The Purpose of the Moment

In The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy, authors Berg and Seeber remind us that academia used to be a place where faculty had time to think and reflect.  Academic research was once done for the sake of expanding our general understanding of the world and ourselves, and not necessarily reduced to a commodity as it is today.  This is referred to as “research capitalism”, originally put forth by Coleman and Kamboureli, where academic researchers are in the business of new knowledge, a market driven by the funding agencies.  Academic focus is no longer on scholarship, they argue.  Instead, the priority is “faculty compliance with institutional imperatives,” which is increasingly involved with raising grant money.

This erosion of reflective inquiry to the tide of academic goals and imperatives parallels a much larger loss from our lives.   Our modern selves subscribe to the virtue of busyness, where we seem to equate busy or productive with important.  You may be familiar with the Covey Time Management Grid, where we have urgent/not urgent and important/not important forming a grid that helps us to gain clarity on how we should prioritize our tasks and To Do lists.  Simply noticing when we are prioritizing urgent/not important or not urgent/not important is the first step toward effective time management.

prioritygrid

Important/urgent grid

, where we seem to equate busy or productive with important.  You may be familiar with the Covey Time Management Grid, where we have urgent/not urgent and important/not important forming a grid that helps us to gain clarity on how we should prioritize our tasks and To Do lists.  Simply noticing when we are prioritizing urgent/not important or not urgent/not important is the first step toward effective time management.

Productivity is important.  We all have important tasks that should be completed.  However, I also agree with Berg and Seeber that we need to slow down.  Paradoxically, sometimes what is most urgent/important is what you should not be doing.  Sometimes, we should not work, not try to achieve, to fix, to create, to accomplish, to read, to write, to plan or to calculate.  A constant stream of busyness around tasks, whether important or unimportant, leaves out something very essential, ie just being.  By incessantly working on our To Do list and our urgent/important tasks, we’re missing out potentially on our best, most creative work, and our most beautiful, joyous moments.    We give away those moments, one at a time, for the next item on our To Do list.

As part of slowing down, Berg and Seeber talk about being more mindful teachers, having a reflective approach to scholarship and connecting with our colleagues.  I would expand the notion further to say that this type of reflective inquiry is important in all aspects of our lives.  Our inner world unconsciously drives so much of our perceptions and beliefs and is the source of our creativity.  When we are constantly in action-mode, we neither access our inner wisdom, creativity, and intuition, nor can we really examine our subconscious beliefs to understand how they drive our understanding of ourselves and our world.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes our unconscious self as System 1 and our conscious, rational self as System 2.   The problem, according to Kahneman, is that we tend to over-use System 1 intuition, confidently believing our subconscious guesses and shortcuts to be accurate representations of complex situations.   In essence, System 1 interprets our world using heuristics and biases, and System 2 tends to be lazy and simply rationalizes the beliefs of System 1, instead of taking the effort to think things through carefully.

It doesn’t have to be that way;  we need reflection to intentionally listen to System 1 in an objective way, yet recognize that its messages and beliefs are often flawed.  We can then use System 2 to re-evaluate System 1 information and find a wiser course.    Thus, reflective inquiry allows a dialogue between both System 1 and 2 so that we can make the most of our intuition and wisdom and to find our creativity. This reflective inquiry requires down time and is not on most people’s To Do lists, yet is arguably both urgent and important.

Maybe it’s worth putting reflective inquiry in the urgent/important category, and a regular entry on our calendars.  What does your System 2 think about that?

Organizational Self-Awareness and Learning

Self-awareness is a critical life and leadership skill that means different things to different people. I used to think that it had to do with just being aware of my thoughts and my tendency to think a certain way.  I believed, therefore, that I had high self-awareness.  However, self-awareness also includes having some knowledge of your subconscious choices, viewpoints, biases, and strengths.  For example, why do I gravitate to certain choices or beliefs?  Are those really the right behaviors and perspectives?   How do those actions and viewpoints affect others?

Taking the time to reflect on these questions and internalize feedback – both positive and negative, formal and informal – is called self-reflective awareness (SRA).  Failure to periodically assess and re-evaluate means I’m operating more on habit than any kind of conscious decision.  A recent blog by Henriques does an excellent job of breaking down this self-reflective process, and describes it as metacognition.  Personally, I find that a regular reflective practice is important in sustaining my self-awareness as I and the environment evolve over time.

The same is true for organizations.  Like people, organizations have a history that influences their self- and world-view, strengths, weaknesses, blind spots, preferences and biases.  Organizations have their own “mental processes” that lead to learning and decision-making:  surveys, informal feedback, organizational metrics, etc.   Organizations that consider a narrow set of data, and fail to reflect and seriously consider feedback – both internally and externally, formal and informal – are just going through the motions of learning and growth.    Like Henriques’ student example, an organization with low self-reflective awareness (SRA) is likely to have a superficial understanding of how to solve problems and blame their failures or shortcomings on external or isolated factors. An organization that has high SRA is more likely to take a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to problem solving and growth and has the courage to face some hard truths.

What would organizational SRA look like?  We can start by looking at low SRA activities, which includes crisis management as standard operating procedure, incremental strategic plans that don’t have a clear vision, a culture of punishing and problem-finding instead of nurturing success and growth, and prioritizing thoughtless organizational metrics that reflect a limited view of organizational success.  Low SRA organizations will have a disconnect between their mission and stated brand, and their actual performance.  For example, some organizations may claim to value diversity, customers or their employees, but the numbers and culture may say otherwise.  The organization may choose to ignore that disconnect by excluding such measures in their data collection, write off dissatisfied customers and employees as anomalies, and rationalize problems as localized, but their stakeholders will notice.

A high organizational SRA will have strong alignment in mission, values, brand and their products and output.  It will have an authentic vision for its future with priorities, policies, procedures and practices are aligned across the organization.  It will regularly reflect as a whole through its strategic planning process and integrate outcomes and feedback to learn and improve.  For example, unpleasant surprises, such as under-performing sales, lawsuits, poor feedback, or a key employee quitting unexpectedly, are taken seriously.  The organization learns from that setback, asking hard questions and facing difficult truths.  It examines gaps between its mission and behavior, and has the courage to listen deeply to tough feedback.  It encourages individuals to take risks and learn from the failures instead of punishing them.  It examines best practices, employs them, and then may even try to raise the bar.  It has leaders who have high SRA, and who encourage SRA in others.

What kind of organization do you work for?  What kind would you rather work for?  It’s easy to see that a high SRA organization will attract and keep the best talent.  How are you contributing to your organization’s SRA and your own?

How To Be A Good Friend: Part 1

Positive relationships are essential for a good life, yet we are rarely taught how to create good relationships. Likely we have learned relationship skills by observing those who were similarly unschooled. I learned and practiced a lot of dysfunctional behaviors for a long time without ever even knowing there was something wrong with my unhealthy beliefs and practices. Creating a healthy relationship is such a fundamental skill, I believe relationship skills should be taught in K-12 Health class.

We tend to have many types of relationships, some casual and others intimate. However, the skills for creating good relationships are fairly much the same, though the relationship itself may dictate the degree a given skill is employed. A key element to all good relationships, regardless of the depth of commitment or closeness, is balance. In other words, there has to be give and take across the various facets of the relationship such that there is sufficient reciprocity in the long run.

Creating balance can be tricky since assessing balance is subjective. The relationship should not be transactional, in other words, I-call-you-only-if-you-called-me-last-type of behavior.  For example, I know Chris does way more for me than I realize, so if I only focus on what I do for him, I will over estimate my contribution to the relationship.   Also, if I only focus on the picking-up-around-the-house scorecard, for example, I contend I will always win by that measure. But he does so much for me in other areas, which I ignore at the peril of our relationship.

Therefore, when taking stock of relationships we should try to account for all of the ways we give to each other. I may only focus on the money or time I spend on a relationship, but there are other types of relationship currencies that may go unseen, yet should be accounted for. Here are 3 relationship facets, often unseen, that may affect your relationship net balance:

Affirmation –

Friends often have a tendency to either blindly affirm or refute their friend’s stance or behavior.   For example, if I complain about how I’m treated at work, my friends might either just say “Yeah, what jerks. You’re not doing anything wrong and look how they’re mistreating you.” Or they might say, “You never seem to get along with your boss. Maybe you’re too sensitive or stubborn.”

Though the former approach may seem more supportive at face value, both approaches lack balance and objectivity. They both contain judgment (either for or against), and neither help the other learn, grow or find solutions. The approach may even make the situation worse by reinforcing and validating dysfunctional beliefs or behavior.

Instead, a good friend invests effort in listening to trying to understand, and helps the other explore options and responses without controlling or dictating the outcome. Showing unconditional support for the other, without blindly affirming or judging their behavior, is a loving and helpful way to balance affirmation for your loved one.

Effort –

All relationships take effort, including initiating and planning get-togethers and keeping the energy lively and positive. The latter might include finding interesting topics to discuss or things to do, or constructively managing conflict when it arises. The care and maintenance of the relationship should be shared; if the burden falls almost exclusively on one side, then the friendship may not be a partnership unless reciprocation occurs in another area.

Some young people are surprised to learn that good marriages require a lot of effort, not in terms of paying the bills and taking care of kids, but in doing the hard work of creating a successful relationship. No one ever told me this. I’m telling you now in case you haven’t heard.

Intimacy –

Open and honest sharing of oneself and one’s feelings is an important element for our closest relationships.  There is no one right level of intimacy for a given relationship since everyone has different needs and styles for sharing. Regardless of the degree of intimacy, relationships should have balance with each person contributing in a way that works for the relationship. For example, if one friend does all the listening and rarely shares, it may be a red flag that the relationship is one-sided. That dynamic may work for the pair if reciprocation occurs in other areas.

Since relationships run the gamut from casual to intimate, partnerships to dependencies, a good relationship does not necessarily need to have all of the above facets to be positive or healthy. Rather, healthy relationships tend to have a global balance across the various ways that the partners give to each other, thus enabling its sustenance and success.

The Ludicrous Beliefs That I Live By

I’ve not always been so great with acceptance. I spent much of my life overly critical of myself and trying to change things for which I have no control. And as obvious as it may seem to me now, I never really examined those beliefs about what I can change or what is out of my control. Making those beliefs conscious is really helpful in understanding how we sometimes let ludicrous, unconscious beliefs drive how we feel and what we do.

In the spirit of bringing our unconscious and ludicrous beliefs to awareness, I am listing some for consideration. In what ways are the following statement(s) true in your life? Pick a few statements and really reflect to what degree you believe the following to be true:

  • I can change someone else’s beliefs or behavior
  • I can’t change or grow  with regard to (my work, my relationship, my money…)
  • I shouldn’t change or grow with regard to (my work, my relationship, my money…)
  • They should change
  • They can’t change
  • I should have a say in how others live their life (our dependents aside)
  • I should be (richer, more attractive, more successful, more appreciated….)
  • Someone else should fix that or pay for that
  • I should help them
  • I should not help them
  • I should fix or pay for that
  • I am a failure/unattractive/unlovable/not safe/undeserving/entitled/important…
  • I need to be viewed as successful/attractive/generous/smart/….
  • I deserve …
  • I’m better than/more important than (friend, colleague, loved one, stranger)
  • I’m worse than/less important than (friend, colleague, loved one, stranger)
  • Life should be fair
  • My feelings/opinions should matter to others
  • They should realize this truth
  • I was harmed by (event, person)
  • I need (thing, event, person)
  • I’m bad at….

Just because a sentence or sentence stem here resonates with you doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a ludicrous belief.  This exercise is simply intended for you to find more clarity and challenge your pre-existing beliefs.

For example, you might be completely correct that fixing the potholes in your community is not your job.  Perhaps it’s worth really considering whether the statement is as black or white as you might believe (in this case, 100% not your responsibility).   If your potholes are not getting fixed, then maybe you need to be the one to report it to local officials and advocate for better roads (perhaps, now 10% your responsibility).

A less obvious example may be your belief about your role in a suboptimal relationship.  Do you abdicate all responsibility for the trouble in the relationship?  Or do you believe it’s all your fault?  Are you trying to change them or subjugate yourself?  Do you believe it’s only they who need to change?  What would be a more balanced view of the problems at play?

Now, I need a cup of coffee and a piece of chocolate for all this hard work. I will be irrevocably harmed by not getting what I rightfully deserve.

Our Personal Relay Race

c700x420The brilliant Jane Dutton at University of Michigan’s Ross School for Business, and author of Exploring Positive Identities and Organizations: Building a Theoretical and Research Foundation, studies how employees create a positive self-definition, or a positive identity, at work and beyond.   She states that the pathway to creating a positive identity can be described by the acronym GIVE: growing, integrated (the different sides of who we are), virtuous and esteemed.

These days, instead of lists, I think of everything in tables since it allows more depth into each item on the list.   For GIVE, I’d then think about GIVE with respect to each domain of our life, such as professional, emotional/psychological, physical, spiritual, relational, and financial for example.   That list of 4 now expands to 24 items, which is officially overwhelming.

That’s OK, I’m not trying to say that we have to attend to each of the 24 items every day or even every year. However, thinking about GIVE in a comprehensive manner, gives us options and food for thought.

In fact, I think a productive approach to this might be to think about the possible domains for GIVE as a personal relay race. For example, this spring, I’m working on growing my positive identity at work, but this summer, I’m working in the physical domain.   I can maintain the “IVE” parts from each domain all year, but growth takes intentionality and effort, so I’ll pass the baton to focus on different aspects at different points in time.

Growth mindset has been on my mind a lot since reading Carol Dweck’s Mindset book (see my blog from 5/24/26 to review).   It’s difficult to have a positive identity without acknowledging your ability to grow. Since our mindset is contextual, perhaps thinking about ourselves from the perspective of the different domains we can get a better sense of where we have self-limiting, fixed mindset.

Even within those domains, there is much granularity.   I know that I personally have fixed mindset mostly in the creative endeavors, I guess a subset of the emotional/psychological domain. Even in the physical domain, I feel I’m pretty flexible, except in my hamstrings. Recently, I have noticed that I can now start a yoga or PIYO class with the ability to bend over and touch the ground from the start of class, which is clear and hard-earned progress for me. Yes it’s taken probably a year of regular attendance to stretching activities, but it shows that I can grow even with regard to my hamstring flexibility.

Such beliefs are common in the gym; I frequently hear instructors needing to tell others how hard the workout was in the beginning and that it became easier with time.   Even as someone who (more or less) stays in shape most of the time, I find that when I start an unfamiliar class, program or activity, it’s almost always hard at the beginning, even if I’m fairly experienced at it. I have literally been going to aerobics classes my entire life, and even going to a new aerobics instructor means a learning curve at first.

In other words, expect that growth will be difficult but definitely possible and easier over time. Once you’ve made some progress, then you can set yet another new goal, which will again starts off by being difficult. As you pass the baton from goal to goal or domain to domain, you’ll see that you will make great progress over time. You’ll be a more accomplished and resilient you, more virtuous and esteemed than ever!

Finding the Sweet Spot: Assertive vs. Pushy

Though assertiveness versus pushiness can be a fine line for everyone, I feel this is a particularly tough issue for women. We are more inclined to try to get along compared to men. Often when we do assert ourselves we’re called the B word.   If we take the softer approach and talk from the perspective of our feelings, we’re accused of being overly emotional.

Ladies, sometimes it feels like we just can’t win. It’s no wonder we sometimes just don’t do anything at all. Am I right?

I try not to shy away from topics that I struggle with, else I’d have nothing to write about. I can only reflect on the hard-earned lessons I’ve learned over the years. Thankfully there are more lessons to come, many of them from you!

In my opinion, there are three main ingredients that are key for a successful discussion of a sensitive nature. First, you must stay calm.   Staying calm means that even if a situation upset or hurt you, you enter the conversation with peace and serenity. You are a still pond. You are a rock. You are a loaf of French bread. For example, I can be serene talking about something that happened in the distant past compared to just moments ago, or talking to an objective third party compared to someone who caused my pain. You can have emotional distance, even while talking about your feelings, so have the conversation only when you are calm.

Second, while being calm, assume that the other person is reasonable at heart.   Thus, your chosen words are not judgmental, but neutral. You are open, listen and try to understand what belief is causing this behavior. Becoming judgmental or defensive will only undermine your cause and you will be called the B word.

Finally, be succinct. Rambling, justifying, bemoaning, judging, and elaborating will make you lose your audience. And you’re serene, remember? State:

  • The fact – “I saw you leave out My Little Pony toy”
  • The way it makes you feel or the consequence – “It makes me feel like you don’t care about my stuff” or “I can’t find it when I want to play with it”
  • Your request – “Could you please put my toys away where they belong when you’re done playing with them?”

Bam, bam, bam.

An observation: this might be a huge deal to you. You might’ve cried about this for days and are trembling inside when having this conversation. The other most likely doesn’t even have this on their radar, and will just be like, “Okay.”

If not, be prepared to listen to their reality. You’re serene, right? So you’ll let their emotion wash over you so that you can listen deeply and objectively. If you really try to understand, you’ll find that their emotional reality will make sense to them in the same way that your emotional reality makes sense to you. In other words: it makes no sense except to the one experiencing it. And then you can find a sensible middle ground, laugh at how silly/human you both are and have a hug.

Ha ha. Not really.

Or maybe so?

Resources: Crucial Conversations and The Power of Positive Confrontation

The Work Double-Standard

Research shows that we are all hypocrites.   In our personal lives it’s easy to detect our hypocrisy any time we criticize another.   At work, our hypocrisy may look a little different, but appears to occur with both employers and employees.

Employers may:

  • Expect loyalty but downsize you in a heartbeat
  • Expect you to do whatever it takes to get the job done but not provide the training/resources to do that job right.
  • Expect you to be on time in the AM but don’t notice if you work overtime. Oh and by the way, you better make sure you report your annual leave whenever you need a few hours off.
  • Expect your hardest and best work which may not be recognized or rewarded. However, your mistakes will be pointed out immediately.
  • Expect you to have a good attitude even if they ignore/complain/criticize the organization or its employees.
  • Have unrealistic expectations then get frustrated when morale is down.
  • Ask you to take on additional duties or responsibility but then tell you that you haven’t earned a raise, new title or promotion.
  • Tell you there isn’t money for raises/bonuses or for the supplies/new position that is needed…but there’s plenty of money when it comes to their own raise, bonus or needed resources.
  • Expect you to be open to constructive criticism and improvement while ignoring their own.
  • Complain about the laziness or incompetence of an employee, but when that person quits, divide her job into two positions.
  • Avoid promoting from within citing a lack of qualified applicants, but also fail to groom people for leadership positions.
  • Complain that employees don’t appreciate their job but rarely thank the employees when they do a good job.
  • Complain about a situation that they’ve either created or have the power to change.
  • Expect employees to make sacrifices for the organization but won’t go out of their way to help the employee.
  • Have contempt for the employees but want to be treated with respect.
  • Criticize what’s actually good practice for productivity (taking breaks, naps and socializing with co-workers), while ignoring real issues (bullying, harassment, poor fiscal management, poor leadership/management skills, safety issues, toxic employees).

Employees are guilty too. They may:

  • Complain about the status quo but not support the change that does happen, take action to create change, or support the change efforts of others.
  • Hate their job but then are surprised if they get either fired or a poor evaluation.
  • Treat continued employment, raise or bonus as an entitlement, but quality work as optional.
  • Want job security but will leave the minute a better job is available.
  • Want thanks, praise and recognition without ever thanking or recognizing their employer.
  • Expect the job to be not too demanding but also expect a raise or promotion.
  • Complain that the boss doesn’t understand what they do but also complain about things they don’t understand.
  • Gripe about the lack of communication but not read organizational emails and newsletters.
  • Have contempt for the organization or boss but want to be treated with respect.

In other words, pointing your finger at work is really not different from your personal life.   Before you open your mouth to complain about someone else, consider how you might be similarly guilty. It’s a hypocrisy-busting exercise that can produce personal insights and a better attitude, though not as fun as complaining.  I guess you’ll have to settle for socializing by the water cooler.