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.