Difficult Conversations at Work

How do you encourage an open and productive workplace, one where everyone can do their best work? How do you do that when you’re not in charge? How do you begin a conversation with your boss, when you’re feeling angry? Do you put up with ‘stuff’ at work, but you’re finding it has a big cost?

You can initiate change.

For example, your boss puts you on a committee without asking you first, and you’re already overwhelmed with a mountain of work. Or your boss is rude and verbally abusive — and feels free to express this side at will. You decide that you can no longer tolerate it. But what should you do?

 Why is it hard for people to respond in a pro-active way? The authors of “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” suggest that when faced with difficult situations where we feel we have no power, we begin operating in the ‘fight or flight’ part of our brain, the part we call on when we are in stress or our emotions are triggered. Which do you typically choose: ‘flight’, which looks like “I’ll suck it up because I can’t rock the boat” or “Fight”,  and your days will be numbered at work. Either way sets an unhealthy precedent.

There is an alternative.

Take positive action. Make a decision to talk with your boss. In preparation for this conversation, ask yourself these questions (Most people find it helpful to write out these thoughts)

  • What’s the issue?

  • Where are my choices?

  • What does my boss care about?

  • What do I care about?

  • Where is our common ground

  • What is my Plan B

When you are ready to speak to your supervisor, use the sandwich approach. State the issue, quote your common work interest, ask for what you want. If you don’t get what you want, follow through on your Plan B. It might look like this:

(For the scenario, your boss feels free to vent)

 “John, when you raise your voice with me, it makes me feel terrible and hurts my productivity. I know that your job is difficult, and that you want me to do a great job. Our shared goal is for our department to shine! It would help me to do that great job, if you stated what you want from me when you are not upset.”

 If you don’t get results from this conversation, employ your Plan B choice. Either way, You’ve gotten good information. And in the end, you will have empowered yourself to make your next move.

 Do you think this approach would work with personal relationships too? I’d love to hear your view!

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Welcome and Entertain Them All

(Back in the day), college hopeful high school students chose to take foreign language classes. I chose not to. I had heard they were hard. Don’t walk through that door. Upper class students, who I knew were smart, didn’t always get an A in such classes. Hard work that garnered a C grade didn’t seem to make sense to me. Now I know, from the perspective of maturity, that challenging myself to take harder classes where I would not be ‘perfect’ would have had its own rewards. It is the homework of the brave.

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As part of the coaching process, my clients answer year-end questions. I begin with, “What were your greatest challenges of the past year? The next question is “What were your greatest achievements of last year?” The answers sometimes surprise them. Most often, the responses are identical. In doing my own personal review of 2014, my greatest challenges were caring for my parents as they were dying (they passed away within two months of each other). What was my greatest achievement? The lessons I learned through loving and caring for them through that process. There were times I wanted to uncheck the box “responsible adult daughter”, I will admit that to you. If that act would have released me from the pain and discombobulated feelings. The moments when I was not my best self. When I revealed petty emotions, overwhelming grief, and critical words. If, by unchecking that box, I could have remained “perfect”, untouched. But to remain “perfect” would have limited the scope of the messy experience of loving people through to the very end and learning the lessons of dying and death. That’s an achievement worth hanging around for I think. Perfect didn’t have a place in the vocabulary of a richer life.

In telling me their stories of challenge and achievement, I see over and over again, the resilience of people. All the people I meet who have crushing work loads or difficult relationships or sadness and loss in the past, shape their experience to be transformative. In connecting with strength, and riding that wild boat through to the other side, I see them reap great rewards.

I would love to hear about your challenges of the past year. Your achievements. Please share so the rest of us can learn.

Rumi wrote a poem, The Guest House, that describes the lesson, creatively illustrated by artist Ellie Cross. Get it Here > The Guest House

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Safety + Risk = A Well Seasoned Life

“A ship is safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.” William G. T. Shedd

In dry dock, a ship is refurbished, updated, and repaired. Rust is blasted away, or rotting wood cut out and replaced with fresh strong panels. Several coats of marine grade paint are applied, another step in helping the boat remain seaworthy. Supplies are replenished. Safety gear checked. All these things are vital to the purpose of the ship. But, they are not what the ship is about. Screenshot 2014-09-18 22.04.05

What is a ship’s purpose? To sail out into the world to fulfill it’s mission. There are times when you need to pull into dry dock, make some adjustments. Revisit the navigation charts after strong winds have pulled you off course. Fix the damage done by vicious storms, or anchor in the bay just because you want a new coat of paint and a rest. The theme is the same. These things are important, but they are not what you are about. You are about fulfilling your purpose.

“A ship is safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.” William G. T. Shedd

Harbors are safe. Free of demands, free of risk. Once we leave the harbor, the waters are unpredictable. We might be tempted to stay safely anchored firmly to the dock. Do you really want to be chained to an anchor? Risk and change are a way of life. Just try standing still in the rapidly moving stream of life. It is ultimately much more dangerous than swimming toward a more promising future.

A few thoughts on pushing fear aside to move toward change (risk).

– Stock your tool kit. What do you need to begin? Number 1 is a good support structure. Thinking you can or have to do everything yourself will make the risk overwhelming.

– Develop a positive attitude about yourself. You have already survived many ups and downs in your life, right? You’re smart. You’re adaptable. You’re good at facing challenges. Engrave this on your mirror.

– Embrace the process. Remain open to the knowledge that it won’t all be smooth sailing. Flexibility in your expectations is your watch word.

Be willing to let difficult moments, failures and perceived failures be your teacher. Can you do that? Can you untie the ropes and venture out? What do you need to pack to make your boat seaworthy so you can take the plunge? Spice, variety and adventure make for a well seasoned life.

Bon Voyage,Screenshot 2014-09-22 10.15.48



Don’t Forget to Breathe

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December is a month of stress for most of the people I talk to, and, let me guess, it might be for you too. In addition to the other end of year deadlines, add in frigid temperatures, and shoveling the driveway before you can go anywhere. Then there are the holidays, extra shopping, extra cooking, parties, gatherings and celebrations – all with lots of expectations. Throughout the month, do you catch yourself feeling tension in your stomach, and literally holding your breath while trying to get more done.  Sound familiar?

Yes. And it is unacceptable. A little research and a few listens to helpful podcasts later, I have developed a strategy:  “Pause. Breathe. Center. Ahh.” So simple, yet surprisingly effective!

Pause. Stop for a moment, just one solid moment.
Breathe. Take several deep, feed the bottom of your lungs, full breaths. Repeat until you feel that rush of calm, as oxygen feeds the deep recesses.
Center. Become aware of your whole body. First your breath, then become aware of your head, supported by your neck, then each of your shoulders, arms, finger tips. Move down through your diaphragm, legs, feet. Wiggle your toes in those boots.
Let out an Inner ‘Ahhhhhhh’.

Try this the next time you are tense or feel bombarded with activity. Let me know if it helps!

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A Poem for Your Pocket

Anything Can Happen
by Seamus Heaney


Anything can happen. You know how Jupiter

Will mostly wait for clouds to gather head

Before he hurls the lightening? Well, just now

He galloped his thunder cart and his horses

Across a clear blue sky. It shook the earth

And the clogged underearth, the River Styx,

The winding streams, the Atlantic shore itself.

Anything can happen, the tallest towers

Be overturned, those in high places daunted,

Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune

Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,

Setting it down bleeding on the next.

Ground gives. The heaven’s weight

Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle-lid.

Capstones shift, nothing resettles right.

Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.

“Anything Can Happen” from District and Circle by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 2006 by Seamus Heaney. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

Is that Maple tree I see, really tipped with red?

Here it comes. Switching gears to autumn. Different rhythms. Different schedules. Even different food! (I feel a big pot of soup coming on) Do you feel it too?

Switching gears for me always means questions and making new decisions. Trying new things. Taking on new responsibilities. Shall I sign up for a new class? Or try Tai Chi? Board meetings, planning and launching new programs. I teach at a small private college, so fall means a new set of students. Summer means laid back, road trips up north, family reunions, family weddings.  (I even enjoyed a high school reunion this year!)

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 4.54.13 PMOur Family Reunion 2013

At times I can feel overwhelmed by all the busy activity of fall. I start to agitate against it and feel my equilibrium slip. Does this happen to you? In my younger days I wouldn’t recognize this slippage in time, and a cranky barb would kink up my outlook. I would begin to see only tasks, and responsibilities. Joy wouldn’t be on my ‘to do’ list.

Now, as the air gets that ‘fall’ cast to it, I pay attention. New schedules and opportunities are exciting. And If overwhelm is showing up, I make sure I add ‘fun’ to the mix. How do you handle switching gears?