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

September 25, 2012

The BallPark Diet

We all know someone who talks about one thing and one thing only. Who focuses on sports or technology, intentionally talks over our heads to let us know how smart they are (and how dumb we are). Or someone who absolutely loves shopping and shoes and can’t talk about much of anything else. While we might tolerate this, like the folks at the office who put up with March Madness every year, it gets old after a while. I call this the BallPark Diet. People who are a one-trick pony, who have a comfort zone and like to stay in a lane.

Sometimes they do this because it’s a passion of theirs. Perhaps it’s their hobby, like collecting trains or skydiving. For other people it’s because they are insecure in other areas of their lives and this is how they express their confidence by talking about the one thing they do know a lot about. Either way, it’s a narrow focus. It limits their ability to relate to the larger world, and in some cases, it annoys those who want to engage them.

When faced with these folks you can try several strategies. You can learn their language, and join in. You can stay on the fringe of the conversation and invite them to join you and talk about something that is similar but not exactly the same, and ask their opinion, thereby expanding their horizon. You can challenge their viewpoint and get them a little riled up and thinking. Ask their opinion and let them be the expert, but then guide them subtly to other areas of conversation.

However it might work to your advantage. I had a client  who worked for a large company in Illinois. They were having an event and needed a speaker. For the longest time I couldn’t get his attention about using me for his event. Then on one half hour conference call, instead of talking about my speaking program I started out by talking about Jay Culter, Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher of the Bears. We spent twenty of our thirty minutes talking football. The last ten minutes he couldn’t do enough to help me speak for him.

It helps to find out what someone’s BallPark Diet is and to do your research. You can use it to your advantage.

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 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?

July 30, 2012

WordFood Affects Us Physically

The other night at my gym I was a little tired, and struggling with the chest press. It was set at a challenging weight, and I could hardly do one rep. I stood up to take a break and walked over to the free weights where a young Hispanic couple was working out. The man was coaching the woman who was clearly a novice, and she didn’t appear to be feeling very confident.

I asked him if she spoke English, and she did not, so I requested that he translate my words to her.
I told her that it took great courage to come to the gym. I explained that I had once weighed 205 lbs and that it took time, and work, to get in shape. She smiled at me. I put my hand on my heart and pointed at her and said in my lousy Spanish, “you are very strong.” At this she grinned, picked up some hand weights and went at it.

Energized, I walked back over to the bench and punched out ten reps on that bar, where not two minutes previously I couldn’t do one and a half.

There is no question in my mind that the exchange between us, those warm words, energized me completely. Her big smile put me on the moon and were a gift of pure positive force.

We underestimate the impact our positive words have on others, just as we all too often underestimate the damage our negative words can do. We carry great force in our words. When we use them to uplift someone else, they move through us and grace us as well.

Try this for yourself. See if paying someone a sincere compliment doesn’t lighten your step, put joy in your day. Feel how encouragement lifts you as much as it does the other person.

This is why I call it WordFood- nourishment for the soul.

July 9, 2012

WordFood in our Messaging

The wonderful thing about technology is that it’s instantaneous. The terrible thing about technology is that it’s instantaneous.

Have you ever received an email, a text, a tweet or a voicemail that set you off? And then you fired off an angry response, hit the Send button and, moments later, realized what you’d done and felt instant remorse?

That message was already off in the ether, bouncing around like an angry bowling ball, doing its damage. We can’t take it back. And it’s part of our permanent legacy.


A few weeks ago I received an email in my inbox from a competitor announcing a webinar they were doing for a client that I had been working on for a long time. I had a lot of feelings about that email, and I whipped off a note to my client that said, in effect, glad to see you’re working with this supplier, they’re good people. However, my bruised ego slipped in a sentence that clearly let it be known I wasn’t happy about not being chosen as their supplier.

A few minutes later I got a terse email from my client that said they weren’t, in fact using this supplier and that the webinar was free. Uh-oh. My client was clearly in the office and I made a call right away.

It turned out to be a good idea. She was writing me an angry response. She was insulted and offended by my email, and I had some serious cleaning up to do. I had to apologize for my tone and my poor WordFood. It took some explaining but we got through it. Now whether I’ve lost this multi-billion dollar client because of a bone-headed stunt on my part remains to be seen. The sad part about this is that this client has been one of my biggest supporters, and with one badly worded email I hurt our relationship- and it happens just that fast.

In our fast-paced, do it now world where we so often feel compelled to respond immediately to everything that we receive on our devices, it becomes easier and easier to make this kind of mistake. Our emotions are swift as lightning and they inform what we write. If we’re whipping out a text while we’re walking down the street we’re not likely to be thinking carefully about content and impact. An email isn’t going to be saved to be rewritten later before it’s sent out, like mine should have been. We end up sending out toxic WordFood without realizing it and it can have devastating effects personally and professionally.

If there is a remedy to this, it’s to install an internal regulator or questioning system that automatically puts forth the challenge “How would I feel if I got this message?” Some kind of discipline that asks us to take a breath before we overreact to something we’ve received. In the moment, we may be feeling righteous, but with time and information that indignation often goes away.

Before you fire off an angry response, keep in mind a few key things:

  • chances are you may not know the whole story
  • without context it’s easy to read emotions into the words that may be inaccurate
  • re-reading the same message an hour later may give you an entirely different viewpoint
  • doing a little research could provide you with everything you need to know the whole picture

My email may have simply cost me some embarrassment, and it was a good lesson in keeping my ego in check and being sensitive to my client. The more sophisticated our devices become, the swifter the communications, the more vigilant we need to be in reining in our lightning fast emotional responses to the messages we receive.

July 3, 2012

The WordFood Ballpark Diet

Have you ever met someone who talks about one thing, and one thing only? You can’t get them off that one nut? I know people like that. Sometimes it’s high tech, or it can be a hobby, or sports. In WordFood parlance that’s called the Ballpark Diet, when people are a one trick pony. Sometimes this is when they use language that’s way over your head to lord it over you to show their superiority. Other times it’s when they really can’t switch off, and they are in a comfort zone. It’s nearly impossible for them to talk about much else.

I use the example of two male friends who’ve known each other for years but who only talk about sports. One friend’s wife gets cancer, and he wants to discuss this with his pal, but his pal is incapable of engaging him on this subject. It’s just too personal and deep. We all know people like this. We have to find new avenues to approach this person and ask them questions about how they might feel if this happened to them and make it personal and real, so that it engages the emotions. We have to touch a different part of their psyche so that they’re not running on automatic all the time, always in that zone. We need to take a chance to engage them in a neutral area, where there is a possibility for a different kind of exchange, a more authentic conversation. This takes empathy on our part, putting ourselves in their shoes, and considering their feelings, not trying to force them around to our way of thinking.

However, BallPark can work to our advantage at times as well. For example, a client of mine is a Bears fan. I happen to be a football fanatic, which he didn’t know. This client had been on the fence for a long time about using me as a speaker for an event of his. This time when I called him up I immediately asked him about aspects of the team’s performance and discussing my favorite Bear, Brian Urlacher. This took him by surprise, and we spent our first fifteen minutes happily engaged in football talk, aspects of the game, quarterback strategies. He was delighted to know I was a fan.

By the time things rolled around to business, there was a completely different openness to our working together. This time he spoke warmly about having me as a speaker, and since then events have moved forward.

It often helps to know someone’s Ballpark language to create the connection first. You don’t have to be an expert. It does help to do your homework. What people do appreciate is the effort to speak on their terms. If someone in IT starts using terminology that leaves you in the dust, gently remind them that you don’t have a degree in computer science. Most of the time they’ll revert to language for the rest of us humans.

If you’ve got a client who has a passion, it’s a great strategy to put a little effort into learning about it and engaging them on that topic. It can be a deal maker.

Where people are using the Ballpark Diet to keep others away, try finding that neutral ground where you can find something new to talk about and you won’t foul out. Be patient. There are good reasons they are playing it safe.

June 29, 2012

The Words We Feed Ourselves About Others

Have you ever talked yourself into a state of anger about someone else? Have you ever gotten a piece of information about someone, and based on that information, gotten very angry, although you may not have the whole picture? Sometimes we find out later we’re justified, and sometimes we’re wrong. Either way, we can expend a lot of energy being mad, and talking to others about this person, taking sides spewing our frustration. It can be costly if we don’t rein this in early on, and think about the consequences to ourselves and others.

This week I was on the phone with a client who is putting in a lot of hard work on a significant project at her company and being asked to do yeoman’s work with limited senior level assistance. More importantly, everyone pressures her to succeed, she is aware that all eyes are on this company wide project, and she has absolutely no funding to help her achieve her goals.

On the phone with one of her primary sponsors, she reported that this person told her on one hand that there was no money available but in the next breath that they were off to an international conference. She was furious- how could this so called supporter find the funds to head off overseas but not find funding for what was supposed to be such an important project?

It was tempting to take this personally. But the truth is that no one knows – we never know- what is going in on in another person’s mind, their life, their circumstances. This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity. This may be something this person has worked to achieve all their life. What she is seeing is a tiny bit of information and it’s being processed as it affects her project, and of course she’s going to take it personally. But there may be so many more facts affecting this situation. Were she to hear them, she might fully support the decision.

The choices are simple. She can be angry, resentful and frustrated at what she sees as the facts. Or she can take a larger view and realize that she isn’t aware of all the information, and to not let this sweep her away in anger. To not feed the fires of resentment, to not feed ourselves toxic WordFood about another person takes courage, especially when we think we’re right. What takes real courage is to hold the situation in question, and accept that we just don’t know. Because in truth, we don’t.

So perhaps this person goes to the conference and comes back with ideas for funding. Perhaps they come back energized and enthusiastic and full of renewed support for the big project and my client ends up with a real advocate. These are real possibilities.

My mother used to tease me about “jumping to conclusions.” Our emotions are quick to respond especially if something affects us personally. What makes us stronger, better, bigger people is the ability to recognize that we don’t know all there is to know in a situation, and never about what it is going on inside another person. Before we feed ourselves toxic WordFood about someone else, it serves to hold things in check, see what we can learn, and let things evolve. We may be surprised at what we find.

June 18, 2012

When Others Say WordFood Better Than You

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 7:46 pm

This week I’m giving a speech at a conference of women who are selling their products and services to the Fortune 500. For the most part, this is a very savvy bunch, and they understand their customer very well. But not always.

In the nine years of attending these conferences I’ve seen instances of alcohol abuse, bad behavior and inappropriate clothing that have cost these smart women contracts- and this from comments made to me by my Fortune 500 friends. I wanted to make some kind of mention in my presentation, but how do I do this without sounding, well, parental or condescending? For the last three days I have gone over the wording and struggled with the slide. Considered forgetting it altogether but knew that it made sense to say something, but what and how?

The answer came today in the form of Caroline, another woman business owner whom I met at the coffee counter this afternoon. Her comment to me was that “The Fortune 500 consider us as extensions of themselves – they want us to represent them to their customers. That’s how they’re looking at how we look and behave.”

This is perfect. Why do I have to say it? One of their own should. And better Caroline than me.

It’s not up to me to moralize. It’s so much more effective, and so much softer, for another business woman to make the case for how to be successful.

Sometimes it can be tempting to be right, to be Moses on the mountain and march down with the tablets. But my bet will be that with Caroline as the messenger they will  find the advice palatable and even wise, and certainly will not resent it.

When you have a tough message to deliver, you might check in with your ego first and make sure there isn’t a warrior intent on cleaning house. While the warrior may sound attractive at some level, you may end up making enemies. Find a way to utilize another voice to express your message, using positive WordFood to equals.  Caroline gave me a nice lesson in WordFood diplomacy. It works in families, financial summits and the founding of nations.

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