Thursday, December 24, 2009

Around the Holiday Table

Here's an experiment. Listen for (as Peter Drucker reminds us) "what isn't being said."

Could make the holidays much more interesting....

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Factoid Re: Men and Emotions

Does this seem true? I haven't read the book.

"Men can take up to 7 hours longer [than women] to process complex emotive data. [They] will not know what they feel at the moment of feeling and will take longer to figure it out. [They] may not be able to put their feelings in words - if they choose a verbal strategy at all."
~Michael Gurian, author of "What Could He Be Thinking" ~

Monday, December 21, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Christmas Workplace Carol (A true story)

One of my clients recently had a breakthrough at work. Karen struggled with several colleagues who were allied against her. Because she depended on these other women, Karen often felt stressed and angry. As we examined her interactions, Karen saw her negative patterns of self-defensive behaviors. She wanted to be lighthearted and kind. She wanted to laugh, joke, and smile as she did with others at work. But when she encountered Debra or Elaine, her face stiffened. As Karen grew cold, Debra and Elaine retaliated. Prolonged silence soon led to ignoring each other and even ignoring legitimate work requests. Karen felt scared, sick, and embarrassed. Why did they hate her so much? Each new day added deeper injuries and destroyed trust. Although she prided herself on her “people skills,” Karen felt trapped in her suspicions. She couldn’t talk to either Debra or Elaine. She had to quit. There was no other way out.

When other co-workers realized the depth of Karen’s despair, they began to see their own complicity. The office gossip and intrigues had made Karen a departmental scapegoat. But most of the group loved Karen and didn’t want to lose her. They began to speak to Elaine and Debra on Karen’s behalf.

Before too long, Karen felt a shift. As Debra and Elaine relaxed, she relaxed, until one day all three women spontaneously apologized to each other.

A happy ending? Yes. But more than that…. Several weeks later, Karen asked Debra for a favor and Debra, feeling stressed, snapped back with irritation. In the past, Karen might have snapped back or glared--beginning a new sequence of passive-aggressive withdrawal. But the exhausting struggles of the past months had softened Karen. She was willing to grant Debra some slack. Karen had seen her own imperfections and, most importantly, she didn’t want to go back to a warfare mentality. Her struggles with Debra and Elaine had diminished her need for revenge. She was willing to forgive, not for Debra’s sake, but for her own. Carrying a grunge was hard work! With gratitude at this lesson, she smiled (sincerely) to Debra. What joy! Karen felt freed from her need to retaliate. And instead of feeling guilty for her own rude reactions, Karen now felt proud of her response. It was a wonderful moment. She knew that her corner of the workplace could (and would) stay peaceful. © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Power of Optimism

Thank you to for posting this story. A great reminder of self-fulling prophecies and the power of positive thoughts and words.

A landscape gardener ran a business that had been in the family for two or three generations. The staff were happy, and customers loved to visit the store, or to have the staff work on their gardens or make deliveries - anything from bedding plants to ride-on mowers.

For as long as anyone could remember, the current owner and previous generations of owners were extremely positive happy people.

Most folk assumed it was because they ran a successful business.

In fact it was the other way around...

A tradition in the business was that the owner always wore a big lapel badge, saying Business Is Great!

The business was indeed generally great, although it went through tough times like any other. What never changed however was the owner's attitude, and the badge saying Business Is Great!
Everyone who saw the badge for the first time invariably asked, "What's so great about business?" Sometimes people would also comment that their own business was miserable, or even that they personally were miserable or stressed.

Anyhow, the Business Is Great! badge always tended to start a conversation, which typically involved the owner talking about lots of positive aspects of business and work, for example:
· the pleasure of meeting and talking with different people every day
· the reward that comes from helping staff take on new challenges and experiences
· the fun and laughter in a relaxed and healthy work environment
· the fascination in the work itself, and in the other people's work and businesses
· the great feeling when you finish a job and do it to the best of your capabilities
· the new things you learn every day - even without looking to do so
· and the thought that everyone in business is blessed - because there are many millions of people who would swap their own situation to have the same opportunities of doing a productive meaningful job, in a civilized well-fed country, where we have no real worries.

And so the list went on. And no matter how miserable a person was, they'd usually end up feeling a lot happier after just a couple of minutes listening to all this infectious enthusiasm and positivity.

If asked about the badge in a quiet moment, the business owner would confide:
"The badge came first. The great business followed."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An EI Poem

I love this poem. It succinctly explains the work of Emotional Intelligence.

by Portia Nelson

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk I fall in. I am lost ... I am helpless. It isn't my fault. It takes me forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in the same place but, it isn't my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in ... it's a habit. my eyes are open I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Motivation in the Workplace. Who's to Blame?

I'm not close with one of my sisters. This is a painful truth. I could give you theories to explain why we've grown distant but that could take days. When family (or workplace) relationships disintegrate, it takes time. Trust is lost and then more trust is lost until a canyon of suspicion separates us and obliterates bridges of empathy and understanding.

I've been getting requests for training in motivation. Many employers seem mystified-how can they get their workers to care? A complex question! And I'm reminded of my struggles with my sister. It's tempting to blame her but I know that we have both created our relationship. Workplace dynamics are equally complicated. Employers often hope for a magic wand to transform their “lazy” workers into enthusiastic employees. But, unless a disengaged worker is simply unwilling to work (rare), the employer is probably contributing to the problem. To motivate workers, employers may need to start with changing themselves. Have they taken the time to know the employee and see what intrinsically motivates him/her? Is the company creating a product or service that the employee can offer with pride? Has the employee received enough feedback and training to do his/her job? Is this employee the right person for the job?

The bad news is that recovering lost trust and interpersonal harmony is hard work. The good news is--each side has the ability to improve the frustrating situation. For my sister and I--we may achieve only a truce. But at least we know we're both responsible for our struggles. We begin with that knowledge.

Nurturing a positive workplace culture unleashes creativity and enthusiasm. Such a transformation will not be instant, but it can happen if employers seek to change not only their employees, but also themselves.© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Blaming at Work Creates More Blame

Research from the University of Southern California has great suggestions for managers on creating healthier atmosphere's at work. Here's the article and an excerpt below.

“Blame creates a culture of fear,” Fast said, “and this leads to a host of negative consequences for individuals and for groups.”

A manager can keep a lid on the behavior by rewarding employees who learn from their mistakes and by making a point to publicly acknowledge his or her own mistakes, Fast said. Managers may also want to assign blame, when necessary, in private and offer praise in public to create a positive attitude in the workplace.
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Common Sense Checklist for Health.

I’ve adapted this list from others I’ve seen. Not rocket science, but how successful are you at maintaining success in all 5 areas? During this holiday season, make the tough choices to care for yourself, NO MATTER WHAT. Daily pressures will tempt you to deny your true needs but remember: you can’t help anyone else if you are depleted physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally.

1. Be kind to yourself. Respect your own needs, emotions, and desires, no matter how “crazy or irrational” they may seem.
2. Take care of your health so you’re ready for any challenge the day may bring.
3. Create work and home environments that nurture you.
4. Create a supportive network of friends and colleagues.
5. Spend time daily in recharging activities--quiet time, exercise, hobbies etc.
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Friday, December 4, 2009

Practicing Mindfulness--a Rerun of Previous Post. In time for the Holidays.

I love it when “soft” skills (emotional literacy) are confirmed by hard science. I recently discovered more brain research confirming EI principles and the benefits of “mindfulness” (a form of meditation).

David Creswell and Matthew D. Lieberman, from UCLA, conducted brain scans of adults. Their studies found that naming emotions decreases activity in the amygdala (the emotional sentinel of the brain) and increases activity in the prefrontal cortex.

This explains a lot!

When our amygdala is aroused, our body sends out chemicals and hormones that create our emotions. This happens so fast that we may act inappropriately and respond with a fight, flight, or freeze reaction—called an “amygdala hijack.” Conversely, the prefrontal area of the brain is associated with “executive functions,” i.e. the ability to manage emotions and make well-reasoned decisions. Naming emotions then, can calm us down and help us think more rationally. This may be why journaling or talking through our reactions with a friend is often very helpful. Such self-awareness and "affect labeling” is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence competencies.

The study also measured the impact of mindfulness and found that this practice creates the same effect. This isn’t surprising since mindfulness leads to recognizing all our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. When practicing mindfulness, I'm naming my emotions in each moment--“I’m feeling upset, now I’m feeling relaxed, etc.”

Even five minutes a day of this "being in the moment" can have profound effects on our health and well-being. During this holiday season, give it a try!

For an abstract of the original study seek link below. Lieberman MD, Eisenberger NI, Crockett MJ, et al. Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling Disrupts Amygdala Activity in Response to Affective Stimuli Psychol Sci. 2007 May;18(5):421-8. [Abstract] © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Creating more effective meetings!

My clients constantly complain about having to attend “useless” meetings. These meetings not only obliterate large chucks of valuable time, they also damage morale.

How can we improve our meetings?

1. First, we must eliminate all unnecessary meetings! This will require a major paradigm shift. Ask yourself: Am I only giving information to my group? If so, use email. Worried that they won’t read your email? Ask them to respond to you within a certain time. (BTW- how do you know they’re listening at a “data dump” meeting? Believe me, they aren’t. ) Even if you can’t eliminate a meeting, you should be able to shorten it significantly. No part of a meeting should be a data dump. That is what emails are for.

2. Only call a meeting when an idea or news requires discussion. If you’re presenting controversial or upsetting information (layoffs, etc.) DO NOT use email. A meeting will allow the listeners to express their feelings, concerns, questions, and thoughts. This is a great use for a meeting.

If you have a problem to be solved or a process to be improved, meetings are an ideal use of the team’s time. But do you know how to lead a discussion so that they best ideas are produced and your time is used effectively?

I’ll tackle this question in my next post. © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Monday, November 23, 2009

Quote for the Day

Always raise the bar. Hire people who are smarter and more capable than you, and make sure all your employees do the same. As your company grows, early employees should find themselves thinking "Wow, if I interviewed today, I would never get a job here!"

DFJ Frontier Management Company

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gen Y, Social Media, and Empathy

Reading "IBrain" again. Have social media & our heavy-use of computers hurt our abilities 2 develop empathy & other social skills?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Thank you to trainer Chuck Nemer for this list.

An Ideal List—Character Traits to Develop for Work and Life
Do What’s Right
- Ability to yield to the opinions or desires of another
- Having appearances and actions consistent with what you really are- “What you see is what you get.”
- Having a deep respect, tinged with awe, for life, nature, and property
- Reliability in keeping promises and following through on commitments

Do Your Best
- Respect for one’s self and surroundings
- Possession of the capabilities needed to do the job, and the effective performance of one’s responsibilities
- A belief in one’s own abilities to make a difference
- Using the instinctive ability that we all possess, to combine and recombine past experience in a way that results in new patterns, new configurations, or new arrangements that better serve some need
- Persevering and careful work
- An inner drive or impulse that causes one to act
- The tendency to take the most hopeful view of matters

Treat Others as You Would Like to be Treated
- Lively interest; eagerness
- Demonstrating concern for others equal to one’s concern for oneself
- The ability to be true to another beyond promises and commitments, based on your relationship
- Being approachable
- Perseverance and persistence
- The ability to withhold judgment until you can appreciate the uniqueness in each other

Friday, November 6, 2009

Great Mind Mapping Video

This is a wonderfully practical video on mind mapping, to help us remember content and to access hidden gems of knowledge.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Every Emotion has a Purpose

Every Emotion has a Purpose is a basic tenet of Emotional Intelligence. I thought of this today when I heard about a study quoted on national news:
“Bad moods can actually be good for you, with an Australian study finding that being sad makes people less gullible, improves their ability to judge others and also boosts memory.”

Here’s another quote:
“…research suggests that sadness … promotes information processing strategies best suited to dealing with more demanding situations.”

Good to know that my moods can provide some benefits at work!

You can read the entire article here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Motivation Tip

You spend 4 hours doing a report. You give it to your boss and hear nothing back about it.

In the future, how motivated will you be to write reports?

Motivation Tip--Give Timely Feedback. Both positive and constructive.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

If near Elgin, IL--Join us for this Class in Motivating Others.

Motivating Your Team
November 12, 1-4pm $99 includes materials. visit to register or for more info.

Did you know that employee disengagement may affect 80% of your workforce?
How do we remain enthused about our work? How do we inspire others? Explore new research in cognitive science & emotional intelligence; as well as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Examine habits of thinking & motivation. Key points in the session include:
· The best & most effective ways to motivate others
· “Flow” and how to achieve it
· The many benefits of an optimistic attitude and how to maintain a positive mind set.
· Effective communication techniques to motivate and inspire your team.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Watch for Dates for this Exciting New Program in 2010.

If you'd like to be on the mailing list to receive more info on this or other programs, visit

Express Your Potential!Two-Day Workshop.

  • Understand the Hidden Messages in your non-verbal signals.
  • Build Messages of Authenticity.
  • Expand Awareness of your Inner World--Thoughts and Feelings.
  • Enhance Your Ability to Express Yourself.
  • Develop Charisma.
  • Boost your Freedom of Expressiveness--Vocally and Physically.
  • Increase Mindfulness, and the Ability to Focus.
  • Improve Problem solving, Imagination, Spontaneity, and Creativity.

Using Insights from Emotional Intelligence and exercises from the Theatre, this two-day workshop will transform your communication skills--both intra-personally and inter-personally. Explore your skills in nonverbal communication. Understand your habits and thought patterns. Bring out your best! Meant for all levels. No performance experience necessary. Guaranteed to bring a new understanding of your communication styles and empower you to be more charismatic and authentic.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?

The Greater Good Blog posted this great article: Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?

Here's the conclusion (good news for all of us).

Delphine and her colleagues found that members of the group that received the training showed a significant improvement in their ability to identify their feelings and the feelings of others, as well as to manage and control their emotions. What’s more, these improvements were apparent not only right after the training but also six months later.

So while this study was a small pilot with a somewhat homogenous group of participants, the findings suggest that it is possible to increase emotional intelligence in the short and long term. “Overall, the results are promising,” write the researchers, “as they suggest that, with a proper methodology relying on the latest scientific knowledge about emotion and emotional processing, some facets of EI can be enhanced, but not all.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Time Management: My Excuse for a Messy House.

If you were to surprise me with a visit to my home today--I’d be mortified. Laundry sits in the living room, the kitchen is full of dishes and newspapers, the bed isn’t made, and files cover surfaces in every room. Still, if you thought I’d been sleeping or watching TV (while eating bonbons) you’d be wrong. Today has been an awesomely productive day: I wrote several proposals for speaking/training events, and have contacted several clients.

One of the key principles in Time Management is not getting distracted from a chosen priority, especially during peak energy times. Morning is the best time for me to write proposals and today I stayed energetically “in flow.”

It can be tough to avoid distractions: it’s hard on my ego to see the house looking this way. But the rewards are great.

Can you let the non-essentials go while pursuing your goal? If your spouse or office mate comments on your temporary disaster area—just remind him/her that you’re employing good Time Management techniques. Then, when the big jobs are done and energy is lower, you can file and straighten.

My own house will be cleaned tonight--during a Law and Order re-run. © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Friday, October 16, 2009

What is Your True Calling?

It isn't that you don't know what you're called to do. It's just terrifying to confront one's true calling. Certain thoughts haunt us for our entire lives. Exquisite and excruciating work--our unique calling. What's your "true work?"

I'm revisiting my work in the theatre today, going through old files and notebooks. This work scares me but also calls....

Looking to integrate my theatre training with my work in emotional intelligence.
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Great Article on Motivation and Employee Morale

Been meaning to post a link to a really great article about motivation and employee morale. Here's a small excerpt.

More Power = Less Feedback
The greater the power people have, the less feedback they receive from others about how their behavior affects those around them. Thus, most CEOs get less honest feedback, less reality-testing, than most supervisors. This makes it even more important for higher level managers to learn how to encourage feedback.

No News Is Not Good News
If employees don’t feel safe enough to speak up about how management’s decisions make it hard for them to do their jobs well, or what management does that makes them believe they’re not valued and respected, it’s easy for management to believe that all is well. If no one says “It really bugs me that you never consulted us about this change” or “I hate it when you talk down to us” the manager, or management as a whole, can mistakenly believe that everything is fine or that missteps went unnoticed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Exploring the small triggers of daily life

One of my triggers is a desire to “fight for my rights” if I sense that I’m not supported in my work. My fight response may manifest subtly as a tenacious search for an “unavailable” library book or the dogged pursuit of information from a tight-lipped colleague. But underneath my smiling mask, I’m angry and even a bit paranoid at my treatment. Why is this book unavailable when I know interlibrary loan has hundreds of copies to share? Previously, the librarian had seemed miffed at my voracious reading habit. Are her curt responses a way to dissuade my extensive borrowing? Or am I imagining this? Just because I’m (somewhat) paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me…..

One of the many benefits of EI is that, knowing my patterns, I can question my assumptions and try to avoid overreacting to real or imagined threats. While I mostly relate with patience and kindness to others, if I’m triggered, my distrust looms large. Suddenly simple conversations become minefields. I expect the worst and then….I get it. Instead of peaceful and pleasant exchanges, I find that others are angry and unreasonable. Why won’t they help me get what I need?

It’s remarkable to realize that even when I try to hide my fear or anger, others sense it and react. Because we are all civilized humans, our squirmishes can be extremely subtle and happen in a microsecond. We may be smiling but through tiny shifts of nonverbals and inflections, we’ll send a message covertly. The true dimensions of our fight happen outside our awareness. Then we can each feel innocent and victimized.

I’ve learned through much inner work that I can trust my intuitions. I’m not crazy. My librarian may indeed be thwarting my desires. But even if she is, my inner reactions say more about my own psyche than the outward situation. Why are my reactions to this so strong? (No one else might see it, but I know I’ve been triggered.) My book requests are important to me. They represent a chance at learning and growth and advancement. I’ve coached myself throughout this past year to not react too strongly when “Rita” seems to avoid my requests. When she wouldn’t answer my emails, I went to her office and had a pleasant visit. Another time, when she seemed upset, I brought cookies. We’ve had great chats and my book crisis seemed solved--my patience rewarded. But then I get another cryptic email and my anger and despair rush forward.

I’ll keep working on my reactions. Rita may be slow to help, or maybe I continue to misread her communications. Whatever the case, these events offer great stories for my training and a hefty opportunity to explore some “hot” wiring in my psyche. And my discomfort? A wise teacher once helped me see that my discomfort is a form of grief –in this case, grief from some past injustice. She told me that if I could simply allow myself to feel this pain, i.e. to grieve, my feelings would dissipate and lose their hold. A simple concept and so hard to do! But she was right. As I feel these difficult emotions, they pass through me and I grow stronger.

I write to remind myself of what I already know. To encourage myself to feel my grief when I want to wring Rita’s neck. It’s a small thing, a library book, but the small moments can teach us the most. Huge events can be too overwhelming. Or we rationalize and say that our extreme reactions are justified because the issue is so big.

What small events push your buttons? Is there grief hiding under your anger?
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Style Differences: Are You A Fighter or Flight-er?

Does your company use assessments such as the Myers Briggs tool? Many of my clients use these measurements to build empathy. Through them, employees learn that their different styles of communication are all acceptable and “normal.”

Lately, I’ve realized that differences in our emotional reactions can also be seen as a “style” issue. Some of us naturally want to “fight” if we feel threatened while others withdraw in “flight.” In the workplace, both fight and flight can be very subtle: a look, a few words, or a tone of voice. But if we are honest with ourselves, we can discover the hidden impulse of fight or flight in some of our reactions.

Fighters (my own tendency) can see themselves as passionate and feel that those who withdraw “don’t care.” Flee-ers want to keep the atmosphere pleasant and may see Fighters as destructive and out of control. Today I’m feeling more empathy for a co-worker who withdraws. I had thought he “didn’t care.” What a relief to realize that we show our care in different ways.

The daily work of EI never ends….

What is your experience of fight or flight at work?
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What I do--In a Nutshell

Some folks have been asking me to describe EI and my training. Here's a brief description, from a conference brochure.

Using current brain research, emotional intelligence provides insights into how emotions function and how we can manage our reactions intelligently. Whether we are exploring the challenges of workplace anger, learning to be assertive, communicating effectively, or the effects of our nonverbal behavior—EI provides practical tools for changing unsatisfactory patterns. Using exercises, video clips, discussion and games, you will learn the value of our emotions and how to use them effectively. © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Making the Case for Training

Here's an interesting article about the benefits of training for the bottom line.

An excerpt: "Research firm Bersin & Associates has found that organizations that consistently spend within 10 percent of the industry average on training per employee are, on average, 12 percent more profitable over a four-year period than those that spend below these levels.

Although the authors had 2007 training data on a very small number of banks, they say it appears training expenditures were a very strong predictor of stock prices even during last year’s market turbulence.

The paper concludes that training may have its intended effect of better corporate performance. Budgets for employee development also may indicate whether a firm is focused on the long term, Bassi and McMurrer argue. And training expenditures may act as a “window” into a firm’s future financial health, they say. "

For the complete article click here.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Some Recent Tweets

Had a great afternoon workshop in emotional intelligence. Largest hurdle for the group: accepting their emotions. Still such a struggle.

Accepting emotions is vital. If we don't, we can miss important cues (internal and external).

My EI participants acknowledged that surpressing their emotions usually makes the situation (and their health) worse. from web

Monday, September 28, 2009

Basic Principles of Motivation

I recently saw an AMA video on “how to motivate” employees. I always appreciate a chance to review this topic. While the video’s examples and descriptions were unique, I was glad to see that its conclusions were identical to my own--and these same principles are also reflected in research (Csikszentmihalyi, Maslow and others).

Here are those principles:
  • Make the task clear and doable.
  • Make the task meaningful.
  • Make the task a vehicle for growth.
  • Empower your workers to perform on their own.
  • Provide recognition and rewards based on individual preferences.
  • Keep recognition and rewards timely and specific.

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Talking about Self-disclosure

I've been dialoging with a reader about self-disclosure. Thought I'd share a bit on this blog.

Ute writes:
I totally relate to your article.I often don’t want to share my REAL feelings, because I’m uncomfortable about what they are. Although, as a trainer, when I do self disclose, the most positive feedback I receive is when participants say that they really related to what I have said, and they appreciate my honesty.
Almost always, people say that they don’t tell their true feelings (particularly at work) because they will be vulnerable and they fear it will be used against them. I have never found a satisfactory reply to this comment. Because people do make fun of us and put us down for being open and vulnerable. What can I say to people when they ask me about this?
Laura Lewis-Barr Says: September 23rd, 2009 at 5:43 am
Thanks for your reply Ute. I also appreciate your honesty!My thoughts to your question: For me, part of EI is working to understand when a situation is truly unsafe, and when it is only my exaggerated fears (based on unrealistic thoughts) that create feelings of vulnerability. Learning to discriminate between my subjective inner world and the outer world is a lifelong process for me. Through practice and observation, I do believe we can learn to recognize when a situation is truly unsafe. That doesn’t mean that we don’t disclose at all, but we can be careful. We can also learn to withstand aggression from others and not take their words to heart. But it is very difficult!If we are able to stay in dialogue with the aggressors, we can possibly change the situation through our clarity, strength and courage. But it is hard!!!

What are your thoughts and concerns about self-disclosure?
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Self-disclosure--we crave it.

We honor writers, musicians, and artists who bare their souls. We gravitate to peers who share their deepest selves, warts & all. If that's true, why is it so hard to disclose ourselves? There is so much to gain.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Empathy Upgrades for "Digital Natives"

Dr. Gary Small’s iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind suggests that current brain research reveals that “digital natives” may be developing different brains than Baby Boomers. A Newsweek article explains:

Small says these differences are likely to be even more profound across generations, because younger people are exposed to more technology from an earlier age than older people. He refers to this as the brain gap. On one side, what he calls digital natives—those who have never known a world without e-mail and text messaging—use their superior cognitive abilities to make snap decisions and juggle multiple sources of sensory input. On the other side, digital immigrants—those who witnessed the advent of modern technology long after their brains had been hardwired—are better at reading facial expressions than they are at navigating cyberspace.

Small speculates that when younger people spend lots of time using technology, they may be neglecting the neural circuits that we use in social situations. Through practice with others, we learn to read nonverbal cues. But what happens if young people are spending much less time with others? Since there is a “pruning away” of under-used synapses during adolescence, Small wonders if younger generations may be deficient in social skills like empathy because they are spending so much time online. He describes one study in which students played violent videogames before viewing facial expressions. After playing the games, the students had a marked reduction in their ability to accurately recognize the faces. Dr. Small suggests that digital natives may need "empathy upgrades." © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Friday, September 11, 2009

Emotion, Learning, and Attention

Here's a helpful quote from Kagan Online Magazine about how emotions "sear" info into our brains. This explains why upsetting emotions can over-ride our ability to think clearly and focus (the amygdala hijack discussed yesterday). It also explains why traumatic events can continue to haunt us long after the upset.

Why does emotion activate our attention and memory systems? Emotion is evoked when something is either good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, painful or pleasurable. In brain lingo, emotion is a signal that something is either an opportunity or a threat. The brain is geared to pay attention to and remember opportunities and threats because that enhances our probability of survival. When there is emotion, the neurons in the brain actually fire at a higher frequency, signaling the reticular formation:"Pay Attention!" and signaling the hippocampus: "You better remember this!" Most of us remember where we were when we heard about the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th. Why? Because the event was associated with strong emotion.

You can read the entire article here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

More on Mindfulness and "Affect Labeling"

I love it when “soft” skills (emotional literacy) are confirmed by hard science. I recently discovered more brain research confirming EI principles and the benefits of “mindfulness” (a form of meditation).

David Creswell and Matthew D. Lieberman, from UCLA, conducted brain scans of adults. Their studies found that naming emotions decreases activity in the amygdala (the emotional sentinel of the brain) and increases activity in the prefrontal cortex.

This explains a lot!

When our amygdala is aroused, our body sends out chemicals and hormones that create our emotions. This happens so fast that we may act inappropriately and respond with a fight, flight, or freeze reaction—called an “amygdala hijack.” Conversely, the prefrontal area of the brain is associated with “executive functions,” i.e. the ability to manage emotions and make well-reasoned decisions. Naming emotions then, can calm us down and help us think more rationally. This may be why journaling or talking through our reactions with a friend is often very helpful. Such self-awareness and "affect labeling” is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence competencies.

The study also measured the impact of mindfulness and found that this practice creates the same effect. This isn’t surprising since mindfulness leads to recognizing all our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. When practicing mindfulness, I'm naming my emotions in each moment--“I’m feeling upset, now I’m feeling relaxed, etc.”

Even five minutes a day of this "being in the moment" can have profound effects on our health and well-being.

For an abstract of the original study seek link below.
Lieberman MD, Eisenberger NI, Crockett MJ, et al. Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling Disrupts Amygdala Activity in Response to Affective Stimuli Psychol Sci. 2007 May;18(5):421-8. [Abstract]

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sharpening the Saw

I have a million writing/training ideas floating in my head, pleading for my time. Meanwhile, Rick and I are readying our home for sale. On Thursday I woke up feeling weak. Not sick, but worn out and tired. I forced myself to work but by the afternoon, feeling spent, I left early and went to bed. I slept hard for 3 hours. I expected a cure but the next day I felt the same: listless, weak, worn-out. I completed some simple tasks and begged off my more taxing duties. I took an excess of vitamins but nothing seemed to help. I continued to rest.

That evening I poured out some deep and powerful worries to Rick. Old vulnerabilities, shame and frustrations suddenly erupted. I struggled not to project these feelings onto Rick and to trust in his support and compassion. We talked for a long time. Then, after some time, I felt much better, and lighter.

On Saturday I woke up revitalized. I had a very productive day and was still going at 12:30am (very unusual). I finally forced myself to stop working and go to bed.

Such a complete change! Perhaps I just needed a rest from my many duties. Perhaps my weakness was psychological and I needed to unload some (previously unconscious) worries. Either way, despite the mountain of duties demanding my time, I needed to stop. It was easier to give myself the first (half) day and much harder to be patient the second day. But that self-care is vital, not merely to stay healthy but also to reach new breakthroughs. (My progress on Saturday night was a step forward on a long term project.)

How do you give yourself breaks to keep healthy and to produce your best work? © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Many Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

Just finished listening to a great interview on Shrink Rap Radio with Psychologist Elisha Goldstein. Dr. Goldstein’s work focuses on the power of mindfulness meditations to help us combat stress, addictions, and other psychological maladies. Did you know that regular meditation can actually change the brain?! Dr. Goldstein shared research from Sara Lazar, Ph.D.

Using MRI brain scans, she (Sara Lazar, Ph.D.) found thicker regions of frontal cortex, regions responsible for reasoning and decision making, in those who had a consistent mindfulness practice compared to those who did not. Additionally, she found a thicker insula, considered to be the central switchboard of the brain that helps us coordinate our thoughts and emotions. She suggested that because our cortex and insula normally start deteriorating after age twenty, mindfulness meditation might help us make up for some losses as we age.

I bolded the text in my excitement. These are great findings. Meditation is a free resource we can all use to make very practical and positive changes in our lives. Dr. Goldstein continues….

This all makes sense because rather than just falling into an old habitual way of reacting to something, when we are present, we are more likely to be aware of all the options and possibilities and actually make better decisions. When we are present, we are more likely to regulate our emotions and act from a great place of calm and balance. As we practice this, we are more likely to remember to do it and as we remember to do it, brain lays the tracks for that to happen again and again. (for the entire article read here)

But how do we find time to meditate? Dr. Goldstein offered two choices: “formal,” (sitting down for a specific time) and “informal” practices. The latter focuses on noticing the present moment. A person showering would direct their attention away from future thinking (worries or plans about the day ahead) and to the present moment—the feel of the water or soap on their skin. Dr. Goldstein described a busy mother who used this informal method. She practiced being present with her children, slowing down to look them in the eyes and really listen to their responses. She savored their breakfast time together, noticing each element. This slowing down and meeting each moment is a form of meditation that even busy people can integrate into their lives.

Whether at work or at home, taking time to practice formal or informal “mindfulness” will have powerful effects. Research suggests that even 5 minutes of daily meditations can help us be healthier, happier and more productive, creative, and resilient.

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Digger Deeper into our Reactions

A colleague, “Jody," was complaining that her out of town nieces never send thank you notes for gifts. Despite her careful words, she seemed quite upset. “Pat” began offering advice such as, “Don’t feel bad, that’s how kids are.” Eventually Jody changed the subject and left. The problem with asking for (or offering) advice is that we miss the deeper messages of emotions.

Our reactions are based on a complex mix of our history, psychology, and the minute unconscious signals we perceive. Knowing Jody, I’d guess her reactions illustrate a desire for closer ties to her nieces. The thank you notes are only symbolic of that longing. If she examines these feelings, she can learn more about these underlying desires and what they reveal about her life.
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Power of Passion

A true story.

Rick and I are selling our home. Several weeks ago, we readied ourselves to interview several realtors. Still, we knew our tendency—to go with the first person we met. That was Bob. Nice guy. After hellos, we sat at our dining table and Bob took us through his glossy brochure. He described his brokerage, his sales strategies, and selling philosophy. Then we paged through the contracts. After an hour, we were ready for a walk-thru. As we pointed out improvements and made excuses for eccentricities, Bob said little. We moved quickly from room to room, shook hands, and Bob left.

“So, he seems ok, right?” Rick knew our busy schedules and how much we both hated this interviewing process.

I shrugged. I wanted to go with Bob so we could be done with interviews, but his silence felt like disinterest, or worse. How could he sell our home if he was apathetic (or appalled)?

I arranged another interview. Denise came over the next evening, while Rick was at a Cubs game.

She shook my hand and launched into the living room. Denise had worked designing new homes. I feared she would detest my unconventional art and my “unusual” design choices. But Denise wasn’t a snob. She immediately began talking about what she saw-the furniture, the colors, the architecture. She “got” my style and offered helpful suggestions to make our home more “mainstream.” We spent two hours, going from room to room.

It was now 9 pm. Denise was in heels, but she impulsively began moving my furniture. I grabbed the other end of a couch so it wouldn’t drag on the oak floors.

“Do you always do this on your first visit?” I teased.

“Only with clients who will let me.”

Denise and I had never sat down. She had never formally pitched herself or her company, but here she was, at the end of a long day, moving furniture throughout my home. Her passion for real estate was palpable.

Rick came home from the game to a newly staged living room.

While Bob seemed competent, ethical and kind, Denise’s incredible zeal closed the deal. From the minute she entered the room, it was clear we would employ her talents and enthusiasm. In all lines of work, there is no substitute for passion.

What are you passionate about? Is there a way to bring your passions to your work?

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The "violence" of being too busy

"There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence…overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form of innate violence. To allow
oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy...destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” Thomas Merton

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Symptoms of Inner Peace

Some Signs of Inner Peace:
• A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.

• An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.

• A loss of interest in judging other people and in interpreting their actions.

• A loss of interest in conflict.

• A loss of the ability to worry (very Serious Symptom!)

• Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.

• Frequent attacks of smiling (Also very Serious).

• An increasing tendency to let things happen, rather than to make them happen.

• An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others and the uncontrollable urge to extend it.

Saskia Davis, author

for more symptoms and info on the author visit here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Time to Take A Break?

The Chinese word for busy consists of two characters “heart” & “killing.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bringing Nemo to Work

Bought my friend a fish for her desk at work. Fishy has brought some peacefulness into her stressful workplace. What could help you feel saner and more yourself at your workplace?

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Time Management is like Poker

If you pick a new card, you must discard another. © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dealing with Conflict

Be hard on the problem

Be soft on the person

Focus on needs, not positions

Emphasise common ground

Be inventive about options

Make clear agreements

These reminders are from the Confict Resolution Network.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Guaranteed to make you smile.

For pure unadulterated joy, check out this musical comedy moment in a train station.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Time Management Secret Weapon

Begin that daunting task!

When facing my messy basement or planning a big seminar, the project can seem overwhelming-- until I plunge in.

So pick a place to begin. You can start anywhere. I choose a corner of my basement, take a breath and.... go!

Begin. Your genius will soon join you. © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Monday, August 10, 2009

Powerful Unseen Forces at Work

Does this scenario sound familiar? A manager perpetuates inefficient policies to protect his departmental “turf.” “Greg” wants assurances that all “his” numbers are credited to him. He is afraid to share credit on any project for fear of budget or position cuts. So Greg duplicates the work of other departments and won’t streamline processes. But as Greg works diligently to protect his own fiefdom, he frustrates his staff and colleagues.

Ironically, if Greg made choices that benefited the greater good, his position would be more secure. Greg’s staff would be more motivated and his colleagues would recognize the value he adds to their division. But Greg doesn’t believe this. He is driven by fears of unseen number-crunchers. His paranoid conversations with the accounting department never go well. As he realizes (unconsciously) that his work lacks value, Greg may become more afraid and even create a self-fulfilling prophecy of what he most fears.

Greg may survive in the short-term but his refusal to face his real motivations will send a cognitive dissonance throughout his small department. His staff, colleagues and superiors will sense his hidden agendas, even if they cannot name them. These invisible drives, based on unconscious fears, will continue to undermine all work and Greg’s ability to inspire and lead.
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Friday, August 7, 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

Email Addiction and Time Management

Thank you to for these fascinating factoids.
  • Compulsive checking of emails and being continuously available to incoming text messages, etc., is considered by some experts to be driven by the same impulses that are experienced by gamblers, i.e., following the principle of unpredictable occasional reward, and similar descriptions of such behaviour.

  • Surveys regularly find vast amounts of wasted time spent by workers dealing with emails and email interruptions. A 2008 report in the Guardian newspaper staggeringly calculated that a worker who checks/responds to email interruptions every five minutes wastes 8.5 hours a week, given the recovery time required after each interruption.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Can You Be Happy Anywhere?

As I study the research on happiness (for my training workshops), one idea dominates: happiness is a state of mind. This probably sounds overly obvious (in the abstract) but applying this to my daily life is a struggle.
We all have dreams and goals. These are vital to life. But if dreams slip into "when _____ happens, I'll be happy," it's time to question these thoughts.
Lately I've become obsessed (again) with living on Lake Michigan. I long to move north-some quiet beaches in Wisconsin are the most peaceful and spiritual places I know. Since I believe in the power of intention, and prayer, and hard work, I approach this desire with energy and optimism. But even with my best creative thinking, I can't find a way to make this dream happen soon.
Today I've felt a shriller inner voice pleading, "Come on God, I really want this! I'll pray so hard you'll have to make this happen!" (Here I'm like my puppy who begs and begs until I give her what she wants).
But then I remember happiness research. If I got the home on Lake Michigan, would it really make me happier? I find a deep inner peacefulness at the lake but isn't there a way to create that peacefulness anywhere? Happiness research says yes. Our thoughts, not our circumstances create happiness. Certain daily disciplines, (like meditating and practicing gratitude) can even change the brain toward a happier state.
Can I really create the same peaceful feelings in my urban backyard as those that envelop me when I sit on an empty beach, listening to the waves? I will try. And even now, as I shift from the desperate need for something in the future to the quiet acceptance of the Now, I know greater peace.
I'm a passionate person with many goals and desires. It is a challenge to balance my enthusiasms and ambitions with an acceptance of Life's limits. Today I make a new goal--to keep practicing both gratitude and acceptance of the limits of today. © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Friday, July 31, 2009

The answer is coming. It's just out of sight.

I've been sitting with a “problem” for months. I use quotes because I know from experience that I see problems only when my perception is limited. When my vision expands (or clears), I see the solution (hidden like a fortune) inside my problem (cookie).

In the theatre, I faced this paradox countless times. I would be staging a scene and find myself trapped in an “impossible” dynamic. I'd need an actor to be in a different place. Or a “vital” prop would be unavailable. Or time, money and resources would evaporate as opening night approached.

In each case as I “sat with” my insurmountable problem, an unforeseen solution would materialize. One moment I am stuck and then I see an opening. Have you had this experience? It's a hoot.

The solution only appears when I'm relaxed and patient. But it always appears.

Today I'm sitting with another impossible dilemma. I have a book to write, a great part time college gig, and a growing training business. How can I find the time to write and keep growing my business without giving up my great part time job? If I need to give something up, what should it be, and when? I've been posing these questions for months. No answer has emerged - yet. Perhaps the timing is not right for my writing or a change in direction. I watch and wait. I know that working with the flow of events is essential.

The answer is coming. It's just out of sight.

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Managing Emotions--Good Article

Here is an excerpt from a helpful article in There are plenty of practical tips that are not about repressing emotions (not good) but managing emotions (necessary). To read the entire article click here.

When you're feeling cranky, it's often easy to pinpoint (or point fingers at) the problem: your boss, your husband, traffic. But while any one or all may be a problem at the moment, they are not in control of your reaction to them. You are.

Managing how you respond to others is oftentimes simply a matter of managing your thoughts, says Steven Alper, LSCW, a consultant with the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine who teaches stress-reduction techniques to executives.

For example, if your boss gives you an extremely tight deadline for a project, it's easy to get caught in an endless spin cycle of whining: I can't believe she did this to me again! Doesn't she realize I have 10 other things to do this week? Not to mention a family at home that needs me--not that she would know what that's like.

In other words, you're wasting precious time and energy ruminating about the past (all those other 11th-hour assignments) and fretting about the future (not finishing in time to get your kids from daycare).

The solution, instead, is to bring yourself into the present. Either get to work, recruit help or explain to your boss why the deadline is unrealistic.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Teacher Models Emotional Intelligence

Thank you to the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) for permission to link to this terrific article from their March 2008 publication (Childhood Education). Author Sue Grossman courageously details the complicated and contradictory feelings a teacher may have for a student. It is only when we are this honest that we can learn to manage and transform our negative feelings. Then we can stop these hidden emotions from causing unseen reactions in ourselves and others.

Here is a quote from the article.

All good teachers try hard to treat each child fairly and kindly, with care and concern. Indeed, we are ethically obliged to do so (National Association for the Education of Young Children [NAEYC], 2005). As we are human, however, we may occasionally meet a child to whom we react negatively (Maxim, 1997). This was certainly true for me as a kindergarten teacher. It is not something to be proud of, but we must admit
it honestly in order to work through it and thus ensure fair treatment of each child.

The subject is only sparsely addressed in the early childhood literature (Checkley, 2006), and only a few references to teachers’ feelings about specific children can be found (Katz, 1995; Maxim, 1997). This is unfortunate; if ignored or denied, such feelings have the potential to do harm. Like steam in a pipe, feelings unexpressed or ignored will escape somewhere and may result in an outburst toward an undeserving child (Checkley, 2006).

Many of us have been taught throughout our lives to be “nice,” and that
it is unacceptable to have negative feelings, especially about children. We are condemned as heartless and cruel if we do not like all of the children we teach. Yet it simply may not be possible to like all children. As an acquaintance of mine once said, If there is even one child whose absence from school pleases you, you do not love all children!

Being Forced to Face Feelings
Passive children were always a challenge for me. I much preferred the rambunctious, out-of-bounds ones with spunk and energy, even if they needed to be reined in a bit. Alice Ann appeared to be a typical 5-year-old as I observed her at play with other kindergartners. When I spoke to her, however, she would stare at me, mouth a bit open, silently unresponsive. She seemed intimidated by me, yet I thought of myself as a nice person and a reasonably good teacher whom children should like and certainly have no reason to fear! How a child responds to you has an effect
on how you respond to him or her.

You can read the entire article here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom

This is a video from yesterday’s Newshour program on PBS. It is a great overview of the benefits of social emotional learning in the classroom.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water molds itself to the pitcher.
Chinese proverb

Monday, July 20, 2009

Our Greatest Time Management Challenge

I teach a terrific Time Management class. It is full of great tips and proven principles. But lately, I’ve been contemplating the deeper issues of time. Everyone seems to feel deluged with duties. My clients speak of time pressures and seek desperately for a magic bullet to solve their workload dilemmas. How did this happen? Even 15 years ago, the cultural pace seemed slower, didn’t it? Are technological advances speeding up our lives? Or is it the increasing number of brilliant minds who churn out more to learn, know, and experience? I cannot keep up with the books, articles, and emails that interest me.

Meanwhile, I’ve recently been talking with several friends who are depressed. Like everyone else--their “to do" list is enormous and growing. They have too many errands, too many details to juggle, and too much to learn in a day. I can relate. Without enough “down time,” I feel overwhelmed and spent. I want to hide from the world and recharge. I’m lucky that my schedule often allows me to do this. But my friends don’t feel able to get off their treadmills. Is this why they’re depressed? Some psychologists believe that depression is our psyche’s way of getting us to go inward, to the deepest parts of ourselves that need attention.

As our “needs” and “oughts” grow we will all be forced to make hard choices regarding our time. If our employers are asking too much of us, will we be able to suggest changes? Time is a finite resource. We can learn to be efficient and use it well but we are human beings—not machines. We cannot force our bodies, minds, and spirits to exceed our own capacity for work. In this era of technological wonders, accepting our human limitations will be the greatest time management challenge we face.

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Friday, July 17, 2009

Creating Exceptional Service to Retain Your Greatest Asset—Happy Customers.

Almost everywhere I shop, I’ve noticed that customer service has greatly improved. If I make a special request, it is usually welcomed with a smile and quick action. This is one benefit of our current economic downturn.

My friend recently had a different experience. “Jamie” wanted to make a quick stop for some bagels at local chain. She stepped into line-- where customers ordered sandwiches. But since Jamie didn’t need a sandwich, she asked the manager, standing nearby, if she could just get a couple of bagels to go. The manager didn’t smile but accommodated the request, bagging the bagels and leaving them with the cashier.

Jamie entered the payment line. There was only one person ahead of her but it was a complicated transaction. After some waiting, Jamie left without the bagels. She had wanted them and was ready to pay for them, but she wasn’t willing to wait. Jamie was frustrated with the manager. “She did the least she could to satisfy my needs. She never glanced my way after delivering the bagels. If she had, she could have seen that I was still in line. She could have offered to take my payment, even if they had to enter it into the cash register later.”

Also, this manager is not modeling great customer service to her team.

How can service providers (especially large chains) motivate their employees to care about the customer? While incentives or penalties (carrots and sticks) can create temporary motivation, the greatest motivators are intrinsic to the employee. One of these intrinsic motivators is “knowing that I helped someone else.” Helping others feels good, especially if we are acknowledged for our efforts. Managers need to not only model and emphasize this natural impulse, they also need to remove any company protocols that covertly punish an employee’s extra effort.

Hopefully, Jamie’s actions will alert this manager that her current behavior is unwise in this (or any) economy.
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Emotional Intelligence and Intuition

Lately, I’ve been thinking about intuition and Emotional Intelligence. Writers such as Malcolm Gladwell and António Damasio have explored how “hunches” come from unconscious processes that involve our emotional brain. These intuitions provide extremely valuable information. Emotional Intelligence helps enhance this faculty.

Here’s a lengthy quote from Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, on this subject.

Bilateralism is a design principle underlying the evolution of advanced
organisms. Nature seems to have learned to design in pairs; it not only builds
in redundancy but achieves capabilities not possible otherwise. Two legs are
critical for rapid, flexible locomotion. Two arms and hands are vital for
climbing, lifting, and manipulating objects. Two eyes give us stereoscopic
vision, and along with two ears, depth perception. Is it not possible
that, following the same design principle, reason and intuition are designed to
work in harmony for us to achieve our potential intelligence?

Systems thinking may hold a key to integrating reason and intuition. Intuition eludes the grasp of linear thinking, with its exclusive emphasis on cause and effect that are close in time and space. The result is that most of our intuitions don't make 'sense' - that is, they can't be explained in terms of linear logic.

Very often, experienced managers have rich intuitions about complex systems, which they cannot explain. Their intuitions tell them that cause and effect are not close in time and space, that obvious solutions will produce more harm than good, and that
short-term fixes produce long-term problems. But they cannot explain their
ideas in simple linear cause-effect language. They end up saying, 'Just do
it this way. It will work.'

As managers gain facility with systems thinking as an alternative language, they find that many of their intuitions become explicable. Eventually, reintegrating reason and intuition may prove to be one of the primary contributions of systems thinking.

How do you unite reason and intuition?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Emotional Intelligence Will Make You More Productive

While developing emotional intelligence is hard work, the payoffs are great. I love this quote from Daniel Goleman.

"Negative emotions, especially anger, anxiety or a sense of futility, powerfully
disrupt work, hijacking attention from the task at hand."

Daniel Goleman (from Primal Leadership)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Anger is Not the Problem

A friend recently confided that he had “acted badly” at work. He had raised his voice and snapped at his team. Now he felt ashamed.

I asked him to describe the situation.

“Greg” had repeatedly asked his logistics team to bill their trucking partners using new parameters. Time and again, Greg discovered that several of his staff were still using outdated pricing. This was unacceptable!

His anger seemed understandable to me—Greg’s directives were being ignored. Of course he felt angry. But instead of recognizing that his anger was an internal message to take action--Greg simply felt that it was “bad.” Ironically, suppressing his anger led to a bigger outburst. If he had allowed himself to simply acknowledge his mounting frustration--first to himself, and then to the others--Greg could have expressed himself with more skill.

While anger can lead to many harmful behaviors, anger itself is not the problem. If we feel ashamed of our anger (a common response) it will be even harder to navigate this emotion.
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Secret of Successful Communicating: Emotional Awareness.

I keep noticing that the success of my daily interactions depends on my own clarity and inner honesty. If I'm upset or scared, this will come through in my nonverbals, no matter how hard I try to avoid this.

Here are two recent examples. A new roommate moved into my office space. Some of her coworkers started to visit and talk loudly in our tiny shared office as I tried to work. What to do? At home, I rehearsed carefully worded “I” statements. It was my problem; I was the one who found it difficult to work with nearby conversations. Still, I worried that my coworkers would be angry if I made any requests regarding sound.

As I sat with the issue, I realized that the context of this interaction was also key. I had barely given my roommate a chance to settle in and I was ready to ask for more quiet. As I explored my feelings, I realized that my intuition (that the conversation could be unproductive) was warning me.

No matter how perfectly I communicated with my coworkers, I doubt it would have gone well because of the fear and anger hidden in my own psyche. After examining my feelings, I began to see that it was my inner-pessimist that was afraid and upset (“My quiet workplace-ruined forever!”). Once I admitted these deeper feelings, I recognized that my desire to jump in quickly with “assertive” communication was really an unconscious desire to control the new situation. If I tried to talk with my coworkers without understanding these feelings, they would come through. My colleagues would probably sense my fears and anger.

Emotional awareness is vital in these everyday dilemmas. If I am conscious enough of my feelings, I can admit them (“I'm feeling afraid that my quiet workplace…”). This “I” statement is more likely to work, since I'm “owning” my feelings and not unconsciously “throwing” them at my colleagues. Without emotional awareness, I'd be unable to do this. My coworkers would be right to be offended: I would have acted on my feelings without even knowing if they were justified.

After discovering my deeper reactions, I immediately felt better. I also knew that any conversation would now be much more successful. My willingness to handle the uncertainty of the situation took the pressure off myself (and my co-workers).

Postscript: within a short time, I adjusted to my terrific, new officemate. If my work required extra quiet, I used a pair of earplugs.

Another example:
My husband and I enjoy traveling and spending time with my parents. But when they recently talked about joining us on a cruise together, I felt strangely uncomfortable. Why? As I quizzed myself, I realized I was worried about my father's fragile health. Was he really able to handle a cruise? What if something happened to him while in my care? I was worried about my Dad but also forced to admit my more selfish concerns. Would our dream vacation become mired in taking care of a sick parent?

I didn't like seeing my own selfishness, but it was important to acknowledge. I could then make a choice. I wanted a carefree vacation but I also love my parents. I knew I'd be happy to support their choice in joining us on a cruise.

Unlike my earlier example, in this case I concluded that I needed to share my concerns with my mother. Was this really a good trip for Dad? My new clarity meant that our conversation wouldn't be confused by my own inner contradictions. Before my awareness, my concerns may have merged with my more selfish fears. Now I knew my own inner truth: I was concerned and also ready to support their voyage, if they chose to go.

The only way for me to act with integrity is if I know the deepest dimensions of my reactions. Armed with this knowledge, I have the best chance of not sending a mixed message to others. Mixed messages cause stress for the receiving party. This is why a mixed message (I am trying hard not to be angry with you but am actually very angry with you) often results in conflict.

I first must communicate with myself before I can communicate with another.

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Monday, June 29, 2009

EI and the Inspiring Leader

"Executives who fail to develop self-awareness risk falling into
An emotionally deadening routine that threatens their true selves.
Indeed a reluctance to explore your inner landscape not only
weakens your own motivation but can also corrode your ability
to inspire others.“

The Harvard Business Review

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Testing College Students for Personality

Here's another sign that business and education are recognizing the vital role of EQ.

Because nearly half of all students who start doctorate programs don't finish,
educators have long wondered how best to judge applicants to graduate schools
and reduce that attrition rate.Now, the Educational Testing Service says it has
just the thing. The ETS, which runs the Graduate Record Examinations, will soon
offer a supplemental assessment of graduate-school applicants on those personal
characteristics that could help students tackle advanced studies.

The main GRE, a widely used, four-hour exam of multiple-choice questions and essays, tests academic skills and is a valuable admissions tool, but it is not enough,
said Patrick Kyllonen, an ETS research official who helped develop the new
personality rating tool, called the Personal Potential Index."Every faculty
member can tell you about students with very high GRE scores who never finish
their degree and some who get barely admitted based on their scores and go on to
become academic stars," he said from ETS headquarters in Princeton, N.J. "We are
hoping this will go a long way to capture some of those qualities."

Entire article is here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Maintaining Forward Motion in a Challenging Project

If you’ve read any biographies of writers, you know that most talk of their commitment to writing everyday. This is their most vital creative discipline. I’ve recently discovered (the hard way) why professional writers’ everywhere commit to this challenge.

I had been moving forward on a few ambitious writing projects. Then, as I became busier with training events, seminar preparation claimed my writing time. I wasn’t worried. I would begin again when my schedule allowed.

Big mistake. As I’ve tried to re-enter the creative stream, I find that my thoughts (and some papers) are hidden from me. I sense that it will take some time to re-discover the unique path I was exploring.

How does this relate to the workplace?

I talk in my Time Management seminars about “flow” and the need to allow ourselves time to get deeply into a project, without being constantly interrupted. I’m pretty good at blocking out distractions in a single day but I’m reminded that maintaining creative flow may require staying connected to a project. Even if I only have brief segments of time to spare, I can ensure higher levels of productivity and creativity, if I revisit my writing endeavor daily.

Do you have highly challenging projects that would benefit from daily review? © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Emotional Literacy

"Our aim is to create an Emotionally Literate Culture, where the facility to
handle the complexities of emotional life is as widespread as the capacity to
read, write and do arithmetic."

Susie Orbach

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Basic Goodness Wins Out

An unhappy worker, Becky, comes late, leaves early, takes long lunches and disappears throughout the day. She says projects are completed but the paperwork cannot be found. The rest of the team is enraged but their supervisor is terrified of the union and does nothing. Becky is making more money than many of her colleagues but she is now calling in sick with mind-boggling excuses day after day. Week after week, co-workers gossip and fume. How long can this outrageous situation continue?

Then suddenly, Becky gives notice. Why?

Becky’s story is a great illustration of employee motivators illustrated through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (3 top levels). Becky wasn’t getting her social/belonging needs met at work since she had become the office pariah. Dodging work couldn’t have helped her self-esteem or her need for self-actualization.

It was amazing to witness Becky give up the Golden Goose. Although she was getting away with not doing any work while making good money at a stable institution, Becky’s basic goodness prevented her from staying in a job she hated.

Have you seen similar events at your workplace?
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Helpful vs. Less Helpful Employee Motivators

At a recent networking event, I was sharing information on my training events and some research on employee motivation hurt by certain reward structures. I didn’t realize that a women in our circle was in charge of employee perks in the workplace—picnics, company store, etc.. She began to worry out loud about the effect of her programs on her employees.

I reassured her. From what I’ve learned, it is great for employers to offer rewards, perks, incentives etc., to show appreciation. When rewards are directly tied to performance (i.e.bonuses), this is where productivity can (ironically) suffer (read “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn for more). My colleague’s work offered the best kind of recognition--that which honors the worker themselves. Recognizing an employee’s worth to an organization is always a good thing. © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Research on Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

This is a bit technical but even reading the abstract is reassuring--the empirical evidence is showing that EI training can make a big difference in workplace skills.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Listen to Your Thoughts

Our enjoyment of daily life, our ability to handle setbacks, even our physical health is profoundly impacted by our thoughts. Have you listened to your own internal self-talk lately? Does your internal voice speak in absolutes or doomsday warnings? Changing our thoughts can change our enjoyment of life and our productivity on the job.

Watch out for and alter extreme statements.
Instead of "I can't control my worry" remind yourself that "I am learning skills to conquer my worry."
"Why do I always mess up my presentations at work?" becomes "I sometimes make mistakes, but not all of the time."
The statement: "I shouldn't feel angry at Bob" becomes "It’s uncomfortable to be angry at Bob, but it's not the end of the world.”

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Two Parts Optimism+One Part Pessimism=A Hard Working Worrier

Have you heard the old maxim: The best way to learn material is to teach it? One great benefit of teaching is that I constantly improve my own “soft” skills as I share basic principals and proven techniques with my classes. Recently, I had a small epiphany as I reviewed my materials for an optimism workshop.

Research by Dr. Martin Seligman has identified 3 types of thought patterns of optimists and pessimists. Optimists see failures as:
1. temporary,
2. isolated events,
3. that they can change through effort.

A pessimist sees the opposite: successes are viewed as temporary, isolated, and lucky (i.e. not related to their effort).

A pessimist sees failures or setbacks as:
1. Permanent (will never end)
2. Pervasive (always happening)
3. Unrelated to any effort exerted.

I’ve always seen myself as exceedingly optimistic. But this morning, as I practiced some of the exercises I would give my participants, I was surprised to find that only some of my thinking is optimistic.

When I lost a job several years ago, I plunged into a job search with zeal and excitement. I have always had an extremely high “locus of control,” i.e. I see my efforts as directly impacting my success. I work hard and expect good things to happen. That’s the “utilizes effort” element of optimistic thought patterns ( #3). But sometimes when things go wrong (as happened several weeks ago when someone hacked into my website), I can plunge myself into doomsday feelings of “this will never get fixed,” a negative thought pattern favored by pessimists (#1 above).

I’m happy to see that I have an optimistic viewpoint for 2 of the 3 elements Seligman describes. But while my belief in my own efforts keeps me moving forward, my fear-based thoughts (of never-ending catastrophes) often cause me harmful anxiety.

What is your unique blend of pessimism vs. optimism?
Do you see setbacks as temporary or permanent?
Do you see obstacles as isolated events or as the standard, (pervasive) state of your life?
Do you see success as a lucky break or as the result of effort?

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Building Empathy through Signage?

Very interesting slide show on "Emotionally Intelligent Signage." The discussion begins at 2:18 minutes.

Monday, June 1, 2009

To Avoid Embarrassment--Take Plato's Advice--Know Thyself

This cringe-inducing episode of the X Factor features a "holistic vocal coach" who needs some emotional intelligence training. When we understand our emotions we are more likely to know our blindspots and to understand others too.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Talk Back to Your Hidden Negative Thoughts

I like this clip, especially starting at the 3:15 time mark.
Dr. Amen of "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life," discusses our automatic negative thoughts and the need to talk back to them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mars vs. Venus? Is There a Gender Communication Gap?

I love this quote by Deborah Tannen--expert communication researcher. What do you think she means here?

“Saying that men talk about baseball in order to avoid talking about their feelings is the same as saying that women talk about their feelings in order to avoid talking about baseball.”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

This was the favorite quote from an empathy training I gave yesterday:

If you love someone dearly, your love will grow as you practice looking through their eyes—not only into their eyes.
Laura Teresa Marquez

Monday, May 18, 2009

Training in emotional intelligence actually works.

Given the previous research results, this isn't surprising --but still good as a reminder. Read the article here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

What is Your Unique Contribution to the World?

I hear a lot about the need to “brand” myself—to create a clear, crisp, lean message/image of who I am and what I do. I can despair as I attempt this. I feel too quirky, too idiosyncratic to make myself easily understood. My wide range of passions, talents, and attributes don’t fit together in any conventional way. Will I ever be able to create something that resonates in the marketplace?

Lately, I’m comforted with new thoughts. If the world seeks to put us in a box, our own originality will always defy this. Great artists and thinkers can resist the crush toward conformity by either creating work that is easily accessible (bestsellers and blockbusters) or creating work that won’t be appreciated for a very long time. I may not be talented enough to do either type of great work, but at least I know that my eccentricity isn’t the problem.

If we give ourselves the chance to fully blossom, we will develop wonderfully novel personalities. Since we are always under pressure to conform, it may take decades to develop our unique character. But adults who follow their passions and talents will create a singular template that is a gift to the world. I am realizing that my own gifts may only be seen or appreciated by a few (hopefully). But this is important (despite our culture’s worship of fame and acclaim).

As children, we come into the world in a certain time, place, and circumstance. But as soon as we’re planted in our immediate environment (family, neighborhood, school), we begin to have an utterly unique experience of life. Even identical twins see the world through their own solitary lens.

This idea consoles me. We will each, like the drawing above, start out with peers and siblings but life’s events and our particular temperament will twist and bend us. We will develop an utterly novel perspective on life. Can we cherish our originality instead of denying our rare and beautiful gifts? Can we develop ourselves fully instead of trying to be like everyone else?

What is my unique contribution to the world? © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Skills from the Theatre for the Workplace--Observing Nonverbals

When I moved from working in the theatre to working in an office, I was astounded by the difference in attitudes and norms. My new organization and the workplaces of my clients seemed filled with unhappiness and dysfunction. Could I use my theatre training to help transform the malaise I saw everywhere?

While my clients constantly sought to improve their competitive advantage, I was amazed to see that they often ignored the most glaring personnel challenges. Companies were spending thousands of dollars streamlining their processes through Six Sigma or Lean programs. They analyzed their shop floor data and hunted for the slightest area to refine. But the most vital data—the continuous signals coming from their staff—was often ignored.

At her desk, Jayne scowls. Her co-workers may gossip, “That’s just Jayne.” But why is she scowling? What message is Jayne sending (or trying to hide)?

In the theatre, we paid close attention to all types of communication. We recognized that each verbal or nonverbal expression was filled with important information. Our work centered on sending clear messages and decoding nonverbal signals. Why were companies ignoring these crucial skills?

At work, we disregard the scowl. We say, “It’s none of our business.” We don’t want to insult Jayne. Maybe she’s just having a bad day. Anyway, what could we say?

When we ignore nonverbals, we miss clues that reveal levels of engagement in a project or team. We miss feedback about effective or ineffective procedures. We miss developing our teams and building trust or even community.

If Ann’s anger at Marge is never resolved (or even acknowledged), it doesn’t disappear. Our emotional upsets will emerge later in team meetings, office gossip, or mysterious difficulties that spontaneously erupt. Mislaid papers, misunderstandings that lead to team confusion, and even (seemingly) outside obstacles can result from communication failures from unresolved emotions.

Why don’t we acknowledge the large emotional elephant in the cubicle? Because we don’t know what to say or do. Too many of us are afraid of emotions and convinced that there is no way to communicate safely and effectively when emotions are acknowledged.

But there are proven best practices to ensure safe, effective communication, even when emotions are powerfully in play. These techniques include “I statements,” active listening, and understanding the difference between assertive vs. aggressive dialogue.

Armed with these methods, we can courageously observe and acknowledge any anger or unhappiness in our coworkers or ourselves. Observing our emotions is the first critical step. Once acknowledged, we can decipher the message of our feelings. We can then begin to compassionately admit the emotional undercurrent (subtext) of our daily interactions. We can use this ready source of feedback to make our workplaces happier and healthier.

Monday, May 11, 2009

What is Positive Psychology?

Check out this interesting video that discusses positive psychology. We CAN learn to change our thinking and be happier.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Workplace Secret Weapon

Take this workplace challenge: everyday take a 20-30 minute break to walk or run (preferably outside, especially if you have some green and birds nearby). For this experiment, walk in silence without headphones or talking companion.

Please report back on your experiences. There are some incredible benefits to this practice. We’d love to hear if you’ve had the same (wonderful) outcomes from these daily, physical, silent, (preferably outdoor) breaks.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Controlling the Weed of Perfectionism

I just got back from a presentation. It went well but my perfectionist voice harps incessantly. Did that one participant need more time to grapple with an exercise? Should I have tried the roleplay together instead of letting them work separately? Since each group reacts to exercises uniquely, it is impossible to control outcomes. I’m glad I have high standards and seek to constantly tweak and improve my workshops. But it is also helpful to remember that true perfectionism can be damaging. It can cause us to procrastinate and it can rob us of enjoying our real achievements.

I am a lousy vegetable gardener. I’ve never been formally taught and since I don’t use pesticides, it is even harder to ensure a crop. But every year I learn more and every year my family enjoys fresh lettuce, broccoli, rapini, Swiss chard, peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, arugula, peppers, and (if I’m lucky and outwit the nasty squash vine borer) zucchini. My garden isn’t organized; sometimes the plants grow too close. Tomato plants have sprawled on the ground, propped up by a cockeyed collection of poles or milk crates. My focus on the vegetable beds can leave little time to weed and other areas of the yard look messy. But because gardening is a hobby that doesn’t trigger my perfectionism, I continue despite my (very obvious) mistakes and enjoy whatever the garden yields.

I continue to work to be a smarter, more productive gardener but I am also able to celebrate each delectable success.

How good are you at balancing the quest for high standards with allowing the flow of natural learning, mistakes, and life’s unpredictability?
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Motivation for the Mundance Task

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of “Flow,” discusses how highly productive people keep themselves motivated to do mundane tasks. Consider mowing the lawn. Have you experimented with different patterns, or tried to time yourself or challenge yourself to be as efficient as possible? By making such tasks more difficult (and game-like), we enjoy them more and are more likely to enter (according the Csikszentmihalyi) the enjoyable state of “flow.”

Have you tried to do this at work? Alfie Kohn, author of “Punished by Rewards,” says that allowing ourselves (or our staff) to manipulate HOW a task is completed can help us (them) enjoy the task more, and thus be more motivated, even when the particular task is dull.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Struggling with a Problem? Take a Break!

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Incubation is one of the 4 proposed stages of creativity: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. Incubation is defined as a process of unconscious recombination of thought elements that were stimulated through conscious work at one point in time, resulting in novel ideas at some later point in time.

The experience of leaving a problem for a period of time, then finding the difficulty evaporates on returning to the problem, or even more striking, that the solution "comes out of the blue", when thinking about something else, is widespread. Many guides to effective thinking and problem solving advise the reader to set problems aside for a time.
So take that break or even better, take the nap. You'll not only feel better, but you'll thinking will clarify and the answer WILL come!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Maslow and Motivation

If I offered you $100 to read an article more intently, would it really make a difference in your actions? It would be difficult to measure this because I've asked for a change in your attitude or motivation. On the other hand, if I offered you $100 to proofread this article without missing anything, I may affect your “motivation” on this measurable goal-but researchers say this change won't last long. Eventually, financial incentives wear off and can even reduce motivation! (See Alfie Kohn's “Punished by Rewards.”)

Maslow's Hierarchy can help us understand current research on motivation. Psychologists have demonstrated that after basic needs are met (the lower two steps of the Hierarchy), the top three steps of the pyramid are needed to motivate workers. For the unemployed or someone in a position that doesn't pay enough to meet his/her needs--money could be the primary focus (and motivator). But once a worker is making enough money to satisfy their needs, raises and bonuses no longer motivate.

Does this seem untrue? Consider these examples:

While pay raises may appear to motivate workers, these are more likely tied to esteem needs. How many times have you witnessed employees become dissatisfied with their salary only after they discover a colleague's pay?

True story: a nurse told me that her supervisor offered her a bonus if she would take on a special project. “Bonnie” said that she felt insulted by the offer and said no. Have you ever had this experience? (I have.) Was it the amount of money she was offered? What caused her to feel insulted?

I think my client was offended because she really didn't need more money. Bonnie was higher up on Maslow's scale and she wanted that recognized. Imagine if I offered you a sleeping bag, saying that I wanted to make sure you were warm during these winter months. Instead of accepting the bag with gratitude, you would probably be insulted and ask yourself, “Why does Laura think that I need help keeping warm in the winter? I have enough resources to keep myself warm.” If you have a home and enough money for heat, my offer misconstrues your reality and affronts your self-esteem. (On the other hand, if I said I had an extra sleeping bag that you might want to use camping, you may happily accept the gift).

Bonnie continued her story saying that years later, a new supervisor asked her to do the same project. This manager didn't offer her any extra pay but appealed to Bonnie's skills, her chance to help the team, and her ability to handle a thorny challenge. The manager appealed to two proven motivators on Maslow's Hierarchy-to feel a sense of belonging, (third level) and to be recognized as having skills and abilities (fourth). Bonnie accepted the new duty but as she finished the story, she was shaking her head. “I feel like a dope because I could have done the same work and gotten a little extra money for it!” But Bonnie received more than money, which is why she said yes the second time.

Maslow's Hierarchy reminds us that the “soft” needs of self-actualization (doing work for its own sake because we love the work), self-esteem, and love/community, are much stronger motivators than “hard” currency.