How and Why To Set Clear Expectations

The other day, my toddlers asked me if they could help me with chores. Yes! The answer is always yes to this question! I was restocking the toilet paper in my bathroom so I handed them each a roll and asked them to please restock their bathroom. I later went into their bathroom to find the two new rolls on the holder and the partial roll on the windowsill. Not exactly how I would have restocked the toilet paper.

Often times, we get frustrated when something doesn’t go exactly how we envisioned and we tend to blame the person delivering the work rather than examining the expectations we set. One of my favorite quotes from Brene Brown (and there are many) is “clear is kind, unclear is unkind.” Rather than assuming my two and four year olds knew what “restock the bathroom” meant, I could have asked them to “please put the toilet paper rolls underneath the sink”. That would have given them clear guidelines for how I expected them to restock the bathroom rather than leaving room for interpretation.

During our COVID crisis, it is more important than ever to examine how we communicate expectations. Whether we are adjusting to a remote work scenario or we are learning how to be with our family members 24/7 or we haven’t seen another human being in days, we are all navigating a new normal. When we are out of our personal routines, we are more susceptible to missing the unspoken details. To mitigate frustration and avoid telling stories about what is happening around us or to us – let’s commit to clear and timely communication.

Think about a time where you asked someone to do something and when they delivered, your response was “this is not what I expected.” Perhaps you asked someone to lead a meeting at work or you requested someone draft up documentation for a client. When reflecting back, did you offer clear expectations for the task at hand?

Here are four questions to ensure your communication is clear:

  • Did I state what done looks like?
  • Did I give a timeline for delivery?
  • Did I provide context for why this is a priority?
  • Did I say thank you?

That last question isn’t about clear nor timely communication, it’s about clear and timely gratitude, something we could all use a little more of these days, even before our work is done.

Let’s put it into action: instead of “Will you lead our requirements gathering call on Friday?” a few more details set you up for greater success. “Will you lead our training requirements gathering call on Friday? The client has new team members and recently rolled out new product features to their network. Please draft an agenda for me to send to the group on Wednesday so they come prepared to talk about their needs. After the call, please send a recap of topics for them to approve. Thank you for leading this!”

Remember, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” It’s a simple motto with big results.

Taking Control of our Uncertainty

We’ve made it two weeks. Two weeks of COVID-19 quarantine with two small toddlers and two meeting-heavy careers that are not slowing down. First, we are thankful for our beautiful life, the opportunity to love our daughters deeply and to both continue working (and collecting two paychecks).

Now that we have acknowledged that, we can also admit it is hard. It is a juggling act to ensure we are taking care of ourselves, our daughters, and each other while also making sure our colleagues, clients and bosses are served as well. As we move into the 3rd week of quarantine, we are going to attempt to establish a more consistent routine by using a technique called “block scheduling”. Read below to see how we got here. Also, I have sprinkled real-life captures of quarantine life throughout this post for your enjoyment!

Part of my professional expertise is in change management which means I move people’s cheese a lot and then help them settle into their new normal. Let me be clear, this in no way means I am comfortable when my own cheese gets moved. It does mean I have the skills to manage change should I choose to use them.

After two weeks, it’s time to use those skills. Why now? Because the first two weeks of any major change is about observation, instinct and grace. Then it’s time for action.

  • Observe the situation and take note of what is and is not working.
  • Use your instinct to react to each experience and don’t be afraid to use the S.T.O.P. mindfulness technique to manage heightened emotions.
  • Offer a lot of grace to yourself and everyone you interact with as we are all navigating this new routine (a.k.a. we will get a lot of things wrong as we adjust to our new “normal”…and that’s to be expected and perfectly normal).

My husband and I learned a lot through this 2 week observation. We determined we are exhausted and ready to find a routine that is more sustainable than our initial chaos of COVID-19 quarantine. What we learned:

  • Saying thank you for even the most normal help is important to remind one another we are grateful for each other’s efforts (taking out the trash, cooking, calming down a toddler tantrum).
  • An hour by hour handoff schedule is not conducive for being effective at work.
  • Our daughters do better with free time during breakfast with an activity around 9am that includes undivided attention from one of us.
  • 2pm is the right time for quiet time. Putting the girls on separate couches (on separate floors of the house) is our best chance for success.
  • One of us taking the girls on an hour (or longer) walk in the early afternoon allows the other to have a silent house for a brief moment (and we trade off days).
  • Bribery is allowed (candy, screen time, presents – it’s all allowed).
  • My husband is better at reading and science experiments and I am better at arts and crafts activities.

Now it’s time to put our learning into action.

Let me be clear, it is never easy to open our minds to being ready to take action. For us, it took little nudges of both encouragement and frustration to indicate we were both ready to discuss our options. Once we acknowledged we were ready to talk openly, we did a few things on Friday morning to prepare for our change:

  • We got up a touch earlier and did a 15 minute, online yoga class together (small changes, big impact).
  • We talked afterwards and determined the biggest desire on both sides was finding a schedule that allows us to be intentional and focused in our given roles (parent, employee, spouse, human).
  • We agreed on an approach where both of us would attempt to adjust our calendars to block out chunks of time for work and parenting.

First tip: understanding we likely will fail initially as we try different techniques and that is ok as long as we fail fast and fail forward.

Next week we are trying our block schedule technique. In theory, this will help us know when we can schedule meetings, help us know when we will be able to get non-phone call work completed and also when we are free to build forts, go on walks and complete art and science projects.

The tactical step we took on Friday to prepare for this week was pulling up our weekly calendars together and determining our overlap in meetings and where each of us might be able to adjust to accommodate the schedule.

We tried to start with Monday and that proved difficult. So we moved to Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday where it was easier to identify clear blocks of time. Once our creative juices were flowing, we went back to Monday and were able to each find a meeting or two that we could adjust. Then, we decided Friday was going to be open for what each of us may need in order to wrap up our weeks.

I cannot promise this approach will work, but I can assure you it feels really good to have a plan to try. One of my favorite quotes is from Winston Churchill and feels very appropriate right now:

Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan.

Winston Churchill

Stay tuned to see how this approach provides us a bit of sanity during these uncertain and hectic times and where we fail forward and make adjustments to find the right new normal.

Small habits, big Impact

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have an unwavering need for an immediate result. In a professional setting, we call this a “quick win” or “low hanging fruit”. My husband calls it my “pressure washer impact”.

There was a day, back in my 20s, when I just needed a win. I was grieving the recent loss of my mom, who battled ALS for 3 hard years. My coping mechanism was to give everything I had to work. I had secured an amazing opportunity for our start-up, dipping our toes into a new market. After hiring additional resources to complete the project, it suddenly fell through for reasons completely out of our control. Even so, it left me feeling deflated and also created a plausible scenario where we wouldn’t make payroll the following month. Welcome to start-up life. Like I said, I needed a “quick win”; something on my to do list that I could not only check off, but also consider measurably impactful. It was a Sunday afternoon, right after my birthday. I remember this because it was Superbowl Sunday and I chose to pressure wash our back porch and fence instead of sit on the couch and eat guacamole.

The smooth, fluid motion of the wand and the hard lines of progress offered me the gratification I needed to feel like I could still accomplish something. The sore muscles the next day and the beautifully bright pine color of the wood reminded me of my hard work and accomplishment.

When we desire change, we often seek out grand gestures and lofty goals. We adopt the “hard work pays off” mentality. I am going to meditate every day for a month; cut out all <sugar, carbs, alcohol, meat> from our diet; get 5 new clients in Q1; quit my job and live off the land.

In reality, hard work only pays off if it’s effective. If you suddenly decide you want to get in shape – going to the gym for 8 hours straight is certainly considered hard work, but you aren’t going to experience the change you desire. We need to seek change that is challenging and also sustainable. After all if it doesn’t challenge you, it is not going to change you. Same is true that if it’s not sustainable, it will not change you.

One change I made last year: incorporated the 6-minute miracle morning by Hal Elrod into my daily life. I knew I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get up hours earlier so it had to be short to be sustainable. The original routine is an hour long but Hal knows there are people out there just like me who need something a bit more…efficient to be effective. Spend 1 minute doing each of the following:

This year, I have adjusted the last “S” to be “Spanish” and use Duolingo in hopes to become a bit more fluent. I will admit, some days I only “SAVE” the day. Other days might be a SAVER or SAVES morning. Grace is my favorite offering these days – to myself and to others. My morning routine goal is to consistently dedicate at least the first 5 minutes of every morning to myself.

The impact my morning routine has had on my life has been instrumental in my growth over the last year. I have become more focused, less triggered by annoyances, more open-minded and patient. It has given me the clarity and encouragement to find other ways to improve myself and my habits. I have done additional work around identifying my core values and defining who I want to be in the world so it’s had a snowball effect on my personal development!

What is a small, daily habit you can put in place that will build a foundation of lasting impact?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Walk around the block 1x a day
  • Reach out to one friend a day to say “hello”
  • Set a “drink water” reminder on your phone
  • Choose a salad instead of fries
  • Daily Duolingo
  • Meet for a park walk instead of coffee chat
  • Stand during 1 meeting everyday
  • Review tomorrow’s calendar as your last item of the day
  • Compliment one person
  • 6-minute Miracle Morning!

Want help with finding ways to build a foundation of lasting impact? You have so much potential (you know that, I know that) and sometimes you need a hand in navigating how to make your desired impact. I am offering that hand to you. If you desire a sincere, authentic, and graceful partner to help you, contact me today to start your journey! Your first discovery call is free!

How to do Hard Things.

When talking about conquering hard things, I never understood the metaphor “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

The earliest citing for this phrase is from 1945 in a book called An Introduction to Industrial Statistics and Quality Control By Paul Peach.

The job may be lengthy, but, in the words of the great Kung Fu Tze, a man can eat an elephant if need be, one bite at a time.

Admittedly, elephant eating is difficult for me to relate to. When talking about difficult challenges, my favorite reminder comes from St. Francis of Assisi:

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. 

When conquering difficult feats, even those thought to be impossible, it is important for me to have a plan. Afterall, Winston Churchill stated “Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even should they rarely stick to their plan.” Here’s my plan of action when asked to do hard things:

  1. State my vision
  2. Set my goals to carry out my vision
  3. Set milestones to work towards each goal
  4. Celebrate the milestones and goals
  5. Pause for reflection briefly yet often
  6. Positive self talk
  7. Find tribe mates with positive self talk
  8. Know what me and my tribe mates need in times of struggle
  9. Listen to those ahead of me and beside me in my journey
  10. Trust my gut and my gear/tools

I found my elephant.

I recently came back from celebrating my 10 year wedding anniversary in Argentina…kid free. My husband and I planned the perfect combination of our mutual and individual interests. We started with a night in Buenos Aires exploring the city, followed by a 4 day hut-to-hut trek in Bariloche, finished with 5 days wine tasting in Mendoza.

My elephant story begins as we approach the trekking portion of our itinerary. With a backdrop of the Andes and a glacier lake at our feet, we literally plunge into the laguna with the excitement you would expect from two tired parents, alleviated from any responsibility for 14 days. It was freezing yet invigorating! Our guide, Martin, stopped by that night to go over the details of our trek which started the next morning. He let us know day one would be easy, day two medium and days three and four were the hardest. He turned around to a floor to ceiling window, pointed to a giant mountain, and said “we will conquer her on our last day.” He then assured us “each day we have options so no worries!” Clue #1 there was an elephant in my future.

Refugio Emilio Frey

The next morning we set off in Patagonia. The views, the wildflowers, the history lessons – perfecto! Martin was spectacular. His joy was contagious in his whistling and ease of sharing his wisdom of the world around us. He was right in Day 1 being relatively easy: 5 hours of hiking through forest, up zig zag trails of mountain rock and passing over waterfalls. We came to our first refugio and there were enough smiles, hot tea, macha and cafe con leche to share that overcame all language barriers amongst fellow trekkers.

Day 2 was accurately described as more difficult than day 1. It is humbling to realize you are the anchor of the group and the pace is set on your stride. This is why it’s important to surround yourself with tribe mates who are interested in supporting you through hard things. At one point, while taking a break, my husband unknowingly captured my mental state when snagging a panoramic view of our landscape. When he asked “are you having a good time?” I replied with a curt “sometimes” and he gracefully offered me the space and silence I needed to work through some of the internal gremlins telling me I was not capable of conquering the mountains ahead of us.

We reached our second refugio and I quickly retreated into the private room Martin secured for us (have I mentioned Martin is awesome?). This is where I defined my plan for conquering the trek.

  1. Vision: Hike Patagonia
  2. Goal: 4 days / 3 nights hut to hut trek
  3. Milestones: Red dot trail markers
  4. Celebrate: Look up, find the next dot, put one foot in front of the other. Future dots are not your concern. One dot at a time.
  5. Pause: turn around and look at what you just accomplished!
  6. Positive Self-talk: “I can do hard things. I am strong, capable and brave”
  7. Tribe mates: Kyle and Martin.
  8. Support: “You’re doing great.” “I am proud of you.” “This is hard for me too.” “You are capable of tomorrow.” “Perfect.” “Muy bien!”
  9. Advice: Use your pole. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Lead with your heel. Use your whole foot. Bend your knees.
  10. Gut and Gear: I am shorter, therefore my steps are smaller and that is ok. Commit to my breathing technique to slow my heart rate and clear my mind. Use gloves even if no one else is. Your shoes were meant for this terrain – trust their grip.

I confessed to Kyle that I was not confident in my abilities to do two days of “hard” when a day of “medium” was hard for me. He listened, related to my fears and assured me I was capable. Next, we spoke with Martin and I went to bed optimistic for our 10-hour trek the next day.

At breakfast, the Buenos Aires couple who had been following our same path reacted with wide eyes and whistles when we said we were headed to Laguna Negro. And not the joyous whistles of Martin. The “better you than me” whistle under your breath kind. Normally this inspires me to know others find my goals far-fetched. Not this time since I was already battling the gremlin of insecurity in my trekking capabilities.

Onward we went.

The morning started with a hike around one laguna to another and then some light rock climbing up to leftover snow from the previous winter. We anticipated the winds to pick up but not to the degree they came nor the sideways rain that accompanied. To go with our amped up weather came serious rock scrambling. While confident in my abilities, I really started to question our decision making skills. Why would we choose to free climb up a mountain when our two small kids depended on us to make it home safely…and in one piece? Why did we willingly put ourselves in a situation where one misstep could lead to a fatal plummet onto the rocks below? Enter: my (dramatic) elephant.

My vision of hiking Patagonia was blocked by an elephant of desperation and concern for making it home safely. While my confidence was wavering on my abilities the day before, it was not my lack of confidence that caused the elephant to appear. It was the fear of not making it home safely that altered my perspective of the goals and milestones required to make it to Laguna Negro. That fear turned a challenging adventure into an elephant.

Now I understood. No one wakes up one day and decides they want to eat an elephant. The elephant in not the vision, it is the fear, magnificent and daunting, standing between you and your vision. So how do you eat the elephant that stands between you and your vision? One bite at a time. So how did I eat my elephant? Follow the plan:

Spot the next red dot trail marker and focus solely on the one ahead. Use my poles, wear my gloves and trust my shoes – they are all tools to help me succeed.

Positive self talk and great tribe mates. “I am capable of hard things. I am brave. I can do this.” Kyle and Martin were incredible. From verbal reassurance to outstretched hands to even guiding me through a dislocated knee 4 hours into the 10 hour day.
We did it!

Our elephant bites included uphill rock climbing, sliding down a snow field, windy ridge lines, crossing waterfalls, downhill rock climbing, marsh crossings, and miles and miles of beautiful, even if daunting, Patagonia terrain.

With about 2 miles remaining, Kyle stopped me and pointed out Cerro Catedral, where we ended day 1. To see how far we’d come was what I needed to take a few more bites and endure the final uphill trek to Laguna Negro. With about a mile to go and “the windiest part”, Martin says “there she is!” and low and behold the little red Refugio Italia in all of her glory stood before us. We were there. The elephant was gone and we were almost “home”.
That night, we celebrated with a bottle of wine by candlelight swapping stories with Martin of adventures of raising toddlers and previous life experiences.

I chose not to take off my compression pants that night as the pain from dislocating my knee seemed to be at bay. We opted for the 14 km hike into Colonia Suissa rather than tackling Cerro Lopez for our final day. We were rewarded with the trail literally ending into Berlina Patagonia Brewery where we high-fived and toasted to a wonderful experience while awaiting our ride back to Bariloche. There was no elephant to be seen.

Moral of my story: Good gear, solid tribe mates and a positive mindset can overcome any elephant that stands in your way of accomplishing hard things. One bite at a time.

Order your future, don’t recount your past.

When you are ready for a change, it’s easy to reflect back on your past to find happiness from previous experiences and try to replicate that for the future. When searching for what’s next professionally, I challenge you to take a different approach. Before finding a career that inspires you, it may sound simple, but it is important to understand what inspires you.

When researching this topic, I started to really contemplate the difference between seeking happiness vs. seeking joy. The most succinct explanation I found was from Compassion International. Their mission is Christian-based though the explanation of joy vs happiness is applicable to all:

Happiness depends on external factors to exist. Happiness happens to us. Even though we may seek it, desire it, pursue it, etc., feeling happiness is not a choice we make. Joy, on the other hand, is a choice purposefully made. Joy is an attitude of the heart and spirit, present inside of us as an untapped reservoir of potential.

Simply put: Happiness happens to us, Joy is a choice we make. When I looked back, I noticed two common areas where happiness existed for me:

  • After a positive interaction with other people (family, friends, clients and colleagues alike)
  • When I prioritized myself (going for a solo run, making it to the gym, time at the spa, choosing a book over social media)

It took me months to identify the underlying joy that connected these two areas of happiness for me: focusing on the human connection, not the task at hand. The realization was that joy (for me) is in the intentional focus on people. Once I identified my joy, my world opened up.

I no longer obsessed over the tasks I performed at my job, trying to warp together some sense of an a la carte job description. I replaced that exercise with focusing on in-the-moment interactions with those around me, myself included. I stopped trying to force deep meaning to the interaction and started enjoying the experience of intentional time being spent. By focusing on my joy rather than my happiness, I radically changed my life. I also ordered up my future because I had clarity in what I wanted to offer the world.

When pivoting into a career that inspires you: order your future, don’t recount your past. If you don’t want to keep doing what you’ve done, then stop telling people what you’ve done and tell them what you want to do. What does that look like?

  1. Don’t let your resume/LinkedIn be a laundry list of things you have done in the past; highlight how your past represents your desired future.
  2. Write your own job description (here’s mine: “The Role Every Company Needs“)

When doing this exercise, it helps to be clear about what you want in your future. You need to understand your core values that will support you purposefully choosing joy. Focus on what’s inside of you that connects all of your past happiness together. This will point you in the right direction to find a career that inspires you and supports experiencing true joy in the workplace, not just fleeting happiness.

If you want help in identifying your core values, let’s get started!

My Thoughts on Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Yesterday, my darling daughters fell asleep in the car. So I sat in a parking lot for an hour and finished listening to Dare to Lead by Brené Brown.

First, let’s give some major credit to both toddlers for taking a double nap and offering me a little quiet time! I will accept this gift anytime/anywhere, even a restaurant parking lot. Double win: the extra hour meant dad got to meet us for dinner!

Second, I cannot encourage you enough to read or listen to this book right now if you seek tips for authenticity in your life.

Here are 7 of my noteworthy takeaways. I’m not going to give lengthy explanations on why they felt worthy of writing down, I just want to offer a glimpse into the brilliance just enough to get you to start it today (seriously, today!).

  1. A challenge to live B.I.G. with boundaries, integrity and generosity
  2. Choose courage over comfort- the discomfort lasts 8 seconds. It’s like riding a bull.
  3. 10 “rumble tools” to offer daring leadership vs armored leadership (I have already experienced change by using these!)
  4. 8 quick to spot signs I am ready to give sincere, productive feedback and 6 genuine tips for receiving feedback well (again, already seeing change!)
  5. Silence is not brave leadership – be brave enough to say I see you and I hear you. I don’t have all the answers but I will walk with you.
  6. Allow people to have feelings without taking responsibility for those feelings. Making space for people to feel what they feel doesn’t include punishing or taking care of them through those feelings.
  7. I am not your map maker, I am a fellow traveler and I am going down this path with you.

I have a lot more takeaways written down for reference as I go forth and Dare to Lead with vulnerability, courage, curiosity and intention to be the change I wish to see today. Don’t be surprised if they show up sprinkled throughout future posts!

If you’ve read it too, what are some of your noteworthy takeaways?

PS – these two are just the cutest! After their car nap and restaurant dinner, we came home and baked after-Christmas cookies together!

The Role Every Company Needs

According to Gallup, 87% of employees are disengaged with their work. Combine that with the fact that the average employee has less than 2 hours per month to devote to training yet state 16 hours per month is needed to stay current, it is not surprising that over 41 million people voluntarily left their jobs in 2018 according to the Work Institute. That’s 27 out of 100 employees and an 88% increase from 2010.

As a leader, does this resonate with you? These facts are important because not only is it expensive to lose and replace an employee, it is disruptive for colleagues and clients to experience the loss and transition. For 6 figure roles, it is estimated to cost a company up to 213% to lose an employee due to lost revenue, lost productivity, recruiting, training, and compensation to replace that individual.

Employee engagement, retention and satisfaction drive client engagement, retention and satisfaction. The best way to focus on your clients is to focus on your employees. This makes sense to me and when I sought out to see what other companies were doing with respect to retention across both areas, it shocked me to realize that the job market is largely divided. You have Engagement Officers who focus on your clients and their experience with your products and services. Then you have People Officers who are an evolution of your HR team to recruit and retain the best performers in your industry. But what about someone who is in charge of the strategy to ensure the growth and development of your employees is in line with the ever-changing market needs of your clients?

I have spent some time defining the role of Chief Retention Officer. This role will wrap their arms around both aspects of business development by understanding consumer needs and interpersonal expectations of your clients and aligning that with the growth, engagement and development plan for employees. This role is expected to regularly interact with clients and employees and lead the company’s strategic initiative to collaborate across business lines to ensure company growth is aligned in both disciplines. Here’s the job description:

Top Priorities of a Chief Retention Officer:

  • Ensure the company functions as a highly coached, lightly managed, high-performing team
  • Safeguard client partnerships through strategic initiatives that link employee growth to client needs
  • Uphold company values by ensuring all decisions, interactions and communications link back to the values of the company

Employee Retention

  • Cultivate the relationship between leadership and employees by building an employee-centric work environment that focuses on putting the right people in the right jobs to allow the individual and company to realize their full potential
  •  Create and execute an employee retention strategy that focuses on transparency in how company values directly influence client engagement and employee development initiatives
  • Implement learning and development programs to build leadership skills and critical technical competencies to support company values and strategic initiatives as well as employee career and competency development.
  • Ensure managers are equipped with the soft skills required to have candid, collaborative conversations with employees that strengthen relationships, strive towards professional growth, and solve small problems before they become larger ones that drive great people out the door
  • Create a bidirectional feedback and recognition environment that encourages leadership at all levels through collaborative communication

Client Retention

  • Leverage the latest market trends to champion forward-thinking initiatives that align company growth and employee development opportunities
  • Establish a long-term client retention program that prioritizes existing clients and creates mechanisms for quantifying the cost saving of the effort
  • Uphold strategy to ensure employee skill sets and expertise continue to satisfy evolving customer needs based on market analysis and trends
  •  Liaise with all internal departments to identify and resolve escalated, recurring client satisfaction issues and determine company approach to long term resolution through employee development initiatives

While I mention that the job market is largely divided, our trusty friends at HBR wrote a fantastic article about this mash-up role in June 2019 titled “Why Every Company Needs a Chief Experience Officer.” Same concept, different title. If you are interested in building this role in your company, please contact me!

The poison of “yea, but”

Have you ever wanted something and then talked yourself out of it by using a “yea, but” phrase? It goes a little something like this:

“I would like a raise.”

Yea, but they probably won’t give it to me because I’ve only worked here a year.”

– or –

“I want to learn how to play the piano.”

Yea, but that’s a lot of practice time and I’m too old to learn something new.”

Why do we countermand our own goals? My assumption is this self-critic tactic is a way to avoid failure. If we immediately invalidate our ability to accomplish the goal, then we can avoid failure by never even trying. What’s worse than the fear of failure? Actual failure?

I disagree.

What’s worse than the fear of failure? Never knowing if you could have succeeded.

I learned a great trick from Martha Beck, the author of “Steering by Starlight” when it comes to tackling our “Yea, but” statements (she brilliantly labeled them “Stuck Statements”).

First you need to identify your Stuck Statement:

I see myself helping others achieve their professional goals, but I haven’t yet achieved my own so I can’t.

See the but in there? Well, as long as you’re sitting on that but(t), you can’t move forward. Martha says “Yea, but” statements are like mental cockroaches who can multiply and survive the most intense attempt at dismantling them. How’s that for motivation to stop thinking these thoughts?

Our mind is meant to protect us and these “Yea, but” statements are our mind’s attempt to preserve the safety net built by avoiding failure. Sort of like nature’s way of protecting a chameleon by allowing it to blend in with its surroundings. Stay in the safe zone, don’t be noticed by others, and you can protect yourself from danger. Trouble is: you are shielding yourself from greatness.

Now that you have your stuck statement, let’s add a stopper between your goal and the stalemate to help identify the fear behind the “Yea, but” so we can work to dismantle it. The template sounds a little awkward by itself but when applied to a specific scenario, it flows nicely.

“I am choosing not to have X because I believe Y is a problem. My true nature can have X because it knows Y is not the problem, my beliefs are.”

What does this look like for my “Yea, but” statement:

I am choosing not to help others achieve their professional goals because I believe I haven’t yet achieved my own. My true nature can help others achieve their goals but it is my belief that I have to have it all figured out in order for others to trust I can help them do the same.

It’s such a simple adjustment in our words and thoughts that help us recognize that our goals are not too big or too grand or too soon – it is just the fear of failure that makes us believe that. By identifying the roadblock fear, we can work to remove it from our path to accomplish our goals and become the version of ourselves we see in our dreams!

Ditch Your Story

Ask anyone who knows me and they will agree that I seek personal connection wherever I can. Not surprising, when I recently attended a seminar led by CraftedLeadership on conflict resolution, the subject really resonated with me. We talked about and worked through our tendency, as humans, to allow our emotions and perceptions to distort facts when dealing with conflict. This negatively impacts our ability to successfully resolve conflict in a way that allows for deeper connection with those you are in conflict with.

As we discussed confronting our counterpart in a particular conflict, we first had to determine the difference between fact and story when analyzing the situation. There is an important distinction between what our mind tells us is happening versus what is actually happening.

When completing this exercise, we were asked to write out the facts of a particular situation where we experienced conflict with another person. Then a few brave souls stood in front of a room of 150+ strangers and shared their situation. Guess what? Distinguishing fact and story is not as easy as it seems. Here are the definitions provided by CraftedLeadership:

  • Fact: measurable results or behaviors. Easy way to gut check: what a video camera would capture.
  • Story: opinions, beliefs, judgements, interpretations. Easy way to gut check: what could be argued by others.

Give it a try: My colleague is angry with me.

Fact or Story? Story. Fact: my colleague didn’t speak during our status call.

See the difference? You assume your colleague is angry with you because they did not speak during your status call. You can try to interpret the reasons why your colleague did not speak (a.k.a. your story), but what a camera would have captured is that your colleague did not speak during the meeting.

We went on to discuss a collaborative approach to managing conflict and I went home and thought about it. Then, I thought about it some more. Then I documented times where my emotions created a story that I mistook for fact and I started to learn from it. At home. At work. With friends. Then, I started to look at how I evolved my connection with storytelling to positively impact relationships. I came up with a way to turn my story into steps for resolution. So, let’s ditch the stories we tell ourselves, and turn them into steps for conflict resolution:

S – State the Facts

T – Tell your Feelings

O – Own up to your Story

R – Request Change

Y – Yield to Sincerity

Let’s go back to the colleague I mentioned earlier. You’ve been fretting over the fact that they didn’t speak during the status call and you’ve come up with all sorts of reasons ranging from not liking the work you recently delivered to being upset with you for interrupting them during a previous meeting to even the fact that you didn’t ask about their recent vacation before launching into work talk. You’ve spiraled into the storytelling deep end.  Let’s ditch the story and work through our story steps when confronting our colleague:

Hey Sam, (S) I noticed you didn’t speak during our status call today. (T) I am feeling as if you might be upset with me though (O) I recognize I don’t have a clear reason why I feel this way. (R) Would you share why you weren’t as collaborative as you normally are? (Y) If there’s anything I’ve done or an outside factor I’m not considering, I would love to better understand the situation.

While this is not fool proof, nor easy, being sincere with how you approach someone and open about your part in the perceived conflict as well as your desired outcome(s), you offer a safe place for open dialogue and reduce the risk of your counterpart becoming defensive or unwilling to resolve the situation.

Need another example? I discovered one I think we can all relate to: you’re sitting in traffic and someone cuts you off. They are a jerk, right? Perhaps, though we don’t know anything about the driver’s character. The camera only captured the fact that they cut you off. Instead of being a jerk, perhaps they need to urgently get somewhere and they need to yield to their normal law-abiding ways to get to the situation that awaits them at their destination. Haven’t we all been the person who cut someone off before? I bet you wouldn’t classify yourself as a jerk, though cutting someone off is a jerk move. Sitting in traffic is a perfect time to practice your STORY steps. Certainly better than road rage!

While you won’t likely confront your traffic buddy, when you do desire to talk with someone you’re in conflict with, practice first by writing out your STORY steps to get comfortable with the structure. Then, use that to guide the discussion. Before you know it, your natural dialogue will steer you towards identifying facts and requesting change in a way that encourages open communication and positive conflict resolution.

If you’re looking for reading materials on the subject, I encourage you to take a look at Crucial Conversations – Tools for Talking when Stakes are High.

How to improve your decision-making

The etymology behind certain words can be very telling and the word “decision” holds a lot of weight when broken down. Take a look:

  • The Latin word decisionem is the past-participle stem of decidere which means “to decide, determine”
  • Broken down by root: de (off) + caedere (to cut) literally means “to cut off”

When you say you are going to “cut off” a particular choice, it makes the act of deciding feel very absolute. Take it one step further:

  • The root “caedere” is shared by “decide” and “homicide” which mean “to cut off” and “to kill” respectively.

That loss looms especially large when you are met with indecision or decision fatigue. So how do we face decisions head-on?

Know yourself and what works for you.

Timing is critical with decision-making. This is seen with alarming consequence in a study of Isreali parole boards. Parole hearings early in the morning or right after a (food) break received more favorable judgement than those later in the afternoon or further from a break. Fascinating!

Conversely, a colleague of mine approaches his day by first tidying up his to do list of the small items, clearing the way and his mind, for the biggest tasks and decisions in the afternoon.

Timing is a big influencer in decision-making and when we are not in our peak, our brain looks for shortcuts such as:

  • act impulsively to avoid assessing all available options
  • simply opt out of the decision-making process all together

There are a few other factors to help us clear the path for better decision making:

How important is this decision?

Instead of agonizing over every decision, or avoiding them altogether, consider the importance of each decision. If a decision will not have a lasting impact on your business, relationship, or significantly impact others, then do not allot a significant portion of limited resources (like your time and energy) to your options. Identify the available options, rely on your instincts to help make the decision and move on. Make room for those decisions that will have lasting impact on you and/or others.

Set a deadline.

Gathering information to help you make the best decision is prudent when the decision has significant impact to you and those around you. People will often justify avoiding a decision by stating they want to “gather more information” or “be considerate of others”, but that delay can have even higher consequences than making the “wrong” decision. Determine a timeline early on to be accountable to making the decision so you don’t hold yourself or others hostage to the lack of decision. Taking calculated risks and being willing to learn from your mistakes is a better strategy than paralyzing progress by delaying a decision.

A fresh perspective.

There is often freedom in the realization that you are not required to always do this alone. Even if you are ultimately the final decision maker, a different perspective can help identify the appropriate way forward – sometimes realized through the basic act of presenting the situation to another person. This person can be a close confidant, a colleague or boss, or even a hired resource that has expertise in the particular area.

This is why you see organizations set up Advisory Boards – a team of professionals with a wide range of expertise to offer the organization different perspectives on major business decisions.

Scenario Planning

In the 1970s, Royal Dutch/Shell established scenario planning in business as a way to evaluate strategic options by determining what we know about a given situation and identifying the uncertainties. Putting these details side-by-side and evaluating the potential outcome scenarios with all factors combined opens up perspective for a more qualitative decision rather than focusing simply on the knowns, thus potentially isolating your options.

Good night.

It is not very often an important decision that has the potential to significantly impact your life also has a sense of urgency so much so that you cannot take one night to weigh your options. In this fascinating podcast, Joe Rogan talks with a Nueroscientist about sleep. If you take nothing else from this post, please set aside time to listen to this podcast! They discuss the fact that during REM sleep, our body takes existing (or old) information and combines it with new information to form new connections which is why sleep is tremendously powerful in critical decision-making (and learning a new skill). So, give yourself at least one good night’s rest to support the effort in making the right decision.

Important decisions are not easy. If they were, they probably wouldn’t be that important. To recap:

  • determine the criticality of the decision
  • know your peak time for optimal decision-making
  • don’t be afraid to ask for help
  • hold yourself accountable
  • be willing to learn from your experiences and the unknowns
  • sleep on it