Defense

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My husband came into my office the other day looking grim, and I immediately got defensive. As far as I knew I hadn’t done anything that would upset him, I had no indication that he was looking upset because of me, but I automatically told myself a story that he was upset with me, and that I needed to defend myself.

Sometimes, when I feel the need to defend myself, I go on the offensive and attack first. Sometimes I withdraw into myself. Either way, it’s difficult to be curious and open. I think I know what I will hear, and I don’t want to hear it, so I’m shut down and angry. I feel like I’m under attack and need to defend my borders.

These stories we tell ourselves get us in trouble, not just at home, but also at work. People at work may feel that if someone questions one of their ideas then they are questioning their worthiness to exist, so they defend their ideas to the death. Or maybe they’re afraid that if someone shoots down their idea that will mean they will be injured somehow so they don’t bring up their ideas at all.

All of this is normal human behavior. I don’t want anyone to think it’s wrong or bad to want to defend oneself. I want everyone to feel safe sharing their ideas. And – it’s very helpful to notice when the automatic reflex of defensiveness goes into play, so that we can ask ourselves different questions or tell ourselves different stories.

With my husband, I’ve learned over the years that my instinctive responses are often way out of sync with what’s going on for him. My fears are based in childhood stories, and almost never play out in my adult life. So I make space to ask what’s going on, while telling my defenses how much I appreciate that they are there, and to please wait in the wings for me to call on them if and when I might need them. It turned out that he was upset about an email he had gotten, and it had absolutely nothing to do with me. I was able to give him support, and he left considerably happier.

So what can you do when someone else gets defensive? Certainly, if you are the one getting defensive, you can notice, as I’ve learned to do, and put off the heavy walls until you’re certain they’re needed. But if it’s someone else, how can you help them listen?

Short term: Back off. Let them know you don’t mean to step on their toes. Acknowledge them for their insight, bravery, loyalty, or whatever else you see in them. Admit to any aggression you may have (inadvertently) brought to the encounter. Ask to talk about it later, when people are feeling more even-keeled.

Long term: Model openness. Talk about when you feel defensive and why. Ask how you come across to others, and try to be less aggressive. It is very powerful to be publicly vulnerable, and it gives others permission to talk about what is going on for them.

We don’t need more people in the world who look like they never make mistakes and never feel bad. We need more people who show up with all their humanness and flaws, and show how to move forward anyway. It’s more honest, it fosters more open communication, and allows others to show up more fully as well.

Having Something To Say

I recently was interviewed for two audio programs and a TV program. The TV program hasn’t been aired yet, but both radio programs have been, so I thought I’d share them with you.

I was interviewed most recently by Linda Patten on her radio show on Voice America. Here is the link:

Voice America

She was a great interviewer! Really made me feel comfortable, like I was just talking to her over coffee, instead of to millions of listeners. She told me I was a great interviewee, with my answers on point, not too long, and leading easily to the next question. So enjoy our conversation!

A few months ago I was interviewed by Francesca Anastasi for her Succeed Against The Odds podcast. This was also a lot of fun, she asked great questions and I hope you find our conversation interesting.

You can listen from the web page: pod cast
or on ITunes: itunes

The TV segment hasn’t aired yet, but keep an eye on Channel 29 on Mondays at 8 pm. Dr. Georgiana has a show on relationships, and had me on for my perspective. I’ll keep you posted for when it is released!

I’m going to speak tomorrow to a Rotary club in my area, too. This group actually said yes when I asked if I could speak there, before even asking what I’d speak about! I imagine it’s difficult to find interesting speakers every single week.

I find that having a single message that I speak about is helpful. I can approach it from many different angles – making more money in business, having better relationships at home, being more innovative, decreasing turnover, making better decisions, bringing play into the workplace, etc. – but in the end, it’s all about getting every voice heard. That is at the core of everything I speak about. Everyone needs to be heard. Organizations benefit when they are. Relationships benefit. We can use play and creativity to help get everyone heard. But the core message is getting everyone heard.

What is your core message? If you could tell the world one thing, what would it be? If you could give your younger self some advice based on your life experience, what would you tell yourself? What do you have to say?

We’re All In This Together

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I was talking to my husband about what he wants in a team. He’s worked in a number of companies, with a number of different teams, and I was wondering what he’d say. The first thing he said was he wants team members who are professional – and one of the points he made was that professionals care more about the success of the project than they do about benefiting themselves.

I think this is an interesting, important, and often overlooked piece of working in teams. People often want their ideas to be implemented without any change, because they like their ideas and want to be The One With The Ideas. Or, they want recognition, or praise, or a promotion, for what they contribute, so they want their contributions to be separate and recognizable. This is human nature – there’s nothing wrong with it! The only problem comes when the desire for recognition or power comes before the good of the project.

Part of the benefit of working in teams is that a good idea can become better when many people share their perspectives. A good recipe blends the ingredients, and relies on all of them to make the food taste good, without any one standing out. If the rosemary says it won’t cooperate unless the sage withdraws its contribution, everyone loses. A good team with a supportive leader will recognize all the flavors, not just the ones that stand out, and the individuals will all feel like they contributed to something amazing, and larger than anything they could do alone.

I actually like to take this approach to life in general, not just work. We’re all in this life together. We could step on each other to try to get ahead, but then we end up with a lot of hurt and anger. Why not support each other along the way? Why not treat life like a project we are all trying to make better, without individual egos getting in the way? It feels good to help others, and it feels like a relief when others help us. There’s something very powerful about knowing that everyone on the team has each others’ backs.

The idea of having another person’s back is an interesting one. It makes me think about that moment in a meeting when you have to choose whether to speak up or not. Have you ever been in this situation: you talked with your friend at work about a new idea. Your friend spoke up in a meeting about the new idea, and the boss shot it down. What do you do? For most of us, the survival instinct says don’t challenge the alpha. It’s not worth it to align ourselves with a sinking ship. But then, will your friend trust you? If you still think it’s a good idea, will you say so? It takes courage to speak up when you know the boss is against the idea in order to back up your friend. Really, it’s also backing up yourself and your ideas, but it’s also threatening a sense of survival and safety.

This is why I help teams create safe spaces to speak up. I don’t want anyone to feel like they will get shot down for speaking up. I want to help groups decide together whether an idea is worth following without making anyone feel stupid, or unsafe, or unworthy. For the project to be the focus, not the worth of the humans who have the ideas.That’s one reason I use LEGO® bricks in my workshops – it puts the focus on the ideas as modeled in LEGO®, rather than on the person who built it. People aren’t trying to solve people any more.

What do you look for in your teams?

Do Be Do Be Do

I’ve been thinking about my post regarding letting your freak flag fly, in relation to the rash of inappropriate behavior being reported between men and women. I don’t want people to misconstrue my post as condoning putting your hands where they don’t belong just because it’s part of who you believe yourself to be.

I think it’s very important to be true to yourself – and I think it’s very important to treat other people with respect. It’s not acceptable to do things that hurt other people or make them uncomfortable. But what happens when who you are makes other people uncomfortable?

Sometimes, just being who you are will affect others. Maybe you’re a big, tattooed, hair-dyed, biker type. No matter how respectful you are of others, people may not believe you are the accountant, or trust you with their money.

I personally like it when my preconceptions are turned upside down. I was at a bank once and discovered that the banker did Muay Thai kickboxing. Some people expect only the bank guards to know kickboxing, not the bankers themselves! But it was fun to me to learn something about what he did outside of work – and it explained the bruises.

Some people find it very upsetting to have their expectations turned upside down. It can be comforting to be able to predict the world around us. It can make us feel like we know the inside scoop on how the world works. So when someone comes along who doesn’t clearly look male or female, it throws us off. What we think we know, and count on to give us confidence and clarity, is suddenly wrong. It can feel like the rug has been pulled out from under our feet – or worse, that there’s no floor at all.

The trouble is that people don’t always cope with their own discomfort, they sometimes try to change others to fit their preferred mold. Someone is anxious about gay people? Then there better not be any gay people in their office, or bank, or wherever they go. If their banker shows up with signs of gender bending, they want to fight or flee.

In my opinion, this sort of discomfort is something that the person feeling it needs to cope with. The world will not always conform to your own desires, and learning how to be flexible is important.

The other sort of discomfort, where someone does something to someone else, is not acceptable. Having someone make suggestive comments to you, or touch you, or get between you and the exit, or threaten to hurt you, are all examples of someone making you uncomfortable through action, not through who they are. In these cases, it’s not the job of the person who is uncomfortable to just cope. It’s the job of the aggressor to treat others with respect.

Here’s a cheat sheet to help you understand the difference:

I’m uncomfortable because of:

Who you are ———- My problem

What you do ———— Your problem

Or, even more succinctly:

 Do – You, Be – Me

Hopefully this will help you the next time someone tells you that you are the one who needs to cope with his leering.

The Problem With The Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is a good rule for things like murder, rape, theft, big things like that. But what about how people relate to each other in smaller ways?

Are you familiar with Chapman’s Five Love Languages? (5LoveLanguages) His premise is that there are five ways people tend to relate, and that we all have preferences among these. They are: Words of Affirmation; Receiving Gifts; Acts of Service; Quality Time; Physical Touch.

When someone whose main love language is receiving gifts falls in love with someone whose main love language is acts of service, they can have trouble. She showers him with gifts, which he doesn’t care about, because she is doing unto him what she wants him to do unto her. He takes out the garbage because he loves her, which she doesn’t see as anything special since it has to be taken out anyway. Until they are aware of the language the other one is speaking, doing unto others is just annoying them. Why are you spending money on gifts I don’t need? Why are you fixing my dishwasher when we could be snuggling?

As a general rule, I like the Wiccan motto the best: First, do no harm, then, do what you will. Perhaps because I’m Jewish and there are rules about everything – how to eat, when to wash your hands, what to say, how to pray, etc. – I like the simplicity of this. If studying Torah is what I want to do, great, and if it’s not, then as long as I’m not hurting anyone by not studying it, I’m free to go dance, or make things, or whatever makes me happy.

Do no harm is actually fairly difficult to manage. It makes me see things in a different perspective. Instead of “how would I like to be treated in this situation” I ask “will this hurt anyone?” It can become a complex question. Will it hurt them physically? Will it hurt their feelings? If I talk about it first, will it hurt their feelings less? Will it hurt their income if I say bad things about their business? Will it hurt the earth if I throw away plastic bottles instead of recycling them? It makes me aware of the consequences of my actions, and that even actions that I don’t intend to be hurtful can be.

In this week before a new year comes around again, it’s a good time to think about what motto we will use for ourselves in the coming year. Will you treat people the way you want to be treated? Even if it’s not what they want? Or is the idea of ‘do no harm’ what the ‘do unto others’ people actually mean? For myself, I’m going to attempt to do no harm, and also attempt to figure out what it is I want. The ‘do what you will’ part isn’t always easy, either.

So. It’s The Holidays.

As fun as the holiday season is, it’s also stressful. Meeting new people at holiday parties, dealing with family, travel…

I was thinking recently about Amy Cuddy’s work (Amy’s TED talk) about how our actions shape our emotions. She quotes research about job interviews where the interviewee either took power poses or normal poses for two minutes before the interview, and the ones that stood or sat in power poses did better on the interviews. Apparently, how we hold our bodies affects the hormones we create, which affects how courageous, outgoing, and confident we are.

It occurred to me today that dealing with family at the holidays can be as stressful as going on a job interview. I remember when I was in my twenties and even my thirties feeling like I reverted to a child whenever I went back to my parents’ house. With so many years of accumulated power dynamics, it was easy to fall back into those patterns when I was back in those walls.

Putting the pieces together, it seems to me that standing in a power pose for two minutes before talking to your parents, or in-laws, or that uncle, or whoever is difficult for you, could change those power dynamics significantly. Of course, this is only one piece of the complex web of relationship, and changing the stories in our heads, the words we use, the attitudes we hold, the subjects we are willing to discuss, the boundaries we keep, and so forth, will also be part of the picture. Still, having a way to give ourselves a boost of confidence going into difficult conversations seems like a very good thing.

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What is a power pose? It’s a way of holding the body that takes up more space, that looks confident, and that signals dominance. (It may be important to do this privately, in the bathroom or a back bedroom.) For example, you could stand with your legs apart and your arms above your head and apart. Think of someone who just won a race, for example. Or, try putting your hands on your hips and your head up, like Wonder Woman. Or if you’re sitting, spread out, put your arms on the chairs next to you, or stand up and lean on the table in front of you. Think of any alpha male you know, and imitate what he does.

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Two minutes is all it takes for a new confidence at the holiday party, or with your judgmental in-laws. Let me know how it goes!

Constraints on Creativity

I got to be a substitute leader for Nora Scully’s Art Spark today. I asked people to build what gets in the way of creativity, and what supports creativity for them. These are some of the responses:

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What gets in the way of being creative is having too many thoughts in my head pulling me in too many unrelated directions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is what I need to be creative – all the parts laid out in front of me, but with some clear space to work in. I need time and space available, but I also need to see all the options to figure out what can go with what.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is me in my DJ booth. I don’t really DJ, but I like to play music to set a mood or create a soundtrack for an event. I like to help people come together through music.

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I get my best work done when everyone is doing their part like a well-oiled machine, and I can rely on other parts getting done. So I can relax and focus on my part.

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What supports your creativity? What gets in your way?

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

People don’t trust what they don’t see. You can tell your people that they are safe with you til you’re blue in the face, but if you don’t have blue in your hair, they will still think they have to stick to strict standards of conformity.

I’m not saying you have to literally dye your hair. I’m saying that if you want a creative team who feel safe speaking up, who trust you will have their backs if they mess up, who believe they can bring any wacky new idea to you and you will listen and help them find the part that will work – then you need to be a little wacky too. You need to show your vulnerability, and admit when you make mistakes. You need to wear mismatched socks sometimes. You need to show that you are your own person with your own peculiarities, and that you welcome the peculiar parts of other people too.

I spoke to an image consultant once who told me the blue in my hair had to go if I wanted to get corporate clients. I said no way! I’m advocating for people to show up as their whole, unique, creative, and messy selves at work. I want people to feel safe to be weird and silly as well as focused and capable. I want people to bring all their ideas, not just the conforming ones. This is how we will survive, with the creative ideas to solve complex problems coming from all the people bringing all the weirdness together and seeing which parts work. Cutting part of us off in order to fit in does no one any good.

This is part of my mission to change the world of work. I want people to feel safe being themselves. I want people to feel safe bringing up new ideas. We need the creativity that comes from disparate things coming together. If all we show up with is the same as what everyone else has, we will come up with the same solutions everyone has already come up with. So please – let your freak flag fly. At least a little. Let the other freaks know that you’re their kind of freak, so they can feel safe being weird around you. We will all benefit in the end.

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Trust

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How would you characterize trust?

I led a workshop today in which we discussed what was needed to allow us to collaborate. The biggest model made was about trust.

As you can see in the picture, the wheels at the bottom are small, and the elephants they hold up are big. The whole thing is precarious. The elephants are both going the same way as long as trust holds, but if it falls apart the whole thing will collapse and the elephants will no longer be working together.

This sounds a lot like how trust works. Sometimes something real gets in the way of trusting – someone says something hurtful, or doesn’t do what they say they will do. Sometimes it’s all based on the stories in our heads – the something that is said is experienced as hurtful even though it’s intended to be positive; there was some misunderstanding around who was going to do what. Collaboration takes constant communication, which sometimes means revealing the hidden scripts in our heads that shape how we see the world.

I love these LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshops because you can get a wealth of meaning into a simple model. With a good story behind it, all the details mean something, and the model is a compelling and vivid explanation of something someone experienced or thought.

Has trust ever felt like two elephants balancing on tiny wheels to you? What happened? Did the elephants stay together, working in synch, or did they start pulling in opposite directions? How does your group keep trust together?

I Believe

I believe that having a seat at the table is not the same as having an equal voice.

I believe that sprouts need time and space to grow, whether those sprouts are tender new plants or fragile new ideas.

I believe that the still, small voice inside is the one most worth listening to, and that we have to get very quiet to be able to hear it.

I believe that everything, including mindfulness, can be used as a weapon by those who are acting aggressively, and that everything, including conflict, can be used as a tool for growth and connection by those who are acting with loving-kindness.

I believe that group dynamics are much more complicated than relationships between two people, which are complicated enough.

I believe that the stories we hear in our heads have a lot of power over us. It’s hard to see that they aren’t the truth, especially if the people around us reinforce them.

I believe that getting hurt when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable will keep us from getting vulnerable again for a long, long time. I believe that from the outside it can be hard to tell if another person is actually feeling vulnerable. I believe we should always assume the other person feels vulnerable, even if they are acting brash.

I believe that connections between people are the most important thing we can create.

I believe that understanding, compassion, and acceptance are the most important tools a team has to create a space where everyone feels welcome and able to be vulnerable.

I believe that new ideas are vulnerable things. It doesn’t take much to crush the idea and the person offering the idea.

I believe that new ideas are necessary to move the world in a sustainable and healthy direction, and to create prosperity for the people doing the moving.

I believe that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, that being vulnerable is a sign of great strength, and that it takes courage to be open to change.

I believe that I can help teams find this place, where they believe these things too and can make their own spaces safe to be vulnerable and new. I believe I can help you.