Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Power of Positive Perspective

How do you stay so positive?  Especially when life presents inevitable challenges and “bad” things happen?  Be it workplace issues or personal struggles, we all have the power to choose how we view each situation we encounter.  The problem?  Most of us don’t realize we have that power.  

This is not to say that some of life’s experiences are not more pleasant or more dreadful than others.  Instead, it is to say that the same situation can be viewed in many different ways; and how we choose to view it has a profound and compelling impact on how we feel about that situation and how it affects us.   Some examples:

Say you find yourself stuck in traffic after a meeting runs long.  Instead of bemoaning that you’re now even further off schedule, be thankful that the delay put you 20 minutes behind that potential car wreck, instead of in it.  Perhaps that meeting saved your life.  Instead of frustration, this change in perspective can leave you feeling relieved, grateful or simply at peace with your circumstances.

Or ask yourself how you might feel about having your flight to work with a new client cancelled.  Are you worrying your client may choose to find a local resource?  Or choosing to see this situation as an opportunity to encourage the client to Skype with you?  The latter could make scheduling future work together easier and would be cost-effective for the client – possibly enhancing the opportunity for a longer and deeper collaboration.   

These two examples shed light on two specific ways to manage perspective, by making a shift in thinking.

Focus on the positive aspects/alternatives as in the situation with the cancelled flight, and choosing to see new options and the long-term benefits they present.

Consider the avoidance of a negative incident or experience (as with the traffic).

This adjustment in perspective is a choice you make.  It means stopping your knee-jerk reaction and processing alternative ideas.  And, you’ll find, the more often you make this shift, the easier and more natural it becomes.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How to Choose Happiness for the Holidays

Around the holidays we are often confronted with the same difficulties we have experienced year after year.  Family pressures, repeat arguments, logistical challenges, etc.  While we can’t always change the cyclical pattern, we do have control over the choices we make within those situations, and therefore have the ability to control our experience of those otherwise complicated and uncomfortable moments.

The holidays are meant to be joyous - for everyone.  If you aren’t finding the holidays bring you that experience, look more closely at the choices you are making that allow them to be less than pleasant.  

1.     Examine Your Situation – Be aware of what creates an unpleasant holiday season for you.  What happens in connection with the holidays that you don’t like?  What situations, conversations, etc. do you expect to encounter that are distressing? 
2.      Make Decisions – With a clear head, and before any plans are firm, decide what you want.  If your spouse and parents don’t get along, consider staying in a hotel to minimize tensions. If splitting time between several relatives is exhausting, decide if they can come to you, join together, or take turns (every other year), to keep things simpler.  If you hate being around family arguments, decide what steps you want to take if an argument erupts.  This step is about making decisions for YOU.  Since doing what you’ve always done, will lead you where you’ve already been, make decisions on how you will make this year different for yourself. 
3.     Take Responsibility – Once you’ve looked at your options and made decisions, take responsibility for those choices, informing others as necessary.  Simply state the facts of your decision without inviting other’s opinions or feeling compelled to explain your own rationale.  If you opted not to make changes, find peace with that decision as well by acknowledging your good reasons for leaving things as they are, and focusing on the positive things you do get out of your situation.   
4.      Focus on the Positive – You could choose to focus on the negative, and leave yourself feeling unenthusiastic or depressed.  Or you could bring your optimistic self and make your experience a pleasant one.  Notice the smiles of a child opening a present, feel the joy of your parent’s delight at being surrounded by the whole family, savor the familiar foods or sights you get to enjoy just at this time of year.  By making a choice to find the positive and the enjoyment, you will reap what you sow.

      Wishing you a very happy holiday season! 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Preschool Wisdom meets the Modern Workplace

Developing teams who work well together and support one another is an on-going challenge – and a frequent topic of my articles. However I recently recognized a way to address that challenge that’s so simple it brings to mind the popular book of nearly 25 years ago, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum.

The revelation is based on an activity at my daughter's school which keeps kids connected and engaged, (qualities all employers want of their staff) while bolstering their self-esteem and giving them opportunities to be a leader (qualities that are difficult to both develop and assess). The activity is Share Day, and here’s how it works: Each child has an assigned time when he or she gets to share something with his classmates – by way of show and tell, and they get to ask questions about it. Through this activity the children get to know each other better, learn of their shared interests, and develop a level of interpersonal appreciation and respect for one another.

Apply that lesson to a business setting and the outcomes could be far greater. Share Day would facilitate staff in getting to know one another beyond the scope of their work. It would create an atmosphere of understanding and compassion, which translates into better workplace relations and stronger teamwork. It can help shy and quiet staff to connect with their coworkers, and it creates a platform for developing – and recognizing - natural leaders that others will follow.

There’s more good news. Share Day creates a specified time and place for engaging in personal conversation. This means staff would know when they get to share, and likewise, when not to share. Share Day presents staff with an appropriate place to talk about their recent accomplishment, to brag about their kids, or to share good or bad news that is affecting them. Rather than sending non-work related emails, this would be the forum in which staff could talk about their recent vacation, ask for sponsors for the marathon they'll be running, or to buy cookies for their child's scouting troop.
Here are a few guidelines for implementing Share Day at your company or organization:
  1. Incorporate "sharing" into team meetings, either as the warm up, or as a way of closing the meeting.
  2. Limit Share Day groups to a maximum of 12 people. If you have more than that, the team should be divided into logical groups based upon who staff work most closely with.
  3. Limit each person’s sharing to 5-7 minutes. Lunch and breaks are the time for added sharing if desired.
  4. Share Day does not need to be a part of every meeting, but should occur about once a month.
  5. Each person should be allowed (and scheduled) to “share” about once a quarter.
  6. Strongly encourage all staff to participate when it is their turn. Allowing staff to opt out will likely cause other staff to feel vulnerable or judged by their peers and ultimately undermine your goal of improving teamwork and employee relations.
  7. Have a kick-off meeting in which staff help in creating rules for Share Day.
Remember that the immediate goal is to help staff bond. Bonding yields trust, better workplace relations, higher productivity, greater loyalty, lower turnover, etc. If you follow the guidelines above, you are spending less than 20 minutes a month on staff relations, and likely yielding a huge return on that small investment.

Back to School and the Play Date

While it’s wonderful when your child goes back to school and makes new friends, sometimes there is a negative side in it for you.

What if your child’s new BFF (best friend forever) is not your favorite child to be around?  How do you set boundaries for your child, and their playmate, when there are obvious differences in the parenting style each child is accustomed?

In handling issues that involve kids and families, the most important thing you can do is be true to yourself, and the parenting style that works best for your family.  But realize that your role as decision maker is also limited to your family.  Below are some important reminders as you navigate these parenting challenges.

1.     Watch your tone – When you need to redirect a child that is not yours, or ask them to follow your rules, do so with a level of tenderness in your voice.  This child is not misbehaving to spite you; he or she may simply have different rules (or no rules) and needs to learn what you expect. 
2.     Respect the other parents – Do not speak negatively about the caregivers of this child in front of him/her, or in front of your own child.  Even if you are stating factual information, like their frequent absence from their son or daughter’s life, it is hurtful.  Imposing any judgment about the other parents is damaging to the friend, and sets a poor example to your child on the importance of accepting differences in others.
3.     Demonstrate Understanding – Begin the conversation by acknowledging that your rules may be uncomfortable for the other child.  Perhaps by comparison, you are strict or seem unfair.  By showing you accept this child’s reality you will gain ground in getting him/her to accept yours.
4.     Set Boundaries – Be clear and concise with the rules this child must follow.  Include your own child in the discussion so that it does not feel punitive, but collaborative.  For example, “In our house, we don’t eat sweets or snacks before dinner.  We have a rule that dessert is earned if you eat most of your dinner.”
5.     Instill Consequences – If there are certain behaviors that are unacceptable to you, let the other child (and yours) know what the consequence will be if they engage in this behavior.  Perhaps the other child must go straight home, or you will cancel their planned sleep-over.  You can prevent many problem behaviors by making the consequences clear beforehand.
6.     Be Consistent – Make sure that the rules you set are consistent with the rules for your child (wherever possible), and are likewise consistent for all their playmates. 

These guidelines will help to keep playtime a positive experience for everyone, even you.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Get Your Hands Untied

How often do Human Resources or managers get accused of ignoring problems, taking sides, or playing favorites?  It seems employees feel that unless a person is fired, or publicly flogged, not enough has been done to remedy a problematic situation.  Complicating matters further, Human Resources (and other authority figures in the workplace) are bound by confidentiality and often cannot reveal how they are handling an issue.

Allowing this conundrum to remain brings some employees to believe that sharing information with management does nothing to help, yet leaves them exposed.  They’ll stop telling you about their concerns even if they continue to be impacted by them.  Morale will drop, workplace relations suffer, and unplanned turnover will increase.  In some cases, an employee will feel violated and, if they happen to be of a protected class, may file a grievance or a lawsuit claiming discrimination.

What can you do?  While the law may leave you feeling your hands are tied, here are five things you can, and should, do when hearing a complaint.

  1. Hear both sides.  It sounds silly, but all too often the crux of such concerns occur when a person of authority takes action or makes a decision based on just one person’s side of a story. 
  2. Take notes.  Not copious notes, just enough to show you’re actually listening and trying to keep track of the situation.  Remember if it matters to them, they need to know it matters to you too.
  3. Help them to resolve it themselves.  Many of the complaints HR and managers hear have to do with interpersonal issues.  They aren’t issues which typically require intervention.  In such cases, encouraging the person to handle it themselves is often the right choice.  To offer support, you may want to role play, provide mentoring, or offer to be present when the concerned party approaches the source of their complaint.  
  4. Keep them informed.  Tell them what you’re going to do (generally), and why.  Perhaps it’s not appropriate to act on a first time concern, but you are taking notes and plan to keep an eye on the situation.  Or maybe the issue does require intervention.  Simply let them know that you will be taking action, but that due to confidentiality you cannot disclose any other details.  In either situation, be honest about your decision-making. 
  5. Tell them to keep you informed.  This may be the most important step as it assures the concerned party that you do want to help and are not ignoring their concerns.  Urge them to come to you if the situation continues or worsens.  Remind them that you cannot be of help if you are not aware of the problem.
By responding to complaints in this manner, you will better control morale, turnover, and issues of conflict in the workplace.