đź‘ŚGot Plan B?

“The most successful people are those who are good at plan B.” -James A. Yorke

You are frustrated because they cancelled the show you bought the tickets for six months ago.  You don’t get the promotion you’ve been dreaming of since you came to this company.  The proposal you sent to your ideal client which is going to double your income this year, is turned down.  Is the universe ganging up on you?  Nope.  You just need a Plan B.

I a few years ago I traveled to New England on business and pleasure.  I ended up with several Plan B moments.  I was staying on the 17th floor of the Hartford Hilton.  The fire alarm went off at midnight.  Sleep was Plan A.  Descending 17 flights of stairs on foot was Plan B. I was staying at my friend’s beautiful country home (in the middle of nowhere in the Berkshires) and planned on writing while there.  There was a thunderstorm that plowed in overnight. Phone and wifi were dead.  Plan A was writing.  Plan B was having a lovely day long conversation with my friend.  I missed a connecting flight at Washington Reagan airport.  Making the connection was Plan A.  Walking 10,000 steps in Terminal C was Plan B.  The important thing was being open to Plan B.

This is how I remained open to Plan B:

  • Keep the goal in mind.  I’ve retold the story of taking 17 flights of stairs and more than one person told me, I think I would have just stayed in the hotel room.  Truth is I didn’t smell smoke but in a 22-story hotel, how could I possible know what was above me.  The goal was avoiding participating in a fire and if trudging 17 flights kept me safe, then that’s the goal.  Getting home safely was the goal when I missed the connection in DC.  It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration of a change of plans but if you focus on the end goal it calms the anxiety.
  • Know where your essentials are.  When a fire alarm goes off and there is an annoying strobe light to accompany it, it’s disorienting.  I tried to turn the light on next to my bed.  It didn’t go on.  I thought the electricity was out.  Fortunately, when I fumbled over to the desk lamp it worked. But I had no idea where my sneakers and glasses were.  Having shoes and glasses were essential.  During the thunderstorm two nights later and the lights flickered, I made sure I had my glasses and shoes next to my bed.  Socks?  Laptop? Nope. Not essential. So in a work situation if you end up not having an LCD projector, use a flip chart.  If you don’t have a flip chart, have someone take notes on paper.  Figure out what’s essential.
  • Label the feeling.  I was sitting in the last row of the plane when we finally pulled close to the gate and making my connecting flight was very present in my mind.  I had a ton of anxiety and, frankly, I was angry that we were sitting 10 feet from the gate but were not actually “at” the gate with the door open.  I consciously sat in my seat and thought, this is what anger feels like.  My forehead is hot and my stomach is clenched.  OK.  And this is what anxiety feels like.  My stomach is flipping and my throat is tight.  OK.  I sat there inventory-ing my feelings as they arose and labeling them.  I was able to witness the feelings instead of getting sucked into them. Labeling the feeling keeps you from stuffing it away as well.  Let it rise and vanish as you consider each one.  If you take anything from this post, work on labeling your feelings; it will keep you from getting sucked into them.
  • A plausible alternative.  When someone cuts me off in traffic, I try and imagine that they are headed to the hospital on an emergency.  When I was sitting in the back row of the plane, I decided it must be some safety issue and the plane couldn’t pull up to the door.  When the client I sent a proposal to doesn’t respond,  I imagine my offer ended up in their spam folder.  Better reach out by phone.  A coach friend of mine, Michele Woodward, recommends that you reach out to a potential client three times.  That’s a great rule of thumb.  With smart phones and bulging email inboxes, the world is a giant distraction.  It takes patience and persistence to get through the clutter.  Assume that they want to get back to you, they are just overwhelmed.  There is always a plausible alternative or explanation.
  • What opportunity is available.  When I realized I missed my connection and had four hours to kill, I decided that I could listen to my book on Audible and walk 10,000 steps.  I’m not sure there weren’t a few folks who saw me walking by them 15 times who didn’t think I might be lost or a lunatic but here was an opportunity to get a few hours of my book done and get in 10,000 steps.  The opportunity in Hartford was seeing some thirty Hartford firefighters.  These guys were there to potentially save my life.  What bravery.  They do this every day.  Run in while we run out.  I don’t have the opportunity to see that every day.  The opportunity in the Berkshires without wifi?  Isn’t it obvious.  20 hours without social media and email and phone.  Priceless.  All I need is a good friend and a dog and the opportunities are endless.

I’ve always had my father as an example of patience.  I have always admired his unflappability.  Whether it was a flat tire or a teenager changing their mind with Friday night plans, “Daddy, can you drive me and my friends to bowling instead of playing Monopoly at home?”  I try and tap into his patience when I face my Plan B. Tools help.

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 Dictionary.com 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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.