Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Communicating and invincibility

So I read a bunch of books about corporate communication (although, they really apply to communication in any situation/context). And then, you know that Hyperbole and a Half post about depression where she comes out of the depression by no longer giving a f*** about anything and deciding she was invincible? 
I've always wanted to not give a fuck. While crying helplessly into my pillow for no good reason, I would often fantasize that maybe someday I could be one of those stoic badasses whose emotions are mostly comprised of rock music and not being afraid of things. And finally - finally - after a lifetime of feelings and anxiety and more feelings, I didn't have any feelings left. I had spent my last feeling being disappointed that I couldn't rent Jumanji. (you really have to read the whole thing)
via Allie Brosh Hyperbole and a Half
These two things are related because I originally read these communications books because I was sort of frustrated by some things and I thought these books would help. But then things got so frustrating that I got to that place where I was like Allie in Hyperbole and Half. I had my own personal Jumanji moment and I was like, that is it. I’ve gone over the edge. I’ve run out of f***s to give. And suddenly I felt nothing, and I was like, “Judge me all you want, stupid face, I have no feelings left...maybe I’ll go touch a spider later.”

Soooo, in an effort to reign myself in, I’m re-reading the books. And blogging about them, which really helps me more than anyone. Because I’m not doing myself any favors thinking I’m invincible. Especially with new research out that women are WAY more likely to get tone policed in their evaluations than men and criticized for perceived personality flaws rather than for failure to exhibit or develop certain skills.

Crucial Conversations

  1. Start by asking yourself what you really want out of this conversation. Is it realistic and necessary? You can tell it is necessary because it would eat away at you otherwise. And asking yourself a question can put yourself in a more logical less fight/flight part of your brain, which can help reign your that crazy zero f***s left to give place.
  2. Start by looking for common ground. There is always plenty of it, no matter how far apart you may feel from someone else. Helpful hint: if you are nit picking someone’s point, quibbling over details, or making a big deal over tiny flaws, then you aren’t looking for common ground.
  3. Ask permission. Before you start the story, before you pursue the argument.  This shows respect to the other person and where they are (emotionally and in their day).
  4. Be curious, and open to being influenced by their story, ideas, etc.
  5. Show that you are listening and communicate respectfully:
  • Agree: let them know where you have points of agreement 
  • Build: where you have information that has been left out, build on their story
  • Compare: “I think I see things differently here"
  • Ask: express an interest in their views
  • Mirror: acknowledge their emotions
  • Paraphrase: restate their important points, but not verbatim, because that sounds patronizing
  • Prime: if they seem reticent, then make a guess (CAREFULLY) at their views to get them talking
Some example statements include the following:
  • I think it is important to deal with this before it gets out of hand
  • I’d like to talk about something that is getting in the way of my working with you, it is a touch issue to bring up, but I think it’ll make us better teammates if I do. Is that okay?

Crucial Confrontation

Now it is called Crucial Accountability. I got the cheapest one I could, because I’m cheap. You know they are exactly the same anyway. Speaking of exactly the same, this book covers almost all the stuff in Crucial Conversations but with extra stuff; so if you’re only gonna get one book, get this one. (btw, there is more to this book than this stuff, and I’ll probably get to it in another post because Lord knows this one is already too long.)

Tips:
  • The first few seconds of a conversation set in place the ground work for the overall outcome. 
  • It is very important than in this time you communicate that this conversation will be safe for the other person (you respect them, their view). 
  • Most communication is non-verbal: facial expression, body language, tone,
  1. Ask for permission to discuss a delicate topic
  2. Speak in private
  3. Contrast (I don’t think you {anticipate their worst assumption about what you are saying/will say}. In fact, I think {something complimentary that illustrates the opposite}.)
  4. Establish a mutual purpose. Show how much you have in common, in terms of what you both want out of this situation.
  5. State the issue. What is the gap between what your expectations were, or what was appropriate, and what happened. This should be succinct, objective/fact-based, and respectful. 
  6. Be curious. I’m beginning to wonder if x? (leave room open to be wrong. You’re not outright accusing them of being incompetent, or whatever you’re pretty sure that they are.)
  7. End with a question. “Do I have this right? Am I missing something?”
Some example statements include the following:

  • I don’t want you to think I’m unhappy with your management of this department. Overall I’m very satisfied. I just want to talk about how we handle X. 
  • I’m not saying it was wrong for you to say X. It is important for me to get feedback from you. It is just that I heard your tone and words as demeaning. 
  • I didn’t mean to imply that you were doing it on purpose. I believe you were unaware of the impact you were having. That’s why I wanted to bring it up in the first place. 
  • I’m not saying you have to treat me in any special way. All I’m asking for is that you treat me in a way that communicates respect and doesn’t sound like you think I’m incompetent.


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Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Weekend

We didn’t really do anything special for Labor Day weekend. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that, living with preschoolers. They tend to think that it is pretty special just getting an extra stay-home day, and that getting snow cones deserves its own special song, and that going to a park (that isn’t our neighborhood park or the Y playground) is a pretty big deal (that merits never, EVER leaving). Their enthusiasm is pretty admirable. I mean, do you see the joy Maggie gets from our automatic sprinkler system? I could use a little (er, a lot) more of that kind of joy in my life.





And the snow cones. (lyrics to the song, not included, unfortunately)





And some puppy and preschoolers at the park:




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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hair cuts and heart break

I took the girls to get their first haircuts yesterday. I drove all the way to Cedar Park (30 minutes away, okay, I guess it's not that big of a deal) to someone who specializes in curly hair. Turns out Hannah doesn't even have curly hair anymore. WHAT?! True story. It'll probably get wavier when she gets in high school, but her baby curls are gone. GONE.

she looks like an adult. I mean, really.



This was her a year ago, I mean, seriously, curls just disappear? that is a thing?

Maggie, is another story. She still has her cute little waves and ringlets. And she is none too pleased. I wasn't even allowed to take her picture. She wants to go back tomorrow and get them all cut off. (?!) And it broke my heart. She was putting on her shoes this morning and told me, "I hate my hair! I don't want my curls! they are crazy!" She is three, you guys! Ugh. Break my heart.



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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Nap Buddies

Ever since we first got Tybalt, he has been moving in on my territory as Maggie’s nap buddy. If there is one thing I love, it is taking naps. In fact, sometimes I try to convince Maggie to go take a nap by laying down with her; then I will fall asleep, and she’ll get out of bed. So of course, Cork will go upstairs and find the girls are playing in the play room while I’m taking a nap. And let’s just say he doesn’t nominate me for parent of the year


 
 
It’s okay though. I’ll forgive Tybalt for taking my favorite job from me. They make pretty cute nap buddies. And while he is asleep, he can’t chew on my shoes (in his defense, he hasn’t done that in a long time).
 


One of the major reasons we got a bigger dog was because we felt like Maggie just needed something her own size. You know, something a little too big to try to ride like a pony. (Poor Junebug)




I think we made a good choice.


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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

From the playground to the boardroom, 3 ways labels RUIN EVERYTHING {sort of}




When I first started to get really interested in mindfulness, I’d hear a lot about how important it is to observe, describe, and participate in what you are doing. But don’t label the experience. Never label. This always seemed like splitting hairs to me. I could barely see the difference between describing and labeling; it all seemed like a matter of semantics. Describing, labeling. TomAyto, tomAHto. Amiright?

The deal is, labels often carry judgement. And sometimes (most of the time?) the source of our stress isn’t necessarily from the actual situation, but from our reactions to, and judgements of, the situation. 

True story.


Labels and Kids

First with kids. In a few books I’ve read (Siblings without Rivalry, How to Talk, and If I Have to Tell You One More Time, to name a few) it has mentioned how it isn’t a good idea to label your kids. Even if it is a positive label (she’s the athletic one), it’s not a great idea. It can set up sibling rivalries, uncomfortable expectations, limitations, and it can make your kids feel like they are some sort of two-dimensional caricature of themselves to you. And that is just the positive labels! That doesn’t even address the impacts of negative labels (sloppy, lazy, the-not-athletic one).


via Amazon


Feedback and Labels


Making Feedback Work, by Elaine Holland is written for managers in the workplace, but it has little gems that are applicable for both parents and CEOs. Anybody who has read Gottman’s marriage work knows that feedback should be given in a ratio of five positive statements for every one negative statements. This is actually true in the workplace as well. GO FIGURE.


Effective feedback is given in the form of observable statements. I.e., NOT descriptive labels. Therefore, statements like, “be more professional/less emotional/more of a team player” are crap. And of course they are! Those statements could mean one thing to the person giving the feedback and another thing entirely to the person receiving it. So you could think you have made HUGE strides in your “emotional” problems (read: you’re a woman, right? How’d I guess. #sexism), meanwhile your supervisor still thinks it is a massive issue and that’s why you’re going nowhere fast in the organization. 


Instead feedback should be given using these three steps:
  1. Describe (don’t label!) the behavior (this shouldn’t be vague or subjective)
  2. Describe its impact (why is the behavior good or bad)
  3. Describe the desired future behavior (this should be the focus of the conversation if it was a negative behavior you want to change; if you spend too much time harping on the bad behavior it will sound like you’re about to fire the person. If it is your child receiving the feedback, the negative behavior will be the salient part of the conversation and what they are more likely to remember if that is what you ramble on and on about.)

This might sound familiar because it is a lot like some of the advice in the How to Praise a Child Round Up. Once again, if you know how to raise and/or teach a child, you should know how to get a corner office. Not that that’s how our society works. But you know. Just sayin’. 


And the amazing thing is, you can tell people almost anything when you state it in the form of a fact rather than a judgement. People can argue with your opinion or judgement. Nobody (reasonable) can argue with facts. You have a sleazy boss? It is hard to say, I’ve been meaning to tell you, you’re kind of sleazy. Because that is a label, and it is a kind of harsh one. And maybe his behavior is too subtle to really go to HR and say, "he’s gross, do something, maybe?" But you can say, “I’ve noticed you look me up and down a lot and touch me more than any other of my other coworkers. (Describe the behavior) It makes me uncomfortable. (Describe the impact) I’d appreciate it if you could just look me in the eyes and give me some more personal space. That’d be great."


FYI: If by chance, you are on the receiving end of some useless, label-filled feedback {because your boss was never an awesome parent or teacher like you, natch. or like many bosses, your’s wasn’t hired for his people/management skills.} here are three questions you should ask: 
  1. What do you want to see me start doing?
  2. What do you want to see me stop doing?
  3. What do you want to see me keep doing?

Overreacting and Labels




The authors of Crucial Conversations make an important point. When you say, “That made me so angry!” what you really mean is, “That thing happened, and I immediately, without even realizing it, created a story to explain why it happened (what everyone’s role and motives were, etc.) and that story made me so angry!” 


For example, your boss was late to a meeting you organized (that was the thing that happened). Your story was, your boss doesn’t respect you or think what you have to say is important. He blew off you and your meeting and walked in late to show everyone how unimportant he thinks you are, and how useless what you have to say is. And that story, not so much the event, is what made you angry.


Your story is really like a complicated label. At the very least, you are labeling the other characters in your story. Often times these stories are what the authors’ consider “clever” because they essentially let us off the hook. There is a victim (you), a villain (the other guy), and/or a helpless character (you also). These labels often allow us to underplay our own role in the problem or mistakes we might have made, and exaggerate the role or cruel motives of others.


If we step back and look simply at the facts of the case and remove these labels, we are sometimes able to consider other possibilities. It leaves us some room for a little more empathy, or at least a little more room to consider other perspectives. For example, maybe your boss was one his way to your meeting and got sick. He would have gone home, but he didn’t wan to miss your presentation. He got there as soon as he could, and sat through the whole thing feeling unwell, because he knew it was important to you and he wanted to support you. If you stopped to consider other reasons your boss could have been late, you could have labeled him as something other than the villain and then you wouldn’t have been angry.


It is the same with our kids. A lot of times when kids misbehave or do something bad, we sometimes think they are doing it just to disrespect us. We forget they are just kids and they actually are really motivated to please us. But they are kids! They are exploring their world, testing their boundaries, learning new things. They have short attention spans, a limited understanding of the world and sometimes we haven’t clearly explained how things work or what we expect in some circumstances. And a lot of times we’ve done a really crummy job considering things from their perspective.

That’s why it is really important to step back, take a deep breath, and carefully observe before we jump in and label and flip out. That space we create gives a little more room for empathy, clarity, and perspective. All good things.





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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Two Amazing Ways to Stop Saying Sorry When You Really Don’t Need To

In ascending order of professional applicability. 
 
Even though Panteen and the rest of the internet thinks only women say sorry all the time, I know that’s not true because my first trick I learned from a dude. If you haven’t seen the Panteen commercial, well. Here.
 
 
<Panteen commercial>
 
In my first job out of college, I was living in an apartment I couldn’t afford. I knew I couldn’t afford it because most of my friends in the Northern Virginia high rise were lawyers and I wasn't. I also knew I couldn’t afford it because I had  no discretionary income until I finally moved out. Anyway, one of my lawyer friends was a nice guy. (you know how it goes)
 
 
 
 
Anyway, he said he used to say sorry all the time. And when he noticed I did it, he told me was going to pass along a little tip his friend (also a guy, who also said gratuitous “Sorry”s all the time) told him to help him break the habit. He said: every time you get the urge to say “Sorry” just say “F*ck you” instead. It’ll cure ya real quick. First, it teaches you to be more aggressive and less “nice guy” like. And second it will make you aware of how much you say it, which will show you how inappropriate most of your “sorry”s really are. 
 
 
I probably still say sorry too much. But at least I laugh sometimes when I do it. (I’m really bad about saying “sorry” instead of “excuse me.” e.g., when I’m trying to get out of a movie theater seat, I’m just like, sorry! sorry! sorry everyone! Then I think how funny would it be if I were like, f*ck you, f*ck you, f*ck all of you! I have to pee! makes me laugh every time.)
 

Now the more professionally useful one. As in, you can use it at work or in polite company. It is called “contrasting” and I got it from Crucial Conversations. It is useful when somebody misunderstands you or overreacts to something you said that wasn’t actually (objectively) inappropriate. Let's say you were trying your hardest to stand up for yourself and then it blew up in your face. (sucks). This will come in handy because you can use this anytime you haven’t done anything wrong even though somebody reacted like you did (oversensitive little baby). If you have nothing to apologize for, you could do the awful, “I’m sorry I upset you!” thing; but DON’T! Instead, you use contrasting.
 
 
Contrasting consists of two parts, a "don’t part" and a "do part." The "don’t part" is where you’d say what you don’t think. Basically counter whatever they misunderstood or whatever they are stating or implying in their overreaction. “I don’t think you are an incompetent boss who needs someone to tell you how to do your job.” Or “I don’t think you are terrible husband and father!”  Or “The last thing that I wanted to communicate was that I think you are a miserable coworker." 
 
 
Then you provide what you do think. “In fact, I don’t think there is anyone as knowledgeable of X in this entire state.” or “I can’t imagine anybody else I’d rather be raising our children with.” or “I think your work on this project has been nothing short of amazing.”
 
 
You’re not apologizing. You are clearing the air. And you are hopefully making them feel better so you can go on to have a productive conversation. 
 
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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why knowing better doesn’t automatically lead to doing better

Parents, and adults in general, constantly do things even though they “know better.” We don’t eat enough vegetables. We don’t get enough exercise. We don’t get enough sleep. We wait until the last minute to do our taxes (or call our accountant). We buy too many pairs of shoes and No. 2 pencil skirts and dresses during J.Crew sales.

Knowing better doesn’t mean doing better. And yet, we constantly think that just because we told our kids to do/not do something (a hundred times) they should do/stop it already (goshdarnit). 

I’m always getting really mad at myself because I have read all this parenting stuff. I’m an educator. I have a psychology degree. And yet. I’m like a super crappy parent sometimes. Like super duper crappy. I mean, ask my neighbors. (I always feel like we are the loudest family on the block, but they politely assure me they don’t hear anything. I think they are lying.)


So this article made me feel better: Why We Aren't The Parents We Know We Could Be. And this one: How People Change.

What is interesting is that, what is good for changing our kids' behavior, is good for changing our behavior. So if we can figure out how to make our kids better people, we can figure out how to make ourselves better people too (bonus). Hint: it involves more than saying, “do it!"
So what will change children's behavior? 
Kazdin and Rotella advocate what they call "reinforced practice" and "positive opposites." In brief, you can encourage desired behaviors by repeatedly eliciting them (or their successive approximations) and reinforcing them as soon as they happen, and you can eliminate undesirable behaviors by reinforcing the positive behaviors you want to replace them with. (See, I wasn't kidding about rats and levers.) Punishment in some forms has its time and its place, but it's rarely effective, and it's rarely the best choice.
These principles don't just apply to kids and to rats. If you want to change your own behavior, exactly the same ideas apply. So if you're hoping to become a better parent, you need to do more than learn some psychology or skim through some parenting books.
(And interestingly most of these principles apply to management. You know, if people actually valued the skills related to motherhood.)
I happen to cover a field — politics — in which people are perpetually bellowing at each other to be better....It’s a lousy leadership model. Don’t try to bludgeon bad behavior. Change the underlying context. Change the behavior triggers. Displace bad behavior with different good behavior. Be oblique. Redirect.
So there you go.




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