It’s not my only line in the play

I heard this quote at a conference in October. It really put things into perspective. We have a lot more shots at a goal than we imagine. I think back to grade school theatrical productions and not wanting to flub the one line I was given. But in reality, we have a ton of lines. For that matter, a ton of plays in life. I can get wrapped up in perfection in the job interview, or the presentation to the board, or the first date. It’s freeing to realize there are a lot of opportunities in life and it’s grand to not get wrapped up in the perfection of your next line in the play.

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I can relive conflicts in my life where I have an epiphany about what I should have said. The perfect comeback. The perfect redress. The perfect reparation. Finally putting someone in their place, and yet, the opportunity is long past. I can live in a loop in my head about how I should have played the situation differently. It takes energy. It zaps me. It’s completely unproductive. It was only one line.

So here are some ideas on how to move on to the next line in the play:

Piece it out

I facilitate a bunch of different trainings. They can range from Ethics, Sexual Harassment, or Human Resource Certification. Sometimes I present about CRR Global’ s “Lands Work”, Gallup’s Strengthsfinder, or Leadership Retreats. The thing is, when I first started facilitating, I would get completely caught up in the three upcoming events I had scheduled. I’d be worried about the one in three weeks when I was prepping for the one tomorrow. I would be overwhelmed and not sleep well. The secret is to focus on the next project. The next training. The next coaching client. By piecing it out to one project or event or client at a time, I can focus, be calm and better prepared. Focus on the next line in the play.

It’s about them

Delivering a line or a song or a presentation is all about the audience. Moving off of my own ego and onto the group in front of me is lifting an enormous burden off my shoulders. It’s not worrying about if I look fat in this outfit or if I can get a laugh out of the room. It’s delivering one piece that helps someone in their day. When you focus on them, it becomes a service. It makes it easier. I know that can seem like a lot of pressure but if I go into a room of two hundred people wanting to impress them all, it’s overwhelming and sure to fail. If I go into that same room with the intention to impact just one person’s life, it’s much easier. If it helps more than one person, terrific. If everyone gets it and loves the presentation? Even better. But the goal remains all about them.

$hitty first draft

Practically everything I facilitate, coach, or write is a first draft. I try not to overthink things. Granted, I have an editor for my blog, but the rest of what I deliver is on the fly. It’s in the moment. I’ve said some dumb things; I’ve said some witty things; I’ve said things I want to completely forget about (and usually don’t). Aren’t most conversations in life just $hitty first drafts anyway? Let go of perfection and be in the moment. If you mess up this line, there is another line coming up.

Be present in the moment

I’ve spent a lot of time rushing ahead. Planning. Mapping things out. I can be exhausting to be around. I can also spend a lot of time dwelling on the past. The Monday morning quarterbacking type stuff that is just as debilitating. The important thing is this moment right now. I facilitated a new group a few weeks back. I had never worked for this organization before. There were a bunch of unknowns: the audio visual; wall space for flip-charts; seating arrangements for the table. That’s all just flotsam. The real object is being present for the people in that room. It’s being present to tease out the wisdom in the room. It’s letting other folks shine their light for everyone else to benefit. If I’m more worried about the perfect room set up and refreshments, I’m not present for those in the room. So maybe you have to adjust the line in the play to fit the group in the room. Be present so you know it.

Be silent

It’s OK to be quiet. Not everything has to be filled with words. Time for folks to reflect is super important. Time for you to reflect is important as well. I think back to my first date with Roy. There was plenty of silence. I was OK with not filling every moment with language. I remember becoming certified to deliver a Myer’s Briggs facilitation. The instructor told us to wait 20 seconds after asking the group a question. Count out twenty seconds in your head.  Go ahead.                It’s an eternity, right? It’s an adjustment to be OK with silence. You don’t need to have language filling the air at all times. Give everyone time and space to reflect and digest. Some of the most profound moments in a play are when it is silent. Think back to all the pregnant pauses in a Hitchcock film. Rear Window would not be as griping without the silence. Silence can be powerful.

At the heart of all of this is just being authentic and present for as much as you can. Give up the need to know how it’s all going to end up. Every play is going to be different. Every line you deliver will have a different impact. What’s your next line in the play?

Sit Up Straight. How to Take Up Space.

I had the pleasure of hearing Amy Cuddy speak last week at the WorkHuman Conference.  Amy has the second most viewed TedTalk and there is a good reason why.  She has terrific advice on how to be able to handle pressure without succumbing to fear and anxiety.  It was quite the thought provoking talk on how to be “Present.”

The interesting thing is that Amy models what she speaks.  She walks the talk in front of a crowd of some 1000 onlookers.  She is a petite woman but regardless she is a power house on the stage.  In addition, she points to the science to back up her claims and I’m going to outline them here.Sit Up Straight

Sitting up straight and other advice on being more powerful:

  • The 2 Minute Power Pose. I’ve been giving this advice to my students at Duke University for the last few years.   Right before we take the final exam, I have everyone stand up and pose like Wonder Woman or Super Man (whichever makes you feel more powerful) and we count to 120.  Studies have shown that doing the power pose for 2 minutes increases testosterone which makes you more assertive, confident, risk tolerant and competitive.  In addition, your cortisol drops with makes you less stressed, less anxious, more secure, and less fearful.  One of my students said after doing the power pose, “I’m going to do every day.”  What’s two minutes if you can go through the day more powerful? So I’ve been working on how I sleep as well.  It’s not like your mind isn’t reading your body while it sleeps.  No more fetal position for me!  I’ve been working on the power pose while I sleep.
  • Sit Up Straight. Turns out your mother’s advice was correct.  As Amy said, your mind and body are constantly conversing.  So whatever your body is emulating, the mind is readying.  She didn’t like “fake it till you make it” but rather “fake it until you become it.”  She asked everyone to look at their posture.  Suddenly we were all sitting up in our seats.  I’m sitting up straight as I write this.  When I sit up straight I feel more alert, more authoritative, more powerful.  One small change can make the difference in your entire day.  So imagining a string at the back of your neck and pull yourself up.
  • Don’t Cross Your Arms. This one is SO difficult for me.  It makes you appear defensive.  I am constantly crossing my arms, especially if a room is cold.  But when Amy modeled crossing her arms on stage?  She looked smaller.    Timid and weak.  So now I imagine myself in that important interview or project meeting.  If it happens to be in a cold room?  Or just by habit I cross my arms?  It’s not likely to be successful.  So habit or no.  Cold room or no.  Keep those arms open.
  • Think about how you walk. A power walk has more of an exaggerated swing to the arms.  Your legs have a longer stride. You posture is tall and erect.  Walking with purpose tells your body that you are powerful.  You are bold.  You are in control.  I’ve recounted a story before from my twenties where I was lost in Harlem one summer evening and being followed by some young men.  I turned on my power walk (I didn’t realize at the time that it would have a powerful effect).  Nobody was messing with me.  My fear and anxiety were dampened down and I got to where I was going safely without incident.
  • Own your space. I’m a tall woman.  I’ve spent a lot of life trying to appear petite.  To deny my presence if you will.  I’d find myself around petite women and I try to shrink myself.  This is not productive.  I remember in my final coaching class with CRR Global, I was facilitating with a tall, charismatic man name Michael.  At the end, I remember the insightful instructor, Marita Fridjhon said, “This is a power couple.”  I realized that I had taken on Michael’s power.  I owned my space, my taller than the average woman body.  Accept your body large or small and own it.
  • Don’t fill in the void with your voice. Another huge learning experience for me is to accept silence.  Powerful people don’t fill space with their voice.  They lower their voice and speak slowly.  As Amy says in her book Presence, “When people feel powerful or are assigned to high-power roles in experiments, they unconsciously lower their voice frequency, or pitch, making their voices expand and sound ‘bigger.'” Our voices are affected by anxiety and threat- both of which cause us to speak at a high pitch.” Power up and lower your voice.

Be powerful.

7 Surprising Upsides to an Empty Nest.

They are gone. The last kid is safely back at college. The extended family back in their appointed homes. And the silence is deafening.

My daughter’s laugh is infectious and nothing makes her laugh more than playing Super Mario Brother’s with her brother. One minute they are laughing hysterically and the next they are bitter rivals. This is the magic of the holidays. Sibling rivalries reignited. My son insisting that there was only one night to set up the Christmas tree with his sister (family tradition) so they stayed up on Thanksgiving night putting the tree together to surprise me in the morning. It’s amazing that the act of service is so much more important than getting a new Rolex. My Christmas was made that morning when I walked out and the tree was light up and decorated with all milestones of my two kids. Think about how this applies to work. Making sure you get your annual budget in on time or perish the thought “early”. Your coworkers will appreciate the service as opposed to a new company logo t-shirt.

Two weeks ago we couldn’t find enough chairs in the house. Eating breakfast was in shifts or sitting on the couch balancing a plate on one knee. The dishwasher ran three times a day. The bustle and hub bub hummed. Visiting with nieces, I see at best, once a year. Catching up and reminiscing over childhood stories with my two older brothers. Looking at photos from the trip to Minnesota where my history loving father was in search for evidence of Vikings and the fabled Kensington stone. Countless photos of three awkward looking kids pointing at mooring holes that could have been left by Leif Erickson. Criticism of my mother for her taste in children’s clothes and haircuts. Good fun. And now it is silent. Even the dishwasher is silent along with the dog.

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So now that the nest is officially empty, I have discovered some surprising gifts in its wake:

1. I have my dog to myself. I don’t have to share my dog, Baci’s, affection anymore. It’s all about me. She happily follows me from folding clothes, to writing in my office, and most importantly, to the kitchen in the hopes I will drop something. I have to admit I was getting jealous of her divided attention for the past few weeks. Do you have resources at work that you have to share? Make sure that when you have them back to yourself that you are showing them the gratitude.

2. There is space in the fridge again. I don’t need to be stocking whole milk for my son, Almond milk for my lactose intolerant daughter and buttermilk for an army load of pancakes. I can easily find things again. Including a cream container that was 6 weeks past expiration. Whew. Similarly, it’s such a relief to have last year’s files moved to storage.

3. I sleep through the night. My son is terrific at accomplishing all kinds of chores. I appreciate him taking out the garbage, emptying the dishwasher and creating culinary confections in my kitchen. The issue is that he does these chores in the wee hours of the night. Like 3 or 4 AM late. Invariably I hear the clang of pots or see the light under my door. Now, I finally have my sleep back.

4. No more midnight rides to Cook-Out. Every time my son is home, he has to commandeer my car for midnight or 2 AM runs to Cook-Out. It’s a local restaurant chain that is not available in Miami, where he goes to school. I know this by the telltale signs of a Cook-Out Styrofoam cup on the counter and my car seat on too much of an incline when I get in my car.

5. My kitchen counters are clear. My children seem to have amnesia when it comes to the location of the dishwasher and the garbage can. There has not been a change in the location of these items since we have lived in this house for almost 14 years. My morning was spent putting empty cups in the dishwasher and empty packaging in the garbage. Now I can rest assured that the counters are clear when I rise in the morning. It’s like moving into a new office, you suddenly know where everything is because you are the one who put it there. A clean slate.

6. We are clutter free. Two adult children and my extended family visiting for my parent’s sixtieth wedding anniversary meant jackets, laptops, phone chargers, cameras, shoes, coffee cups and two rental cars to jockey around. I lost my coffee cup and water glass several times. Now the Christmas clutter is all packed up (thanks to my amazing son who packed it all up in the dead of night!) and I know where my water glass is.

7. Silence. It can be deafening. But now that everyone is gone, there is a bit of Zen in the air. Peace. Time for reflection. Time to write. Getting my groove back. Think about spending some time just reflecting. Close the door to your office and just ponder.

We had a terrific family celebration and holiday. It was wonderful to connect with extended family and even better to laugh at old photos from our childhood and watch the faces of our kids as we relived family trips and occasions. But now that it’s all in the books? I’m happy to get back to the empty nest and ready to embark on 2016.

Reacting versus Responding. How to hit your pause button.

I am the youngest of three siblings and the only girl. It seems I was the master of reaction growing up. Whether my brother turned the channel in the middle of the Brady Bunch, took the last cookie or crept over to my half of the back seat in our Country Squire station wagon; I was at the ready to scream, cry or be a tattle tale. It took very little to get a rise out of Cathy. It turns out that all this reacting was kind of bad for me. I was constantly turning on my Fight or Flight system which, it turns out, is really unhealthy. Reacting versus Responding.  How to hit your pause button.

I just finished Dan Harris‘ book, 10% Happier. Dan is a news anchor and reporter for ABC news. He was on high alert on a constant basis, especially when he was a foreign correspondent. He literally was in Fight or Flight mode in Iraq and Afghanistan. This takes a huge toll on your body. When you are stressed out, it depletes your adrenal glands and destroys your brain. As Mark Hyman wrote in Research, “It shrinks the hippocampus, the memory center of the brain; reduces serotonin; lowers BDNF (brain derived neutrophil factor), which acts like Miracle-Gro for your brain cells; increases inflammation; increases belly fat; lowers thyroid function; and much more.” So the last thing you want to do is turn on the stress switch when it’s not really necessary; like when your big brother takes the last cookie.

So here are some ideas on how to switch from reacting to responding. 6 ways to pause and spare your brain:

1. Rhythm. Try and maintain an even rhythm of breaths. This is kind of like a mini meditation. As in meditation, the focus is the breath. When you focus on breath, it brings equilibrium to everything in your body. It’s hard to get amped up when you are concentrating on your rhythmic breathing. As Hyman wrote, “Your vagus nerve is a very special part of your nervous system that helps you calm your mind and turn on a cascade of healing that can reverse depression and dementia and help sharpen your mind – making old brains young again. ” In, out, in, out, in, out, in, out. Rhythmic breathing helps turn on your vagus nerve and pause your reaction.

2. Aware. Breathing makes you aware of your body. As Dan described, “I feel burning in my chest, my ears are hot.” Make mental notes of awareness. When you label things, it’s much easier to be objective. Hmmm. My stomach is clenched. I feel tension in my shoulders. It keeps the adrenal gland at bay. Letting your mind run amok will do just the opposite. Bring your awareness back to your body. What’s the weather like in here? Is there a storm in your stomach? Is there lightning in your brain? Be aware.

3. Release. Now that you are aware of what is going on, release the tension. This might be difficult. OK. It will be difficult. If your boss just turned down your idea or someone just cut you off in traffic, trying to let go of tension might seem counter intuitive. I actually did this yesterday. There was a big truck on my tail who swerved around me to cut me off. I said to myself, “He must responding to an emergency.” I focused on my breathe, let off the gas, got in the right hand lane and let go of the tension. It’s not worth the adrenal jolt.

4. Silence. Accept silence. I have personally worked on this for years. When I first started interviewing applicants as a Human Resource Coordinator, I would frequently be completely uncomfortable with silence. I’d ask a question and if the response wasn’t immediate, I would rephrase the question, or interrupt and ask a completely different question or (worst of all) finish their sentence. I’ve made huge strides in this, largely through my coach training, I realize now that silence is the space where folks do their best thinking. So get comfortable with it. Create it and accept it.

5. Think. Now that you have your body under control and created some space for silence, you can think. As Dan referred to it, “it’s like getting behind a waterfall”. The water of rushing thoughts is the waterfall, and getting on the backside of that waterfall is where your space is to think without reacting. The adrenal gland is off, you are present in the moment, your body isn’t reacting. So now how do you respond? In a much more forward and solution based way. Instead of trying to steal the cookie back, I might ask my brother if we should bake some cookies and split them. Think through your response.

6. Respond. Bear in mind that sometimes a response is no response. Perhaps a smile and a nod. I learned this many years ago. Sometimes it’s best to be stoic. I learned that folks would deliberately try and get a rise out of me. Well, if I don’t react, they will back off. It’s like stimulus and reaction. If the reaction doesn’t happen, the stimulus will go somewhere else to find someone to fire up. It could also be a solution based response like, “Hey Rick, what do you say we go bake some more cookies?” There is not escalation, just a response.

I realize that accomplishing all 6 steps needs to happen in about 10 seconds. As Dan described, it’s OK if you can’t do this every time. Cut yourself some slack. If you combine this with a meditation practice, you will get better at it over time. How do you press the pause button?

Quit Putting Yourself Down. Lessons From Julia Child.

I got a text the other day from a colleague.  It said simply, “I suck”.  He had forgotten an important event.   I read this and wanted him to put the toothpaste back in the tube…but he can’t.   He just put himself down.  He belittled himself.  And what should my response be?  “No you don’t”?  “You’re awesome and usually on top of things”?  I feel like when you put yourself down it’s either a billboard sign saying “I have no self esteem” or “Please, please, please….make me worthy”.   I realize, it is a cry for help but this is not the best way to go about it.

I have read practically every book on Julia Child.  She is my gastronomical, feminist hero.  In the book “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child” by Bob Spitz, there is an occasion where Julia has prepared lunch for a friend.  This was when she was first discovering how to cook French food while living in Paris.  She prepared a béchamel (white sauce) which came out like plaster.  She laid the plate in front of her friend and herself, sat down and ate it.  Every last bite.  It was wretched but she never, ever apologized.  As she is quoted, “You should never apologize at the table. People will think, ‘Yes, it’s really not so good.’” Quit putting yourself down.  Lessons from Julia Child 2 jpg

I love this.  I try and live by it. There are lessons to be learned in cooking –  especially when it comes to cooking because it is so easy to roll down that slippery slope of self-deprecation.  You share a part of your soul in cooking; it’s the grand gesture to taking care of someone, of sharing of yourself with someone.  And you can really get caught in – It’s not hot enough.  It’s too spicy.  It’s too thick.  Too thin.  Yada yada yada.

So here are some tips to help you stay away from stomping your guts out every time you make a mistake:

1. Bite Your Tongue.  So if you aren’t happy with how the project came out, don’t sit in the cafeteria and talk about it with your cronies.  Bite your tongue.  The soup you just made is a little too lemony.  Eat a saltine.  Shut up and slurp up.  Having a bad hair day?  Keep it to yourself.  You really don’t need to give a running commentary on every failure of your life to everyone around you.  Bite your tongue.

2. Spin.  Put the positive spin.  If you were your own publicist (and really you actually are), what positive nugget can you find.  Find it and say that out loud.  “The project came in under budget.” “The soup has a bit of zing to it. ” “I love this new blouse. ” “Did I tell you I volunteered at the homeless shelter yesterday and met some wonderful people?”  Something is going well today, so focus on that, put out the positive spin.

3. Implications.  Think through the implications.  There was a study by Dr. Judith Baxter that studied speech patterns at work.  When women are trying to be humorous, in particular, they use self-deprecating humor 70% of the time during meetings.  It falls flat.  Crickets chirping.  Is this the way you really want to come across in the workplace?  Being self-deprecating, even in trying to be funny, only shines the light on your lack of self-esteem.  You are not being modest.  You are not Woody Allen.  You are being weak.  What are the implications?

4. Silence.  Be comfortable with silence.  Don’t feel like you need to fill the space with the sound of your own voice.  Count to 5.  Count to 10.  It will be awkward at first.  Listen to your heartbeat.  The clock on the wall.  The fluorescent light overhead.   Be the silence.

5. Sorry.  Quit apologizing.  This is the crutch of most women I know, including yours truly.  I was helping my daughter unload the car at her dorm the other day and I said “I’m sorry” for not picking up one of the boxes (did I mention I was already laden with two backpacks and  one tripod hanging on my shoulder and holding two pillows)?  And she says, “What are you sorry for?”  I have no idea.  I’m on auto pilot.  If something doesn’t go right in the world, it must be my fault.  Really?  Can’t carry all the grocery bags at once, so the default is to apologize.  Especially for women – the fixers of the world.  Stop it. (yes there is a place in the world for apologies…but 9 times out of 10 it’s overkill).   Don’t apologize.

I have this need to be modest and also to take the ‘blame’ for others (we are taught this as women) and my default can be to put myself down.  Shine the light on what’s going right or smile while you bite your tongue.  Be your own publicist.

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.

Soothe your Inner Dictator

It’s difficult to control our inner dictator.  Most of us are trying to work on something.  Exercising more, spending less money, eating more fruits and vegetable, stopping procrastination…pick your poison.  The minute we derail, we beat ourselves up.  “Cathy, you lazy wench, why did you sleep in and not go for a run this morning?”, “Why did you go out to dinner when you said you would save money this month?”, “Dummy, you spent 2 hours on Facebook when you could have been doing homework.” “What is wrong with you?” Sound familiar?  Your dictator has taken over.

According to Dr. Kelly McGonigal and her book “The Willpower Instinct,” carrying around this guilt and reprimanding ourselves with this self talk is actually going to encourage more self defeating behaviors.  What?  Is she crazy?  I would be completely out of control if I didn’t reprimand myself.  My dictator is doing a great job of keeping me under wraps.  Really?

One of the studies in the book took place at Carlton University in Ottawa, Canada.  They tracked the procrastination habits of students over the course of the semester.  The ones who were self critical for the way they performed on the first exam were much more likely to make it a habit and procrastinate on subsequent exams.  Those who forgave themselves for procrastinating on the first exam, did far better and  improved their study habits.  Doesn’t it seem so much easier to have some self compassion and to soothe your inner dictator?

Here are some ways to calm your dictator:

1. Forgive.  Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”  Let go of your grudges towards others.  If you can’t forgive them and their failures, how can you possible forgive yourself.  I was tormented by resentment of an ex for years.  It got me nowhere but more stressed out, paranoid and resentful (as I recounted all his sins against me and mankind).  It wasn’t hurting him, it was hurting me.  Release it and move on.

2. Self Compassion.  Once you have forgiven others, it should be easier to forgive yourself and your failures.  Try to imagine if you would say any of the things that you say to yourself, to a close friend or your child.  Imagine your best friend getting on a scale and you say to them “Hey fatso, that’s what you get for eating all that cake last night.”  Why would you talk to yourself with any less compassion as you would a friend.  Forgive yourself.

3. Escape.  Anticipate the feeling of giving in when you are stressed out and plan your escape.  So if I’m used to grabbing a glass of wine when I get home from a stressed out day at work, have an alternative escape plan.  A healthier option.  A walk, some yoga, praying, crotchet, reading, gardening, P90X.  What ever you enjoy that is counter to your normal unhealthy default escape. This will trip up your inner dictator.

4. Envision.  Envision being successful with a few bumps along the way.  This is what kills most New Year’s resolutions.  You join a gym and say you will go every day and then when the first bump in the road comes along (such as I couldn’t get a babysitter) you abandon the plan.  Resolution over.  Realize you are going to have set backs and keep on keeping on.  In the story of the tortoise and the hare, the tortoise always wins.

5. Awareness.  Watch how you talk about yourself to others.  I know several colleagues who constantly put themselves down or are down on life.  “I’m having a bad hair day.” “I’m overloaded.” “I’m tired.” “I’m sick.” First of all, do you want to be around someone who is such a downer?  Second, how can you possible have a good day when you are saying this out loud?  If you are feeling a little tired, say “I’m feeling great.” And add a smile.  It will turn your day around and others will be attracted to your energy.

This is a difficult process and it isn’t easily changed over night.  Your dictator has been in control for a long time so don’t plan a coup d’état.  Slowly but surely pacify your dictator’s power by reflecting on how you are viewing things and what you are letting your dictator control (and say).  Soothe your inner dictator.

What is your dictator saying?

Lawnmower Fairies

Human Resource professionals have experienced this and are usually on the losing end of the stick.  Here’s the situation:  The manager has an employee with a  performance issue but they continually overlook their shortcomings. They figure it will just go away.  So whatever the behavior – it is ignored.  Normally, Human Resources gets brought in when the manager is fed up and wants to take action.  Usually the employee is oblivious because they’ve not known there was a problem. This is a losing battle.   IT WON’T WORK.

Stalling or waiting for something to turn around is like hoping the grass will get cut on its own.  There aren’t little fairies that will come in the middle of the night with a weed whacker.  You’re going to need to get out the lawn mower.  Um.  (Not literally for the employee – that would be a different HR nightmare).

When you have an employee, client or child who is consistently late – stalling is going to exacerbate the problem.   When someone’s task or functionality is wrong, incomplete or insufficient; stalling will not correct the issue. Nine times out of ten, when you are sitting in your office, sofa or car rolling your eyes because you are not happy with the outcome, yet keeping silent;  you are stalling.  And.  IT WON’T WORK.

So if you are ready to get out the lawn mower and stop believing in lawn fairies, this is what you need to do:

1.  Grip.  As in, “Get a grip.”  You are going to need to address this.  You need to wake up and realize that putting it off is not the solution.  You are assuming that the offender knows what they have done.  Odds are they don’t.  They don’t have x-ray vision and are not clairvoyant.  You think they should know.  Isn’t it obvious that they have been late for the last three weeks?  If you haven’t said anything, they don’t know.

2. Facts.  Gather the facts at hand.  Did you say they needed to turn in the weekly report by Friday?  How many times have they missed the deadline?  Go through your email, your inbox, your files and figure out when they were late or incomplete.  Get your facts together.  Write it up.

3. Review.  Was there a reason they were late?  Look at the calendar.  Were they sick, on vacation or working on a last minute project?  Why are they always late with this particular report?  Is there a valid reason?  Make sure it makes sense and that your expectations are reasonable.  If you expect your son to cut the lawn and he’s been at camp for the last six weeks – this would not be a reasonable expectation

4. Craft.  Craft your expectations into a reasonable non-threatening sentence or two.  If you can’t describe the issue in less than two sentences – you are trying to tackle too many problems.  You should not be trying to decimate someone’s self esteem.  You are trying to resolve an issue.  Pick the one that is bugging you the most and craft your two sentences.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Don’t bite off too much.  Zero in on THE issue.  If you tell your son he hasn’t adequately cleaned his room, is late doing the dishes, did a lousy job at mowing the lawn, and still hasn’t called his grandmother, he will be lost and dejected.

5. Jump.  Go for it.  Find the right time and place(see my post on Unresolved Conflict) and then address the issue.  It might just be as simple as, “I’ve notice you’ve been late three times this week and four times last week.  It’s important that we are on time because our customers are depending on us.”  Or, “Your reports have been on time but weren’t as complete as I expected.  There weren’t any notes on productivity or quality parameters in the last four reports.”  This works much more efficiently than shooting from the hip.  You’ve got your facts, you verified that they are reasonable and you have zeroed in on what it important. Whew.

6. Listen. Let them vent, explain, bitch or cry.  Now it’s all about them.  Let them fix the problem.  You can add your two cents but let them work out how they want to resolve it.  Don’t take the monkey back and don’t tell them how to resolve it. This is their issue and if they don’t decide how to resolve it – they will not have buy in.  Advice giving is a buzz kill.  You need to just be there for the brain storming.  The monkey is now officially on their back.

7. Faith.  Make sure you have let them know that you believe in them.  This might be difficult when you are exasperated but it’s important.  People want to live up to your expectations but they can’t give what you want unless you give them the latitude and faith.  “I know you can be on time going forward Suzie.”  “I can’t wait to see the next report because I believe we have resolved the issues.”  “I’ve seen you to a great job on the lawn before and I trust you to do it right the next time.”  End of discussion.  Pat them on the back and you are on your way.

Communicating is always a work in progress.  Don’t get discouraged if it’s messy the first few times around.  Just make sure you take that step.  Quit rolling your eyes in disgust and start addressing those issues that are bugging you.  There are no lawnmower fairies.

What would you do?

The Big Lie

In addition to being a recovering interrupter, I am also a recovering multitasker.  There was a time, about 15 years ago, when I was a commuter in Northern California, in which I would apply makeup, drink a Venti Mocha, talk on my cell phone AND drive my car between Windsor and Petaluma.   Not too good.  I was under the delusion that I was getting so much accomplished – that I was Super Woman.

As technology exploded in the 90s, there was the imperative to keep 10 balls in the air at one time, and it hasn’t stopped. Dr. David Rock has busted the multitasking myth with his book “Your Brain at Work.” In the book he compares your frontal cortex which is the size of a postage stamp and where you make all your decisions, to a stage in a theater.  And this stage is not the size of Madison Square Garden or even Carnegie Hall.  It’s more like a puppet theater with room for about three hand puppets max.  In Dr. Rock’s analogy, your frontal cortex is being bombarded with actors trying to get on stage.  And the more actors you have on stage, the more your decision-making diminishes.  For each additional task (actor) on stage, the more your performance drops.

Christine Rosen, who wrote the article “The Myth of Multitasking,” agrees with Dr. Rock and says that the result of multitasking is a 10-point drop in IQ or twice the drop as for marijuana users. And we all know that multitasking while driving (you know, like applying make up and talking on your cell phone) is worse than drunk driving.  Tsk, Tsk.

So here are a few steps to bring us back on the road to monotasking:

1. Clear. As in clear all the clutter. I have been letting my magazine subscriptions lapse.  I don’t get the local newspaper anymore.  Set the timer and take 10 minutes to clean out your kitchen junk drawer, your closet or your car.  De-cluttered means less distractions.

2. List.  Close your office door and make a list.  Do a brain dump of everything you want or might want to get done takes a lot of actors out the mix and off your “stage.” If I’m in class and just remembered I need shampoo from the store, that bottle of shampoo is going to sit on my stage (maybe) and trip up my other actors.  Do a brain dump to get it off the stage.  Or better yet, get Wunderlist (a wonderful free app for making and organizing task lists) and put it on your grocery list.

3. Focus. This is the hard part.  Pay attention to the task at hand.  If you are on a conference call and start going through your email; you are not listening.  You are reading email.  If reading email is more important, then hang up the phone.  If the conference call is more important, then shut down the email.  You are going to have to start making choices.  So choose.

4. No.  You’re going to have to do it.  Turn off the TV.  Send it to voice mail.  Don’t go to the conference.  Get off the committee.  I can see you rolling your eyes but it’s true.  Just because you can check email 24/7 doesn’t mean you have to.  The world will still be there tomorrow.  Just say NO.

5. Imperfection.  Do it imperfectly at first.  It’s OK.  It’s fine if you back slide a little.  Small messy steps are more important than no steps.  There is going to be that phone call you were waiting for as you’re driving north on 101.  Maybe you can pull over and take it.  Maybe you can explain and call them back later.  Don’t beat yourself up.

The fact that you’re aware and trying will help you make more effective and smarter decisions.  Sometimes a shampoo bottle will come rolling onto the stage.  It’s OK.

Are you putting your best cast on the stage or is it full of shampoo bottles?

Interrupters Anonymous.

This is really hard to write about.  I’m Cathy Graham.  I’m an interrupter.  It’s been 3 hours since my last interruption.  So you other interrupter’s out there are saying, so what?  I’m sure you have something important to say.  What’s the big deal?

It is a big deal.  It shuts the door.  It says that my idea or thought or rebuttal is more important than your idea or thought.  I am not saying that I am the only guilty party.  We are a society of interrupters.  Every good political debate, decent reality show and “60 Minutes” investigation usually involves someone interrupting someone else.  Shame on all of us.

Some of you aren’t interrupters.  Thank you. Thank you for your patience and forgiveness.  For the rest of us those who will admit we have a problem let me give you a few pointers on how to get over to the other side.

1. Listen.  I know I’ve written about this before but it cannot be over stated.  Actively listen and quit letting your mind wander into the war zone of rebuttals and/or watching the clock so that you can pretend that you are really listening.  Hmmm.  I’ve let my co-worker talk for at least 2 minutes, so now is my time to jump in.  Stop.  Turn on all receptors.

2. Digest.  Take in the conversation or discussion.  If this is a team meeting, take it all in.  Try and get the whole picture of the other participants’ viewpoint. Is your teammate telling you he can’t get the project done; or just not done in the parameters that the team wanted?  Or by the deadline he initially agreed to?  Take in every detail.  Knowing all the details will help you in the end and the rest of the team will be impressed with your knowledge of the facts and details (pretty cool, huh?).

3. Suspend.  Stay far away from making assumptions.  This is dangerous territory.  If you are assuming then you are not digesting.  There is no way possible for you to read someone else’s mind.  You might have a good guess as to someone else’s motivation but you can’t know for sure.  Your boss might have shot this idea down ten times before but assuming she is shooting you down now puts you on the defensive and lights the match for interrupting.  Suspend all your beliefs and assumptions.  Really.

4. Pause.  As in, wait a cotton pickin’ minute.  OK, maybe not a minute, but wait 5 seconds.  Let there be a little air in the room.  Let everyone take a breath.  Don’t be waiting at the ready to rebut and/or shoot down whatever idea has just been floated.  Pause and take a breath.  And if someone else jumps in, this is your opportunity to learn patience (not my strong suit…this is where I struggle).  Engage in listening mode and bite your tongue.

5. Unselfish. It’s all about them.  Unless this is your wedding day, Eagle Scout induction or your retirement lunch, this is always about them.  Them, as in, everyone else in the room; your teenage daughter, your boss, your coworker, the soccer team or the class.  If you keep them as your focus, you slowly eliminate the amount of interrupting you are doing.  If you can keep your focus on them, on their ideas; you will break your habit.

6. Rinse and Repeat.  Just like your shampoo bottle recommends.  Just keep on keeping on.  There will be times when this is irresistible.  Like when someone tries to instruct me that Napa Valley has the best Zinfandels.  I need to just smile and listen patiently and choke the words back that want to spew forth.  Let them have their peace.  Let them impart their knowledge.  When a manager tries to explain a labor law that I know intimately as well as the latest regulations I  smile and let them have their due.  I’m not going to say that I won’t say anything.  But if they ask?  Sonoma Valley Old Vine is the best, in my humble opinion.  But what do you gain by interrupting to bestow that fact. Unless you’re tasting wines or buying a winery, let them have their way.

I find this to be especially effective with hot button issues like politics, religion and most sporting events (my college Alma Mater is worth interrupting for).  I will say that when I listen patiently, smile and acknowledge others in a heated debate or team discussion, it really improves your reputation.  People gravitate to the person who listens rather than tries to interrupt.  So if you have the habit, acknowledge it and start working on it.  You will be on your way to being a social magnate.