How To Be An Asset (not an a*s)
Some of us love it. Some of us would rather have our eye poked with a stick. But no matter how you feel, planning is something that will likely be occurring in your organization, company or home life soon. Why? Because it is that time of year, because we are human, and because our brains like to plan. Long range planning, short term planning, SWOT analysis, business plan development, SMART goals, not-so-smart goals and all the rest. Some of you will be invited to play and some of you won’t. Why?
If you aren’t invited you may be told something like, “Staying behind and taking care of the clients is really the most important work. And we need you to do it because, well, you are the best”. (That’s what I was told when I was over-eager, didn’t understand the guidelines and was always wanting to be heard and valued!).
For some of us, the truth may be that last time we got a seat at the big kids planning table we exhibited some behaviors that earned us the title of “obstructionist”, “limited thinker”, “talks too much”, “doesn’t understand the big picture” or maybe even “challenging” (this was my truth).
Regardless, at the end of the day 99.9% of us want to be included in planning. We want our voices heard. We want to be part of the action. We want to be where early decisions are made. We want to be in the presence of the thought leaders. And, truth be told we also want the free Panera sandwich, pasta salad, chips and cookie (again me).
No one ever taught me how to show up the first time I was invited to the planning table, so I'm here to help you.
Percentages Matter Count how many people are present. Then determine what percentage you make up, e.g. 10 people total means you are 10%. Unless you are the leader or facilitator, you should generally talk less than 5% of the time - especially if it is your first rodeo. If you start to feel like, “Wow. I am talking more than anyone else, but people seem to be really listening.” Give it a rest. And make space for others to speak.
Assess Whenever you feel like you have a burning comment to make, ask yourself:
- Does it need to be said?
- Does it need to be said by me?
- Does it need to be said by me now?
If you don’t answer, “yes” to all these questions, wait. They may be better suited to a one-on-one conversation with your supervisor.
Know Why Really think through why you feel compelled to speak. Is there any part of your why that is not about the discussion but instead is about posturing and proving yourself? That never really works out well. And it wastes valuable meeting time. Getting clear on your why avoids the “time waster” trap.
Wait a Minute – that was my project! Many times the topics in the meeting are about things we’ve worked on or contributed to. This can bring up defensiveness, even in the best of us. If you start feeling defensive, breathe. And then breathe again. Then sit back and watch the dialogue as if you are watching actors on a stage. You wouldn’t jump up and try and intervene in a play would you? Breathe. It isn’t about you. It is about improving business outcomes.
Be FASCINATED! If you start to feel defensive and feel you must speak (or are asked to) use clarifying questions to create some space in the dialogue. “Can you say a little more about that?” Breathe. “Hmm. That is fascinating. Can you give me an example?”
Be Clear on What is Happening Do your best to stay out of problem solving mode when the discussion is about identifying problems and not about solving them. Listen for the difference and if you aren’t sure… ask for clarification. “I just want to check in. Are we problem solving now? Because if we are I have a thought. If not, I’ll hold it for later.” Trying to solve problems in the planning process impedes progress.
Leave the Devil Behind Don’t play “the devil’s advocate”. No one likes the devil…much less his advocate. It is simply a masked way to say, “I don’t believe this is possible”. When you feel doubtful, leave a little space – for yourself and possibility.
Don’t Shoot the Messenger Respect the combined strengths. If outside facilitators are brought in, they know that you are the content expert and they are the facilitation experts. Combining those strengths can create beautiful results. Blaming or accusing facilitators of “not knowing what we do” presents a roadblock to solutions and fresh perspective.
Remember, planning is about being open to all future possibilities. A friend shared a great affirmation with me,
“What else is possible?”
Go into planning meetings as the learner, as the one most open to all possibilities. Leave agendas and expectations at the door! And breathe! You’ll be invited back! Trust me.