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Keys to Strengthening Buy-in, Trust and Team Coordination in a Generationally-Culturally Diverse (Military) Workforce — Part II

Part I of this two-part series has delineated five of the “Top Ten Tools and Strategies for Strengthening Buy-in, Trust and Team Coordination among a Generationally-Culturally Diverse (Military) Workforce,” including building communication bridges and fostering a team/systems concept that has application for both military and non-military work settings. The first five “Tools and Strategies” are:
1. Ask Good Questions and Patiently Listen to Reduce Status Differences and Foster Respect
2. Hold Group “Shout Outs”
3. Create Climate of Communication without Reprisal
4. Build-in Leadership-Partnership Tools
5. Sometimes Buy-in Begins in the Rear

Here are the second five “Tools and Strategies”:

6. Get to Know Your Soldiers. In their groundbreaking work, First Break All the Rules: What Great Managers Do Differently, Organizational Development Gallup Poll researchers, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, discovered that the best managers defy “The Golden Rule.” These mavericks would not, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Uncommonly effective managers knew that getting to know your people’s needs and idiosyncrasies was critical. With this understanding and personal touch the manager was able to treat each person as a unique individual with specific talents, strengths and vulnerabilities. An intimate yet objective professional connection was a key dynamic in attracting, motivating and retaining the best employees.

For example, one Field Grade Officer observed that when soldiers believe you are interested in and concerned about them as individuals, even chewing out is often seen as caring. In authority relationships based on understanding and trust — that is, where a subordinate feels seen, heard and respected — employees are more open to the Stress Doc’s version of “TLC”: “Tender Loving Criticism” and “Tough Loving Care.” Or consider this illustration of breaking out of the protocol box and infusing the professional with the personal. One Brigade Commander, temporarily stateside, visited a hospitalized spouse while her soldier was “down range.” What’s this soldier thinking and feeling about his leader? I bet you he’s more committed than ever: “I don’t want to disappoint this man (or woman)!”

Finally, sometimes informal work relationships are even more valuable than supervisory ones in reaching (out to) younger employees and evolving a safe and intimate bond. Consider pairing a senior soldier as a mentor or “battlefield buddy” with a junior colleague. (For me, another semantic variation is an organizational “stress buddy.”) A number of federal agencies are developing far-reaching, in-house mentorship programs.

7. Use MFLC and Other Support Resources. “Lead by Example” — a quintessential military mantra. Alas, sometimes leaders don’t walk the talk! According to one experienced Military and Family Life Consultant, senior people often tell or advise younger soldiers to avail themselves of MFLC and other behavioral/psychological support services; however, they are reluctant to use these services themselves. For example, recently, a commander of a post was soon to be married. He turned down a suggestion to come for some pre-marital counseling with his wife-to-be. This leader missed an opportunity to be a role model validating as well as destigmatizing the use of these services. Of course, one must acknowledge two powerful inhibiting factors:
a) asking for psychological help is still seen by many as a sign of “personal weakness” along with b) the still prevalent fear throughout the ranks that seeking counseling services puts a stain on a military career record. Obviously, stereotypes remain to be tackled.

Sometimes making screenings or assessments universal and mandatory helps break down status barriers and legitimizes vital services; it also may close self-defeating loop holes. For example, after a “down range” deployment, during the reintegration process why not have all soldiers and officers interviewed by MFLCs for significant stress/dysfunctional adaptation signs before going on block leave. Or, as suggested by Everly, G.S. and Castellano, C., within 60-90 days, consider having a didactic and interactive training day for soldiers and officers and their families highlighting adaptive and maladaptive post-deployment coping (Everly, G.S. and Castellano, C., “Fostering Resiliency in the Military: The Search for Psychological Body Armor,” CounterTerrorism, Vol. 15, No. 4, 2009).

Here’s a personal story I’d like to share that speaks to the importance of universalizing certain vital services. In the mid-1980s, I began working with a New Orleans businessman on burnout issues brought on by a demanding import-export business. However, the focus quickly shifted as my client was also a former Israeli officer who had undergone some harrowing encounters as a front-line Tank Commander in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. His traumatic experiences included helping repulse a surprise tank attack by a numerically superior foe; many in his battalion lost their lives. And when finally returning from the battlefield in haste, in a state of exhaustion, he crashes his jeep killing two fellow passengers-soldiers. Necessary reports were filed; however, because he was an officer no psychological debriefing was required. In my office twelve years later it was apparent how heavy the unfinished military emotional burden and baggage, and how much it was fueling his present burnout fire. I rerouted him back to Israel for that long overdue debriefing and encouraged him to begin sharing the suppressed experiences and emotions with his family.

8. Triple “A” and CPRS: Two Tools for Strengthening Buy-In and Trust. Consider these responsibility- and relationship-building acronyms:
a) Integrate the Triple “A”. The younger generation wants to be seen and heard as a collaborative member of the team. However, sometimes those in authority positions wonder if this generation wants the rights but not the responsibilities. However, not all agree. According to an experienced businessman actively involved in supporting the Ft. Hood community, sometimes young leaders experience a role-responsibility inconsistency. These officers are often forced into critical decision-making roles and challenging duties and tasks while “down range,” which they usually handle with maturity and competence. However, when stationed at the home base these same leaders may not be given the equivalent or sufficient role or decision-making independence or responsibility, even when the brigade or battalion is training for deployment. Perhaps senior management should establish roles, procedures and practices that foster greater young leader authority and autonomy as the way of doing business all the time. As our businessman noted, “You play as well as you practice!”

How to balance roles, rights and responsibilities? Consider employing the “Triple ‘A’ of Individual & Organizational Responsibility: Authority, Autonomy and Accountability.” Management needs to provide and encourage opportunities for all levels of employees, but especially younger ones, to develop their knowledge, skill and role base (Authority) and, within organizational norms and culture, be allowed to exercise reasonable independence and individuality in thought and practice (Autonomy). Finally, professionals must understand that objective and measurable, timely and ethical trust-inducing standards and practices with clients, colleagues and management (Accountability) undergird autonomy and authority. I call this “The Triple ‘A’ of Professional Responsibility, whereby a person and system “has an impact” (responsive) and “is worthy of trust” (responsible) (ARDictionary). “Triple ‘A’ Responsibility” is also a necessary requisite for genuine and effective collaboration and coordination as well as for credibility and service quality.

b) Engage in CPRS to Encourage Listening and Questioning, Two-Way Exchange and Buy-in

C = Clarification and (Be) Concise
Clarification involves asking the other party to provide more information, to elaborate upon a statement or answer specific questions. A clarification attempt is not an inquisitorial, “WHY did you do that?” It’s more a recognition that something is not clear; perhaps the listener has some confusion and desires more information, again, for better understanding. And clarification should not be the springboard to a harsh or blaming “You”-message and/or a dismissive judgment, e.g., “You’re wrong” or “You don’t really believe that, do you!” A much better response is, “I disagree,” “I see it differently” or “My data says otherwise.”

(Be) Concise. I believe over-talking or rambling on, basically conveying the same message over and over, or providing an overextended “laundry list,” is a dis-ease of epidemic (and too often egotistic) proportions. Or, an insecure communicator faced with the absence of immediate acknowledgement from his or her audience keeps trying to get the original message across (and likely, as well, audience approval), sometimes through repetition, sometimes through telling another story. If this angst-driven behavior applies, stop trying so hard; better to find the pass in the impasse by asking, “Am I being clear?” And don’t put the burden on the other with, “Do you understand?” (Of course, a mature message receiver knows to provide some kind of responsive — verbal or nonverbal — feedback.) Remember, to expand upon “The Bard,” brevity (and clarity) is the source of wit (and wisdom)!

P = Paraphrase and Pause
Paraphrasing involves repeating the other’s message in the person’s words or in your own distillation, to affirm, “Message sent is message received.” Sometimes, especially if a sender has conveyed a significant amount of information or complex instructions, it’s wise to say, “I know I just said a lot. Would you paraphrase back what you heard?” Again, the motive is not to catch the other but to have both parties on the same page.

Pause. In a “T n T” (Time- and Task-driven) world, communicators often feel they have to cram in the info as time is limited. Providing people with a non-stop, seemingly endless catalog of items (or even bullets) almost assures that key issues and ideas will be lost in the verbiage. Learning to pause, to segment or chunk your message helps the receiver catch the gist without fumbling the ideas, intentions or implications. (The communicational analogy might be writing concisely, using short and to the point paragraphs. Sometimes less really is more.) Momentary breaks from the back and forth also allow the parties to ponder and posit new possibilities. Now active listening may morph into creative listening.

R = Reaction vs. Response and (Tentatively) Reflect and (Appropriately) Reveal
Reaction vs. Response.
Reactive listening usually occurs when you feel threatened or angry and then immediately engage in a counterargument. For example, sensing inconsistency you reject or talk over the message and basically dismiss the messenger. Or, some end a contentious listening process with a quick and reactive retreat: “You’ve hurt me” or “You made me upset” and the receiver vacates the communicational field and avoids an honest exchange. (Clearly, if one party is being abusive or “pulling rank” and it does not feel safe to voice your position, then retreating or remaining silent is a wise strategy.) In contrast, a response often blends both head and heart and involves the use of an “I” message: “I’m concerned about what I’m hearing” or “I sense there’s a problem. Is my assessment on target?” An “I”-message response is the opposite of a wildly emotional or knee-“jerk” (or “you jerk”) reaction; it takes personal responsibility for both receiving and giving feedback. Shifting from blaming “You” messages to assertive and empathic “I”s transforms a defensive reaction into a reasoned response. So “count to ten and check within.”

Reflect Feelings (Tentatively)/Reveal Feelings (Appropriately). Reflecting feelings means to gently, kindly or tactfully ask about or to acknowledge overt or underlying emotions that are attached to the other party’s communication. “I know you are on board, still it sounds like you may have some frustration with the decision. Care to discuss it?” Sometimes you may not know what the other is feeling. Instead of trying to guess or saying, “Gee you must be angry,” if you want to comment, better to say, “When I’ve been in a similar situation, I found myself becoming…” (Be careful; don’t suddenly shift the focus and make yourself the center of the conversation.) And then pause; give the other person time to respond or not. Also, especially regarding the emotional component of messages, both listening and looking for verbal and nonverbal cues — voice tone and volume, facial and other bodily gestures, for example, lowered head and eyes or arms crossed over the chest — will facilitate more accurate reflection or discretion.

S = Strategize and Summarize
Strategic listening takes active listening to a next level. The goal is more than awareness and empathy. Now you want to invite the other to engage in a mutual, problem-solving dance. Common and disparate, structured and spontaneous ideas and emotions as well as goals and dreams are freely explored and transformed. To use another musical metaphor, such focused yet flexible listening-interplay is akin to a jazz group riff that encourages give and take expression, builds understanding and also triggers imaginative possibilities. The purpose of such strategic back and forth is “synergy” — a sharing-listening-questioning-sharing dialogic loop yielding an expanded awareness: the consciousness whole is greater than the sum of the communicational-cultural parts.

Summarize. Finally, you are ready to review and pull together such problem-solving elements as mutual agreements, outstanding differences — factual as well as emotional — broad strategies and action plans to be executed (including the parties responsible for implementation), time frames, ongoing monitoring or interim report back and follow-up procedures. And depending on the communicational context, a written summary is often advisable.

9. Acknowledge the Importance of the Denial of Death/the Search for Meaning. Ernest Becker, late 20th century sociologist and philosopher, in his prize-winning book, The Denial of Death, observed that the most important human urge is the desire to feel important, that is, there is a fundamental need to create a sense of meaning in one’s life. (Also, see renowned Holocaust survivor-author, Viktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning). To create a more meaningful work environment, especially vital for today’s younger soldiers, encourage/challenge them to: a) reframe more positively what they do, b) lobby for assignments that will compel them to grow and inspire them, and c) work hard to step up to greater responsibility and visibility. Also, as leaders, when possible, provide a broad structure or outline of what’s expected; then give people leeway for deciding how to do the task or reach the goal. Communicate specifically about how people’s roles and actions make a performance difference and how they impact the big picture. And one other suggestion for management for connecting with all personnel: try investing in “Organizational/Operational IRAs” — Incentives, Rewards/Recognition and Advancement Opportunities.

10. Be a Humble Leader. And finally, as a leader, try blending professional will with a humble spirit to encourage “buy-in, trust and team coordination.” Remember, a humble individual is not necessarily reticent or self-effacing, but puts principle and partnership ahead of self-promotion (Jim Collins, Good to Great and Stephen M. R. Covey, Speed of Trust). Such a person is more concerned about:
a) what’s right/doing what’s right rather than being right
b) acting on good ideas rather than just having them
c) embracing new truths rather than defending outdated positions
d) building the team rather than exalting self and
e) recognizing others’ contributions rather than being recognized.

Closing Summary

Part II of this two-part series has delineated five additional “Top Ten Tools and Strategies for Strengthening Buy-in, Trust and Team Coordination in Generationally-Culturally Diverse (Military) Workforce.” The final five tools and strategies range from “getting to know your people and responding to them as individuals (i.e., “breaking the Golden Rule”), courageously asking for outside resources and fostering individual and organizational responsibility to techniques for leading and listening by example, empathy and humility. More specifically, the “Top Ten” communication bridges and team/systems concepts for connecting with and meaningfully integrating both younger soldiers-employees and a diverse workforce is:

1. Ask Good Questions and Patiently Listen to Reduce Status Differences and Foster Respect
2. Hold Group “Shout Outs”
3. Create Climate of Communication without Reprisal
4. Build-in Leadership-Partnership Tools
5. Sometimes Buy-in Begins in the Rear
6. Get to Know Your Soldiers
7. Use MFLC and Other Support Resources
8. Triple “A” and CPRS: Two Tools for Strengthening Buy-In and Trust
9. Acknowledge the Importance of the Denial of Death/the Search for Meaning
10. Be a Humble Leader.

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, “The Stress Doc” ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a one-of-a-kind “Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst.” The “Doc” is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN speaking and workshop programs. The “Stress Doc” is also a team building and organizational development consultant for a variety of govt. agencies, corporations and non-profits. And he is AOL’s “Online Psychohumorist” ™. Mark is an Adjunct Professor at Northern VA (NOVA) Community College and currently he is leading “Stress, Team Building and Humor” programs for the 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry Divisions and Brigades, at Ft. Hood, Texas and Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. A former Stress and Conflict Consultant for the US Postal Service, the Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his award-winning, USA Today Online “HotSite”www.stressdoc.com — called a “workplace resource” by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc’s “Practice Safe Stress” programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email [email protected] or call 301-875-2567.

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