Just Say “I don’t”

Karen is at her wit’s end.  She feels worn out, stressed out and fed up.

She can’t say no.
Friends, family and colleagues ask her to help and she always says Yes.

She doesn’t want to disappoint.  She wants to help. Connections are important to her.

Plus, she believes the old saying that if you want something done, give it to a busy person.  So, she tells herself that taking on these extra tasks is actually helping her to get through her own long To Do list.

Karen feels busy, too busy to get to the things that really matter.  Her busyness is diluting the attention she can give to her priorities.

Every time she says Yes to something new, she is saying No to something else.  (It could be that important-but-not-urgent project, sleep, time alone, or spending time with friends and family.)

A solution to this kind of dilemma is to set limits and then employ a strategy to support the resolution.

Last month I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about personal policies and have been sharing about it ever since.  “Personal policies are an established set of simple rules that guide your decisions and action,” said the article written by Jennifer Breheny Wallace.

“I don’t eat dessert,” is a stake in the ground and aligns with losing weight.  A personal policy matters to the individual because it is honoring a personal value.

The article also notes that language makes a difference.  Saying “I can’t” doesn’t have nearly the weight as “I don’t.”

An experiment with a group of young women on a wellness challenge of exercising more and eating better showed a dramatic difference between the strategy of saying, “I don’t” vs. “I can’t.”

While our emphasis so far has been on saying No to lighten the load, a personal policy can also support our intentions to say Yes, and especially when our resolve might be challenged.  For example, “I don’t say No to  . . .”  requests for help from close friends and family.

It’s only the end of January with 90% of the year still to come. If you have already abandoned your 2016 goals or even if you never made any in the first place, it’s not too late to start your year over.

I have created a personal policy for myself – just one. I don’t work on Saturdays.  This is new and, honestly, it’s a little uncomfortable to let go.

Given that this involves letting go of a habitual way of being, it’s not surprising that there may be some discomfort.  I look to the underlying value that led to the personal policy in the first place.

As a solopreneur, it is a slippery slope to just check my email land allow the gravity of my inbox to pull me in.  It leads to working seven days a week and that schedule doesn’t have space for recharging.

I believe really not working one day a week can enhance my sense of well being.  It will make me available for new things.

With the desire for a break and the belief that breaks are actually refreshing and lead to greater productivity, I am looking forward to more movies, matinees, socializing, golf and tennis this year.

My personal policy expressed as “I don’t” is a gracious and empowering way of making my life more enjoyable and a bit simpler.
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From the Water Cooler . . .
 
I was so mad that I wasn’t getting 
 what I wasn’t asking for.
get the success you deserve.

The Promise of Possibilities

Dogs…chased…the…gorillas…because…they…smelled…like…tangerines…that…cats…forgot…and…left…behind…at…the…party……period!

So plays out an exercise of improvisation among business colleagues.  That the sentence doesn’t make sense is beside the point.

Participating in groups of three, each member added one word at a time.  It meant that each of them had to listen to the others, be present to the exercise, and let go of where they wanted to take the story.

And, underlying the whole process, they all had to practice a Yes, And perspective.

Yes, And is the most basic building block of improvisation and stands in contrast to No or Yes, But.

With a Yes, And perspective one accepts what another offers and builds on it and never dismisses or denies.

The Yes, And perspective makes space for an idea to breathe before being shot down, sometimes just the moment that is needed for a new idea to develop into something worth pursuing.

Yes, And promotes the creation of a safe and courageous space and in turn supports risk taking and encourages innovation and creativity.

I’ve been leading groups to perform improv exercises on a regular basis this past year  The participants quickly get over any shyness.  They pay attention, focus and have fun.  Their energy goes up and they leave a little more open to possibilities and willing to engage with others.

Improvisation is an activity that allows participants to experience new concepts and in a visceral and lasting way.

The intent is not to try to be funny or to deliver a performance in front of their peers.  Instead, participating in a structured series of improv exercises can be a form of emotional intelligence in action and offers a creative learning experience.

Though the exercises may feel like play, improv promotes better listening, more spontaneity, increased confidence as well as flexibility and agility.

The benefits are not limited to just the individual experience.  Because the exercises are done in pairs, triads and larger groups, they can also build team cohesion and collaboration.

Another key part of what makes practicing improv effective is supporting our partners and helping them look good.  When we respond in the moment and build on the ideas that come up in the exercises, we’re not competing for credit.  This approach de-emphasizes ego and contributes to better teamwork.

Living in today’s period of unprecedented and accelerating change, it will be the people and institutions that are willing to adapt and consider new ways of doing things that will survive and thrive.  There are too many examples of institutions that have faded because they didn’t.

Contempt before investigation is a sure way to block progress and maintain the illusion of safety of the status quo.

Yes, And is positive, versatile and invites participation.

As we can lead from any chair, the opportunity in hand is to start noticing the negative impact of No and Yes, Butand replace it with

YES, that’s an interesting idea. . .AND. . .

 

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From the Water Cooler . . .

What we send out, we get back. 

Success for you now today

Death By Meeting, Nevermore!

Harry looked at his watch under the table.

10:27

Only three minutes since he last looked.  Ugh.

Tom droned on.  Kathy interrupted, again.  Jim nodded agreement to. . .what?  We started late.  No one introduced Mary who joined the company only two days ago.

No agenda.  Finance wasn’t there even though the meeting was supposed to be about how finance wanted to change the budget process.  Unprepared, Sally had no new information and that meant no decisions could be made. This meeting was a giant waste of time!

With a flimsy process and little follow through, we would likely be covering the same ground two weeks from now.

Business meetings are notorious, and for many good reasons.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Bain & Co estimates that 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings.  Other sources estimate time in meetings at 25% to 30%.  Bain’s research says that senior executives spend about two days a week (40%) of their time in meetings with three or more coworkers.  So, as executives rise in the ranks and their time becomes more valuable, they spend more time in meetings.

Meetings represent a sizable chunk of an office worker’s time, no matter what measurements are used.

The reality is that individuals are limited in how much they can cut back on meeting attendance given the very real risk of alienating their colleagues, and especially their boss.

So, how can we improve the meetings that we do have?

At a recent gathering for organizational development professionals, I had the good fortune to hear Dick and Emily Axelrod (luminaries in the OD field) present on a system they have developed to lead meetings that are productive and participants actually find useful and want to attend.

They outlined the merits of their Meeting Canoe, a six-step process that consistently creates good outcomes.

A look at the process and we see why it works:  it’s welcoming, inclusive and connecting, reality-based, rooted in the present with an aspirational eye on an ideal outcome, decisive, and has accountability built in.

As the Axelrods discussed that night and also in their book Let’s Stop Meeting Like This, they recommend the following process:

Welcome people to create an atmosphere conducive to doing the desired work.  We want to create a sense of safety and, with it, openness to sharing and receiving ideas.

Connect people to each other and the task.  This step has two levels.  Building relationships among the participants and, second, connecting the participants to the issue at hand.  Building on the safety, we want to engender trust, the most basic building block of effective teams.

Discover the way things are.  We create a shared view of our current reality. This requires being open to a broad spectrum of input, including divergent views and hearing from the quiet minority.  We want to enable the participants to share their own perspectives and create a common ground of understanding. Next, we help the group resist the temptation to jump to a fix.

Elicit people’s dreams.  Mining the group for ideal outcomes is the yin to the current reality’s yang.  This is a time to loosen our grasp on exacting practicality and have participants imagine possibilities.

Decide on next steps.  Participants make their choices clear, while taking into account the way things are and the articulated ideal outcomes.  Note that the process for how to arrive at decisions should be understood beforehand.  It is particularly toxic for participants who thought they had a vote to be disenfranchised because it emerges they are not aligned with what the meeting leader wants.

Attend to the end.  Bring the meeting to a close by reviewing decisions made, next steps, and who is going to do what by when.

I have adopted this process for meetings myself and recommended it to coaching clients. I am happy to report that it works extremely well for all types ranging from brief interactions to group meetings to longer planning sessions.

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From the Water Cooler . . .

You can’t complain about it if you’re not willing to do something about it.

Success is at hand 

3 Steps to Accepting Abundance

I remember exactly when it happened.

I was in New York not quite half-way across Park Avenue on 90th Street, heading east.

It was something my friend Dur said and then it dawned on me in a singular moment: There is enough for everybody.

Life is not a zero sum experience.

So, if someone else gets something good, it does not mean that there is less for me.  Likewise, if you compliment my friend or colleague, it does not diminish me.

We live in abundance and this is especially so for the intangibles like love, appreciation, encouragement.  What’s more, these expressions are like muscles that grow stronger when used.

The memory of that moment was triggered by the many Thanksgiving messages of gratitude I received this last week.  That, in turn, reminded me of how global visionary Lynne Twist proposed that our society is dominated by a pervasive and pernicious lie of scarcity.

In her book, The Soul of Money, Twist cites three toxic myths that she believes sustain the scarcity mindset.

  1. There’s Not Enough:  says some are definitely going to lose out and it becomes the driver to make sure there will be a chair when the music stops.
  2. More Is Better:  seeks to fill the void and ” . . . is a chase with no end and a race without winners.”
  3. That’s Just the Way It Is: cue a sigh of resignation that “the way it is is the way it will stay.”

Twist continues that we have the choice to let go of the mind-set of scarcity and accept sufficiency, and not in a measly barely-more-than-crumbs-outlook, but instead “a context we generate, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.”

This leads to an acknowledgment that appreciation appreciates, a time-honored spiritual belief.

Twist then includes in her discussion appreciative inquiry, a strengths-based model for organizational change based on building on a foundation of what’s working instead of focusing on what’s not working.This is a model created by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney in their positive psychology work at Case Western Reserve.

I have long believed that what we send out, we get back; what we give energy to, gets bigger.

So, as we enter the holiday season and look ahead to a new year, we can accept the invitation to be generous knowing that there is an abundant sufficiency and the act of giving is, in and of itself, self generative.

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From the Water Cooler . . . 
Celebrate what you already have!
 

Recent blog posts.

Success is yours today 

Pause for Stress  

Imagine you’re tired . . .

hungry because you skipped lunch . . .

and under a tight deadline.

Now, a phone is ringing and your teenager just texted that they’ve been in an accident.

Stress happens.

Some version of it is inevitable.  Frequently.

Last month we looked at some sources of stress and how we can make matters worse by magnifying the impact with our self-generated fears.  The recommended coping strategy is to increase our self-awareness and maintain perspective.

While we can take some preventative steps around personal environmental factors such rest, diet, and exercise, generally we know what we should be doing but most of us don’t give ourselves the advantage of sustaining healthy balances.

So, if we accept that we are going to face stress, how do we want to handle it when it does happen?

At one end of the spectrum are unhealthy reactions. Some seek to take the edge off, quickly and easily.

In an effort to dull intense, tough feelings caused by stress, they seek distractions ranging from excessive shopping or TV watching or engage in other compulsive behaviors involving food, drugs and alcohol.

Stressful situations are doubly challenging–just when we are facing circumstances that demand we be extra resourceful and adept, our physiological fight/flight/freeze is triggered and draws blood (much needed to think clearly, quickly) to our arms and legs and away from our brain.  I’s not so surprising that we blurt the exact wrong thing in a highly stressful moment.

Plus, that sharp remark can add a brand new layer of stress:  remorse over what we said and now a need to patch things up.

We want to avoid knee-jerk reactions and instead demonstrate more measured, thoughtful responses.

P a u s e . . .

A pause can refresh.

Kevin, an avid golfer, talks about pausing in the backswing.  (Swinging very hard usually produces unwanted results landing in water or the woods.)

Jim says he is not responsible for his first thought but he is responsible for his second thought.  He makes a deliberate effort to rein in the first thought silently and create space for a higher version of himself to respond in a positive way.

Caveat Reactor: Because the urge to be heard can go beyond the triggering moment, there can be an extended need for self-management and to exercise restraint of pen and tongue, a familiar refrain.

How can we practice this?

P a u s e  . . . take a breath . . . wait a beat . . . create your own method of inserting a comma.

Let go and let it become a habit.

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From the Water Cooler . . .

It sounded so much better in my head.

Success and leadership.