WordFood - how we feed or starve our realtionships

- Julia Hubbel

Julia’s ability to get this group of type-A executives to engage in true networking was incredible. She is truly skilled at motivating the group to engage and interact with each other, and her openness and honesty really come through.

— Shelley Stewart, Jr.,
Senior Vice President of Operational Excellence and Chief Procurement Officer, Tyco

August 26, 2012

Devil’s Food Diet: When to Back Down

Every so often we are dealt a rough hand and end up working for an unreasonable boss. Or we have to deal with a particularly unpleasant customer, someone who gets in our face about a refund or an unsatisfactory meal. Perhaps we live with someone who is demanding, blustery, out of control, my way or the highway, always demanding to be right.

I call this the Devil’s Food Diet in my book WordFood: How We Feed or Starve our Relationships. Wherever this person shows up, the words that we hear are pretty awful: “You owe me.” “You’re wrong, I’m right.” “I told you about this already, get this done.” While sometimes we can steer clear of the person, sometimes we just can’t: it’s the guy in charge, we’re the customer service rep that day, we’re the manager on call, maybe it’s our boss. Or maybe it’s us.

Life is demanding, and we call get stressed. I heard a story from a friend the other day who was on her way to the airport from a rather isolated resort Marriott in Texas. Her limo had arrived early and her two bags had already been loaded in. She walked up to the door across the car from him with her purse and her roller computer bag and got in.

A long drive later through early rush hour traffic she paid her $70 and got out, and her driver unloaded her bags. “Where’s my computer bag?” she said. It had been left on the curb at the Marriott. There ensued an angry exchange about who’s fault it was that this had happened. What was immediately apparent was that they had to go back to the hotel and retrieve it.

The driver called his boss and spoke in Arabic about what to do. My friend was angry and felt foolish, but she also realized that she hadn’t pointed out to the driver that she had the extra bag. When they got to the hotel, she found her bag, but the driver stood by the car door and said that his boss demanded payment in advance or else he wouldn’t drive her back to the airport. She laughed and said, “I guarantee I’ll pay you, let’s just make my plane, please!” This convinced the young man, and they drove off.

On the way back, she said that it wasn’t anyone’s fault- and the $140 was nothing in the course of a lifetime. “It is to my boss!” the young man laughed. She explained that in the big picture it wasn’t about the money. It was about accepting responsibility. To her, she told me later, it wasn’t worth the argument or the bad feelings trying to be right. They ended up telling tales all the way to the airport, getting back in plenty of time.

The young man gave her a discount on the trip as a courtesy, and she ended up with a funny story and a mild dent in her finances. It’s possible that the young man came away with a different way of thinking about Americans- perhaps his boss, too. Such an impression could have far-reaching impact far beyond just an afternoon airport ride.

Everyone makes a foolish error that can be costly. It can be embarrassing, like my friend’s. If you feel your blood pressure rising and hear your volume go up an octave or two, it’s a great time to challenge your ego before you get swept away. Someone is going to be a loser, and ultimately it may be you. There is nothing that compares to the feelings of graciousness when you can give way to a greater good, and come away friends.

August 20, 2012

When Our Parts are Speaking WordFood

All of us are made up of personalities, or “parts,” and they show up in different circumstances. Psychology today recognizes that this isn’t multiple personality syndrome at all, but the way we all react differently in different situations, and how we may be swept away by an emotion or state of mind.

For example, let’s say you’re a grandparent and the kids are bringing over your two year old cherubs for an afternoon visit. Unfortunately, you and your husband have gotten into a rip roaring argument about the car accident you got into the the day before. There you are in the living room screaming at each other, faces contorted and red, gesticulating, looking like the devil incarnate, when the darling kids hurtle in the door. “Grammy! Grammy!” Instantly you transform into angelic Grammy and sweep them into your arms, your face is transformed, all anger forgotten. Are you schizo? Not in the slightest. These are our parts. One part of you was arguing, the other part of you is Grammy, and they are both perfectly legitimate. They both have unique egos and personalities.

Every day we are subject to the demands of life, and we speak nutritious or toxic WordFood to each other based on which part of us is in play. At times we might think later about ourselves and think, ” What I jerk I was!” But in truth, it was just a part. It’s not the whole of us.

We can get drunk on our egos, get angry at times, and not care who gets hurt. At times like this our egotistical parts can be like an out of control bowling ball and take out everyone in the room, and the next day someone taps us on the shoulder asking for an apology. At that point we’re sober again. “Who me? But I’m not like that! I’m a nice guy!” The truth is, we are like that- a part of us anyway.

We each have within us a multitude of these parts and they write checks in our name all day long. Emotions like fear, anger, frustration, love sweep us off our feet and we end up saying all kinds of things that otherwise might be withheld. It’s the legacy of being human. What’s important is to remember that we’re all like this.

Last night I was having a conversation with a dear friend and I had a part out that wasn’t very attractive. She has been through a lot of losses and it would have served me better to do more listening than talking. But true to her nature she spent a lot of time coaching and listening. It’s instructive when we can look at our parts and see them in action, and learn from them how we interact.

A few years ago during NFL season there was an ad showing cowboys herding thousands of cats. That’s what it’s like, trying to manage our parts. They are unruly, prone to rise based on our emotional state, and we will speak all kinds of WordFood when we are in their grip. If we develop a greater awareness that we have parts that can at times speak out of turn, then we can not only be more accepting of this in others, most important we can accept in ourselves.

August 16, 2012

Listening To Ourselves Talk

The other day I went to lunch with my financial advisor, whom I hadn’t seen in several years. She asked me a perfectly reasonable question: “How’s it going?” And I told her. And went on a rant.  Two big accounts hadn’t worked out, I had worked hard on them, yadda yadda. After a while I began to listen to myself, how negative I sounded. “That’s pretty toxic,” a part of me thought,” and that’s not how I want to be in the world.” Clearly a piece of me needed to vent, which is understandable. But our words are indicative of our inner world and it’s instructive to take a look at the pictures they paint about our beliefs about ourselves and our place in life. What I was painting wasn’t pretty.

I slowed down and took a breath. My lunch partner was kind enough to replay some of what she heard. We agreed I might need to take a stress break. But more than that, the gift she gave me was the mirror. It wasn’t fun to hear myself complain. By the end of lunch we were laughing and I was over myself.

When I looked back honestly at what had cancelled, one contract was a bullet I’m glad I dodged. And the other was work that I no longer really want to do. So really, what’s been lost? Sometimes the Universe forces a major housecleaning so that new opportunities can appear. We’re so busy concentrating on what we’re losing that we’re not open to what’s possible. We focus on our losses, and can be blind to what’s coming.

My coach Lari talks about being “in question.” Holding an open space around what’s next. Being willing to not know. The way he describes it is that we need to “push away from the side of the pool.” Since I have a fear of drowning this analogy has real meaning for me. It means I dog paddle for a while in the deep end.

Lunch was a gift, a reminder of how we sometimes get swept away by life and by our negativity. I took time to consider how lucky I am and how much there is to be thankful for in all aspects of my world. Afterwards I mentally pushed away from the side of the pool and figured what would come, would come.

The next conversation I had with a new potential client was amazing. We immediately clicked. It could lead to a remarkable relationship. All signs point to a lot of potential, but more importantly, work I love for a company I respect. Had I gotten the other two accounts, this couldn’t happen.

Do you listen to how you sound? Are you lucky enough, as I was, to have someone play back your WordFood so that you can hear when you’re being toxic? These are our true friends. We all have parts that want to vent but there’s a time to put that part to pasture and make room for what’s possible. Pay attention to your words, and what they are saying about your state of mind.

August 13, 2012

Spicy Words and Mayonnaise Sayings

Are you looking for ways to liven up how you speak to your loved ones? Sometimes when we’ve been in a relationship for a long time, things normalize to the point where we forget to notice what’s special. It’s easy to overlook the magic, and perhaps we forget to say things that rekindle the love that we once felt. In my book WordFood: How We Feed or Starve our Relationships, I talk about how to spice up our interactions with affectionate comments such as:
“You are the cream in my coffee.”

“I hate getting out of bed with you still in it.”
“You make me want to cuddle all day.”
“You’re the magic that puts the sparkle in my life.”
“I can’t wait to put my arms around you when I see you again.”

These are the sayings that tickle our loved one’s fancy. They are reminders that someone is special and loved. Despite the demands of the day, the laundry, the long work hours, the kids’ homework, whatever the must-dos of your world, the person you chose to spend your life with is still your life’s love. When you remind them so, it makes all the difference.

Mayonnaise phrases are words that help digest heavy information, the same way that the salad dressing makes tuna more palatable. When we’re having a tough conversation with someone it’s always helpful to have some gentle phrases handy to soothe the passage of tough stuff. For example:

“I know you’ll do this well.”
“You have the fortitude to take this on.”
“You just need to believe in yourself.”
“You’re terrific at this. You’re just a little off course.”
“You’ve got the skills to get this done.”
“You have great courage.”
“Thank you for hearing me out.”

These phrases can accompany a coaching session with a teenage son or a recalcitrant employee, a challenged friend or an unhappy athlete. Whatever the situation, choose words that uplift and guide, and draw from your own experiences to show your humanity. Share your story and how you have walked a similar path. By sharing our frailties we build connections, and by building connections we build strength.

WordFood is all about feeding each other words that uplift us every day. Choose your words carefully, and see how they can make all the difference!

August 9, 2012

Meat & Potatoes WordFood Diet

I work with several very large Fortune 500 companies that are going through major cultural changes. In some cases, this involves a shift in how people need to lead, to accommodate the younger generations. Sometimes the shift involves adapting to new technology or a new CEO’s vision. In other cases, such as with a Kraft or Tyco, it’s a huge split, and the companies are reforming themselves, people are moving to new jobs, and some are being let go.

Along the way, people are being asked to adapt. For some, this can be pretty challenging. In my book WordFood, this kind of person is called a Meat & Potatoes type, who is attached to a way of being and isn’t willing to make the shift. They’re often either afraid, or they can just be stuck in the past, or just plain stubborn. For those of us who work with such people, it can be frustrating because we need their input and skills to be focused on the new tasks at hand. When they are complaining or resisting, the rest of the world is moving forward. It can seem they are roadblocks, and causing problems with the rest of the team as well.

Many times the problem is that they feel that they are no longer useful in the company’s new iteration. They may feel left behind, forgotten. It helps to coach them on how their skills and knowledge have a viable place in the new “world order.” Help them see how their experience is useful, but perhaps in a slightly new way. For older workers in particular, you need their coaching, mentoring and expertise with younger workers. So often, it’s the feeling of not being needed any more that is driving the negative behavior.

For others, they may be actively undermining the company’s new direction and need intervention. If you have a team member who is constantly causing an uproar you need to address this head-on. It’s challenging enough that people are going through a transition- they don’t need a rabble rouser. Find out what is really going on. There’s usually a very good reason for someone’s anger or resistance. Be compassionate enough to recognize that change is rough on everyone, but when someone is taking out their issues on the team, it’s unacceptable. You may need to help them get connected with a new network of employees that supports them in their new role. They may feel isolated and lonely. A major change causes many of us to go into a cave and stop communicating, so a key strategy is to make sure your people are collaborating and connected.

Above all, create a safe environment for them to vent. They need to express their fears and their losses. Once they’ve had a chance to do this, often they can begin the healing process and move on. If not, then another level of intervention is necessary. Find roles that engage them to coach other employees, teach new skills. Keep them active and productive. The more busy they are and the more positive WordFood they get from you that they are making a difference, the less they can complain.

Finally, during any major change, educate yourself and your people about the transition process. A great source is the series of short books by Dr. William Bridges on organizational transition. They can make sense of what you are seeing on your teams, when you come face to face with a Meat & Potatoes Diet type.

August 6, 2012

WordFood for Mondays

When you come in to work on a Monday morning, how do you greet your people? Maybe you’re like me, and my Monday morning office greeting is in my bathroom mirror since I work at home. I’m facing my boss. So often we greet Mondays with a collective UGH and hunker down to work. Yet here is an opportunity, like every other day, to grow, to develop, to expand ourselves, and to become better people. It’s life, and life is our teacher.

When you walk into the office, there’s a chance to create an environment around you that is hugely positive. What kinds of words do you use to engage people? If you’re in a managerial position you have considerable influence on people’s states of mind. What you say and how you say it sets the stage for the day and the week. Considering how most people meet Mondays, try beginning your week with some heartfelt acknowledgements. It doesn’t have to be overboard. Something small, but meaningful, goes a long way.

Whether you’re a cubicle dweller or the big cheese, your words have power. Kind words and recognition change people’s feelings, and they have a huge impact on the office environment. They most certainly make you feel better. When you take the time to express a cheery good morning and compliment someone on a report they’ve done, the sales job they did, how they look today- whatever is appropriate for your office- this shifts the atmosphere. It can be catching. Mondays don’t have to be, well, Mondays.

Nutritious WordFood is all about spreading positive comments around, recognizing people for their worth. People want to be acknowledged and noticed. They want to know that the work they do has value to the larger organization. When they genuinely feel this  then coming to work gives them purpose and joy.

If you work at home like I do, then your job is to take the time to acknowledge yourself for the hard work you do. Give yourself credit.  Speak to yourself with respect and regard, whether it’s out loud or silently. We can be our worst critics. Every day, life gives us the opportunity to become something bigger and better. We don’t know what will happen today. But what we can do when we interact with others is feed them positive WordFood, which will kickstart the week, make Mondays matter, and get us all off to a great start.

August 3, 2012

WordFood for Customers

Over the last several weeks I’ve had the opportunity to interact on multiple occasions with Verizon and an organization that shall stay unnamed but that you can say they have a lady sports car driver to promote it. I have a lot of products with them and I depend on them for my business. Motorola uploaded a piece of software euphemistically called “ice cream sundae” last week, and one of the results was I lost access to my email accounts. I spent two and a half hours on the phone with Verizon and part of that time was with this organization, whose customer service rep repeatedly said, “it’s not our problem.” Verizon couldn’t solve it, the other folks wouldn’t help, and I was left with a $500 phone that wasn’t working. I finally went to the Verizon store and was sent home with an app. The next day the app wouldn’t work and I spent another hour on the phone with this organization and they again said, “it’s not our problem.” I finally landed at the Verizon store again where Jeremiah, bless him, said he would fix it, and fix it he did. That earned him a heartfelt and detailed recommendation from me to his boss which got forwarded to his district manager.

This week something else went geeky with my email, and once again I lost six hours on the phone, calling repeatedly and getting different reps with this same company, all of whom said the same thing: “it’s not our problem.” By the end of the day I had called the Microsoft help line they gave me (six times, it hung up on me after eight rings), tore out and installed a new modem, set up a brand new computer which had the same issue, and finally landed at the Geek Squad. In ten seconds the guy at Geek Squad pointed at a spot on my computer and said- “there’s your problem.” I nearly kissed him, and I told his manager as much.

I had written an unhappy customer feedback form to this organization and one of their managers called me today. He was apologetic, and I explained that while the problem turned out to be something very simple that no one could have anticipated, it was the toxic WordFood that had been so frustrating. When you aren’t an expert and your technology simply defeats you, being told “it’s not our problem” repeatedly truly is toxic. So often it’s how things are handled, not that the problem can’t be solved. When we make the customer wrong, it can be costly, in the days of blogs and twitter.

Life happens. Technology is frustrating. Customers get defeated by their devices. And in a world where the Baby Boomers’ eyes are going to get dimmer and their hearing is going to get weaker, more and more phone calls like this are going to land in the laps of those giving guidance to those of us struggling to work with recalcitrant devices. It doesn’t help to make the customer wrong. When the Jeremiahs of the world will grab the device and work the problem until it’s fixed, he earns my loyalty to Verizon forever.

What WordFood are you serving your customer? Do you have Jeremiahs working for you?

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