Tag Archives: work

having successful difficult conversations means taking the time to listen and to be vulnerable. And that's freaking scary.

The scary thing that makes a good workplace great

A little while back I wrote about the one thing that can make a good workplace great, the tolerance for taking risks and making mistakes.

If I were to pick another Big Scary Audacious Goal (which is a more unfortunate acronym than Big Hairy Audacious Goal..?), it would be the ability to have difficult conversations. Even more than tolerating mistakes, this is by far the most difficult skill I’ve had to work on in my career, and I’m not even close to perfection.

having successful difficult conversations means taking the time to listen and to be vulnerable. And that's freaking scary. Screwing up the courage to face a difficult situation head-on by having a tough conversation is something that could make any relationship go either way: it can lead to working better and becoming closer to the other person, or it could lead to a separation (if you’re lucky, a separation that leaves both people with positive feelings towards each other).

Having successful difficult conversations means taking the time to listen, and to be vulnerable.

And that’s freaking scary.

In fact, both these shifts that can change a workplace culture into a great one have that one thing in common: a willingness to show vulnerability.

I believe the more people talk about those difficult conversations they’ve had, the more acceptable it will be to have more of them. And I believe it’s the role of communication professionals to encourage more intentional, face-to-face communication skills among those we advise. The most useful professional development event I attended last spring was from IABC-BC — Speak Up: Important Conversations. All the speakers were amazing, but Tracey Wimperly’s talk really resonated with me:

“We do business with people, not entities…Conversation between people is where the magic happens … We are coaches and convenors of conscious interpersonal communications … Talking points are great for content, but do our leaders know how to really listen? Do they demonstrate empathy? The soft skills are really the hard stuff … Are our leaders comfortable with the soft skills?” – Tracey Wimperly

People, particularly those in leadership positions, need to signal loud and clear that they are open to having the difficult conversations, by their words and their actions. They need to be vulnerable in order to encourage their employees to feel supported enough to take risks and contribute the whole of their talents and skills.

I was reminded of that again when I listened to Brett Gajda’s podcast, Where There’s Smoke; the episode Be Seen (Vulnerability), with Bobby Umar. Brett practices what he preaches – my partner and I saw him speak at an event the other night, and I envy the people who get to work with him. In the Be Seen episode he gives an example that is so raw and compelling, I choked up thinking of similar examples from my own career.

Here’s one leader who also certainly fits the bill: Dan Pontrefact (you lucky Telus employees, having him on your leadership team!), who has embraced the Working Out Loud movement (Yay!) and wrote a pretty raw piece on why his next book is postponed.

In fact, if I’m ever asked again in an interview what I consider my biggest weakness, I’d probably have to be honest and say: “I find it extraordinarily stressful to have the difficult conversations that must sometimes happen in a professional situation. And I’m working hard on getting better at it, because if you can have difficult conversations where the other person feels valued and respected, even if you have to part ways in the end, you have a stronger relationship because of it.”

Here’s Tracey’s entire talk. It’s well worth eight minutes of your time, especially if you are, like me, a communications professional:


Listening for the answers to the right questions

Yesterday morning, reading the news over morning coffee, I said to Ken out of the blue: “Know what I really would do if I won a big lottery? I’d become Vancouver’s full-time philanthropist.”

Since I’ve been thinking about where I want to end up, where I want my skills to take me, this is probably a big clue.

Two people separately sent me a link to a volunteer opportunity this past weekend. They both read the description and immediately thought of me because a) the skills requirements match my skill set and b) it would be a way of meeting more Vancouver people and getting to know this town better.

Asking the right questions is the first step. Listening quietly for the answer is the next.

In the Park

Kanban, Trello and productivity: first impressions and comparisons

My friend Mike Vardy suggested to me, when I was supervising a group of graphic designers, that I might want to look at the Kanban productivity system. I didn’t do it then, because I wasn’t directly supervising their projects (I was supervising their supervisor), and because I did not need another new thing to learn at that time.

What attracted me to try Kanban was a combination of things: it was something new to learn (I’m always open to that!), Mike had described it as a system for visually-inclined people, and it is minimalist.  After being forced to set up a fairly complicated set of filters and tags in Todoist to keep track of my demanding job as a communications director, I was hungry to simplify.

(The ToDoist system of tags and filters totally worked to make my life easier by the way, and I may go back to it if I’m ever again in charge of a large department like that.)

After reading about the Kanban system, I looked for an application to support it. All my research led me to Trello. I had tried Trello before, but without the knowledge of Kanban, it wasn’t intuitive to me now to get the most out of it, so I abandoned it.

Screenshot of Klassen Jeffery Household Trello board

However, after using Trello with Kanban for the past two weeks, I’m a convert. Plus, it works great as an editorial calendar. I may even suggest it to the client I’ll be working with next month.

Keeping it simple

Kanban has only two simple rules, visualize your work and limit your work in progress.

Here’s how it works, in three simple steps:

  1. Divide up a board into columns. Start with three: “Backlog,” “Doing” (or “Work In Progress”), and “Complete.”
  2. Put each of your tasks onto a card or Post-it Note. As you work on a task, move it to the “Doing” column. As you finish it, move it to the “Completed” column.
  3. Limit your “Doing” (or Work In Progress) items to a few at a time (I have only 3, but some people have 5). To start on a new task, either move another one to “Complete” or back to “Backlog.” I have added a few other columns to my various boards on Trello: one is “DFO” – Due from Others; where I park tasks I can’t complete because I’m waiting for action by someone else.

Using visuals

In the ParkI love using graphics in my boards. On my Personal board I have a column called “Inspiration,” where I collect all those funky memes I come across. I keep them there for a while to inspire me. Our shared Household board has pictures of tasks we need to complete, like a clean BBQ – to remind us we need to clean ours – or the bags of clothes we need to donate. I have collected a couple dozen generic CC-licensed graphics to use for my Professional and Editorial Calendar boards.

In short: my Trello boards look pretty and motivate me to get stuff done. I eagerly open my Kanban boards each day to see what’s up next. I work on the three most important tasks, one at a time, and as the “Completed” column fills up, I can see my accomplishments.

Comparing Trello to ToDoist and Basecamp

I have used Basecamp and ToDoist before, for editorial calendars, project collaboration, and personal task management. Trello has a great calendar view almost as good as Basecamp’s, which makes it attractive for editorial calendars.

Tori's Trello Editorial Calendar board - calendar viewLike Basecamp, you can discuss each project/task with a team in Trello. Unlike Basecamp, you can’t just reply to an email and have it show up in the Trello conversation thread, you have to be in the app. This will probably keep me from using Trello with clients.

Update: Twitter user @MichaelPryor pointed out to me that you can indeed reply by email to a thread in Trello:

“just FYI, you can hit the reply link in notification emails and comment and it will go back on the card without going to trello.” -Thanks Michael!

The beauty of Basecamp was that I could have a project shared by a committee of people from different organizations. As long as I could get them signed in to the Basecamp project once, I could control which team members would get an update via email of each comment I posted. They could then simply hit “reply” with their feedback; no need to sign in again to post within the app.

Unlike ToDoist, I can’t see all my upcoming tasks in one go in Trello and the filtering mechanism isn’t that robust. I used filters a lot in ToDoist. For instance, if I had a meeting starting in 15 minutes, I would filter by those tasks I had marked as “less than 5 minutes to complete,” pick one, and knock it off before heading out to my meeting.

However, I think that is a feature of Trello and Kanban, not a bug. After all, you’re supposed to be more productive by limiting your Work In Progress, right?

Like the example above, I still have some aspects of Personal Kanban and Trello to figure out. Another example: what do you do with recurring tasks? Keep moving them back into the Backlog column? I’ve downloaded Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life to read up some more. The jury’s still out on whether I’ll use Kanban when my life gets busier, or perhaps I’ll drop those items I didn’t need to focus on in the first place, leaving more room for what’s ultimately more important.  

Further reading: