My daughter. My hero.

My daughter, Natalie, is my stable rock. My ballast. My hero. She has recently turned twenty-five and moved to Seattle about a year ago.  I had the great fortune to spend a recent weekend with her in New Mexico where she was born.  It was great fun to return to a state that has many natural marvels and be able to give context to how her life began.  Some twenty-six years earlier, my first husband and I moved to Albuquerque to run a restaurant and try our luck as entrepreneurs.  The restaurant eventually failed and put immense pressure on our marriage.  The wonderful shining glory that came out of that ill fated move to Albuquerque was a delightful, precious blue-eyed baby girl with an infectious smile and laugh.

Outside of a return trip to New Mexico when Natalie was eight, she has not returned.  She has faint memories of that trip and certainly does not remember her first four months of life in the Land of Enchantment. We had a lot of fun returning to where it all began. It also brought up some of the reasons I have depended on her for so much in her quarter century on the Earth.


Here are the ways Natalie is my hero:

Open. Natalie is open to any and all adventures. We did not have much of an agenda once we landed at Albuquerque’s Sunport except for a restaurant reservation or two.  Whether it was strolling the plaza in Santa Fe or taking a hike around a reservoir, Natalie was open.  She had no deadlines, no agenda, no must-see spots.  I feel like so many people in life have hidden agendas or hidden intentions.  Not Natalie. Anything goes. Wanna hike?  Sure.  Shop? You bet. Sleep in? OK. It makes me rethink how open I am to what is next. Be open.

Decisive.  Natalie may be open to all the options but once she has made up her mind, or the group has made up their mind, she goes after it. We had decided to hike Tent Rocks located outside of Santa Fe with my brother, Rick.  Once the decision was made, there was no going back.  I’m pretty sure that even if it was raining or 110 degrees, Natalie would have made it to the top of that slot canyon. She was committed. Even a random crossing of a rattlesnake on our path could not deter her from her destiny. Once you have weighed out all your options, be decisive.

Empathy. I have always had an issue with balance. I pause at the top of steps and escalators to get my barring. There were several times along the hike that Natalie grabbed my hand. I didn’t ask. She knew. When navigating very narrow footings, she said, “just one foot in front of the other.” I didn’t ask. She knew. As we hiked she would insist on a water break.  Not for her. For me. She pays attention. She senses the discomfort. She anticipates the need. It’s such a gift that I don’t know she is even aware she has it. Be in tune to those around you.

Navigator. Natalie and I had explored a trail near Santa Fe around a reservoir.  The trail was not well marked.  Towards the end of the hike we lost the trail. Pretty soon we were hiking through low uncharted brush and no fellow hikers were to be seen.  We had no GPS.  No cell coverage. I felt a bit of concern. There was no need. Natalie had a feel for where we were and led us back to the trail head and parking lot. There have been many hiccups and storms in my life over the last year and Natalie has been the calm navigator seeing me through. Make sure you have a sound navigator to help you through the storms.

Ballast. Every boat has a ballast to weight the boat upright. Natalie is my ballast. She is rarely rattled by events and keeps an even demeanor.  I can be easily flustered and fly into worst case scenarios. Natalie keeps me balanced by listening and asking questions to help me understand my own thinking. I may be ready to unload all the cargo on the boat or drop anchor but Natalie is the voice of reason.  Who is your ballast.  Maybe you are a ballast for someone else.  It’s important to have a ballast to even things out.

Joy. Natalie has infectious energy. She also happens to be a great selfie taker.  There she is in the center of the photo flashing her enchanting smile.  I cannot look at a photo of her without smiling. She is joy. She is possibility. She is magic. There are very few people that I know who exude that joyful energy. It sparks action. Everything seems possible when there is joy in the room.  I am so fortunate to have her in my life. Find joy.

I am so proud to be Natalie’s mother and, most importantly, that she is in my life. She makes everything brighter and more amazing. Who is your hero?

5 Reasons Why Empathy is the Difference Maker

Your co-worker cuts you off before you’ve entirely explained your idea.  Your boss prescribes you how to fix the production issue, but never even asks what your ideas might be.  Your spouse doesn’t bother to hold the door open when you are carrying in the groceries.  The 18 wheeler won’t let you merge in order to get past the accident.  All of these are signs of a lack of empathy and its persistence is eroding the relationships around you.  As DeLores Pressley wrote, “Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experience of others. Empathy is more than simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity.”


So why do we need more empathy?  It is what makes us human. Most of the animal kingdom is working off of “me-first” instincts.  Kill or be killed.  You’re never going to see a crocodile share its prey with another adversary.  Empathy connects us and through that connection, we are able to compound on those connections to much greater success and well being.

Here are the 5 reasons why empathy is the difference maker:

  1. Understanding others helps develop relationships. Think about that guy at work who always brags about his fabulous European vacation and his wonderful new motorcycle. The guy you can’t get a word in edgewise with.  You know who I’m talking about.  Do you feel any warmth or connection with him?   Not likely.  Do you want to go above and beyond for him?  Not likely either.  Trust gets built when there is shared understanding.  Relationships are the foundation of organizations.  Unless there is trust and understanding, it’s difficult to have success.  Empathy is the re-bar in that foundation.
  1. Empathy ensures openness. In any relationship, whether it’s a marriage, partnership or corporation, openness is critical. Openness is the antithesis of secrecy. This is why everyone gets paranoid when the CEO’s office door is shut.  “Here come the layoffs.”  It also ensures that leaders aren’t prescribing the answers.  So, what happens is the co-worker brings an issue and their counterpart says, “What are your ideas?” instead of “This is the way you should do it.”  An openness to all possibilities creates innovation and breaking out of the status quo.  This is critical for organizations as well as personal relationships.
  1. Putting other’s interest first brings mutual respect. As written by Toby Norton, “Serotonin is the molecular manifestation of the feeling of pride—we get it when we perceive others like or respect us. On a deep level, we need to feel that we and our work are valued by others, particularly those in our group.” This helps reinforce positive feelings from everyone. “Hey Joe made sure I knew the numbers were off before I presented to the Board.”  I’ve got Joe’s back going forward.  This mutual respect compounds on itself like a ripple effect across the organization or department or family.  It’s the way we do things around here.
  1. Empathy makes it safe for us to fail. I can hear you whining. “But, Cathy, we don’t want to encourage failure.”  This is a pipe dream.  Of course we are going to fail.  At work, at home and at school.  If we don’t encourage failure, everyone starts hiding the evidence.  I don’t want Suzie to know that we had an error in the report.  I don’t want my manager to know that the product isn’t priced right.  If we cannot be transparent and fall on the sword when we fail, then neither will anyone else around us.  This breeds secrecy and distrust.  Everyone goes around constantly looking to repair their image.  It’s exhausting and demoralizing.  Empathy creates a safe place to fail.
  1. Feeling valued by others compels the group forward. As written by Norton, “Homo sapiens developed a herd instinct; thanks to those cooperative chemicals (i.e. serotonin and oxytocin), we find comfort when we’re part of a group.” According to Sinek, “Our confidence that we can face the dangers around us literally depends on feeling safe in a group. Being on the periphery is dangerous. The loner on the edge of the group is far more susceptible to predators than someone who is safely surrounded and valued by others.” It is a simple as saying “Is everything OK?” It’s paying attention to simple gestures like holding the elevator door, letting the car merge in or helping reset the room after the training.  These small things help create value and connection for everyone.  It keeps paying it forward on an ongoing basis.

Try incorporating more empathy in your life.  Listen without judgment.  Clarify your partner’s needs.  Be open to what is there.

How to Harness the Power of Connection.

You walk into a store and the cashier is more robotic than friendly. No eye contact; and repeating the same “Have a nice day” with no expression of sincerity. Your coworker is demanding a document that you are sure they already have and this might be the fourth time you’ve sent it to them. It’s easy to get sucked into a malaise of disconnectedness. You start putting up walls and keep everyone at arm’s length. It’s easy to fall into being out for yourself and out of touch with others. And you begin to shut others out.


I was fortunate to facilitate a team of 65 in the construction business. The theme was Team Dynamics but what it really was about was connecting. Truly and literally standing in another department’s shoes to understand their perspectives and their challenges is an amazingly transformative act. The outcome was magical. I’d say the group was at least 75% men. Men in the rough and tumble world of construction where swearing is encouraged and feelings need to be checked at the door. I have to say I was nervous. Would these guys really buy in? Would they really be able to open their hearts and minds to their teammates? Well, I’m happy to say they did and the end result was powerful.

Here is how to harness the power of connection:

1. It always starts with the team alliance. This is a tenet of CRR Global. It’s basically an agreement of how we want to “be” with each other. As long as there’s clarity and agreement some remarkable things can happen. I worked with a technology team that wanted to make sure that “swearing” was encouraged. As long as everyone is on board, then swearing can be encouraged. It could just as easily have been respect or openness or confidentiality. You just need to be clear about how you want the team to be together and starting off a meeting or project or team dynamic session should always have an alliance. I have to say that during the facilitation with the construction company, I had to remind them a few times that “respect” was on the alliance. When ground rules are set, people are more likely to participate.

2. First seek to understand. This is habit 5 from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In a nutshell, this is all about active listening. It’s not listening until I can get a word in edgewise. It’s not biting my tongue until I can impress you with my retort. It’s seeking to understand. It’s about being open and non judgmental. In a room full to the brim with 65 people, they all listened attentively to each other. The knowing head nods. The smile of acknowledgment. How often can you say that?

3. Everyone has a voice. What’s powerful about the “lands work” from CRR Global is that each “land” (department) gets to speak up without any interruption. Each person gets to represent what it’s like in their “land” and there can be no disagreement, no denial. If a project coordinator says “I have to juggle the demands of four superintendents.” There is no denying that. It is that project coordinator’s truth. Their unadulterated voice. It’s powerful to here a co-worker state a truth that you didn’t even realize. Connecting involves everyone having a voice.

4. Stepping into someone else’s shoes. This is the magical part of “lands work.” All the superintendents took a seat while everyone else in the company stood in their “land.” They then spoke on behalf of the superintendents. There was one woman from administration who when she stood in each of the other lands said “I don’t like this land.” She acknowledged how difficult the other positions in the company were. The superintendents were constantly on the road, the business development folks were constantly handling rejection, the project coordinators had to deal with uncooperative sub contractors. And on and on and on. I could see the impact of having the other people who didn’t have your job speak on behalf of your job and suddenly connection was created. They get it. They were able to move on with a new understanding of each other that would not have ever existed without this effort.

5. Making sure there is a take away. In the end, there must be an understanding. What will this group take away from this experience? How can we take this forward? In a nutshell someone said “Empathy.” There is a new understanding that for each of them to be clear what the priority is. An understanding of what the effect they have on others. Some folks wanted an email with a clear subject line, some folks want a voicemail and still others wanted to get a text. The point was they had a new understanding of flexing and adapting to each other because now they understood each other’s perspective.

So I challenge you to be more connected at work. When was the last time you asked the Project Manager what their challenges are and what do they need from other departments to be more effective? Give it a try and sit back and listen. Really listen.

Originally published on Change Your Thoughts on January 8, 2016

Dismantling the Judge in Your Head.

I’ve been reading Shirzad Chamine‘s Positive Intelligence. This has shone a huge light on what I’ve previously written about as the inner critic. As Shirzad posits, everyone has a group of saboteurs and the one everyone has is in common is The Judge. Basically, we are all running around with a Judge in our head who is constantly pointing out where we are falling short. So my pants are too tight because I am lazy and fat. I didn’t get that spectacular job because I’m not good enough. Suzy just walked by my office without saying hello because of something I did. Hmmm. I wonder what I did. She thinks I’m inadequate, she thinks I’m too bossy, she thinks I’m ugly. If this sounds like the ticker tape in your head then you have a Judge as well.dismantling the judge in your head

I find it remarkable that Shirzad stepped out on a limb and pointed out to a group of grad students that he felt inadequate and that they all concurred. How vulnerable. Well, I have to say I’ve been listening to my Judge for far too long. It’s useless and debilitating. It can and has brought me to a standstill. This particular saboteur is constantly holding me back and all the while, I am actually free to choose if I want to listen to it or not. I find that not only am I judging myself, but I am judging circumstances and others as well. So it’s raining in beautiful San Antonio because it’s just my luck. The water dispenser is out in the fitness room because this hotel sucks. The train going by at 3 AM is so happening to be annoying. That woman who cut in front of me in line at the lunch buffet because she is arrogant. All of these judgments. All day. Everyday. It’s exhausting. Time to dismantle the Judge.

So I’ve been working on this and this what I have found so far:

1. Name it. Shirzad recommends giving it a name. So whether it’s Executioner, The Critic, Tormenter, or as I have recently tried Sister Mary Catharine (and she has a ruler in her hand). Giving it a name gives some separation. So much of my inner dialogue is about beating myself up. Identifying “who” is saying all this takes it out of the shadows. Shirzad recommends that if you can’t think of a name you can clearly identify with, just call it The Judge. If you are like me, you spend weeks trying on different names and then give up. So use The Judge unless something else resonates. Just make sure you name it.

2. Voice. Give your Judge their voice. As instructed by Shirzad, I have been reframing my judgments by giving The Judge a voice. So instead of thinking “I think I look fat in this dress”, think “the Judge thinks I look fat in this dress”. Or “I didn’t get that job because I’m not good enough”, think “the Judge thinks I didn’t get that job because I’m not good enough”. Now the Judge is out in the open and, most importantly, you realize it’s not you. Give your Judge a voice.

3. Creator. Instead of being the victim, be the Creator. David Emerald‘s book, The Power of TED, presents the idea that the victim is living in a negative space that is constantly reacting. From my vantage point, that means the victim is constantly listening and buying into the Judge. Emerald writes. “for Victims, the focus is always on what they don’t want: the problems that seem constantly to multiply in their lives. They don’t want the person, condition, or circumstance they consider to be their Persecutor, and they don’t want the fear that leads to flight, flee, or freeze reactions either. Creators, on the other hand, place their focus on what they do want. Doing this, Creators still face and solve problems in the course of creating the outcomes they want, but their focus remains fixed on their ultimate vision.” Be a Creator.

4. PQ Reps. The biggest take away from Positive Intelligence is trying to do PQ reps 100 times a day. I rolled my eyes when I thought of doing anything 100 times a day. BUT a PQ rep is really just 10 seconds or 3 breathes of being present. This has been fascinating to try for the last week. When I walked my dog this morning I was constantly doing PQ Reps. So I smelled some honeysuckle, I spent three breathes smelling the honeysuckle. Then I listened to birds for 3 breathes, then felt the breeze on my face, then listened to my dog panting, then watched a cardinal, then stopped and smelled some roses (yes, seriously). The point of this is to bring you back to your prefrontal cortex where you do your best thinking. When you are listening to the Judge you are in your limbic system and, outside of fleeing from danger like a Saber-toothed Tiger, it’s really not that healthy for you. Try getting in some PQ Reps.

5. Empathy. One of the superpowers that Positive Intelligence brings is empathy. I think I’m pretty empathetic but Chamine promotes being empathetic towards yourself. Have some self-compassion. He suggests finding a photo of yourself when you were a child and full of possibilities, passion and wonder. I found a picture of myself and set it up as wallpaper on my phone. I see that picture of myself every time I swipe the phone (which is turns out is a lot). I see this brave little girl in the middle of Rocky Gorge, one of my favorite places from my childhood in New Hampshire. There is her bright shiny face looking at the camera braving the chilly torrent of a rocky river. That girl? She’s amazing. I want to protect her from the Judge. Find empathy for yourself.

6. Curiosity. Chamine recommends another super power of curiosity. It’s funny because Emerald suggests the same thing. I have written before that curiosity is the antidote for fear. It’s also the antidote for your Judge. The Judge wants you to be choked by your fear; to standstill and resist. Curiosity opens the curtains. It shows all the possibilities. It’s liberating. Reframing any conflict or issue or assumption into curiosity makes it possible. You’re just an anthropologist studying the “Culture of You”. Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if I just called that new client. Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if I went to that meeting alone. Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if I just apologized. Find your curiosity.

I have to suggest you go to Chamine’s website and try out some of his assessments. Find out your PQ score (mine was 71) and see if you can move the needle (you want to be above 75). He also has some guided audio sessions to help you connect to your prefrontal cortex (did I mention they are free?). So in the meantime, I continue to dismantle my Judge. How do you shut down your judgmental voices in your head?

Stepping into Conflict; It’s OK to Rock the Boat

Over the last few months there have been several events accompanied by insights that bubbled up into an enormous realization; I avoid conflict. I think a lot of us avoid conflict but I realized this had become an almost daily occurrence. The illusion has been that if I avoid something uncomfortable like telling my son “No”, he will remain happy and the conflict will go away. In reality, it just builds. It may not appear today but that conflict will be back or the effects of not saying “No” will have a long term impact. The worst case scenario is that a relationship whether at work or personally, can be irreparably harmed.

I recently facilitated a fantastic new training model called “5 Behaviors of a Cohesive Team” based on a book by Patrick Lencioni. The first behavior is vulnerability based trust, (i.e. can I admit mistakes, can I ask for help, showing weakness, etc.) and the second behavior is constructive conflict. Patrick describes conflict:

“Therefore, it is key that leaders demonstrate restraint when their people engage in conflict, and allow resolution to occur naturally, as messy as it can sometimes be. This can be a challenge because many leaders feel that they are somehow failing in their jobs by losing control of their teams during conflict.”

Just replace the word parent, partner or friend into that quote for “leader” and child, spouse or coworker for “team”. I realized that I felt like conflict was failing whether it was with my husband, my mother, my assistant or my son. It turns out that stepping into conflict is critical and necessary for all teams, relationships and marriages. Wow. So my avoiding the conflict or not letting the conflict occur between folks at work and at home was actually destructive. That’s a big, “Aha!” Rock the Boat.  Step into conflict.

So here are some of the things I’ve been working on in order to step into conflict:

1. Uncomfortable. I’ve been trying to embrace being uncomfortable. I’m the kind of person who goes around smoothing the waters. Human Resource folks do this all the time. Talk to Marketing, talk to Accounting, talk to Production and make it all right. Make sure everyone is happy. This is an illusion. It’s just pacifying everyone and no solution is ever figured out. In recent weeks I’ve tried to pick at the scab and to be uncomfortable. I need to rock the boat. I bring up the financial shortfall or the difference in opinion or talk about the lapse in communication. Step into being uncomfortable.

2. Discord. I’m trying to be accepting of discord. My idea or interpretation is not the only one that matters. I know that sounds obvious but we all have our own world view. I need to allow for a difference of opinion and let it go. It’s easy to get attached to a difference of opinion as if the other person doesn’t respect me or my ideas. Staying detached from the difference and not making up assumptions for the discord is critical. I realized this when I look at my parent’s marriage. My father is a devout conservative Republican and my mother is a bleeding heart Liberal. They will celebrate 60 years of marriage in 2015. That amounts to a lot of discord. From Carter to Bush, there was a lot of passionate debate but they were able to agree to disagree. Accept discord.

3. Ask. Be open to ask for help. As Tal Ben-Shahar espouses in his book, The Pursuit of Perfect, reaching out and being vulnerable enough to ask for help can strengthen your relationship with your team, your family and your boss. The perfectionist in all of us defaults to giving advice instead of asking for it ourselves. Think about it for a minute. When someone asks you for help, aren’t you honored? Doesn’t it strengthen your relationship? There is the fabled story that Ben Franklin asked to borrow a prized book from an arch rival. The arch rival lent it to him. From that point forward he was an ally. How can you keep an enemy of someone you lent a prized book to? It takes vulnerability to ask for help.

4. Empathy. Put on someone else’s shoes to understand where they are coming from. I’ve learned some very powerful tools from my training with CRR Global. One of them is about looking at someone else’s position from the perspective of them living in a different land. I did this recently with a group regarding the utilization of the company cafeteria. We divided the group into three “lands”, one group ate in the cafeteria on a regular basis, the other rarely or never ate in the cafeteria and the last group were the workers in the cafeteria. They each stood in their land and told us what is was like in the land. Then they each visited the other lands to find out what it was like to be from a different perspective. It was completely enlightening. To hear a coworker say that “it must be difficult to try and serve food when the employees are limited on time” or “I just want to escape from work so I go off premise”. Every point was valid and hearing it expressed built empathy for all the participants. Empathy is key.

5. Act. Do something. Sitting back and criticizing behind someone’s back is the coward’s way out. Take a deep breath, face your fears and take a step forward. If you don’t like the new policy, the bonus plan or the joke your co-worker just told; step up and speak up. This is definitely the hardest part for me. Based on several books and articles I have read this probably because women are more comfortable advocating for others than themselves. I’ve done this in baby steps. If I wait until I’m not emotionally charged and speak privately to the offender by saying something like, “You may not realize this but I was offended by what you said”, or “In my opinion this project looks tenuous based on the feedback I’m getting from our clients”; I am capable of acting to affect change Act and be heard.

Facing conflict instead of hiding from it is scary, messy and imperfect. It means that you can’t play it small. Rock the boat before it tips over! In the long run, your relationships and your team will be strengthened by it.

Empathy in the Workplace. How to be Human And Not be Called a Wimp.

First of all, sympathy and empathy are similar but different. As explains ” You feel empathy when you’ve “been there”, and sympathy when you haven’t.” So if your cat just died and I’ve never had a cat, I have sympathy for you. If you are disappointed because you didn’t get the raise you wanted, I can empathize, because I’ve “been there”. Empathy, from my point of view, is one rung up the emotional intelligence ladder from sympathy. It’s the ability to stand in your fellow co-worker’s shoes and “feel” how they feel. Empathy in the Workplace

For most Baby Boomer managers reading this, the “F” word or feelings, is their kryptonite. We associate good management with the tough minded, angry, direct communication style of Mary Tyler Moore Shows’ Lou Grant or 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy. The F word means shedding tears over budget shortfalls or kumbaya moments around the water cooler. Actually my association (being a Boomer manager and all) is with the 70’s radio hit by Morris Albert called “Feelings”. Listen to it at your peril, as it is a sure fire earworm. Whoa, whoa, whoa…feelings. Feelings = weakness. It’s not true. The single best way to lead others, have more productive employees and bring more money to the bottom line is through empathic leadership.

So here are some ways to bring empathy skills into your wheelhouse:

1. Learn. The first thing to know is that it is possible to learn to be more empathetic. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, “fortunately, empathy is not a fixed trait. It can be learned.” (Shapiro, 2002) This is great news. So just because you aren’t sure how to be more empathic, you can take baby steps toward the goal. Read some books, google it or take a class. The key is to start learning.

2. Listen. There has been a lot written about active listening. We spend way too much time listening with the intent to respond, or argue, or repute. Try listening with the intent to change your mind. Wow, what a concept. Try to dispel some of your long held beliefs. This is truly listening; listening to agree with another point of view. Conservatives and Liberals alike are looking to find more information that backs up their point of view while ignoring anything that might refute it. If you want to stand in another person’s shoes, listen with the intent to change your mind.

3. Observe. Observe the feelings of those you are listening to. As written by Marshall Rosenberg in his book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, “First, we observe what is actually happening in a situation: what are we observing others saying or doing that is either enriching or not enriching our life? The trick is to be able to articulate this observation without introducing any judgment or evaluation—to simply say what people are doing that we either like or don’t like.” I think of this as what Jane Goodall, the anthropologist must be doing when observing primates in the jungle. It needs to be devoid of judgment and focus only on the facts. It’s so easy to be wrapped up in our own “stuff”. Be the anthropologist and just observe.

4. Label. Most models including Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) state it’s important to label the feelings that you have observed. My shorthand for this over the years has been “I hear that you are frustrated”. Mostly because most people are frustrated and it’s not as triggered as “angry” or “upset”. I find that when I coach folks and I try to label or clarify the feeling they are having, that, even if I am wrong, they will help to redirect me to what they are feeling. They know I am listening. So Joe might say, “No, I’m not frustrated, I’m disappointed.” OK, so we are clear on how Joe is feeling. Try and label the feelings of the person you are talking to.

5. Needs. Acknowledge that we all have needs and they are either being met or not. In NVC, the process includes stating yours or your coworkers unmet needs without blame or judgment. This is a tall order. So much of our language includes blame or judgment. “You’re selfish…lazy…self-centered.” All judgments. “I’m feeling disappointed because I am not confident that I’m going to meet the deadline.” In this statement, I am not blaming or judging but owning my unmet needs…that of being on time. State your needs without judgment.

6. Shoes. I recently learned a process through ORSC called “The Third Entity Exercise” on how to understand someone else’s point of view. In this case, I was coached through understanding mine and my son’s point of view. The coach had me stand in my point of view and speak to my son (hypothetically). I was upset that he would take so long to get ready. The coach then had me physically stand in the opposite space (as if I was my son) and then speak from his point of view. Light bulb moment. Suddenly I could see how demanding I was being. I understood the dynamic of our relationship. He was reacting to my bluntness. I was lacking empathy. As the coach said, ” your 18 year old son went to Key West with you?” Wow. Cut him some slack. If you get a chance, physically stand in someone else’s shoes. It’s incredibly enlightening.

Maybe the real end result is compassion. Everyone wants to be acknowledged and understood. Regardless, it creates a healthier more productive workplace. Folks want to show up and do their best work when the people around have an empathetic compassionate heart and they feel understood and appreciated.

7 Ways to Take the Road Less Traveled. My Daughter, My Hero.

I’m not here to give people voices because I don’t have the ability to do so for anyone but myself.  All I do is merely remind them that we are all human and that all stories are deserved of being heard.” – Natalie Robles

My daughter, Natalie, graduated from Duke University this past Sunday. I could not be prouder of her accomplishment. Not that it’s Duke or that she is graduating from college period. It’s that she has always taken the road less traveled; thrown herself into and embraced every experience. She has always followed her heart regardless of naysayers along the way. She has always been true to herself. She is my hero. My Daughter, My Hero

Natalie started school a year early. At the age of 4, she knew her alphabet and numbers and tested into kindergarten. In a time where parents are red-shirting (holding their kids back a year) so that they can excel at sports and academics, she was a maverick. She held her own and still placed into the accelerated classes throughout elementary school and into high school. As a sophomore in high school, she auditioned for an elite residential arts school (some 3 hours from home) and managed to be accepted into their prestigious music school. These are very brave steps for a 15 year old fledgling clarinetist but she did it. Her fearlessness, resilience, fortitude and aspirations made her my hero.

Natalie has a laundry list of attributes, but these are the one’s that stand out for me:

1. Resilience. Natalie bounces back even when things are tough. She had a terrible experience her Junior year of high school with a roommate. The roommate left school but Natalie returned the next year. She has had frost bite from backpacking in the snow and returned the following year for the same subzero experience.   She had an unpaid internship in NYC, living hand to mouth for 8 weeks and went back the following summer for yet another unpaid internship in NYC. She may struggle and stumble but she will not fall.

2. Curiosity. In Natalie’s freshman year of college, she hiked for 2 weeks in the Pisgah National forest, performed in a dance recital (she had never taken dance), played with the symphony, tromped around at half time at the football games in the marching band, joined the water polo team (yeah…a newbie), and taught at local elementary schools in her..ahem…”free time”. Natalie inhaled every opportunity. Not all of them were her cup of tea, but she tried them all on for size.

3. Openness. Natalie’s passion is documentaries. It aligns with her ability to let folks find their voice. She doesn’t rush. She doesn’t push. She is present and listens. She distills and edits and blends and creates magic. She is open to all possibilities. And we get to enjoy the product of her openness.

4. Empathy. Her first experience with documentaries was in Medillin, Colombia. She was selected for a Summer program during her freshman year to travel to South America and document families displaced by drug violence.  When she was instructed to interview some three to four families a day, she balked. She could feel the tension in folks as she tried to film. She knew they weren’t comfortable. She wanted to spend time with one family. She wanted to go back to the same family so that she could create trust. She did. She connects with folks and regardless of the cultural and language barriers, she honors them.

5. Decisiveness. Every family has disagreements. It might be what restaurant we are eating at or which movie to rent. The rest of us can get into a quagmire of indecisive infinite possibilities and unspoken agendas. Natalie takes the reigns and makes a decision. Done. Resolved. (Thanks)

6. Joy. As I write this, Natalie is having her wisdom teeth removed. I can hear her in the exam room laughing. She has an infectious laugh that I would recognize anywhere. She brings that joy and laughter to endless folks. No one is immune to her joy (especially her brother). They can crack each other up with just a look. She brings joy.

7. Bravery. Natalie went to a camp in the golden hinter lands of Northern California at the ripe old age of 8. It was emotional to leave your first born in what we later referred to as the “hippie” camp. When I returned to pick her up some three weeks later, she showed us the 20 foot high platform she had, while harnessed, jumped off of as she took a leap of faith to grab a trapeze. She has run a 10k obstacle course race, tried zero gravity and Bikram yoga, auditioned for countless music camps and organizations, and, her greatest feat, repelled up a mountain side after several years of conquering her fear. She faces her limiting beliefs.

I remember when Natalie left for Colombia some three years ago, she read a diary of a journey I had taken to South America some 30 years before. She said, “Mommy, I’m following in your footsteps”. In reality she has gone way beyond the steps I’ve taken. I can only hope to be as accomplished in my entire life as she has been in just 21 short years. My hero.

Are You Wearing Armor All Day?

I’ve been listening to Brené Brown‘s  “Power of Vulnerability” for the last few days.  One of the things she talks about is “wearing armor” or suiting up everyday to keep everyone (and I mean everyone) at arm’s length.  I loved it when she compares “suiting up with armor” to putting on Spanx.  I don’t know if you have ever put on Spanx but I’ve attempted it once…or maybe twice and it is an ordeal.  Trust me, it was worse than trying to zip up my Sassoon jeans while lying on a bed gasping for air when I was 15.  So this analogy really hits home.  Duke-of-Burgundy-Suit-Of-Armor-Headshot

It also reminds me of putting on my New York attitude when I was in the big Apple earlier this summer.  You put your sunglasses on, take off your smile and stomp down the street.  That cold “leave me the hell alone” look so that people don’t ask for money and you can stay on your trajectory on the sidewalk with no interruptions or course corrections from anyone.  It’s exhausting.   The antidote is vulnerability.  So how do you lose the armor? 

Here are some tips:

1.  Moment.  Instead of shutting everything out, you need to be present in the moment.  Author Olivia Fox Cabane recommends feeling your toes.  Feeling your toes brings you awareness of the moment.  I remember breaking my arm when I was thirteen.  I remember every moment, smell, sight and taste of the experience of the emergency room.  When you are really in touch with your body, you are really in the moment.  Don’t bother to break your arm, just stay in touch with your toes and you will be in the moment.

2. Eyes.  Notice the color of people’s eyes.  When you are listening to your child, your  client or your spouse, look for the little flecks of color in their eyes. But as Drake Baer wrote in Fast Company, “The Goldilocks of eye contact comes in two flavors: If you’re in a one-on-one setting, hold eye contact for 7 to 10 seconds; while if you’re in a group, shorten that to 3 to 5 seconds.” If you aren’t making eye contact you come across (intentionally or not) as untrustworthy.  So don’t give them an eye exam. and when walking the streets of Manhattan, take off the shades and connect.  Look into their eyes.

3.  Perspective.  When listening to your partner or boss, try and focus on their perspective.  This is not the time to chime in with how you got stuck in traffic for two hours and “please feel sorry for me” rebuttal.  Stay focused on their “story” regardless if you feel like they are viewing from a skewed perspective.  Feel their perspective and embrace it.  This is not the time to fight it.  Regardless of the “lens” you are looking through it’s not their “lens”.  As David Rock says, no two brains are alike, and whatever their viewpoint is, it is what it is.  Accept the other person’s perspective.

4. Nix sympathy.  Don’t respond with sympathy.  I initially found this difficult to comprehend.  As Brené says in her CD, when you empathize you get into the hole with your friend and help them back out, when you sympathize, you stand at the edge of the hole, stare down at your friend and say you are sorry they are in the hole.  Essentially, sympathizing let’s you raise your self above the person and let them wallow in the suffering.  I think there is a place for sympathy (i.e. funerals) but if you want to really help your friend that just got dumped by her boyfriend, it’s not the time for sympathy.

5. Respond.  Instead of sympathy, respond with empathy.  The easiest way to do this is to label the other person’s feelings.  “I can see you are upset that your boyfriend dumped you”.  “You are obviously frustrated that you had to cancel the meeting”. Labeling works from a brain perspective in that it clarifies  what you heard and lets them know whether or not you got it right.  They might respond, “I’m not frustrated; I’m angry”.  But it makes sure you are on the same page.  You have identified with their perspective and you’ve been open enough to “label” the feeling.  Respond to the feeling with empathy.

Being more present and vulnerable is work.  It’s not easy.  Take one step at a time.  You will get there.  Eventually, you will be able to leave your armor at home.

What are you guarding against?


Biting your Tongue

You need to get good at biting your tongue if you have a teenager, spouse/partner or boss.  Don’t meddle in things that don’t concern you or that aren’t in your span of control.  In the case of a teenager, you have NO span of control; in the case of the partner or boss, only as it is bestowed upon you.  I’m not sure if it’s a gender thing but I have a real hard time staying out of what does not concern me.  I need to back off and bite my tongue.images 3

Giving your opinion on your children’s clothing, dating or music preferences is a losing proposition.  You will not gain any trust or confidence if you are criticizing your teenager’s latest clothing ensemble or iTunes download.  The Romeo and Juliet effect is alive and well.  The more you say that you don’t like “skinny jeans” or gages or head banging music (I don’t even know what the real name is…but it’s awful), the more your children will embrace it.  You strengthen their ties to whatever is the object of your disgust.

It’s not easy but there are ways to bite your tongue (without literally biting your tongue):

1. Divest.  Don’t invest your ego and the judgment thereof into your offspring, friends and co-workers.  Getting wrapped up in “what will the neighbors say?” is a losing proposition.  I can remember my son waiting for the elementary school bus at the top of the driveway, wearing sandals and no jacket on a cold windy day practicing his karate moves.  I had to let go.  The neighbors still loved him and, as far as I know, didn’t call child protective services.

2. Suspend. Quit judging by your own standards.  Just because I get up at 5:30 AM to go for a run doesn’t mean my spouse will or wants to or will dare to.  Suspend judgment.  We all make our own path.  If your assistant wants to wear THOSE earrings with THAT dress, so be it.  If your boss wants to move a meeting because she’s got a hair appointment, so be it.  Let the judgment go.

3. Empathy.  Stand in their shoes.  There was a time when high top chucks were in style.  I owned a pair or two of bell bottoms.  My daughter came home from a hiking trip with a swath of bright red hair.  I remember dying my hair blue/black at age 20 testing my independence.  I bit my tongue and gave her a hug.

4. Silence. Speak when spoken to. Think whatever you are thinking, just don’t say it out loud.  If no one asked your opinion, don’t give it.  It’s amazing how powerful silence can be.  If they do, be judicious with your comments.  As Thumper’s Mom said “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.

5. Positive. Look for the good in all.  Reinforce the positive.  You may not like most of the presentation your friend gave at the conference but you really liked the slides.  Compliment the slides.  Your son hasn’t shaved in two months but he got a haircut last week?  Compliment the haircut.  Find the good and reinforce.

Suspending judgment can be liberating.  Worrying about what someone will think about this or that can weigh you down.  Don’t be responsible for carrying the burden.  Let go.  Bite your tongue and revel in the freedom.