After the Webinar: Creating Powerful, Positive, Sustainable Change. Q&A with Michael Levin

Webinar presenter Michael Levin answered a number of your questions after his presentation,  Creating Powerful, Positive, Sustainable Change. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: As a new director and a new employee, how do you get people to trust you, that they have a voice, and to use it when your predecessor had a very different approach?

Michael Levin: It’s a great question, and it’s one of those it is going to take some time. It’s not going to happen overnight. They aren’t going to trust your words. It’s going to take action. They’re going to need to see things actually happen. Here is the good news, is it doesn’t need to be a big thing. It can be a small thing. If you don’t mind, I’m going to take two minutes to share a story because it was how I learned about that as well. I’ve taken over, I mentioned I ran some divisions for Pepsi, I’d just taken over the Oakland division. And when I took it over, I think I was 29 years old, the average age of my staff was around 50. And when I sat down with them, I’m asking the perfunctory questions, what’s working? What’s not working? One of the guys there said to me, he said, “Listen, we were here long before you got here. We’re going to be here long after you leave. Just don’t screw it up while you’re here.” Except he used a four-letter word, a little more crass than screw. I had a laugh and said, “I get it,” because he’s not going to trust me initially. I said, “I’d still like to hear.” He said to me, “As a satellite facility to San Francisco, we get our paycheck one day later than they do. Do you think we can get them at the same time?” I said, “I don’t know, let me find out.” I talked to my contact in accounting, I asked them if that is possible. They said, “Sure. I’ll make that change.” Six months later, I’m sitting down with that same group again. And that guy said something to me that really stood out. He said, “You were the first person to come in here, and they actually do what you said you were going to do.” The only thing I had personally indirectly done for that person in six months was getting their paycheck one day earlier. It’s not going to take a big change. If you’re asking, if you show sincere interest, if you create environments, they have those conversations, and I would encourage you to have those conversations outside of your office. Ideally, not even in the conference room, but going out for a cup of coffee, grabbing lunch with them independently, doing activities after work, and just listening. That when they see you actually put your words into action, it will happen. But it will take some time.


Audience Question: If your organization has gone about implementing change the wrong way backward, how do you begin to introduce the new way and culture of implementation to staff? 

Michael Levin: Getting them used to it, as well. It’s going to take a little bit of time too because you’re right, they are used to not being heard. It’s going to be being very candid and let them know we have done this backwards; we have done this the wrong way. And don’t blame you for pushing back because we never listen to you. Let’s talk about how we want to create change going forward. And I would share with them the philosophes, share with them the process, get their feedback on it, get their input. Ask them how they will feel heard. And ask them how they will be open and willing to participate, to be active participants in that change. To me, being candid and straightforward, as opposed to being subtle. “Well, let’s just go ahead and put this new program in,” I don’t think works, as well. I also think as leaders, if you acknowledge vulnerability, if you acknowledge when you make mistakes and are honest about it, then your people will be honest and vulnerable back with you. But as leaders, we need to take the lead in being vulnerable, being honest and candid, about when we do things wrong, or when we realize we could do things better.


Audience Question: How do I begin to initiate those difficult conversations within my police department? I truly believe we need to change it, become more proactive, rather than reactive, to instill empathy in our officers rather than disgruntlement. 

Michael Levin: Yeah, I totally get that. And that’s you’re right. It’s a big challenge. And to me, personally, when I take a look at that change. You’re living it every day, you know, better than me. I think this change happens is not a global thing, like Minneapolis did. It’s going to happen neighborhood by neighborhood. We do things more like what Craig Heyward is done, where they’re opening healthy grocery stores, and they’re getting the community together to have these conversations, to have them talk with those officers to get them on board. I would have those conversations as well off-site. And when you use that LACE methodology to think about in advance, to get them to open up, to share what’s causing that disgruntlement to ask them what’s it going to take to have you feel more engaged to it? Is to help them get there, to ask them, “What would that take? How can I support you?” What I would stay away from as well, is anything that’s going to make them defensive. So, you don’t want to ask why questions. Why did you do that? Why did you behave that way? Even how come, which is more of a more sophisticated way of saying why. Stay with more like what questions, keep your tone neutral, keep that conversation from out of your office. Have it be out in the field over coffee. And work to get them to open up. It may take a little bit of time. And with all, you are going through on a daily basis and I heard some of the stories. Sean Thomas is a wonderful woman who runs the first responders’ conferences shared with me, a lot of stories that she has experienced. She’s a Deputy Sheriff in Seattle. And I can’t even imagine what life is like on a daily basis that none of us can possibly understand unless we’re in the middle of it. My wife tells me stories from the prison that’s just unbelievable,  that the rest of us can’t even fathom. So, I get, it’s going to take a lot of empathy and each of our parts to help them become empathetic and to help create environments where they can feel empowered to make a change to make a difference, and that difference may only be one block, one neighborhood, one housing development. But I think you start with one little change, then it can expand. And once they see a win, it can help them feel more empathetic than being disgruntled because I certainly understand today’s environment, how easy that would be to feel that way.


Audience Question: I’m a new supervisor and a very direct person. I’ve read about taking the indirect approach to hard conversations, and I struggle with this approach. Do you have any suggestions or tips on how to use the indirect approach?

Michael Levin: What I would do is, I totally get it as a direct person. If you are talking with someone that is direct, they’re going to go into a shell. They can clam up on you. I would use those bank cards. I would tell them I want to understand more about you. How to communicate better with you. I’d be candid with them that I know this is how I am. I want to communicate in a way that you feel heard, and you feel comfortable having a conversation with me. I’ll even ask in workshops, and each person will get a chance to do it, is how do we best communicate with you? How do you feel heard? How do you want to be talked to, to where you won’t get defensive to where you will be open, and give me the honest answer? You want to be able to get them to open up. A lot of people think they are giving the politically correct answer. We’ll say, “Oh, yeah, just be direct, be straightforward with me.” As you know, most people don’t necessarily want straightforward that they will get defensive if that’s the case. If you are candid with them and if you ask them, if you use those bank cards, it can really help to open things up so you can speak in a way that aligns with their behavioral style. And in a way that they can feel heard and be open to hearing you as well.


Audience Question: Have you ever done training in conflict resolution? I’m a CR master and there are some similarities between your techniques and the ones taught in conflict resolution.

Michael Levin: I do. It comes up. It’s always a part of my workshops because it just has to be. In fact, in my leadership workshops, my first couple of workshops are all communication-based. And how do we get a team to work together? In fact, I just completed a leadership workshop series with a company in which their senior leadership team could not get along. And you had a husband-and-wife team, and they were constantly in conflict because they had ——– personality styles. So, I taught them a process to help them move out of conflict and to work together in a collaborative brainstorming style that allowed them to come to a common conclusion. So, yes, I do. I probably take it in a different path and a lot of typical conflict resolution courses. But it was pretty cool. I enjoyed doing it. I got a very nice note back from the co-owner, the wife. She said, “We would never have gotten here without you.” So, yes, if you’d like my help, I would love to help you.

Host: Fantastic. And by the way, to contact you to request, that helps me. They just e-mail Yolanda as well.


Audience Question: What if you have a boss that includes you, but truly does not listen or implement the ideas? It seems like they’re going through the motions, what do you recommend? 

Michael Levin: The short answer has worked for a different boss. But I know that’s a lot easier said than done. That is so frustrating when you’re working for someone who’s acting like they’re including you, but they really never do. If you have the courage to do this, I know this can be tough, is I’m asking to have a candid conversation with my boss and I want to do that off-site as well, so there’s something important I want to talk to you about. And I’m using LACE with them, say I have a frustration I’d like to share with you, I’d like to see if we can make this better between us. And you’re going to want to make I statements, to say, “I feel like when I give input, it’s not heard. And what I’d like to be able to do is talk with you about this. Because I get the sense, you’re asking me that you really do want to use my input. And I believe you may want to value it. It’s not how I feel right now. Can we talk about how we can possibly make that happen?” And then, I would take them through LACE, whatever that is. To set that stage and set that environment. They could easily get defensive right away. “I listen to you, I put your things in place all the time.” That could easily happen out of that. I’m guessing that was probably your first thought when I’m bringing all this up is oh yeah, they’re just going to deny it. And that may well happen. And I think we need to come from on this is, “I completely understand that to your perspective, and unfortunately, it’s not mine. I’d really want to feel heard, are you open to working with me on that?” Well, you’re going to have to be the one who’s vulnerable first in all likelihood, because there’s a good chance that they will get defensive. I would plan that call out, think about how are you going to ask the questions. Write them down beforehand. Be prepared so you can take as much emotion out as possible. Because when you’re used to that happening time and time again, you’re going to feel that emotion well up and you don’t want it to become a heated conflictual conversation.


Audience Question: What do you mean by having a conversation off-site? And she says, it seems to potentially invite boundary issues and even safety issues.

Michael Levin: You definitely want to be safe. When I’m working with my people, and I want them to be candid with me, we’re going to go to Starbucks and have a cup of coffee, I may take them out to lunch. In the worst-case, we may go take a walk somewhere. So, certainly, if you don’t trust that person, if you don’t feel safe with them, I would not be off-site with them. That’s not going to happen if you can’t feel safe with that person. For my people, for them to want to talk, I know the more I move them away from their work environment, the better chance I have. The worst place for them to open up is in my office. The second worst place would be in a conference room, or potentially, where they are, their place of work, because if other people are around, they may not talk. I want to get them in a place where they would feel comfortable, where they would feel open and where it would be more neutral. But I would never put myself in a situation where you felt like this creates a safety hazard for us. In most cases, it’s a public place. What I would do, for example, in a former business that I had, is I would take my sales team off-site once a quarter, and we leave work early. We go have a couple of cocktails. We have some appetizers, and it led to open, honest conversations as opposed to what would happen typically in our place of business during work. So, I hope that helps off-site would be anywhere outside of your business and only if you can feel safe in doing so.


Audience Question: What have you found are the most effective ways to engage people in the embracing change process in small groups, individually, or as a unit and team? 

Michael Levin: That is a really good question. I completely agree I’m doing it a small group at a time. In my leadership workshops, I keep it to 15 or less. Because that way, I can make sure there’s a lot of interaction that everybody’s going to be participative. And where I want it to be in that size group is, I want to remove functional silos and get people working together. I want them to get a chance to cooperate and collaborate cross-functionally across departments, so they can learn how to work together. So, 15 seems to be about right. You could certainly do anything smaller than that. It’s not saying you can’t have individual conversations, too. But to me, I like to start with a group at a time. and then let it expand out from there throughout the organization. That there’s a recognition this isn’t an overnight change. It’s going to take some time, depending on the size of your organization, to create that change throughout the entire organization.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of  Creating Powerful, Positive, Sustainable Change.



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