Author Archives: Jim Bolton

A Way To Win the Peace After the Election Is Over

Regardless of who is elected President tomorrow, one thing is certain: the divisions in the United States will be stronger than ever. Our nation is fragmented and increasingly self-segregating. We’re driven toward and seek out like-minded people. We have less tolerance for people with differing values and beliefs. We talk about others’ positions as if they’re inherently wrong, not that they have different opinions that are worthy of understanding.

Our elected representatives reflect this division. Not so long ago they would make fiery partisan speeches yet, outside of the spotlight, work with their adversaries to get things done. Many in Congress had respectful and warm personal relationships with their political opponents. This seems to have changed. Fewer of our representatives are willing to collaborate with people of different parties. The animosity once reserved for speeches has become personal. Little work of consequence gets accomplished because people with different values and ideas won’t work together.

How do we turn things around? On a grand scale, it can seem like an unsolvable problem. But I’ve come up with a simple system that can get results immediately. It’s a thought experiment I call the “1-for-1 Rule” and it goes like this: every time a politician says one negative thing about a political opponent or policy, he or she must say one appreciative or constructive thing about that same person or policy. Imagine how the 1-for-1 Rule could have changed George H. W. Bush’s characterization of Al Gore as “Ozone Man” in 1992 because of his climate change advocacy. Instead of this:


       “Ozone Man, Ozone. He’s crazy, way out, far out, man.”


It might sound like this:


       “Personally I think he’s crazy, but I respect that he is passionate about his cause.”


Would any politician ever do this? Never! Of course not! But imagine what would happen if we held politicians – and ourselves – to this standard. It’s unlikely we would hear phrases like “basket of deplorables,” and “Crooked Hillary.” What positive or constructive thing could you say after saying that?

Our words matter. If there is such a thing as “American exceptionalism,” I think it lies in our ability to work together to transform the whole of our nation in spite of our individual differences. We’ve done it before and we can do it again. We need to hold ourselves and our elected officials to a higher standard. The 1-for-1 Rule is a place to start. If you think it doesn’t matter, try it out with your kids or when talking about the “loudmouth” after the meeting. It’s hard to make people one-dimensional when you’ve got to see the positive in them too.

“What We’ve Got Here Is Failure To Communicate”

This famous line from the classic film Cool Hand Luke is unfortunately more prophetic than we might like to admit. We think of communication as a straightforward process: I talk, you listen, you talk, I listen, we understand each other. What’s so hard about that? Sometimes communication actually is that straightforward, but often it’s not.

The Bay of Pigs provides a dramatic example of communication gone wrong. When President John F. Kennedy asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their opinion on the invasion of Cuba in 1961, he was told that the proposed operation had “a fair chance of success.” The Joint Chiefs didn’t explain what they meant by “a fair chance;” Kennedy presumed it meant a “good chance” of victory. Years later the author of the Joint Chiefs’ report said that, in his mind, a “fair chance” meant 3 to 1 against success. Because of this misunderstanding, the President approved the ill-fated attack that caused unnecessary deaths and led to a historic foreign policy debacle.

People commonly assume that misunderstandings, as happened between Kennedy and his advisors, are quite rare. But the process of human communication is actually highly susceptible to error. Here are three ways communication can go off the rails when we interact with each other:

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Level Up Your Candor

“If you want to see someone in real pain, watch someone who knows who they are and defaults on it on a regular basis.”

– Pat Murray, management consultant


Candor is the way in which we express who we really are. But as Murray notes we often default on it. When we do, the consequences can create discord within us and in the relationships important to our success.


Part of the problem is that candor means different things to different people. Many of us think of candor as “telling it like it is,” and “callin’ ‘em like we see ‘em.” But the word candor comes from Latin, meaning “to shine.” That’s what real candor is about—allowing both you and those around you to shine by speaking and listening, openly and genuinely. That’s not always so easy as the “candor continuum” graphic illustrates. Continue reading

Learning to Love Feedback You Don’t Like

Feedback about our behavior is all around us. We step on the scale and we get feedback about how much we weigh and, indirectly, about behaviors that cause our weight to go up or down. We don’t always like the feedback we get but we don’t argue with it. Even if the scale is off by a couple of pounds, we accept what it tells us.

With people, we’re far less accepting. We treat feedback we don’t like as criticism. True, much of the feedback we receive is unskillfully delivered. But even when feedback is offered with our best interests at heart, we tend to deflect it. In so doing we also dismiss observations about our behavior that can actually help us be more effective in critical areas of our work and lives.

I was recently reminiscing with my brother (a child psychologist by training) about a recent family reunion. It was an innocent conversation until the moment he told me what he thought about how I treated my teenage daughter in a conversation he overheard. Wham. I never saw it coming and I wasn’t happy to hear what he had to say. He moved on, but I couldn’t. In the moment I was emotionally stuck and couldn’t get past my reactions to what he had said.

Once I calmed down I realized there are two ways I generally respond to feedback I don’t like, including my brother’s: Continue reading

A Brief Guide to Better Resolutions

Behavior change is hard. I’ve devoted my professional life to helping people change in ways that improve their life and work and my personal life trying to get better myself. I’ve learned a lot along the way. Tomorrow, January 1st, Resolution Day, is the Super Bowl of behavior change. The day that so many of us vow to do something different or new to more closely align our behavior with our values and goals. I hope the reflections that follow help you be more successful keeping the commitments to yourself that truly matter.

To resolve is to “firmly decide on a course of action.” Often it is to re-solve a problem we’ve tried to solve before. We commit to exercise more, save our money, spend time with our families, quit smoking, lose weight, get organized. These are promises we make to ourselves and sometimes to others that we haven’t kept in the past.

Most New Year’s resolutions are doomed to failure for three reasons:

  1. Making a decision to act is different from action itself. Behavior change doesn’t happen overnight, even when that night is December 31st. It takes time and is a bumpy process.
  2. Resolutions aren’t failure-tolerant. Once we break a promise to ourselves, it’s easy to give up, especially if we haven’t followed through before.
  3. Most resolutions are declarations, not plans. If you want to make a change, you need a plan.

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Two Gifts To Make Your Holidays That Much More Special (Unwrap Now)

The calendar tells us that the holidays are upon us: Thanksgiving has come and gone, Hanukkah has begun, and Christmas is a few crazy weeks away. Unfortunately, for many, the holiday spirit hasn’t yet arrived in our hearts. You may be feeling the pressure of having too much to do in too little time, deadlines nipping at your heels at work and at home, no time to relax. You may also have mixed feelings as you anticipate the social events of the holidays, both at work and with family. Planning for the year to come might be laced with uncertainty regarding your business and personal life.

That stress can seep into your communication and your relationships. When you’re distracted, you won’t listen as well. When you’re feeling pressure, you’re more likely to overreact to little things. When you are ambivalent or worried but don’t have time to relax, those emotions can dictate how you relate to people. Even if you’re managing these issues well, there will be people at work and home who are on tilt. The great irony of the holidays is that when you are supposed to be giving thanks, praying for peace, and celebrating the greatness of the human spirit, you find yourself gritting your teeth, doing what you can to get through the day.

Here’s the good news: there are two gifts that will help you disrupt this pattern. These gifts create thanksgiving, peace, and connection at this time year and throughout the year, whether you’re in a meeting about 2016 priorities, chatting with a colleague, or celebrating with friends and family around the hearth. The trick is that to get these gifts you first have to give them (sorry).

The first is the gift of your attention. As co-workers, friends, or family members talk, give them your full attention. Look away from whatever screen is at hand; stop the part of your brain that is working out other things. Set your own thoughts and reactions about what they’re saying aside. Be as present as you can with the people you’re with. Years ago, research found that married couples paid this kind of attention to one another on average 20 minutes a week. In an era where partners are as likely to get status updates online as they are in person, true attention is a rare treat.

The second gift is even rarer. It is the gift of listening. When a co-worker or confidante becomes animated or starts speaking about something important to them, don’t respond right away. Be curious. Don’t interrupt. Wait to see if there’s more. Try to understand the issue from their frame of reference, not yours. After they’ve talked a while, summarize what you’ve heard. Show you understand what they’re saying and why it’s important to them. Then share your perspective—and be ready to listen some more.

A by-product of these gifts of attention and listening is that, when you do them well, they give back.  When you genuinely pay attention, you find a moment of stillness within your own hectic day. When you listen to someone else’s challenges, it puts your own in perspective. And when you listen attentively to others, they’re far more likely to listen to you.

These gifts enrich your relationships too, building trust and connection. Paying attention and listening help other people let go of distractions and return to the present moment where it becomes truly possible to give thanks, find peace, and celebrate the spirit of the season.

Happy Holidays from Ridge!



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E.A.R.: The Secret Sauce That Makes Great Trainers Great

You’ve heard the saying, “those that can’t do, teach.” In the corporate world they say the same thing about trainers. “They” aren’t necessarily wrong; there’s a lot of bad training and bad trainers out there. They’re not necessarily right, either. The best trainers have the ability to lift the performance of an entire organization. Navy SEALs, whose lives literally depend on their performance often quote the Greek poet Archilochus (650 BC): “We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.” And the training, more often than not, falls to the level of the trainer.

Trainers are indeed difference-makers when it comes to training outcomes. A beautifully designed workshop delivered by a mediocre trainer will be mediocre. But mediocre training delivered by a great trainer can influence a learner’s performance long after the workshop has ended.

Which begs the question: what qualities do the best trainers exhibit? Clearly all trainers must have the platform skills and the subject matter expertise to be credible with their audiences. But those are table stakes these days.

Ridge has been training trainers for 43 years. In our experience the “secret sauce” that separates great trainers from good trainers includes three qualities that pioneering psychologist Carl Rogers identified as empathy, authenticity, and respect. Simply put, when trainers exhibit empathy, authenticity, and respect (which result in the handy acronym “EAR”) they positively impact their students’ learning and do so in measurable ways.

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Can We Be Candid?

Business literature (particularly in the US) is filled with calls for workforce candor. Jack Welch devoted an entire chapter to it in his best seller, Winning. Jim Collins encourages business leaders to “confront the brutal facts” to get from Good to Great. Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan talk about the importance of “robust dialogue” in Execution. And for good reason: as Welch points out, when more people get in the conversation, “more ideas get surfaced, discussed, pulled apart, and improved.” This in turn enhances innovation and decision making while simultaneously reducing costs (Welch and Welch, 2005, p. 27).

As with most things that sound too good to be true, there’s more to creating candor than meets the eye. While candor holds great promise as a source of competitive advantage, it’s a rarity in organizational life. Leaders who seek to institutionalize candor find it elusive for three primary reasons:

  1. Candor lives between people, but the decision to practice candor is a personal one. It is a choice to make public some aspect of our private thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. Because the depth and breadth of these revelations can’t be fully known by others unless we tell them—even under duress—candor is an extension of our free will.
  2. Candor in its purest sense is an organic, messy process. Candor bubbles up rather than cascades down which makes it difficult for leaders to mandate candor as a cultural norm in their organizations.
  3. Most managers have an “approach-avoid” attitude toward candor. While they say they want it, most don’t want the conflict, frustration, and additional work they’ve experienced as by-products of candor. While a skilled leader (or outside facilitator) is able to manage the dynamics for productive ends, for most leaders, inviting candor can feel like opening Pandora’s Box.

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Coaching Lessons From Boxing’s Greatest “Corner Men”

There’s more to great coaching than meets the eye. We see premier sports coaches yelling, pacing the sidelines, or looking silently but intently at a game. We see them sitting with their skating or gymnastic protégé awaiting the scoring at the Olympics. What we don’t see is the behind-the-scenes work, the actual coaching, that has led up to the moments that we do see. That’s why I love Ronald Fried’s book, Corner Men: Great Boxing Trainers. It gives us a window to the behind-the-scenes coaching that made boxing’s great champions.

Here’s what the Joe Louis, the heavyweight champion for twelve consecutive years (1937-1949), said about his coach:

“All that I am as a fighter, a champion, I owe to Jack Blackburn. He was teacher, father, brother, nurse, best pal to me… I won’t forget his confidence in my corner… He never scolded. He spoke so plain like. He was easy to understand because he had a way of showing you your mistakes in his simple way… He didn’t rush me. He didn’t scold me. He didn’t point out my mistakes like a showoff in front of the crowd. So he went downstairs away from them and he put the gloves on with me. That was real teaching.”

What Joe Louis describes rings true even for the coaching that happens at work. It’s the coaching relationship, the coach’s mindset, and the coach’s skills and strategies that creates champions. Consider the following questions, gleaned from boxing’s great corner men, to see where you standout and where you might improve as a coach.

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Managers Could Do A Lot Better At Performance Management

I was excited to see an email from the Gallup Business Journal with this headline hit my inbox recently. Awesome topic! Since Gallup has done so much research on employee engagement, I couldn’t wait to see their analysis and recommendations for managers to get better that this fundamental part of their jobs.

My excitement didn’t last long. Gallup’s list, it turns out, was a series of high-level platitudes:

  • Clarify the organization’s purpose and brand.
  • Remove cultural barriers to performance (executive team misalignment, lack of commitment to change, lack of role clarity, inconsistency in strategy execution …)
  • Study [high performers]… to ensure that strategies for selecting and developing employees are on target.
  • Use predictive analytics to hire for excellence.
  • Align people and processes.

That’s a fine list for top executives crafting an organization’s future. And sure, those things could improve performance management in indirect ways. But what I wanted was insight about helping actual managers get better at managing performance now.

My disappointment in Gallup’s article led me to wonder, “what would be on my list if I wrote an article with that title?” What could help managers do a better job at performance management? Here are four suggestions for your consideration.

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