Grateful for things large and small: Living the good life

 

grateful

 

Published in Kankakee Daily Journal November 14, 2018

Several weeks ago I wrote about three practices we can use to live a more positive and successful life.  I wrote “First I’m keeping a written diary of 5-7 items each day that I’m thankful for.”  In the past. I’ve tried doing it in my head rather than writing them down. But there is a “magical” power of putting it down in black and white. To be perfectly honest, I haven’t done it every day on paper and at times still resort to keeping a list in my head.  I have noticed, though, that when I actually write it down it has a more profound impact. Across the last six weeks there are three things I have learned more deeply about gratefulness. As we are heading towards Thanksgiving I think you will find these of interest.

Noticing the small things. After a while you’ll find you have noticed all the big things like family, friends, and your house. At first I felt foolish writing down things like: “My three cats are all healthy and doing well; I can’t believe the abundance we have in our grocery stores; we have consistent power and heat;” and on it goes.  But I started realizing when you actively look for the good, it is, as the President often says “Tremendous!” In the process of vigorously looking for things to be grateful for, it opens up whole new vistas.

Most of your news is good news. With all the chaos and rancor we have been through in the last few years, we get conditioned to pay attention to the negative. Having free speech and a democratic society is not always pretty, but in the end it provides the best system in the world. The news media tends to practice “What bleeds leads.” Why? Because we tend to notice them more. Without being naïve, I’m less and less interested in somebody else’s idea of news and thus try and construct my own view of what is going on.  Without in any way diminishing the tragedies in our society, we have got to put them in perspective. Thousands of airplanes will take off/land every day without incident.  O’Hare Airport has approximately a million take-off and landings each year and the last major crash was in 1979. Millions of people will go to restaurants, bar and grills, and other establishments without incident each and every day.

Probably most of you have experienced an auto accident or two during your lifetime (hopefully minor). Chances are you said to yourself afterwards, “If I would have only left two minutes earlier or later this would not have happened.” It is a common and natural human reaction.  But do you think about the thousands of times that you did not have an accident because you left at just the right time? So consider broadcasting your own good news and be thankful for the blessings– not only what does happen but what does not happen.

Share with others that you are thankful for them. A few weeks ago I mentioned that my major professor, friend, mentor, and from time-to-time coauthor, Dr. William Anthony of Florida State had been stricken by pancreatic cancer.  I called another FSU professor, Dr. Perrewé, and asked where I could send a card to him.  She said unfortunately Bill was in his very last days and gave me his wife’s e-mail.  I was able to quickly pen an e-mail message to him. I got a kind note back from his wife that she would read it to him. Even though I had expressed my appreciation to him across the years, this one last time was such a privilege for me and hopefully meaningful to him. (If you have interest in what a great mentor is really like you can read the column I wrote May 22, 2013 featuring Dr. Anthony by going to www.daakecomments.Wordpress.com and search on the term mentorship.)

Again, as I’m learning, it is not always the big things in life that make a difference-there are so many small things when you start looking for them.  A couple weeks ago when we stopped at a rest area on I-80 West, it occurred to me how lucky we have it to be able to stop in a well-run, clean, maintained rest area.  On the way out we encountered two of the custodial workers and expressed our appreciation to them.  They just beamed! I’m not patting myself on the back, but rather suggesting how my days are so much more positive by noticing others’ work.  As I mentioned the last time the single best book on gratefulness, is Janice Kaplan’s “The Gratitude Diaries.”  It would make a great Christmas or Thanksgiving present for yourself or others.

I want to end this column by sharing with you three people in our community that deserve thanks and gratitude for doing their jobs so well each day.  I will use only their first names, but I know you will recognize them immediately. The first one is Susan at Walmart in Bradley. She cheerful, helpful, and does all the little extra things in an extraordinary matter. Secondly is Nicki at Mayberry Junction in Manteno. She makes dining a fun experience! She “insults” you in the nicest, friendly, fun-loving way.  She would fit in very well at Ed Debevic’s in Chicago. The third person is Tina at the Bourbonnais Post Office.  She is efficient, kind, knowledgeable and patient. Actually the whole staff at the post office is great, but I want to give a special call out to her.

Whether you keep a gratefulness diary (which I highly recommend) or just keep track in your head, during this Thanksgiving season and even more importantly the rest of the year, understand gratefulness is a powerful happiness tonic.

Dr. Don Daake holds an MBA from the University of Iowa with a marketing concentration and a Ph.D. in strategy from Florida State University. He is a professor emeritus at Olivet.  He can be contacted at ddaake@olivet.edu

 

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Being a professional–with a new twist

professional-qualified

 

Published in Kankakee Daily Journal October 31, 2018

Being a professional–a new twist.

Last week Dr. Piatt wrote a compelling article on how our society needs to act in more civil ways.  He shared 10 norms of behavior that Christine Porath shared in a Harvard Business Review article.   It was pointed that these norms such as saying thank you, being approachable, acknowledging the contributions of others and many more, don’t just happen automatically. They need to be modeled, rewarded, and in many cases part of an organization’s training and development.

I would like to extend some ideas based on Ed’s article as they apply to being a professional.  From a jobs perspective, the term professional is usually used to designate white-collar and/or those paid on a salary.  But I want to use it in a more broad-based definition. One definition from Meriam’s Dictionary’s is: “exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace.”  To further simplify and generalize it is: exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, manner when interacting with others.   In this sense, it applies to anyone including doctors, janitors, engineers, line workers, accountants, or retail workers.

Perhaps, you have heard others or even yourself complain with phrases like this:  “Dr. Tedious was technically very competent, but he had a terrible bedside manner;” My taxes were done accurately by Ms. Beancounter, but she had zero personality;” Wrench Auto repaired my car, but Mr. Greaser talked down to me;   or “I like working with Ms. Detail, but she takes days to respond to my phone calls or e-mails.”  The root cause of this disconnect is when we narrowly define a professional by their technical skills and schooling without properly addressing how they handle human feelings and emotions.

We should never excuse impersonal, boorish, or even rude behavior. Professionalism is not an either/or proposition.  Increasingly in the medical field, for example, medical centers, medical providers, and all the various employees are being trained to be not only competent but friendly, warm, empathetic problem solvers, and better listeners to facilitate the healing process.

I want to briefly address three simple practices (I could site many more), that all of us can use to be more professional in the best sense of the word, whether or not we have an “official” professional-sounding title.

Pay close attention to those you are talking to.  That means eye contact, giving verbal, and non-verbal affirmation that you are hearing them (even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.) I had a friend in the medical field who had a boss that had a bad habit during one-on-one meetings to keep working on her computer and other projects.  Even though important issues were being discussed she did not look over at my friend. She would claim she heard everything which was unlikely. Regardless, this was a sign of profound disrespect.  This boss failed miserably in acting professional.

As a professor and public speaker for well over 35 years, I can tell you the deep positive effect students and other community audiences have on me when they pay attention, maintain eye-contact and provide feedback. My advice to everyone is this: Whenever you are in any kind of audience you will endear yourself to the speaker whether it is your boss, co-worker, minister, or your friend when you are responsive.  You will be seen much more professional (although the other person may not even know why they see you this way.) Asking follow-up questions when appropriate is yet another way to gain credibility. Doing it with an appreciate inquiry approach is really effective.  See my September 8, 2018 article on this if you have more interest. https://daakecomments.wordpress.com/

Work on having a positive outlook.  The positive psychology literature is definitive that some of us are just naturally born with a brighter outlook.  But we can all develop attributes such as providing appreciation, smiling more, listening to others, showing patience, kindness, and so forth.  Try monitoring yourself for a while.  In the past when I was walking down the hall at Olivet thinking hard, I apparently commonly had a frown on my face.  People would ask me if something was wrong.  I would say “No everything is going great!” I had to become more aware of what I was projecting to others non-verbally.  Most of us experience frustration and are overwhelmed at times. That is natural, but be careful how you are coming across without even thinking about it.

Be as responsive as possible.  In a day when we are inundated with an avalanche of e-mail, unwanted scam marketing calls, and junk paper mail, let alone our own self-imposed Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and text messages, it is so tempting to just want to disconnect. Unsolicited communications generally carry no obligation to respond. That having been said, we all have bosses, colleagues, customers, and friends who have the right to receive prompt responses from us.  This doesn’t necessarily mean immediately. It depends on the situation and person involved. Set some reasonable response time of time for your situations and stick to them. Some folks will use a 24 or 48 hour rule at maximum.  Failure to do so will make others see you as unprofessional and unreliable. Sometimes I have missed a very important communication, not intentionally, but it just happens. When it does, I need to apologize and mend the situation.  The worse of the worse is the failure to respond at all to repeated legitimate attempts to communicate with us.

People don’t care about how many or few diplomas are on our walls, being a self-important grump negates all of them.  In the end, being seen as a true “professional” is not mainly about your technical expertise, but rather how you build bridges and communicate with others.

 

Dr. Don Daake holds an MBA from the University of Iowa with a marketing concentration and a Ph.D. in strategy from Florida State University. He is a professor emeritus at Olivet.  He can be contacted at ddaake@olivet.edu

 

 

Giving it your all!

 

 

Every time I visit my friend Jay Flaherty at his Bellevue tree and wildlife preserve (just south of Dubuque) I always come away with something of value. This past weekend it was about a dozen frozen trout he had caught in northeastern Iowa streams.  But more than that (including the Whitey’s ice cream and the delicious chocolate bars he shared) I always feel enrichened by our fascinating conversations.  On this trip we discovered that he, Barbara, and I all have a deep interest in the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery which was sent out in 1804 by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.  Over the course of the expedition, 58 men, one woman and one dog participated.

It was an incredible journey of grit and determination.  This group of men and the young 16 year old Indian maiden, Sacajawea, fought through the most adverse conditions and gave it their best.  One of the most important reasons for the ultimate success of this 3700 mile journey to the Pacific was team work and loyalty. While quite different in personality, Merriweather Lewis and William Clark were compatibly different. Over and over again they motivated themselves and the Corps by the promise they had made promise to Jefferson that they would do their utmost to carry out the mission. In other words they would give it their all.

That conversation led us to talking about what it means today to give of your best. Jay started his career with IBM. After a few years he went on to become a successful lifelong IT and computer services entrepreneur. Over the years he has interviewed hundreds of potential employees for his companies. As a former professor, who continues to advise students and young professionals, I have gained useful insights from Jay’s stories and experiences. My favorite story, which I have mentioned before in this column, I want to repeat and suggest some applications for all of us.

One day Jay and two women from their HR department were interviewing a young lady for a job. It was a rather ordinary interview but the three were favorably impressed.  Upon wrapping up the interview the candidate said something that none of the team had ever heard before. She looked them straight in the eye and said “One thing I can guarantee you is that I will always give you my very best.” Bingo! The three looked at each other and said “You’re hired.”  Since I heard that story a few years ago, I have told many prospective job seekers to sincerely use those words as a summary statement, but only if you really mean it!

The idea of giving it your all and giving your very best can be applied to all of us whether as an employee, a boss, a parent, a child, a teacher or whatever we do.  Here are four key applications.

Always come prepared.  Giving it your all respects other people’s time. So whether you are presenting at a meeting, teaching a course, or waiting on customers, preparation shows.  There is nothing worse than dealing with people who are unprepared because they don’t do their homework.  Have you ever made a large purchase of something like a house or car and have the sales person so prepared they anticipate what you want to know and have the answers. Impressive isn’t it?

Actively engage others and make it a point to assess situations from their perspective. Dr. Piatt has written many excellent articles on Emotional Intelligence.  Emotional intelligent people do not assess others to manipulate them, rather to effectively serve them and create win-win deals.  On the other hand, perhaps you have known someone who takes the attitude “I am who I am, I don’t really care about what others think, and well others will just have to adjust to me.”  Seems like every organization (and in some cases even families) have one of these people.  Make sure you’re not one of them! Rather than giving their very best, they cause chaos around them which results in the very worse. While you probably can’t fire a family member, if you have an employee like that maybe it’s time for them to explore other career options!

Look and act the part. This is always controversial because we have moved into such a casual society.  That having been said, how you dress and act has to be flexible to meet the expectations of those you are with.  Still to this day, many employers complain how prospective employees dress for interviews.  There is no penalty for over-dressing a bit in most situations–unless of course you show up to a pool party in a tuxedo.  Acting the part also includes the language we use. Some people find it acceptable to use coarse and even vulgar language in person and especially on social media. Bad idea Why? Because in one sense you are always representing your employer, family, and yourself. Zig Ziglar gives it to us straight. He says he doesn’t know of anyone who ever got a sale or a job because the customer or employer said “Wow that person is great because he/she can turn the air blue with his vulgar language and off-colored stories.” Giving it your very best means acting in way that brings credit to everyone, especially yourself.

Leave your problems at the door.  My friend, motivational speaker Steve Beck, talks about how we all have off-days, problems, frustrations, anger, and worry. His copyrighted theme “Leave your funk at the door” puts it directly.  What he means is don’t take out your problems on co-workers, customers, family members, and others in your life.  He doesn’t diminish the need to talk to someone and share and get help when necessary.  But giving your very best means you have to appropriately focus on others and deal with your problems at the proper time and place.

In many ways life is a Journey of Discovery. Giving it your all and your very best is the safest and most enjoyable way to reach your destination.

 

Dr. Don Daake holds a Bachelor of Science in history from Kansas State University, an MBA from the University of Iowa with a marketing concentration and a Ph.D. in strategy from Florida State University. He can be contacted at ddaake@olivet.edu

Do you have more to gain or lose? It’s a choice and up to you!

Published in the Kankakee Daily Journal October 4th

(Thanks Connie L. for your encouragement!)b ladscape

Have you ever been told something that is true or at least somewhat true that you wish you had not ever heard?  I’m not saying that ignorance is bliss or walking around naïve is a good thing, but how we see the world can impact how we think about things.

A few years ago someone told me (and I don’t even remember who) that you get to a point in life where the world tends to take away a lot more than it gives.  (Please stay with me for the next paragraph, because this is not a doom and gloom essay.)  At 20 we seem invincible and all the good things we have planned are ahead of us. At 35 we become more realistic, but still remain positive and are very future oriented.  From 45-55 we start to realize that while life is still open to new possibilities, more limitations start to pop up.  And then at retirement, even if we liked our job, there is sense of loss when we leave.  Most of us lose our parents by the time we are in our 60s and even start losing our contemporaries. For example, two weeks ago I found out that my major professor, mentor, and friend has terminal pancreatic cancer.

And then this last weekend I was in my hometown in northern Iowa at a planning meeting for my 50th high school reunion in August 2019.  Out of a class of 250, we have loss about 42 of our treasured classmates.  Companies in our hometown we once knew have closed and on it goes.  Don’t get me wrong the meeting was fun, joyful, and affirming despite the changes we are all experiencing.  But frankly, there are some days that I buy into the “more being taken away then gained” way of thinking.  And as it turns out all of us from time to time, regardless of our age, whether 20, 35, 50, or 67, may get discouraged by our losses.

But having immersed myself in the positive psychology literature for the last 3-4 years, I believe there is counter to our blue days. As Martin Segliman advocates (the acknowledged father of the modern positive psychology movement), we have the opportunity to flourish despite the difficult changes we all experience. Positive psychology is based on a number core principles. The one I want to focus on in particular is the disciplined practice of gratefulness.   I believe the single best book on the subject, is Janice Kaplan’s “The Gratitude Diaries.” For an entire year this award winning New York Times author and editor of Parade Magazine developed and practiced techniques to turn her life, thoughts, and actions towards gratefulness and thankfulness.  She tells how it transformed her work, her marriage, and life in general.

This goes beyond just thinking positive thoughts but taking tangible, though, uncomplicated set of actions.  If one can create new habits of thought it is transformational.  As Proverbs says “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.”

Many behavioral psychology experts believe that while new habits can be formed it does take time.  The 30 day rule is one common sense approach.  Do something for at least 30 days and it will become a part of your life and thinking.

So let me share three powerful but practices I am now working on and I hope you’ll join me in doing the same. First I’m keeping a written diary of 5-7 items each day that I’m thankful for.  The vast majority of positive psychologists themselves do this.  In the past I’ve tried doing it in my head rather than writing them down, but there is a powerful impact of writing it down in black and white and having it accumulate over time.  The more specific the better.  It can be about people, things, ideas…you name it.  One caution here, be careful in your gratefulness to not somehow indicate it how lucky you feel to have it better than others. Rather be thankful for what you and when appropriate share it with others.

Secondly, become a CEO-chief encouragement officer. How? During each week tell at least 5 people how they have made a specific difference in our lives. It can be face to face, an e-mail, a note, or even a text message, although I think the more personal the better.  In my high school a teacher with a single comment helped changed the course of my life. My one regret is I never had the opportunity to tell him that, although for years I tried to track him down.  We  need to tell our parents, children, friends, and employees while we still have the opportunity.

The final idea is one I adapted from teaching advertising creativity called “problem reversal.”  The idea is take a difficult or hard situation and reverse how you look at it. During my visit to my hometown this past weekend, I was especially cognizant of my parents both being gone for many years.  Almost daily I think about things I would like to share with them or ask them about.  A big loss of course, but by reversing that, I think about how incredible they were as parents, how respected and loved they were in the community.  This is not just a mind game, but genuine reflective wisdom that turns our loss into a deep sense of thankfulness. I plan to do one of these “loss reversals” a week and record in 2-3 paragraphs my specific thoughts.

What about you?  It is nice to live in the sunshine, but we all have cloudy and maybe even dismal days. While there is no such thing as a good cheer potion, gratitude may be the closest thing we have to it!

Dr. Don Daake holds a Bachelor of Science in history from Kansas State University, an MBA from the University of Iowa with a marketing concentration and a Ph.D. in strategy from Florida State University. He can be contacted at ddaake@olivet.edu

 

 

Do you get and give any respect? Part 1

rodney

Who can ever forget the funnyman Rodney Dangerfield (1921-2004), tugging on his tie complaining “I don’t get no respect.” His self-deprecating humor on shows from Carson to Leno and in movies such as Caddyshack, Back to School, and Easy Money make us roar with laughter.  He had hundreds of classic lines about getting no respect but just a sample makes the point. Said Rodney “When I was born I was so ugly the doctor slapped my mother; My father carries around the picture of the kid who came with his wallet; and When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them.”

Of course the issue of respect and disrespect is a serious and growing concern in our current chaotic political atmosphere.  We see more and more people (especially online) and also in personal confrontations acting in uncivil ways.  But what I want to concentrate on here is how we can improve respect especially in our work environments. But much of the same applies in our homes and other places as well.  In Part 2 I will explain how by asking questions in a respectful/appreciative way we can create higher morale, more creativity, happiness, and productivity.

In the July/August 2018 issue of Harvard Business Kristie Rogers asks “Do your employees feel respected?”  She cites a study by Christine Porath of Georgetown University, in which “of nearly 20,000 employees worldwide, respondents ranked respect as the most important leadership behavior. Yet employees report more disrespectful and uncivil behavior each year.” Ms. Rogers contends that managers and other high ranking employees may not be fully aware of this deficit because in their roles with their higher status they likely get respect as a matter of their position.

From her research she specifies that there are two distinct types of respect that employees need.  First, she contends that all employees want to feel that they are a part of the organization and are valued.  She calls this “owed” respect. It is the minimal expectation that every employee deserves.  One might equate this to the rights a citizen of a country has just because they are a citizen. If an organization and its managers are always overlooking their employees’ accomplishments and/or micro-managing them they are not showing this owed respect. Organizations, on the other hand that encourage self-management, team cooperation, and a sense of independence provide a healthy dose of owed respect.

The second type of respect is “earned” respect and recognizes individual contributions and those who act and deliver at a higher level. It acknowledges and values doing good work and going beyond the call of duty.  Failing to acknowledge earned respect can be demoralizing.

Rogers indicates it is important to have a balance between the two. She says “…workplaces with lots of owed respect but little earned respect can make individual achievement a low priority for employees, because they perceive that everyone will be treated the same regardless of performance…By contrast, workplaces with low owed respect but high earned respect can encourage excessive competition among employees… it could hinder people from sharing critical knowledge about their successes and failures, and it often promotes cutthroat, zero-sum behavior.”

During a 15 month study at a company named Televerde,  Rogers developed 7 tips managers can use to set the appropriate balance and amount of respect. Most of these are self-explanatory.  But I will add a few comments summarizing her findings.

  1. Establish a baseline of owed respect. Regardless of status make sure that all employees are recognized for their contributions.
  2. Know how to convey respect in your particular workplace. This can include active listening, valuing everybody’s ideas, showing interest in the employee’s family and their outside of work interests.
  3. Recognize that respect has ripple effects. How leaders treat employees cascades down to customers, industry partners. and members of the community. Rogers notes Costco as one of American’s favorite places to shop and work that is directly attributable to managerial respect of its employees.
  4. Customize the amount of earned respect you convey. Adjust the level of respect to your culture and the balance of individual and team level effort needed.
  5. Think of respect as infinite. Offering respect to one employee does not diminish what is available to others. It is not a fixed-sized pie to be divided. It can actually grow especially with earned respect. However, you have to be careful not to just hand out praise without out discretion. It must be based on actually meeting and  exceeding expectations
  6. See respect as a time saver, not a time waster. Christine Porath labels lack of time a “hollow excuse,” indicating that respect is largely about how you do what you’re already doing. The small amount of time used to affirm respect saves time in the long run.
  7. Know when efforts to convey respect can backfire. Make sure in showing respect you are consistent and not haphazard.  Rogers says “Employees are likely to perceive vague expressions by HR or high-level leaders that are not enacted day-to-day by managers and peers as manipulative or disingenuous.” This means offering respect is part of your culture but maintained by careful and sincere actions and words.

In a time where incivility seems to be growing, giving and receiving respect can set apart your organization and even your home as a place where people can grow and flourish.

 

Do you both get and give respect? Asking appreciative/respectful questions. Part 2

respectLast time we talked about the importance of giving and receiving respect at work, home, and in the community. To briefly review: during a 15 month study at a company named Televerde, Kristie Rogers developed 7 tips managers can use to set the appropriate balance and amount of respect. They were: establish a baseline of owed respect; know how to convey respect in your particular workplace; recognize that respect has ripple effects; customize the amount of earned respect you convey; think of respect as infinite; see respect as a time saver, not a time waster; and finally, know when efforts to convey respect can backfire.

An important and relatively new development in the management field is borrowed from psychology and social psychology.  It is named appreciative/respectful inquiry.  We all ask questions. Sometimes they are simply requesting information. For example, where is something, what time is the event; what are we planning for today? At other times question may appear straightforward but can have an insidious and disrespectful quality. It is not only the words we use but the tone of voice.  For example, a boss asking a salesperson “Where have you been?” might be showing interest in various accounts and their progress. On the other hand, asked in an angry and suspicious voice it could foreshadow a reprimand or even a dismissal.  Some other less than honorable reasons to ask questions includes the following: to find a culprit; to embarrass and shame; to appear superior; to create fear; and to manipulate.

With appreciate or respectful inquiry the intent of questions is deliberately different in motivation. Questions are asked that search for the best in people and the organization, not just to make them feel good and appreciated, but primarily to discover what is possible, but not yet realized. It is used as an engine of change. Dr. David Cooperrider, of Case Western Reserve University, is widely credited as the father of the appreciative inquiry movement.  He and his associates indicate that it can be used in a 4D process for change. The steps include asking questions for Discovery (the best of what is); Dream (What could be); Design (What should be); Deliver/Destiny (What will be).

I want to focus on some questions that can be asked in the Discovery and Dream phases. I’ll share and illustrate three sample questions. You can create your own of course, but the ones below are a good starting point. They can be adapted for use in a company, family, or any group of people. These can be asked by bosses, employees, family members, or any person of another. By their very nature they are designed to elicit more than just feel good responses. Rather they show respect and appreciation. We do need to assure those we are asking that we genuinely want to know and that this is not the time for modesty.

First “When we face challenges, what gets us through so we are successful and what special role do you play?” Many people have skills and abilities that we just take for granted. Giving others the chance to highlight what they think they are best at can be an eye-opening experience for both them and us.  Getting more in-depth information like this may allow further utilization of their skills in the future. One advisor even recommends re-reading people’s resumes that you have hired far in the past.  Rarely, do we actually use all of a person’s special gifts and abilities.  In the end, it is not about us “using” them, but rather allowing them to flourish as positive psychologist Martin Segliman advocates.

The second question is related to the first.  “How can we use your skills and abilities better?” In our daily routine we can get pigeon-holed. Why? Because our jobs require certain tasks, that may only utilize 20% of what we are capable of doing. Having a frank discussion about past jobs, future potential opportunities, and even a person’s hobbies and outside interests is very motivating.  People want to matter!  When, if ever, have you asked an employee, or have you been asked by a boss about the full range of what they or you bring to the table. One caution here.  Make sure that you don’t communicate that the more we learn about you, the more work we are going to pile on you.  Rather it is a matter of utilizing skills and abilities in an efficient and effective way.

The third question looks strongly to the future. “If you could develop or transform (our company, church, family, community group) in any way you wished, what three things would you do to heighten its vitality and overall health?”  This is the kind of question you don’t want to spring on someone. Give it to them and let them think about it for two or three days.  Ask them to make a few notes. I can almost guarantee that 80-90% of employees have never been asked this type of a question with the requirement and opportunity to respond.  You might do this one-on-one, but a better way is to do it in small groups.  Even though you are likely to get many impossible ideas, you will get some totally new use thoughts.  Sometimes it will involve stopping doing stupid, wasteful things that nobody really remembers why they are done in the first place.  At other times you may find out that people’s perceptions of what is going on is a miscalibration and it allows you to clarify things. But overall asking appreciative/respectful questions builds trust, morale, and can result in productive new resources.

 

Avoiding a world of Chicken Little without being Pollyannaish

chicken little-

How to turn discouragement into encouragement

Let’s face it, most of us from time to time become discouraged. Sometimes it is an issue at work, in the family, in our community. Ironically at other times it is not because we have too little but too much. We own cars, boats, houses, air conditioners, phones, and televisions and sometime they break. Or we are so busy living the good life and we just get plain worn out. Some of the best employees who are the most productive and most creative people, because of their extraordinary commitment, may suffer from disappointment or things just not moving fast enough.

From time to time, it seems Chicken Little is right and the sky is falling.  While a total myth without evidence, many of us still irrationally (and we know it) fall into that trap of thinking that difficult or bad things “come in threes” not realizing that when we start looking for a pattern we will likely find it.  On the other hand, being a Pollyanna where everything is seen as a blessing, when it is not, is the opposite extreme.

Psychologists tell us that many attributes of human behavior are trait-like and others are state-like. For sure, some people are just naturally born with a more optimism nature than others. That is a trait. But optimism can also be a state and learned and improved with effort.

Even though I’m a retired professor, I keep an active interest in three cutting edge but highly related areas, namely: positive psychology, emotional intelligence, and I have recently added appreciative/respective inquiry.  These are not just the latest “flavor of the month” management fads but based on impressive scientific research coming out of the top universities worldwide. Each of them have suggestions on how to improve our lives.

Let me suggest four things that can help us improve our mood and outlook during those occasionally off days we all have.

Develop a grateful attitude. While we have Thanksgiving Day annually to show a sense of gratitude, some positive psychology experts recommend and they themselves engage in daily writing down either at night or in the morning 5-10 things they are grateful for.  Others during their morning walk will make it a gratefulness walk. So much of what leads to encouragement though is not “stuff” but rather relationships, your job, and your health.

Learn and apply more about Emotional Intelligence. Dr. Piatt has written often about it.  What EI tends to do for you is make you more aware of your emotions and those of others. You can learn the basics by doing a Google search. Learning and practicing EI turns the attention off exclusively you and focuses it on others and improving your relationships. It takes hard work though. I would highly recommend the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Bradberry and Greaves. The book comes with a passcode where you can take a confidential online survey and then it coaches you through strategies you can employ at no additional costs.  It will be the best $15.00 you ever spend on a book.  If you have teenage children it would be a wonderful gift for them and greatly improve their chances for a better life. It does not whitewash your feelings, but by recognizing them gives you control. It leads to an encouraged state of mind.

Appreciative/reflective inquiry. While this practice is about 25 years old, it is not widely known. Fundamentally, it uses asking questions that build others up, learns about what interests them, and focuses on possibilities rather than what’s wrong.  Have you ever had a boss or coworker approach you with questions that were more like an inquisition? Appreciative Inquiry is just the opposite. You look forward to seeing them, because they will ask questions like “How are you doing and what you are working on?” These are not just perfunctory but show genuine interest. They might ask you about some outstanding accomplishment and if you would be willing to share it with others.  But it avoids Pollyannaish sweeping problems under the rug. Even if performance results are not good, the AI philosophy would more likely focus on where do we go from here rather than fixing blame.  Since you cannot control other people, trying using AI with others this week. Both you and they will benefit.

Rather than a random act of kindness do a planned acted of kindness. As you start focusing more on others it soon becomes apparent there are needs everywhere and most people can use some encouragement. Ever been in line at the grocery store with brimming over cart and somebody with two three items tells you to go ahead?  Feels good doesn’t it. If you start actively looking for things to do they are there.  Hard to be discouraged very long when you are doing things for others.

 

Sometimes it does feel like the sky is falling and we all get discouraged. This too will past. But when we become proactive and think and act for others the gloom very often turns to joy.