“Love” in the Workplace
What’s “Love” Got to Do With It?
Did you know there’s a body of thought that suggests we have only two ways-of-being – Love or Fear? This holds true whether at work, at home or anywhere. Fear can include hate, despair, cynicism, blame and apathy. Conversely, Love in an organizational context (also called “loving kindness”) has to do with looking past others’ “foibles” and instead seeing them in their essence.
Practically-speaking, these behaviours show up all the time in training programs on Communication Skills, encouraging us to step into others’ shoes. Yet, how many of us fail to do even that? So preoccupied by the conversation inside our own heads, we have almost zero capacity to listen to what others are really saying (or not saying).
Perhaps we ought to take a page from my friend’s book. Never have I met anyone so committed to understanding (and loving) people. Tony is like a dog with a bone. It may take a while, but he chips away at the outer “protective layers” until he’s managed to locate himself in your interior. Not offensively – but gently. His artfulness in looking at the world exactly as you would is second to none. And, it starts with his profound dedication to “get” his colleagues and friends alike.
The Transformational Possibilities
As we stand at the hopeful brink of renewal, authors like Marianne Williamson (The Gift of Change: Spiritual Guidance for a Radically New Life) acknowledge life as we knew it is passing away. All of us are part of a much larger process.
Williamson goes farther by asserting the planet’s progress depends upon a quantum leap within each of us. This means deliberately letting go of limiting attitudes and actions (Fear) in our work and personal lives so a much-needed transition toward Love can occur around the globe.
The great news is, we control our own willingness to craft our everyday interactions so they’re based in unconditional Love. With Tony’s to teach us, my optimism grows. Does yours?
The Top Ten List
As usual, I invite you to scour your heart in responding to these thought-provoking questions:
1) What attitudes/behaviours do you demonstrate when coming from Love?
2) What proportion of your energy is spent in Love versus Fear?
3) How conditional versus unconditional is your love?
4) With what kinds of people is it easier to extend loving kindness?
5) In what situations is it difficult for you to be your loving best?
6) How open are you to changing your Fear-based attitudes and/or behaviours?
7) What benefits could result from projecting loving energy wherever you go?
8) How do you think those “annoying” others might start to react or act differently if you were to practice these new ways of being?
9) Ask yourself how you can avoid retreating into disappointment or other emotions when others fail to live up to your expectations.
10) What do you think of the idea our human progress depends upon our individual ability to love (rather than be in fear)?
Here’s your stretch exercise. For a period of time you select, extend loving kindness where you go. Up the ante and send the most Love toward those who bug you most! Then decide if you wish to make the ‘experiment’ permanent. If you’d appreciate some inspiration, take your cue from these loving role models:
|“People are unreasonable, illogical and self – centered. Love them ANYWAY. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Be good ANYWAY.”(Mother Teresa)
“Along the way in life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.”(Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)
The Times Are Changing
Back to School
As the “hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer” come to an end, you’ll likely be experiencing your own version of the back-to-school energy that so colours this season across North America.
A number of you may have children or students returning to the classroom or university. Others have graduates establishing themselves in the workplace. And, certain readers will be considering what studies are next for you. Either way, I hope you’re entertaining some ideas about how to grow and develop across the fall – including how you can apply your special talents to positively changing a situation at (and/or outside of) work…
Continuous Improvement Is a Mindset
Taking our cue from nature, She inherently knows not to stay in one state for any length of time, but rather to continuously unfold. May I suggest how critical it is in business to follow Her lead?
For, I’m sure your workplace represents the “new normal” of trying to keep ahead of (or at least apace with) hyper-speed operating conditions plus super-intense customer and marketplace expectations. Ongoing upheaval is the daily name of the game. In such an aggressive climate, it would be extremely easy to see ourselves as victims – tossed around on the raging seas without so much as an oar to direct the ship.
As a result, a “woe-is-me” mindset is very understandable when faced with constant revolution. All I’m asking is: Can we agree it wouldn’t eventually be an influential stance? What if, instead, you were to choose a proactive frame of mind where you seek out opportunities to tweak, enhance or even dramatically alter some aspect of how you navigate your day? This could involve process improvement or shifting your roles and responsibilities. How would such an upbeat attitude affect your sense of control? I’d have to suspect positively! In so doing, you’re seizing the reins of power over your work.
The Top Ten List
Yes, the active decision to take charge of every part of your life is really a way of being. But it needs to be a way you adopt. You must consciously determine whether you want to feel like “they” are forever doing it “to you” or whether you want to own your career. Like it or not, you’re in command of the cards you play.
You get to choose, for you’re responsible for your life. In that sense, I encourage you to consider this month’s Top Ten list as my challenge to possibly one of more of your thoughts or opinions about change and what is called in customer-driven quality circles “continuous improvement”:
1) You choose your perspective (about change or any subject) at every moment – whether you do this deliberately or by default.
2) Decide for yourself if upheaval is to be feared or relished; it’s up to you.
3) Resolve whether change needs to feel painful or whether it teaches you lessons that make you stronger.
4) Change is continuous; it never ends.
5) Change is neither good nor bad; it just is.
6) Allow that resistance is a (first) very natural and human response. It’s OK to experience your feelings when stressed (and any time, actually).
7) Grant yourself permission to not always enjoy being moved out of comfort zones.
8) Recognize that every change (even a beneficial one) costs somebody something.
9) Everyone has their own speed for coming to terms with new situations.
10) Allow for the endings and losses which change produces – for failure to do so will negatively lengthen moving through your difficult emotions.
In promoting a productive attitude toward upheaval in business (and life), my hope is you will reframe your reality by choosing to see change as natural and constant. Rather than be overwhelmed, how about holding it as a chance to grow and renew?
What if absence of change was a sign of stagnation? Back to today’s and tomorrow’s workplace, I’m sure you see how negativity like “It’s not my problem” or “Everybody else can change, but I don’t have to” won’t get you very far.
For today, let me leave you with these inspirations from great leaders:
- “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” (John F. Kennedy)
- “Personally I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” (Sir Winston Churchill)
- “There are those who look at things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” (Robert Kennedy)
Mistake or Lesson?
With the arrival of another fall, let me bring back (only briefly!) a less-treasured school memory – the dreaded quiz L Do you recall the red pen or pencil “x” that marked your wrong answer on a test? Even if technology changes see students’ work graded in a more “up to date” fashion since the one-room school house, I have trouble imagining that the old “marm” mindset doesn’t still lurk in the vestiges of today’s school system (this bold statement, even though my family heritage is one of many dedicated educators).
As a recent article in a freebie community digest asserts, children thus absorb an early subtle yet dangerous message: mistakes are bad and to be shunned. Tests, with their emphasis on getting 100% scores, skew the learning process. Author Jim Campbell goes on to suggest we should feel sorry for those who attain perfection, as they don’t gain skills needed to deal with “mistakes”. If indeed there is such a thing…
Returning to Business “School”
Do you begin to see why I entitled this article, My “Mistake”? To start, let’s take a page from Thomas Edison’s book. After he’d tried 1,000 possible filaments, Edison was asked if he felt frustrated by so many “failures”. Undaunted, he replied that he now knew 1,000 things that didn’t work. For the record, it took 3,000 tries before his light bulb succeeded.
Too bad so few people have such a positive attitude. It’s especially ironic, given how humans the world over learn to walk – by falling down a lot through trial and error. Did you know that even strategic missiles need to travel off-course before self-correcting to pinpoint the right target?
So, how is it that children who joyfully learn to walk by falling down turn into adults with so much difficulty accepting their blunders? Unwittingly thanks to parents, playmates and teachers, we regrettably learn to be cautious and avoid looking foolish. If anything, we learn to laugh at those who make mistakes.
Can you further see where this article is going as it regards business “school”? While it’s tough in our competitive North American culture to not get embarrassed over goof-ups, isn’t that perspective also contrary to out-of-the-box thinking? Aren’t we virtually ordered to innovate all the while being evaluated by appraisals that reward “walk on water” performance? Is it just me, or do you locate a parallel with testing that punishes “wrong” answers and favours perfect pupils? Talk about conflicting imperatives!
The Top Ten List
Now, because my purpose is not to sidetrack into commentary on performance management systems, how about we simply take a cue from Mr. Edison in practicing his level of optimism in the face of experimentation? Whether we’re striving for personal growth or professional standing, his patient attitude is to be admired. Without it, we might all be sitting in the dark!
To invite you to look upon the invention of your “light bulb” as a 10,000 step process (where the previous 9,999 tries were never failures), I offer this month’s statements to expand your thinking:
1) Accept that as long as we’re alive, “mistakes” are bound to happen.
2) If you’re not making a few mistakes, you’ve probably stopped growing.
3) Set aside time-honoured excuses for not stretching yourself.
4) Stop trying to maintain a “goof-proof” image.
5) Adopt a new way of moving forward by looking upon life as an opportunity to constantly learn from what doesn’t work.
6) Keep in mind tomorrow is another day, even if today’s bloopers were dismaying.
7) Remember that mental, emotional and spiritual development can’t be realized without “messing up” along the way.
8) Return to childlike wonder and awe in the face of learning.
9) Tell yourself, “Who cares if I look ‘stupid’ while learning new things”?
10) Recognize that all human progress/transformation is founded upon openness to trial and error discovery.
In addition to Thomas’ famous commitment to never let himself get discouraged under any circumstances, permit me to supplement Edison’s example with a few representative quotes from another inspiring learner – Albert Einstein:
- “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”
- “The important thing is to not stop questioning.”
- “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.”
Br-easing Through Transitions
What Do You Mean By Transitions?
As we think about easing through transitional times of life (let alone breeze!), I’d like to draw from William Bridges’ wonderful work in Managing Transitions. In my mind, it’s a “must-read” both professionally and personally. For, it equally serves both contexts.
The first key distinction he makes is between change and transitions. Change is an external event or situation. Transition is internal – the psychological process all people go through to come to terms with new situations.
It matters not whether the “external” change is positive or negative for you. It could be a happy event like birth, an anticipated move of residence or a tragedy in the form of a loved one’s loss. Unless a genuine transition happens, change will not take.
Successfully Moving Through Three Phases
This brings me to the next tenet I love about Bridges’ work. So often, when corporate talk turns to “change management”, leaders singularly focus on projected outcomes. They overlook who will have to let go of what. Yet, I quote: “The failure to account for the endings and losses which change produces is the single largest problem which organizations in transition encounter.”
For that reason I suspect, transition consists of Endings, Neutral Zone and New Beginnings – in that sequence. First, strong emotions need to be given voice – in a process totally akin to the death and dying cycle itself. If people are stifled in expressing their truth, they’ll not truly let go of anger, sadness, etc. Inevitably, emotional baggage will get carried into new ventures.
Within the Neutral Zone – uncertain and chaotic as it is – individuals are pulled between the past and future. Though uncomfortable, there’s great opportunity here for renewal and innovation. While tempting to rush past ambiguity, premature escape will compromise learning and end results. Only by experiencing and releasing the first two phases will you fully embrace New Beginnings.
When I trace my own 25-year Organizational Development career, I especially remember a consolidation of 30 North American mini-Call Centres into one location. No small feat! Think of the logistics – let alone the human aspects. Ten years later (wow), I can honestly say our attentiveness to people’s legitimate right to grieve their losses plus mark Endings through celebration led to hugely successful re-employment (in new companies or the larger Call Centre, including many staff who moved cross-country).
The Top Ten List
Now it’s your turn! Either consider a transition you’ve gone through (at work or otherwise) or one you’re about to embark upon. You know how critical it is to grant yourself permission to live all feelings that arise at each phase. I’m here to support you in reflecting on these questions, applied to your chosen situation. Pick any subject you want and go for it:
1) What are you losing as a result of this Ending?
2) With whom can you share your feelings?
3) How can you make sure to take care of yourself?
4) What temporary structures/routines can you set in place during the Neutral Zone?
5) What short-term goals can you achieve?
6) How will you celebrate and reward yourself for achieving your goals?
7) What is your version of success in the New Beginning?
8) What might you gain as a result?
9) What can you do to bring about the best possible outcome?
10) Identify anything else you need by way of support/resources to move productively through the three phases of Endings, Neutral Zone and New Beginnings.
There! How does that feel? As a consequence, are you starting to take back your power? Your aim is to both clarify what needs to be let go but also to identify new possibilities (even if your scenario has associated pain).
Remember: So-called positive events like the arrival of a new bouncing family member aren’t without their challenges! Birth by no means denotes movement into the next transitional stage. It’s really only months later (when you’re comfortably settled into your “routine” with the little one) that a New Beginning can be said to have arrived. And if you need any further “proof”, see if you can relate to these great extracts from Mr. Bridges’ work:
You simply cannot get the results you need without getting into the “personal stuff”. Results depend on getting people to stop doing things the old way and getting them to start doing things a new way. There is no way to do that impersonally.
“Get on board,” they tell me. “That’s easy for them to say. They know what’s going on. But before I can get behind this thing, I need some time to figure out what’s going on and how I’m going to deal with the situation.”
Building on Your Strengths
While I don’t know about performance appraisal timing in your organization… What I can say within many I’ve been employed or now partner, the New Year typically marks the wrap-up of the old cycle and the start of annual goal-setting. No matter your particular system, I virtually guarantee it goes something like this: A numerical rating of actions against prescribed objectives (aligned with your vision, mission and/or values – if you’re lucky) together with room for comments plus a “Developmental Action Plan” (or, your term for how you’ll continuously learn and grow professionally).
Ah, there’s the rub… For, I can also predict with almost-certainty your development is founded on the expectation you’ll improve…what? Yes, “weaknesses”! All those behaviours and attitudes you’re not “good at” that must be corrected, addressed, beefed up or eradicated. Code speak for the multiple ways something is “wrong” with you…
What if we were to overhaul our view of so-called weaknesses? Could we see them as strengths? The world of personal branding does this regularly. Just look at Oprah Winfrey. Has she not made millions precisely from sharing with her audiences all the foibles with which she daily struggles, such as her weight? She transmutes these challenges into “living your best life”. If anything, her obstacles make her more human, but not necessarily weak.
Become More of Who You Already Are
For literally years, Marcus Buckingham’s Go Put Your Strengths to Work resided on best-sellers lists. The idea of building on your strengths clearly resonates with huge appeal. Why is that?
I suspect one reason must be the relief of not having to constantly “work on” ourselves (as performance appraisals enforce)! Let’s be clear here. By no means am I advocating “slacking off”. Not as a dedicated life-long learner!
Two of my favourite quotes from Tom Rath’s Strengths Finder mini-book (based on the Gallup online assessment in Buckingham’s work) make the point that it’s exponentially more effective to direct our energies toward strengthening Who We Really Are:
- “You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.”
- “Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?” (Benjamin Franklin)
The Top Ten List
Borrowing next from a Globe & Mail article of April 18, 2008 entitled “Pump Up Your Strengths”, taking time to validate our strengths allows us to apply them consistently to maximum (competitive) advantage. So how about a fill-in-the-blank exercise this month? Remember: Don’t spend too long “struggling”; if an answer doesn’t come quickly, move on. Note which one(s) you need to return to, and why you think that is:
1) I am especially good at ____________________________________________.
2) Others would describe my special talents and gifts as ____________________.
3) The abilities that come naturally to me are _____________________________.
4) Something unique about my professional experiences is __________________.
5) Something unique about my personal experiences is _____________________.
6) I am different from others around me in the areas of _____________________.
7) I am motivated by ________________________________________________.
8) I love doing _____________________________________________________.
9) I lose track of time when I __________________________________________.
10) I could easily develop myself in the areas of ____________________________.
There! Did that feel endorsing? I definitely hope so!
Surely you’ve noticed daily life unfolds with welcome ease and grace when you operate inside your center of excellence. Yes, you can perform a “job” by exercising your skills. But this is no guarantee you won’t be battling your innate nature. I can tell you as a Project Manager, I possessed the needed planning and organizational capabilities. Still, it was sheer torture to drag myself to the office. Why? I wasn’t allowed to be me!
On the other hand, when you can apply your unique gifts to your profession (let alone your whole life), it doesn’t feel like work at all. Does it? No. More like you’re being paid to “play”. How much better than that does it get?
As Rath writes in Strengths Finder: “Far too many people spend a lifetime headed in the wrong direction. They go not only from the cradle to the cubicle, but then to the casket, without uncovering their greatest talents and potential.”
Please don’t let this fate happen to you.
The Golden Rule Is Misleading
Don’t Treat Others as You Would Treat Them!
It may just be I’m in the “groove” of corporate topics like communication and listening skills… What rolls around my awareness these days is the usual suggestion for how to interact effectively with others via these kinds of courses.
Inevitably, more than one participant volunteers we need to treat others as we want to be treated ourselves. Perhaps it’s also that we’re now settled into back-to-school mode – hearing the distant ring of school teachers’ voices imparting The Golden Rule to their young charges.
Either way, this sentiment seems deeply-embedded within our collective consciousness. Not that I’m against treating one another right! When you travel to as many workplaces as I do in a given month, it’s always heartening to witness kindness. Believe me!
Treat Others According to Their Wishes!
It’s just that I question the vantage point from which we’re deciding how to treat others.
For, many of these same leadership and personal development programs use self-scoring survey instruments to enhance insight not only into our own – but colleagues’ communication preferences. The hoped-for result is to appreciate each person brings (diverse) strengths to the table. To support this learning objective, participants typically engage in exercises to reinforce the essence of productive teams. Namely, they’re comprised of a balance amongst “styles”.
That’s why I quibble with the notion we should treat others how we wish to be treated.
No! The whole art lies exactly in the flexibility to adjust our “style” preferences to those of the person with whom we’re engaging. Literally – you could see etched on the surprised face of a manager recently what a huge “aha” this was for her. Great!
At first, her take-away was to apply her “thinker” preferences to the improvement of internal and external conversations. Then, she caught herself. Not the way to go… Instead, use what she had gained about the other three communication “styles” to discern what each team member needs individually from her leadership – and give it to them. Right! Different strokes for different folks, as they say.
The Top Ten List
Borrowing from the wonderful example of a senior leader I had the privilege to coach, I can squarely say his enduring legacy years later was the reminder to “locate yourself over there” with the other person, not “over here” mired in your head. To encourage you to give from your heart the gifts those around you need (in the way they require) – some thought-inducing questions:
1) To what extent do you tailor your messages according to others’ communication styles – especially if they’re opposite yours?
2) Do you pay attention to both the facts and feelings others are conveying?
3) Do you check your assumptions through questions that seek to understand?
4) Are you able to block out “noise” to concentrate properly on conversations?
5) To what degree do you listen selectively – hearing only what you want to?
6) How much time do you take to clarify your intentions before interactions?
7) What are your positive and negative “triggers” when in dialogue?
8) Do you ever carry past judgments into current conversations with people you feel “negative” toward?
9) Are you ever aware of “auto-talking” (i.e., responding unconsciously) even if your comments have nothing to do with the discussion at hand?
10) Do you ask others for feedback on how they think/feel when they deal with you?
I guess, it all boils down to the proverbial “put your self in the other person’s shoes”. But not just by giving lip service to the idea. Instead, by truly seeing and experiencing the world as others do…
As renowned motivational speaker, Tony Robbins, counsels:
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”
Interestingly, just before sitting down to write, I called a friend to wish her a Happy Birthday. Do you know what I said? “I wish for you whatever you wish for yourself.” Sure, I could have extended some form of the prescribed health, wealth and happiness message. That would have been nice. No doubt! It’s just that I wonder if you can agree with me on the power of acknowledging her special day in the form she would most desire it.
I leave you considering, the next time we converse, where will you be located?
Continuing the Training Theme
These days, the topic of interacting assertively preoccupies me. Like handling difficult conversations, this subject seems of increasing interest amongst employees everywhere. Not sure what that’s all about… What I do know is my wish: Namely, that you will find my approach to assertiveness “training” as intriguing as have recent participants.
Making Key Distinctions
In standard form first, let’s place three common terms on a continuum: assertive (middle), unassertive (left) and aggressive (right).
According to the Oxford English Reference Dictionary, the verb “to assert” means to declare, to state clearly. It encompasses insistence on one’s rights or opinions in forthright and positive ways.
Aggression is the act or practice of attacking without provocation. With a tendency toward hostile or destructive behaviour, aggression has a forceful quality to it. On the other hand, to be unassertive is to be somewhat reticent. It is the avoidance or holding back of saying all one knows or feels through a disposition to silence.
While seen by some as power-full, aggression is as power-less as unassertiveness. Believe me from personal experience. If I may admit, I learned passivity across my teens/twenties until the rediscovery of my voice across the next two decades. At first, I zoomed right past assertiveness after being mouse-like for so many years. Until finally arriving at true assertiveness in my fifties, I volleyed more scattergun “shots” at various targets than should be counted. Not proudly.
Inner versus Outer Assertiveness
Small consolation – I’m not alone in this common trap. Many miss the proverbial middle ground in their quest for balance between not wanting to offend while maintaining one’s inner center.
To help you manage this paradox, let me borrow from Marci Shimoff’s fine work in Happy for No Reason. Her writing about being happy from the inside out inspired me to offer this suite of inwardly assertive qualities: inner well-being; aliveness; self-esteem; the ability to let go and forgive; acceptance; gratitude; and a sense of purpose.
One group recently remarked this seems a rather ideal list! I hear you. It’s not that we need be these things every day. Rather, we strive for inner peace as one half of a potent equation:
Calm + Clear = Assertive
Where inner assertiveness shines forth as serenity, clarity is associated with a series of outward expressions. These are evidenced in: facial expression (open); eye contact (appropriately direct); body posture (strong but no hands on hips, pointed index finger or other “critical” stances); voice quality (varied); and pace of speech (moderate).
The Top Ten List
You likely recognize assertiveness tips such as: be direct (deliver your message confidently); be specific (eliminate non-value-adding details); be brief (get to the point); and be consistent (avoid being a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde where those around you can never guess whether the nice or evil one showed up to work that day).
What you might not have been exposed to are these ten statements that combine inner with outer assertiveness. Please rate yourself from 1 (Don’t Know), 2 (Rarely/Never), 3 (Sometimes), 4 (Mostly) to 5 (Always):
1) Is able to say “no” with sensitivity when called for.
2) States unpopular perspectives with courage but without alienating.
3) Demonstrates high professional standards with diverse audiences.
4) Leaves others’ self-worth intact even after difficult interactions.
5) Asks useful questions when seeking to fact-find in challenging situations.
6) Responds neutrally (doesn’t take it personally) when encountering resistance.
7) Conveys confidence when interacting one-on-one.
8) Remains centered inside of self even when feeling “attacked”.
9) Avoids “passing the buck” onto others when performing own duties.
10) Builds positive relationships to create a motivational climate to get the job done.
Do any of these questions surprise you, in terms of “asserting artfully”? No matter your answer, I see assertiveness as a “life skill” we can all afford to continuously hone.
Given how often the unacceptability of “bullying” shows up on TV talk shows lately, I derive great hope for the workplace from this trend. Perhaps, if my Grade 6 classmates had appreciated how traumatizing was their meanness toward those unprepared to defend themselves, we may have fewer corporate “bullies” (male and female) today! Allow me to therefore leave you thinking about Marian Wright Edelman’s words that point out how our character shapes our destiny:
“We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.”