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Tips To Effectively and Quickly Adapting To Change

The only constant in life is change. According to Darwin those who can adapt to their environment the best and quickest are the most fit. Or said more eloquently by Leon C. Megginson “it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change“. Humans don’t like change all that much. Rather it’s our brains that don’t like change. Our brain’s primary job is to keep us alive. If everything is working as it should the brain sees no need for change. When you make an attempt to change the brain will fight against you in the form of little voices that sing a chorus of “but you can’t.” Adapting to change isn’t just a skill for the workplace, it’s a life-coping skill that allows us to get what we can out of life. We fight against change out of fear of the unknown. We rather the Devil we know versus the Devil we don’t. Whether as an individual or a company change is inevitable, necessary and doesn’t have to be the worse thing in the world.

Through my career and life I have managed through all sorts of changes. Most I did pretty well, some, well, I didn’t or I opted out. I personally believe change is good but that doesn’t stop the firestorm of little voices saying the unknown world is fraught with catastrophe. Here are some secrets to adapting to change in order to thrive instead of just survive.

Read The Tea Leaves

One of the reasons I and many others are good at adapting to change is that we see it coming. Read as many signs as possible. This skill comes from being a good listener and making connections where there seemingly aren’t any. There be things of course that you just don’t see coming. Being a constant observer of human behavior though will give you plenty of clues, having a large network and be sure to catalog information somewhere in the back of your mind. Many people will have small pieces of a large story. If you can put the pieces together correctly you’re ahead of the game and can begin preparing your adaptation strategy.  There were many changes that didn’t rattle me because, frankly, I saw them coming.

Embrace The Suck

Sometimes change is just straight, no chaser. Especially when the change comes about suddenly without warning. Our natural inclinations are to immediately push back against the change and immediately begin harping on why it’s bad or horrible. Do that for about a day or two, then get on with the business of embracing the suck. It may very well be the worst decision on the planet ever made in recorded history, but you probably have very little power to change the change. So while everyone else is complaining about it, embrace it and begin working on your strategy of how you will operate in the new world order. What we focus on expands. If we focus on how bad a situation is it will continue to get worse. If we shift our focus to resolution of the situation, solutions begin coming out of the air. The more energy you give to fighting the change the more tired you will become.

Be The Calm In The Storm

Whether the change is good or not, there will be noise. There will be complaints, push back, and all out Armageddon depending on what it is. Don’t let that be you. After you have embraced the suck the next step is to get control of your energy. If you have to meditate to make that happen, so be it. Don’t add bad energy to everyone else’s. People gravitate toward calm. But this generally has two reactions. One reaction is that people will look to you for leadership. They see you aren’t phased by the change and want to be as calm as you. The other reaction will be for some people to think there is something wrong with you. Misery loves company. They will try to bring you down to their level. They may even go so far as to bad mouth you behind your back. This reaction is, generally speaking, that of a person who is insecure in their role or their leadership abilities. They see people gravitating toward you and they don’t like it. Regardless, be the calm in the storm anyway. You will feel better and the people around you will feel better. Also, you can make better decisions about your options.

Make Good Choices

When change happens it brings about opportunities. Some of those opportunities will serve you and some of them won’t. By getting control of your mind and energy you clear the path to evaluate your options objectively. Sometimes it doesn’t serve you or anyone else to be the hero of the situation and sometimes it does. Don’t allow others’ perceptions, energy or reactions to define yours. At the end of the day you have to look yourself in the mirror and feel good about the choices you make. If you feel strongly you can navigate the changing environment, great, go for it! If you feel you can’t, that’s okay to. My only advice is to carefully evaluate the situation either way. Meaning, don’t jump in too soon or out too quickly. When I say make good choices, what I’m really saying is make the best choice for you to thrive not merely survive.

What are your go-to techniques for adapting to change? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.


Tips To Listening Better From A Lifelong Listener

The greatest gift you can give to someone is your time. Giving your time goes beyond simply just being there. What good is your time if you’re not present? A big part of being present involves doing something that people really just don’t do very much. I would say people don’t do it anymore but in my lifetime (which hasn’t been very long), I don’t recall there ever being a great time of listening. The skill of listening has declined over time with the advent of mobile technology. Now it’s difficult to have a conversation with someone without them checking their phone every four minutes. Further, in a world of instant gratification people only listen long enough to sort of hear what you’re saying to think of their response.

I am a listener. I have always been a listener. I rather talk than listen. That may seem odd for someone who aspires to public speaking, but not really. The one thing a listener really wants is to be heard. People like me spend our lives being present in conversations, not picking up our phones, and clarifying what we just heard. Unfortunately, the favor is rarely returned. One of the many things I have observed as a listener is that people are so used to not being listened to that they will just keep talking until you interrupt them. I get this a lot. I’m listening as a person speaks for five, even ten minutes straight without a break. I rarely interrupt. I don’t like interrupting or being interrupted. Since I don’t interrupt, the person will eventually stop speaking and ask why I’m not contributing or saying anything, almost in frustration. To which I reply “I’m listening to you”. There is almost always a look of shock. People often speak so fast or so much in anticipation of being interrupted. But alas, as a listener 90% of the time, I’m going to let you talk.

I have also come to believe that people are largely unaware of the habits that are making others feel unheard. I’m using heard and listen interchangeably here, but I do distinguish between hearing and listening. Hearing is simply the observation of sound. Listening is interpreting the sound (in this case talking), comprehending it, and reacting accordingly. I do sometimes say “I don’t feel heard” to mean the same as listening. Now with that out of the way, here are tips to becoming a better listener from a life long listener.

Put Down The Device

It really isn’t necessary to have the phone in your hand while talking to someone. I typically don’t even bring my phone to meetings. If it’s a meal, I usually leave it in my bag. I know. It’s just a quick glance. But typically that quick glance is right in the middle of someone else’s story. Or what’s quick to you is much longer to them. If you’re expecting an important message, then set the expectation with the person at the beginning. I have attended meetings where every single person is typing on their computers or punching away at their phones. Yes, everyone is busy. But somehow listeners manage to listen to everyone and get their work done too. For one week when you attend a meeting or hang with friends, leave the phone at the desk or in the car. You can’t give someone your time if your nose is buried in a screen.

Resist The Urge To Interrupt – Better Yet, Don’t

The reason I don’t interrupt is because I’m focused on what the person is saying. I do interrupt at times. Sometimes it’s out of excitement, other times the person may have misunderstood a piece of information and needs a course correction. Sometimes I interrupt because I realize the person won’t stop talking until I do or I just want to say what I want to say. The reason you shouldn’t interrupt isn’t simply because it’s rude. You can’t understand what the other person is saying, feeling, or thinking if you’re talking over them. The message you’re unintentionally sending is that what they want to communicate doesn’t matter to you. You have something to say and you’re going to say it. This is also how misunderstandings get started. I have amazing recall for conversations, not because I have an incredible memory, it’s because I’m listening in the first place. For one week don’t interrupt anyone for any reason.

Repeat What They Say

A great technique for active listening is to repeat what the person said to you but in your own words. This lets the other person know you’re listening and solidifies the information in your own mind. A great way to do this is to say “This is what I heard you say…… Is that correct?” I once knew a person who would say they understood what I was saying but then when it was repeated back to me at a later date it was drastically different and damaging. This was completely frustrating because it meant clearly the person wasn’t listening and projected something entirely wrong on to me. For one week repeat back to the person what you heard them say in your own words. If they correct you, say it again until they agree.

Don’t Reinterpret The Message

This can be a tricky one. Some people are very direct. They say what they mean and mean what they say. Others speak in veiled language. There is a time for both. It’s going to take some knowledge of the person, but don’t assume every message is a veiled one. An example of veiled language is to say a house is cozy when it’s small. Here is another example. Once upon a time I was interviewing for a role. I asked the interviewer, who was the VP of something, what his leadership philosophy is. His response was “so what you’re really asking me is what do I do.” It was an interview so I responded with “sure”, but what I really wanted to say was “no”. I asked exactly what I wanted to know and the reinterpretation was so far off. This becomes easier as you get to know a person. You’ll know when they’re using veiled language versus being more direct. For one week just assume that people you don’t know well are saying what they mean, don’t reinterpret it.

Enjoy The Freedom

Allow the conversation to go where it goes, within reason of course. Another aspect of non-listening behavior I’ve observed is the need to keep the conversation rigid. Because the talker is talking and not listening, they want to keep the conversation focused where they want it to be. Have you ever been having a conversation with someone where you apologized for something and they just kept talking about it? They continued to talk about why they were hurt or offended or upset, and completely grazed over the apology that they seem to want so badly? We have all been there. Had the other person been listening the discussion could have been allowed to move in a different direction. One of the reasons I like listening is because, every now and again, the conversation can become so random it’s fun. You get to learn so much about people and it’s cool. It’s also freeing to just sort of go where the conversation takes you. For one week just go with the flow, within reason. I mean, if you’re supposed to be talking about fixing world hunger, you should probably stick with that.

The next time you find the other person in the conversation isn’t talking very much consider two things. One, you may be doing most of the talking and it’s time to listen; and two they are a listener and would really welcome the opportunity to talk if they know they’ll be heard. Encourage them to contribute. By the way, most great leaders are also great listeners.

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.

Six Skills Required For The Art of Having Grit

What does it mean to have grit? The dictionary defines grit as “courage or resolve; the strength of character; and mental toughness”. I once asked a senior leader what he looks for in people he hires to his team. The things he mentioned were the usual suspects save one – raw talent, smart, coachable, flexible and grit. Two things stood out to me about this list. First, there was no mention of knowing how to do everything, that’s where raw talent and coachable comes in. You can teach people what you want them to do but if the other aspects aren’t already present in the person, it doesn’t really matter. Second, this was the first time I ever heard a leader use the word grit when describing the ideal employee. I agree the most talented people in any organization have a certain amount of grit, but it’s usually described with fancier words such as perseverance, courage, brave, determination, etc. The reason I like the word grit and I like that he used the word grit is because it’s a simple word. It drives at the essence of what people need today in the workplace, in life, in business and so on. It’s visual and raw. You get the sense that others don’t mess with a person that has grit. If they do, they quickly find out the true meaning of the word.

A word of caution about grit though. If one of the aspects overpower the others it can come across as bullying, arrogant, mean, pessimistic, so on and so forth. There is a delicate balance and art to having grit. You have to know when to be hard versus soft; when to be steel versus silk; and when to be loud versus quiet. There is a certain wisdom to having grit.

To Thine Own Self Be True

A basic component of having grit is to know your weaknesses, strengths, and triggers. When you know and embrace these three things you can shift your energy and actions accordingly to manage almost any situation. For example, if you embrace people not following instructions is a big trigger for you ask someone else to manage certain processes for you. If you have to go it alone, set up a system that relies on your strengths to deal with those types of situations. You may decide to set up a call with everyone to walk people through a process at once. That way you’re not repeating it over and over which only serves to flip the trigger over and over.

Additionally, embracing your weaknesses, strengths and triggers will allow you to identify your boundaries and communicate them to others.

Solve The Problem

Finger pointing or “throwing others under the bus” is a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. When I worked in trading we had very little time to make tough decisions. We’re talking a minute or two, if that. There was no time to focus on the outcomes of a problem or even people’s feelings. We simply had to solve the problem, identify the fix and implement the solution. Did tempers flare sometimes? Absolutely, we’re talking about billions of dollars a day in transactions. But tempers got way worse if the issue became repetitive. It meant the problem wasn’t solved, merely the symptoms were treated.

Problem solving is an important component of having grit because people with grit tend to power through situations. You rarely hear people with grit complaining that somebody else did something. They explain the issue, how the issue came about, the potential solutions, and then set about fixing it.

Find The Signal In The Noise

This goes hand-in-glove with solving the problem, the signal versus the noise. People with grit outright ignore noise but recognize that the static is surrounding something. They look for the something. Think of it this way. When you’re trying to tune into a radio station and you are one or two numbers off you can hear the program but it’s covered with a bunch of static. You have to turn the dial (or push the button) to fine tune the station to hear it crystal clear. That’s what people with grit do. They analyze the information they are receiving and have the ability to distinguish the static from the crystal clear signal and that’s what they act on. They don’t exhaust themselves trying to focus on the program through the noise or even deal with the noise. The noise is a smoke screen and drains everyone’s energy.

Find A Way And Fire That Engine

One of my favorite movie lines is from Armageddon. They are about to take off from the asteroid but the shuttle won’t start. Bruce Willis’ character is outside ready to sacrifice himself to save the world but the remaining crew tells Houston Control they can’t take off. Houston Control replies back “if there’s not a way, you find a way, now fire that engine!” Spoiler alert, they do get the engine started. But I love that line so much because it nicely sums up the heart of a person with grit – if you don’t immediately see a way, find or make a way. People with grit exhaust every possibility of which they can conceive. They ask others for ideas and exhaust those. Only after trying a thousand different things do they concede they haven’t found the answer…yet, rarely do they use the word “impossible”. Results are the primary goal – not titles or accolades. That will come regardless, those with grit, however, are interested in earning them.

Exercise Wisdom

People with grit aren’t all bark and all bite. They know when it’s time to bark, when it’s time to bite and when it’s time for a belly rub. Despite how true grit is depicted in the movie of the same name, it doesn’t mean a gritty person is one who is hard all of the time. They have times of softness and vulnerability, especially with those they are charged with leading. Having grit doesn’t mean lacking feelings or emotions or keeping them to yourself. That’s just silly and damaging. To tell people that they can’t express their emotions, passions, etc. in a work environment is saying you don’t want humans working for you. Of course, this should be done professionally and not in a destructive manner but being able to cut through the noise to fix problems requires open expression. Being smart is about knowing how to do, being wise is about knowing when to do. Sometimes silence speaks volumes and sometimes volume speaks volume.

Courage Under Fire

One of the hardest things in the world is for people to admit they’re wrong or made a mistake. Since I’m on a movie roll I’ll keep it going. The movie Courage Under Fire was about literal courage under fire and the lack thereof. Denzel Washington’s character is posthumously awarding Meg Ryan’s character’s the Medal of Honor for her bravery in action in Desert Storm (literal courage under fire). The investigation reveals she died from friendly fire and it was covered up resulting in the one responsible committing suicide after being questioned (lack of courage under fire). Someone with grit owns their mistakes, their wrongs, admits it and learns from it. When they receive feedback they consider it whether they agree with it or not. If they push back against the feedback it’s done so with facts and figures, not excuses or conjecture. They invite the other side to do so as well.  These are people you cannot easily scare or intimidate, nor do they seek to scare and intimidate. They meet fact with fact and fiction with fact because they are interested in the signal not the noise. They say what needs to be said, in the manner in which it needs to be said, even when it’s not the popular thing to say.

Endure Optimistically

Last, but not least, someone with grit can endure unpleasantness for a long time. They can endure the rough times and do so with an eye on the future state. They are working toward a better state or a greater good and know that sludge is par for the course. They are loyal and don’t abandon the ship the second the waters get rough. They adapt and make do. When someone abandons ship they don’t focus on it, they pick up the slack or assign it to someone else. They inspire others to do the same. They don’t leave a man or woman behind. They do all of this with a good attitude. That doesn’t mean they won’t get upset, frustrated or discouraged at times. It means that when they do they rely on their mental toughness and fortitude to regroup to get themselves and others back on track.

When you hear of people having grit and wonder if you have it too, think on this list of characteristics. Do you have them? If not, you can cultivate them. Start by looking for and partnering with the closet person with true grit you can find. You may find you have more grit than you think. Take a look at the very top of your organization, your C-suite. Do you think they have grit or are they more political? In a world that values quick fixes and instant gratification is it harder to have grit? And when does grit go too far? I would love to hear your thoughts on the art of grit.

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.

5 Keys To Receiving Any Type Of Feedback Effectively

I gave you my five keys to giving effective feedback effectively, now let’s learn how to receive it. The feedback we receive isn’t always clear, fair, or makes sense. The thing with feedback is it’s through the eyes of the observer. How we perceive people is about us not about them. The lens through which we evaluate a person is based almost entirely on our belief system. Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in his book Blink. I consistently cite this book when I talk about perceptions of others because it eloquently explains why we do it and how we can work around how our subconscious mind colors people and events. This is also important to understand when delivering feedback.

In the five keys to giving effective feedback effectively I talked about how to make sure the feedback you are giving is received well, understood and actionable. Unfortunately, that is not how we will always receive feedback. We need to be open to feedback in any form, but shape it into something we can act on.

1. Listen With Objectivity

The first point of receiving feedback is to quietly listen to the feedback. If you’re talking at the same time they are you can’t understand what the person is saying. Back to the woods. In the exercise where we had to lead teams in the completion of a task we had very specific ways of giving feedback – “what worked for me. what didn’t work for me. what I would like to see done differently.”. While this feedback was delivered to the leader, the leader was not allowed to speak, at all. There could be no interruption. If the leader interrupted the person observing the team quickly corrected them. The leader’s only job was to listen. This part isn’t too difficult for me. I’m a listener. I much rather listen than speak. And in a world that much rather speak than listen I can find myself overwhelmed, but mostly frustrated when it is finally my turn to speak – no one listens. While you are listening to the feedback, be present and focus on the words and the body language of the speaker. Do not start preparing your counter or explanation. You may ask clarifying questions only after the person has finished speaking. They must be clarifying questions, not objections in the form of a question; i.e. “would you rather I had turn the report in late?” is a thinly veiled objection. What do you do when the person is done?

2. Thank Them For Their Feedback

In the woods once we received feedback we could only say “thank you for the feedback.” That was it. No explanation, no I’m sorry, no objection. Simply, thank you. This allows the deliverer to feel heard while the recipient considers the feedback, even if you agree. Feedback is a gift. Hopefully the person delivered it as a gift versus using it as a weapon. Since we’re not in the woods you can leave it there or you can add a little something to the thank you to help you understand and incorporate the feedback.

3. Ask Truly Clarifying Questions

Let’s say the feedback is vague and unclear. You really have no idea what you did well or poorly. It’s not clear what behaviors you should repeat or discontinue. This is where you ask clarifying questions. It can go something like “When you said turn the report in on time my interpretation is that you meant on the day it was due. From what I’m hearing you say on time for you meant the day before so you could review it? Is that correct? How would you like for me to handle that in the future?”. This technique helps them define exactly what worked for them, didn’t work and what they would like to see in the future. Be objective and unemotional about it. This can be difficult if the feedback to you was delivered in an emotional way. I don’t do well with emotional feedback if the emotion doesn’t seem to match the topic. Meaning if a person is highly emotional about the report being delivered on the day it was due instead of the day prior I can’t match up the intensity with the crime. This leads me to believe the person is actually upset about something else or they don’t know how to properly express themselves. In this case, I may not want to ask clarifying questions for fear of making the situation worse. But you must, so carry on. Gauge the best way to do so.

4. Consider The Feedback

There’s a reason the person gave you the feedback. It could be that it was a violation of their belief structure, values and virtues. It could be that they truly have your best interest at heart and want to see you do well. Or it could be what you’re doing is going to get you fired or stall your career. Either way, consider the feedback. If you don’t have the time or capacity to truly consider it in that moment simply say you’ll consider it. You would like a little time to replay everything in your mind and see where that feedback fits. If the feedback really doesn’t work for you or is a violation of your belief system you can respectfully push back because you feel they don’t have a good understanding of your perspective; or say nothing and simply don’t implement the suggestions. Do this with the understanding that some feedback may be non-negotiable for the deliverer and there may be consequences for not implementing the feedback. What if you feel the feedback is not coming from a place of good intent? Sometimes we get feedback from someone just because they don’t like us. The answer is the same. Consider it, no need to push back against it. But if this feedback is for work performance, you may want to consider documenting it if you feel strongly the feedback is not in your best interest.

5. Ask To Provide Your Point Of View

People like to feel heard. If the feedback you received feels like it’s coming from a place of mis-perception, ask to provide your rationale or side of the story. Hopefully the person would have provided you an opportunity to express yourself. But if not, thank them for the feedback, say you’ll consider it, then ask if it would be okay to walk them through your rationale. You may have had a very good reason for whatever you did and perception is reality in the absence of fact. Once you’re able to explain how you got there it may actually change the feedback or the perception of the situation. Feedback really should be a dialogue, this structure isn’t meant to remove that dialogue. It’s meant to provide some structure and ground rules so that the discussion is effective. Both people should walk away feeling heard, understood, and respected. However, that doesn’t mean both people agree on the feedback itself.

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.


1 5 Keys To Delivering Effective Feedback Effectively

One of the most difficult things to do is provide feedback to someone. This isn’t something that we just experience at work, but with friends and family. We don’t always know how the person on the other end is going to receive it. We inherently either don’t want to hurt people’s feelings or we don’t want to deal with the fallout, we have enough stress. Ultimately what ends up happening, through a lack of feedback, is the issue continues to escalate until it explodes. At work employees are allowed to go year after year from review to review without being given feedback that would make a difference to their career trajectory. It’s not just critical feedback either, but good feedback also goes unsaid. Or, the feedback isn’t clear or actionable, which is only marginally better than no feedback. How do you give feedback that is impactful, meaningful, and actionable? Easy, here are five keys to delivering effective feedback effectively.

1. Assess The Person’s Willingness For Feedback

I can tell you right now I don’t give feedback to everyone simply because not everyone wants feedback. So if you’re not responsible for giving a person feedback you need to gauge their ability to hear and integrate it. Let me tell you how I learned this valuable lesson. My summer internship following my freshman year in college was at an investment bank in Chicago. I was so excited to be there but as my first official professional job that wasn’t a friend of my parents I had to navigate fitting in. I dressed wrong, I spoke wrong, I laughed wrong. Now when I say I dressed wrong I mean it wasn’t in the manner of dress for the role you want not the role you have. About halfway through the summer another young black woman started in a full time position. The way she dressed was absolutely inappropriate. She was referred to as a husband-hunter. Women who worked at the exchange for the purpose of snagging themselves a rich suitor. Somehow or other one of the managers got it in their minds I should be the one to deliver the message that her attire was inappropriate. I was 19, she was about three or four years older. Being a dutiful intern I went to talk with her too naive to know that it was highly inappropriate for them to send an intern to speak with this woman simply because we were both black. Also, I didn’t know a thing about her or gauge her capacity for feedback.

You guessed it, she let me have it. I learned in that moment and began a journey to perfect my ability to evaluate someone’s willingness to hear feedback. As a manager you have to give feedback, that’s not opt out. However, you can still gauge someone’s receptiveness in order to refine the message and the delivery. Working on a trading floor my delivery had to be blunt and to the point and not at all personal. For example, when I went down to the trade floor some of the men had posted pictures of  mostly-naked women in our booth. I barely noticed them and didn’t care, but the woman supervisor did. When I asked her why she hadn’t made the men remove them, she said they wouldn’t listen to her. I sought out the ring leader of these pictures, quickly assessed him and delivered the message “these photos are inappropriate, you will remove them and destroy them now, while I’m standing here. If I come back and you have posted new photos I will take more formal action. This is not a request.” The photos were removed and didn’t return during the rest of my tenure. What did I see in him at that moment that moved me to deliver that message? I have the advantage of having studied interpersonal and speech communication which included courses in psychology, speech and hearing science and tons of theoretical communication courses.

First and foremost, read a person’s non-verbal queues. His body language told me he was an alpha male and respected authority. So I had that going for me, I had some, not a lot, but some authority in the situation. His speech pattern told me he wasn’t going to debate me on the issue. Meaning he wasn’t going to cite precedent for why this wasn’t considered sexual harassment. His behavior let me know that he likes to push buttons, he likes attention and he found me attractive. So when I delivered the message it needed to be in the most alpha female non-emotional and personal way possible with the air of authority and accountability.

Second, rely on past behaviors to tell you how they will react. If they generally seem sensitive or combative in other situations, they are likely to feel that way during a feedback session. If they are highly adaptable and collaborative that indicates they are open to suggestion and don’t believe there is any one way to skin a cat.

Third, you can always just ask them how they prefer to receive feedback. If you can’t figure it out from non-verbals and general behavior don’t be afraid to ask. Sometimes asking if they mind if you share feedback with them if they aren’t your subordinate works very well. If they are your subordinate ask them early on during the process of getting to know them how they like to receive feedback. Take that time also to ask them how they like to be recognized. All feedback isn’t negative or bad. People have preferences for how they like to be recognized and praised too. That’s equally important and often forgotten.

2. Adopt The Proper Feedback Structure

I learned this structure in one of my leadership courses, but I practiced my own structure before. I have now combined the two because I think it’s a great marriage. It’s a two part structure, the first part is spot self evaluation, the second is my evaluation.

In the spot evaluation I ask the person to identify what they did well or what worked well. I allow them to speak without interruption, agreement or dissent. My job is only to listen. Ask clarifying questions only if necessary. Then ask them to identify what didn’t go well. Again, no interruption. Prevent your face from expressing agreement or disagreement. Lastly, ask them what they would do differently next time. Shhhh, let them talk. Resist the urge to interrupt. This is very important. Listen. Shhh.

In the next part, your evaluation, you follow the exact same process. You say what you thought went well, what didn’t go well, and what you would like to see different in the future. You say your complete thoughts even if it is the exact same thing they said. This is important to how the brain processes information (e.g. speech and hearing science). You might use the exact same words but they may different things to each of you. That is why the next key is critical. Also, don’t allow the recipient to justify the choice or behavior until you ask for it. Just like your job was to listen to them, theirs is now to listen to you. Where you ask for their response is up to you. But insist that you be allowed to finish your thoughts first.

3. Feedback Should Be Specific And Actionable

When delivering feedback be as clear as possible using examples, even if the feedback is good. If your manager said to you “you did a great job on that report” what would you repeat for the next report? Everything probably. What if your manager said “you did a great job highlighting the advantages of the vendor in your report. It clearly and simply communicated that the vendor will meet our goals and expectations. That analysis was spot on.”? In your next report you will make sure your analysis is just as thorough. In other words what behavior do you want them to keep doing and why. This message should be delivered as upbeat and passionately as possible.

When you move to the what didn’t work well, be just as thorough. What do you want them to stop doing and why. Be specific. No one, no one at all likes vague feedback. Frankly, there really isn’t a good reason not to give someone specific and actionable feedback. While you should display positiveness while delivering the good, you should deliver the critique in a dispassionate matter of fact way. Why? Because the brain is designed to focus on the negative. The brain will use the tone of voice to amplify the negativity of the message. No matter how small or minor the feedback, the brain will interpret it as “danger”.

Lastly, what you would like to see done differently is the actionable part of the feedback. Provide them with suggestions. If they already said something you want to see, say you agree with what they said and say it again. This lets them know you heard them when they suggested it themselves, that this wasn’t your brilliant idea. Saying it again reinforces it in their mind. This also builds agreement that this is something they will work on and you both expect to see progress. It assures them that you are a partner in their success and that you believe in them enough to identify and solve their own problems. Too often people give feedback before they even know what the person thinks. This puts them on the defensive. Asking them first to evaluate themselves says you value their ability to be introspective and self aware.

4. Feedback Should Be Ongoing

Feedback isn’t a once a year sort of thing. It should be ongoing. I once had a manager who was so good at quick feedback sessions after a meeting or presentation. He would pull me aside either right then or within a day or two. He wouldn’t necessarily ask me to evaluate myself first. If there was a conflict or someone came to him with something he would ask my side of the story. Remember when I said don’t allow them to justify their actions before you finish delivering the feedback. Here is an exception. If you were’t the observer of the behavior always always always get their understanding of events first, then go to self evaluation, then deliver your evaluation. You will build trust this way.

The same manager did this with me when a high profile VP came to him about my “defensiveness”. What the VP left out of the story was that I was reacting to him making me the butt of his jokes to other senior leaders. These were demeaning jokes. I lashed out. When my manager, a senior vice president, asked me about it I explained my version of events. He gave me his evaluation of the situation along with his thoughts on what I could have done differently. He summed it up by saying his feedback to that VP in the moment was he had observed him making these jokes, and as my manger he didn’t find them funny at all. The only reason he hadn’t said anything is because I hadn’t reacted so he thought it didn’t bother me. His learning was to ask me in the future, my learning was to speak up. Our bond of trust strengthened.

If you see something in the moment, say something. If it’s not someone who works for you evaluate their willingness to get feedback, their willingness to get it from you, and ask them if they mind you sharing it.

5. Let It Go

Once feedback has been delivered and agreed to, allow the person the leeway to achieve it. Keep it fresh during your meetings to understand their progress but don’t beat them up over it. If you are still bringing up feedback from two, three, ten years ago and the person addressed it and moved on, the issue is you not them. Feedback is a gift, not a weapon. This also means don’t put every single piece of feedback in someone’s performance review, especially if it’s one off. That same manager I had was good for that as well. If he brought it up and I addressed it, I never heard about it again. Ever. Not in my review. Not during lunch three years later. Done is done. If the person isn’t displaying the behavior anymore what is the benefit of punishing them? You will simply just drive them away.

Another point about giving feedback is that it is largely based on perception. Our perceptions of the world and people says more about us than it does about others. This is another reason to let go of feedback. Consider the fact that the criticism or the recognition you are giving may be more about your internal values, virtues and construct of right and wrong. Given this, it is the recipient’s right to reject your feedback. They can gracefully reject it right then or just simply not implement your suggestions. Either way you should take into account how much your own bias played in the feedback itself. This isn’t true in every case of course. Use your best judgment for when not accepting your feedback is truly causing career- or relationship-damage and act accordingly. Read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell to better understand how our biases impact how we evaluate others.

I spoke a lot about feedback in relation to work, but this exact format will work in your personal life as well. A human being is a human being whether they are at work or at home. I know it might seem weird to say to your husband “honey, what worked for me is this, what didn’t work for me is this, and this is what I would like to see in the future”. I assure you it will work because the male brain likes headlines, problem solving, and clear direction. Female brains like the structure because it’s collaborative, non-judgmental and allows them to solve their own problems.

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.


Don’t Hate, Celebrate, Emulate And Congratulate – Keys To Success

The Nile Harris

Here is an interesting characteristic of the human brain, it dwells on negativity. Have you ever received a fantastic compliment along with a small note of feedback and you focused on the feedback? Well, that’s the brain. Misery loves company. The brain seeks out comfort by gravitating toward other negative thinkers. This is why when we see someone achieve a goal we want to achieve our initial gut reaction may be to hate on them. Here’s the twist – every time you hate on someone for having what you want, you program your brain to not achieve that goal. Let me illustrate what I mean.

Let’s say you want a promotion at work. You see someone else is promoted and you immediately go dark. Why should they be promoted and not you? It doesn’t even matter if that person is in a whole other function or department. Their promotion doesn’t effect you getting a promotion at all, but you still hate on them a bit. That’s the brain’s natural default. Here’s the twist, every time you hate on someone for achieving the same thing you want to achieve you program your brain against it. Your brain doesn’t think these things through your mind does. While you may thinking you want a promotion, by hating on someone else you sent a message to your subconscious brain that you don’t like promotions. You’ve also sent energy out into the Universe that you don’t want a promotion. Remember, this is how the law of attraction works. This is why it is so critical to fill your mind with positive thoughts. The next time someone achieves something, don’t hate, you should celebrate, emulate and congratulate. There is a biological reason we should do these four things.


You’re walking down the street and you see two people holding hands and cooing at each other. Deep down inside you really want this for yourself but your initial reaction is to throw up in your mouth a little bit. This is a time to celebrate. I’m not suggesting you run up to the couple and throw confetti all over them. You should mentally celebrate them. In your head say “that’s wonderful and awesome, good for them!”. When you get an email that a friend or co-worker has been promoted do a little fist pump or celebratory dance. The thing is, you can’t secretly want something for yourself that you hate for others. This is one I work on. There is science to support why it’s important to celebrate the thing you want even when others get it.

The brain has a reward center. When you do something you enjoy you release happy hormones. The act of celebrating, even for someone else, releases dopamine into the system. The brain records that release as a good thing. When you do something you don’t like the brain releases an unhappy hormone. That gets recorded as don’t do that. The brain is a bit of a drug addict. It wants the feel-good hormone. When you celebrate you tell the brain whatever you were just doing or thinking about is good. The brain says “let’s do that again”. When you celebrate someone else getting a promotion, the happy hormone is released and the brain says promotions are good. The opposite is true. Don’t feel good about the promotion the brain says, let’s not do that. The brain will make micro decisions, unbeknownst to you, to move you toward what it perceives to be the goal. There are thousands of micro decisions our subconscious makes for us. You want your subconscious aligned to your conscious. A micro decision could be something like going the extra mile on a project or an idea that suddenly pops into your mind. Your brain will make micro decisions to help release the happy hormone. So, celebrate to program your brain to align to what you want.


I don’t believe in fake until you make it. I believe in imitation or, preferably, emulation. Imitation is about copying someone blindly while emulation is about doing something similar but modifying to fit your style or situation. Faking it to me means you don’t really believe you can do it or it’s not authentic. If you don’t believe something to be true, how can you make it there? When I see someone is successful at something I may just outright copy them until I get it. A great example is when I was pushing myself to become better at networking. I am an introvert. I realized in business school my more outgoing classmates were able to insert themselves in to conversations and practically monopolize recruiters’ time. I had a good friend who was a master networker. In the beginning I just copied him. I said what he said, or at least what I imagined he would say. I even stood how he stood. As I began to meet people and become more comfortable I switched from imitation to emulation. I adjusted his tactics to my style, things that were more authentic to me.

I prefer emulation because it combines the best of both worlds. You are observing someone else’s gifts and combining them with your own to become even better. Emulation, if done successfully, is reinforced by the release of serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin is a biochemical that is released when we feel people respect us or we have a sense of accomplishment or pride. Dopamine makes us feel good when we’ve accomplished a specific task or goal. Eventually, the constant presence of these feel-good chemicals coursing through our veins will drive us to repeat the behavior and improve upon it as we are rewarded for it. As I got better at networking, I wanted to do it more. As I did it more I refined my method and improved, thus releasing even more serotonin and dopamine as a reward for the behavior.


The best way to program your brain to deliver your success is to congratulate. Speaking the words out loud to the person allows your brain to further embed the message. Additionally, you set your own energy to vibrate at that frequency. You know what else? It’s just a nice thing to do. Who we are today is the sum of the words we spoke yesterday. Not literally yesterday, but in our past. The words we speak have much more of an impact than we realize sometimes. That’s why mantras are effective and recommended. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle. The thoughts that we convert into words become thought again. The more you think and say something the more you think it and say it. Ghandi is most noted for putting this concept into words but at its core it’s something that has been known for centuries:

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

In other words haters gonna hate and winners gonna win. [tweetthis]haters gonna hate and winners gonna win[/tweetthis]By actually giving congratulations to the person whether you speak the words, post them on Facebook or email them, you are programming your brain to deliver the results you want. Yes, even if you feel the person doesn’t deserve whatever they got. Should you congratulate someone who got an “A” in a class and you know for a fact they cheated? Probably not. Because the unintentional message you are giving your brain is that you value short cuts or a lack of integrity. Your brain may subconsciously find ways to get you what you want that don’t necessarily align with your values. Lastly, when you congratulate someone the biochemical oxytocin is released. Oxytocin is the chemical that binds. It goes by several nicknames such as the hug hormone, the cuddle chemical, or the bliss hormone. This is that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you connect with another human being. When you congratulate someone, even if you’re a little envious, you will still push out a little oxytocin. You guessed it, the brain perceives that as a reward and will want to do it again.

Don’t Hate

Our brains are drug addicts. Luckily we were designed to be our own suppliers. Even though the human brain naturally dwells on negativity it craves reward. The tricky part is dislike, stress and anxiety also creates a reward. We have to be conscious about what we want our brains to focus on. The same reason celebrating, emulating and congratulating work is the same reason eating a pint of ice cream after a bad break up works. The same biochemicals are released. Negative words, emotional eating, etc. can become the reward. Remember, the next time you hear of someone getting a promotion you wanted or similar to the one you wanted don’t hate, celebrate, emulate and congratulate.


The 13 Leadership Lessons I Learned In The Woods With Total Strangers: Part II

Here you go, part II of the 13 Leadership Lessons I Learned in the Woods with Total Strangers. While these are in no particular order, the first six lessons were more about leadership styles and beliefs. The next set of lessons are around how to be a leader.

7. Acknowledge people individually and brag. Everyone has a gift and shame on the leader that doesn’t take 60 seconds to let someone know they are valuable and valued. During my review one year I had a manager praise me on how I had worked with another team member who was struggling a bit to integrate them into the team. I was surprised because I thought I was doing it under the radar. He said he noticed it, the only reason he didn’t bring it up earlier was because he didn’t want me to become self-conscious about it. He wanted to acknowledge it now because it was behavior he wanted me to repeat and he was proud because it improved his relationship with the person.

8. Admit your weaknesses and ask for feedback. There is nothing more irritating to me than dealing with someone, leader or not, that refuses to admit they aren’t good at something. It’s worse when it’s a leader and they bring the whole team down with them. We came to a challenge that I was commanding and I was clearly out of my depth. It was an uncomfortable feeling to say, I’m not sure what to do here. You should always take suggestions from the team but in this case given the time restraint I asked another person to lead us through the exercise. I didn’t die from the experience, in fact I learned something new and allowed someone else to shine when it was technically my time to shine. During these challenges feedback was a part of the process, so I didn’t have to ask. Getting the feedback after each challenge was invaluable. I heard it and adjusted for the next time. A poor manager can ruin, delay or derail a career – don’t be that person. [tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#leadership”]A poor manager can ruin, delay or derail a career – don’t be that person[/tweetthis]

9. Make the tough calls quickly and with confidence. During one of the exercises I had to work with a different team of strangers after two days gelling with my original team. This team was men and women, whereas my original team was the only all female team. There was one particularly difficult gentleman who claimed to know the solution to every task and didn’t listen. During one of the exercises the team had to move two planks across a field while standing on them. I allowed him to lead the team as the front. After a few minutes I realized he was too weak to be the front. I asked him to step off and put the best person in the front. It wasn’t confrontational and I explained why I was doing it and it wasn’t up for debate with him. Where I went wrong was in taking too long to make that critical decision. Had I acted quicker we would have come in first instead of third.

10. Trust yourself as the leader. On the last day of the camp we had to develop and deliver a marching performance. We learned several military marching commands. We had to develop a 4-minute march and chant within the guidelines. For this particular event I was a follower. Remember my team was all women and there was always a lot of discussion about what we should and shouldn’t do. We got to the morning of the last day and we had nothing, zero, to perform. My team realized I had a knack for this and swapped me in as the commander. Luckily, one of the women had come up with a very cool chant so we needed the marching choreography. I was reluctant but I took over. I trusted myself. I had to move us through learning this quickly which meant there wasn’t room for extraneous talking or making suggestions. I had to trust I was doing the best for my team. Then during the performance I had to make some decisions on the fly and to their credit they followed my commands without the least bit of hesitation or confusion. One of the women at the end did say she was upset I changed it on the fly even though I had good reason. I trusted myself. Well, we came in second place. Many people came up to us later to say we should have won. For me, we did win. I trusted myself to make the best decision for my team. I could have refused the promotion to commander and easily pointed the finger of our failure. I could have coasted. I trusted myself and my team and they trusted me back.

11. Leaders create other leaders. The notion that leaders create followers is unnerving. I want people to follow me because I’m leading not because I turned them into followers. It’s a nuance of language but a big distinction in behavior and mindset. I want people I lead to not only come out of our relationship better than they were, I want them to be better than I was. I observed my fellow commanders when I was the follower and noted what I liked about their style to integrate in to my own. I also watched commanders that weren’t so good and determined the type of traits I didn’t want.

12. Leaders say “I’m sorry”, accept the consequences, and demonstrate learning. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes hurt people and/or their career. So when I apologized to my team member for completely dismissing her and she was still upset I had to take that. I realized, as I said earlier, that it wasn’t necessarily about me dismissing her but about being dismissed in general. Something that women often face at work. In addition to the apology, I accepted her coldness, but more importantly I made every effort to demonstrate I learned from the experience. I demonstrated it with each person not just her. By the end of the camp the coldness was replaced with friendship.

13. If you can’t follow you can’t lead. The point of having us rotate from leader to follower is to work on both. How you follow says a lot about how you lead. One of the most painful aspects of this for me was to resist the urge to take over leadership from the leader. We were expressly forbidden from “initiating a coup”. We had to let the leader go through their journey, then provide the feedback. If that meant sitting down and being quiet, that’s what you did. During one of the challenges the commander wasn’t being clear at all. I was trying desperately to follow orders but wasn’t being given clear and concise direction. I took a deep breath and told the commander I would be standing off to the side when he was ready to give me some orders. After a while someone else came to stand with me, then another, and another. We had to watch painfully as the commander tried to complete the task alone. In real life, at work, we probably wouldn’t let a task go undone and watch the leader flounder, but we wouldn’t try to take it over either. In that moment I made a choice to not contribute to the chaos and instead create peace that others were drawn to. As a leader I understand the frustration of unclear communication but more importantly the impact of chaos. Though I was not the commander in this situation, I ended up being the leader.

If I had it to do over again I would go to the Navy but since I can’t go back in time, my experience in the woods was everything I needed it to be. I received validation on beliefs I hold close, learned some new things and worked on my followership. More importantly those around me noticed a difference in me when I came back from the woods. Leading isn’t easy. I’ve had my share of phenomenal leaders and those who should perhaps take a different path. We look to our companies to create leaders. They attempt to do this through courses, seminars, conferences and other programs for high potentials. While these have their place, those phenomenal leaders I spoke of didn’t get that way in a classroom. They got that way by running head first into the challenge, adapting to their environment and having a willingness to separate themselves from their titles.

If you’re interested in learning more about Peak Potentials, now New Peaks, just shoot me an email. I highly recommend the experience.

1 The 13 Leadership Lessons I Learned In The Woods With Total Strangers: Part I

nile harris

As I tuned into her giving me feedback she, of course, brought up the fact that she was right and I didn’t listen. In fact I outright dismissed her. But she left out the part where I apologized to her and acknowledged that I didn’t listen. I realized her frustration wasn’t directed at me because of the one time I didn’t listen. Her frustration was at the multiple times it happened to her and it wasn’t acknowledged by the leader. I learned that by owning my mistake publicly I created an environment for her to speak up. Though she was delivering feedback to me it was really for the group to acknowledge her contributions. I was the vehicle she was using to deliver that message. I was happy to do it.

For as long as I can remember people looked to me to lead. I don’t know if I was seen as a good leader or even as average but definitely someone others gravitated towards. The thing is, I didn’t like it. It scared me. Even in my teens and early twenties leadership seemed such an awesome responsibility. Not awesome like cool, but like big and scary. Having people depend on you for guidance, inspiration, empathy, reliability, etc. is not something to take lightly. Yet the word “leader” gets thrown around to describe everyone in a position of power. I learned, over time, that leadership isn’t a position it’s a trait. Leadership is granted by followers, titles are given by companies.

I didn’t follow my first love which was military service, Navy to be exact. Had I done so, I believe I would have learned what I know now without having to spend time in the woods with hundred of strangers. But I’m glad I did. In my late twenties I came to understand my leadership philosophy. I was applying for business school and I wanted the experience to mean something. I believe in servant leadership. I firmly believe that leadership is for the followers, position is for the leader. If you lead well you get a promotion or more pay, that’s the leader’s reward. The followers reward for following is leadership. Simply put, leadership is the privilege of the leader while it’s the right of the follower.[tweetthis]Leadership is the privilege of the leader and the right of the follower[/tweetthis]

So how did I end up in the woods? I joined an organization called Peak Potentials in 2012. My first course was in the woods of Squamish, British Columbia with hundreds of strangers all sleeping in tents. The first summer in 2012 was about finding your inner warrior, cleaning out the emotional clutter and driving toward your dreams. The following courses in 2013 and 2014, same place, built on the foundation. That is me and my good friend in the photo at camp in 2013. The camouflage headband indicates we are followers. When we were leading we wore red headbands. I was blown away at what I learned about myself, following and leading. I wasn’t sitting in a classroom dying a slow death by PowerPoint while experts expounded on the theories of leadership. We often went past midnight and woke up with the sun. It was exhausting, grueling and fun.

I was put in situation after situation to lead, follow, and, more importantly, to fail, learn, then do better. Here are my first six lessons from the woods:

1. Confirmation in my beliefs of servant leadership. One of the first things our instructor said is the failure of the team is on the leader. As the leader you must define success with your team first. The team can meet the objective but if they hate each other by the end, is that success? The second thing he said is the leader serves the team, removes obstacles and keeps them moving forward. If someone on your team is struggling and you are not actively helping them, the failure is yours not theirs. Additionally, don’t ask people to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself.

2. Meet people where they are. This concept is from the Bible but I came to know this phrase in a new way. I was leading my team through an exercise where we had to run a long distance. The physically weakest person on the team struggled. I set the expectation of the team to not be last. I ran beside our weakest person and inspired her with words that meant something to her. Saying “you can do it” meant nothing to her. I could do this because I had gotten to know her. We talked about her dog. I didn’t ask the stronger people to run with her, they did it because they saw me doing it. You have to get to people’s level to understand what they see. Don’t stand above people, lord over them and expect them to get to where you are. Meet them where they are and pull them up.

3. You can be candid without being cruel or confrontational. One of our instructors told us that truth without compassion is cruelty. Too often people use the word “candor” as an excuse to just be mean or assert their authority. The truth is invaluable but should be tempered with vulnerability, objectivity, and empathy. A conversation can be both uncomfortable and productive without being confrontational and demeaning. Providing people with clear and actionable feedback is so critical to someone’s success. If you can’t do this, you can’t lead. Maybe you can manage, but not lead.

4. Put people first. You have to understand the people who have been entrusted to you. Some chose you while others were assigned to you. Regardless of how they came to be on your team, you are responsible for them. Further, who cares if you like them or not, you are responsible for their success. Everyone is busy. There will always be business objectives to meet. If you find most of your conversations with your team is about meeting those objectives, canceling one-on-one’s or telling them what to do, you are not putting them first. The only time you don’t put people first is if there is a wall of fire. That, dear leader, is yours to walk into first. If you can’t put it out, lead your team through to the other side.

5. Maintain the trust at all costs. If what you say about your team members to their face is not what you say to other leaders behind their back that makes you a liar and/or a coward. If your words don’t match your actions you are at best unreliable. Toward the end of the week a member of another team disappeared. We were in the middle of the wilderness and it was pitch black. The concern was that she was missing or, worse, hurt. It turns out she felt her team had turned against her and they were talking about her behind her back but weren’t giving her the feedback to her face. She rejoined her team but the trust was broken. Once that happens it may never be reestablished. People don’t work hard for people they don’t trust. People look more to what you do than what you say. So when you show someone who you are, be careful because they just may believe you.

6. Be the wall between them and the outside. One of our challenges was a full day on the battlefield, literally. During a paintball battle I led one of my charges got into a tussle with someone from another team. She came back and fessed up. She was concerned that a general would come over to speak to us. I immediately thanked her for her honesty and to focus on the task at hand. If they come over, they can speak to me, whatever happened was on me as the commander and she and I can deal with it after that. She responded by saying “wow, no one has ever done that for me before”. To me it made perfect sense. I wasn’t going to let anyone hurt or address people on my team without first going through me. If a person on my team was wrong I will work with them, which is my responsibility. Never allow open season on the people you lead. Make it clear that there are consequences for hurting someone on your team.

Stay tuned for the next seven lessons, part II.