Tuesday, January 26, 2010

3 Ways to Give the Best of Yourself


Mute.

I love that little button on my TV remote. I use it a lot. Commercial comes on?

Mute.

A program with talking heads yelling at each other?

Mute.

In today's workplace, I think a lot of people long for a "mute" button. Unfortunately, not only do we not have the option of tuning everything out, but the increasing stress levels have made it just a bit too loud -- in all kinds of ways.

Recently, I looked into the issue of incivility and stress in the workplace, and what we can do about it. Here's the column I did for Gannett:



As you check your e-mail, return phone calls, gather materials for a meeting in five minutes and try to ignore the fact you haven’t had time to eat lunch, the last thing you may find time for in your busy work day is taking a breather.

Who has time to pause these days? To catch a deep breath when there are ringing phones and buzzing pagers and deadlines and endless workloads? If you pause, you think, all the balls you’re juggling might come crashing down around your head. If you take a take a break, you believe, you’ll only get further behind.

But Nance Guilmartin believes that’s exactly the type of thinking that has led to so much incivility in the workplace today. The inability to give ourselves a moment to gather our thoughts, she says, is what has led many people to make bad decisions, engage in fruitless arguments and ratchet up the stress.

“We’re stretched to the snapping point,” says Guilmartin, an executive coach. “What people need to understand is that even though they can’t change what’s happening, they can change how they handle it. They don’t have to be the victim of what they can’t control.”

Guilmartin says that workers need to learn to stop the habit of “knee-jerk reactions” to situations or people at work, and instead take a minute to consider what they’ve heard and ask questions to make sure they understand the situation before commenting. She says taking a pause allows us to “tap back into our long-lost common sense.”


In her book, “The Power of Pause: How to Be More Effective in a Demanding, 24/7 World, “(Jossey-Bass, $24.95), Guilmarten tells the story of a nurse who was advised to slow down, and reacted with disbelief. As a busy professional with multiple patients, limited resources and time and the unending stress of ill or dying patients, the nurse was incredulous that anyone would tell her to “take a moment to catch her own breath,” Guilmartin says.

Guilmartin says she shared with the nurse the story of a friend who had been in and out of hospitals for a couple of years, and said she felt like nothing more than a “procedure” every time a harried nurse entered her room.

The friend told Guilmartin she would instead appreciate being seen as a person first, and a patient second.
Guilmartin said the message resonated with the nurse, who did indeed begin taking a breath before entering a patient’s room, understanding that the pause ensured that she gave the patient a better quality of care, and made her a better nurse.

“We have to learn to give the best of ourselves in the moment,” Guilmartin says. “And all it takes is the time to take one deep breath. Maybe you don’t have time to do more, but you can do more with the time you have.”

Guilmartin says there are a number of ways to be more successful and have more impact and satisfaction in our work, simply by changing a few bad habits that have cropped up in a non-stop, always-connected world.

Among them:
Don’t react with angry words. Either verbally or written in an e-mail, “you give your power away when you get furious,” she says. “You may win the battle, but you lose the war.” Instead, when frustrated or angry, pause and then try and regain control of the situation by getting more information. It could be that you misunderstood, the person may have accidentally misspoken, or you don’t fully understand all the issues involved.
• Listen. The workplace today is focused on developing a collaborative atmosphere where ideas are shared to drive innovation. That can’t happen, she says, unless people take the time to simply show respect by listening to another person without jumping in with snap decisions or judgments so they can move onto the next item on a to-do list. “The greatest thing you can have someone say about you is: ‘Wow. She’s a great listener.
• Be honest. “If someone comes to you and you’re waiting on an important phone call, be honest with them and say that you can give them only 50 percent of your attention because you’re focused on the upcoming call. Tell them if that's OK, you can give them what you can at the time. What this does is help the person come to trust you because you’re being honest.”


What are some ways you use to slow yourself down when things get crazy?

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Expert Advice on How to Deal With Current Mind-Blowing Stress


Some days I think there should be another word for stress besides "stress." I mean, does one simple word really describe what millions of people are experiencing these days?

We've been complaining for years that we have too much stress at work. Studies have shown that we get headaches, stomach pains, back problems and may even make ourselves more susceptible to things like cancer because of the pressure we feel in our lives.

But nothing could have prepared us for what we feel now.

That's why when I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Judith Orloff, I jumped at the chance. As a psychiatrist, I figured she would have all the answers when it came to dealing with how to handle the stress we're feeling today.

And here's what I found out: She's got a lot of suggestions but ultimately, if we want some calm in our lives, we're going to have to put some effort into it. Sure, a doctor can prescribe therapy or even pills to help the anxiety, depression, fear and stress, but it's really up to an individual to find that stress-free zone we all wish a snap of the fingers could give us.

I caught Orloff while she was on a tour for her new book, "Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life."

“For a lot of people who have things in their past like an insecure childhood, all the old patterns are being triggered by this crisis,” Orloff says. “People are really worried about what might happen.”

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) annual Stress in America survey, almost half of American workers say they’re stressed about their ability to provide for their families' basic needs, and eight out of 10 say the economy is a major stressor.

Orloff says that even though she is being deluged by new patients seeking help because of the current economic conditions, she says there are a number of ways for people to help themselves, and someone should look at this crisis as a chance to be grateful for “what is working in your life.”

Orloff says that those who want strategies to handle the stress being felt today should:

· Focus on the moment. “What’s killing people is focusing on what may or may not happen. Do what you can in the moment. If you lose a job, pick up the classified ads and start looking. Give yourself lots of affirmation. But stop thinking of the ‘what if’ and focus on the ‘now.’”
· Battle back the fear. It’s OK to admit you have insecurities or are afraid. Be specific about what scares you. By identifying your fears, then you can be better prepared to handle a situation that upsets you. Then, think about times you showed courage, even if it was simply getting out of bed when you felt bad. Let the courage infuse you, and not the fear. “It’s time for people to be heroes in their own lives,” Orloff says. “Believe in yourself and move forward.”
· Hang around positive people. Orloff says “emotional vampires” can suck the spirit out you with their negative and demoralizing talk. It’s better to engage people who are upbeat and who have positive things to say. Focus on how good you feel when you’re with good friends and a loving family and do things that relax you and make you feel better such as yoga, meditation, taking a walk or relaxing in a warm bath. Avoid things that add to your tension such as violent news stories, arguments or too much caffeine.
· Keep rejection in perspective. Job hunting can be stressful, especially if you’re rejected for a position. “Remember that you’re not being personally rejected. In these cases, it’s more important than ever that you have people around you who are your cheerleaders, who support you.”
· Attract hope. Even if you haven’t lost your job, chances are you know someone who has. When you start feeling depressed, connect with words, songs or art that have hopeful messages. Call a friend who has a hopeful outlook on life. Orloff says that hope is contagious – exposing yourself to hopeful situations will help lift your mood.

Finally, as dismal as the situation is for many people, Orloff says that she believes that our current crisis is really an “opportunity.”

“People are going to learn that no matter what is happening, they’re going to be OK,” she says. “I think many people will come out of this situation more empowered because of how they dealt with their problems.”

What are some ways you handle the added stress of the current economic crisis?



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Monday, December 15, 2008

Can Losing a Job Save Your Life?


Would you do your job if you didn't get paid?

If you burst out laughing after reading this question, then this column is for you. If you've broken into tears at the question, this post is for you. If your stomach cramps and your vision starts to blur, this is definitely for you.

This post is for all of you who can't imagine who or what you'd be without your job, but you do know that the word "love" or "passion" has never entered your consciousness when you talk about what you do for a living.

It was much the same story for Kathy Caprino. As a corporate vice president with a high powered job, she thought she had it all: security, money, prestige. She had done what she was supposed to do, and achieved the desired status symbols of a nice office, people at her beck and call and a new home.

Then 9/11 happened and a week later, Caprino was laid off. While she did tell her husband the news, somehow the reality didn't connect with Caprino. For a week after her layoff, she arose each morning, put on her business suit, got in her car -- and drove around each day.

"It's so demoralizing to be laid off," she says. "You're stripped on any kind of self-esteem."

Finally, Caprino was forced to deal with her layoff, and she found herself in therapy "weeping."

"I hated who I had become," she says.

Who Caprino had become was someone who suffered chronic health problems, a stressed, desperately unhappy woman who felt trapped by her job and everything that went along with it. As a middle-aged woman who was the primary breadwinner, Caprino had never thought of doing anything else until she was forced into it with the layoff.

That, Caprino says, is when she discovered that even though she was middle-aged, she could "choose the next chapter."

It's that message that Caprino hopes many people -- especially mid-life professional women -- will hear during these tough times when they may lose their jobs.

"My prayer is that this (job loss) is a wake-up call. When something bad happens, it's time to assess whether you're really aligned with it," she says. "Don't make the mistake of glomming onto the first thing that comes along. Step back. Approach it from an empowered position."

Caprino, who went back to school and has become a therapist and executive coach, says that she has some words of advice (also available in her book, "Breakdown, Breakthrough") for those faced with job loss:

1. Believe you can move forward. Find someone -- a coach, therapist, etc. -- who won't feed your fears, but will help you believe that you can create a new place for yourself. Caprino does say that one coach, whom she paid $800, said that she was in the "perfect" job. "I wanted to stab myself in the eye," Caprino says. "But I recognized that he was as stuck (in his thinking) as I was. It was a friend who said to me: 'I love you dearly, but you're always unhappy.' That's when I knew I had to change."

2. Let go of the beliefs, actions and thoughts that keep you small. Just because you're not 20 anymore doesn't mean you don't have dreams and goals. Look deep inside yourself and think of what else you'd like to do. "Don't assume that a certain job is your role and nothing else. Don't over identify yourself with a job."

3. Say "yes" to honoring yourself. "Don't believe someone else has the power. You have the wherewithal to make your dreams come true."

Are there are other ways someone can find a job they love?


Lijit Search

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Workers Behaving Badly: Why Our Stress May be Bringing Out the Worst in Us



After 9/11, I was struck by the sense of caring we showed for one another. It was a horrible, stressful time, but it seemed to bring out the best in us. We began to look out for one another, even at work. We shared our mutual pain about what had happened, and even expressed our fear for the future. Office squabbles seemed ridiculous, and petty jealousies even more so.

Now it's seven years later, and we're facing another horrible, scary time. We see empty chairs at work, evidence of the people who have taken early retirement or other buyout packages. Almost every one of us know someone who has been laid off. Our own employers have stated they will not be filling empty positions for now.

And yet, office politics are on the rise. Gossiping, backbiting and negative campaigning dominate the airwaves, and we seem to mimic that behavior at work.

So, instead of pulling together on the job as we did after 9/11, we seem to be our own worst enemies right now. Of course, much of that is due to the enormous stress in both our private and professional lives. No one can predict what will happen next week, let alone in the coming year.

If makes workers feel powerless, and that's a lousy feeling. It makes us want to grab whatever we can and hold on, everyone else be damned. But here's the thing: We actually DO have a lot of control right now. We have control over how we treat one another.

It's not a easy thing to admit that we've been a jerk to people we work with, either through our silences or our short-tempers or our snide comments. But we've got to own up to our bad behavior, because until we do, we won't begin to fix what needs fixing.

So, today, I want you to think about the person in the cubicle next door or down the hall. I want you to think about how fear and anxiety has made you and others behave, and what you can do to start making things right.

Remember, the evidence supports the fact that when we are friendlier to one another at work, when we genuinely care about one another, we are not only happier but more productive. And right now, that's definitely a very good thing.

What are some ways to improve relationships with others at work?





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Friday, October 10, 2008

10 Signs to Know You've Gone Off the Stress Meter at Work


Stress.

If you're not feeling it these days, I want some of whatever you're drinking. Because with the latest economic news making most of us feel like we're on some sadistic new ride at Disney World, stress is catching up with most of us in one form or another.

And nowhere is that more evident than at work. After all, we spend a major portion of our time there every day, and the demands to perform are multiplied right now. Most of us -- even the most sanguine among us -- are feeling a teeny bit tense right now.

If so, you may want to take some steps to deal with it. Of course, sometimes it's hard to recognize that you're going off the deep end, so here are 10 signs that you may be under a bit of stress on the job:

1. Bite marks. In your car's steering wheel.
2. The announcement of "cake in the break room" has you clotheslining three people who try to get in line ahead of you.
3. You pay the tool booth operator, the parking lot attendant and the Starbucks barista in pennies. Bloodsuckers.
4. Your yoga instructor asks you -- repeatedly -- to quit swearing aloud during Downward Facing Dog.
5. Your co-worker whistling "Oh! What a Beautiful Morning" has you pouring salt in his coffee when he's not looking.
6. You use your latest 401(k) statement to make a giant spitball that you fire at your CEO as he walks by on the street. You giggle uncontrollably as he curses pigeons overhead.
7. When asked by your employer to watch expenses during these tough times, you turn off your computer and phone. When the boss asks you about it a week later, you look innocent and reply: "Just trying to cut energy costs."
8. You chisel the gold star off your "employee of the month" plaque and try to sell it on e-Bay.
9. While traveling on business, you show up for the airport gate in your skivvies. With your i.d. Superglued to your forehead.
10. During your performance evaluation you juggle, do an impersonation of Cloris Leachman on Dancing With the Stars and recite the Gettysburg Address while drinking a glass of water. "Just want to point out my talents so I can get that .0333 percent raise!" you tell the boss.

So, do you think you're feeling the stress? What are some other hints you might be hanging by your fingernails?

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Politics and Money Worries: A Volatile Mixture on the Job


There's no escaping the economic news lately, and most of us go to work every day just trying not to think about our dwindling 401(k) plans or pensions. But even if we're trying to block it out, most of us are carrying an extra level of stress as we try to do a job already demanding more of of us than even a year ago.

Add to that the upcoming presidential election, and we're creating a volatile situation where our workplace can become a boiling point for a lot of pent-up anxieties, says one workplace expert.

Christine Probett, a San Diego State University lecturer and former Goodrich executive, says workers are increasingly anxious, frightened and emotional about the future, and that nervousness with the economy means that clear communications from top brass are critical.

“When people get nervous – as they are now with the economy – it’s really important that companies keep their workers informed about what is going on,” says Christine Porbett. “If they don’t, the rumors will start to fly. People will begin making stuff up.”

I recently interviewed Probett for my Gannett News Service/USAToday.com column, and she says that she was once told by an employee that the way the employee separated fact from fiction was by asking three different people about a rumor. If it was confirmed by those three people, then the employee accepted it as fact – and that meant she could pass it along to other workers.

“In a company, there are enough rumors going around that you can get 100 people to confirm a rumor as fact,” Probett says. “Just because you heard it doesn’t make it fact, but that’s how it happens.”

She says any during tough economic times, every closed-door meeting can spawn speculation among employees.

“If management has a meeting, they better come out of that meeting and communicate about what was discussed with the people who work there,” Probett says. “Even if all they can say is that they can’t talk about it. It’s better than out-and-out-lying about what was said."

Further, Probett says the upcoming elections also have added another layer of drama to a workplace that is already trying to deal with workers stressed by rising consumer prices, unemployment and unsettling news from Wall Street.

She says that employees must be very careful about what they say regarding elections at work, because they might be setting the stage for what is known as a "hostile work environment".

Specifically, under federal law, a “hostile work environment” means that “unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”

“A lot of people are talking about this election, and it brings up a lot of issues,” Probett says. “We’re either going to have an African-American man as president, or a woman as vice president. There’s a lot of energy and emotion tied up in that. Diversity is one of those issues that creates a lot of tension and disagreement in the workplace, because sometimes it’s hard for one person to understand where someone else is coming from.”

That's why it's important that employees clearly understand what they can and cannot say at work regarding the election. If they're not clear, and the company has no set policy, it might be best to keep a low profile regarding political views. According to an American Management Association survey, 35 percent of business people said they are uncomfortable discussing their political views with colleagues.

“I would discourage people from wearing buttons supporting a specific candidate or party, and not allow signage or fundraising while at work,” Probett says.

If you're having problems with someone at work regarding politics, Probett says you should resolve it as you do any conflict.

“Don’t let the issue get bigger. Talk to the person, and tell them what you believe the problem to be. Don’t name call, and make sure you listen when they talk. Once you understand where the other person is coming from, try to come to a resolution. Then, move on. Don’t hold a grudge,” she says.

Are you feeling more stress on the job? How are you handling it?

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Customer is Not Always Right

“Smile.”

“The customer is always right.”

“Good service is what keeps the customer.”

If you’re a manager, you probably have used these words with your employees. If a customer is snotty to an employee, too bad. If a customer tries to return merchandise that violates the return policy, the employee must remember “that the customer is always right,” even if it causes him or her to lose a commission.

And if a customer becomes hostile and throws coffee because it’s not hot enough, the employee is to smile and fix a new cup because “good service is what keeps the customer.”

But what toll are your words having on your employees? When you tell them to "smile" through experiences that shake them emotionally, then it affects more than their souls -- they suffer physically, as well.

What can managers do to help keep customers while not placing more stress on workers? Try:
• Providing a supportive environment. An employee who has been put through the wringer by a customer should be supported by a manager by being allowed to step away from the job for a while. A chance to take a short walk, or even take the afternoon off, can show the employee that the manager is sympathetic to the situation.
• Recognition. A manager needs to make a habit of recognizing the contribution that workers make to an organization, and the emotional stresses faced every day. Rewards and incentives show that the employee has worth.
• Show where to draw the line. It’s important that a manager stand behind an employee when dealing with an especially difficult customer. No employee should have to smile when they have food thrown at them by an irate customer. If you tell them they have to take it, then you’re showing you don’t value them.
• Providing coping skills. Many employees are not educated about how to handle abusive customers. They need information on how to stay calm when faced with an angry customer -- what words and body language to use and how to recover their composure after a tough time.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Power of Quiet

Recently, I had the opportunity to be in a soundproof room. We're talking padded, carpeted walls with absolutely no sound -- nothing -- penetrating the walls. I was in there by myself, and the minute I was left alone I let out a sigh. It was like all the air left my body, and my posture immediately relaxed into the chair.

I was in that room by myself for about 10 minutes, and it was absolutely remarkable. Seriously, I cannot recall any time in my life that there was absolute quiet. There was nothing for me to do but just sit there and listen to...nothing.

It felt like a gift. Something given to me unexpectedly in the face of an often chaotic life where I try and meet the demands of my professional and personal life on a minute-by-minute basis.

I've thought many times about that soundless room in the last few weeks, as my stress level often peaks and I search for ways to relieve it -- reading, listening to soft music, exercising, visiting with family. But I've got to say, I think very longingly of my quiet room. It's as if that room said to me: "It's OK. Turn everything off. Quiet yourself and just be."

This week I noticed a couple of posts by blogger Tiffany Monhollon and I was struck by the anxiety and confusion she felt as she tried to figure out the issues facing her and GenY, and why it all seemed so hard. I immediately remembered how I felt starting out in the world, and the same stress of trying to keep my personal and professional life on track, while trying to make sense of the world. I told her that generations before her had faced the same dilemma called life, and sometimes we all need to just remember what we have in this life...not what we don't have.

But one thing I didn't tell her was that I do believe the constant barrage of information and just noise hitting the younger generation is something older workers didn't face in their early careers. We were given a chance to just think, to walk out of our workplace and not resume the job until we re-entered the next day. We weren't expected to be on call to a computer and pager and cell phone.

In the latest issue of Esquire magazine, an acoustic ecologist says that in 1984 there were some 21 spots in Washington state where there were at least 15 minutes during which no man-made sounds could be heard. Today, there are only three.

The writer of the story used this information in a story about how he had always been quite the talker, but spent some time recently simply not speaking. He found the less he talked, the easier it was to shut things out. "Used right," he said, "silence communicates trust. It's like carrying a holstered gun....It's not dangerous; it's in the holster. But people notice. It can't kill anyone, but they see what you are carrying. Silence makes you the sheriff."

So, here's a new challenge for all of us. Shut it off. All of it. Try to eliminate every hum and rattle of your world for at least 15 minutes every week. Try to talk less and just be.

Then, let me know if you find what you've been looking for...


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