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

October 29, 2013

The Power of WordFood Exchange

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 4:25 pm

Anyone who has ever gone on a long trip is familiar with all the final details that annoy, crop up, and land at the last possible moment. Today was no different. At about 6 am tomorrow the shuttle is going to carry me off for a month in Tanzania, and the amount of preparation for all the adventures has been enormous. The last week has been a flurry of getting bills paid, including pulling out funds for tips for porters, chefs, shuttle drivers et al, meaning that pretty much all my accounts are on fumes. Naturally, two days ago I got a notice that my car registration required an emissions test, and my car insurance payment came due, along with a slew of other payments that just happened to land at the worst moment.

Here’s where I got taught a wonderful lesson, in the form of the basement flooding that happened back in September. My USAA adjustor and I developed a relationship wherein I kept him in stitches about the repeated floodings, and I continually told him to take care of the Coloradans who had more need than I did. And I meant it. We talked football and since he’s from Texas I razzed him about the Texans and especially Tony Romo. Now it was time for me to ask a favor. I compiled and sent him a list of my damaged goods- some pretty big and pricey. When there was question about a value he gave me the benefit of the doubt and that meant, in some cases, several hundred dollars more. In about five minutes he tallied up the total, asked for my approval and sent it up the pole to get me my payment ASAP. That check will make all the difference between meeting or not meeting my responsibilities while on travel.

This is not to say that John wouldn’t have done this for any USAA client, because they’re good that way. But my guess is that I might have earned a brownie point or two because of the exchanges we had during September, and because I made him laugh repeatedly during what I knew to be a very high stress time for the USAA adjustment team. You pay into the bank of good will and when you need to draw from it, there’s an excellent chance you may be able to get what you need.

This just goes to show that even when we are in extremis, it’s good to keep perspective, and when people are trying to assist us, to appreciate and honor them. I didn’t expect USAA to do what they did today. I am beyond grateful for this help. We are not necessarily “owed” over and above service, but John reminded me today that we can most certainly earn it.

August 5, 2013

Withholding Nutritious WordFood

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 5:03 pm

In the latter part of July, I spent about two weeks with dear friends. My friend Jill has always been a good mentor and advisor, and it’s a great pleasure to have extended time with her and her family. I’ve been struggling to finish my third book and this time around her input was particularly valuable in putting the manuscript into perspective, and a new set of eyes was just the ticket needed.

Among her many talents, Jill raises, races, and writes about horses. Most particularly, her breeding stallion Commander, whom she has made into a local and national celebrity by giving him a “voice” in her articles and blogs with his enthusiasm for breeding mares and his sage comments on horse issues. Jill’s regular articles in horse magazines have made her a popular writer, and Commander a popular breeding stallion.

While I was visiting, Jill’s ranch was visited by a couple of men, one of them an African who had never been close to a horse, most certainly not a stallion. Jill brought Commander to the fence and let the men pet him. Commander’s calm demeanor and good behavior allowed both of them to appreciate him, and Jill’s handling of him. Jill took out an oversized pair of sunglasses and perched them on Commander’s face to show off his stardom, and Commander patiently allowed her this bit of fun. Both men were amazed at his good behavior. The Kenyan was utterly blown away.

When Jill came home to tell this story to her husband, I was standing in the kitchen. He stood with his back to her as she recounted, with genuine delight, Commander’s excellent behavior and his positive impact on these two men. How they complimented the horse and her, and how they had come away with such a positive impression of the ranch because of Commander. Jill radiated pride in her stallion and such pleasure that her horse had done such a good job.

Her husband never acknowledged the story. He never said “Yes, he’s a good horse.” He went on with his business and left the kitchen. Jill told me later how much it hurt her when she would come home and relay stories like this, and receive nothing in return. “I heap compliments on him, but he doesn’t return them, ” she said sadly.

We cannot know why people withhold kindness, compliments, recognition. We aren’t privy to their reasoning or their justifications. But when someone does withhold nutritious WordFood, it rots inside, like keeping good fruits and vegetables too long. They go bad. The environment we’re holding them in is toxic, or else we’d have happily expressed pride, pleasure, our own delight at the happiness of other people. Nutritious WordFood spoken aloud graces us as it comes through us, it feeds us as well as the other person, in fact even more so. It makes us glow with the gift of the profferred words of encouragement. They give us power for we are giving power away- which is the source of true power.

Some believe that if you hold back a compliment, you’re punishing someone. The opposite is true. You are punishing yourself. You grow small and mean and negative and bitter when you withhold your grace from others. Whether it’s to a stranger, or, much more challenging, to someone who is difficult for you to like, either way you are making an effort, and that effort pays untold dividends.
The more we withold our nutritious WordFood from others, especially those we love, the more those potentially gracious exchanges turn to garbage inside us. Offer a gift, a kiss, a hug, a compliment to someone today, now, send a tweet, an email. You will be better for it.

July 17, 2013

WordFood for the Senate

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 7:18 pm

Yesterday on a drive around the southern Denver beltway I heard a story about a young man who was vilified for winning a college election. It wasn’t that he won, it was how he won. Seems that he rigged it in a rather thrilling spyware kind of way, stole some 750 student passwords, and gave himself about additional 630 votes in an election he had already won. Happily, he was caught, denuded of his title and is now paying the price. Pardon my sarcasm here, but this young man is already well on his way to a fine career in politics.

Later in the day, Majority Leader Harry Reid was crowing, as were several other leaders in the Senate about this big breakthrough that had happened around the stalled Presidential appointments (some for two  years and counting). To shorten what he said but to use his words, “we actually sat down and talked TO each other instead of AT each other.” Today I heard more senators making considerable noise about this supposedly stupendous breakthrough. Imagine. Elected officials gathering in a room to actually listen to one other. Hear what others have to say instead of following their leadership like blind and deaf sheep. Imagine.

The very idea that these elected officials would be speaking of the idea of sequestering themselves away in a private room to learn to speak and actually listen to each other civilly as a huge breakthrough in Congressional history seems to me a very sad statement about the Senate, and about politics in general. But then we all knew that anyway. Yet we will still vote for our guy or gal to go up to the Hill to teach’em a thing or two (read make them come around to OUR way of thinking which of course is Right and True and the American Way). And we get frustrated when shouting at the other side and not listening simply goes nowhere.

Funny. It doesn’t work in our marriages, friendships, at work. Why should it work in Congress? Or for that matter in Egpyt? That’s going well right now, isn’t it?

While the Senate seems to be awakening to the quaint notion that listening graciously is one way to create collaboration and partnerships, this is a great time to think about who we elect. We feed Congress those officials with our votes. The WordFood of courtesy,  respect and regard have been missing of late. The vitriol of hateful election campaigns is a direct result of what they think will work with us, the voting public. If we want them to be more civil, let’s all be more civil, kind, gracious. And vote with our feet. Tweets, emails, letters, about the WordFood example we want.

Perhaps we’ll get a law or two passed. Some we may like, some we may not, but that’s a democracy. A civil, gracious democracy.

Hey, we put ‘em there. And we can bring them back when they act like bullies.

February 4, 2013

WordFood in Any Language

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 4:12 pm

Sometimes despite our best efforts, we get misunderstood. Suffice it to say that when we travel, this is especially true. I just got back from a month in Costa Rica, where English is widely spoken. That is, until I stepped into a wonderful little textiles shop in La Fortuna, a town that has grown up around the Arenal volcano in the north central part of the country.

Now this town is very small, and it’s mostly a lineup of tourist touts and overpriced restaurants. There are tacky souvenir shops and the occasional Tico place to eat where you can get authentic Costa Rican food. But for the most part it is a purely tourist town, with tourist prices, and you don’t expect to find much else. Then I stumbled into a bit of paradise.

A Guatamalan woman had a shop on the main street that was chock full of the most amazing textiles you could imagine. All the shelves from floor to ceiling were lined with hand embroidered runners, blankets, wall hangings and placemats of the most uproarious colors and designs. I was transported to Ecuador where I had been the previous January, and was blown away by the variations of theme, color and expression. Each was a unique work, a treasure. No matter what I pulled out, I wanted it. And her prices were well below what I had paid in Ecuador, by half again. I was deeply impressed.

This determined, diminuitive woman in indigenous dress walked over to me and I did my best, in halting Spanish, to express to her that I had seen something similar in Ecuador. I was complimentary about her pricing and her work. However, whatever I said wasn’t what she heard. She drew herself up to her full 5′ height and said with great emphasis that her work was authentic, indigenous, and took the pieces out my hand and put them back on the shelf. Then she turned her back to me and sat down.

Any attempt to speak with her after that was met with “no intiendo” – I don’t understand you- and it didn’t matter that I desperately wanted to buy some things from this one of a kind shop. Defeated, I left.

When I returned to my hostel and told my proprietor about what had happened, he laughed. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who received the cold shoulder. Proud and “hard” according to him, this hard scrabble woman made all her lovely things on site, and was deservedly pleased with her results. She would brook no comparisons to anything else anywhere else in the world. And if she decided she didn’t like you, you were out the door. Sale or no sale.

I was sad, of course, for my intent had been to create a connection, pay a compliment and make a purchase. However with a delicate ego involved, the challenges of language are even more difficult. Sometimes our best attempts at what I call Energy Enhancers, or compliments, go awry. I never found a similar store in the rest of the country, and I looked. My travels aren’t over. But this lesson will stick. What I had to look at was whether I was trying to impress her with my knowledge (perhaps) or really trying to pay her a compliment (I was). It was good to look at true intent. I offended her nonetheless, and came home without my souvenir, but with perhaps a larger prize, which was greater humility.  And that is always worth having.

November 11, 2012

WordFood of Tolerance

My best friend Lori sent me a piece by  Ben Stein this morning which addressed the need for God and religion in our society, our schools, and in our lives. His comments had been featured on CBS on Sunday morning and been sent around the Internet, and part of his comment was that because the email was about God, it was likely not to be forwarded as much as lewd jokes or cartoons. He has a point.

In my book WordFood I talk about how it’s easy to be consumed by popular culture, by tabloids, gossip, distractions. This is what I call Junk Food. Like potato chips and other snacks, it’s addictive, fun to consume, fattening, and extremely bad for you. Ultimately it takes up precious space in the mind where more positive, nutritious information could be building us: education, professional and personal development, motivational tapes that challenge you to a higher quality of thinking. And yes, religious study, whatever that may look like to you.

Every one of us is animated by something larger, some gift, that gives us life. And I believe powerfully that while we have life, we owe a good life to the power that gave us that life. Most of us were brought up within some kind of belief system. Some of us go find something that speaks to us more personally. Some create a system by which we establish a discipline, and this is the key word here, to live, worship, and respect others’ way of being in the world. But whatever that practice may be, it involves a discipline of mind, and a humbling of oneself to a greater power, and an effort to see that good that exists in all humankind.

To the extent that we are insistent upon filling our minds with Junk Food about celebrities who are less than stellar, about sports figures who take drugs, we miss out on the everyday heroes who people our neighborhood.  There is much to study about ourselves that is valuable. To fill our minds with how to be better citizens and life students and better friends.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a little Junk Food now and then. Even I know how Kim Kardashian is, if only because I stand too long in the 15 item line. It just seems to me that given the great variety and beauty of sacred texts in the world, and how they exhort us to treat each other with respect, perhaps this might be  balancing fare to the ugliness of “Survivor: The Phillipines.”

What we feed our minds informs our language. It informs how we treat each other every day. Road rage is the result of a daily diet of stress, a lack of graciousness and the need to be right no matter what. And people are dying because someone gets cut off a few inches in traffic.This isn’t us.

Whether we read a Bible, a Koran, a Torah or any other sacred text, it grounds is in what is truly important in life: respect for life, humility for our place in the vastness of all of Creation, and a hope that we can make a difference.

When it  comes to the intensely private and personal issue of what we all are guided by, this is an unknowable. But I can say this: that a change in  our WordFood Diet is a fine thing when we want to change the way we perceive, and are perceived, in the world.

June 11, 2012

WordFood for Top Performers

Are you lucky enough to have great performers on your team? Are they highly independent, self-starting individuals? Are you glad that you can pretty much let them do their own thing and leave them alone?

Then you may be making a big mistake.

It’s very easy to assume that these top performers don’t need feedback or management oversight. Sure, they don’t want micromanagement- they are, after all, intrapreneurs. They might even tell you that they don’t need you to look in on them. But this is largely untrue.

Your top performers all have egos. And they want to know you’re paying attention to their work. That doesn’t mean looking over their shoulders all the time. What it does mean is that you do check in and acknowledge them. Notice their achievements. Ask them their opinions and involve them in the development of new people. Watch their numbers and express your appreciation.

Don’t be fooled by their independence. Our highest achievers want positive WordFood from you. They want to know you’re paying attention to what they do. If you don’t, they will find somewhere else to work where they will get that pat on the back.

All too often well meaning leaders make the assumption that their best people don’t need attention. The opposite is true. These are the people who deserve the most acknowledgement. This teaches your lowest performers that to get more of your support, they have to step it up.

Many a great employee has left because he or she got ignored. Make sure you are giving Energy Enhancer compliments to those who are making your company successful. Find out how they want to be valued: everyone is unique.

Feed your best performers rich WordFood and they will continue to reward you.

June 3, 2012

UnderCover Boss WordFood At Its Best

I’m a big fan of Undercover Boss, the CBS program where a CEO goes underground in his or her own company to work as a new employee. They learn the ropes and on the way, they are deeply humbled by the stories of their own people, their goodness and commitment. On rare occasions they see less than stellar behavior but by far and away they are blown away by the generosity of spirit, the personal stories and capacity for giving.

At the end of each program the CEO brings these employees back to headquarters. The employees think they’re going to assess the “newbie” they worked with but instead they meet with the CEO who ends up giving them wonderful WordFood about how they performed on the job. How hard they worked, their commitment to the job, how they give to the community, their generosity to their employees. Then, depending on the individual situation, the CEO may give a financial gift to help with education or a vacation.

The program has grown in popularity and has been moved to the prime Friday night slot. I believe that the reason Undercover Boss has become so popular is that we love those moments when the big boss compliments their people. We hunger for that from our own CEO or manager. We wish someone would recognize us that way. It’s not even about the $5000 vacation they’re giving away- we’d just like someone to notice how hard we work. The times we come in early. The hours we spend coaching younger workers. How dedicated we are to doing good work every day. We’d just like to be noticed. In fact, some of your best people are probably starving for attention.

Time and again the employees on Undercover Boss say the same thing: they never thought anyone would ever notice them. Leaders and managers, pay attention. If you want your people to be engaged, to be committed and truly put their hearts into their work, it doesn’t take much. It takes the WordFood of acknowledgement. Notice people doing things right. Watch people every day and tell them you appreciate their hard work.

UnderCover Boss is a study in how to make people feel like a million dollars. It’s a weekly lesson in how to treat your employees well. And it’s not about giving away money. It’s about how we talk to them every day. It’s the acknowledgement that’s most important. People want to know that what they do matters, that someone is paying attention.

If you haven’t seen Undercover Boss yet, start watching. It’s full of ideas on how to really treat your employees.

May 31, 2012

WordFood of Love

My friend Lori is extremely busy. She left a demanding job as a partner with a tile company a few years ago to take a break and found herself even busier, taking on responsibilities working at a hospice, learning and then teaching Italian, getting and then training a dog to be a companion to those in need. Now she is deeply involved with animal rights issues.

Our friendship has spanned thirty years. As Lori has gotten older she has taken on bigger and more complex projects. Her time is more precious. We don’t talk very often and when I do call, I usually find her in a highly preoccupied state.

Today, I called and got the usual. “Hi honey, look I don’t have time to talk, my Italian student is late, I have a deadline to meet, she knows this drives me crazy, can we talk later?”
“Lori, I only called for one thing.”
“What’s that?”
“To say I love you.”
“Oh. Thank you darling.”
“You’re welcome.”

We can get so in love with our busy-ness and our activities that we forget to make room for those we call our closest friends. Sometimes we need to just take a moment and breathe, and let someone love us.

When a child wants to hug you, are you too busy to take that extra few seconds to cuddle? When your mom wants to say something to you on the phone, are you in a hurry to hang up to get on to more important things? These ARE the important things.

When we look back on the times that were important, we think about the exchanges we had with those most precious to us. Not the big deals, the contracts won, the high fives with the guys at the office. It’s the WordFood of love that we were fed by our children, our parents, our beloved friends, our family members.

Who in your life needs five phone seconds from you? Who is so busy, so preoccupied, so busy in life that an “I Love You” message would be a bright spot in their day? My beloved friend Lori reminds me that I’m the one who needs to call her.

Whose life can you brighten today?

May 25, 2012

Women and WordFood

This week I was in New York City at a huge formal bash. It was a big black tie event put on by the National Minority Supplier Development Council and everyone was dressed to the nines. I had flown in from Denver, where we are pretty casual much of the time, and I was having a lot of fun being surrounded by all these women in flowing gowns and men in their sharp tuxedos.

About halfway through the evening I was working my way through the tables and came across a woman in a particularly stunning dress – it crisscrossed her body and made her look like a million bucks. She was facing away from me, and I touched her arm to get her attention. “You look absolutely amazing in that dress,” I told her. “You’re a complete knockout.” Her face lit up. “I really needed to hear that,” she said. She went on to tell me that she doesn’t hear that kind of thing enough- and that my compliment made her feel really good.

Women can sometimes be a little catty with each other, especially about appearances. “That dress is too tight,” “Her makeup is too theatrical,” comments that tear each other down behind our backs. What we all need from each other is support and love: outright support, acknowledgment face to face. I love to compliment women: on their clothing, their hair, their strong arms, everything about them. What their warm reactions teach me is how hungry we all are for acknowledgement. We want to be seen for how hard we work to be pretty or handsome or to do well.

Those seconds it took to give this lovely woman a kind word made ME feel like a million dollars that night. The gift was to me as much as to her for her graciousness. It’s a constant reminder of how powerful our WordFood can be.

May 19, 2012

Words to Improve Relationships

My neighbors, Marge and Everett, are in their seventies. Since moving here in 2006, I’ve visited them every so often and we’ve had a good connection. I’m single so sometimes I’ve had to ask Everett for help around the house, often using his long ladder to climb on the roof to dust the heavy snow off my dish during football season.
Just the other day when I again asked Everett for help with a recalcitrant spigot, he told me that Marge was beginning to have problems with my requests for his help. She’d been on meds that made her memory problematic and she was increasingly insecure, so she didn’t like my coming over and dragging him off. In addition, I hadn’t been over just visiting as often lately.
So yesterday I went next door and asked to see Marge. Twenty years ago Marge had been a senior manager in the health care system. We sat down in their living room and I asked her for help. She was a little confused. “I am developing a proposal for Catholic Health Initatives,” I explained. “And I could use your insight, opinions, background and knowledge about the healthcare industry.” Marge flustered a little, but then her face lit up. “I can do that,” she said. “Let me give it some thought. I’d like to help you.” I said I’d be back in a week with a notebook and pen and we’d get to work.
The truth is I could use her help and I really do have the potential for this work. And including Marge on this proposal is perfect for us both. This solves the problem of Marge’s discomfort with me, and it also gives us a great way to work together and she is likely to give me great ideas for my upcoming work. What a win win.

I had gotten selfish in using Everett for my own needs, and stopped thinking about how Marge also needed attention. Sometimes we get so caught up in life that we don’t consider others’ needs, especially those of older people, parents, people with so much still to offer.
Where might you create a WordFood opportunity to engage someone to make them feel valuable and important to you?

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