Tough Conversations Made Easy With Courtesy and Results Part 2

The Following excerpt is content from John Cameron’s upcoming book 

              Tough Conversations Made Easy with Courtesy and Results


                                                       © John A. Cameron, 2016

MODULE 1: Setting Expectations

Make Fewer Promises: Keep All of Them 

Once Expectations are set it is virtually impossible to change them 

Opening Story:

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, he tells a story about two math classes at the US Air Force Academy.  A math instructor is called in and told he is being assigned a class that’s going to be tough to teach.  His new class is filled with students who aren’t very good at math.  The instructor is told not to share the class’s weakness with anyone, other instructors, certainly not the students, not even family and friends.  He has to be careful not to wound he egos of the future fighter jocks and leaders of the US Air Force.  He is told he must do the best he can with the limited material he has to work with.

At the end of the course the class did pretty much how he expected-measurably a little worse than average.

Another, luckier instructor is pulled in and congratulated.  Why?  Because he is being granted the gift of a superior group of math students to work with-above average-one of the best math classes the Academy has ever seen.  He is told to keep his joy private.  He isn’t allowed to share his good fortune with other instructors and certainly not his students.  Students at the Air Force Academy already have pretty good egos.  He was instructed not to help the academy cadets heads get any bigger by telling them how superior they were.  He simply has to do his best to make sure these gifted students live up to their vast potential.

At the end of the course this superior class did a little better than he expected.  The class was measurably above the average score of similar math classes and far above the inferior class his peer had the misfortune to teach.

Here’s the rub.  Both classes, the inferior one and superior one, were statistically very close in their ability.  There was no ‘superior’ class.  There was no ‘inferior’ class.  The two instructors, and their classes, one fortunate, the other not so much, had been subjects of an experiment.  This experiment worked.  The un-communicated expectations of an instructor made one classroom full of smart people dumber at math while another instructor’s un-communicated expectations made a room full of smart people even better at math.

If un-communicated expectations can have this effect, what is the power of carefully planned, repeatedly practiced, perfectly communicated, and passionately delivered expectations on an individual or a group?

Were the expectations in the Air Force Academy experiment really un-communicated?  What effect did the tone in the instructors’ voices, the set of their shoulders, their facial expressions, and the pace of their step do to set expectations often and consistently?  What kind of expectations have you been setting without ever opening your mouth?  We get what we expect.  Be conscious of your seemingly unconscious expectations. (Search literature for the “Oak School Experiment.”)

If you would like another example of the power of expectations, research the history of the four-minute mile and Roger Bannister.  He broke a barrier, running the mile in under four-minutes, that was thought to be beyond the physical limits of human speed and endurance.  Before he broke the four-minute barrier, no one else in the history of mankind had ever run a four-minute mile.  Once Roger Bannister broke the record and within 46 days someone beat his time!  He had changed the world’s expectations of what was possible for human middle distance runners.  Once he ran that mile in under four minutes other people thought, If he can do it, I can do it! And they did!

Brain scientists using an MRI say they can observe expectations delivered upon by a release of dopamine.  When expectations are dashed there is anger, confusion and depression.  Example-You expect to get a bonus and get it, and good dopamine is released.  When you have low expectations and they are radically exceeded there is a tremendous release of dopamine.

Health outcomes mirror expectations. We are what we expect. I’m sure you have all heard of the placebo effect.  One group of people is given real medicine, the other a sugar pill. Both groups believe they are getting medicine and both groups improve.

If we go into a good restaurant expecting a decent meal and get a great meal, our expectations are exceeded and we are happy.  If we go into a great restaurant and get a decent meal we are disappointed.

Opening exercise classroom setting:

In your small groups discuss times when your expectations have been exceeded. Focus on how you felt when your expectations were exceeded.  If you are working on this course on your own, list and write a short essay on times in your life when your expectations were exceeded, focusing on how you felt when your expectations were exceeded. Make sure you focus on very specific events.  Here are examples of exceeded expectations from my own life.

Going to a movie, The Next Three Days, and having it be much better than I was led to expect by critics and friends.

The first time I ate at In-N-Out Burger.

Hiring a new employee, Renee, expecting average performance and having her be above those expectations in work ethic, attention to detail, her ability to get along with other people and in productivity.

Small Group Discussion:





Open Discussion Large GroupShare Stories 









In your small groups discuss times when you have had expectations/hopes dashed, focusing on how you felt. If you are working on your own, list these times and then write a short essay about an important time in your life when your expectations were dashed. Focus on how you felt.  Make sure you focus on very specific events.  Here are some examples from my own life.

1.  Starting my first business after my corporate career expecting success with my great flagship product and having my target market-the newspaper and shopper business-virtually disappear.

2.  Watching Lord of the Rings and thinking two hours in they should have called it Bored With the Rings 

Small Group Discussion:








Large Group Discussion:










Additional Points:

1.  Once expectations are set it is virtually impossible to change them.  This is why car dealers put a sticker price on a car.  Once you have seen a $27,995 MSRP it is very hard to stray far from that price. This idea is critical in negotiating and is called anchoring.  Once you expect a friend or associate to behave in a certain way, you look for clues that support your expectations and don’t see clues that might show something else.  You give people input that drives them to produce the outcome you expect.

2.  Expectations are one of the most important factors in outcome.  Reminder: the story from the Air Force Academy, the Oak School experiment, the Placebo Affect.

3.  When we fail to set expectations in our interactions with others, then the other person sets the expectation.  This is especially important in leadership, supervision and management, and most especially in relationships.

4.  Non-verbal communications have more power in setting expectations that verbal.

5.  Turnover in organizations, relationships and friendships is directly affected by properly set expectations.   When people are asked during exit interviews why they left a company the number one answer is ‘The job wasn’t what I expected.’ Is this an accurate answer?  Isn’t the real answer, ‘The job didn’t live up to my expectations?’  If the job exceeded their expectations, chances are they would have stayed and thrived.  This is one reason why it is so important to set expectations lower than the coming reality with any new hire, or new relationship.


How can we make sure that we properly set expectations?


Question: In a typical work environment in the United States, how much more information would people like to have compared to what they do have to feel as if they know enough to simply do their jobs?

Answer: 1000%

In the workplace, people would like to have ten times the information they currently have in order to feel as if they have enough information to simply do their jobs.

Information is sent and received in many environments. One of the most common, effective, and certainly the most personal, is a face-to-face environment.

When all three communications medium are available-body language, tone and words-the relative power of each medium is:

Words 7%

Tone 38%

Body Language 55%

These numbers represent the consistency of message and the likability of the messenger.  

Source: Albert Mehrabian (born 1939 in Armenian family in Iran, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA)

What in the heck does that mean, John? It means this: When you are in a face-to-face conversation and someone delivers information (a message) to you, their likability is conveyed by their body language and tone.  When you like them, you are open to their words.  This also means that messages that are consistent across all media available are the most effective.

Story from Tipping Point about why Doctors get sued

How many of you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Tipping Point?  In the book Mr. Gladwell tells the story of a study determining why doctors get sued.  Why study doctors getting sued you might ask? Isn’t the reason that doctors are sued obvious?  Doctors get sued when they make mistakes, don’t they?  No. There is no correlation between how many mistakes Doctors make and how many times they are sued.  

After researchers discovered there was no correlation between the number of mistakes by doctors and the number of lawsuits, they looked at other variables.  They looked at the time the doctor spent with the patient.  Again they saw no correlation.  The researchers eventually made an assumption that the doctors’ interaction with the patient was key.  The researchers videotaped doctors and patients.  After they did this, it became apparent that Doctors who were not sued created a relationship with the patient as a person.  These doctors interacted with patients as humans rather than seeing them as an injury, disease or set of symptoms.

After looking at five minutes of videotape, the people observing the doctor/patient experience could detect which doctors were going to be sued with 85% accuracy.  The experimenters then wondered how little video they needed to observe to discover the building of a relationship between doctor and patient.  They cut the video down from five minutes, to two minutes to one minute and finally to 30 seconds.  Even with 30 seconds of video they could tell whether a doctor was going to be sued or not 85% of the time.

The researchers wondered if an audio recording, absent any visual cues, would give them the same quality of information.  Yep.  And they could hear the relationships in five minutes, three, two, one-and again in 30 seconds of simply listening to the doctor and patient talking.

One bright experimenter thought this connection went even deeper. This experimenter took the audio and electronically scrubbed it so that the words could not be understood-only the tone of voice.  The researchers discovered that by listening to 30 seconds of audio consisting only of the tone in a doctor/patient conversation they could detect with 85% accuracy, nearly two standard deviations, which doctors were going to get sued and which were not.

The lesson: Whenever possible have all the cues available when you communicate.  These important cues are, in order of descending importance, body language, tone, and words.  Whenever possible have face-to-face communication.  Understand that as each powerful cue is eliminated, the chances of miscommunication are increased.   How many of us have heard of people misinterpreting an email or a text?  How many of us have had to repair a relationship that was damaged by an email or text because the email or text was misinterpreted, or worse, we didn’t take the care we should have when preparing the text or email?

Small Group Discussion: 

Discuss times when someone communicated with you and you felt there was a disconnect between their tone, body language and words.  If you are working on your own, list and then write a short essay on times when you have been on the sending or receiving end of such a disconnect.










This following exercise is one that is frequenting used in acting classes.  If you are comfortable doing this exercise with another person, do so. If not, move off by yourself and do the exercise on your own.  You can also get 75% of the benefit of practice by accurately visualizing yourself doing these things in your mind.

Exercise 1: Have a conversation with someone, telling them they are doing great and you really like them while making your body language, facial expressions and tone deliver the message that they are doing a terrible job.

Exercise 2: Tell someone they are doing a great job and have your facial expressions, tone and body language support the words.

Small Group Discussion: How did this process made you feel?









Upon reflection, I am sure we can find examples of this disconnect in many parts of our lives.


A company tells you how important you are as a customer, but provides virtually no customer support.

A person with whom you share a relationship tells you they care for you but never has time for you.

A boss tells you how important you are to the organization, but only interacts with you when you have done something wrong.

 In an organization, family or relationship:

1. Set expectations in the interview and hiring process. The same rules apply to relationships. If the relationship is a romantic one, set expectations on the first date, which is basically a job interview.  The first date is an interview for a job as boyfriend or girlfriend.  In a family setting, any new addition to the mix, marriage, birth, adoption, is an opportunity to consciously set expectations.  Set these expectations on the low side so that the work, relationship or family experience exceeds expectations.

2.  Have a wonderful living, breathing policy and procedure manual that clearly tells employees the must-haves, like-to-haves and would-be-nice-to-haves.  In your business, which activities will result in on-the-spot-termination? In your family, or in relationships, please spell out important things in writing.  Example: What are the rules about credit card debt or drinking?

3.  Let people know precisely how often you will communicate.  Tell people what media you will use when you communicate with them.  Make sure the media is in alignment with the other person’s style whenever possible.  Practice to become an expert in that medium.  Make sure to use media that equals the importance of the conversation.  Example:  A text is not an appropriate way to break up with someone.

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Coaching Conversation Template with Gossip Example

This coaching conversation process and example is from my forth-coming book:

TOUGH CONVERSATIONS MADE EASY WITH COURTESY AND RESULTS, which will be available by September of 2016.  Please improve the book by giving me your feedback.  

Owing a proven process for  effective coaching conversations to create or reinforce appropriate behaviors is a huge part of good leadership and management. It doesn’t matter whether you are leading in your workplace, family, non-profit or any other place where people interact.

One of the best ways to become great at this critical skill is to have a template to use and become expert at using the temple.  In this article I will show you a template for these critical conversations that works with behaviors that are not yet right as well as behaviors that are right.

Notice that I wrote not yet right rather than wrong.  Why?  Because if someone hasn’t been coached on a behavior, how can they know that it is wrong?  If someone has exhibited this behavior and you haven’t corrected it, why shouldn’t the person assume that their behavior has your tacit approval?

Gossip can be deadly to an organization.  Gossip hurts the organization, the employees who listen to the gossip, the person who gossips and the person who is the subject of the gossip.

The first part of the conversation is praise for another behavior and takes place in public.  Always have a positive comment made in public if the employee is comfortable with public praise.

P: PRAISE another behavior.

Boss: Hey Meghan, great job on your client result numbers.  Your personal training sales have always been great.  Now that your clients are getting the results they set as goals, you should see longer commitments to training and more referrals.

Meghan:  Why thanks boss!

Boss lowering his voice:  And, Meghan, there is something else I need to talk to you about in my office.

Adrianne:  Sure, boss.

R: RAISE the issue.

Boss: (Once they are behind closed doorsNever raise a negative issue in public.  Someone is always listening and watching. ) Meghan, I overheard you gossiping with another employee about Jody.  You were telling the other employee that Jody was, according to what I heard, “A slut.”  

A: ASK for input

Boss: What can you tell me about that?

Meghan:  “Boss, Jody is a freaking slut!  She’s slept with half the training staff, guys and gals, many of the vendors that service our account and…”

I: IMPACTTalk about the impact to all parties involved.

Boss:  Meghan, that’s not the point. It doesn’t matter if gossip is true or untrue.  The problem is that it is gossip.  Here’s why it’s a problem.  It’s a problem for you because the person you are talking to will hesitate to share things with you, thinking you can’t be trusted to keep a secret. It’s a problem for the person you are gossiping about because, even if the facts are true, it’s their life, not yours. If they want to share their adventures while they are on break with some else, that’s there business.  It’ s a problem for the person you are gossiping with because it might affect their working relationship with Jody, who is a hell of a worker by the way as are you.  It’s a problem for the company because you are occupying your work time and at least one other person’s work time with gossip and not work. Finally, gossip is a problem for me because I have to have conversations like this.

SELF MONITOR:  Suggest that the person monitors their own behavior.

Boss: Meghan, here sis what I’d like you to do.  You are a great worker and I am sure you quite unintentionally fell into a bad habit.  Now that you understand the multiple negative impacts of gossip, I want you to self monitor your behavior and see if I’m right, that you’ve inadvertently become a gossip.

EXPECTATIONS:  Set expectations for the other person to live up to

Boss:  Meghan, I expect you to engage in this self monitoring right away.  Can you do that?

Meghan:  (Looking a little sheepish, probably because she didn’t understand all the negative impacts of the behavior ) Sure boss!

MEETING-Set a follow-up meeting. 

Boss:  Great Meghan, I knew that you would see the benefit of not letting this kind of a behavior become a habit.  Let’s set a follow up meeting a week from now, same time, after you’ve had a chance to digest what we’ve talked about and self monitor.  Okay?

Meghan:  Okay!  

Self-Monitor Component?  When we become comfortable and proficient with this template-based process we will be eager to use it at the first sign of a behavior that is not yet right to make it right.  When we become comfortable and proficient with this template-based process we will be eager to use it at the first sign of good behavior in order reinforce it.  Because of this, the only appropriate action item is to instruct the other person to self-monitor.  And, ANY BEHAVIOR WE TRACK IMPROVES BY 10%!  That’s right folks-by simply monitoring a behavior, whether we are trying to change the behavior or no, the behavior improves by ten percent.  

Example:  Simply by tracking their calories five days out of seven for a year the average person loses 17 pounds.  SEVENTEEN FREAKING POUNDS.  

And, we put the other person in charge of their own behavior, empowering them and giving them confidence.


PRAISE another Behavior

RAISE the Issue

ASK for Input

Identify the IMPACT of the behavior



Schedule follow up MEETING

Action Items:

  1. Answer this question: Could this process also be used to reinforce a FIRST APPEARANCE of a good behavior, a behavior that is already right? (Hint-heck yeah!)
  2. Practice this template with a number of different behaviors
  3. Role play with another person to practice
  4. Implement this template coaching conversation process for your family, business, or charity.
  5. Enjoy greater productivity and harmony
  6. Eagerly look forward to the next article where I will demonstrate how this process works to reinforce a good behavior you discovered when you wandered around catching people doing things right.



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Tough Conversations Made Easy with Courtesy and Results Part 1

The Following excerpt is content from John Cameron’s upcoming book 

              Tough Conversations Made Easy with Courtesy and Results


                                                       © John A. Cameron, 2016


This book is dedicated to many people. I thank my parents who taught me to love to read by their example. I thank my daughter Kristense, who shares my love of language and acts as if me writing good books is a foregone conclusion. To my wife, Susan, for her help formatting this book and designing the cover, I give many thanks. To my too many clients and friends to name who asked, ‘When are you going to write a book on this stuff?’ I thank you.

I give a hearty thanks to the sergeant from the 1st of the 509th Airborne Battalion Combat team who taught me that consistency is a big part of leadership. It doesn’t matter if you are a prickly pear or soft kitty-just make sure you are consistent in your ways. Sorry I can’t remember the sergeant’s name. It’s been a lot of years. To all the folks I managed and lead over the years, first as a fire-team leader in the Seventh Infantry Division, then in corporate America-I thank you. I learned a whole lot more from you than you learned from me. Thank you to the best boss I ever had. His name is Bill Carmen. Bill led from such a quiet, confident place that I worked for him for years before I realized how good he was at his job.

Thank you to that unnamed, brilliant and well-educated boss who taught me all the things not to do as a leader. Thank you to the thousands of people who have attended my workshops and classes over the years. Thank you for your support, kind words, and help in honing my skills and delivery and perfecting many of the processes in this book. Thank you to the youth and staff of the Center for Multicultural Cooperation for letting me help and, in so doing, learn.

Thank you to Terri Kanefield who led the first writer’s workshop I every attended. This was a workshop focused on fiction. Terri looked at my work and said, and I paraphrase because it has been a lot of years:

John, the writing is good, you just need to run it through your keyboard a few more times.

Terri said what she said in such a matter-of-fact way. She made sure I knew writing was rewriting. If I wanted to be serious about writing, I would think nothing of putting a hundred thousand words through the keyboard a few more times to make a book better.

Thank you for reading this. I assure you Tough Conversations Made Easy with Courtesy and Results had been through the keyboard a few more times.


John A. Cameron is a writer, fitness model, speaker, consultant and trainer in sales, leadership, management, and project management.  He was born in California and lived in four US states and Germany as the child of a career soldier.  He followed in his father’s footsteps and spent time as a an Airborne soldier in the 1st of the 509th Airborne Combat Team and the Seventh Infantry Division

John left the military and earned  a business degree with his GI bill.  He worked as a stockbroker in Carmel and Sacramento before moving into advertising.    Growing teams he led produced 37 quarters in a row of sales growth compared to the same quarter previous year.

He left corporate life and launched consulting and training businesses.  Through consulting, speaking, training and resources, he helps honorable teams and leaders own the skills, plan and courage to do what they must do to increase the wealth of their clients, organizations and themselves.

His hikes in wild places and runs by the American River provide him with time to think and inspiration. Local coffee houses provide him with the caffein and energy to write. John, his beautiful and talented English wife Susan and their two extremely spoiled dogs-a beagle named Rutabaga (Rudy) and cattle dog Mollie live next to the American River in Sacramento, California. His wonderful daughter Kristense lives in the Bay Area.


Table of Contents

Why This Course?……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 4

How To Use This Course…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 6

MODULE 1: Setting Expectations………………………………………………………………………………….. 8

MODULE 2: Persuasive Conversations………………………………………………………………………. 22

Module 3 Ask For and Get What You Want and Need……………………………………………….. 41

MODULE 4: Say No and Make it Stick Without Stepping on Toes………………………………. 53

MODULE 5: Give Instructions That are Understood and Carried Out………………………. 62

MODULE 6: Master a Powerful Way to Deal With Issues in a Timely Manner or Crushing Baby Godzillas    73

MODULE 8: Practice Consistent Behavior-The hidden key to success:………………….. 107

MODULE 9: Avoid toxic words and phrases that kill commitment and relationships. Use words and phrases to create trust, confidence and action………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 121

MODULE 10: Meetings:   Tips, Tools, and Techniques that work:…………………………… 133

Suggested Reading…………………………………………………………………………………………………… 149



Why This Course?


  1. How many times have you had a gentle, yet firm, conversation thinking you made your point clearly? You found out later the other person didn’t have a clue about what you were trying to say.


  1. How often have you had people assure you they would get right on something and nothing ever happened?


  1. How many times have you hesitated to intervene about a behavior because it didn’t seem serous enough to warrant a counseling conversation? By the time you did intervene, the behavior had become a habit.


  1. How many times have you been unable to listen to someone who had valuable information or influence or, even worse, a valued employee or loved relative? When you looked deep within yourself, you discovered your resistance was because you didn’t like them, they rubbed you the wrong way, or you were sure you had nothing in common with them.


  1. What did it feel like to be absolutely sure you could help someone with a problem that would make a real difference in their lives, and be unable to persuade them to look at your possible solution, much less adopt the solution?


  1. How often did you watch someone destroy their lives or career or family and feel disheartened because you were unable to help that someone stop their self-destructive behavior?


  1. How many times have you seen someone try something new and make great progress, and you were too busy to stop and tell them ‘Great Job!’ ? You meant to congratulate them on their success and didn’t get around to it, because you thought correcting other’s ‘bad’ behaviors was more important. When you finally look for them to thank them or tell them what a great job they did, they are no longer around.


  1. What did it feel like the last time you had what you thought was a firm and polite talk with someone and they became angry or shut down or complained about the way you talked to them? Did this happen because the other person took the conversation as a personal attack and not an attempt to help?


  1. How often have you wanted to say ‘no’ but for some reason said ‘Yes!’ and instantly regretted it, knowing your plate was already too full? Or, when you did say no, you said it in such a way that you burned a valuable bridge?


  1. How many of you don’t realize saying ‘No’ is your right and sometimes your duty?


  1. What does it feel like to be constantly frustrated? You didn’t know about what, but when you thought about it later it, was because you didn’t know how to ask for what you wanted in a powerful and courteous way. What’s even worse for some of you is that you don’t even know that it is your right to ask for what you want and need.


  1. How many times did your lack of skill, will and comfort in these areas keep you from accomplishing your mission?


These are just a few of the reasons I created this book and course. It is possible to have meaningful conversations in a courteous way that lead to understanding, courage and results. I wrote this book to help you gain the skills and the courage to act.


When you look through the table of contents you will see a module on setting expectations, one on meetings, and another on listening. How are these conversations, and how can they be tough? Many of us spend a big part of our lives in meetings. Just because these conversations are with a group of people doesn’t make them any less a conversation. Just because these conversations are with a group, it certainly doesn’t make them any less important, or any less tough.


Is not listening the most important part of any conversation? Didn’t Steven Covey say, ‘First strive to understand and then strive to be understood?’


Lastly and perhaps most importantly, aren’t expectations you set for someone with your facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, choice of clothing, jewelry, bathing habits, and choice of words some of the most influential conversations you will ever have?




How To Use This Course


The best way to use this course is to work through the material with a group of people, holding each other accountable. If you are taking this course on your own, you will still receive tremendous benefit. Please find an accountability buddy to discuss and share information with. If you can, find someone who is willing to learn and will benefit by you teaching them the principals and processes learned in this course. One of the best ways to learn is to teach. For real expertise, follow the medical school model-observe, do, and then teach. How many times have you thought you knew how to do something, prepared to teach it to someone and realized you had holes in your mastery?

This course is designed to help you learn tools and processes you can use in many different situations. These skills are useful at work, in school, in your home life, and among friends. Any new skill, especially a soft-skill used with people, needs to be practiced. One of the best ways to practice a soft-skill is the same way actors practice a play. They rehearse. At first actors rehearse reading their lines. Eventually the actor becomes good enough to act without using a script. In the theatre this is called being off book.


For some reason the same process is called role-playing in the business world. Some of you will be very comfortable using role-play or rehearsal with a group of people. Some of you would rather face a firing squad than become part of a role-play or rehearsal in a group setting. Here is good news for all of you: accurate mental rehearsal has 75% of the value of actual practice or rehearsal. This means that accurate mental rehearsal is practice.


This is how I would like you to think of practice. Practice makes permanent.   Perfect practice makes perfect. The more realistically you practice, whether with another person or on your own through accurate mental rehearsal, or with a combination of the two, the more you will master process. And, just like practicing your golf stroke or rehearsing your singing, the more time you spend practicing well, accurately mentally rehearsing well, the more perfect and comfortable your skills become.  Eventually you will be ‘off book’ as well. In the real world this is called ‘ready.’


Remember school? Some of you might still be in school. If you wanted a C you would sit in on the lecture and take marginal notes. Sometimes you could even skip reading the material. If you wanted a B, you would take good notes in the lecture hall, read the material a few times and do the exercises. If you wanted the A, you would attend the lectures, take notes, rewrite your lecture notes, go over the material and takes notes on the material, do the exercises and take practice tests. Do you want an A in Tough Conversations Made Easy with Courtesy and Results, or, do you want a B or a C? The choice is yours.


Like all new skills, or change in old skills, you will be uncomfortable at first. Changing any habit is uncomfortable. Any of you who have quit smoking or stopped using credit cards or started an exercise program surely know this.


Like any other learning process you will move through stages. Most learning scholars say there are four stages of learning a new skill.


  • Unconscious incompetence
  • Conscious incompetence
  • Conscious competence and, finally
  • Unconscious competence

Being a little uncomfortable can be a wonderful thing.

Peter McWilliams said,

Be willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may get tough, but it’s a small price to pay for living a dream.

I would like you all to add a fifth level of competence. In Dr. Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking fast and Slow he calls this System Two competence. One of the most valuable readings, if a little dry, in the suggested reading list at the end of this book, is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. I would like you to think of this level of competence as mindful competence.

Mindful competence means that you don’t go with your gut, or your habit. Your mind normally takes the easiest route automatically, not the best. The fourth level, unconscious competence is fine for a golf swing, or swimming stroke, because the ball does not have a mind of its own. The ball does not change in mid flight. The people you deal with in your tough conversations do change in mid flight. This means your response must be grounded in practice so that you are comfortable and reasoned. Sometimes, many times, for real effectiveness and expertise, we have to stop our minds from taking the easy way and force them to take the hard way.


Your new stages of mastery would then be:


  • Unconscious incompetence
  • Conscious incompetence
  • Conscious competence and, finally
  • Unconscious competence
  • Mindful competence





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How to Discourage Rats, Stool Pigeons and Informants in the Workplace

A few years ago, I called my boss on his cell phone.  After a few pleasantries, I said,”You have created a culture of informants in this organization.”

Tough conversation.  Probably should have had the conversation face-to-face, but it was hard to get a word in edgewise in person.

It took a lot of courage to call him out on his culture of informants.  Especially since I had to do this twice because the call dropped off.

A little background.  I worked in a company in the publishing business as a manager for fourteen years.  Up until the last few years, it was a good place to work.  The last few years were tough because our company was bought by our biggest competitor.  The other company competed with us in some of the same markets with a very similar looking product.  The products were even called the same thing.

The culture of the other company was shocking.  There was a culture of talking a lot about the truth, but lying.  We used to say that when we had a conversation with any of the new management staff, we would get to listen to them go over their resumes-every time they talked.  And, boy could they talk.

I had the conversation, telling him, “You have created a culture of informants in this organization.”

His response was, “John, I don’t know how you can say that.  I hate people informing on each other.”

Then I asked, “If you hate it why do you support it?”

He said, “I don’t support it.  What makes you think I support it?”

Are prima donnas wreaking havoc in your organization?   Watch John Cameron Nip Problem Behaviors in the Bud !

I said, “You support the culture of informants by responding to the informers.  You support the culture of informants by supporting a culture where people get ahead by catching people out, rather than catching the problem, or catching people doing things right.”

There was a long pause.  If hadn’t had 37 quarters of uninterrupted growth in sales I don’t think he would have heard me out.  Nor, would he have asked the next few questions.

President of the company-“How can I ignore it when people bring something wrong to my attention?”

John-“I don’t expect you to ignore it.  I simply want you not to support it.  If something is illegal or contrary to company policy, then you have to act.”

I didn’t have a specific script for him to use when responding to informers, like I do now.  I should have provided him with the below script, which you now have in your tool box.

“Joe, thanks for bringing this to my attention.  I’ll look into it.  I am going to change the culture of this organization from one where a lot of people, and I’m not saying you are one of them, try to curry favor by ratting out their fellow employees.  You, and I and everyone else will support this change by catching people doing things right with the same fervor that some in the organization try to catch people out. How can you support me in this?”

Can you guess what happened?  The company paid lip service to creating a new culture while continuing to reward rats and stool pigeons, thereby reinforcing this culture of informants.

Action Items:

  1. Give loud and public support to people doing things right.  Catch people doing things right.
  2. Let everyone in your organization know that you want to promote a culture of catching people doing things right, not trying to catch people out.
  3. Let everyone know that they will not curry favor with you by ratting people out.
  4. Let people know they can curry favor with you by catching people doing things right.
  5. Use this phrase with individuals.  “Joe, thanks for bringing this to my attention.  I’ll look into it.  I am changing the culture of this organization from one where a lot of people, and I’m not saying you are one of them, try to curry favor by ratting out their fellow employees.  You, I, and everyone else will support this change by catching people doing things right with the same fervor that some in the organization try to catch people out. How can you support me in this?”
  6. Enjoy a much happier and more productive work force.
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What would you do if you were in my shoes?

I’m sure you have heard it before.  The employee who second guesses your decisions, saying something like, “If I were in charge, I would…”

Or, you have to make a tough decision: cut costs, hire one person for an opening ahead of someone with more seniority, discipline someone, or reward someone else.  The employee says something like, “Hey, that’s not fair.  If I were the boss I would…”

Or you hear about people saying something like, “This guy’s an idiot.  The answer is obvious.  If  I were boss, I would simply…”

Simple is not easy.  Leaders have to settle for imperfect solutions.  Sometimes, because of limited resources, and limited time, a leader has to learn to accept a problem and live to fight another day.

I like to talk to folks and listen to them and help them understand not only what I am doing, but why I’m doing it.  That doesn’t mean that I run a democracy.   I take input and ask for opinions, but as George Bush was so derided for saying, “I’m the decider.”

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Someone has to decide.  Someone has to take the heat.  Sometimes it is impossible to get people to understand your viewpoint.   Sometimes it helps to have the other person  change their physical perspective so it is easier for them to change their mental and emotional perspective.

A while back I had an employee  I needed on my side for a major, upcoming change. I invited her into my office and asked her to sit down in the one of the two chairs sitting in front of my desk.  I sat next to her.   I never sit across the desk from people.  I sit next to them so there is no physical barrier to create a mental barrier to conversation.  I Never sit across from people unless I want to get them out of my office.

After I explained my thinking, I asked her to get up, and walk around to sit in my boss chair, behind my boss desk, in my boss office.  I ask her to think about all the various competing deadlines and pressures, the limited resources, and the rest we just discussed.  Then I said:

“I’m going to take a walk.  Put yourself in my shoes.  When I come back, I want you tell me what you would do if you really were the boss.  I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.”

I walked around practicing MBWACPDTR .  This is an unpronounceable acronym for “Management By Wandering Around Catching People Doing Things Right”

I came back in exactly fifteen minutes.  I sat in one of the two chairs on the other side of my boss desk and asked,

Are prima donnas wreaking havoc in your organization?   Watch John Cameron Nip Problem Behaviors in the Bud !

“So, how was it trying to make the decision from my perspective?  Have you come to terms with my decision?”

Sometimes when I used this technique, the answer will still  be “No, you are wrong.  Or no, I don’t understand. Or no, respectfully speaking, your decision is idiotic.”

In these cases, my answer is, “I’m sorry I can’t get your agreement. I expect your support.  I have done right by you and the organization.  Give me the courtesy of respecting my position and work whole-heartedly to make sure we all succeed.”

Thankfully, many times the answer is, “I get it now, John.  I sure am glad I don’t have to make the decisions you have to make.”

Thankfully, this was one of those times.

Action Items.

1. Understand that sometimes a change in physical perspective is necessary to come to a change in mental and emotional perspective.

2. Fill your people in on all the reasons for a decision or lack of a decision.

3.  If all else fails, and it’s important to have the person on your side, ask the person to “Sit behind my boss desk, in my boss chair, in my boss office for the next fifteen minutes.  Think about all the things I have shared with you about this decision from my perspective.  When I come back, tell me if you agree or disagree with what I have done, and your reasoning.”

4. Even if you can’t get agreement, insist on support.

f5.  Enjoy being a more successful leader.

Happy Leading.

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Managing Your Desk-8 steps to success

Are you going in too many directions at once?  Do projects seem to never end? Is your inbox too high to see over?  Does your mind race, wondering where to start and what to do next?  No worries, everyone has been in the same place.  Let’s roll up our sleeves and establish a series of process improvements that will help you become more successful.

Step 1. Track what you are doing.  I know, I know, you don’t have time to do what you need to do now, how are you going to find time to keep track of things.  Simple-not easy.  Break your day down into fifteen minute segments on an spread sheet, create common codes for your activities and track your time.  Don’t try to do it all at once.  Track a few hours, then a half a day, then a day.  Why? Everything we track improves by 10%.

Step 2.  Review and reflect.  Look at all the things you are doing and ask yourself these questions: What is most important, what is least important?  Does it even need to be done?  Am I the right person to do it?  Can I trade it to someone, delegate it or stop doing it altogether? If you have trouble with these questions, ask someone to help you.

Step 3.  Prioritize.  Work on first things first.  And this changes.  If your roof is leaking during a rainstorm you don’t need to worry about painting your walls.  Once you stop the roof leaking you can work on other stuff.

Step 4.  Just stop doing unnecessary stuff.  Very hard at first.  Just stop doing one little thing you don’t need to do for a while.

Are prima donnas wreaking havoc in your organization?   Watch John Cameron Nip Problem Behaviors in the Bud !

Step 5. Learn to say no.  In one of my other blogs I have four different ways to do this.  The hardest and most effective is simply-“No.”  Next best, “I’d love to, I simply can’t with what I have on my plate.”  And say it with the same emotional content as, “Please pass the salt.”

Step 6.  Don’t unlearn “No.” Most of the tasks on your task list are self assigned.  Don’t give yourself more assignments that you don’t need.

Step 7. Use a tool from project management called work breakdown structure.  I write books.  These books are sentences, then paragraphs, then pages, then chapters and then books.  Look at the big task and see if you can divide it in half.  Then look at the tasks and see how you can break them down.  Then break that one down.  See if there is a certain order to the tasks.  Take the first one and then see the next step.

Step 8.  Only work on one thing at a time.  Multi-tasking is a myth.  Work on one important task at a time.  Call it laser-focused tasking it you need a fancy name for it. If you need a break, change to another task, then go back.  If you need an acronym, call it LFT.  Laser Focused Tasking.

Track, review, prioritize,eliminate, learn to say no, don’t volunteer to take on more stuff that others can do, break big tasks into smaller tasks,  and use laser-focused tasking.

Action Items

  1. Start tracking what you are doing.  Track part of a day-Tuesday for example.  Mondays always too crazy, right?
  2. Give yourself a tracking break for a day, then track all of Wednesday.
  3. Give yourself another tracking break, then track Friday.
  4. The following week, track every day.
  5. The week after that, go to the next process on my list and implement it in the same way.
  6. Continue this process process until you have gone through all eight steps.
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Problem Solving-Step Nine-Evaluate

Congratulations on what you accomplished so far.  You learned that clearly defining the problem is the key.  You learned to distinguish between a problem and a condition.  You looked at possible alternatives, took action, monitored your progress, made needed changes and finished solving your problem.  Now you are ready to tackle the next problem, right?  Nope.  You have two more steps before you can take on another big problem.  Evaluate and celebrate!

Evaluating the process you used to solve your problem is a great way to leverage all the painful lessons your learned solving your problem.  What kinds of things can your learn from your successes and failures?

  1.  The skill set of your team
  2. Who can handle pressure and who can’t
  3. Who can be depended on and who can’t
  4. Who is a good team player and who is not
  5. Who will step up and take more authority and responsibility and who shirks both
  6. The problem solving styles of your team members
  7. The interpersonal styles of your team members
  8. The communications skills of your team members, listening, talking, presenting, and writing
  9. If you are the team lead,  you can find out all of the above about yourself
  10.  Who will throw you under the buss when there is a problem
  11.  Who has your back when there is a problem
  12.  How well you can convince people who don’t work for you to support your team
  13. How good you are at sharing credit
  14. How comfortable you are with acclaim
  15. How comfortable you are with criticism
  16. How well you estimate time
  17. How well organized you are
  18. How you and your team react to conflict
  19. How well you can deal with unresolved conflict
  20. How you react to loss of critical resources or team members
  21. How well you prioritize
  22. How well you communicate changes in priorities
  23. How well you delegate
  24. How well you run meetings
  25. What your successful failures were
  26. And much more

Are prima donnas wreaking havoc in your organization?   Watch John Cameron Nip Problem Behaviors in the Bud !

Pretty cool, eh?  This brings up another useful point. How will you evaluate all of these wonderful things if you aren’t keeping track of them? You know you had to track activities to make sure  you were going to hit your marks or deadlines.  Now you know that you have to track all of these other things as well.

Some of your most useful discoveries will be what some folks call successful failures.  These are parts of your problem solving project that blew up on you and caused hardship, pain, loss of money or conflict.  I used to say that I never learned anything unless it involved a trip to the emergency room or me writing a thousand dollar check.  Since I am a little older and more brittle than I used to be, I have made it a point to learn good lessons from less pain.  I suggest you do the same.


Action Items/Activity Triggers 

  1. Put together a list, similar to the one above, listing things to evaluate from your last problem solution project, and from your next.
  2. Prioritize your list.
  3. Keep the things you evaluate in a place where you can use them in your next problem solution project.
Posted in Effectiveness, Leadership, Management, Problem Solving, Project Management, Supervision, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Deal With Chronic Tardiness: Sample Coaching Conversation

In a recent article we talked about the affects of chronic tardiness.  In this article I will present a scripted conversation of the first attempt to coach a situation where there is existing chronic tardiness.

The two parties are John, the boss, and Joe, the chronically tardy employee.

John: Joe, step into my office for a minute. 

Joe: Sure, John, it’s not about the tardiness thing again is it?

John: Yep

Joe: John, I went round and round with my old boss, Gary.  I do all my work, more than most, so it’s not really an issue.

John: I’m afraid it is an issue, and important one.  Let me explain.  I know that you are now in the habit of being tardy.  By my reckoning you have been more than five minutes late six times in the last ten days.

Are prima donnas wreaking havoc in your organization?   Watch John Cameron Nip Problem Behaviors in the Bud !


Joe: Yes, I’m sure you are right, John, but who cares?

John: Here are the issues.  We have company policy that says people will be here on time.  Every hourly employee, which you would be, has set work hours and must be at work during those hours.  When we make an exception for you, your coworkers must adjust their workflow to match yours.  Do you understand that?

Joe: Yeah, I guess, but its only five minutes to a half hour, not big deal right?

John: If the only problem was your coworkers having to make allowances for you, that would be bad enough. I’m afraid it get’s worse    It is a fairness issue.  We hold everyone except four people in the organization accountable to be here on time.  I am addressing this issue with you and the other three people are having the same chat with their bosses. In this case unfairness equals discrimination.  We aren’t holding you accountable and we are holding other people accountable. Because we are such a diverse organization this puts us at risk for a discrimination law suit.  Do you understand?  

Joe: What, discrimination, because I’m being given a little leeway.  That’s crazy!

John: It’s the law. Because this behavior was allowed for a long time in the past, and it’s become a habit, we don’t expect you to fix it overnight.  Here is your action plan to fix your tardiness problem.  You will cut your tardiness down to once a week for the next two weeks, then once in two weeks, then once a month, which will bring you to company standard-which is very, very forgiving. Now, how can I help you achieve this?  I have to tell you, we will not put ourselves at risk of a lawsuit because you refuse to get to work on time. 

Action Items/Activity Triggers

  1. Deal with the issue in the future by holding all people accountable right away for any tardy behavior
  2. Try simply telling the person to stop the tardiness now
  3. Communicate how the tardy behavior affects coworkers
  4. Communicate how the tardy behavior is unfair because some are held accountable while others are not.
  5. Communicate that lack of fairness about tardiness, in many cases, equals discrimination
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Maximum Heart Rate Training Concept Applied to the Work Environment

There is a concept in fitness called the target hear rate training zone.  There are easy ways to calculate this and slightly more complex.  The idea is that, depending on your fitness, you work out at a percentage of your maximum heart rate.  If  you are not fit that might be 50 to 60%. If you are slightly fit, 60 to 70% and more fit, at higher levels.

The old adage that there is a fat burning “zone” is wrong.  Newer information says that, if you want to increase your metabolism for hours after your workout, exert more energy in a shorter time,  and improve your cardiovascular fitness, you should do something called HIIT.  This stands for High Intensity Interval Training.

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This means that instead of running or walking at a nice steady pace for a half hour, you would warm up for ten minutes and then alternate “very hard” for a minute and then  “easy” for one to three minutes for a total of fifteen minutes and then do a cool for ten minutes.

Now, lets take these same concepts and apply them to accomplishing something, work or chores, or writing.  The first step in either training system is finding out what your resting heart rate is and what your maximum heart rate is.  You then calculate a percentage of that for your training zone.

What about work?  We know what our resting work rate is.  That’s zero.  We sit on the couch doing nothing.  How many of us know what our maximum work rate is?  How many of us have ever worked as hard as we can for a measured period of time, just to see what it’s like?

Are prima donnas wreaking havoc in your organization?   Watch John Cameron Nip Problem Behaviors in the Bud !

I would like all of you to try the following.  Pick a task, a mental task, plan it carefully, and then work as hard as you possibly can at it for an hour.  Then stop and reflect and take notes.  You have now discovered your maximum work rate over an hour. You know what you are capable of.  You know what it feels like.  Could you keep this up for a full day?  Very probably not, at least not until you have trained up to that level.  Wasn’t it amazing how much you accomplished?

You could work at this pace for a half hour and back off and work at it for a half hour and back off and so on.  This is the way most of us work anyway, isn’t it?  The only thing is most of us don’t really know what our maximum output is because we have never pushed it.

Another way to work is to figure out what your max is, and work at a doable percentage of that for a full day.  Or a half day, because we all need a nap now and then.  If, in physical exercise, going at a higher pace in intervals burns more energy, does the same thing apply with mental energy?  Probably.  So instead  of sprint rest, sprint rest, try “slow and steady wins the race.”  Boy that sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Action Items/Activity Triggers 

1.  Plan some piece of  work very carefully.

2. Work at it as hard as  you can for an hours.

3. Measure how much you accomplished.

4.  Understand that you now know your maximum work rate.

5. Work at a a chosen percent of this on your projects.

6. Understand that in an emergency, not self inflicted I hope, you can work at a much higher pace for a short period of time.

7.  Accomplish much more!

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Distorted Thinking Hurts Your Ability to Lead and Manage

Have you ever gotten out of bed completely down because you had to face something?  Maybe you knew that you were going to have an uncomfortable conversation with your boss or coworker.  The idea of facing time-wasting, mind-numbing meeting after meeting is just too much. Maybe your spouse is in a horrible mood and taking it out on you.  Maybe it was something physical, like lower back pain.

And, it just brought you completely down.  When that happens with me, it’s almost always because of distorted thinking.  There are many forms of distorted thinking.

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The distorted thinking patterns that get me, when I let them, are filtering and polarized or black and white thinking. Filtering is seeing something, usually, through a negative filter and filtering out any positives.  Black and white thinking, in my case, is that if something isn’t perfect then everything is BAD.

Example: My back is killing me today.  Instead of remembering that I am in superb shape,  with great muscular definition, fantastic cardio respiratory fitness, good muscle mass and great strength and power, I focus on nerve pain in my sacrum.  Instead of focussing on the fact that I had no back pain for a month and am physiologically at least 10 years younger than my calendar age, I focus on something temporary and capricious-back pain.

So, in leadership and management, and remember we are all leading and managing something, it’s very easy to think that ALL OF YOUR MEETINGS WILL BE MIND- NUMBING WASTES OF TIME.  This is black and white thinking.  I’ll bet that not even MOST of your meetings are a waste of time.  Certainly not all.

Somewhere in one of your meetings there is someone who is fed up with the status quo.  There is someone who has an immediate need for mentoring, or you for theirs. There is someone who you will “click” with immediately.  There is someone who has the authority and drive to help you lead yourself, your team and your organization to even greater heights.

What kinds of little things are you letting ruin your wonderful life because things aren’t “perfect?” What temporary bad thing have you convinced yourself is permanent? Have that painful conversation with your boss.  Once it’s over, it’s over.  Know that your spouse’s mood will improve and you don’t have to own it. Just be there for them, just like they are there for you when you have lower back pain.  And, so what if it take you fifty hours and thirty painful, boring or inconclusive meetings before you eventually manage to generate the change you, your staff, organization and clients need?

Are prima donnas wreaking havoc in your organization?   Watch John Cameron Nip Problem Behaviors in the Bud !

Action Items/Activity Triggers 

1. Look up Distorted Thinking.

2. When you are down, go down the list and see if you are letting one or two of these distorted thinking patterns ruin an otherwise wonderful life.

3. Apologize to your co-workers and loved ones for having a few pissy days when you do let something get you down.

4.  Forgive yourself.  After all, you can’t be perfect. That’s distorted thinking.

5.  Hire me, John Cameron, to teach you how to run meetings that give attendees the skills, courage and plan to do what they must do to increase the wealth of their clients their organization and themselves.

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