Candor is Like a Screwdriver With a Twist

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

According to Gallup, Inc., do you know the number one leadership behavior that affects morale and productivity the most? It’s not attitude. It’s not collaboration. It’s a lack of feedback. Providing candid feedback is an art, not a science. It takes some degree of finesse…but also common sense.

Candor is like a screwdriver—an incredibly useful tool that often involves a twist. When used in the right manner, it can help you construct and deconstruct any number of objects. But to get the benefits, you have to use it correctly. If you try to use a Phillips head screwdriver on one of those screws that looks like a star, it won’t fit.

Similarly, if you demonstrate 100 percent honesty without a common sense filter, the conversation or feedback you are offering is not going to be received very well. Instead of blatant or brazen honesty, slightly rotate your approach and apply candor as a form of sincere expression. In other words, do your best to say the right thing, to the right person, at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right way.

In any given work week, there is at least one conversation you’d rather not have; one conversation that you know won’t go well due to your or the other person’s emotions coming unglued; or one conversation that can overshadow the whole day, week or workplace because of the impact it could have with ongoing relationships. Why not dodge these uncomfortable conversations altogether?  What would be the benefit of learning to deal with these situations candidly?

First and foremost, those who engage in open and sincere dialogue, free from reservation or holding back what needs to be said—report higher levels of job satisfaction, confidence and performance results. By communicating clearly and openly about what’s on your mind, you can be more effective and productive versus spending countless hours and energy on worrying about what may happen next.

In an upcoming breakout session at the SHRM National Convention on Monday, 6/24/19 in Las Vegas, I will be sharing the six steps to achieving breakthrough relationships by maximizing candor and minimizing defensiveness by engaging in “Candid Conversations that Drive Results.” Here are six transformational steps, which if followed, will help you to transform your relationships, too. Each step is simple, but not necessarily easy.

  1. Clearly identify purpose before engaging. Ask yourself these three questions:
    • Why am I going to discuss this issue?
    • What do I hope to accomplish?
    • What would the ideal outcome be?
  2. Consider timing and location.
    • Address the matter as soon as possible, but timing is critical.
    • Determine the location for the discussion; remember that privacy is important.
    • Discuss the issue face-to-face and one-on-one; avoid addressing it via email.
  3. Start with a statement that invites dialogue.
    • Be sure to open with an opening statement that is cognizant of body language, sound of voice and the actual words you use.
  4. Share facts, story, then emotions.
    • See the facts.
    • Alter your story (interpretation of the facts)
    • Experience a different emotion.                                  
    • Change your behavior.                               
    • Achieve a more positive outcome.
  5. Encourage other person to share perspective by…
    • Ask for the other person’s input.
    • Listen versus waiting for a pause to talk.
    • Try to understand other person’s perspective, rather than focusing on driving your point.
  6. Keep your emotions in control.
    • Prior to the conversation:
      1. PREPARE! Think through how it may go and how you’ve reacted in the past.
      2. Proactively access why someone would react this way and how you can best handle it.
      3. Consider your conflict triggers and guard against them.
    • During the conversation:
      1. Let other person speak; do not interrupt.
      2. Consciously lower your voice.
      3. Acknowledge the other person’s feelings; demonstrate empathy.
      4. Ask how s/he would like to see issue handled and/or offer options.
      5. If your emotions are elevating, state you need some time to continue the conversation.
      6. Express regret or apologize, if appropriate.

At the end of the day, candor is a tool. And just like any tool, it can be used to create or destroy. You need to be aware of its potential dangers to mitigate them. Candor carries some risk, but if you apply common sense when using it, you will likely build your relationships stronger than ever before.

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Can You Change Other People?

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

Whether at work or at home, most people experience times when they desperately want to change how another person thinks or behaves. Maybe you need a colleague to follow through on project expectations because his procrastination is causing you delays. Perhaps you can’t stand the late hours your spouse puts in at work, which is taking a toll on your relationship. Or maybe your best friend incessantly whines and complains with a never-ending negative view of life and you just want her to stop. You likely realize that no matter how hard you try, you simply can’t change other people. Period. However, you can, though, positively influence someone to change.

If you find yourself faced with needing or wanting to influence behavior change, here are four strategies I have used with great success:

Identify the specific behavior. Pinpoint the exact behavior that you want this person to change. If you want the person to just “be less annoying” or “call more often,” you will not get the results you want. Pinpoint the exact behavior you want to see change and note exactly how you want it to change.

For example, rather than saying that you want her to “be less annoying,” plan to say that you want her to “stop interrupting conversations she’s not part of.” Or, instead of wanting him to “call you more often,” you could prepare to ask him to “call you every Sunday.”

Obtain and acknowledge perspective. Determine what their concerns, fears and assumptions are regarding the change. Doing this will definitely help you counter some of their concerns, and you’ll also better understand their perspective by valuing their opinion and incorporating them into the conversation. Even though you may not agree with their point of view, acknowledging that you understand and appreciate their perspective is a great way for you to confirm that you heard them and their point is valid. 

Explore motivations without pushing. The other person often already knows that s/he should change a specific behavior. And if you try to present one side of an argument, s/he will feel compelled to push back. When trying to influence people who need motivation, but not more information, ask questions that allow them to explore their own motivations without feeling pushed. Some examples include:

“What makes this behavior worth changing?”

“If this change was easy, would you want to make it?”

“What makes this behavior change hard?”

“What are the pluses and minuses of changing or not changing?”

“If you’re able to successfully change this behavior, what would be different?”

Highlight benefits for him/her. Based on the individual motivations uncovered, subtly highlighting why changing could benefit this person can offer illuminated advantages that answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” For example, my young adult sons are glued to their phones—texting, snap-chatting, watching videos, viewing or posting on Facebook, etc. Because I live in Colorado and they reside in Wisconsin, when we visit one another, spending quality time together is our shared focus. Sometimes, though, daily routines prevail and it becomes a bit more challenging to disconnect to reconnect. Since recommending a digital detox wouldn’t work for them or me, I usually offer one or two reminders of how limited our time together is, and that’s usually enough to re-engage them.

With the above point in mind, laying out the advantages in a specific order also helps heighten the level of persuasion: start out emphasizing a strong advantage, share another pivotal benefit, and then bring commanding closure by underlining the most important reason for him/her.

Everyone faces instances when positively influencing another person’s thoughts or behavior is advantageous. Rather than impeding success, choose to offer assistance by understanding another’s perspective, exploring their motivations and encouraging commitment to change. When your intent to help is positive and genuine, your level of influence is endless and can truly make a difference. Influence—the true measure of leadership.

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12 Ways to Enhance Courage for You and Your Team

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

Courage is considered by many to be one of the most important human virtues; yet, often times, many choose fear or comfort, over courage. And since we aren’t born courageous, we shouldn’t expect to miraculously acquire it without practice. Courage is a muscle you must practice flexing if you want to display it more easily, which some professions and/or organizations realize, and then strive very hard to develop courage in their teams.

But since most of us don’t work in a profession that demands daily demonstrations of unrivaled bravery—like a soldier fighting for his country, a police officer risking her life, or a firefighter who rushes into a burning building—how can we learn to become more courageous? Courage is defined not as the absence of fear; but as being afraid and acting anyway. And when you think of courage you may picture physical bravery, but there are other forms of courage—ranging from physical strength and endurance to mental stamina and innovation. History highlights social activists, such as Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela, as two individuals who chose to speak out against injustice at great personal risk. Entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs and Walt Disney, took huge financial risks to follow their dreams and innovate, exemplifying the rewards courage can bring.

But sometimes, each of us comes face-to-face with this choice: courage or comfort? As it’s been said, you can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you can’t choose both. They are mutually exclusive. If you want to experience new things, demonstrating courage is often a necessary component. Trying something you’ve not done before, is likely uncomfortable and sometimes, downright petrifying. But how do you know if you’ll like something if you don’t try it? But whether it is doing an exciting activity for the first time like zip-lining, or throwing your hat in the ring for a leadership role at work, or stepping up and having a tough conversation with someone you care about, choices like these require courage.

Perhaps you are confronted with taking a chance when others will not, or your idea is very unpopular. Maybe you desperately want to follow your vision, no matter where it takes you, but you are meeting intense resistance. Perchance you are simply trying to do the right thing, even though far easier options exist. Most of us are called to be courageous more than we think, and we likely already possess many of the qualities that other remarkably courageous people have demonstrated. But if building definition in your courage muscle is a strength-enhancing exercise you want or need to target, highlighted below are 12 ways to grow that muscle:

Stop procrastinating and give courage a try. Do your best. Learn from the results of that first attempt and avoid becoming discouraged.

Face what you fear. Look it in the eye and determine exactly what you are afraid of. Rejection? Being laughed at? Not being accepted? Then once you know what you fear, face it and tell yourself, “This fear will pass.” Take one small step, then another. Action builds courage.

Step outside your comfort zone. By being open to meeting new people, visiting a city you have never been to but are curious about, or tasting an appealing entrée, one that you hadn’t considered before, you gradually strengthen your ability to be courageous.

Stand up for others who need it. Find your inner strength to take a stand when necessary. Start by demonstrating courage when someone else is in need, rather than standing up for yourself first, since that is often times less intimidating.

Demonstrate self-discipline. Be very clear about what you want and don’t want, and remain steadfast even when you are enticed to veer off course.

Write an entry in a journal every time you do something you’re scared to do. You’ll start to realize that you do brave things with some frequency. You’re already much braver than you think.

Find courage in numbers. It’s usually much easier initially to act in the company of others than dissenting solo.

Find role models of quietly courageous people. When you’re trying to stretch yourself beyond your apparent limits, there’s a part of you that likely wonders whether it can actually be done. A role model is a constant reminder that it can.

Avoid self-doubt. Rather than over-analyzing whether or not you can act courageously, leave your lack of self-confidence in the rear-view mirror and push forward.

Lean into risk and uncertainty. Conquer your fears by learning to deal with life’s uncertainties. If you fear losing a huge account, figure out what it takes to keep it. If you fear becoming ill with cancer because of family history, be ruthless about annual check-ups, precautions, and pre-screening exams.

Don’t hesitate. The more time your brain has to come up with excuses for not being courageous, the more time you will have to panic about hypothetical negative outcomes.

Be willing to fail. True learning happens when things don’t go your way; when you fail or lose. Be willing to fail, but never willing to quit. Failure doesn’t feel good, but the result, if you learn from it, is powerful.

Rather than succumbing to the learned behavior of fearfulness, know your limits, but commit to exercising courage more. If you want to transform your life and not reach the end of your line with regrets, make courage a conscious virtue you need to live with, versus without.

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Are You Driven to Distraction?

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

Three evenings ago, my husband and I ordered a pizza to be delivered from a local eatery. We were told the wait time from kitchen-to-door would be about 45 minutes. A little over 75 minutes later, the driver arrives with my husband waiting on the porch. As he approaches the vehicle, the young man steps out of his driver’s-side door and opens the door to the backseat. In a frenzied state, he turns around after looking inside his car, faces my husband and asks, “Where’s the pizza?” My husband replies, “What do you mean?” The driver, incredibly flustered now, says, “Where did the pizza go?” The driver proceeds to look under the seat (really?) and then opens his trunk. He says, “Man, I don’t know where the pizza went. What should I do?” Once again, really? My husband responds, “I guess you may want to head back to the restaurant and see if the pizza is still there.”

I realize mistakes happen. They happen to all of us. Yet, when someone neglects to perform his/her core job responsibility, is that a mistake or an error due to ineffective training? It’s neither. Instead, I believe it’s an example of a huge mental traffic-jam.

So how do you regain mental focus and become productive again? Are there strategies we can apply ourselves and also share with our co-workers to help them? The answer is “yes” and if you want a high-performing workplace culture, it’s important to apply these five practical prescriptions to fine-tune your focus:

Rx #1: Reduce distractions. While it might be as simple as unplugging from your favorite device for a bit, you might find it much more challenging to deal with a colleague who frequently interrupts your train-of-thought. One way to help mitigate this problem is to identify a specific time and place where you can be distraction-free. Be sure to schedule that time in your calendar and find a quiet spot to ensure you can maximize your productivity during that time. Maybe it is only for 30 or 60 minutes per week, but that sure beats never.

Rx #2: Focus on one thing at a time. Juggling multiple tasks at once can dramatically cut down on productivity and it becomes much harder to hone in on the details that are truly important…like remembering to put the pizza in your car. Why? Because our attentional resources are limited so it is important to budget them wisely.

Rx #3: Take a short break. Have you ever tried to focus on the same thing for a long period of time? After a while, your focus starts to break down and it becomes more difficult to devote your mental resources to that specific task. By taking a brief break, you are able to push pause on your level of concentration, helping you to regain mental focus after you have allowed your brain a rest. 

Rx #4: Avoid negative emotions. Negative emotions can represent an “off-switch” for peak performance. If you work in an environment where emotions run high on occasion, you likely wonder when the next outburst will ensue. Do your best to stay clear from unnerving emotional situations and also steer away from letting your unwanted emotions escalate.  If you can’t avoid negative emotions, do your best to control or minimize them as quickly as possible.

Rx #5: Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Start by getting to bed and getting up at the same time every day, including weekends. As tempting as it may be, don’t try to make up for a lack of sleep by staying in bed on the weekends. Sleeping in won’t make up for a sleep deficit. In fact, according to a recent Harvard study, when you snooze extra hours to compensate for sleep deprivation, your ability to focus is worse than if you had stayed up all night.

Even though we never got to enjoy a delicious piece of pizza pie that night, my husband and I did have a few laughs over the experience and I did get a great story that I couldn’t wait to share with my readers. So the next time you encounter a craving for thick-crust, consider averting a similar outcome by tossing a few ingredients together yourself, staying focused on the oven timer, while saving some dough in the process.

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The Discipline to Delay Indulgence

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

Have you ever wondered why you make some of the decisions that you do? I believe one significant factor that influences one choice over another is a human desire to move toward pleasure and avoid pain. By pleasure I mean things that create feelings of happiness, strength, optimism, energy, or inspiration. With pain, I am referring to feelings of anger, confusion, helplessness, frustration, or even boredom. If you are regularly able to demonstrate self-discipline by delaying pleasure or gratification, your chances for achieving success in life increase substantially. 

According to a landmark Stanford University study, children were provided one marshmallow and given the choice of eating it or waiting fifteen minutes and being rewarded for holding out with a second marshmallow. Some kids ate theirs right away. Others waited. But the study’s real significance came years later, when researchers discovered that the children who held out for the reward had become far more successful adults than the children who ate the first marshmallow immediately. This “marshmallow theory” was found to explain that the key difference between success and failure is not merely hard work or intelligence, but the ability to delay gratification.

If you are looking to delay gratification, like to save money now to be able to purchase a more desirable item in the future, here are five strategies to help you stand strong:

1. Be clear on your values and what matters most. Have a clear understanding of what is important to you and what you want to accomplish. When you realize these aspects, you are more likely to make choices that can help you achieve the goals and success you desire.

2. Break down big projects/goals. Just like running, athletes train very differently for a sprint than a marathon. The long project will help you to learn about the process, setting mini-goals along the way, and ongoing persistence.

3. Offer visual progress. Use a jar of marbles or some sort of visual tool to demonstrate working toward a goal and making progress versus giving yourself a huge reward after accomplishing a task. Once the jar is full, then you get to reward yourself.

4. Get an accountability partner. Just like it is often times easier to workout with a buddy so that you both are less inclined to stop because you know the other person is counting on you, sharing your plan and progress with an accountability partner can help maintain your focus and discipline.  

5. Frequent reflection. When you find yourself struggling with wanting something now and you’re about to cave in, stop to consciously reflect as to why you are feeling more vulnerable than usual. Try to pinpoint the motivation and reasons behind this strong craving. This time spent in reflection just may be enough to break the cycle of “now” and allow you to postpone the pleasure.

Delaying gratification can be hard-work. Depending on what you want to achieve, it may take weeks, months, years, and sometimes even decades. And even if you don’t always make the best choices, hopefully you learn from the poor ones and appreciate the good ones. As I contemplate my life, I know that when I exercise self-discipline to delay an indulgence or an instant pleasure, I reap the sweet rewards. I tend to appreciate it more, feel a greater sense of accomplishment, and achieve a more successful outcome. Hold it, smell it, or even lick it, but don’t gobble the marshmallow yet.

Personal Challenge: What areas in your life do you feel you need instant gratification and find it difficult to delay? What other strategies do you have for delaying gratification?

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Strengthen Your Courage Muscle

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

Perhaps you are confronted with taking a chance when others will not, or your idea is very unpopular. Maybe you desperately want to follow your vision, no matter where it takes you, but you are meeting intense resistance. Perchance you are simply trying to do the right thing, even though far easier options exist. Most of us are called to be courageous more than we think, and we likely already possess many of the qualities that other remarkably courageous people have demonstrated. But if building definition in your courage muscle is a strength-enhancing exercise you want or need to target, highlighted below are six ways to grow that muscle:

  • Stop procrastinating and give courage a try. Do your best. Learn from the results of that first attempt and avoid becoming discouraged.
  • Face what you fear. Look it in the eye and determine exactly what you are afraid of. Rejection? Being laughed at? Not being accepted? Then once you know what you fear, face it and tell yourself, “This fear will pass.” Take one small step, then another. Action builds courage.
  • Step outside your comfort zone. By being open to meeting new people, visiting a city you have never been to but are curious about, or tasting an appealing entrée, one that you hadn’t considered before, you gradually strengthen your ability to be courageous.
  • Stand up for others who need it. Find your inner strength to take a stand when necessary. Start by demonstrating courage when someone else is in need, rather than standing up for yourself first, since that is often times less intimidating.
  • Demonstrate self-discipline. Be very clear about what you want and don’t want, and remain steadfast even when you are enticed to veer off course.
  • Be willing to fail. True learning happens when things don’t go your way; when you fail or lose. Be willing to fail, but never willing to quit. Failure doesn’t feel good, but the result, if you learn from it, is powerful.

Rather than succumbing to the learned behavior of fearfulness, know your limits, but commit to exercising courage more. If you want to transform your life and not reach the end of your line with regrets, make courage a conscious virtue you need to live with, versus without.

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Keystone Habits: A Non-Negotiable Routine

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

Habits are powerful forces. They influence what our brain tells us to do, based on decisions that have become part of engrained routine. Everyone has routines, or habits; things you just do—without thinking about them. According to research from Duke University, up to 45 percent of your actions are unconscious habits. This means that a significant part of what you think, say, feel and do are strongly shaped by your habits—whether they are positive or negative.

But all habits are not created equal. Some have little impact on your life, and others, referred to as “keystone habits,” can affect your life immensely. Exercising on a regular basis is one example of a keystone habit—which is a habit that creates a domino effect on the rest of your life by naturally influencing you to build more breakthrough routines that produce positive outcomes. Keystone habits are very different from regular habits, like posting a daily message on multiple social media platforms. A regular habit is a positive thing to do, but whether you choose to do it or skip it, it doesn’t have a huge impact on the rest of your life.

By contrast, a keystone habit, like consistently exercising five days per week, is a habit that can also lead to other positive, unintended outcomes like a stronger and more flexible body, enhanced mood, decreased level of stress, reduced risk of heart disease, enhanced productivity, improved quality of sleep and heightened brain function. When you choose to make keystone habits a non-negotiable part of your routine, you change. You take more control of your life and the positive ripple effect naturally occurs. In addition to exercise, three common keystone habits include: active goal-setting, efficiently managing time and saving more money. Three uncommon keynote habits that also create breakthrough routines are:

  • Eat dinner together as a family. Not only does this habit encourage healthier eating patterns—like a greater opportunity for portion control and nutritionally balanced meals—but it also is a perfect setting to expose your family to different foods, save money with less expensive home-cooked entrees, and spend quality time together. Moreover, according to a report by Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA), when this routine is practiced at least five times per week, a teen’s chance of smoking, drinking, and using drugs is drastically decreased.
  • Make your bed. It may seem irrelevant, but tidying up your bed as part of your morning routine is a small, quick habit that sets a precedent of order and productivity for the day. Creating a neat and organized environment can positively impact your mental state with a small sense of accomplishment—in just 30 seconds, no less.
  • Discard and replace. Choose one day a week, or every other week, or even once a month, where you discard something you don’t love or need. This process helps reduce clutter and gives you the opportunity to replace things that don’t add value with items you enjoy and appreciate.

Rather than going through life without thoughtful intention, make today the day you choose to cultivate one keystone habit. By taking this one small action, you will likely find the momentum to set off a slow avalanche of additional changes, positively transforming your life in amazing ways.

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Building Unstoppable Self-Confidence

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

As a professional speaker, I am asked often how I am able to get up on stage, in front of hundreds of people, and speak. One of the greatest pieces of advice I was given early on in my career was that no one in the audience is there for you specifically…they are present to hear your message. And for me, that was enough to help me build my self-confidence and overcome any anxiety of standing up and addressing an audience. By shifting my mental focus away from me and to my message instead, I was able to concentrate more intently on confidently delivering a high-quality, results-focused message in a way that hopefully will resonate strongly and influence behavior change.

I’ve come to realize over the years, that self-confidence is really more of a skill than a trait. And as I age, I seem to acquire more of it, worrying less about what others think of me and focus more on how I can be the best version of “me”. After all, no one is you, but you. So why try to portray someone else? They are already taken, and they certainly aren’t you.

As with any skill, if you don’t exercise that muscle, it will soon become a floppy piece of flesh. So how do I continue to build my self-confidence? Here are 12 simple (not always easy) strategies I use to continuously strive to grow, develop and nurture my self-confidence muscle:

  1. Love who you are. Start each day by looking in the mirror and loving who you see. Self-confidence starts by having a positive perception of yourself.
  2. Insist on positive self-talk. Instead of telling yourself what you did wrong or what needs to change, focus on what you did right. The voices inside your head need to be positive instead.
  3. Forget perfect. Understand that no one is perfect and making mistakes is how you learn.
  4. Start small. Set one or two small goals for yourself every day and every week. As you accomplish them, enjoy that warm, happy feeling that fills your soul.
  5. Journal accomplishments. By making note of positive goals you’ve successfully attained, you have a tool to help enhance your self-confidence if it is ever shaken. Reflect on your achievements often.
  6. Enjoy the feeling of success. Far too often we are more concerned with moving onto the next goal or thing that we don’t celebrate success we just attained. Take a moment and “smell the roses.” It feels amazing!
  7. Give the gift of gratitude. Tell someone how grateful you are to know them. Express how you truly appreciate him/her. Helping others feel special helps us feel good about ourselves.
  8. Dress sharp. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to dress nicely. Wear pressed clothing that fits you well and accessorize your outfit it in a way that emphasizes your assets in a classy manner.
  9. Stand tall. Those who stand with slumped shoulders and walk with lethargic movements display a lack of self-confidence. Make a positive impression by standing up straight, keeping your head up and making natural eye contact.
  10. Be healthy. By eating well, maintaining a regular fitness routine and getting adequate sleep, you are more inclined to feel a strong level of confidence because you know you are taking care of yourself personally.
  11. Compliment someone. When you genuinely offer a compliment to another person, you see him/her light up. That light reflects back to you and feels great.
  12. Prepare. The best strategy I know to demonstrate a high level of self-confidence is to be prepared. Preparation for a task, meeting, conversation, etc. helps you to feel strong and positioned for success.

By demonstrating and continually striving to enhance your level of self-confidence, you can become unstoppable in what you can achieve! There is nothing more attractive than stunning self-confidence. 

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Priceless Luck

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

Years ago I attended an out-of-state educational venue, where the attendees were given an odd assignment. We each were handed a crisp twenty dollar bill, were told to buy someone lunch and then report back about our experience—all within 60 minutes. That doesn’t seem like too tough of an exercise, right?

Because I was unaware of my surroundings. I quickly found a bystander who pointed me in the direction of the closest restaurant. As I sprinted in that direction, I spotted a couple reviewing the menu outside one establishment, approached them, and the man, without hesitation, said that they didn’t want to eat there after all and walked away with strange looks on their faces. Clearly they thought I had an ulterior motive. 

Knowing I had chewed up 14 of my 60 minutes already—running to the dining district and being abruptly rejected as if offering to buy lunch was a crime—I noticed a Hard Rock Café at the end of the block, which not only had outdoor seating, but conveniently there were three women all looking at menus. They likely hadn’t ordered yet, so I was in luck.

I asked the waitress to seat me outside and near that group of women. I began by striking up easy conversation and asking a few questions to each of them. Because another seven minutes had passed, I decided to share my lunchtime task. Two ladies were thrilled about getting a free lunch and the third woman was very cautious, which I can hardly blame her for. 

That lunch experience was one of the richest dining experiences of my life. I met three wonderful women, also here attending a different conference, who were very appreciative and also overwhelmingly surprised by the gesture. I did pay for lunch, but it wasn’t $20. The bill, with the tip, came to $80. When I realized that one of the girls also had a birthday coming up, I proceeded to give the waitress another $10 and asked that she bring her whatever dessert she wanted. 

After singing “happy birthday” and embracing each as I left, I held onto my barely eaten sandwich as I raced to beat the clock—dashing seven blocks and collapsing with just under two minutes to spare. What an incredible story I shared and an amazing encounter I experienced. The lunch cost – $90. The running shoes I chose to buy later that evening because of my aching feet from running in heels – $73. The incredible experience I had with three fun and inspirational women – priceless.

So when was the last time you did something wildly outside of your comfort zone and the imprint it left on your heart and mind would never be forgotten? Nine years have passed and this treasured experience is etched in my memory as clearly as if it had happened yesterday. Don’t let incredible opportunities to engage life pass you by. Truly live it.

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Ditch the Downers

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

Many people equate work to feelings of frustration, worry, unhappiness, anger or even fear. Work just doesn’t have to be this way! We can talk about these issues “until the cows come home” me or we we can do something about them. As a True Value owner or manager, you can make a significant impact in your workplace culture and also key relationships by making one small change after another—positively altering attitudes, behaviors and performance. And because every person influences someone every day—whether that influence is positive or negative—helping your employees to ditch the downers they may encounter at work or at home, will certainly help them navigate tough interactions and also aid them in better controlling their own thoughts and actions. 

Everyone knows someone who can literally “suck the life out of a room.” You say it’s a beautiful day, she tells you why it’s not. You tell him about your new idea, he tells you why it won’t work. You proudly share a recent work success, and she replies with, “Yeah, but what about…?” I refer to these toxins as “Debbie Downers,” “Cynical Sams,” “Pessimistic Pauls,” “Negative Nancys,” or “Gloomy Glens.” They see every glass of milk as half empty. They play devil’s advocate to every positive scenario. They spew venom to anyone and everyone who will listen.

I often wonder if poisonous attackers realize they’re being incredibly negative, or if it is so commonplace that it is an unconscious action? Regardless, avoid these snakes before they slither their way deep into your psyche and you start mirroring similar behaviors. She complains, you listen. He seizes his prey with a bite, you exhale. She tightens the coil, and you can no longer inhale. The demise is constricting, swift and lethal.

The truth is, who you hang with, you become. Do you surround yourself with an inspiring support network, who lifts you when you’re down, pushes you to grow, and offers candor when needed? Or are you encased with those who consistently pull you down, vomit can nots, why nots and should nots, and/or ooze denial, criticism and blame? Success breeds success. Whining fosters more whining. The choice is yours. 

Cutting ties with “Nathan Naysayer” is much easier said than done. Even when bosses need to sever ties, employees often hope they take the necessary action, so the morale of the team doesn’t take a bigger hit. Yet, according to a recent survey featured on Fortune.com, fewer than half of managers said they would fire someone for damaging team morale. Interestingly, 88 percent of employees would. Team members understand the direct impact of these destructive types. They personally experience their high-performing, fun and collaborative team morph into something unrecognizable—a team they don’t want to be a part of any longer. Sadly, it’s often too late when management finally realizes the extent of the damage.

Because employees often struggle with how to handle “the Nathans”—whether at work or at home, consider recommending or trying several of these ideas:

  • Change your routine. Instead of sitting through lunch with someone who whines and complains about her troubles, critiques mutual friends, and sits and pouts, choose to do something different with that time. Go for a walk, eat with someone else, or spend time reading. The exchange may influence a behavior change from her, too, or at the very least, you will more easily be able to enjoy lunchtime without facing unwanted negativity.
  • Keep interactions short. If you have to engage with a toxic individual, keep the interactions short and focused on the desired outcome. Instead of empathizing as she rambles on about her mountainous number of tasks or frustrating spouse, listen for a few minutes, and then explain that you really need to cut this conversation short due to another commitment—the commitment you made to yourself to limit interactions with this person.
  • Control self-talk. Negative emotions tend to rise when we encounter pessimistic influences. If your emotions begin to elevate after talking with a toxic personality, be conscious of and control the self-talk in your mind. For example, a normally calm, mild-mannered person may resort to yelling outwardly or screaming inwardly because she simply can’t take hearing the negativity anymore. It may be tempting to say to yourself, “He makes me so angry!” But blaming others for your feelings gives them more power. When you take control of your reactions, you own your feelings. It’s been said that, “Human beings are reaction machines.” Instead of reacting in the moment, slow down your negative thoughts and stay true to your values, even though the circumstances are trying.
  • Maintain perspective. There are reasons people behave the way they do. Sometimes the reasons are clear, while other times they are murky. Perhaps the bothersome naysayer you want to avoid is facing self-esteem issues, ongoing job performance errors, money problems, health concerns, or something completely different. We each behave in our own way when we have concerns that are weighing heavily on us. Understanding that there may be a deeper cause for the pessimistic persona wouldn’t cause me to excuse it, but I could more easily maintain a greater sense of perspective with it.
  • Ask pertinent questions. When someone has you cornered and is spewing cynical statements, try asking him/her, “How can I help you?” or “What are you going to do?” This strategy helps shift the topic from the negative problem to a possible solution.
  • Optimistically oppose. If you’re stuck in a situation where everything that is flowing out of “Gloomy Glen” is anti-positive, tentatively articulate kind, opposing statements. For example, if he says his food sucks, combat that with, “My food is pretty good. Perhaps, you could try some of mine, if you’d like?” Or if he says Paul (fellow employee) is such a pain to work with, optimistically oppose by saying, “I used to think of him the same way. Then I decided to focus on the positive difference he has made to our store, and that helps me view him differently.” If this tactic doesn’t influence a more positive tone right away, hopefully you have given this individual a little more to think about. At the very least, “Gloomy Glens” tend to move on to others when what they are getting from you isn’t satisfying their mantra.

Almost all of us have dealt—or are still dealing—with an annoyingly negative employee or an unbearable pessimistic friend. When facing someone who views the world through a negative lens, realize you can’t change him/her—as the only person you can change is yourself. Instead, understand that negativity comes in many forms, and we need to protect ourselves against it. Why? Because negative thoughts stick to us like Velcro and positive thoughts slide off us like Teflon. And chances are, you are taking that venomous snake home with you when you leave True Value at the close of a shift. Instead, avoid being the innocent prey by taking control of who you spend your time and energy with. This way, you’ll be hanging with those you admire, enjoy interacting with, and often seek to emulate or learn from.

Dysfunctional and horrible work and home environments do exist. Manure happens! Instead of complaining or choosing to do nothing, “take the bull by the horns” and steer the positive change you want to see. 

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