Thursday, November 5, 2015

Lessons Learned from a Blue Dog

As I was driving my daughter home from school one day we discussed her most recent, holiday inspired, work of art.  I suggested that we temporarily place it where we had hung her “Blue Dog” painting.  She agrees…and then a few moments later asks, “Don’t you like my Blue Dog?”  Surprised, as I absolutely love her art work and frequently tell her so, I said “Of course I do.” – Then I went on to explain the limited space we have for hang-able art.  “But” she says, “I heard you say you didn’t like ‘Blue Dog’”.  And she was right.  I had said exactly that.  What she didn’t know however, was that I wasn’t referring to her artwork, but a restaurant I wasn’t fond of.  That conversation had happened two weeks earlier.  Right in front of her.  And I never gave it a thought.
For two weeks my daughter sat with that criticism while her Blue Dog hung prominently in our home. 

Why does this matter to you? 

This misunderstanding hits at the core of how many conflicts develop.  My daughter heard me right – but understood me wrong.  How could she have known – or even anticipated that?  How did this impact her for the two weeks she sat on it?  How often were her emotional outbursts and challenging behavior (which were worse during that timeframe) directly related to her being hurt by me?

In both our workplace and our personal lives we are capable of experiencing these misunderstandings.  We feel certain and convinced that the hurt was intentional – How could anything else be the case?  And yet, the Blue Dog teaches us.

Here are the lessons I hope to bring:

Be Brave.  When you feel hurt, talk about it with the person that hurt you.  (If a 6 years old can do it, so can you).
Give the Benefit of the Doubt.  It may look, sound, or feel like someone is being unkind, unfair, or intentionally hurtful.  But before you make that determination, talk to him/her.  There may be more going on than meets the eye.
Ask Questions.  Don’t look to prove your case or find evidence supporting your belief.  Instead, ask questions to find out more information.  It’s ok to be persistent if you are confused by the initial answers.  Had my daughter simply stopped asking questions when I said “Of course (I like her Blue Dog)”, she may have thought I was lying or trying to deceive her. 
Be Open to the Conversation.  When you are being asked questions about your intent, or more to the point, being told you’ve hurt someone, listen to them.  Try to understand where your actions have created pain or harm for someone, and offer clarity, perspective, or even an apology when appropriate.
Forgive.  Hurt, caused with or without malice, can bring out the worst in us.  My daughter had to make peace with the knowledge that I had not intended to hurt her so she could release her pain.  I had to let go of my irritation with the anger she had been displaying.  We both needed to forgive each other.

I was reminded of all this and more from my daughter.  I thanked her for her courage.  I encouraged her to continue to confront the things that hurt her.  I forgave her for the behavior that had come out of that experience. 

I encourage you to do the same.   

Wait…Emotions Matter? Facebook Says So.

I recently heard a news reporter talking about a big change on Facebook.  Emoticons, called “Reactions” will soon be available in our news feed response options.  With them, rather than simply being able to “Like” a post, we will be able to display an array of other emotions including anger, sadness, and surprise.   The reporter went on to talk about how actively this was used in test markets, adding with surprise, “People really liked being able to express their emotions!” 

Was this really such a surprise?  In our computer and technology dominated world, where everything is expected to be fast, simple, and quantifiable, have we really lost site of own humanity, complete with emotions, such that this comes as a surprise to us?

And there’s more.  According to R. Gonzalez of, “With Reactions, Facebook has pared down that most economical mode of communication to its barest of bones.”  While being able to consume more data, and respond to it in less time, is certainly a benefit to our time online, it has implications beyond the internet as well. 

A technology driven wake-up call
Facebook may be using the ‘novelty’ of emotions to improve ad sales and increase consumer usage, but any business has a lot to gain by adding emotions back into the equation.  Here is a jump start of ideas for enhancing business by using emotions in the workplace: 

Customer Service – Engage your customers.  Get rid of the script and have your employees ask questions to get to know their caller and his/her needs.   This builds rapport while providing you with added information that can make your client even happier.  (Added note - If you don’t trust your team to do this, you’ve got the wrong people in customer service).

Employee Performance – Ask employees directly about what encourages, inspires, frustrates, and angers them at work.  Job performance is directly impacted by how we are feeling.  Learn how to bring out the best from your employees.

Self-Expression – Just as emoticons allow a speedy way to show surprise, sadness, and the like, so too does speaking about our emotions.  Imagine how much easier communication would be if we stated our emotion before and after a conversation.  We would immediately know if things are better or worse as a result of the exchange, and have instant feedback on what we need to fix or do differently next time.

Conflict Resolution – Tensions among co-workers always has an emotional under-pinning.  But fear of asking/finding out how someone is feeling, or why they are acting in a negative way, leaves information hidden and conflict unresolved.  Help your managers and your employees learn how to express emotions appropriately and purposefully at work.

Data Collection – We can track and collect data about emotions just as we do any other aspect of business to determine trends, patterns, and information.  Perhaps in conjunction with the suggestions above your company will be able to determine what builds a repeat client, a dedicated employee, or a peaceful work environment.