Squashing Gigaguilt

I’ve been reading CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD by Edward R. Hallowell.  The author coined the term Gigaguilt.  Initially, I figured that Gigaguilt was feeling regretful that I didn’t buy the 64 GB iPod and defaulted to the 16 GB iPod.  Like gigabite envy; it’s not.

It’s about the guilt associated with having access to so much information that you know that you are missing that 5k race for domestic violence victims, and the compensation conference in Tampa, and that comedian you’d love to see, or your son’s wrestling match that falls on the same night as your WordPress Meetup.

Life was so much simpler when we didn’t get Facebook invitations to fundraisers for every charity under the sun.  They are all so deserving but how do you choose once the flood gates of information or connectedness open up?  There is this constant struggle between priorities in your life.  Some of which, up until about 5 years ago, weren’t even on your radar.  If you feel like you are overcommitted and are still beating yourself up that you forgot about the parents meeting at your child’s school, have 6 unanswered meeting requests in your inbox and your mother is exasperated that you haven’t returned her call –  You are suffering from Gigaguilt.

Here are some practical tips on how to squash the gigaguilt:

1. Timer.  Put a timer on when it comes to social media.  Spend 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening.  Check in, and do what you are there for.  Check your daughter’s page, your college group feed and wish everyone happy birthday, and Get OFF.  Out of sight, out of mind.

2. Select.  Be selective with your notifications, lists and resources.  I am on several lists.  I get several daily, weekly and monthly newsletters, articles and posts.  If I decide it’s not serving me after a few weeks or months.  I drop it.  If something new comes on the horizon, I sign up and see if there is a benefit.  If not?  I drop it.  You are going to need to draw the line.  If you are never going to be a painter or lawyer or PhD candidate, get off the list.  If you aspire to learn how to play guitar, be a better public speaker or want some leadership advice, sign up and take a test drive.  Just be willing to pull the plug if it’s not serving you.  Clutter produces drag.

3. Slack. As in cut yourself some slack.  It’s OK to not sign up for every 5k within a 20 mile radius of your home.  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  Don’t head down the self judgment trail.  You don’t need to be the perfect________(fill in the blank).  My son ran in the state track meet last year and I wasn’t there to see it.  I saw the video.  I’m still a great parent.  No judgment.  I didn’t get to run a 10k in April.  I’ll try it next year.  I’m still a runner…er jogger.  I didn’t get to go to the charity event I’ve attended for the last 9 years.  It’s still a great cause and I am still a generous person.  Remember:  No one is keeping tabs except you.  Judge yourself exemplary.

4. Expectations. Lay the ground work with those who are important in your life.  Tell your boss that you won’t be able to work Thursday afternoons during you son’s wrestling season.  Tell your mother that you don’t take phone calls during dinner.  Let your daughter know that you have a trip scheduled during her upcoming concert.  There is a lot less guilt and finger pointing if you lay out your expectations up front.

5. Present.  Be present.  If your partner is talking to you, stop looking at your iPhone, make eye contact and listen.  If you are on the phone with your friend, don’t look at email.  If your dog wants to be scratched, look her in the eyes and be with her in the moment.   If you are taking a walk, smell, listen and look at the sights around you.  You aren’t going to get this moment back.  Be there, in the moment, in every moment of your life.

I am by nature, an early adopter.  I will on impulse sign up for a Groupon that I’m not sure my husband is on board with.  I will sign up for the class that I’m not sure I’m going to be able to fit into my life.  I have learned to back off.  Take a breath.  Be selective and squash the gigaguilt.  Just be cause you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Tyrant Repellent

Have you ever worked for one?  It’s a nightmare.  You will never be right.  You will rarely be listened to.  The nit picking will be never ending.  You start to wonder if you should get permission to go to the bathroom.  My very first job out of college was for a catering firm run by a micromanaging control freakish Tyrant.  The angle of the bread was never quite right, the food portion incorrect, the manner in which we sent orders out was inefficient and any decision I made (did I mention I was the manager?) was misguided. All according to the Tyrant.  I left the job after 18 months.  I was new to the workforce but I was stressed out beyond repair of cigarettes and alcohol.

I’ve seen many micromanagers since leaving that job, but I’m happy to say, I’ve never worked for another Tyrant.  I think I must have radar to spot them when interviewing for a new opportunity.  I’ll speak my mind too freely during the interview and somehow I don’t get a call back.  Hmmm…“she’s too independent,” “thinks for herself too much,”  “that will never do.”

What about looking in the mirror?  Are there places and circumstances in your life where you are a bit of a Tyrant?  Been a helicopter parent?  A controlling friend?  A meddling daughter?  I think there are parts to everyone’s life where we just can’t let go.  My husband micromanages Christmas morning, deliberating who gets what present and when. But hey, it’s once a year.  He can be the elf if he wants.

If you want to control the Tyrant within? Here are some suggestions:

1. Listen.  “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” – Stephen Covey.  I might add, “They listen with the intent to be right.” This has Tyrant written all over it.  There was a Tyrant colleague of mine who “asked” for guidance and then did the complete opposite.  He wasn’t listening.  He was paying me lip service.  The first step to earning respect is listening to understand.

2. Accountability.   In Liz Wiseman’s book  Multipliers, she suggests that the manager own 49% of the decision and that the direct report own 51%.  This is a beautiful balance.  This doesn’t take the person who delegated out of the picture but the accountability rests, by the slightest margin, on the direct report.  It’s empowering.  This is your project but your manager is going to be there to fully support you.

3. Challenge. This is frequently described as a stretch goal. This is asking someone to go beyond their normal limitations, to stretch or challenge themselves.  I was just talking to a friend yesterday about a race that is coming up.  There is a half marathon, a 10k, and a 5k.  I was vacillating between the 5k and the 10k.  He challenged me.  “You can do the 10k, Cathy! You’ll be ready in four weeks.”  His confidence inspired me to sign up for the longer distance.  Challenge those around you.

4. Present. As in, be present.  Let go of past and future.  If you are thinking about all your failures (i.e. past relationships, weight gain, enemies) and how this isn’t going to work, you are not present.   If you are calculating what your spouse is going to do the minute he gets home (i.e. dump the garbage, mow the lawn), you are not present. Marching to your own agenda and maintaining your image is not going to inspire those around you.  Tyrant’s live in Paranoia-ville.  Stay clear.

5. Finger pointing. Fall on the sword.  It may not be your fault that the dog got sick on the carpet, just clean it up and move on.  Your assistant messed up the report? My instructions must have been incomplete.  I’ll do better the next time, and so will she.  Maybe the process needs to be tweaked.  This is not the time to call anyone on the carpet.  Casting blame only makes you build walls to your kingdom and breeds distrust.

6. Invest.  It takes time, money and resources to build up those around you.  There are countless avenues to empower the people in your life. A summer camp session for your kid.  Web course for your partner.  An excel class for your assistant.  Encourage and invest in those around to pursue their passion.  They will remember you for your support.  They’ll have your back as well.

So here is your Tyrant repellent.  Try out one or two and see if you don’t reap the rewards.  Be a better leader regardless of your job title.

What do you do to lead others more effectively?

Gut Whisperer

Hindsight is twenty twenty.  How many times have you said that? Why didn’t I…? I should have…? You know that you knew better, but you couldn’t put your finger on why you knew what you knew…but you knew it and you went the opposite direction.  And then you proceed to beat yourself up.  You needed to go with your gut.  But you ignored it.

Dr. Richard Restak has studied this and written about it in his book “The Naked Brain.”  Basically, the more you ponder, research, and weigh out your options, the less desirable the decision.  That is your rational brain at work.  On the other hand, your limbic brain, is your gut.  You can’t put your finger on why you don’t want to hire that guy, but your gut is telling you not to.  Listen to your limbic brain.

I’m sure you remember taking standardized tests in school.  Your teacher told you to go with your first impression – your gut.  When you start overthinking, you will likely make the wrong choice.  In fact, in studies on those who have lost use of their limbic brain (i.e. brain injury) and only have use of their rational brain, they cannot make a decision.  They are stuck in a rational loop of analysis paralysis.  They would never finish the test.

So how do you move from the rational loop to becoming a Gut Whisperer?  Here are some suggestions:

1. Narrow. As in narrow your choices.  If you go to a grocery store and there are 15 choices of jams in a display versus 5 choices of jams, you are more likely to buy from the display with only 5 choices (Crazy huh? Tell me why there are 32 types of just one brand of toothpaste).  So if you are given the choice of 15, try and narrow your choices even if it might be somewhat arbitrary.  Like I’ll only look at red jams. This will help keep you out of analysis paralysis.

2. Authentic. If the choice is a hiring decision or choosing a client, you should look for whether what someone says matches their actions.  Frequently, it’s difficult to read if someone is being authentic or if they are really good at marketing themselves.  Studies have shown that people have micro facial expressions when they are covering something up. You are reading it subconsciously and aren’t sure why you don’t trust someone. If you can’t figure out what it is or give a concrete fact as to why you don’t want to hire them – go with you gut.  Listen to your subconscious because it’s reading the signs loud and clear.

3. Timer. Limit the time you spend on the choice or decision. If there is no reason why you have to delay the decision (like the college hasn’t accepted me or I don’t know if I got the funding), then set the timer. Limiting the window of time for you to weigh out the myriad of pros and cons will help you stay closer to your gut instead of letting the rational loop take over. If you are taking the SAT…you’re in luck, it’s a timed test! If you’re deciding on a new camera, give yourself 30 minutes to compare features, look at reviews, talk to your partner – then decide.

4. Irrational. Ignore the rational explanation. Crazy huh? Buried in your subconscious is all your life experiences, failures, and successes. Your brain is not going to be able to catalog and cross reference why you know that this guy is a bad hire, why those shoes are wrong for you, or why that bottle of Zinfandel is right.  I can remember, from my restaurant manager days, that when I was hiring a hostess, I gave him or her about 30 seconds to make a good impression. If there was an engaging smile and eye contact, it was a yes.  I went with my gut.

5. Heuristics. These are rules of thumb. It’s another way of limiting your choices. The world is overwhelming with the amount of information at our disposal…or rather immediate consumption and distraction. This does not mean you need to consume every piece of information available.  Use some rules of thumb.  I want a camera with the most megapixels for under $200. I’m looking for a forklift driver who is OSHA certified and has worked for a company with perishable products.  I’m looking for a training course that is on presentation skills, no more than two days long within a 5-hour drive for less that $1,500. It helps narrow the focus and limit the analysis as well.

For some of us, this is easy. We are comfortable going with our gut (for the record, I was always one of the first ones done when taking exams). Some of us struggle with giving up the analysis.  Start small.  Maybe the next time you get an ice cream cone, you narrow your choices to those with some kind of chocolate in it or only flavors that start with the letter R.   Go with your gut.

What would you do?

Burn your doormat.

Last week I wrote about physical clutter, this week it’s about interpersonal time suckers in your life.  The force of other people’s priorities into your life to distract you from your true passion.  Someone drops by your office just as you are hitting your stride on a project.  Your boss voluntolds you for a local board that you really aren’t interested in.  The school calls because (according to the rules) your daughter’s skirt is too short and you need to come to the rescue with a potato sack.

Most Human Resource professionals live in a constant state of interruption.  Meetings with Human Resource are rarely scheduled.  There is normally a fire smoldering (or raging out of control) before someone decides to drop by or pick up the phone – do you have a minute?  It’s rarely a minute.   It’s the nature of the beast.

Someone else’s failure to plan, schedule or otherwise handle an issue can easily leak into your life and weigh you down.  If you want to stay on track to your best work, you need to work on keeping people from treading on youDon’t be a doormat, in fact, I recommend burning it.  Here’s how:

1. NoSet up some boundaries.  Let your family, friends, and colleagues know where your limit’s are. Business mentor Christine Kane calls this your “Proactive No”.  I’m not available from 9 until 10:30 AM.  I only work with charities that are aligned with my goal of helping disadvantaged children.  I’m always home on the Sunday to be with my family.  I set my schedule according to my son’s wrestling meets.  No television or phone calls during dinner.  I check email and voice mail on the hour. Draw a line in the sand.

2. Barriers.  Shut your door.  Put on some headphones.  Turn off your phone.  Mark out your space.  A colleague of mine used to put police tape across his cubicle when he had an important conference call.  In the book “18 Minutes” by Peter Bregman, the author has prescribed work hours in his home office and his children know that they may not interrupt for any reason.  If the door is shut – don’t interrupt Daddy.  Other barriers can be turning off all alerts for phone, email and text.  I have a little piece of post it note over the place on my monitor where the little envelope shows up when I have email.  Out of sight, out of mind.

3. Cue.  When someone comes in asking if you have a minute – give them a cue.  Mark out a time limit.  I’ve got fifteen minutes.  I have a conference call at 2.  I’m in the middle of a project but I can give you ten minutes.  Give them the parameters before they get started.  This will help them hit the highlights before heading down a long meandering tale of whoa.  If you find out this is bigger than you thought it would be, you might need to stop and quickly reschedule impending appointments.  Being up front will help soften transition back to your own priorities.

4. Delegate. Can someone else do this?  Don’t be the hero.  You do not need to be responsible for everything that comes across your desk or desk top.  I know.  It so much easier to just take care of it yourself.  Especially if you are impatient like me.  You’ve been doing that report for the last 3 years and it only takes you 30 minutes to complete. Training someone else will take at least an hour and they will probably make mistakes the first few times around.  Ugh.  Invest the time and, in the long run, it will pay off in additional hours to spend on what brings you joy in your life.

5. Gossip.  Hanging out at the water cooler isn’t the greatest use of your precious time.  Discussing the latest episode of “Mad Men” or who got kicked off of “Big Brother” is usually a procrastination technique.  Gossiping about Suzy’s new haircut or Joe’s constant lateness can damage your relationships in the long run.  Gee, if Cathy will talk about Joe that way…what is she saying about me behind my back.  More mind clutter.  Your prefontal cortex doesn’t need to be fed that stuff.  Keep the stage clean.

6. Select.  Being more selective about who you hang out with can improve your use of time.  Hanging out with Debbie Downer or Negative Nancy can suck the time and energy out of you.  Being around optimistic folks helps you stay of away from your lizard brain and fueling the flame of fear.  Surround yourself with some carefully selected Pollyanna’s and let them lift you up to your best.  This is advice that I have given my daughter frequently.  When she complains about a “friend” being consistently critical of her actions or associations, I ask – why are you hanging out with this person?  What value are they bringing?

Frequently it’s best to back away and seek out those who will help you burn the doormat.

What would you do?

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?

Heels dug in.

Most people don’t embrace change. It can be difficult. It’s so much easier to dig our heels in and be inflexible.  It’s a great offense.  Inflexible people are left alone. They are too difficult to deal with.  Leave Joe alone, he’ll never get on board with this idea.  Pretty soon the world is dancing around Joe because they don’t want to deal with his stubbornness. He’s out of the loop.

Organizations do this as well.   It’s easy to get caught up in “doing it the way we have always done it” mentality. It’s hard to create change.  Especially in long established businesses. Unless there is a business necessity (imperative), it’s so much easier to keep it status quo.  It’s the path of least resistance.  Why do a leadership initiative? Incentive plan? Enter a new market? If it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.

I’ve been traveling this past week.  I live in Eastern North Carolina.  The land of free parking, no sidewalks and a six-mile commute with one red light.  Every time I head to New York City, I need to load up on coins, cash and the capacity to adapt (easily).  In the last six days I’ve been through twenty toll booths.  Some took $.90, others $12.30.  I needed to be flexible.  The GPS was lost half the time because of new construction or, in the case of downtown Trenton, they didn’t have roads on their map.  We needed to just go with the flow.  Or as my son, who was my copilot at the time said, “Read the signs.” What a concept. Read the signs.  If I’d had my heels dug in, I’d still be in Trenton.  Actually, I’d be on an off ramp in Baltimore in the fetal position.
So, how do you embrace change? Break out of the status quo. Here are 6 steps to dig out those heels.

1. Scan. As in scan the environment. Are those around you avoiding you? Have you been invited to be on an ad hoc committee? Are you out of the loop?  Are you still wearing bell bottoms?  Are you stuck in Trenton? Your coworkers are perfectly happy to leave you in the dust if you are not open to change.  Nobody likes to associate with “Debbie Downer”. Take the temperature of your environment and see if you are reading the signs.

2. Survey.  Take a poll.  What do your closest friends think?  Ask your boss.  Ask your husband.  Ask your mother (OK…I know I’m pushing it a little far).   “Do I seem open to new ideas?” Perception is reality.  If you are perceived as a stick in the mud, you probably are a stick in the mud.

3. Listen.  When you survey, you need to be open enough to listen.  If you ask the question, you need to be able to listen to the answer.  In fact, if you aren’t willing to listen, don’t even ask.  One of the most counter-productive exercises is for an organization to do an employee survey and then do nothing.

4. Plan.  So what can you do about the perception?  You’re going to need to take a hard look at yourself and start paying attention to the “signs.” Maybe you need to work on not interrupting or your need to be right all the time.  Maybe you’re going to need to back off from being in control all the time.  Maybe you just need to buy some new clothes.  Yeah.  Seersucker is dead and so are bell bottoms.

5. Start digging out.  One shovel at a time.  There is no magic pill.  This is going to take work and all you can do is start.  One interaction at a time.  I remember that when I first started working on showing more appreciation, I missed the boat several times.  I’d forget to thank my assistant for getting the report done so quickly or my husband for taking out the trash.  But at least I started somewhere and I can tell you that now I am much more consistent about showing appreciation.  But I had to take that first step.

6. Reflect.  You can do this in any form you like. Maybe in a journal, meditating or brushing your teeth.  How are you doing?  Do you feel like you are making strides?  Are you getting positive feedback?  Are you getting less negative feedback?  Maybe you were selected for the next ad hoc committee. Maybe you didn’t overreact when you ended up getting off at the wrong exit.  Congratulate yourself.  You are on your way.

What would you do?

S.P.E.L.L. it out.

Clarifying expectations is so critical in all aspects of life; like when you have a new employee, when your child cleans their room and, even when we start on a new project.  If you don’t spell out the expectations, it will, at the very least be frustrating and at its worst, an epic fail.  I see this step being skipped constantly.  Why bother?  Shouldn’t your child know what the expectations for a clean room are?  Didn’t we hire that employee because they were the most qualified for the job?  Haven’t you accomplished other projects?  You will be doomed for disappointment without clarifying expectations.

I can imagine that if we did a poll of one hundred parents about their expectations for room cleanliness that we would find at least 80 different sets of expectations (this assumes that some of those poled are married and have already had a few grumbles about room cleanliness and, therefore, have the same expectations).  The point is, you cannot assume that we would all agree about what a clean bedroom is.  And we certainly cannot assume that your child has the same standards.

Your child gets grounded because they didn’t realize that stuffing all the toys under the bed does not mean “clean”.  You’re disappointed in the home improvement project because you didn’t realize that fixtures you really wanted were five times more expensive.

So how do you avoid the tendency to think that everyone knows your expectations through osmosis and get down to the nitty gritty before you send that new employee off into battlefield of ambiguous work standards?  Here are a few steps.

1. Reflect. What do you want?  What does the perfect outcome look like?  You need to be clear with yourself and/or the team before you set your new employee a drift.  Why did we have to hire someone new?  Did the last customer service rep go down in flames because he didn’t know that the schedule was completely inflexible?    As they say, history tends to repeat, so reflect on what went wrong (or right) the last time.

2. Anticipate. When I send my husband to the grocery store for milk, you might think that is a very basic, simple item for him to purchase.  Well, it isn’t.  I need to anticipate who will be opening that refrigerator door for the next seven days.  If it’s my daughter, it better be soy milk.  If it’s my son, it better be organic skim milk.  If my husband is the intended user, it better be 2% lactose free milk.  Simple item.  Complex expectations.

3. List. It’s a good idea to have a list; whether it be a written checklist, employee manual or just a short mental checklist. “Benson”, that’s my son, “a clean room means clean clothes hung up or folded and put away, the bed being made and no items on the floor”.  In my days as a Sizzler restaurant owner, we had a pre-meal checklist for each meal period.  It was important that even the temperature ranges for the food was spelled out.  Soup < 145 degrees.

4. Engage.  Have a conversation.  It might even be a lecture.  But explain your list.  As in, the soup needs to be over 145 degrees because we don’t want anyone getting sick.  The bed needs to be made because we are having visitors this weekend.  We need personal phone calls kept to a minimum because we have a limited amount of incoming phone lines.  Explain the rationale.  It makes for more buy in.

5. Clarify.  There may be a deadline.  There might be a budget.  There may be other resources.  If the grandparents are arriving at 6 PM, this might be important information when my husband heads out for milk at 5 PM.  The new employee might want to know who else on the team has done this job so they have them as a crutch.  S.P.E.L.L. it all out.

6. Rinse and Repeat. Unfortunately, this is not a one shot deal.  It can be time consuming and tedious.  It was obvious which Sizzler restaurant was not using its pre-meal checklist.  And it usually translated into lower sales.  The customers had expectations.

Take the time and energy to S.P.E.L.L. out your expectations.  It will save you frustration, time and energy.  It will also keep your relationships on a higher plane.  Those around you will appreciate knowing what to expect.

What would you do?

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.

Optimism. The game changer.

Having a positive outlook can change everything.  If you think you can succeed, finish the race, or complete the project, you will.  If there are a few hiccups along the way, well, that may be what the universe intended.

You probably think that I am being a Pollyanna (for those under 40 and don’t know who Pollyanna is click here) Which is exactly what I’m suggesting you do—be optimistic.  It makes a difference in how you face life; in how you recover from setbacks; in how you lead. In Srinivasan Pillay‘s book Your Brain and Business, he shows why leaders need to be drinking the optimism Kool-Aid.  Dr. Pillay writes, “When you have hope and optimism, you have an automatic way of replacing fear in the line of emotions asking for attention from the amygdala.” Basically, if you dwell on the fear and negativity of the situation, your amygdala goes nuts and shuts down rational and reasonable thoughts.  So if you don’t want to fire up your amygdala (your lizard brain), look on the bright side.  Don’t worry about the “how” and all the obstacles in your way, just have belief that you can succeed and you can lead everyone else (and their lizard brains) out of the fire. See what I mean?  It’s a game changer.

At my Rotary club every week we have a 50/50 raffle.  There is one guy who wins it on a regular basis.  He knows he’s lucky.  He’s optimistic.  He wins. There are times when he doesn’t win, but he wins a lot more often than anyone else.  Certainly more than anyone who thinks they are unlucky.  They aren’t even putting a dollar in.  They don’t think they have a chance.

OK.  So here is how you can drink the optimism Kool Aid:

1. Suspend. As in, suspend your negative thoughts.  Don’t go listing all the ways why this won’t work.  That is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  You will be correct.  There is absolutely no possibility of succeeding if you think you can’t.  You do not pass “Go” and collect $200.  You will be stuck.

2. Pause.  When adversity comes along (and it will), take a breath and disconnect from your present situation.  Unplug and regroup.  Your reaction under pressure is only feeding your lizard brain.  Don’t let the amygdala go nuts and set off all the firecrackers.  Have a Zen moment and disconnect.  The last thing you need to feed when you are under pressure is your lizard brain.  Chill out.

3. Discerning.  Now is the time to pick the thoughts that go reeling through your head.  Something negative comes along like, “This will NEVER work,” or “Here we go again.” Or worst of all, “You dummy…you always fail at this stuff.”  Stay off the merry-go-round of negative thoughts and pick the right time to select your thought.  Is there something good that could possibly happen?  That is the thought you want.  Wait for it.  It’ll show up, especially if you’ve already done #2.

4. Explore.  There must be something good about the current situation.  The sun is out.  It’s finally raining.  It’s finally summer.  It’s finally winter.  There is a bright side to everything.  Just find the right context.  There is a roof over your head.  Your car started this morning.  You finished high school.  You woke up this morning and still have a pulse.  There is good out there—just go do some exploring.

5. Digest.  Dwell and remunerate on those positive thoughts and outcomes.  Make it real and believe in it.  The board will accept the idea.  Your car can be fixed for less than $100.  The next big client is going to call tomorrow.  The sun will come up tomorrow.  Digest the positive and dwell on it.

I’ve said this in other posts but I’m still working on this and many other positive habits. Practice makes perfect.  Start working on your optimist. It doesn’t come naturally to a lot of us and if it does come naturally to you, share the optimism Kool-Aid with others.

Appreciation. A lesson from my dad.

There isn’t a conference I attend or a book that I read that does not bring up the importance of appreciation.  It’s critical to everything: employee engagement, marriage, child rearing, influencing others and business success.  Appreciation is the root to success in all things.  But where is it?  Dig into your pockets and see if you have had your full load of appreciation today. It’s doubtful, though. Unfortunately, it’s the road less traveled.  Showing appreciation is that disappearing path in the woods that is covered in brush and pyracantha. Most just don’t bother.

When I was younger, my mother cooked for my family every night, without fail.  My father complimented her on her cooking prowess every night, without fail.  There we were, the five of us, sitting at the table as a family and with the first bite, my dad always said, “Hmm, honey, this is good.” This could be part of the reason she cooked every night. She knew she would be appreciated.

My daughter, my dad and my mom at the kitchen table.

Dale Carnegie, Tom Rath, Marshall Goldsmith, Stephen Covey, Gary Chapman and  Patrick Lencioni (plus many others) have all touted the benefits of appreciation.  And the benefits are countless.  So let me give you a few pointers on how to start down that road.

1. Notice. You are going to need to pay attention to the world around you.  Awareness of what is going on, or not going as the case, may be is the first step.  Did your son actually put all his clothes away without any hesitation?  Did your husband mow the lawn or finally replace that light bulb in the bedroom? Has your assistant updated that monthly report you haven’t looked at in three months without fail?  If you aren’t paying attention, you will not have the opportunity to appreciate.

2. Value.  It’s the little things that matter.  The chore I hate the most in my life is emptying the garbage.  It’s a little thing.  It takes all of 3 minutes to haul the garbage bag out to the trashcan , but I loathe doing it.  So when I run across an emptied garbage can, it is a gift.  If the implementation team worked extra hours over the weekend to make the new software seamless first thing on Monday morning, it is a gift.  If I value it as a gift, then I know I will appreciate it.    My dad valued a hot, home cooked meal and he showed his appreciation.

3. Spontaneous.  Appreciation is not very effective if you drag your feet before you give appreciation.  OK, so for a wedding gift, I think the etiquette books give you up to a year—not true with the receptionist’s new haircut.  If you wait on complimenting her for, well, a year, it turns out to be kind of pointless.  If you love that color blouse on someone, tell them.  If you just realized that the dishwasher was emptied by the dishwasher elf (…the only person in my house that would do that is my dear sweet lovable husband), make sure you thank them (him).

4. Gossip.  There is nothing better than to hear that someone else spoke highly of you.  This happened to me this week and, frankly, prompted me to write this post.  A colleague of mine met, by happenstance, a Rotary friend of mine.  The colleague told me how my Rotary friend had been singing my praises as a Rotarian.  Wow.  If that isn’t the best appreciation to get…through a little gossip.

5. Park it. Your ego, that is.  If you are worried about getting a compliment in return, this will not work.  If you come strutting in to the office with your new Jimmy Choo wedges, and start working your way down cubicle row complimenting everyone’s shoes.  It will be obvious that it is more about you than them.  The appreciation faucet works best if it’s running in one direction…and that is towards others with no expectation of anything in return.  If you don’t park your ego, it could appear as if you are not sincere.

6. Bask in it.  This is going to feel good.  Being an appreciator is like being a ray of sunshine.  You never know who you are going to run into that you get to shine light on for but it is really gratifying.   Paying it forward with one compliment at time.

So go out there and take a few steps down the road of appreciation.  See how many steps you can take each day.

What has your dad taught you?