👊🏼 5 Tips for Effective Conflict

I’m not a fan of conflict.  Although sometimes useful, I can fall into the trap of trying to placate others. , If I constantly default to appeasing others, the conflict is rarely resolved and it usually just postpones it. As Simone Smerilli wrote for his blog, “For conflict to exist, there must be a perception of conflict between the parties involved. Conflict can arise from a clash of personalities, attitudes, circumstances. Our ego-driven brains often forget about getting to what’s true as opposed to pursuing “being right.” Every individual is capable of good and evil. There is this seemingly constant tension within each of us.” Conflict is driven by everyone thinking that they are right.

Here are 5 tips for effective conflict:

Ontological Humility.  The idea of ontological humility was first introduced to me by Fred Kofman’s book, Conscious Business. As Kofman wrote, “Ontological humility is the acknowledgement that you do not have a special claim on reality or truth and, that others have equally valid perspectives deserving respect and consideration. This attitude is opposed to ontological arrogance, which is the claim that your truth is the only truth. Even though it may make sense intellectually that people have different perspectives, most people do not naturally act from this understanding, especially in the midst of disagreement or conflict.” In reflecting on most of my training with CRR Global, it was based on understanding everyone has their own truth and that trying to either see their perspective by “standing” in their shoes, or understanding their role or experiencing the bridge the other is trying to cross brings about an empathy of perspective and experience.  Or ontological humility.  As the CRR Global precept says: Everyone is right… partially.

Identify Behaviors. This comes from Simon Sinek’s FBI model for dealing with conflict.  What did the other person or group do to upset you?  It’s important to make sure you identify the behavior specifically and not make it personal.  So, “Joe, you were late to the meeting yesterday and last Thursday.” Not, “Joe, you are lazy”.  Be careful not to speak in superlatives like “always, never and everyone”.  So, “Joe, I find you to be sometimes late.” Not, “Joe, you are always late and never on time.” Being specific with the behavior you are trying to address is really important.  “Joe, you raised your voice three times at the meeting today.” “Joe, it’s been five days and I haven’t heard a response to my request.” “Joe, you interrupted me several times when I was trying to present.” “Joe, I notice that you rolled your eyes when I suggested you take on the project.” “Joe, there were seven typos in the document.”  “Joe, you missed the deadline by seven hours.” This gives important information to the offending party and gives them something tangible to work on.

State Feelings.  Whatever Joe did, you need to state how it made you feel. When you state how something made you feel, it’s not debatable. It’s your experience.  As Sinek wrote, “Framing problems in terms “I feel”, or “It seems to me that” can be powerful. Not because of its persuasive nature. There is nothing persuasive about it. But because of the state of mind this framing can put us (and the other party) in.” So, if Joe being late made you feel disrespected or diminished or angry or upset, state it.  “Joe, when you rolled your eyes when I said my idea, I felt frustrated.” Or “Joe, when you raised your voice three times at the meeting today, I felt on the defensive.” Stating feelings is not the norm, especially in business.  It can feel uncomfortable; it’s just so much more productive than either sulking away from the conflict or making the conflict personal by implying judgement “Joe, you are such an ass!” Stating feelings keeps it honest without judgment.

Define Impact. As Sinek espoused, “Define the impact that the behavior of the individual has had on you, your surroundings, the people around you, the broad community or organization.” I can assume that someone knows if I get the report late, then my whole department will be behind on the project and we will miss the customer deadline. It’s rarely explicit what someone’s behavior’s impact is on the organization. Actually, tying even good results to impact is a great idea as well. “Joe, you being on time meant that we were able to get the new customer.” “Joe, your errors on the report caused five hours of extra work for Accounting.” Define the impact in non-judgmental terms. 

Going forward.  I think that looking forward is a great way to collaborate.  So, after you have followed Sinek’s model of Feelings, Behavior and Impact (FBI), talk about how you would like to change things going forward.  “Joe, you didn’t show up for the meeting today, I felt frustrated and the impact was that we were unable to make a decision on the widget project. Going forward, what ideas do you have to attend scheduled meetings.” I prefer asking for help in solving the problem since Joe is more likely to follow his own ideas rather than my prescribed solutions. Come to an agreement going forward.

There are other aspects like talking to folks privately, trying not to discuss things, if possible, when angry or triggered, and being OK with silence. I think having a game plan and a concise sentence or two in mind before having a conflict discussion can be invaluable as opposed to improvising. I find Sinek’s model to be relatively simple and easy to remember.  What tips do you have to resolve conflict?

💃🏽The Duende of Flamenco

I love that the Spanish have a word for “magic and charm” in duende. When I arrived in Barcelona in August with my children and my daughter’s fiancé, I didn’t realize that I wanted to experience duende until we arrived at the Tablao Flamenco Cordobes in La Ramba.  I have learned over the last ten years that I prefer to have less of a plan when traveling than too much of one.  So outside of tickets to see La Sagrada Familia, we didn’t have any other plans for our six days in Barcelona.  When we were strolling through the Gothic Quarter, there was a street performer dancing flamenco and I realized that I needed to find tickets for a performance.  I had seen Jose Greco II perform in the 1990’s but that was a completely different type of show than the Tablao Flamenco that we experienced in Barcelona.

The performers of Tablao Flamenco Cordobes in La Ramba

The duende of Flamenco:

The Venue. When I saw Jose Greco II dance at Luther Burbank Center, it was a relatively large auditorium, the Tablao style of Flamenco is performed in an intimate setting.  The Tablao itself is the floorboard on which all the musicians and dancers stand, with low ceilings and wicker chairs tightly packed into a cave like setting.  It’s like being ensconced in the experience.  The warmth and closeness draw all your senses into the performance. The stomping and clapping and snapping of fingers reverberate, captivating you. There weren’t more than eighty people in the audience on the night we saw Tablao Flamenco Cordobes. The venue held us as did the dance

The Improvisation.  

Most dance and musical shows are well rehearsed.  Tablao Flamenco is improvisational  There was definitely an outline of who would perform: say one dancer, one singer and two guitarists but the rest was improvisation. The dancer would start to tap and the singer would start to clap to lead the dancer and then start singing which engaged the guitarist which inspired the dancer into striking a pose. It was poetry and dialogue and, as I said at the time, like improvisational jazz with stomping.  It was intense to watch the performers sense the direction and build on the last movement or strum or pause and be in a constant state of creation. The improvisation drew us in.

The Jondo.

There were three male singers throughout the performance.  Sometimes there was one on the Tablao, sometimes all three.  They sing in the form of Jondo. From the brochure, “Jondo is a lament, a scream, an outcry, a laughter based on poems or songs from Spanish literature, which the singer peels away through his own inspiration, with no script and no obligation other than the pace for kind of song being interpreted.” Throughout the show, I could feel the pain, the love, the sadness and the joy regardless of not understanding the words.  The Jondo is and was felt deeply in that room.

The Guitarists.

There were two guitarists although they weren’t always on the Tablao and, sometimes, just the two guitarists were alone on the stage. I love Spanish guitar.  I am mesmerized by the skill and dexterity it takes to play as it’s the only kind of music I have every tried to play on guitar. I loved the intricate fingerings, the improvisation between the two guitarists as they bantered back and forth, and the guitarists themselves stomping their feet and drumming on the guitar to a syncopated beat. The guitarists were mesmerizing.

The Dancers.

There were two female and one male dancer.  From my prior experience with Jose Greco II, I have only seen a male flamenco dancer, what a joy to see a combination of male and female energy and for the terrific costumes they all wore. The power of the male dancer and his lighting speed tapping, and his endless spinning were spellbinding.  One woman dancer was so graceful in her arched back and her delicate yet intentional flourish of her hand as she fed off the singer’s lament. The other woman dancer came out in a classic long flamenco dress and I could not believe how she could even stomp (without tripping) but she was able to lift one leg, supporting the long dress train, and spin the dress flawlessly. The dancers dialogue with all the other performers was palpable and moved me deeply

The rhythm is the common denominator through the entire performance.  The tapping, the clapping, the snapping of the fingers, the beat of rhythm of the guitar, the cry of the singer and the emotion of the dancer were felt deeply in my bones. The duende grabbed me and held me for the whole performance. I felt one with all those in the room and I’m glad I had this deep satisfying experience. 

👌🏼Experiencing the Sagrada Familia

I’m not sure what has been on my bucket list longer, la Sagrada Familia or Machu Picchu. Sagrada Familia first came into my consciousness with a CBS 60 minutes story on the famed basilica in 2013.  Soon after that story aired, my daughter Natalie, had a semester in Spain and traveled to Barcelona and toured the basilica and I was mesmerized. So as the pandemic was petering out, I told my children I wanted to go to Barcelona with the expressed purpose of seeing this famed church in person.  I was not disappointed.

My son Benson, my daughter’s fiancé Kevin and my daughter Natalie in front of the Sagrada Familia

My experience of the Sagrada Familia:

Getting there.  We were staying in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona and had the earliest entry time for our tickets which was 9 AM.  9 AM in Barcelona might as well be 6 AM.  It’s a very quiet time of the day even on a Thursday.  We took a metro from the Gothic Quarter to Eixample which is the quarter the church is located in.  We walked some three blocks from the metro station and as there is a park in front of the church as we approached you could see the spires of the basilica rising above the trees.  As it came into view, I felt my eyes well up at the sheer size of the building.  It felt like it was at least two city blocks in size with a park in front and behind.  Even without entering this sacred place, its size is breathtaking.

Nativity Facade. The Nativity Facade is the side of the church by which everyone enters.  It reminds me somewhat of Rodin’s Gates of Hell except that Sagrada Familia is a thousand times larger.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of figures and statues representing all different parts of the Bible on the exterior facade.  It is an intricate, storytelling wall.   Antonio Gaudi, who led the construction until his death in 1926, envisioned priests teaching different parts of the Bible by using the Nativity Facade.  The basilica has been under construction since 1882 and remains unfinished to this day with the expectation that it will be completed in 2032.  The Nativity Facade is the only part of the church that Gaudi personally oversaw the construction of. 

Central Nave.  Nothing could prepare me for standing in the center of the central nave of the church.  I felt like I was walking into a stone forest.  You cannot help but look up. Everything from the tree-trunk like supports and stained glass that is colored blue for the winter and orange and red for the summer brings your eyes upward.  Gaudi had everything designed with models so that, because he knew he wouldn’t see the basilica complete, it could be completed as he intended. So, this nave, where I was standing, was designed by a man over a century ago without the help of computers or cranes and had redwood tree size supports made of stone from different parts of the world that could hold the weight of the structure. It’s impossible to walk past one of those supports and not touch it in disbelief. 

Passion Towers.  The passion towers which is part of the Passion Facade (opposite side of the church from the Nativity Facade) was completed in 2018. We had tickets that permitted us to take an elevator up one of the towers.  From the towers we were able to walk around. In between two of the towers there was a terrific view of the Mediterranean Sea, the Montjiuc (a mountain in Barcelona) and the rest of the city of Barcelona below. Each of the spires had uniquesteeple, very Gaudi-esque. Some looked like yellow serpents and others like a bunch of green grapes.  I managed to descend the tiny circular staircase (I’m guessing it was about 20 flights) although I thought I was in a scene from Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The towers were a great diversion because by the time we were back on the main floor the building was bustling with thousands of visitors. 

 It’s a testament to all the workers and architects that continue Guadi’s work.  To think that the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids were completed in less time and that most of the models Gaudi made were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and were recreated using modern technology. There are three breath taking churches that I have been inside in my lifetime, the beautifully ornate blue light of the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, the incredibly old (1248 A.D.) intricate stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and the wondrous, expansive, white stone forest of the Sagrada Familia. It’s humbling to experience something so beautifully pristine and I’m so thankful they continue to do Gaudi’s work. 

❤️Bordeaux is the Perfect Pause

My adult children, Benson, Natalie and her fiancé, Kevin, and I planned a trip to Europe earlier this year. Barcelona was number one on my list and France was number one on theirs.  Bordeaux became the starting point as my son, a competitive weightlifter, has a following in Bordeaux.  This is the new reality of global connectivity and, even though Benson doesn’t speak French, he has folks some 4,000 miles away that follow his weightlifting career on social media. I was hesitant about Bordeaux since its notoriety is wine and I’ve been sober for over 5 years.  I assumed, incorrectly, that there would be a preponderance of wine tasting rooms. I wasn’t sure how I was going to navigate it but to my surprise and delight, Bordeaux is such a beautiful, tranquil city I never thought twice about drinking and just relaxed into the pace and storybook atmosphere.  It was the perfect pause.

My daughter, Natalie, my son, Benson and I in Bordeaux

Here is why Bordeaux is the perfect pause:

It’s a pedestrian city.   The only car I was ever in was the taxi from the airport to our rental apartment. The rest of the time I was mostly on foot or on the tram.  Between the cobblestones, ancient gates, pedestrian plazas and narrow streets, you are more likely to get run over by a skateboarder or bicyclist than a car.  This makes for a much slower pace. The busiest street with vehicles was along the la Garonne River on the Quai Richelieu. I realized that not being hyper vigilant about cars and constantly looking both ways to cross the street is like a sedative.

Incredible accommodations.  Somehow, when I booked the rental apartment, we scored a fabulous two bedroom apartment with a wraparound balcony, 14 foot ceilings within spitting distance of the Porte Cailhau (built in 1494).  We were there in mid-August with afternoon highs in the mid-90’s and while we had fans, there was no air-conditioning. There were many a lazy afternoon, laying on the couch staring out at the Porte Cailhau waiting for Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty to appear; somehow the heat just wasn’t that bad. We had an evening routine of opening all the floor to ceiling length shades, 7 sets of double French doors, and letting the river breeze cool off the apartment as the sun set about 9 pm.  The Place du Palais, a pedestrian plaza, was right below our apartment and as the sun set, it came alive with a wandering saxophone player, and the murmur of crowds chatting over food and drink at outdoor cafes.  I went to sleep every night with the buzz of laughter below and the cool breeze blowing in through the open balcony door. I was in the juxtaposition of being a part of street energy below yet curled up in bed. 

The public spaces.  We were in an easy 10-minute walk to many palaces, gates, parks, gardens and walkways.  There was the picturesque Plains de la Bourse de Bordeaux surrounding the Fontaine des Trois Graces next to the Miror d’eau.  The Miror d’eau is the world’s largest reflecting pool and covers 3,450 square meters.  It is quite the attraction, especially during the summer, as children and adults are skipping, skating, crawling and strolling through the water all day long.  It is vibrant and was filled with energy and laughter throughout the day and evening.  The walkway along la Garonne, was very wide and throughout the day there would be musicians, skaters with boomboxes and all walks of life strolling down the thoroughfare.  The Monument aux Girondins sits on one of the largest squares in Europe and has a Lady Liberty at the top of the fountain. There were countless places to wander.

The Place de Palais below our apartment in Bordeaux

Deep history.  Bordeaux was first established in 300 B.C by the Celtics and has been inhabited and/or conquered by the Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Franks and English. We happened into the Bordeaux Cathedral (Cathedral- Primatial Sainte-Andres de Bordeaux).  This amazing cathedral was initially founded in 814.  Last year I had read several books on English Queen Consorts and had read about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Imagine my surprise when I read that the 13-year-old Eleanor married the future Louis VII of France in this very cathedral in 1137. She became Queen of France, later divorced (when she was unable to bear him a son) and married Henry II and became Queen of England and mother to King Richard the Lionheart and King John of England (author of the Magna Carta).  As I roamed the streets of Bordeaux, I was captivated by who had walked these streets before me.

The food.  There are shops, and pubs, and markets, and restaurants, everywhere.  If you can’t find a boulangerie on this block, walk one more and there will be one.  Or a cafe with cafe au lait and the local favorite pastry, Canelé.  I admit, I gave up on trying to be 100% plant based while in Bordeaux.  We had platters of local oysters from Arcachon Bay and all kinds of cheese.  Natalie managed to go to the local farmers market and grab some amazing goat cheese.  The streets were constantly transforming throughout the day, where in the morning Chez Fred would be set up as an outdoor cafe with coffee and baguettes at 9 a.m., beer and wine with charcuterie by mid-day and by midnight all the chairs, tables and umbrellas would be packed up and gone without a trace and the Place du Palais would be empty.  We stopped by an ice cream shop that made artisan ice cream and Natalie had rose flavored ice cream topped with dried rose pedals.  The array of food was amazing; simply amazing

Bordeaux was the perfect pause because the pace is so laid back. I had no agenda. No place I had to be.  The small television in the corner of our apartment stayed dormant.  The section where we stayed was not a central tourist hub although there were plenty of people taking pictures of the Porte Cailhau throughout the day and evening. In fact, I can’t remember hearing English spoken in shops or in restaurants (except for us). I felt unplugged and floated through the day with hardly a plan.  It’s a place to be present and in the moment. 

😒 4 Ways To Squelch Resentment

I’ve always thought of resentment as well-deserved seething. Percolating anger that my neighbor bought the new car I’ve had my eye on for three years, or frustration that my coworker is skating out the door while I toil away at work, or reliving the anger of my ex walking out on me after our home was flooded. One of the most thought-provoking concepts from Brene Brown’s Atlas of the Heart, is her definition of resentment, “Resentment is the feeling of frustration, judgment, anger, “better than,” and/ or hidden envy related to perceived unfairness or injustice. It’s an emotion that we often experience when we fail to set boundaries or ask for what we need, or when expectations let us down because they were based on things we can’t control, like what other people think, what they feel, or how they’re going to react.” The wakeup call for me is that resentment is within my control and that it’s not something I have to fall victim to. 

4 ways to squelch resentment:

Clear boundaries. I coach many clients that are unable to set up boundaries between work time and personal time. Working until midnight, answering emails from bed, or catching up on work all day Sunday so that Monday goes smoother.  I actually had a client that worked all day (from home) and never left her laptop except to use the bathroom.  Sometimes she even forgot to eat. Figure out a boundary or as Christine Kane calls it the Natural No.  I don’t work on Sundays, I don’t work past 6 PM, I don’t take my laptop on vacation, I don’t have meetings during lunch hour, I don’t schedule back-to-back meetings, I don’t check email on the weekends, or I don’t have my phone at the dinner table. When I have clear boundaries, I don’t envy others when they have clear boundaries. So, I don’t envy my co-worker for leaving at 4:30 PM because I leave at 5 PM.  As Brown wrote, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” I’m less resentful when I have clear boundaries. 

Give without expectation. I can remember feeling that if I helped someone move that they would return the favor. If I send a Christmas Card, they would send me one.  A tit for tat or quid pro quo.  When the other party doesn’t come through, I end up feeling resentful.  So just give without expectation.  No reciprocity. As Jared Akers wrote for Tiny Buddha, “When you give without expectations—only when you’re comfortable giving for the sake of it—you’re less likely to resent people for letting you down.” It’s a big relief to not be keeping track in my “expectation ledger”.  I’m less resentful when I give without any expectations.

Embrace love. I’ve been meditating for years.  At the end of my meditation, I do a loving kindness meditation for myself, my dog, my family, my friends, my clients and all living creatures. I also wish loving kindness for some folks that I dislike like a particular co-worker or ex. It wasn’t easy in the beginning. I want to hold onto my resentment and the loving kindness can feel awkward. As Akers wrote, “What’s the opposite of anger, hate, or fear? That’s right: love. By sending only love toward someone, praying that they receive all the wonderful things you want for yourself in life, you’re slowly chiseling away at negative emotions that do you more harm than good. Don’t believe me? Try it.” It’s similar to curiosity being the antidote for fear, love is the antidote for resentment. 

Don’t attach to outcome.  I was completely attached to the outcome when each of my marriages fell apart. I had pictured growing old with each of my husbands.  This led to resentment to both of these men even though they are not responsible for my happiness. As Aker wrote, “The key to finding happiness is realizing that you already possess everything you need to be happy. When you realize happiness is an inside job, you’re less apt to place demands on other people and situations.” So, whether or not, I’m married at 85 years of age, I’m responsible for how I am in the moment.  Whether or not I retire, or move to Portugal or travel cross country in a RV or live in a house with my mother. No one outside of you is in charge of your happiness. Letting go of the outcome squelches resentment.

This is a lifelong practice. I’m not perfect at it. I’m traveling overseas with my adult children this week.  Odds are my son will be late, my daughter will bring too many clothes and I won’t get to do everything I planned. The important thing is not to let resentment harsh my joy and as Bryon Katie says, “love what is.”

😳Are You a Fraud? No, You Are Not.

I’ve felt like a fraud countless times in my life but the most pivotal was freshman year at Cornell University.  My brother, the genius, had graduated from Cornell in Electrical Engineering the year before I matriculated. He graduated with over a 4.0 grade point average.  If he received less than an A+ his average went down. There I was rooming in Donlon Hall, the same dorm as his freshman year, in Ithaca New York, friendless and wondering what I was thinking leaving all my friends and family behind in suburban Wilmington, Delaware.  This is the Ivy League!  My dad isn’t here to proofread my papers.  My mom isn’t here to make sure I get to class on time.  And why is this campus so damn big and does every other student’s father work on Wall Street? Fast forward four years, working too many hours at Noyes Lodge, several all-nighters and a “2.0 to go” (a C average) and I made it through with lifelong friends and a love for upstate New York with its lakes and gorges. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I would falter.

My freshman roommate Julie and I on graduation day from the Cornell Hotel School

I can blame my getting accepted to Cornell on my brother paving the way, or random luck or that they had a quota on accepting folks from the tiny state of Delaware.  It certainly wasn’t my SAT’s or my GPA from my high school years based on the number of times I cut school.  It wasn’t my parents bank account, my father’s connections as a high school history teacher or a legacy of Ivy League ancestors. Frankly when my mom called me at my after-school job of working at a discount retailers shoe department and told me that there was a thick envelope from Cornell in the mail, I was shocked and dumbfounded. Why the hell would they want a fraud like me? Well, it’s taken me a lifetime but I’m not a fraud.  And neither are you.

Here are the symptoms of feeling like a fraud and what to do about it:

Perfectionist.  Perfectionists feel that if they make even the tiniest of mistakes they will be unmasked. As Abigail Abrams wrote for Time, ““Perfectionists” set extremely high expectations for themselves, and even if they meet 99% of their goals, they’re going to feel like failures. Any small mistake will make them question their own competence.” Rethink and recalibrate your expectations. It’s like planning a car trip, figure you will drive only 300 miles instead of 400 and it will not take 8 hours but 10 hours to get there. Embrace making a mistake and be open to feedback without shaming yourself.  Reframe your self-talk diatribes into how you talk to your favorite family pet. Unconditional self-love can be a powerful tool in embracing your authentic self.

Natural Genius. The belief that everything should come easily and without a lot of effort.  So, the minute anything takes time and hard work, you can throw your hands up and say, “There you go, I’m not good enough.” I remember that school work was easy in elementary school and my parents told me I was bright.  Imagine how I felt when I got a C on a test in 6th grade math. I decided “whelp” my parents are wrong, I’m not bright. I learned many years later that this is what Carol Dweck refers to as a fixed mindset.  I have since embraced the growth mindset which focuses on hard work, constantly testing assumptions and investing in learning more. Mastery does not come without effort. Put in the effort, you are a constantly evolving piece of art.

Expert. As Abrams wrote, “Experts feel the need to know every piece of information before they start a project and constantly look for new certifications or trainings to improve their skills. They won’t apply for a job if they don’t meet all the criteria in the posting, and they might be hesitant to ask a question in class or speak up in a meeting at work because they’re afraid of looking stupid if they don’t already know the answer.” I can remember hiding in the back of a lecture hall at Cornell.  I never wanted to be called on.  I might be found out. You and I don’t need to know it all and it’s OK to ask a question. There were about ten years where I chased six different certifications and I finally realized that the investment of time in trying to be “the expert” was just too much and once I had a certification, I had to re-certify every 3 years. Yes, I learned a lot of skills and I’m a better writer and coach because of it, but I’m not an expert and…that’s OK. 

Soloist. Being a soloist means that you can just go it alone and help is a four-letter word. I see new managers fall into this when they don’t know how to delegate and fear that if they do, they will be found out as lousy managers.  So, they focus on keeping all the plates spinning and their direct reports feel micromanaged and diminished. In the remote working world this means that you end up attending every meeting without thinking through whether this meeting could be of value to someone else.  This also has shades of perfectionism in it as well, since you might have the belief that only you can do this job. Reframe “help” as a way to invest in someone else and imagine the synergy that can be created by more than just one mind. 

Superwoman. As espoused by Abrams, “Superwomen push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove that they’re not impostors. They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life—at work, as parents, as partners—and may feel stressed when they are not accomplishing something.” I am a recovering superwoman.  There was a time when I worked full time, taught at a university part time, cooked nightly meals for my family and drove around eastern North Carolina attending marching band, football, soccer and track competitions. I needed to be the best mom, wife, daughter, HR professional and teacher. That time in my life is a blur and I ended up being spread way too thin and burned out.  It’s hard to be present for anything when you are thinking about the next destination or event.  I hung up my cape a while ago. 

These aspects are just part of limiting beliefs that hold me back.  I like Brene Brown’s outlook that we are all just trying our best.  Being my best is being imperfect, learning, inexpert, seeking help and able to coast. You are not a fraud; you are trying your best as well and that’s good enough.  

☺️ How to Be a More Effective Listener

The gift of being a great listener is a selfless act. It requires empathy, emotional intelligence, fortitude and focus.  It is so much easier to zone out on your eighth zoom meeting of the day, continue to watch television when your mother calls or scroll through your phone on that webcast and wait for something to call your attention back. If I learned anything from working remotely over the last two years it’s that distraction control is job one for me.  Whether it be my neurotic dog Baci staring at me with some unknown demand or a ding on my laptop or weather alert on my iWatch, it can take all my energy to stay focused on my client on my laptop screen. 

Here are some ways to be a more effective listener:

Shut it down. When I get a call from my mom, or FaceTime call from my daughter, I shut everything down.  I shut down the television, turn down the stove and close my laptop.  If I am unable to because I’m in the middle of a client call, I shut down the notification.  There was a time where I would have tried to multi-task and maybe mute the television and try to focus on the phone call or scroll through my phone while on a zoom call.  It’s now become second nature to shut any potential distraction down.  This auto pilot move improves my ability to focus on the person or group in front of me.

Uni-tasking. Multi-tasking is a fallacy.  Unless it’s a mundane task like chewing gum and walking at the same time, multi-tasking is just skimming through tasks and is an enormous energy drain.  As Chamorro-Premuzic wrote for Fast Company, “Distractions, stress, worries, and multitasking all interfere with high quality listening, as we all know from everyday experience. Contrary to popular belief, tasks that require active attention cannot be done simultaneously. Multitasking is a bit like intuition, sense of humor, or musical taste: just because we think we are good at it doesn’t mean we actually are.” I think of initial client coaching calls I have had. If my new client is calling me from their phone while making their breakfast or shopping at Lowe’s, I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be a productive collaboration.  Try to uni-task to be able to focus.

Cultivate Connection. I recently watched Brene Brown’s Atlas of the Heart on HBO and have subsequently received the book of the same title.  One of the most impactful parts of that show is the last section when she models cultivating connection. Brene and Aiko Bethea do a role play where Brene is the manager and Aiko is the underling with a problem presentation. Brene plays the role of manager in several non-productive, harmful ways and then finally connects in the last role play. In the last role play, she was able build connection by empathizing with Aiko’s discomfort without taking over and telling what to do.  She was able to “be with” Aiko and asked for ways she support Aiko with the situation.  This was really powerful for me.  I can feel the urge to take over and fix a problem whether it’s my daughter’s wedding plans, my client’s strategic plan or friend’s home sale. Effective listening requires one to offer support but not taking over to solve.

Self-control. This is by far the hardest hurdle for me on coaching calls.  I can find myself interrupting my client when I should be trying to be present and let the client talk it through.  It’s an exercise in presence and mindfulness.  I might have a great idea, or applicable antidote to tell but that is interrupting the client doing their best thinking.  I actively have to focus on making the space for the client to work things through.  As Chamorro-Premuzic wrote, “This is why mindfulness is a consistent predictor of better listening. Waiting for the other person to finish, and even counting two or three seconds after they’ve gone quiet, is a simple exercise to keep your feelings and thoughts under control. Even if you feel you are right, or you don’t like what you are hearing, you will be much more likely to win the argument if you wait until the other person finishes unless you don’t want them to listen to you.” Practice self-control and be present.

Mirror, reframe or clarify.  This is the last and most impactful step of effective listening.  It’s basically letting the other person know that you heard what they said.  You can mirror back what they said, “So you were mad because your boss didn’t listen to you.” Or you can reframe it, “So you were frustrated because you couldn’t get through to your boss.”  Or clarify, “Does this happen often with your boss?  With others?” In any of these examples, you are letting the other person know that you heard them.  If you are brainstorming, you could summarize the other person’s point, “So you think it’s important we finish by September 15th and we need at least two engineers on this project.” Let the other person or group know that you heard them.

I am a much better coach and facilitator when I use these techniques. It’s not easy and I’m just a work in progress but it’s amazing what the results are if I am able to be an effective listener.  I am able to create more connection and a space for discovery and insight.  What techniques do you use to be an effective listener?

How to Quit Asking Why 

I was the member of a Mastermind Group about ten years ago.  It was a terrific experience working with Human Resource professionals from different industries around the Raleigh/Durham area.  I always remember one of the ground rules for Mastermind, which is a group of like-minded professionals who discuss confidentially current issues in their job or business and meet on a regular basis. The ground rule was to not ask Why. I remember thinking that that seemed odd.  After all, haven’t I been asking why since I was about 3 years old?  Seems like an obvious, simple question to get to the bottom of an issue or problem.  But think about it for a moment when I ask you the following questions:

Why?

Why are you late?

Why are you early?

Why are you on time?

Why are we going?

Why is it hot?

Why haven’t you?

Why won’t you?

Why don’t you?

Why is that there?

Why don’t you just…?

How does that feel?  I know it makes me feel defensive and diminished. Like I belong on a stool facing the corner in my kindergarten class.  Is this really how I want to treat people? It can be interrogating, demanding, confrontational and judgmental all at the same time. It focuses on the problem instead of insight and solutions. What about some alternatives?

How to quit asking why:

Describe the situation.  Let’s say your employee is late with an important project.  Instead of asking “Why is this late?”, you could ask:

Tell me about the timeline for this project.

How did this get off track?

What were some obstacles you had to deal with?

What were the circumstances that led to this situation?

You are more likely to get better insight into what is causing delays for the employee that you may not realize; and be more proactive towards solutions going forward. This tests your assumptions and can open your eyes to the whole situation.

Getting unstuck. Let’s say your employee rarely seems to make progress on one aspect of their job like sending in status reports or proofing their work.  Instead of asking, “Why haven’t you completed the reports?” Or “Why don’t you check your work?”, you could ask:

What have you tried so far? 

How did it go? 

What is getting in the way? 

Who could help you? 

What other resources do you need? 

It’s important that this doesn’t open the door to you, as the boss, to take over.  It’s more about discovery for your employee to find ways to get unstuck. Instead of you prescribing the answer. 

Look for understanding.  What can be loaded into “why” is implying that the employee isn’t good enough.  Like, “Suzy finished on time so why didn’t you? “Or “Joe’s slideshow had 50 slides, why did you only have 10 slides?” This is loaded with blame and makes the employee feel less than.  You could ask instead:

What was your thought process…?

What other options have you explored?

How did you arrive at this decision?

Tell me more.

Tell me about that.

It’s important at this point to sit back and listen with an open mind and curiosity.  Frequently, if we are a new leader or new to the organization, we feel like we need to have an answer and solution for everything instead of looking for the wisdom in those that work for us.  

As a coach, I really try to steer clear of Why, and a little bit of shorthand for me is to ask either, “How” or “What” or “Help me understand”.  How about you?  What do you use in place of Why?

How to Say No

Saying no is painful. Deep inside I’ve just wanted to please the people in my life.  I don’t want to let anyone down.  Even when I muster up the courage to say no, I have a hard time holding my resolve.  I immediately start thinking how the requester will be angry with me or dislike me.  It turns out there is a reason for my dislike of saying no.  As Lauren Moon wrote for Trello, “This is because evolutionarily, it was beneficial for humans to live, hunt, and work together in large groups. Staying within the group increased the odds of survival thanks to shared resources, food, and an easier chance of finding “the one” (as far as dating or mating went back then). As a result, humans (even as far back as hominids) learned to adopt behaviors that were agreeable to a group dynamic. If someone was perceived as hostile or combative, they risked being ostracized from the group and subsequently, its shared resources.” Realizing that I’m hardwired to want to be agreeable and please others is the first step in understanding myself and the struggle to say no.

In Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith’s book, How Women Rise, this is the Disease to Please. As they wrote, “The disease to please can undermine your ability to make clear decisions because you’re always trying to split the difference about competing needs in hope of creating consensus or avoiding giving offense.  This can impair your judgment and leave you vulnerable to manipulation by people who know how to use cult to get others to accommodate their needs.  It can rob you of the capacity to act with authority for fear of disappointing others or making them even temporarily unhappy. It can make you an unreliable advocate or ally because you are so easily swayed.  It can distract you from your purpose, squander your time and talents, and contribute to your general stuckness.” I find this interesting because, to some degree, my inability to say no is impacting how I can be perceived as easily swayed and an unreliable advocate. This is the last thing I want to have happen.  My inability to say no is making me be perceived as weak and indecisive.

5 techniques to saying no:

Be timely.  I find that the longer I wait to respond to a request, the more likely I am to say yes.  So, I’m thinking, well since I haven’t responded to Suzy’s email in the last week, I better say yes or she’ll really dislike me.  I’ve already been a jerk by not responding, I better say yes so she doesn’t kick me off the team.  And even if you still say no, now I’ve put the other person in a bind because they haven’t found another resource for help.  What ever you do, yes or no, respond with your answer quickly.

Be concise. I’ve used this in all sorts of difficult conversations like terminations and performance issues.  Come up with one sentence or two that summarizes succinctly the issue and the action you are taking.  Example: I can’t work on the widget budget at this time, unfortunately it’s not a good time for me. Or Sadly, I can’t be on the marshmallow project team, it doesn’t sound like the right fit for me. I find that if it’s concise and to the point, I don’t hesitate as much, I’m less likely to say things like “um”, and I don’t ramble as much.  When I ramble, it opens the door to saying yes. I also think that being clear and concise is more confident and decisive. 

Be polite. The main reason you don’t want to say no is that you don’t want to be rude.  Keeping kindness in mind is helpful in saying no. As written by Jessi Christian for Flowrite, “People want to feel seen and appreciated, even when you have to deny them their request. So let the other person feel good about themselves! You might have heard of a “shit sandwich” when giving feedback to an employee, but it also works perfectly when you have to say no. A shit sandwich works simply: You start on a positive note (“This sounds like an interesting event”), tell them the bad message (“But unfortunately I won’t be able to attend as a speaker.”), and end with kindness (“I’m sure you’ll have a successful conference in any case!”).  In emails, try not to use abbreviations for Thanks (thx) or Your Welcome (yw) as well.  If you’re turning someone down, make the extra key strokes to be polite.

Be clear if the door is open or closed.   I can remember when I was a Human Resource Professional that there were annual time sucks like budgeting and company wide annual reviews. I wasn’t available for anything additional at all.  Period. But the middle of July was pretty open.  So, if you can’t help out, ever, clearly close the door with Thank you so much for thinking of me. Given my current workload, I’m unable to do a good job on your project, as my other work would suffer. On the other hand, if this sounds like a real career boosting project and, although you can’t do it now, think about leaving the door open with: “I’m unavailable right now” or “I don’t have the capacity at the moment”.  If you want the door open, you may want to spell out what interests you and when you might be available.  

Refer them.  Benjamin Franklin once said that “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” Sometimes I end up with a full plate because the requester didn’t realize there was someone better qualified to answer their question or work on the project.  Think about whether you are the correct person to be working on this.  Is there someone else whose job this is?   As Christian wrote, “A simple referral can be a huge help for your counterpart. Introducing them to another person that can take over the job or that is even more suitable for the task can be worth taking your time, especially with people you work with long term.” See if there is someone better suited to help out.

I think I’ve learned to be more discerning in the last year after retiring from my full-time job.  I recently had a client ask for a time slot on a Friday.  I have tried to keep Fridays free. I hesitated but said I didn’t have any available slots on Friday.  I think if they had pushed, I would have acquiesced, they didn’t.  Sometimes it just takes practice to say no. How do you say no?

8 Strategies to Stop Procrastinating

This is the first blog post I’ve written in about 2 months.  I have found hundreds of distractions and reasons to push off writing.  I think I have a headache, I need to do the laundry, I want to hike a new trail today, there’s a notification on my Facebook page, there’s a new email, I don’t know what I’m having for dinner, maybe my son is coming to visit this weekend, it looks like rain, I don’t have any ideas to write about, maybe I’ve written about everything I can write about, etc. In reality, the main reason I didn’t write is because my computer has been SSSLLLLOOOWWWWIIIINNNGGG down. I spent three weekends trying to figure out what the problem was with my desktop pc and I have finally resorted to writing on my laptop.  I’m amazed at how one hang-up like a computer can derail me for weeks.  I say to myself “Whelp, it’s taking too long; might as well go watch Netflix.” 

So how did I finally stop procrastinating and get to work?  Here are some strategies I put into place that might work for you too:

  1. Break it down into the tiniest of pieces. I mean really tiny.  Like instead of saying “I’m going to read Gone with the Wind”, say “I’m going to put the book next to my reading chair”, or “Open the book and read one chapter, or one page or one paragraph”.  This is advice from BJ Fogg and his excellent book, Tiny Habits.  The tiny habit should take less than 30 seconds to complete, according to Fogg, so that time is not a deterrent and the new habit grows naturally. So, to get started on this post, I set up the actual blank document so it was ready to go.
  1. Change your environment.  I had no idea that this was holding me back but I usually have my desktop computer and laptop on the same desk.  I kept getting sucked into the abyss of the “My desktop slowing down” and not responding to even the smallest of actions.  Pretty soon, I had my phone open and I was scrolling Facebook while “I waited” for a page to load on my computer. I had my fully functioning laptop on the same desk but I still never started to write.  I was completely hung up on using my desktop.  So, I got the bright idea to move my laptop yesterday to my “writing” chair.  And suddenly, perhaps because the laptop was in plain sight and in a different environment, I started writing. Changing my environment got me at the keyboard once again.
  1. Music.  This may not be for everyone but I play classical music when I write.  It has to be an instrumental for it to be the right vibe for me to write.  I don’t want to get caught up in the lyrics of a song.  Turning on a classical playlist sets the right tone for me to work.  It also sets the tone that I will be working and writing if there is classical music playing in the background.  I find my muse in classical music.
  1. Shut down distractions.  I take coaching calls most of the day on my laptop.  If I hear a beep or ding or a notification shows up on my screen, I will research the source of the distraction and eliminate it.  Outside of my calendar reminding me of my next appointment, I don’t want to have anything disrupting my coaching calls.  By eliminating these distractions, I am able to be fully present for my calls.  This has the added benefit of eliminating distractions when I’m writing as well.  I generally try to write on the weekends so there aren’t usually any upcoming appointments but I’m also not receiving email or social media notifications which could potentially derail me from focusing on my writing.  Shut down distractions.
  1. Serializing. This is a terrific suggestion from Oliver Burke in his book, 4000 weeks. Burke wrote, “Focus only on one big project at a time. Though it’s alluring to try to alleviate the anxiety of having too many responsibilities or ambitions by getting started on them all at once, you’ll make little progress that way. Multitasking rarely works well — and you’ll soon find that serializing helps you to complete more projects anyway, thereby helping relieve your anxiety.” So set up on your schedule that you’ll work 30 minutes each day on the Gnarly Project or the budget or the annual review process.  Once the 30 minutes is done, move on and come back to it the next day.  Serialize big projects.
  1. Eat that frog.  Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Start your day with the worst thing you don’t want to do and then it’s clear coasting the rest of the day.  It might be that a five-mile run, cleaning out the garage, or finishing the annual review for your worst performing direct report is the best way to start your day.   Eat that frog.
  1. Choose what you do.  Change up your self-talk around that which you are procrastinating.  As written on MindTools, the phrases “need to” and “have to,” for example, imply that you have no choice in what you do. This can make you feel disempowered and might even result in self-sabotage. However, saying, “I choose to,” implies that you own a project, and can make you feel more in control of your workload. Elect to work on a blog post instead of “needing” to. 
  1. Celebrate or reward.  This made a big difference in my flossing habit in the morning. Dr. Fogg advocates either a high five or fist pump when you finish a new behavior like flossing your teeth.  It wires positivity into your brain.  You could also set up a reward when you are done like a latte from your favorite coffee shop or phoning a friend or watching an episode of your favorite show.  Wiring positivity helps set up the expectation that something good will come after eating the frog.

I used several of these tools to get back to writing again.  It feels good to get back to writing and the sense of accomplishment is a reward enough for me at this point.  What are some of your tricks to overcome procrastination?