By Marshall Goldsmith & Patricia Wheeler
Anne Lamott took the title for her book on writing, Bird by Bird, from one of her father’s teachable moments. She said: “My older brother, who was 10 years old at the time, was trying to get a report written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.
“My father then put his arm around my brother’s shoulder and said, ‘Just take it bird by bird.’ ”
The notion of changing our behavior or rebuilding our spirit bird by bird provides us with enough psychic comfort that we can accomplish the toughest part of any creative endeavor: We can begin. It’s a common anxiety I’ve experienced even with super-successful clients when they have to change their behavior. When I tell them it’s a long process, they always think they can change in two weeks. I tell them, “It’s not about you. It’s about the people around you. They need 12 to 18 months to accept that you have changed.” That’s when the anxiety kicks in. They’re sure they can change, but not so sure others will see and accept it.
Changing behavior is like building a wall. You lay one brick, then another; you’re aiming for serial achievements. To show people who you are now, you can’t rely on one-off gestures. They end up looking like stunts. Imagine a rude co-worker who’s suddenly nice to you. The first time this happens you wonder, Huh? What got into him? The second time becomes a signal to pay attention. The third time a pattern forms in your mind. It’s only when the nice behavior is repeated a dozen or more times, without any flare-ups of rudeness, that you begin to accept the change is real.
If you provide people with continuity, however trivial or feeble, they notice. When they see a pattern of repeat positive behavior, they see what you’re doing and accept a new you. This is how reputations are built and rebuilt.
Smile by Smile
What difference does one smile make? As a parent, when I had an important message to convey to my daughter, I’d approach her seriously and say something like, “Amy, you need to clean your room now.” Often she would reply, “Mom, why are you mad at me?”
I was surprised by this. I wasn’t mad, I was intense, or serious. Or maybe distracted. I wasn’t even frowning! How did she misinterpret my intention?
And, how did this affect the power of the message I wanted to deliver? Too often I’d get distracted by her perception that I was angry. Sometimes I’d explain. Sometimes she’d sulk. And usually her room-cleaning engagement declined.
How we perceive emotions in others greatly affects how we feel ourselves. People who interpret neutral facial expressions as angry tend to feel more aggression internally. But when they interpret neutral expressions as happy, they feel less aggressive or angry.
How often do you deliver messages with what you perceive as a neutral tone? And how often are the neutral messages perceived as negative? It happens often. And the effect on the bottom line, in relational and financial terms, is massive.
I suggest that you smile more often. You will be perceived as more approachable and promotable.
Ask yourself how much buy-in, influence and traction you want from your message. Also ask others (or your coach) how you’re perceived. And try a genuine smile for good measure. It helps.
Copyright 2018, Leading News
Patricia Wheeler is Managing Partner of The Levin Group, a global leadership advisory firm. With more than 25 years of coaching and consulting experience, she works with leaders around the world who must innovate and deliver exceptional business results within an environment of rapid change and increasing complexity.
Marshall Goldsmith was recently recognized as the #1 leadership thinker in the world and the #7 business thinker in the world at the bi-annual Thinkers 50 ceremony sponsored by the Harvard Business Review. He is the million-selling author or editor of 31 books, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers, MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – a WSJ #1 business book and winner of the Harold Longman Award for Business Book of the Year. His books have been translated into 28 languages and become bestsellers in eight countries