Dealing With Haters

I know you’re awesome and amazing. So am I! Problem is, not everyone sees it that way.

Or so we think.

But maybe we’re wrong.

On the other hand, there are those out there that we love. Sort of. Well, they’re terrific in some ways, but if only….

In other words, we often have ambivalence about our relationships. In addition, an element of uncertainty and subjectivity is ever-present in our interpretation of our and others’ feelings and intentions. There’s always that yin to the yang, our like/dislike, our love/hate, our approval/disapproval.

Thus, when it comes to haters (and lovers, for that matter), circumstances are rarely black/white. First, you may think they hate you, but unless you talk to them, you just don’t know for sure. It’s possible you’re misinterpreting their words or actions. For example, they might be complaining about you or what you do, but they may just be a grouchy, negative person in general, or they may think you’re fundamentally OK but need a change in behavior or attitude around a certain subject. Think about all the people you know and love or respect, and whether there are certain behaviors or attitudes that you’d like to change. Likewise, you could be that person for your hater wherein they may not be handling their frustration constructively.

Second, your belief that they hate you may be fueling what might be an otherwise benign dynamic. You may be reacting to perceived judgment with your own hard energy, aggression, martyrdom, or need to control. They are not going to respond positively to your negativity, which further reinforces your perception of their dislike. And so on. How would the dynamic shift if you reached out with compassion and empathy and/or solid boundaries?

Third, it may be that your hater is actively trying to get you fired, break up your relationship or has told you directly that they think you’re pond scum. Just because they feel that way, doesn’t make it true. It also doesn’t make it false. In other words, explore whether there’s a grain of truth to their criticism, but know that the intensity of their reaction says more about them than it does about you. How can you look past the delivery to the wisdom within the message?  Why are they taking such a destructive approach to the situation? Likely, they are not coping well with their frustration.

Likewise, your own reaction says more about you than it does about them. Do you retaliate and go on the offensive, get depressed, quit or break-up, bury your head in the sand, or do you rise above and take the high road? If your hater brings out the worst in you, then you’ve just – to some degree – validated their complaints. If the hater brings out the best in you, then you’ve risen above the pettiness and shown yourself and others the quality person that you are.

The latter is easier said than done. I know. But this is your growth opportunity, isn’t it? While you’re calm, determine your strategy for dealing with a hater. Ask yourself: What is the best possible outcome for this? How would your role model or best self react to this situation? Your main hurdle is your own feelings about the situation. They’re not easy to manage, but managing them is easier than getting someone else to do the same, right?

Happy Birthday America!

Leadership at All Levels

I’m not sure whether I’m more cognizant of those who fail to either do their jobs or comply with the smallest professional courtesy (like returning a phone call or email), or if such unprofessional behavior is actually more prevalent lately.  So when I see others stepping up to work above and beyond their required duties, it’s a joy and inspiration to me!

I see this extra effort from faculty and staff all the time, mostly in small ways. But most recently, I’ve seen this big-time from our students. Usually there’s a visible leader at the helm who has a vision and can rally the troops with her organizational skills, positivity, work ethic and energy.

In addition, there are many many students who work quietly and with dedication outside of the limelight. They volunteer. They make suggestions. They work without complaining. They do necessary tasks that will not ever be recognized. They quietly contribute their magnificent talent and time to the cause and make it better.

This system of shared or horizontal leadership empowers individuals and brings a sense of teamwork, builds relationships and makes use of the team’s best skills and talents for the task. In doing so, each person is engaged, grows her own strengths, and are more likely to be able to step up when the leader is absent.   While observing such student teams, I see an emerging leader in every single team member, and my faith in our young generation and our future is so rejuvenated.  Thank you, young leaders, for your idealism and commitment to improving our world!

Finding Win-Win When Entering a Storm

Have you ever had a meetings/exam where it feels like your entire future is riding on the outcome? Our performance is critical, but we can’t perform at our best since the stress is so high: failure means that I am not the person I think I am/wish to be. In reality, even passing/achieving my goal will not make me feel whole, at least not for long.

So, here are the real outcomes by this scenario: I “win” and I still feel incomplete or I fail and I feel devastated.   Even when I win, I lose.

The first time I had a situation like this was when I was taking my oral candidacy examination for my doctorate. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, candidates give a presentation of their research proposal and then are grilled for a couple of hours by a panel of typically 5 faculty. Though the questions tend to focus on the proposal itself, any tangent is considered fair game. Because the questioning is both deep and broad, preparation requires up to 4 weeks of devoted preparation. If you fail, you may be given a chance to retake it. If not, or if you fail the make-up, then you’re out. Adios muchacha.

Despite this crazy set-up, I think it’s accurate to say that I went into my oral exam completely calm and did a pretty good job. In fact, some of the feedback I got was that my presentation was one of the best they’ve seen.

What made the difference?

Ironically, I had ambivalence about being in school and so was not emotionally tied to the outcome. I had recently taken a short leave of absence from the program because of my self-doubt about my ability to complete the degree. When I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do, I re-enrolled. Therefore, I went into the exam completely open to their feedback regarding my ability to advance. Who better than a panel of faculty in a 5:1 exam to determine whether I am suited to continue? If I’m not, then it’s better to know now I reasoned than after investing in another 3 years of school. If they decide I am suited, then maybe this is the right path for me after all. In other words, I took the intent of the exam to heart (to determine whether I’m suited to advance) instead of making it a referendum on my self-worth.

Therefore, I can change the calculus from the original lose-lose scenario.   If I am pursuing a goal that is wrong for me then I am more likely to be invited to pursue a different, and more satisfying and fulfilling pathway.  If I feel whole going into the meeting and open about the outcome and the path that it will put me on, I can truly get as much advice and guidance from the meeting as possible, instead of just trying to prove myself. In addition, by being open instead of stressed about the outcome, I can put my best foot forward. A real win-win-win.

How can this perspective improve your performance or quality of life? Given that a high stakes meeting may not be in play for you now, what does feel high stake in your life? How can you switch a lose-lose to a win-win scenario?

Giving Without Burnout

The old adage, “it’s better to give than receive” is really true. Givers are not only more successful than takers, but givers also experience more positive emotion than those on the receiving end.

There are limits to giving; givers that give indiscriminately risk burnout. Instead, givers should give in a way that benefits and feels good to them so that they can keep on giving. For example, effective givers communicate their needs and ask for help and buy-in from others to help them to continue to give successfully.

Good giving is also authentic. What are you passionate about? What type of tasks and roles do you enjoy and allow you to excel? What type of impact are you yearning to make on the world? Give in a way that feeds your soul.

Giving should feel energizing, meaningful, and constructive. If you’re giving in a manner that is sapping your soul or creating a lot of negative emotion, then it’s likely unsustainable, unhealthy or not useful. For example, if you’re giving to someone who is a perpetual taker, then your efforts are likely to have little impact on the recipient’s growth or neediness level regardless of your level of personal sacrifice. Your efforts and energy just will continue to disappear into a black hole with no apparent impact.

Instead, consider your time and effort as a precious commodity, even though they don’t show up on a balance sheet. Be as (or more) judicious with your time and energy as you are with your other resources. Plan how you can use them in ways that benefit both you and others. If you’re not getting a good return on your investment, try a different approach or perspective.

For example, for the perpetual taker/complainer, give them a limited time to vent, then affirm their feelings (“wow, it sounds like it’s been a really rough time for you”). Then switch the direction of the conversation to focus on how they will create a solution. Keep redirecting the conversation to their solution instead of trying to fix the problem for them or allowing them to continue to complain. In doing so, you might help them to stay in a generative mindset and find their own solutions. In addition, they may eventually see that you will no longer solve their problems for them. That’s a nice win-win, isn’t it?

In addition, change your perspective if you’re feeling guilty about continuing to invest in what feels like a black hole. Preserving the dysfunctional status quo is not a good gift for either party. By continuing to invest in a situation that is not improving, you are withholding resources from others that could actually benefit and grow from your investment. Instead, consider giving to someone or something that has a need that is limited in time or scope and/or where the solution can result in an impactful change for the recipient. Wouldn’t that feel so much better and more constructive?

Finally, consider the idea that a gift that makes you feel resentful is not really a gift. It actually may harm the relationship in the long run.  Such a gift could also be hurting the recipient if you are enabling bad behavior or helping them to avoid a problem or a time-bomb that needs their attention. In other words, look to the long-term consequences of your gift and ask yourself whether it is having the intended or desired benefit to you and the recipient.

In conclusion, finding new strategies and perspectives can make giving a joyous experience again. When giving is pleasurable and energizing, then that’s an effort that is sustainable, beneficial and generative. When it is not, then it’s time to make a change in either action or perspective. After all, you wouldn’t want to deprive yourself of one of life’s greatest joys, would you?

Bliss Switch

I first heard the term “follow your bliss” in the mid-90’s when a girlfriend of mine was taking courses from a liberal arts program. Topic from one course was on books/media-something-something-something. Whatever it was, it sounded fascinating but alien to me. She explained the concept of the Hero’s Journey and Campell’s advise to “follow your bliss.”

I didn’t really understand what that meant. What bliss? When am I in bliss except for when sinking my teeth into a See’s Scotchmallow chocolate? Am I supposed to eat chocolate or perfectly ripe, sun-kissed peaches all day?

I know what it means now. The thing is, once you identify your bliss, you can hardly stand not to do it. It feels as natural as breathing and waaay more fun. Maybe better than Scotchmallows even.

Here’s the bliss formula (according to Susanna):

Bliss = Flow + Impact

I’ve talked about flow before. Flow is when you are so absorbed in an activity that you lose track of time and are not conscious of yourself. Time flies by and you’ve done some of your best work. People tend to be in flow when using their strengths (StrengthsFinders or character strengths) and/or doing something they love.   Therefore, it’s important to notice when you’ve been in flow, what you were doing, and what strengths you were employing.

In other words, flow tends to lead to productivity and your best work.   Sounds like a good employee, right?

You might be coasting along in flow at work a lot, but it may not be your passion. What takes it to the next level is impact. Imagine that you spend all day absorbed in your activity, but what you do doesn’t really impact people’s lives.

Now imagine that your work helps others in a way that is meaningful to you.

Wow.

Do you think that would be your bliss?

Campbell describes this pursuit of bliss with the attendant impact as the Hero’s Journey. It’s a journey that we’re all meant to undertake. The journey is not easy, otherwise it would have little meaning or value to us.  It’s man’s fate, and the theme that plays out repeatedly in movies, stories, tales, legends, and fables from across time and culture.

Know your bliss.  Pursue it.  Be the hero of your own journey.

Can Our Organization Change?

Good question posed at a seminar that I was giving recently on organizational change.

I think the parenthetical modifier at the end of that question, however, was the unstated “…for the positive?” If the question had “…for the negative?” at the end,  the question would probably feel pointless and the answer obvious to most people.

Do you agree?

I suppose my assumption about the question’s implied direction of change is fairly cynical.  Perhaps we’ve seen it happen once too often: one toxic person enters an otherwise healthy dynamic, and people are moving on to greener pastures in short order.

Yes, work culture can go downhill in a hurry. But can it go up in a hurry too?

If you believe that culture can go downhill, can’t you also believe that it should also be able to go up too? If one person can create toxicity, why can’t one person create positivity? If one person can cause others to disengage, one person can also inspire others to engage.

Even if you don’t believe that an organization can change, the world changes all the time. Therefore, it seems unlikely that an organization can be indefinitely immune to the changes around it.

Society changes. Organizations change. People change. It’s just a question of how we change. Do we adapt? Do we grow? Or do we entrench and deteriorate?

The choice is yours.

Yes it is. You’re more powerful than you believe. Though it may only require one person’s vision to initiate change, that change also requires buy-in from others. Courage is required of those who choose to support that vision, especially from the first follower who commits to that change.

That vision and commitment may not even be explicit. Just as one person’s negative attitude can change the tone of a conversation, it can also change the tone of an organization’s culture. Therefore, one person’s message of optimism, hope, gratitude, compassion and empathy can also infuse and transform the culture of an organization. All it takes is buy-in from other people.

That can be you.

And you.

And you.

Now we have a movement.

Toxic, Disruptive People

My inner toddler

My inner toddler

When working or living with toxic, difficult people, our tendency seems to be to use labels (b*tch, pr*ck, evil, toxic, etc.) as a shortcut to understanding them. Though convenient and expeditious, not unlike a handful of trail mix for dinner, the problem with labels is that we stop seeing the other as a complex person who is struggling, just like we are. Instead, the label tends to homogenize and minimize their essence to nothing but negative. The extreme ‘evil’ label implies that the other is irredeemable and is deserving of whatever ill fate that may befall them, intentional or otherwise.

I haven’t had enough coffee this morning to debate whether evil exists, or whether evil is more appropriately viewed through a mental illness lens. Most people that we encounter in our daily lives fall far short of that diagnosis, though it is often tempting to box someone in with that label.

Here’s what I do know about difficult people. Remembering these concepts helps me to deal with them and my reaction to them more constructively.

  • Difficult people are our teachers. We learn patience and perspective by being in their midst.
  • No matter how sure you are that they are to blame, we always have some responsibility in a failed relationship.   Explore flipping your story to gain some useful perspective. For starters, we are often blind to our own need to be right or lack of forgiveness which tends to invite bad behavior in others.
  • Everyone has a valid perspective, even if you disagree with or can’t understand it. Remember, disagreements often stem from different ethical priorities, not from an absence of values or a moral compass. Learning anothers’ perspective will help you understand and forgive while also making it more likely that they will be motivated to understand yours.
  • We often confuse being lenient or soft on others with doing the right thing. Martyring ourselves or our team to accommodate the perceived needs or demands of a toxic person is not doing anyone any favors in the long run and is not likely to keep the peace for long.   Behavioral issues should be dealt with early, firmly and with compassion.   For example, despite repeated interventions, some students continue to have performance or behavioral issues.   They are not unintelligent or lazy; instead, they are often a poor fit for the program. Helping these students to find the right academic environment will allow them to grow and shine. In contrast, enabling them to persist in a program that does not match their strengths or interests only prolongs the issue for them. Avoiding the problem for extended durations can result in incalculable losses of time, money, energy, productivity, and peace of mind for both the student and those around them.
  • A therapist I know once said that everyone is always trying their best. I did not believe her at the time, but I believe this statement to be 100 % true. Laziness is synonymous for lack of engagement. In the work environment, lack of engagement is strongly associated with being ignored or getting negative attention. Conventional wisdom concurs with respect to children that act out at home because they are being ignored. It’s easy to blame the child or lazy employee but the root cause is usually the parent or manager (see bullet #2 above).

It’s not easy turning the lens from the difficult person back on oneself. When tired or stressed, this task seems pointless or nearly impossible.   But here are your options: allow someone else to make you feel frustrated and emotionally out of control or by take constructive action that will help improve yourself, your family or you organization.   The latter may seem harder, but consider how uncontrolled emotion is the adult equivalent of a temper tantrum, even if you think you’re controlling it externally.

Don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. However, finding someone else who agrees with your or is in the same boat is not a good excuse to avoid dealing constructively with that difficult person in you.

Job, Career, Calling

Follow the breadcrumbs

Follow the breadcrumbs

Amy Wrezesniewski, professor at Yale School of Management, says that we approach our work in one of three ways: job, career or calling. A job is a way to make money whereas a career is one that provides advancement opportunity and a moderate level of satisfaction. A calling, on the other hand, provides a deep sense of meaning, motivation and satisfaction.

I never gave it a single thought until about three years ago when I had an Aha! moment about what I loved to do, what I was good at, and what provided deep meaning and satisfaction for me. After all, I had a great job that was rewarding, interesting and challenging, and I felt I was making a difference in the world. But despite those qualities, I was also planning on retiring as soon as I could. After all, though my job was satisfying, there were things I’d rather be doing. What those things were, I’m not quite sure.

My Aha! moment put me on a different trajectory, professionally and personally. Now, I can’t imagine ever retiring, and I think about my passion all the time. My passion led me back to school and coach training, and gets me up to volunteer my time or blog into the wee hours. I constantly feel energized, and am gratified when others are energized by our collaboration as well.   Recently, I saw a group of students get together to discuss volunteering to extend the work in this area, and I was just excited beyond belief!

My main advice to people who are searching for their calling is to relax, and to be open to whatever the calling might be.   After all, if it were obvious to you, you would’ve figured it out already.   It may not surprise you that your calling is probably obvious to those around you. They tell you by saying things like: you should do this for a living. Or: how did you do that?!?! My own expectations about the role I should play was my main barrier, but my receptivity and awareness of the calling breadcrumbs (things that I’m good at, do with ease and excellence, and that give me great satisfaction) were huge clues to where my calling lies.

Another should obstacle is the belief that the calling should be specific. I strongly sense my calling, but the final destination  is still pretty vague. I don’t really know where it’s leading me, but I’m just following my bliss into this unknown territory, as advised by Joseph Campbell, comparative mythologist extraordinaire. So far it has not led me wrong and is a better guide for me than my shoulds and musts.

What shoulds and musts are distracting you from what you should really be doing? Set those aside and follow those breadcrumbs to your passion. You may surprise yourself.

The Truest Honor

Big money. Awards. Accolades. Perfect grades. Compliments. An amazing career.   Yes, these are all true honors for those who are lucky to receive them. For some, these are daily occurrences. For others, they happen intermittently at best, but the euphoria may quickly wear off and then we’re thinking about the next honor.

I’m as guilty of this as the next gal.   When I let my deprivation mindset take over, I’m only looking for where I’m not measuring up or not as successful as the most successful person in the room. But when I allow my abundance mindset to prevail, I see affirmation everywhere.

Affirmation need not come in the form of an award or even a compliment. Recall the concept of positivity resonance. It’s a moment or even a micro-moment of connection between two people. Barbara Frederickson, author of Love 2.0, calls this love. That micro- or even macro-moment of connection is even more meaningful when it happens with someone you care about – whether a loved one or a friendly acquaintance. They’re even more amazing when they occur following an interaction where there is mutual respect, trust and companionship. If I can have that type of interaction when using my strengths and following my passions, then there is no better feeling on earth. None.

Connection. Passion. Trust. Impact. Positivity resonance/love. Really. That is the truest honor.

Never Say ‘Never’

It’s happening at what feels like an alarming rate: a Personal Certainty gets uncertain or even wrong. You know a Personal Certainty. They begin with ‘I will never…’, ‘I will always…’, ‘I don’t ever….’, and so forth.

Perhaps you know the saying, “Man plans. God laughs.” God laughs at me a lot.

I guess I deserve it. I have spent so much of my life trying to plan and control my life. It’s no wonder that little of it works out as planned. Thank goodness, actually.

This has been a great lesson for me: lean into that uncertainty about life. Yes, I suppose it could turn out so much worse than I expect. But I feel like the more open I am to the unexpected, the more likely that things will actually turn out better than expected.

However, old habits die hard. Really hard. So I still often catch myself saying, ‘I’ll never…’ or trying to control the future. Now I try to stop myself mid-way and reflect on my usual assumptions. Where did that belief come from? Is it still relevant? Why do I believe it to be true? Is it really absolutely necessary? How can a ‘bad’ outcome actually be a ‘good’ outcome? That very exercise is an interesting dive into my iceberg beliefs and can yield some revealing things about my inner psyche. Even trying to imagine the circumstances in which I will be doing the very thing that I can’t imagine doing is an entertaining exercise in and of itself.

So I tried some of my usual ‘I will never’ statements on for size:

  • I will never go back to practice Pharmacy. Maybe I will. What kind of practice model might entice me back?
  • I will never go back to school. I already violated that once. Why not again? What might it be next time?
  • I will never live in the country. At least I hope not. But if I did, what sort of landscape or circumstance would be compelling enough to take me there?
  • I will always care about the environment and recycling. Maybe someday the environment won’t need me to worry about it.
  • I don’t ever want to go skydiving. Well, maybe it were free and it was important to a loved one that I try their beloved hobby at least once….
  • I will never love olives or pickles. Well, unless the olive is in a tapenade. OK.

See? This exercise allows me to open my mind to what was previously unimaginable. Thinking about something does not commit me in any way to it. Like contemplating a pickle tapenade (eww) does not mean I have to actually eat it. Rather, I’m just exercising an open mind by saying ‘maybe’ more frequently and giving myself permission to imagine the improbable.

Take your strongest Personal Certainty and imagine what scenarios might actually change that reality for you. Does it seem slightly more plausible now?   Which Certainties have been standing in your way?  Keep imagining options until the impossible seems likely.    Deep fried pickles?  Yum!