Too Many Words: Too Little Understanding

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Assorted Magnetic Words

Tired of sitting through dozens of Power Point slides hoping that someone gets to the point? Tired of listening to 20 minutes of explanation, then leave wondering, “What was THAT about?” Me, too.  If you’re with me, keep reading.

An associate I met at a training session last week introduced me to a remarkable tool: Six Word Stories. Six Word Stories include the beginning, middle and end of a story in six words. Legend has it that Six Word Stories started with a challenge to Ernest Hemingway: write a story in six words of less. Hemingway responded with:

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

He later claimed this was his best work.

Inspired, I checked out a web site dedicated to Six Word Stories. Here are a few of my favorites:

A thousand wrinkles. A thousand smiles.

Nothing to declare. Much to remember.

Match made in heaven ignited hell.

Inspired, here is the Six Word Story of my life:

Started slow. Found way. Finishing strong.

Six Word Stories can be a call to action, prompt discussion or summarize outcomes. They are so much more creative then yet another slide.

What’s your six word story?

 

Time With an Old Friend

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IMG_0310

If old books are like old friends, then the book in the photo is a trusted and dear companion.  My copy of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges has been with me since 1991.  Its dog-eared pages, highlighted sections and margin notes are like a diary of change over the last 20 plus years.

Proceed down memory lane starting with Chapter One: It Isn’t The Changes That Do You In. How many discussions have happened around this point that the change isn’t finished because a deadline has passed? There were the mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures, all eagerly led by true believers that the change would be over when the deadline came. Look at the first underline: Change is external. Transition is internal. I repeated it so many times that I could have made it into a tattoo.

On to the Neutral Zone chapters. The “Neutral Zone” is the period when the old ways don’t work anymore and the new ways don’t work yet. I wrote “day after deadline” to describe this phase on page 34. The neutral zone is a place where weaknesses emerge because the old compensating systems are gone. Frustration rises because 1) things are moving too fast or 2) things aren’t moving fast enough. It’s the place where people hang on to whatever their identities were because they don’t yet know what their identities are.

Next to a highlighted sentence on page 43: Capitalize on the opportunity the neutral zone provides to do things better.  Here’s one way I remember this concept during real change. My team was responsible for the creation of a combined training and organization development group to support a newly merged sales organization. Representatives of all three former organizations were on the team. Our first goal was to design a first line manager session. We got through all of the key decisions with remarkable swiftness: objectives, participants, content, and follow up engagement. What was the sticking point? The start time. It was a battle between the “come in Sunday night and roll up sleeves Monday morning” group and the “Start mid day Monday group.” Of course, this was a cover for the real issue. The real issue was “ We did it right and it’s my (our) job to prove it.”

It is during the gap between old and new that the organization’s systems of immunity are weak enough to allow new solutions to emerge.  After about a week of bickering, we decided the solution was to survey the participating clients. Their feedback broke through the clenched hands of both groups. Participants had a strong preference for a Thursday/Friday session and a near universal dislike for either a Sunday or a Monday start. All of the old organizations foisted their choice on the participants for years. The neutral zone forced us to consider a better option that was neither of the old choices. Don’t waste the neutral zone in trying to get back to where you were. Use it to get better. The great” start time debate” is a simple reminder of this principle.

Star next to the sentence on page 51: Beginnings are strange things. People want and fear them at the same time. The faces of leaders who sat with me discussing the people behind the names on their organization charts flash before me. How many times did we discuss “Purpose, Picture, Plan, Part?” It’s not whether we say it; it’s whether they get it. Everyone needs a personal message. You said it? Say it again. And again. How do you practice? What gets rewarded?

This trip down memory lane was occasioned by the opportunity I have this week to be certified to use the Bridges Transition Model with my clients. I am so excited, not only to learn something new but also to get the opportunity to use something that I know works.  The materials indicate that I’ll get a new book. That’s fine, but I’m keeping my old one. We’re good friends.

Reference:

Bridges, William ( 1991). Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Cambridge, MA: Persues Books.

Be Here Now

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waterdrop.Last Friday, I was rushing to a yoga class in a studio a few blocks away. (If “rushing to a yoga class” raises a yellow flag, you get a gold star.) My mind raced during the walk. Would I arrive on time? What time would the class be over? What were the most important things to do with what was left of Friday afternoon? Should I respond to a few messages? Advance a work project? Complete a marketing campaign? When would I get to the grocery store? Did I get enough done this week? Should I even go to yoga at all?

My mental chatter was interrupted at an intersection. I walked up, in full yoga uniform with a bag slung over my back, next to middle-aged woman in a wheelchair and her companion. The wait for a walk light gave me the opportunity to overhear their conversation. The woman in the chair commented on the day. “ Isn’t it a beautiful day!” she observed. “ The sun feels great on my face! Look at that perfectly blue sky. It’s so nice to hear the birds again.”

Her observations stopped me. They were expressed in the present. No resentment that the able bodied stranger next to her had opportunities not available to her. No chatter about where she would rather be on an early spring day. No remorse about what got her dependent state. She expressed full appreciation of the current moment. Through this stranger, I witnessed the peace offered from mindfulness; taking full advantage of what was available to her in that moment.

Mindfulness Moves Into the Mainstream

The concept of mindfulness has been with us at least since the birth of Buddhism in the 5th century BC. My interpretation of mindfulness is the ability to bring one’s full attention to the present moment, with acknowledgement and non-judgmental acceptance. Mindfulness has long been associated with the New Age set, dismissed as hokey faux religion practiced by the crystal wearing, granola crunching set. This dismissal may be short sighted, because mindfulness shows up time and time again as a practice to improve lives.

A recently published research in the Journal of Applied Psychology (JAP) suggests the practice of mindfulness is helpful to employees who wish to reduce their levels of emotional exhaustion experienced at work and improve their job satisfaction. The fact a study on mindfulness at work was published by a serious, peer reviewed scientific journal is evidence alone that it’s moved beyond the woo-woo category. Hülsheger, Alberts, Alina and Lang conducted two studies with over 500 employees in customer facing roles. Participants had jobs in customer service, teaching, public service retail sales or in hospitals; jobs that brought them into frequent contact with people who were not having their best days. As a result of intense interactions, participants reported frequently feeling emotionally exhausted and dissatisfied with their jobs.

The study results suggest the value of mindfulness practices to anyone who wants to reduce job related stress and emotional exhaustion. Here is a sample of some of the research outcomes:

  • Mindfulness practices may mediate the stress produced by surface acting. Surface acting is what we do when we’re feeling one way but must respond in another. It may be what you do when you think She’s acting like an idiot but job requirements suggest that you ask Tell me the problem. Mindfulness trains us to recognize what’s happening in the moment in a non-judgmental way that reduces the need to surface act. It might be something like:  She’s very upset and I’ll try to help.
  • Self-awareness meditation, or trait meditation, may help people in high stress situations regulate emotional responses.  Recognizing biofeedback of tenseness and irritability helped participants recognize triggers that predicted an emotional response and allowed them to address, and thereby regulate, their emotions.
  • The positive effects of mindfulness practices varied by individual disposition and even varied by time of day. Not all participants were emotionally predisposed for mindfulness practices, and thus had to work harder at them. (Like those who rush to yoga class, for example). In other occasions, personal energy states or circumstances affected the ability to stop and be mindful. (It’s hard not to be judgmental about the person yelling at you). If you are like me and find being mindful more of a challenge, my advice is to just keep trying. Even a little bit will make a difference. The non-judgmental principle relates to you, too

Everyday Mindfulness

The beauty of the mindfulness practice shows up every day. It shows up when people end their workdays with energy instead of exhaustion. It shows up when you see the joy you’ve created for someone simply because you’ve paid attention. It shows up when you hear someone choose to overlook the past or forgo anxiety about the future through a simple appreciation that the sun is warm and the sky is blue. She knew this moment was perfect. And, it was.

Resources

Interested in building your mindfulness practice? Many resources are available. These are two of my favorites:

Eckhart Tolle (1999). The Power of Now.

Thich Nhat Hanh (1991). Peace is Every Step.

Reference

U. R. Hülsheger, H. J. E. M. Alberts, A. Feinholdt, J. W. B. Lang (2012). Benefits of mindfulness at work: The role of mindfulness in emotional regulation, emotional exhaustion and job satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology (2013), vol. 98, No. 2, 310-325.