On the weekend, I attended a birthday celebration for my husband's best friend. Although I know the couple well and have met their other friends a few times, we are not really part of their "group of friends" as we live a good drive away (and most of these other friends all live on their street), so I found myself surrounded by people who knew each well and were deep in conversation.
I'm regarded as an "extrovert" so I'm supposed to like people and be able to start a conversation with people I don't know or don't know well easily, right? Wrong. Introverts, take solace, even us extroverts still shy away from initiating conversations, especially when we feel like the odd (wo)man out. I find it especially jarring in these types of situations where I pride myself on creating connections and it's very clear I'm far behind the others who have created connections already.
Luckily, there were a few others like me and, luckily, I wrote some tips on just this situation for my clients a few years ago, so I dug it up (from memory, of course, or else that would be a little weird and then make it pretty justifiable why I didn't have anyone to talk to. :)
Hope you find some of these tips helpful!
Conversations Starters and Stoppers
It can be nerve-wracking walking into a situation where you don’t really know anybody, whether it is at a conference or a spouse’s work function. The good news is you’re probably not alone and there are others who feel the exact same way you do. Rather than be the one who waits for someone to come talk to you, take the opportunity to initiate the conversation. Who knows? You might end up making a new business contact or even a new best friend.
The number one tip is to be natural! However, for some of us our “natural” tendencies are to avoid starting conversations with strangers at all costs, so here is a list of tips to help you start and continue conversations with people you’ve just met or don’t know very well.
If all of these fail, there's always Flip Cup. There seems to be a direct correlation between the flow of alcohol and the flow of conversations. However, what do you do in situation where liquid courage isn't advisable? Any tips to add?
Oh my, how did it get to be March 2014 already! I have had many blog posts swirling in my head; however, to get them down on paper (figuratively) has been quite difficult due to a number of different factors (which is probably a whole other blog post on the subject of time management and prioritizing!). Until I can properly flesh out some of these posts, I had to write a quick post influenced by one of my favourite guilty pleasures: Big Brother (Canada)!
Tonight, Big Brother Canada Season 2 kicked off. While I fully recognize how ridiculous reality television is, I have to say that I love watching the interpersonal and team dynamics play out. Tonight, in the first episode, I was struck by how this "team" of strangers quickly fell in line with Bruce Tuckman's Stages of Team Development. The first stage, "Forming", everyone is full of hope, excitement, and positivity. Because people don't really know each other during this stage, everyone is still exchanging pleasantries and are on their best behaviour. If you watched the episode (don't worry, I won't tell anyone), you heard a lot of squealing and laughing and lots lots of smiles and politeness. Alas, as they say, all good things must come to an end--which takes us to our next stage: "Storming" (another post perhaps?).
And, this, friends, is what makes us for good TV.
It’s that time of year where the preferred salutation is greetings of a happy season, and we warm our hearts by partaking and/or being touched by this season of giving. Recently, a video by Calgary based Westjet has gone viral that showcased the best of the season and the best of the season’s giving.
If you’re unfamiliar with the video, I suggest you take the few minutes to watch the video (and then take a few more minutes to wipe away the tears). However, here’s a quick summary of the video if you’re strapped for time and would rather stay on this page (yay, you!): Westjet set up a special virtual Santa kiosk in the Toronto and Hamilton airports. Guests scanned their boarding passes and were delighted that jolly old Saint Nicholas greeted each of them by name. The big guy then asked what they wanted for Christmas. Good fun! Well, unbeknownst to the passengers, as they flew to their destination (Calgary), Santa’s elves were quickly fulfilling the wishes of the passengers and, rather than boring old luggage coming down the conveyor belt, wrapped gifts with their names on it came out. And, lo and behold, every little boy and girl and big boy and girl got what he or she wanted, even the couple who asked for a big screen television!
Although there is little doubt that everyone was overjoyed at the surprise and incredibly grateful for the gifts they received regardless of what that gift was, I can’t help thinking about the couple who reached for the moon and asked Santa for a big screen television and the guy who kept his wishes in check and asked for socks and underwear. Is there a tiny piece of that man who might be kicking himself for not asking for something a bit loftier?
Now I’m not suggesting he should have been greedier in asking for more. I’m talking about the dreams and goals we have and what happens when they’re big screen TV type dreams versus socks and underwear type dreams? Well, in this case, both achieved their dreams, but I’m betting I can guess which passenger was slightly more excited.
But, again, it’s not about who got the TV and who got the socks. It’s about what they dared (or didn’t dare) to ask for. The couple who asked Santa for a big screen TV likely didn’t expect to get one and, therefore, it wasn’t driven by greed. It was driven by taking a risk, by going for something that not everyone has the guts to ask for, and by reaching for the moon. The socks and underwear guy? He wasn’t even reaching for the clouds.
If your goals and dreams are mediocre, at best, how does that affect what you achieve versus what you could achieve? Is it more advantageous to set awesome goals and dreams?
There have been arguments made for and against setting stretch goals. Some of the arguments against highlight how they can be demotivating, especially if they’re far from achievable or they can lead to excessive risk taking or unethical behavior. I would actually agree with that argument if the stretch goals are solely financial in nature. However, as author Steve Denning points out in the Forbes article, “In Praise of Stretch Goals”, emphasizing goals that are awesome over mediocre and tap into strong intrinsic drivers can lead to contributions that are big and worthwhile.
Think of the giant leaps for mankind that can be made by thinking big. Take a cue from the man who literally shot for the moon, President Kennedy. He not only set out the goal of “landing a man on the moon”, but also, “returning him safely to Earth”.
What’s your moon dream? Have you dared to say it out loud?
"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."
- Les Brown
I was watching my 11 year-old nephew play atom hockey (ice hockey to my friends outside of Canada) the other week and noticed on the back each of their jerseys is a big stop sign patch. At first, I thought it was just on my nephew’s team, but then noticed both teams had it on their jerseys, so then I asked my brother what it meant. He said it was to remind the players to stop themselves from making dangerous hits, or, more specifically, body checking from behind.
Upon some further investigation, I discovered that the stop sign patches come from the organization S.T.O.P, which stands for Safety Towards Other Player (STOP) program. So why do these kids need to be reminded when they know that they’re not even permitted to hit at this level? Daniel Goleman, the author of the 1996 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, describes it as the Amygdala Hijack.
The Amygdala Hijack is when you encounter a situation as a threat (i.e., your opponent is about to score or, even, has the puck), and your emotional brain (think: fight or flight) hijacks your rational brain. Unfortunately, this hijacking often results in irrational, ineffective, and, in some cases, destructive behavior. It’s only after these reactions that the rational brain catches up and helps us realize that our reaction was inappropriate.
Let’s go back to the hockey cross checking example: What’s the point of the stop sign patch? The patch actually can serve to help us control the amygdala and allow the rational brain to catch up and act first. It acts as a trigger to make us stop and think, “Hmm, what’s that sign all about?” and then, ultimately, allows the rational brain to think and respond before the emotional brain has a chance to react. It’s akin to the string tied around our finger to help us remember something.
Is this just useful for kids playing hockey? Absolutely not. We have all faced situations where we reacted and reflected on the situation after the fact saying to ourselves, “What the heck was I thinking?” (the reality being that most of us aren’t thinking…at least with the rational brain). Worse, most of us have had this occur within a professional environments. So what can we do?
S – Stop what you’re doing.
T – Take a breath or two. We’re talking really good, deep breaths. The kind that take a few seconds to inhale and a few seconds to exhale.
O – Observe your thoughts, feelings, and emotions about the situation at hand. What’s actually happening? Bring it to the conscious level.
P – Proceed. Determine what you need to do in order to support you during this time. This might include taking a quick break, getting some fresh air, drinking a cup of tea, or visiting a website that puts a smile on your face and gives you perspective.
What else have you found to help you take back your brain?
I was driving along the 401 highway the other week and, surprisingly, I was driving along a portion of the highway where it was actually possible to go the speed limit. Now perhaps because myself and other drivers were a bit excited that we were actually able to go faster than gridlock usually allows, most people were going slightly above the posted limit. That pace came to a screeching halt a few kilometers down the road when a new vehicle entered the fray—a vehicle with lights on its hood and an emblem on its door.
The appearance of the police cruiser and the subsequent adherence to the speeding limit by all of those in the cruiser’s vicinity made me think about the most effective means of getting compliance. It’s undeniable that the presence of that police cruiser was a very effective way to reduce everyone’s speed to the posted limit. Very effective until the police cruiser turned off the highway and everyone resumed their previous speed. If the only way to ensure drivers’ compliance to the posted speed limits is the presence of police, it’s easy to see that police resources would quickly get eaten up just patrolling the highways.
If drivers are constantly exceeding the speed limits and have no other motivation to slow down than the fear of getting a speeding ticket, drivers will always exceed the limits if they don’t see any police around. It got me thinking about the recent debate over Melissa Meyer’s controversial decision to ban remote working at Yahoo. While her intentions seem to be related to encouraging collaboration and sharing (both quite integral to the tech industry), many shifted the focus of this announcement to a debate about whether or not remote workers have the ability to be productive without someone watching over them.
If you feel the only way your staff are productive is when they have someone watching them and keeping them in line, then you will likely bear witness (or, more aptly, not bear witness) to those same employees becoming Mario Andretti when you have your back turned.
Well, it happened. I knew it was coming, but it happened sooner than I thought. My 2.5 year old mastered the question “Why?” (as well as “Why not?” for those times when the answer is something can’t be done—delightful). Here is just a snippet of the many conversations I’ve had with my son this week that all ended up the same way:
Me: Okay, it’s time to go home.
Me: Well, pre-school is done and it’s close to your nap, so we need to go home.
Me: If we don’t go home, then we won’t be near your bed and then you won’t have your nap and then you will miss your nap. We can’t miss your nap.
Toddler: Why not?
Me: Because then you’ll be too tired to play with me and daddy later today when daddy gets home. (but really thinking: because mommy needs that time in the afternoon to do work)
While I’m sure any parent can relate to these want-to-tear-your-hair-out conversations with their children around this time, I realized that something very important happens during these conversations that grants me the patience (okay, sometimes grants me the patience) to indulge him. He’s learning. He’s learning a great deal by asking his questions. This is his inquisitive little mind’s way of making sense of the world around him and starting to understand cause and effect.
Whereas, in the conversation example above, I intuitively knew that if we didn’t go home right away, he could miss his nap and I would likely have a grumpy toddler on my hands. He’s still learning that whole process. And, it’s likely, as he masters the process and starts seeing the link between cause and effect, those questions will subside. But, contrary to my knee-jerk reaction of “stop asking ‘Why?’!”, I actually hope it’s not likely, and I truly hope he continues to be just as inquisitive throughout his life.
Sadly, that’s not usually so. How many of us still approach situations with that curious wonder of a toddler? I’m willing to bet not many of us. For the most part, it makes sense. We’ve figured out the answers already. We face so many situations in a day that we have to learn to streamline as much as possible to make the most of our 24 hours each day. However, how often are we not asking ‘Why?’ because we’re worried it will make us look dumb or unknowledgeable? How often do we not ask ‘Why?’ because we assume we know the answer or should know the answer? How often do we not ask 'Why?' because we really don't want to know the answer?
More often than naught, it’s the latter sentiments that get us in trouble. Asking ‘Why?’ over and over again can actually be a very effective exercise in effective decision making as well as post-mortem root cause analyses. However, they’re truly only effective if we go back to our toddler years and ask the question with unabashed, innocent curiosity. No pretense. No agenda. No defensiveness. Otherwise, you’re likely to have answered the question even before asking it. And that answer will likely fit more into the category of “because I said so” than anything that actually challenges your belief system and, more importantly, more resonant of the real answer.
Recently, I was doing one of my cross-country jaunts and was flipping through an edition of Air Canada’s enRoute magazine and came across an article about Kobe, Japan. In 1995, the city of 1.5 million people suffered a devastating earthquake that killed 4500 people and damaged or destroyed more than 120,000 buildings. In this time of tragedy and devastation, urban planners from around the country converged and appeared to have taken the words of Japanese philosopher Mizuta Masahide to heart: “My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.”
Today, Kobe is no longer the mishmash of utilitarian, drab buildings constructed during the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, but an architectural marvel that is “inclusive, interactive, and ecological.”
All too often I have seen teams create an environment that fears failure to such an extent that the thing they were avoiding is the thing they become. At best, they become the drab buildings over time; at worst, they eventually create their own earthquakes, but are too paralyzed by their fears to learn from the failures and allow a stronger, more breathtaking phoenix to rise from the ashes.
Counter to popular belief, the opposite of success is not failure. A case could be made that the opposite of success is actually apathy (this leads us to a whole different discussion, which I’m sure I’ll cover in another post). In fact, success and failure often go hand in hand. Or, more appropriately, the learnings from failures breed success. The great basketball player Michael Jordan put it much more eloquently, “I’ve failed over and over in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
How does your team deal with failure? Do they learn from it? Do they embrace failure or the adage, “Failure is not an option”? If it’s the latter, then ask yourself: what successes are you missing out on by avoiding the failures at all costs?
This past spring, we enrolled my two-year old son in a gymnastics class. Unfortunately, living in Toronto, space is a premium, so his gymnastics class was in a modified office building. Fortunately, he’s two, so even the small trampoline (remember those fitness ones from the eighties that were all the craze—the ones about two feet in diameter?) was still a big draw.
Since the class ended, he’s been able to keep up his practice in the off-season thanks to a trampoline we have set up at the cottage. While his initial thrills were rooted in getting a slight bounce with every step, his confidence has grown and he is looking for the bigger bounces—the ones that take him higher, but also risk him falling flat on his face. I noticed that we kept telling him he has to jump in the middle of the trampoline to go after those kinds of bounces. You need to go after the area with more give, more flexibility and a looser structure to get the higher bounce. I also realized that this holds true for most of the thrills and exhilaration we achieve in our work lives.
Operating in a structured, rigid environment is akin to jumping around the perimeter of the trampoline. You can still get some air, but it’s not going to give you that rush or that kind of bounce you need to try out new moves such as back flips (or, if you’re two, a jump that takes you higher than a few centimeters). It’s the centre of the trampoline where there is more flexibility, more give and more room to get the highest highs and the biggest bounces. While those on the perimeter might point out that the bigger the jump, the more likely it is that you fall flat on your face. Very true—we witnessed many face plants watching our son. But we also witnessed his bounces get higher and higher.
If you manage staff, are you asking for greatness and growth while containing them to the perimeter of the trampoline or encouraging them to jump in the middle?
Another Thanksgiving is upon us (for those in Canada), and it always provides a great opportunity for us reflect on what we're thankful for. Without a doubt, I am thankful for my in-laws who take on the annual Thanksgiving dinner, as it means I do not have to touch the innards of a turkey for yet another year.
My sister-in-law is the hostess with the most-est when it comes to our annual Thanksgiving dinners. Actually, I really need to give my brother-in-law credit, as he's often the grocery shopper and chef. She is the mistress of the decor, so the two of them make a perfect pair. But that's for a different post. They are so good, in fact, that we are often left wondering how we can contribute. Since the rest of the us don't want to feel like ungracious guests, we usually offer to bring token foods such as an appetizer or dessert. However, the past two years have taught us there is just as much value in coordination and communication as there is in giving.
Two years ago, everyone decided to bring dessert...without sharing this decision with everyone else. Hey, I'm not one to complain when a meal's desserts outnumber the mains, but the visual of five (yes, FIVE) pumpkin pies on the table highlighted the absurdity of the situation. You would think we would have learned by the time Thanksgiving rolled around last year. We learned. We just learned the wrong lesson. The lesson we took away--don't bring pumpkin pie because everyone else is going to bring pumpkin pie. That was the lesson we took away, anyway. Well, that was also the lesson everyone else took away. So you can probably guess what happened. Last year's Thanksgiving featured a delicious meal, but left everyone with only memories of the pile of pies and our sweet teeth unfulfilled.
So how does this relate to business? Think about the last time your team made a mistake or something didn't go well. Did you talk about it? Did you diagnose what happened? Did you discuss what needs to happen the next time you encounter the same situation (In our case, coordinating and communicating who will be bringing what the next time)? Or did you just take it for granted that everyone recognized the mistake and knows what to do next time? If your team continues to have too many pies or none at all, perhaps it's time to discuss, come to a consensus, and coordinate.
Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian readers! May you get just enough pie.
For as long as I can remember, I had the belief that you should never mix your business life with your professional life. "Don't bring your personal stuff to work and don't bring your work stuff home." I can't pinpoint the source of this mantra or whether it was just a residual of the Mad Men philosophy of work that was still an influence in my sphere or, perhaps, being a teen of the nineties, an extrapolation of the "Two Worlds Colliding" theory on Seinfeld, but this belief was innate.
While I was lucky enough to save myself from suffering from the affliction I have dubbed "Two Selves" (see below), others have not been so lucky. Do you know any of these people? The easiest way to describe them would be the ones with the Jekyll and Hyde personalities: Jekyll for home and Hyde for work (or vice versa--I never could remember which one was the crazy one). A caricature of someone suffering from the "Two Selves" would look something like this: that guy at the office who couldn't be bothered to say hi to people or ask them how they're doing and has no regard for anyone's feelings as he barks orders at his staff being the same guy who lets his granddaughter paint his nails and take him on one hour walks that only stretch a block as they discover and examine all of the ladybugs and leaves in the neighbourhood. Do you know one of those? Or, perhaps, you yourself might be afflicted? Quick test: if two people from each of your worlds meets each other and starts comparing notes, if they don't believe they're talking about the same person, you may be suffering from "Two Selves".
I was very close to developing "Two Selves", but I was lucky enough to join an amazing organization soon after graduation that quickly shot down that theory and encouraged us to get to know each other, even like each other, and gain an understanding and appreciation of where each other comes from. The owners of this company understood that, while some of the rules of business might be different (i.e., dress code, business communication, etc.), generally the rules of engagement remained the same regardless of whether it was business or personal. That is, you're much more likely to yield a positive result if you treat people (business associates, clients, vendors, staff....spouses, parents, friends, children) with respect and decency than not. Simple, right?
Maybe, but I myself have struggled with this at times, as have most of my clients (although, thankfully, not usually to the extreme as the caricature above) and decided to use this blog as a direct challenge to the assumption that one should not mix business with personal. So, be forewarned. We're going to get a little bit business and we're going to get a little bit personal. Let's hope that we have more success combining these two than the forefather of this movement: the mullet.