Positive Focus

“What you focus on determines how you feel.”
~ Anthony Robbins

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Reflection:

Yesterday, I was listening to an Anthony Robbins audio CD program on the “Power of Focus”, when one particular exercise really caught my attention. I was instructed to very quickly notice everything around me that was brown. So my eyes rapidly scanned the room, taking in everything tulipsI could see in that color, as fast as I possibly could. I noticed a painted brown beam, a brown wooden door, my brown purse, my brown eyeglass frames. Almost before I could blink, I was then told to close my eyes. Anthony Robbins’s voice then asked if I could recall everything in the room that was green. Ha! “Gotcha”, he said. “You thought I was going to ask you to name everything that was brown!” Green, I thought? I hadn’t noticed anything green, blue, red or white for that matter; which were the other colors I was also asked to bring to mind. I was so focused on looking for brown, that I overlooked almost everything else. And that was entirely the point of the exercise.

Whatever we focus on becomes our reality.

Now it isn’t like I hadn’t heard this before, yet I really got it yesterday. A lot of great things went unnoticed: like the beautiful red tulips in the white ceramic vase, with the leafy green stems, or the vibrant shade of blue in the framed print on the wall, and much more.

The point Anthony Robbins was making was that the brown items could have just as easily been our problems, worries or fears. When we focus exclusively on them, we miss out on a lot of other great stuff. We could instead choose to focus on what we’re grateful for, such as good health, or a wonderful family and friends. Refocusing our attention on what’s good, what’s working in our lives is really easy to do. I realized that yesterday. Yet it requires a conscious shift of our focus. It’s a choice!

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This month’s practice:

Notice where you predominantly tend to put your focus. Does your mind gravitate more towards what’s great and what’s working in your life – or do you find that you often fret about things? When you find yourself worrying about something, see if you can consciously choose – even just momentarily – to stop and pause for a moment and reflect on what you’re doing. Name it. “Ah, look at this! I’m worrying again.” No judgment. Just notice.

Then see instead if you can bring to mind something that you’re grateful for, something that makes you happy. Maybe you can recall a time you enjoyed a laugh with someone, a beautiful smile on your child’s face, or a sunset. Then notice if there is a shift – even a slight one – in how you feel. This action alone should be enough to break the link between your negative thinking and your emotions. With practice it gets easier. And you may soon find that the reality you’re creating is far more pleasant than the one you’ve been used to!

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The Five Most Common Mistakes in Dealing With Team Conflicts


“The better able team members are to engage, speak, listen, hear, interpret, and respond constructively, the more likely their teams are to leverage conflict rather than be leveled by it.”
~ Runde and Flanagan

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Reflection:

The Five Most Common Mistakes In Dealing With Team Conflicts

Chances are if you’re reading this, you’ve made some of the mistakes listed below. If so, welcome to the human race! Everyone makes mistakes. Toffice conflicthe key is to learn from them.

No matter how long you’ve experienced team conflict, you can still create a harmonious, emotionally healthy work environment by learning about these common pitfalls and avoiding them from here on.


Mistake #1: Not Recognizing the Early Warning Signs of Team Conflict

Unresolved conflict causes contraction; its presence is palpable. People tend to either pull in or lash out. The most frequent early signs of tension are: rolling of eyes, shrugging of shoulders, silence at meetings, an angry tone of voice, rude behavior, gossiping, and sarcastic, negative or critical remarks – these are all indirect ways of communicating that something’s not working. In later stages, teams become divided, backstabbing can occur, and absenteeism and turnover increase.

What can you can do? Address it. If you sense your team is in conflict, let them know you’re aware of it and then schedule time to talk. Tell team members how much you value harmony and ask if they do, too. If so, then point out that recent actions don’t appear to be in line with that value and speak about the specific behaviors you’ve noticed. Emphasize that stress levels can soar and productivity can plummet if you all don’t agree to work through it.

Remember “What you allow, you teach.” What do you want to teach your team?

Mistake #2: Avoiding Conflict

Many people feel so ill-equipped in dealing with conflict that they choose to avoid it all together, rather than risk intervening and possibly making matters worse. This is one of the biggest mistakes professionals can make because not dealing with conflict can drain a business of its energy, clients/customers and staff. Avoiding conflict simply doesn’t work.

Think about the last time your needs clashed with another team member’s – you may have given in, given up or even compromised to keep the peace. If you resort to that strategy repeatedly, however, your needs won’t ever get met. Unfortunately, some professionals find the thought of confronting conflict so uncomfortable, they prefer to leave it unchecked. Tension inevitably mounts because needs continue to go unmet, resulting in more confusion, stress and loss of teamwork and productivity.

What can you do? Talk about it. The greatest advantage of addressing conflict – provided it’s done skillfully – is that the lines of communication re-open and underlying unmet needs become clearer. That’s the only way to get to the heart of what’s troubling everyone and begin the process of finding the right solution.

Since starting the conversation seems to be the biggest obstacle to resolving conflict, finding the courage to broach the subject is the first step. Skill building is next.

Mistake #3: Not Understanding the High Cost of Conflict

According to researcher Daniel Dana, “Unresolved conflict represents the largest reducible cost to business, yet it remains mostly unrecognized.”

Experts estimate that unresolved conflict can cost your business hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars a year; that 30% of a manager’s time can be spent handling inter-personal conflict; that turnover is significantly higher in organizations where conflict remains unresolved; and that recruiting, hiring and training someone new can cost up to 150% of the replaced employee’s salary.

What can you do? Learn about it. Conflict can be so expensive that you can’t afford NOT to deal with it. Conflict not only spoils relationships and erodes productivity; it can also have a profound impact on your bottom line, especially if it’s felt by the people you serve. The last thing you want is to have conflict spillover onto the customer! So it behooves everyone to get a handle on it.

Commit to investing a certain amount of time each year on personal and professional development. It’s smart business practice to help build your team’s interpersonal competencies. By doing so, every team member plays a role in restoring peace, maintaining productivity and creating a healthy work environment.

Mistake #4: Not Recognizing the Value Conflict Offers

Conflict is a normal, natural, healthy reaction that occurs simply because people are different. Everyone on your team experiences different feelings, thoughts and ideas. Each has his or her own interests and needs. When team members work closely with each other, it’s inevitable that – at some point – their differences will clash.

What can you do? Discover the hidden gift of conflict. Conflict can actually be very constructive. It can lead to greater unity, cooperation, collaboration and often new and better ways of doing things – paving the way for higher functioning relationships, improved morale, and greater productivity and profitability.

You might discover for instance, that a previously avoided conversation finally reveals the need for more cross training to facilitate greater teamwork.

Mistake #5: Not Having a System in Place to Resolve Conflict

At some point, you can count on conflict surfacing within your organization. Yet everyone on your team can learn to deal with challenges more effectively. The key to strengthening workplace relationships is equipping team members with the right tools – and making sure they use them.

What can you do? Since conflict is a mind-body experience, great self-management tools are needed just as much as effective problem solving skills. To better handle the emotional reactions that accompany conflict, every team member needs to heighten awareness of their own stress cues. You can’t create peace in an office, if you can’t find it in yourself.

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This month’s practice:

The next step is to find a problem solving model that’s easy for everyone to understand and implement. An Attention to Needs Model can be very effective in encouraging open, honest communication and helping team members identify their needs, the needs of others, and the feelings that surround them. The goal is to arrive at a mutually satisfying solution and, ultimately, restore harmony.

Having team members sign a Conflict Resolution Contract, in which everyone agrees to follow a certain protocol, can also be helpful in getting everyone on the same page and ensuring greater compliance.

The bottom line is: you can vastly improve your chances of having greater peace and harmony by learning about, and taking steps to avoid, these 5 most common mistakes. Instead, you can create an emotionally healthy work environment where your staff, clients and business thrive!

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Creating New Habits – Doing Your Part

“Just do your part by staying connected to
your intention and see how things unfold.”
~ James Baraz

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Reflection:

Last month after attending a talk about using your mind to change your brain, I committed to a daily practice of what neuropsychologist Rick Hansen referred to that evening as “taking in the good.”

Rick had been speaking about the latest discoveries in neuroscience, explaining that our brains are wired to scan the environment for what can go wrong. “This is good,” Rick said, “because it has allowed us to survive as a species. Yet the downside is that our brains can become overactive – especially under stress – causing us to focus more on the negative and overlook what is right.”

Aware of the GoodThe good news, I learned, was that this negative pattern can be interrupted. To put a new, more positive one in its place, all I had to do was to become more aware of good experiences throughout each day and allow myself to feel good about them. If I did this just 6 times a day for thirty seconds, over a 2 week period, I was told, a remarkable positive shift could occur in my brain.

The promise of a lift in my energy and spirits and a better outlook on life sounded very attractive, so I decided to see for myself if it worked.

Three minutes a day… how hard could that be?

Before getting out of bed the next morning, I closed my eyes for half a minute and recalled some positive memories from the past (another way of “taking in the good”) and let my brain soak them up. I remembered my daughter Shannon and me laughing over something silly, my son Ryan extending his hand to help me climb over a big rock and a wonderful, heartfelt hug I received recently from a friend. Rick was right. This felt good.

One down, 5 more to go. Piece of cake!

Or so I thought…

Sometime around noon, after making my way through a full Thursday morning work schedule, I realized I’d forgotten to stop mid-morning, as intended, and “take in the good”. So I did what I imagined might be cheating – and twice over the next few minutes practiced again. “Half way there now!” I thought. Then I dove into my to-do list.

It wasn’t until after 6 pm before I realized I’d forgotten to stop again. This simple practice wasn’t so easy after all!

Finding 3 minutes wasn’t the issue; I had taken several breaks throughout the day; it was remembering to stop and practice this new behavior that was surprisingly hard. I wondered why.

I thought carefully about the steps to establishing a new habit – knowledge, skill and desire must be in place; our “big why” needs to be uncovered; and our intentions clearly set.

Then regular practice reinforces a new habit. Yet, this is where I felt challenged, until I recognized what was missing: I hadn’t done my part!

Setting an intention was not enough. If I was serious about achieving a positive shift, I also had to make the right effort. I had to pay attention to my intention!

That’s the fourth step to creating a new habit: do your part.

There were daily action steps I needed to take to support my intention to “take in the good”. Finding certain times for reflection, establishing a routine, using post-it notes – even setting a timer – all helped to gradually build on this habit.

After two weeks, I discovered that this brain-training practice actually worked. Using my mind to change my brain had lots of benefits: my negative focus was diminishing, my mood was better, and it was easier – and more enjoyable – to look for what was right.

This exercise convinced me that we can overcome the obstacles that keep us from reaching our goals and that life will support us in achieving them. Additionally, a multitude of supportive people, places and opportunities abound to help us bring about our vision. Remembering to notice – and feel good about them – is a choice. With practice, eventually it becomes a habit.

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This month’s practice:

Think of some personal or professional changes you have wished for, yet not fully achieved.

For example, maybe you intended to improve you communication skills by becoming a better listener, speaking more assertively, or being more involved at team meetings.

Perhaps you aimed to enhance your conflict resolution skills by better managing your emotional reactions, remembering to see the bigger picture, or practicing at not to taking things personally.

You may have set your sights on becoming a better leader by working to improve relationships with co-workers, setting aside time to create an inspiring vision or by regularly asking for feedback about how you are doing.

You may have meant to do any one of these things, yet life can be distracting. Busy schedules, interruptions, personal issues, emergencies – all kinds of circumstances – can come up. By the end of the day, you may suddenly realize you forgot to do what you said you would do.

That all can change by remembering to just do your part.

Here are some suggestions on how to do that:

  1. Select one behavior you’d like to become automatic.
  2. Get very clear about what success would look like.
  3. Write down daily/weekly action steps you can take.
  4. Write down potential roadblocks and ways to overcome them.
  5. List tactics you will use to remember to pay attention to your intention.
  6. Identify the people, places or things you will enlist to help you achieve your goal.
  7. Acknowledge small successes and allow yourself to feel good about them.
  8. Practice, practice, practice!

Remember, habits don’t develop overnight. Yet, you are far more likely to create long-lasting change by taking this fourth step.

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Fight or Flight?

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Fight-Flight response.

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EQ = Greater Personal and Professional Success

“Emotional intelligence emerges as a much stronger predictor of who will be most successful, because it is how we handle ourselves in our relationships that determines how well we do in a given job.”
~ Daniel Goleman

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Reflection:

Last weekend, after I presented a program on Emotional Intelligence at a leadership education conference, one of the attendees approached me as I was packing up. “I really enjoyed your presentation,” he said. “What I especially liked”, he continued, “was that you gave us ‘how-tos’. Now I know exactly what I need to work on.”

That brief conversation reminded me, as a presenter, how important it is to help audience members feel that – after attending a program – they’re better equipped to deal with the self awareness - March 28 2013 Tipchallenges they’re facing so they can be more effective.

In the spirit of that, this month I’d like to share some techniques that are especially helpful in developing greater EQ competencies.

These ten tips – adapted from Jeffrey Auerbach’s book on Executive Coaching – help to increase emotional self-awareness, which is a critical foundation for emotional intelligence. Why? Because the ability to recognize and understand our own feelings and behavior has a direct impact on how well we interact and get along with others. In business and in family life, the ability to establish and maintain great relationships is an essential ingredient for personal and professional success.

10 Ways to Develop Greater Emotional Intelligence

1. Develop the skill of holding constructive internal dialogues: When dealing with a challenging situation, a helpful inner dialogue might be:

o “What is the challenge right now that is leading to this tension?”
o “What feelings do I notice?”
o “I know I feel angry. What would be a constructive behavior right now?”
o “I think it’s best not to raise my voice right now.”
o “I’ll get a better outcome if I wait until after the meeting and talk with this person privately.”

2. Because impulse control is an important component of emotional intelligence, the following techniques help in managing stressful situations. Daniel Feldman describes this simple 4 step technique in “The Handbook of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership”:

a) Take two slow abdominal breaths…
b) Ask yourself: “What am I thinking and feeling?”
c) “What negative thoughts am I having?”
d) “What would be a way to rephrase any negative thoughts to more helpful thoughts?”

3. Try a simple two-step coaching approach:

a) Ask yourself: “What is the positive outcome I want?”
b) Next: “What are one or two practical steps I will take to achieve that outcome?”

4. Have an emotionally intelligent role model:
Identify someone whom you admire for their emotional intelligence. Then consider: “How would my EI mentor respond in this situation?”

5. Develop greater self-awareness by asking questions like these:

a) “What am I feeling?”
b) “How am I acting?”
c) “What sensations am I having?”
d) “What do I want?”
e) “What assumptions am I making?”

6. Improve the accuracy of your perceptions by uncovering biases. Suppose you anticipate tension at a certain meeting .…

o Before the meeting, write a paragraph about how you view the situation.
o During the meeting, adopt the attitude of trying to understand the other person’s concerns and take some notes about what you are learning from the other person.
o Ask yourself: “What assumptions, biases, or other perspectives did I realize about the person I was communicating with?”

7. Aim to see the advantage of adapting your communication style to your audience. When preparing to communicate a message ask:

o “What will be the most effective way to communicate my message?”
o “What preparation do I need to make sure my message has the desired outcome?”

8. To increase competency in managing conflicts, bring disagreements out into the open. Become aware of and express other people’s points of view.

9. Be proactive rather than reactive. Daniel Feldman describes a useful, easy-to-remember technique to help individuals operate with high emotional competencies:

o Pause before you react to a situation.
o Reflect on what is behind any emotions or reactions you are experiencing
o Choose the appropriate thoughts and actions that will make the situation turn out well.

10. Cultivate realistic optimism. For example, adopt more optimistic self-talk.

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This month’s practice:

• Select one or two of the ten suggestions that especially appeal to you and commit to a regular daily practice.
• Aim to use these “how-tos” to create more positivity among those around you; and be sure to notice the impact your behavior has on your performance – as well as others’.
• Remember, as human beings we move towards pleasure and away from what seems painful – so be sure to remind yourself of the benefits you’ll derive when you commit to doing your part in developing greater EQ.
• Acknowledge your success in building healthier, happier, more harmonious relationships by celebrating both big and small wins.

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The bottom line: If you want to establish and maintain more meaningful relationships – and achieve greater success – its helps considerably to have the EQ edge!

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Moving From Reactive To Responsive

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Moving From Reactive To Responsive

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Planning Your Most Successful Year Yet

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank.
We are going to put words on them ourselves.
The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is
New Year’s Day.”

~ Edith Lovejoy Pierce

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Reflection:

As I write this month’s Harmony Habit, we are well into the month of December and in the midst of the busy holidays. Whether we observe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Yuletide or any other mid-winter celebration, it’s not uncommon to have mixed feelings about a season that’s become highly commercialized, yet also filled with nostalgia, merriment, long-held traditions, a yearning for another year and a chance to begin again.

happy-holidaysIn spite of the seasonal stress most people experience, the holidays can be a time for deep reflection. When we make it a point to slow down and remember to closely connect with ourselves, and our friends and family, the holidays can provide a much needed occasion to quiet down, go within and reflect on the deeper meaning of life, love and what really matters.

Last night, after a very full weekend of holiday festivities, I left early from a gathering, opting for some quiet time alone. Having little energy for the reflection I was hoping for, I plopped myself down on the couch, turned on the TV and watched George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Christmas Carol. (Every time I see this movie, I pray that I will never be as stingy and sour as Scrooge and after each rerun I renew my commitment to be more kind and generous in the year ahead. It’s a great film to watch before making New Year Resolutions!)

During commercial breaks of this movie classic, a short clip featuring dozens of other popular holiday films flashed on the screen. Lots of merry scenes from shows we’ve likely seen throughout the years were featured, yet the one that I remembered most was a clip from A Miracle on 34th Street where Kris Kringle tells a little girl named Susan that “Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind”.

As I was watching, it occurred to me that – regardless of which holiday we observe – each year around this time we can choose to shift into a more benevolent and joyous frame of mind by taking in the good that’s all around us. Unlike Scrooge, we can focus on the positive aspects of the season and cultivate a sense of wonder, awe and gratitude. And, like Susan, who learned to open to a magical way of thinking, we can also choose to unwrap one of our greatest gifts – the ability we each have to consciously choose our thoughts, to align our actions with our values and to create a life filled with purpose and meaning.

As the last couple of weeks of December draw quickly to a close, take the holiday challenge: remember what matters most, celebrate the life and friends you have and then commit to maintaining a frame of mind throughout the year that will add to everyone’s wish for peace, love, joy, happiness and prosperity.

My wish for you: As you move from a place of thought to action, may all your heart’s desires unfold this year. Happy Holidays!

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This week’s practice:

With the shorter days and longer nights it’s an ideal time to get quiet, go inside and consider exactly what we want to create for our life and our world in the upcoming year.

In November, December and January, I often take myself, friends and clients through a process for creating the Best Year Yet, based on a book by that name, written by Jinny Ditzler. The book features 10 questions for making the next twelve months your most successful ever.

People tell me they find the process enormously helpful: big shifts happen in their personal and professional lives and – most importantly – the questions inspire many to begin actualizing their dreams.

Here they are:

  1. What did I accomplish?
  2. What were my biggest disappointments?
  3. What did I learn?
  4. How do I limit myself and how can I stop?
  5. What are my personal values?
  6. What roles do I play in my life?
  7. Which role is my major focus?
  8. What are my goals for each role?
  9. What are my top 10 goals for next year?
  10. How can I make sure I achieve them?

Take time to reflect carefully on each question. Enjoy the process.

Here’s to another chance to get it right!

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Create Your Best Year Yet!
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Mary@MaryONeill.com

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Creating Your Own Happiness

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”
~ Dalai Lama

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Reflection:

After facilitating a values clarification exercise for a group of professionals attending my stress management seminar, I asked a number of participants to share the top 5 values they identified.

“This exercise not only reveals what matters most to us,” I said, “it also helps to reduce stress, because values provide a map that can move us in the direction of our goals. Feeling pleased about where we’re headed in life can be greatly comforting.”

The words “health”, “family”, “harmony” and “success” were common to many of the lists read aloud, yet “happiness” was clearly the one value that was shared by most.

No one was surprised.

“When you’re happy,” one audience member commented, “chances are that everything else will fall into place.”

“And even if things don’t work out the way you want”, someone else said, “You probably won’t be nearly as upset!”

“You’re absolutely right”, I replied, “Neuroscientists now say that the happier we are, the more resilient we’re likely to be.   And the more resilient we are, the faster we bounce back from stress. The best news is, even if we weren’t born with a predisposition towards happiness, we can learn to make ourselves happier and, ultimately, healthier.”

This scientific discovery is revolutionary! It means that  greater happiness and health is available to us all.

Yet simply knowing that happiness is a deeply held value doesn’t guarantee this capability.  Creative_Wallpaper_Girl_and_Balloons_031991_ (1)To ensure happiness, we need to regularly make choices that are in line with this value. That’s the only way a greater sense of well-being is certain to grow.

I also shared with this group that happiness was one of my top 5 values, yet didn’t experience it as often as I’d wanted, until I recorded all the things that make me happy into a “Bliss List”.   Whenever I felt overextended or out of sorts, one look at this list immediately showed me why:  I wasn’t doing enough of the things that made me happy!

To turn that around, I had to learn to pay closer attention when I wasn’t feeling happy – and consciously choose to engage more frequently in activities that created greater joy and satisfaction.

I also had to become aware of the stress cues that interfered with my happiness and well-being, such as tension building, feeling unusually tired or easily bothered. With practice, I eventually learned to stop sooner and select an item from my “Bliss List” that could be done almost immediately.

Sometimes taking a short break did the trick; other times a breathing exercise helped to replenish me. Oftentimes, though, doing something fun was needed.  So I’d make plans to go hiking, have dinner with a friend, engage in a lively conversation or see a great movie.

“My “Bliss List” hasn’t failed me yet” I told the group. “And it might be just the right remedy for you, too” I suggested. “Plus, it’s not rocket science! Simply by doing our favorite things more frequently,” I continued, “our moods are boosted. It’s much easier to restore happiness when we’re feeling centered, than it is when we’re feeling stressed!”

It’s common sense, we concluded. We simply needed to make happiness a common practice!   There’s nothing like a “Bliss List” to get started!

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This month’s practice:

If you were to plumb the heart of your own happiness, on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being high, where would you come up on the scale? Does your number indicate room for growth?

If so, take heart!  Most everyone could use a little help in this arena.

1.    Start by Identifying Your Stress Cues.

Mother Nature tends to wave these “red flags” when we’re feeling frazzled. It’s vitally important to become aware of – and deal with – these warning signals early on, so they won’t interfere with your happiness and well-being.  The sooner you’re aware of your stress cues, the sooner you can nip them in the bud.

a) Where does your body sequester tension? What do you need to do to release it?

b) How do you behave when you feel overextended or out of sorts? Are you less patient? Easily bothered? Do you tend to hurry? What do you need to do to shift gears?

c) What’s your self-talkor communication with others – like? Are you feeling more critical than usual? What do you need to do to tame your critic?

2.     Cool Down. Breathe. Get centered.

3.     Then Create  your Bliss List:

This is one of the  best stress management tools I’ve encountered and a sure fire way to increase your well-being.  If happiness is one of your professed values, make it a priority to create this list and carry it with you. The next time you find your mood plummeting, take out the list, and examine it closely.  You’ll probably discover that you’ve not been doing enough of what you enjoy.   Pick something on the list, do it and notice what happens.

Here are the steps to creating your Bliss List:

a)    Write out a list of things/activities that make you happy. (Take time with this list; don’t eliminate activities that may seem silly.)

b)    Put a star next to the items you really enjoy doing.

c)    Then put a check mark next to the things you do regularly.

d)    Notice if the star and the check mark match up. If not, highlight what you’d like more of.

e)    Schedule time to do these things.

The goal is to do what you love as often as you possibly can.  If you discover a disparity, attention to these areas is needed to ensure greater happiness and well-being.

Remember:   The point is to live the values we profess. If happiness is important to you, aligning your actions with that value is vitally important in creating more joy, meaning and satisfaction.

And, by doing so, your happiness rating is sure to move up a few notches!

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Receiving and Responding To Feedback

“The more accustomed people become to giving and receiving feedback, the more comfortable they get with the process.”
~ Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner,
Authors of The Leadership Challenge

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Reflection:

Last month’s Harmony Habit Tip featured Ten Guidelines for Giving Effective Feedback.  The key points were made that feedback needs to be:

  • Specific versus general
  • Focused on behavior rather than personality
  • Delivered in a skillful and  timely manner
  • Solicited rather than imposed
  • Descriptive rather than evaluative

I emphasized that the key words were “skillful” and “effective” and maintained that feedback delivered in any other way can be counterproductive, even detrimental.

On the other hand, I pointed out, if feedback is provided skillfully, it can have a tremendous, positive impact on a person’s performance.  Feedback that’s given effectively essentially “encourages the heart”, fosters greater growth and learning and creates a safer, more emotionally healthy experience for everyone.

Yet delivering feedback is only the half of it.  Oftentimes, we’re on the other end of receiving it.

So, this month we’ll look at:  What to do When We’re on the Receiving End of Getting Feedback…

As important as it may be to hear what others have to say, it’s not uncommon to feel apprehensive and uncomfortable about receiving feedback. This process can potentially expose everyone to feelings of vulnerability, hurt and sometimes even anger.

Many people on the receiving end of feedback tend to become defensive and stop listening, especially if the information is perceived as negative. This can create an increased reluctance on the part of the person delivering the feedback to offer it again.

If that happens, the receiver misses out on opportunities that could lead to further growth and success.

This doesn’t have to happen that way.

If the desired result is a positive, open and constructive dialogue, in which everyone feels seen, heard, and understood, then a different response is needed.

A smarter choice would be to demonstrate an openness to receiving feedback – and a sincere desire to grow and improve – by learning to relax, actively listen to understand, and welcome what’s being said.

The following Guidelines for Receiving and Responding to Feedback Constructively can help in developing this kind of receptivity.

Seven Guidelines for Receiving and Responding
To Feedback Constructively*

1.  Accept and Manage Your Emotions.

Most people tend to react to constructive feedback, especially if it is feedback they don’t particularly like, with a HiRes (604x640)little surprise or shock, quickly followed by anger and then rejection or denial.

This is natural, although not usually helpful.

Observe your emotions and give yourself time to let them move through you.  Talk with someone about your feelings, if that helps.  After denial, we usually shift into acceptance and even contentment.

Don’t respond to the feedback giver until your “fight or flight” response has settled down!

2.  Reflect on the Feedback.

Take time to analyze the feedback and determine what you think it means for you.

3.  Talk With the Feedback Giver(s).

Talking with the person(s) who gave you feedback is the most important part of the process.  Feedback is part of building and maintaining healthy working relationships.

By showing the feedback giver(s) that you care about their perceptions and needs and are committed to making changes that help them do their work better, you’ll strengthen the trust, respect, and confidence in your relationship with them.

a.  Tell the feedback giver(s) that you’d like to discuss their feedback with them.  Set a time and place, and follow through.

b.  Demonstrate your openness by sharing your feedback results with your workgroup as well as your interpretation of what the data means to you.  This will help open the lines of communication between you and your workgroup.

c.  Show that you are interested in listening to whatever they want to say.

Below are four responses to feedback that demonstrate you are listening:

i.    Paraphrase: After listening carefully to a person, paraphrase or summarize their ideas in your own words.

ii.    Summarize:  Restate succinctly the information you gathered.  This confirms a shared understanding of what has been said or decided.  It provides closure to a conversation.

iii.    Ask Open-ended Questions: Open-ended questions usually begin with words like: What, Who, Where, When, and How and are difficult to answer with a simple “yes” or “no” response.  E.g., “What do you think about that?”

Open-ended questions indicate your interest in learning more about the issues, ideas, and reasoning that are important to the feedback giver(s).

Avoid asking “why” type questions that can put a person on the spot, e.g., “Why do you think that way?”

iv.   Use Silence: Wait for the other person to respond and finish talking.  Then pause rather than respond right away.  These pauses are not intended to be embarrassing.

By not filling the vacuum, you let the other person know you are listening and are interested in what he/she is saying and that you are making space for more.

 d.   Listen for understanding and information, without thinking about your response.  Avoid countering, judging or evaluating what is being said.  “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” (Stephen R. Covey).

e.    Don’t try to read minds.  A lot of our anxiety comes from what we read into things and not from what people actually say.  Your goal is to remain unaffected by the criticism directed at you so you can discover what needs to be done to improve the situation.

f.    Admit ignorance or confusion when you do not understand what is being said or are confused.  Nothing is gained if you don’t understand the feedback and do nothing about it.  You gain people’s respect by being “big enough” to admit that you are not quite on top of the conversation.

g.    Avoid getting defensive.  If others attack or criticize you or your actions, calmly acknowledge the possibility that there may be some truth in the criticism or their point of view.  This allows you to receive information in a less anxious or defensive manner.

Yet, it still allows you to be the final judge of what you are going to do.

4.  If You Believe You Were In Error, Admit It.

If a problem was caused by you or by something you said or did, admit it and move on.  Don’t get defensive over something that you did or something that did not work out as you expected.

By stating your errors you show that you recognize and accept them; that way you can move forward, rather than get bogged down in self-criticism.

At the same time, don’t be overly apologetic.  Treat the error as a learning experience.

5.  Find Out What Changes On Your Part Would Most Help The Feedback Giver(s) Be More Effective In Their Work.

Be sure to get clear from the givers exactly what they are asking you to do differently.  If there are several things, ask them which are the most important.

6.  Consider What Changes You Will Commit To.

After you’ve taken in the feedback and become more aware, it’s up to you to choose what action you will take – if any.

You will be more likely to follow through if:
a.    You select only a few changes (up to three)
b.    You select changes you believe are in your own interests
c.    You genuinely want to make them

7.  Commit Yourself to Specific Actions by Specific Dates.

The most powerful actions you can take to strengthen an atmosphere of trust and confidence in your workgroup are to make your commitment publicly to your workgroup, and then demonstrate that you have fulfilled it.

Click here to download a complimentary copy of the Seven Guidelines for Receiving and Responding To Feedback Constructively*

*Adapted from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Office of Human Capital Management”Short Guide to Giving & Receiving Feedback”

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This week’s practice:

The next time you receive feedback, find time beforehand, if possible, to read through these Seven Guidelines for Receiving and Responding to Feedback*.

Acknowledge where your strengths lie, then be sure to pay close attention to the more challenging actions you’d like to take to demonstrate a more skillful and effective response.

Then engage in a process of self-examination:

  • What stance do you typically take?
  • Are you able to relax, suspend your judgment and ease into the discussion?
  • Or do you tend to listen defensively?
  • Do you demonstrate that you care about the feedback giver’s perceptions and that you are committed to making recommended changes to improve your working relationship?
  • Are you clear about what success would look like?
  • If the information is confusing, do you ask for clarification or specific examples?
  • Could the feedback have been provided more effectively?
  • What suggestions might you make to improve the process?
  • If you were on the receiving end tomorrow, what would you do differently?

The bottom line is:  With consistent practice, you should soon develop greater skill, comfort and ease with this often feared – and sometimes even dreaded – feedback process.

You may come actually to enjoy it!

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movie roll iconWatch a short video of Mary discussing
“Fight-Flight” response.

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