees are more likely to challenge their senior managers, and not resort to actions that are violent and silent.

Senior managers must develop an ability and a capacity to manage these conversations.

  • They need to LOOK to find them
  • They need to SEE what needs to be done
  • They need to TELL the TRUTH about the situation and the players
  • They need to ACT to bring resolution

Team members that learn to “un-confront” can help to kill projects, again due to the fact that the behaviour is so contagious.