6 Ways to Cope with Blamers

Your co-worker is constantly blaming his boss for his 80 hour plus work weeks.  You are blamed by the project chair for the missed deadline although they were responsible for the delay.  Your partner blames you for the cold dinner, after arriving thirty minutes late.  You end up embarrassed.  Dumbfounded.  Sometimes seething.  These destructive feelings, when ongoing, cause irreparable damage to the relationship and your self-esteem.

blamersBlamers are everywhere.  I see blamers as those who have external locus of control.  As defined by Psychology Today, “The belief that events in one’s life, whether good or bad, are caused by uncontrollable factors such as the environment, other people, or a higher power.”  If you feel as though everything is out of your control and out of your realm of responsibility, you’re going to have lost that responsibility elsewhere.  This is what blamers do.  “A person with an internal locus of control believes that he or she can influence events and their outcomes.” Odds are that if you are suffering from the blamers around you, you have an internal locus of control and are feeling responsible for the blame that is heaped on you.  Fear not!  There are ways to cope with this.

 

6 Ways to Cope with Blamers:

 

  1. Own your piece. Everyone has at least 2% of the truth. This is a tenet of CRR Global. So does the blamer.  If you get defensive and start arguing with the blamer, it is discounting the 2% of truth.  Maybe you were late with one little piece of the project, maybe you didn’t answer the email by the deadline, maybe your ideas weren’t well fleshed out.  I’m not suggesting you be a doormat, but acknowledge the 2% that is correct.  It’s not “I completely blew this, I’m sorry” but “I can see that responding faster to that email would have impacted the outcome.”  Everyone is right…partially.

 

  1. Find the brilliance. A lot of people rarely compliment the other folks in their lives. Whether at home or at work, we don’t try and catch people doing something right.  But everyone does something right every day.  Even if it’s brush their teeth or complete the monthly report on time.  Look for the positive.  Hunt for it.  I was working with a narcissist once.  She didn’t like any of my ideas for a project.  She showed me one of her ideas which I sincerely thought was innovative.  I said, “This is brilliant.”  She did a 180 degree change on the project.  Now she was onboard.  If I had held my tongue, we would have remained at logger heads.   Look for the brilliance.  Then broadcast it.

 

  1. Listen with empathy. When someone is blaming either someone else or you, be sure to actively listen with empathy. This can be difficult.  It can be painful to hear someone trash your best efforts.  It will help to focus on your breath so that you can stay out of going to your lizard brain and activating your limbic system (the fight or flight response). It may even take returning to the topic later after you’ve had a chance to cool off.  My husband was upset with me a few nights ago and asked that we talk about the topic on Sunday morning.  This was really effective.  I had time to reflect and he had time to reflect.  We were in a better space to listen and be empathetic. Make space to listen.

 

  1. Respond looking for solutions. Aja Frost wrote a great article called 7 Perfect Replies to (Politely) Shut Down Negative People. My two favorite for coping with the chronic blamer is, “Is there anything I can do?” and “I’m sorry to hear that. Did anything good come out of the situation?” This can shut the blamer down because it is focused on forward positive motion.  Blamers typically want to dwell on how bad everything is. I have asked clients who are focusing on blame, “What 2% are you responsible for?”   This is a proactive approach.  It focuses on what can be versus what was

 

  1. Come from a place of love. As Kelly Smith wrote for Tiny Buddha, “Remember, all actions are based in either fear or love. Base yours in love. Realize their actions are based in fear. Often, these fears are ones that no one can reach because they are too deep-seated for the person to acknowledge. Accept that, and continue to operate from your own base of love.” I personally have been meditating on loving kindness for months.  My mantra has been to be the “Love and light” in my life.  Having an open heart and compassion for others helps me see the good in all people regardless of the facade they may be exhibiting.  We all want to be loved, happy and at peace.

 

  1. Let go. As Kelly Smith wrote, “It’s not worth your constant wondering and worrying. It isn’t good for you to hold onto it and over-analyze it. Let it go; visualize yourself blowing it all into a balloon, tying it off, and letting it drift away. Feel lighter because of it!” I love the balloon metaphor.  Another practice is to clench your hand in a fist with your anger towards the blamer, and then release.  Let the blame dissolve into the ether.

 

Sometimes your best efforts can’t change or pacify other people’s behavior.  There may be a difficult decision in front of you.  Chronic blamers can be toxic for an organization or family unit.  If you’ve tried these coping mechanisms and you still feel like your self-esteem is being affected, you might need to move on.

Why you need to act As If

You drive up to the restaurant and see a full parking lot.  “Ugh.  This is going to be a long wait.”  That co-worker you dislike was given the project you wanted. “Grrr.  He wins every time.” Your child doesn’t respond to your text.  “She must have been in a car accident.”  You are, in essence, expecting the worst.  And guess what typically follows?  More bad news.  When you align your energy and expectation with what will go wrong often, invariably, it does.

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The flip side of this is acting As If what you really desire is going to happen.  This was something I personally experienced some 13 years ago when my husband and I were trying to sell our house in California.  We were living in a rented house in North Carolina, my stipend for rent from the company I was working for was ending, the credit cards were maxed and one offer on the house in California had just fallen through.  I was in a really bad desperate space.  My teenage step daughter was visiting at the time.  As she looked at the rental we were living in, she said, “This looks like a hospital.”  Not very inviting, huh?   We had intentionally left everything in boxes so that “it would be easier to move.”  The trouble was, we were not creating a home in North Carolina.  We were in transition and set to stay in transition for the foreseeable future.  Not a good place to be.  We were acting As If we were in transition, staying stuck.  We spent the next weekend putting up pictures, knickknacks, buying fresh flowers and making it a “home”.  You know what happened next? The house in California had an offer in the next week and closed within a month.  End of transition.  We acted As If we were home in North Carolina, and so it was.

 

These are reasons why you need to act As If:

 

  • Dwelling on what will go wrong is debilitating. Spending hours on ruminating about what your sister said to you or how your co-worker wronged you is fuel for what Dr. Daniel Amen calls “Automatic Negative Thoughts.”  When you fuel these “ANTs”, they only getting bigger.  The neural pathways in your brain which at one time might have been a deer trail, start to build into a roadway and then into a super highway.  You know these people.  Things rarely go well for them because they are so vigilant for what will go wrongLet go of the dwelling and act As If.

 

  • It is energizing.  When we finally decorated our rental house, I felt great.  I felt like I belonged.  I liked the space I was in.  The universe feels that vibe.  It returns the energy.  I have a few clients that are in transition.  I asked what they could do to move forward, to act As If.  One made the decision to buy a kitchen table so he would not have to eat on the floor of the apartment.  Another paid for the ex’s stuff to be shipped off.  Once these decisions were made, there were big smiles and a sense of buzzing in the room.  The force field holding them back was let go and now they were energized to move forward.

 

  • You identify with the real feeling that you want.  Whether it’s freedom, a weight lifted or a sense of adventure, discovering the guiding force to propel you forward is critical.  As Andrea Schulman wrote, “So you want a new car, and you’d really love to manifest it with the Law of Attraction.  This is a great thing to want….but what is at the root of this wanting?  What emotion are you trying to feel by attracting a new car?”  Freedom, prosperity or control?  There is a core emotion driving that desire.  So tap into it.

 

  • Look for signs.  Look for alignment.  This is the opposite of dwelling on what’s going wrong.  A personal sign for me is a blue heron.  Every time I see one whether in person or a photo or painting, I feel emboldened.  I’m on the right path.  The universe is winking at me.  As CRR Global would call it, it’s a Quantum Flirt.  It’s all going to be OK.  When you act As If, you expect these signs to come, and so they do.  Open your awareness to signs that are around you.

 

  • Come from a space of abundance.  This requires rewiring your brain.  I have been brought up with a sense of lack.  I can remember telling my kids that we couldn’t afford that.  As Schulman wrote, “Would a person who has lots of money say ‘I can’t afford that’ when she saw something pricey she wanted?  No, she would probably say something like, ‘I’d love to get that!’ – so you should too. Even if you can’t afford it, act as if you could. I have had this mantra for a while, ‘Money is always coming my way.'”  And it shows up.  A refund on my credit card, a gift card from a friend, a check in the mailbox or my husband taking me to dinner.  Abundance is constantly following me and thus it is so.

 

To act As If is quite liberating.  I am constantly expecting the unexpected.  I am in forward motion. How about you?

 

5 Reasons Why Empathy is the Difference Maker

Your co-worker cuts you off before you’ve entirely explained your idea.  Your boss prescribes you how to fix the production issue, but never even asks what your ideas might be.  Your spouse doesn’t bother to hold the door open when you are carrying in the groceries.  The 18 wheeler won’t let you merge in order to get past the accident.  All of these are signs of a lack of empathy and its persistence is eroding the relationships around you.  As DeLores Pressley wrote, “Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experience of others. Empathy is more than simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity.”

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So why do we need more empathy?  It is what makes us human. Most of the animal kingdom is working off of “me-first” instincts.  Kill or be killed.  You’re never going to see a crocodile share its prey with another adversary.  Empathy connects us and through that connection, we are able to compound on those connections to much greater success and well being.

Here are the 5 reasons why empathy is the difference maker:

  1. Understanding others helps develop relationships. Think about that guy at work who always brags about his fabulous European vacation and his wonderful new motorcycle. The guy you can’t get a word in edgewise with.  You know who I’m talking about.  Do you feel any warmth or connection with him?   Not likely.  Do you want to go above and beyond for him?  Not likely either.  Trust gets built when there is shared understanding.  Relationships are the foundation of organizations.  Unless there is trust and understanding, it’s difficult to have success.  Empathy is the re-bar in that foundation.
  1. Empathy ensures openness. In any relationship, whether it’s a marriage, partnership or corporation, openness is critical. Openness is the antithesis of secrecy. This is why everyone gets paranoid when the CEO’s office door is shut.  “Here come the layoffs.”  It also ensures that leaders aren’t prescribing the answers.  So, what happens is the co-worker brings an issue and their counterpart says, “What are your ideas?” instead of “This is the way you should do it.”  An openness to all possibilities creates innovation and breaking out of the status quo.  This is critical for organizations as well as personal relationships.
  1. Putting other’s interest first brings mutual respect. As written by Toby Norton, “Serotonin is the molecular manifestation of the feeling of pride—we get it when we perceive others like or respect us. On a deep level, we need to feel that we and our work are valued by others, particularly those in our group.” This helps reinforce positive feelings from everyone. “Hey Joe made sure I knew the numbers were off before I presented to the Board.”  I’ve got Joe’s back going forward.  This mutual respect compounds on itself like a ripple effect across the organization or department or family.  It’s the way we do things around here.
  1. Empathy makes it safe for us to fail. I can hear you whining. “But, Cathy, we don’t want to encourage failure.”  This is a pipe dream.  Of course we are going to fail.  At work, at home and at school.  If we don’t encourage failure, everyone starts hiding the evidence.  I don’t want Suzie to know that we had an error in the report.  I don’t want my manager to know that the product isn’t priced right.  If we cannot be transparent and fall on the sword when we fail, then neither will anyone else around us.  This breeds secrecy and distrust.  Everyone goes around constantly looking to repair their image.  It’s exhausting and demoralizing.  Empathy creates a safe place to fail.
  1. Feeling valued by others compels the group forward. As written by Norton, “Homo sapiens developed a herd instinct; thanks to those cooperative chemicals (i.e. serotonin and oxytocin), we find comfort when we’re part of a group.” According to Sinek, “Our confidence that we can face the dangers around us literally depends on feeling safe in a group. Being on the periphery is dangerous. The loner on the edge of the group is far more susceptible to predators than someone who is safely surrounded and valued by others.” It is a simple as saying “Is everything OK?” It’s paying attention to simple gestures like holding the elevator door, letting the car merge in or helping reset the room after the training.  These small things help create value and connection for everyone.  It keeps paying it forward on an ongoing basis.

Try incorporating more empathy in your life.  Listen without judgment.  Clarify your partner’s needs.  Be open to what is there.

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6 Startling Truths about Miami

I recently traveled to Miami with my husband to visit my son who has lived there for the last three years.  My preconception of Miami was an amalgamation of Robin Williams dancing like Martha Graham in the Bird Cage, Jackie Gleason saying “And away we go” on the Jackie Gleason Show and the obligatory Miami Vice of cocaine, scantily clad women and cigar boats on the run.  Flamboyant, hard drinking, hard partying, vice-ridden and over exposed Miami.  After spending three days there, I can assure you that there is a much softer side of Miami.  An honest, authentic side.  The side that rarely gets any airtime.13866692_10154350659443688_1001912075_n

 

Of course, I doubt I would have discovered this softer side of Miami if it weren’t for my son.  He is a natural explorer and has spent three years finding nooks and crannies that the typical tourist would never find.  He’s not intimidated by foreign languages or exploring new foods.  To be a good explorer we all need to be open to something different.  Something that isn’t the status quo.  We weren’t likely to discover these truths if we had camped out on South Beach drinking overpriced mojitos for three days.

 

Here are the 6 startling truths about Miami:

 

  1. The food is amazing. This is high praise from a NorCal (Northern California) dyed in the wool foodie such as myself. I used to think the best taco I ever had was in San Diego.  Nope.  It’s Coyo Taco in Wynwood.  Try the devilishly complex, sweet, salty heat of the Cochinita Pibil on their house made corn tortillas.  The best fried chicken I have EVER consumed is at Yardbirds. Something about 27 hours of brining and frying in a cast iron skillet makes it crispy juicy delicious.  Anything off the Versailles menu is authentic Cuban goodness.  Sanpacho is a Colombian restaurant in Little Havana that has an amazing Bandeja Paisa ($9.95!!!) that takes up two giant plates and could have, if my husband had concurred, fed a family of 4.  Bulla Gastropub in Coral Gables had terrific, delectable tapas served by an incredibly friendly staff.  Whatever your food vice, it can be found in Miami.  Just remain open to exploring the nuances of this melting pot of cultures.

 

  1. Incredibly friendly people. It’s intimidating getting off the airplane at MIA and hear almost 80% of the folks around you speak exclusively Spanish. I felt like I had just gotten off the plane south of the equator and I should be exchanging my money for pesos.  The signs might have been in English but the language of Miami is definitely Spanish.  Happily, this does not create a language barrier.  The clientele in a restaurant may be completely Latin with us being the exception, but the service staff tolerated my attempts at Spanish with a smile or switched happily to English. We elected to eat outside for one meal and a few errant raindrops fell down and the server offered to move us to another table; as if to say, “So sorry for the raindrops.” Several of the places we ate did not have table service; other customers happily gave up a stool or a chair for us to sit together.  Not the sort of friendliness you expect in the big city but wow, what a refreshing and welcoming experience.

 

  1. It’s more than just Palm trees and skyscrapers. The University of Miami has an amazing campus with exotic Banyan trees, wandering Muscovy ducks, fish that fly out (yes, fly) of Lake Osceola AND a warning sign for crocodiles. Fortunately, we didn’t see any crocodiles but I can assure you I have never seen even a warning sign for crocs in Manhattan. It is lush with vegetation and wildlife.  There was a peacock standing in front of my son’s house.  There are leaves on some of the vegetation the size of a VW.   We came across several Ibis’ (long-legged wading birds), a blue heron hanging out on a rock and a tiny green heron splashing on the rocks.  And there have to be more palm trees in Miami than any other city on the east coast.  Natural lush beauty is plentiful in Miami.

 

  1. Art abounds. Typically, when I think of art I think of New York, Chicago or Santa Fe with rows and rows of galleries, sculpture gardens and art museums. The secret to Miami is that you don’t even need to set foot inside a gallery.  The most amazing art is available out in the open in the Wynwood and Overtown neighborhoods.  They are old warehouse districts that have what seems like hundreds of outside murals of all shapes and styles.  Murals of the Dali Lama and Andy Warhol, science fiction and realism, black and white and psychedelic.  If you don’t like what’s in front of you, you just look across the street or walk a few steps more for something completely different.  Miami is rich with art.

 

  1. It is family centric. Whether we were at Versailles at midnight or Coyo Tacos at noon, there were families everywhere. My impression previously had been that Miami was singles bars and clubs.  There are the obligatory gallon size mojitos on Ocean Drive in South Beach and it’s a must see for the Miami Vice art deco and people scene.  But the other 90% of Miami is full of tight knit families.  We took the short ride out to Key Biscayne and there were at least 10 large families having picnics on the beach or near the lighthouse.  Point the finger at all the family centered Latinos in Miami if you want, but you don’t see families of 8 to 10 eating out together in San Francisco at midnight.

 

  1. Miami is soft. There seems to be a perpetual breeze. It is accentuated by the sway of omnipresent palm trees.  It may have been 90 degrees but it felt like a soft velvet licking your skin.  We were trapped in a rain shower walking outside at one point and hid under an awning waiting for it to pass. But we suddenly realized, what does it matter if we get wet and it’s going to stop eventually.  We got a little wet, it cooled down, it stopped, no harm, no foul.  It’s a pace; a pace you don’t find in many other large cities.  It’s soft and patient.

 

The trip was especially nice because my son was able to play host to my husband as a first time tourist to Miami.  I’m so proud to see my son be the leader and caretaker while us “parents” sit back and take in the hospitality.  The tables were turned in the captivating city of Miami.

“Quiet on set!” We all want to be directors.

You submitted the proposal two weeks ago and there has been no response. “Action!” Everyone is talking over each other during the meeting. “Quiet on set!” Your child isn’t listening to your chore list. “Boom!”  The team can’t seem to get any traction on the project. “Roll!”  Wouldn’t it be great to have a giant megaphone in your hand and a bird’s eye view of all aspects of your life?  So if you wanted your friend to sober up, your boss to give you a raise or make your partner a sexy beast, all you would have to do is change the script and make it happen.  The truth is, while we may have delusions of being the director of our lives, we really just need to rewrite that script and surrender control.director

There is an ongoing theme that crops up a lot when I coach.  More than a lot.  Clients are constantly striving to change the other people in their lives.  They want their son to stop smoking, their co-worker to quit being nosy, their boss to acknowledge their accomplishments–you get the picture.  With all this constant striving to control and change others, we become embittered.  “I’ve told him to quit smoking dozens of times and he doesn’t listen to me.”  Sigh. “I’ve quit talking to my co-worker but they are still nosy.” Argh. “I’ve finished 6 projects ahead of schedule and my boss hasn’t said a word.” Woe is me.  The heart of this is the way we react to it.  The story we tell ourselves in our heads and the approach we take.

Here are some tips on how to let go of your need to be the Director:

  • Acknowledge that you are trying to direct others.  Changing a mindset always starts with acknowledging that it even exists. Several years ago, my son was baking a cake in my kitchen.  I ran around cleaning everything up and putting things away.  Critiquing each step.  He stepped back and said, “Let me fail.”  It was profound for me.  I needed to acknowledge that I wanted to control the situation, as if a cake was life or death.  So this is what control is like.
  • Reflect on your striving.  As a coach, I ask, “Can you control your boss…your daughter…your co-worker?”  Invariably the client says “No.” I ask, “Can you let go of the striving to control?” Client: “That’s not easy.” The striving itself is the source of your pain.  You are trying to change reality (albeit for the better) but the striving is undermining your relationship with the person you are trying to change.  So think about that.  You can’t change someone else’s actions, and you striving and worrying and manipulating will only twist you into a knot. So pick it up and put it on the table to look at it.  So this is what striving is; it’s striving to change things that you cannot direct.
  • Shut down the illusion.  So when I was in the middle of the baking catastrophe with my son, I decided to leave the room.  I was nothing but a stressed-out hindrance.  I took off my director’s beret, let go of the story and went to my trailer (actually my office). Let go of the illusion of control. I already knew how to make that cake.  Now it’s his turn.  My being in the kitchen was not going to change the end result.  It was delicious, by the way.  All by himself.  Successfully directing is just an illusion.
  • Figure out what you do have control over.  Hmmm.  Well, your reaction.  You have control over your reaction.  Even better to tell yourself, I have control over my response.  I can get mad, angry, frustrated, sad, or resentful.  I can also be sublime, calm, happy, relaxed or joyful.  You really do get to choose; the choosing is just different than what you initially thought.  I can remember being in the restaurant business and dealing with disgruntled customers.  My reaction to their bitterness was to be over-the-moon friendly.  Big smile, eye contact, “My day is just fabulous” attitude and it was infectious.  I was amazed at how I could turn a situation like a miss on a rare steak around through my own outlook.  Be that spark.  Understand that you can control yourself.
  • Don’t take it personally.  This is hard.  I have several clients that are putting off their happiness until…they get a promotion, their nemesis quits, their husband loses 20 pounds or their daughter sobers up. I can’t be happy if my daughter is unhappy.  I can’t be happy until Suzy quits.  The failures (and successes) of others are happening independent of you.  Whether or not that cake failed had nothing to do with me.  Let go of your personal responsibility for others’ actions.
  • Realize that everyone else wants to be the director of their own lives.  This is especially true when world events seem out of control.  So buried behind your boss’ request for a new venue for the holiday party is likely their need for control.  The tight deadline from your co-worker is to make sure it fits in their life.  Understand and respect that even your dog wants to control you by pawing you when you stop petting.  We all want influence and control.

This is not easy and it is a slow process. Take it slowly and consciously and it will change.  Just remember when you start getting wrapped up in the dramatic film in your head to ask yourself, “Am I really the director?  Am I really in control?” and let it go.

8 Tricks to Being a Better Listener.

You want to impress your boss with your novel idea before anyone else says it, so you interrupt.  You categorically disagree with your wife’s view on politics so you butt in to straighten her out.  You start planning your day while your child is telling you the same old knock-knock joke they always do and misses the punch line.   You wonder why no one listens to you.  You can’t seem to get anyone’s attention.  The thing is that listening is a gift and if you don’t give it?  You don’t get it.

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It’s so easy in a world of constant distraction, a presidential election, and task-switching to just give up on the generous act of listening.  Active listening is an investment and it’s not readily apparent when it will pay off.  I believe that active listening–or as Stephen Covey defines it, “listening to understand”–is the single greatest gift you can give anyone.  Everyone has a deep-seated need to be heard.  Deeply heard.

Here are the 8 tricks to being a better listener:

  1. Turn off the noise. If it’s possible, try and find a quiet place. If you are in the middle of a rock concert, it’s probably not a good idea to decide to start listening.  There is often a lot of background noise, so shut off the television, turn off your phone and close the door.  When you prepare the space to listen, the other person, whether it be a co-worker or family member, feels respected as you prepare for them to speak.
  2. Shut down technology. There is nothing more disrespectful than someone checking their phone while you are talking. It’s essentially saying that what might possibly be on this phone (be it an Instagram notification or junk email) is more important than you.  Since most of us are addicted to our devices, turn it off so that the temptation is gone.  Set the stage to be a good listener.
  3. Mirror their posture. So if they lean in, you lean in. If they cross their arms, you cross your arms.  Don’t go overboard and mimic every raised finger or eyebrow.  It needs to be subtle but the mirroring helps you connect.  As the article “Mirroring in Body Language” in Psychologia states, “Mirroring body language is a non-verbal way to say ‘I am like you, I feel the same.’ The research shows that people who experience the same emotions are likely to experience mutual trust, connection and understanding.” Make a better connection through mirroring.
  4. Get present. Mindfulness training like meditation or yoga can help with this. It’s time to quiet the mind.  You can be more open to any direction in conversation when you are in the moment.  Let the grocery list go and forget about the weather report.  Relax and be in the moment.
  5. Don’t talk. This can be incredibly difficult for extroverts like myself. I have a ton of ideas I want to spill out.  I have this feeling that I need to express everything that is in my head before I forget it.  What I realize now is that if I forget it, it probably wasn’t that special anyway.  And if it is that unique or special, it will eventually bubble up again down the road. It can even give you the opportunity to go back to the person and say, “I was thinking about our talk and…” They will feel heard and acknowledged. For the introverts out there, this is as easy as pie.  Keep your mouth shut.
  6. First seek to understand. This is a tenet by Stephen R. Covey: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” At this point, it’s ok to ask clarifying questions, like, “How did you feel when he said that to you?” or “What was the impact of that on you?” or “What are you learning about yourself?” These are all questions focused on the speaker. It’s not: “Can I come too?”; or a judgment: “That guy is a jerk.”  Clarifying questions help you understand the speaker’s point of view.
  7. Don’t let the influence of accents or slang put you on the defensive. As Skills You Need states, “Everybody has a different way of speaking – some people are for example more nervous or shy than others, some have regional accents or make excessive arm movements, some people like to pace whilst talking – others like to sit still. Focus on what is being said and try to ignore styles of delivery.” Let go of your personal prejudice and be open to the message, regardless of the mode of expression.
  8. Everyone is right…partially. This is a tenet of CRR Global.  Everyone owns a piece of the truth, but not all of it.  I can feel like the “Corrector in Chief” which will make me jump in and pronounce a word correctly for someone or, worse yet, actually finish their sentence. Let the speaker own their message and deliver it.  If you agree or not.  That is not the question.  It is all about listening and understanding the intended message.  This is not a debate and there are no winners.  Everyone is right…partially.

Growing up my father was always a good listener.  He would ask probing questions and listen to the answer.  Patiently.  It was a gift to have that as a child growing up. And he still listens. I hope I can give the same gift to my children and all the other people in my life.

“When you let go, you create space for something better” – Unknown

You’re angry because the meeting isn’t going your way.  You’re frustrated because your partner never makes the bed.  You smolder as the traffic piles up and will definitely be making you late to work this morning.  What’s next?  The self-critic pops in for a drive by of self-berating.  “My ideas stink.” “He doesn’t appreciate me making this bed.  I’m a doormat.” “I’m an idiot.  Why did I go this way?” Does any of this sound familiar?

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It’s amazing how often my clients don’t realize the language they use when they talk to or about themselves. Client:  “I’m the only one my mother has.”  Coach: “So you are responsible for your mother’s addiction?”  Client: (smile) “Well, when you say it like that…probably not.” Coach:  “Probably?”  Client: (bigger smile) “Why does it sound different when you say it? Definitely not.” We all have a ticker tape of the little self-critic rambling on and on and on in our heads.  That little self-critic is taking up precious space that is valuable real estate for much better things.  It’s time to let go.

Here are some things that you will create space for:

  • Random acts of self-care.  I gave up on the news about two months ago.  I let go of the need to be constantly informed.  I am calmer.  I am no longer hyper vigilant waiting for the next shoe to drop.  With the thirty minutes I saved (actually it’s probably more like 2 hours if you count all the news links I would take randomly throughout the day to get the latest on the stock market or what ISIS is up to), I’ve added 20 minutes of meditation and self-reflection.  If I’m home early before dinner, I read or meditate.  Create the space for self-care.
  • Loving kindness for others.  I have given up the resentment when I do things for others.  I used to get angry when I did the dishes or made the bed.  I had to let go of my story that I was being a doormat.  I changed the story to be one of loving kindness for my husband;  instead of constantly searching for the balance of power of “I did this” now “You owe me that.”  It was exhausting to constantly keep score.  Now I am in the space of having loving kindness for everyone.  A sort of pay it forward of love and kindness.  There is no scoreboard necessary.
  • Liberation for myself and others.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your children’s success or failure.  To see it as a reflection of you; as an extension of you.  If he doesn’t go to an Ivy League school, what will the neighbors think?   I let go of the attachment to their outcomes.  It’s the same when you want to implement a new procedure at work and it gets shelved.  Oh well, move on.  A year ago I would have lost sleep over the shelving of the procedure and had mock arguments in my head with the nay-sayers for hours ad nauseam.  I am set free.  Embrace liberty.
  • Embracing uncertainty.  As I say to my clients, we all want control.  We all want to be the Wizard of Oz with our hands on the joy stick of life.  Fact is that there is no control.  This can be uncomfortable.  Very uncomfortable.  When I let go of control, I started to be more adaptable.  I was driving from Virginia to home last week.  The tire pressure indicator on the car came on.  I initially felt a jolt of anxiety.  I took a deep breath and realized that I could control my reaction.  I called my husband for a second opinion on a 29 psi and he told me it would be fine for the time being.  I did stop at a gas station and filled up the tire (I have not filled a tire with air in about 30 years).  No sweat. I didn’t panic. Let go the illusion of control and embrace uncertainty.
  • Space for openness.  When you let go of judgment, you make space for openness.  Self-judgment is debilitating.  Constantly judging others is also debilitating.  “I’m fat.” “She’s fat.” “What an atrocious dress.”  “He’s late again.” Judge. Judge. Judge. Judge.  I am not completely free of doing this but I am at least calling it out in my head.  “This is judgment.”  The first step is to label it.  Acknowledge that you are doing it.  Calling my judge out lets me embrace acceptance.  I imagine writing on my forehead with a sharpie and masking tape: Judge.  Label it.  Then let it go.  The universe is open to me (and you).
  • Detach from emotions.  I have been a stuffer of emotions.  I would numb them or stuff them deep inside.  I am learning to lean into the emotion and observe it.  Oh, so this is anger.  My throat is constricted and my head is hot.  Oh, so this is sadness.  My stomach is clenched and tears are streaming down my face.  I love the analogy that I am just the movie screen and that the movie actually being projected is my thoughts.  I am able to just be the movie screen and not the movie.  Let go of the thoughts that create the emotion and observe.

This has been a deep and deliberate practice for several months but I am reaping the rewards.  Create space for what you really want and let go.  It is better.

4 Tips to Reducing Resistance to Change

You go to your favorite restaurant and they have taken your favorite menu item off the menu. Boo hoo. You’re told by the Accounting Manager that you have to use a new expense system instead of the tried and true excel sheet you have always used.  Aargh. Your husband calls to say he won’t be home for dinner after you’ve already started cooking a feast for four (and the dog doesn’t like pot roast).  Sigh.  Change is constant and it’s making you at the very least frustrated, if not leaving you completely overwhelmed.photo-1430760814266-9c81759e5e55

In the day and age of VUCA world, an acronym for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, it can feel like it’s completely out of control.  Or as Nathan Bennett and G. James Lemoine wrote in their HBR article, “What VUCA Really Means for You“: Hey, it’s crazy out there!  What’s important is to not take this constant change personally.  When the client cancels or your daughter is two hours late, you internalize it as the universe striking out against you once again and you slowly start feeling helpless.  Or as Eeyore would say, “The sky has finally fallen, I always knew it would.” Resisting change requires a lot of effort and energy and, if you think about it, it’s quite futile.

Here are 4 tips to reducing resistance to change:

  1. Reduce your distractions.  I wrote in my last post that watching the news everyday increases your feelings of helplessness.  95% of what you see or read in the news is completely and utterly out of your control (and we all want control).  When your mind is constantly being distracted by news and notifications (i.e. email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.), you start to feel helpless and overwhelmed.  You are primed to rebel against the next change. So when the new company initiative gets rolled out you start to think “not one more thing!”   I have turned off all my notifications on my phone except for phone calls and texts.  I’ll find out what email I have twice a day instead of constantly checking my phone.  The reduction in distractions has made me calmer and open to what might be coming next.  So if the meeting is cancelled or your boss scraps your project, you won’t fall into overwhelm.
  2. Rituals and routines.  I think I have close to 25 morning habits and I keep adding.  Weigh myself, take my medication, brush my teeth while saying affirmations, water pik, grab my sneakers, let out the dog, turn on the outside light, feed the dog, grab my phone and earbuds, sit in my swinging chair, listen to my Calm app for 10 minutes of meditation, grab a cup of coffee, move to my recliner and listen to my Whil app for mindfulness guidance for 10 minutes, wish everyone happy birthday and post a positive meme on Facebook, mental exercise with Lumosity app,  study two Spanish sections on my Duolingo app, put my sneakers on, take out the recycle, turn on my book on Audible and take a 30 minute walk, take a shower, dress, drink breakfast smoothie and head to work.  The point of all of this is that I can control these things.  I do all these things, all the time(for the most part, I don’t travel with my water pik) and I feel the rhythm.  I feel in control.  It helps be feel empowered over my day. When other people get defensive in a meeting, I am able to take it in and not react.  I respond.  So when there is an unexpected change, I just roll with it.
  3. The glass is half full.  Having a positive outlook is imperative in the VUCA world.  Kelly McGonigal wrote about this in her book called the Upside of Stress.  She recommended reframing the latest stress as a “challenge” rather than a detriment.  My husband has caught me saying, “I’m anxious about this speaking engagement” and he’ll correct me. “You mean, you are excited.”  It’s much more empowering to feel excited versus anxious.  So if the project needs to get done by 8 AM instead of next week, try thinking, “Wow, this is a real challenge, I’m excited.”  Your cortisol level will remain low and you will be able to work more efficiently.  Stress typically takes you to your primitive brain that shuts done your prefrontal cortex where you do your best thinking.  When you can reframe the change as a positive, you can recover your prefrontal cortex and get back to your best thinking.
  4. Connect with others.  As McGonigal wrote, “Connection with others activates prosocial instincts, encourages social connection, enhances social cognition, dampens fear and increases courage. You want to be near friends or family. You notice yourself paying more attention to others, or are more sensitive to others’ emotions.”  The best way to do this, if possible, is in person.  If your boss cancels the project, walk over to her office and find out the rationale behind the cancellation.  If you sit in your cube and ruminate about the change, in all likelihood your self-critic will be on steroids. “She doesn’t trust me. I’m in competent. She’s going to fire me.”  If walking into their office isn’t possible, go ahead and pick up the phone.  DO NOT EMAIL or MESSAGE.  It’s so easy to read into things too much based on the written word.  Personally connecting in person or by phone builds the relationship.

Controlling what you can control and letting go of what you can’t is the key to staying on top of the VUCA wave and not being crushed into the sandy surf.  You are only responsible for you.

4 Upsides of Turning off the News.

My husband has a habit of watching the morning news for the first 30 minutes of his morning.  Pretty soon, I had a habit of watching the news as well.  I decided that I was waiting for the weather report (although I could have easily looked up the weather app on my phone) and, perhaps, sports.  Well, something serendipitous happened about a month ago.  Our favorite Raleigh-based TV news station was taken off the lineup of our cable provider.  We were both disappointed and tried for a few weeks to find a substitute.  Nothing seemed to click.  Didn’t like the weather person or that all the news stories were solely about the North Carolina coast–where we haven’t ventured to in several years (I know, I know. Please don’t judge).   So why is this serendipitous?  Well, my husband figured out that he could get our old channel on the computer.  In his office.  Out of my visual field and listening range.  My diet of thirty minutes of news was cut off.  And it’s been surprising bliss.turn off the news

At the same time that we were trying to figure out how to get our news fix, I suddenly started running into articles on the effects of news stories on our brains, attitude and demeanor.  The universe was sending me a sign. I started to intentionally avoid the news.  If I was at the airport, I’d go into a restaurant that didn’t have the news on. I turned off the radio in the car and flipped on some classical music.  I started to figure out that I was less anxious.  My 30 minutes I freed up turned into more meditation and learning time.  So what initially seemed like a big disappointment is now a big win.

 

Here are the 4 upsides of turning off the news:

 

  1. My overall day is better. I am more optimistic.  I’m not dwelling on which Triangle city has the most homicides or crazy new law the legislature is trying to pass or whether or not the schools need to be rezoned again.  There is scientific proof that even as little as 3 minutes of negative news can affect your entire day. 3 MINUTES!  As Shawn Achor wrote for Harvard Business Review, “Just a few minutes spent consuming negative news in the morning can affect the entire emotional trajectory of your day…Individuals who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning had a whopping 27% greater likelihood of reporting their day as unhappy six to eight hours later compared to the positive condition.”   I’d rather save the time spent consuming news and focus on having a better day.

 

  1. I feel more empowered. There is a sense of helplessness that happens when I watch negative news.  95% of what is on that screen, I can’t do anything about.  I get overwhelmed.  I want it to change but outside of writing a check to the victims of a tragedy and complaining about the state of our society, I can’t move the needle on it.  It’s frustrating.  As Achor wrote, “We see the market dropping 500 points or ISIS poised to attack, and we feel powerless to change those outcomes. In psychology, believing our behavior is irrelevant in the face of challenges is called ‘learned helplessness,’ which has been connected with low performance and higher likelihood of depression.”  When I turned off the news, I felt more powered up.

 

  1. I have more focused attention. Whether I was scrolling through trending news items on an app or watching the local news with a crawl across the bottom of the screen, I was constantly being distracted.  Attention here, now attention there, attention over there…SQUIRREL! I would actually sit and watch the weather report and have to back it up because I didn’t take note of when the thunderstorms are expected today.  As Noah Shachtman wrote in his article, “The Crawl” Makes You Stupid, “Learning by constantly nibbling at bits and bites from multiple sources at once — what people in the business and computer worlds call “multitasking” — just doesn’t work well. It makes you only more distracted, less effective.” Limiting the distractions from the television screen to my iPhone has helped me focus.

 

  1. I am less stressed. I feel calmer throughout the day.  I admit that when a big news story filters through like terrorist attacks and the like, I start to feel my stomach clench and my shoulders and neck cramp. But when it filters through, I can now catch myself and shut it down.  Because it’s not a daily habit to consume news, I feel calmer and less anxious.  As Martijn Schirp wrote in his article, Why Avoiding The News Makes You Smarter, “When you are reading a new news article, or this article now, your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine doesn’t produce the feel good people normally associate with it, but it causes the craving for the feel good.” I don’t crave it any more.

 

I know that being informed helps you make better decisions like deciding how you want to vote in this year’s election.  I just think that a daily digestion of what is mostly sensationalized and capsulated information is bad for you.  Choose your news sources wisely and sparingly.

What I did when he called me “Sir”. Lessons in self-acceptance.

I rented a car last month at the Philadelphia Airport.  As I drove up to the car rental booth to leave, the gentleman in the booth said, “Good afternoon Sir…I mean Ma’am.”  This is not the first time I have been called “Sir”.  But it is the first time I actually didn’t get upset and decide to grow my hair out to at least Julia Roberts-length, wear fake eyelashes or put on low-cut shirts.  My lame attempt at pushing my woman-ness to the forefront so that not another soul on the planet will ever get my gender wrong again!

self acceptance

I remember distinctly the first time someone called me “Sir.” I was at the Concord Mall, home for Christmas Break from college in the middle of my senior year.  I had just gotten what we referred to back then as the 80’s “corporate do”.  It was a short haircut to help make one look more like a professional and less like a co-ed.  I was milling around a Thom McAn shoe store and a guy came up behind me and said “May I help you, Sir?”  I was mortified.  He caught his error almost immediately but as we can see by this post, I have not forgotten it.  Ever. And this is some 30 years later.  In my twenties, my solution was to look for something to “prove” I was a woman At.All.Times.  Happily, that is not my solution now.

So you are probably wondering how I can react differently now.  Here are my lessons in self-acceptance:

  • Stand in their shoes. It’s really embarrassing to call someone by the wrong gender (unless it’s what they want to be identified as).  I imagine that the guy at the shoe shop and the guy from the rental car place were just as embarrassed as I was.  Empathize for their embarrassment and it makes it easier to let go of your own.  That sounds counter intuitive but give it a try.  I think you’ll be surprised.
  • Tap into the energy. I reflected on the mistake as I drove away.  Perhaps I was exuding power.  The attendant felt that power as I approached.  As Amy Cuddy’s work has shown, when someone sees a non-anatomical figure walking powerfully, 80% of the time they assume it’s a man.  I remember in my final coaching class with CRR Global, I was facilitating with a tall, charismatic man name Michael.  At the end, I remember the insightful instructor Marita Fridjhon said, “This is a power couple.”  I realized that I had taken on Michael’s power. So take that testosterone driven energy and tap into it. Own it.
  • Test your assumptions. I had taken note at the airport about how many more men travel solo than women.  In fact, I rarely see women traveling alone, sitting in restaurants alone and checking into hotels alone.  I don’t know that many women who are comfortable eating in restaurants alone, heck, I wasn’t comfortable with it when I first started traveling for business some 25 years ago.  So for all I know, that attendant assumed a solo driver was a man. Check your assumptions.
  • I have been practicing meditation for over three years. I have learned to separate from the reaction and make space for a pause.  This helps me get off the self-critical talk that thirty years ago was, “OMG, he thinks I’m a man.  I am too tall.  I am too fat.  I am unlovable.” Crazy talk.  I am sure that I ruminated about it for months as I desperately sought to be more less masculine.   But now?  I can easily respond with a friendly smile and say, “Oops.”  I love Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier, where he says that meditation is like “…getting behind a waterfall.”  All those thoughts are flying by but you can step back and not get attached to it.  Practicing mindfulness helped me stay out of the drama and it can help you.
  • I will never be petite. It is impossible to be 5’2 when I am 5’8.  It is what it is.  I’ll also never be an astronaut, or ballet dancer or president of the United States.  I’ll never be a father, or a judge or cowboy.  But what I can be is a great author, fabulous mother and most importantly, make a difference in people’s lives every day.  This is not dependent on me being more petite or less masculine.   I’ve learned that I can accept myself as I am.  I am perfectly imperfect.  Freckles and all.  Accept yourself as you are.  There is less of a battle that way.

I am me.  Can you be you?