Author Archives: Nancy Winfrey

A Few Kind Words

Com-pli-ment [kom-pluh-ment]

Noun- an expression of praise, commendation, or admiration: A sincere compliment boosts one’s morale.

Verb (used with an object)- to pay a compliment to: She complimented a colleague on his recent presentation.

When was the last time you were complimented? If it was authentic (not given by a teenager followed by a request for cash) I suspect you felt encouraged. And how about the last time you complimented someone else? That feels pretty good, too. It seems to me that most of the time, however, we are noticing what could be better, and making comments about work that is lacking.

It’s not just you and I that need to consider when, where and how to give out compliments–everyone is reminded on World Compliment Day, which is March 1st.

Go to the World Compliment Day website  http://www.worldcomplimentday.info/ where you can email or print an official award certificate to the person you want to compliment, or download a free poster. “A sincere and personal compliment costs nothing, but the impact on the recipient is huge,” says Hans Poortvliet, the driving force behind the annual event. “Nothing stimulates more, gives more energy, makes people happier and, as far as business is concerned, increases productivity and commitment faster than sincere appreciation. So, why not use it a little bit more?”

Why not use it a bit more?  Why not start this Friday? Pay attention to the people around you and speak up when you notice an attitude or action that you admire or appreciate. Be specific. Be genuine.  Watch this one minute video if you need ideas:

How to Pay a Compliment

Everyone could use a few kind words, why not let them come from you?

Cookies

My favorite Sesame Street character has always been Cookie Monster. Well, I did like Grover, especially when he was Super Grover, but I don’t think he is around anymore. Cookie Monster might have retired, for all I know, since my two children are grown and off to college.

My son, who is six feet tall and looks like a linebacker, loves to cook. It’s a good thing, since the boy loves to eat. For his 20th birthday he asked for a gas grill, and this year he texted me that he needed a new skillet and a kettle. How cute! But, then he sent another text that said, “And I lost my ipod, so I could use a Nano, and some new ($100 Nike) basketball shoes.” Then a few minutes later the final text, which simply said “wine glasses.” He is turning 21, after all.

I love to cook with my son; through all the years it was the only time I was sure he was actually listening to me. Are you with me, mothers? One year he started a subscription to the Food Network Magazine and last year for Christmas he bought me a subscription too…wait, I think I ended up paying for that. At any rate, once a month we talk on the phone about the latest issue. I don’t know how much either one of us try the new recipes, but we both love the conversation.

In the January/February issue of the Food Network Magazine there is a great photo of stacks of Thin Mints, Trefoils and Samoas/Caramel deLites (page 147- did you see it?). There is a cookie patch and directions to download the Cookie Finder app if you don’t have girls standing in front of your local grocery store. I love seeing Girl Scouts in the media, even if it’s just cookies (since we all know Girl Scouts is about SO much more than cookies). Where have you seen a cookie advertisement that made you smile? What was the best angle you’ve seen over the years? If you were in charge of the world, how would you let everyone know that this is the time to stock up?

Who Do You Need to Talk To?

Anyone who works with people knows there are important conversations to be had on a regular basis to maintain a healthy organization. Employees, colleagues, stakeholders, people of influence within or outside the organization–any kind of relationship eventually encounters a significant, but potentially difficult, conversation. No wonder the popularity of books like Crucial Conversations, Difficult Conversations, and Fierce Conversations. Those are just the short titles.

Even though we all know these conversations are necessary, it is so easy to procrastinate. And there are good justifications for postponing…too little time, too much to do, anxiety about the outcome and/or fear that the conversation won’t easily wrap up. In fact, we can reinforce our protective excuses until they become a wall that simply keeps the important conversation from ever happening.

Now is as good a time as any to take steps toward a difficult conversation. Three steps, to be exact:

1. Make a list of the important conversations that you need to have and set a firm deadline for having them. You don’t have to be the COO to feel a responsibility to keep communication flowing in the office. I suspect you can name three people as a place to start. Write it in your planner.

2. Plan your part of the conversation. Rather than hoping you will know what to say and how to say it in the moment, it’s a helpful practice to prepare. Write out key phrases and questions on index cards and take them along.

3. Keep the goal in mind. The purpose of a significant conversation isn’t to persuade another to agree with you, or to push your opinion throughout the project team or office. The goal is to communicate as simply as possible what needs to be said and done for the sake of a healthy organization. It isn’t personal, although good conversations contribute to strong working relationships.

So, who do you need to talk to?

Life in the Fast Lane

Here I am at the airport, again. It’s gray, dreary and cold outside, but I’m sitting by the window looking at planes and solving the world’s problems. This little turbo prop caught my eye. A “turbo prop” is an airplane powered by propellers rather than jet engines; you don’t see many of these anymore. This was an Air Canada Express with a huge, gorgeous maple leaf on the tail.

That reminds me of a trip to Montreal years ago, when I bought these delicious maple sugar cookies in the shape of maple leaves to bring home to my family and friends. I was so pleased with my souvenir purchase until I noticed that same cookie in our local Harris Teeter grocery store. And it was less expensive.

Anyway, I watched that little turbo prop warm up; first one engine and then the other turning those propeller blades. Soon they were spinning so fast that I couldn’t see the individual blades anymore. I leaned forward and tried to find the propeller blades but all I could see was a soft, grayish blur–like an optical illusion. I knew those blades were there working hard but I couldn’t see them.

I’m thinking of a friend of mine who moves through life so fast that I can hardly see her. She is uber-productive but our interaction feels like a momentary blur before she is airborne again. The truth is, I have days like that, when there is hardly breathing room from sun up to sun down.  Sometimes we use the expression “they just don’t see me,” meaning they don’t know me or understand me. Wonder if that’s because we are only a blur to them?

I also wonder if I sometimes become a blur to myself. I’m not taking time to think about what is important, because I know I’m over the edge and it seems so difficult to get back to reasonable living. It’s the same way in which we ignore a needy email or unpleasant task.

Talk to me about slowing down. How do you balance productivity and peace?

 

 

“What did you mean by that?”

Some of you wake up every day, year round, to blue skies and t-shirt weather, but this time of year some of you wake up hoping for a high in double digits. Or at least no wind. Isn’t it interesting that we all say January is “winter?”  Since Santa with a white beard and red outfit is a European creation, that sleigh and reindeer combo makes perfect sense for delivering gifts in snowy December. If you live in Boston, or Minneapolis, or Missoula you might not think about it much, but if you live in Tampa or Sante Fe you need to make adaptations. I don’t live in a warm climate so I don’t know how Santa gets around to those chimneys, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t use that sleigh.

But back to the idea of “winter.”  We all know winter is one of four seasons, from December through February, but my perception of winter is probably different from your perception of winter. I like the idea of a cold season, but in my small town the temperature can be anywhere from 30 degrees to 70 degrees, and snow is unlikely. Freezing rain is common. My friend out in Salt Lake City just emailed me that the temperature is minus 2 and they have five feet of snow. So how do she and I talk about “winter” and really understand each other?

Content is one thing (definitions, facts, figures, even concepts) but context is so important in communication.  How I think about winter is shaped by my experience of it. So here are a few things to remember in our conversations with each other:

  • Suspend judgment about the other’s perspective. Maybe what they mean is not what I’m picturing as they speak.  I need to keep listening without evaluating.
  • Don’t assume you get it- ask lots of questions to enhance your understanding.
  • Try to paraphrase (summarize in your own words) so that your interpretation can be assessed by the other person.

If concepts we all learned in kindergarten  (spring, summer, fall winter) can have different meanings in different contexts, think about a conversation that includes words like “performance,” “satisfied,” soon,” or “patriotic.”  Maybe we should make a New Year’s resolution to ask at least once a day, “What did you mean by that?”

Miracle on the Hudson

This month is the four year anniversary of the “Miracle on the Hudson,” US Airways flight 1549 that landed on the Hudson River after an intake of Canadian geese choked both engines (can you believe it’s been four years?).

It’s not often that you see an Airbus A320 splash down in the Hudson. That wasn’t exactly where they were going. My life isn’t quite as dramatic, but there are plenty of times where I’ve gotten off track and ended up far, far away from where I thought I was going.

Steven Covey talks about staying on track in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families. Three things are essential, he says, a clear vision of where we’re going, a flight plan, and a compass. It would be nice if all we had to do was stay focused at work, but many of us come home to husbands, partners, children, parents and dogs that also need our time and attention. Life, even when it’s really good, can be distracting. A vision can be as simple as visiting a section of your closet that you haven’t seen in a few years. I have a clear vision of myself in those size six corduroys again! I see myself balancing work and family. I see myself moving into a management position.

A flight plan is the way from A to B. US Airways 1549 was headed from New York LaGuardia to Charlotte, North Carolina. Pilots perform a detailed pre-flight check mandated by the FAA that covers airport functionality, weather, routing, aircraft performance, and many, many other things. If I’m really serious about those corduroys I’ll need a flight plan myself. What will I eat, how will I exercise, when will I need motivation, what are my support systems? As the old Chinese proverb says, “Unless we change our direction we are likely to end up where we are headed.”

The third thing Covey mentions is a compass. I’m sure Captain Sullenberger never dreamed he would be navigating the Hudson as a landing strip, but sometimes things happen. Detours, delays, problems, distractions, significant uncontrollable events- it’s just a given that we’ll get off track sooner or later. That’s why a compass is so handy. We need a way to figure out where we are in relation to where we really want to be, and then make adjustments.

Sometimes it seems like I need a “miracle” to stay on track… how do you do it?

National Hugging Day

Quick! Write it down on your planner- Monday the 21st is National Hugging Day! Who knew?

We all know that babies don’t thrive without physical holding and affection, and nothing soothes an upset child like the hug of a family member. But in this country, it is not uncommon for parents to stop hugging children as they reach puberty. In fact, in the young adult years we might have become uncomfortable ourselves with physical affection by confusing it with emerging sexuality. The amount of physical nurturing we receive continues to decline as we age, even as medical studies confirm that the health benefits of physical touch extend throughout our lives.

For example, oxytocin levels rise during a good hug, which trigger bonding and compassionate responses. Affection also lowers cortisol levels (the stress hormone) which makes way for two “feel good” brain chemicals called serotonin and dopamine to surge and lift your mood.

If you need inspiration check out the official website: www.nationalhuggingday.com which updates you on the “Most Huggable People of 2013” and provides tips on technique like the bear hug, the cheek hug, and the side to side. You can even order a shirt or a NHD bracelet.

The NHD website prefaces their hugging message with “ask first.” That’s good advice, since some personalities, and some parts of the country, are more into physical touch than others. And then some of us just might be out of practice. In 2008 artist and designer Keetra Dean Dion came up with a fun idea to promote hugging: The Anonymous Hugging Wall.

You don’t need 20 yards of fuchsia fabric to start celebrating National Hugging Day. Heck, you don’t need to wait until the 21st.  Hugging is caffeine free, nonfattening, doesn’t require batteries, has no removable parts, is free of pesticides and preservatives, requires no monthly payments… you get the picture. Although I do need to warn you that it could be habit forming.

How to Disagree

Creating space for disagreement is how we give diversity room to grow. In this movement many wonderful things are created by people working together, so knowing how to disagree can come in handy. We all have doubts, reservations and different opinions, so that isn’t news. In fact, I sometimes disagree and argue with myself!

In a top-down world, however, disagreement can be seen as disloyalty. Or negativism, or not being a team player. But if I can’t say “no,” then my “yes,” has no meaning. We will only let go of those doubts to which we have given voice. Once my opinion is made public and appreciated I can choose to keep it or change it, since I own the feeling rather than keeping it under wraps.

But appreciating disagreement- that’s the hard part. The person in charge doesn’t need to address everyone’s concerns. None of us do. Dissent is complete simply in having been expressed. So here are a few tips for authentic disagreeing:

1. Be honest. If you believe there is a problem are you acting as though the present situation is good enough?

2. Be respectful. Check to see if you are simply reacting to not being in control.

3. Be helpful. Resignation is just a passive form of control that alienates others.

And if you are the one listening, simply focus on that- listening. If you feel the need to defend yourself by answering someone’s doubts, then the space for disagreement closes down. Of course, if you can genuinely answer a question the resolves a difference, then do so. Most of the time, however, doubts are well founded and have no easy answer. Resist the urge to take it personally; the future doesn’t die from opposition, it disappears in the face of lip service.

Put Forth Your Best

In January of 1919 Juliette Low sailed off to visit Sir Robert and Lady Baden-Powell, intent on learning how Girl Guides were contributing to their country now that World War 1 had come to an end.  Before she left, she wrote a New Year’s message in the monthly newsletter from National Headquarters thanking Girl Scouts for their service and courage during the war years. She continued with an appeal to every Girl Scout to “brace up and strain every nerve to continue public service and help to make a newer and better world.” Beginning a new year, and in the new peaceful era, Juliette had three directives for the girls.

First: Stick to your studies. “Get wisdom,” said Juliette, “and withall get understanding.”  Let me translate for 2013: Look, kiddo, you have to finish that homework.

Second: Play fair. Get on a team and learn to play together, and “let not bitterness attend the result of a game whether you are victor or vanquished.”

Third: Make yourself strong. A Girl Scout, in Juliette’s view, should be an example of “womanly strength and fitness.” I don’t think she meant weight training, I think she meant strength of character. In other words, would you jump off a bridge if everyone else was doing it?

Great advice doesn’t go out of style, and as I was preparing to pass this on to my daughter, I had a little nagging reminder that I’m a Girl Scout, too. So I had to ask myself three little questions:

First: What am I learning? What do I want to learn in 2013? Can I see how I’ve developed a greater understanding in some area over the course of 2012?

Second: Am I getting along with the people at work, in my family, in my community? How am I getting along with girls in the movement? Am I fair? Gracious? A team player?

Third: How will I take care of myself this year? What character-building endeavor should I begin? Do I have the healthy diet, adequate rest and exercise to be the example that Juliette expected of the girls?

One thing that I love about our movement is that it is good for everyone. It “rises within you,” as Juliette summarized in that article, “and inspires you to put forth your best.”  So let’s share the inspiration: What are your thoughts for the new year?

Patience

Don’t you just hate to wait? When the line at the Wendy’s drive through just creeps along, when the person checking out in front of you has items without a price tag, when the customer service rep leaves you on hold for fifteen minutes? Will that Sunday driver in the left lane ever move over? And then there are those situations where you know already it will take a long time, but you still hate to wait, like losing 10 pounds, or wondering if you’ll get the promotion, or deciding to move to another neighborhood. Is that fellow going to propose to your daughter or not? Being patient, by definition, is the ability to suppress restlessness or annoyance during circumstances over which you have no control. Because if you could change things then you wouldn’t have to wait and you wouldn’t need to be patient. So why do we get our blood pressure up over the practice of waiting? I don’t really know the answer to my own question, but I can offer a few thoughts on being a patient person. First of all, we need to own the fact that being impatient is our own response to circumstances. Sometimes I’m in a hurry because I’m late, and I’m late because I couldn’t say “no” to one last task, so there is no point in getting mad at the traffic. So just stop. Stop the frustrated inner monologue and take a deep breath. The fact is, you are just late and arriving with an attitude won’t help. Next, take a moment to check in with your body. Impatience settles in to your shoulders, your jaw… where do you feel tense? Focus on those sensations and see if you can relax. Drop your shoulders, loosen your grip on the steering wheel, breathe. Once your blood pressure returns to normal you can assess your situation. Perhaps you can make adjustments in your schedule. Perhaps you can open some space for inspiration concerning a tricky problem. Or maybe you can make friends with life not knowing for sure how a situation will turn out. Someone much wiser than me said it this way many years ago: Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself? -Lao-Tzu, Tao-te-Ching 6th Century BC