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

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.

October 2, 2012

Family WordFood

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 7:14 pm

A few hours ago I had a conversation with a friend who was beating herself up over a son who was having some challenges. This woman felt responsible for his life- although he is now thirty- and she continues to bail him out of constant problems from half a country away. She is angry at herself  because she can’t save him, because he’s a troubled person, because of a laundry list of crimes she imagines.

This internal dialogue has cost her a great deal. She has put on fifty pounds. Once a svelte size 8, she now is a size 16-18. She berates what she sees in the mirror. She has a gym membership she never uses. She has a husband who cooks food that adds to the problem. Her ex-husband and daughter rail at her for her commitment to the troubled son.

What I saw was someone who was drawing a set of circumstances to her to provide a wonderful opportunity to grow. To set boundaries. To make some powerful choices about life and love and food and family and bad habits. In her early sixties, this woman has plenty of time to make some fundamental, important changes, changes that will take time and patience, starting with how she addresses herself in the mirror every morning. Because it isn’t about the son or the family or the food or the body, it is about her relationship with herself, and how she chooses to live out her last thirty years- in slavery to the habits of a lifetime, or learning to live life for herself.

Her son needs help, but not from her. The dynamics are toxic. He can get professional help where he is. She is going to start walking. And go back to the gym. Swtich from heavy carbs to more salads. One small step at a time. But it all starts with the respect offered to the image in the mirror. A boundary set with the part that wants to criticize the image.

Family isn’t perfect. Boundaries are important. Set with loving WordFood they can save a life, put us back on track to self respect and peace.

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.

September 4, 2012

Feeding the Family WordFood

I have a friend who has a brother who got involved with a survivalist movement a few years back. His politics are radical to say the least. He has collected a basement full of guns and ammunition, and he gives considerable funds that he can hardly afford to movements that support far right wing activities based on fear and hate.  Conversations are challenging, political discussions impossible. Yet talk they do, their connection by blood immutable, their bond unbreakable, and my friend’s commitment to his brother unshakable despite the differences.

In a divisive election year, feelings are high. In close families, family members get in terrible arguments over jobs or social programs, or they can’t agree over a candidate. Or maybe there are divisions over religious choices. No matter who we are, we all have relatives we deem either unfit or unworthy or black sheep or somehow no longer acceptable. Yet, they’re still family.

In the confines of families we can do our worst damage, yet that is where we can also do our greatest good, learn our most important lessons, and draw our greatest courage, if we choose. There is nothing more important than our blood connection, and learning to accept, forgive, support and love those we gave birth to, grew up with and must lay claim to as family. Even if that means we must ultimately distance ourselves from those who will self destruct, they still deserve our love. Compassion is a powerful thing.

Nothing is so painful as a sudden death which deprives you of the chance to say “I’m sorry or Please forgive me.”  Pride is a terrible price to pay when someone is gone, and you realize that a simple gesture could have healed a rift. 

Keep in mind that the imagination is a busy actor and it loves to fill silence with its own version of what someone else feels or thinks about us. And it is a terrible liar most of the time. The truth is that we cannot possibly know what another person thinks or feels about us. If there is a family rift, be the first one to heal it.

In my family, I have a cousin who has finally healed a 16-year long silence with her big brother. After years of angry stories about each other, they are talking, warmly, and they are a family again. Nothing can replace family.

What kind, healing WordFood do you need to say to a family member to rebuild a connection? Heal a wound? Ask for forgiveness? Even if you’re for Obama and they’re for Romney, it makes no difference. Love trumps politics. Love trumps everything.

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 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.

July 23, 2012

WordFood Starvation Diet

Today I went to my chiropractor to get a laser treatment on my knee. The technician who was administering the service asked me what I did for a living and I told her about my book and the idea of WordFood, and how we all put each other on “diets.”

“Well I just stop talking when I get mad,” she proclaimed. “I shut down and clam up.” I told her that this was what I described as the Starvation Diet, where others had to talk to her hand, and she wasn’t forthcoming about what they had done wrong.

As it related to her significant other, I asked her how she expected him to figure out where he had gone wrong or offended her. “He should be able to figure that out!” she exclaimed.

“Well, people can’t read minds,” I said gently. “One of you has to open the door. Either you have to take 100% responsibility for your end and let him know what he did wrong and let him clean it up, or on his end, he can apologize in general and say let’s at least open the door to a conversation here.”

She laughed. “I’d love it if he’d apologize,” she said.

Chances are he goes along in their relationship having no idea he’s done anything wrong in the first place while this lovely woman is fuming, I thought as she labored over my knee.

The Starvation Diet costs both parties with its silence. Someone has to step up to the plate and offer the peace branch. You’re both 100% responsible. Primarily the one holding the silence- because that person alone truly knows what the issue is.

If this sounds like you, perhaps it’s time to be a bit more forthcoming in your communication. Let others know if they have hurt you. You may fear confrontation or conflict as this technician does, but the promise of a more honest and open exchange awaits if you the let sun shine on what’s troubling you. You give up nothing by talking but you may give up everything over time by withholding communication.

July 14, 2012

Soothing WordFood in an Emergency

Last night I was at my local Wells Fargo Bank making a deposit when I asked the teller for an updated balance. The balance showed only what had been deposited that day in my business account. I asked what had happened to the rest of the funds, and she said, you took it all out. I said that I hadn’t, and she turned the monitor to show me. “See? Here are your withdrawals.” My eyes nearly popped out of my cranium as I saw that some stranger had wiped out every red cent in my business account through cyber theft, leaving me with absolutely nothing. And vulnerable to more attacks.

I nearly went through the roof. Quickly the teller called a personal banker who brought me to her office and said precisely what I needed to hear. “We’re going to take care of you,” she said. “Let me handle this.” She was on the phone with the Fraud team in seconds and we closed the account. As it was late in the day on a Friday there wasn’t much else we could do except open a new business account which their business banker did right away.

I was given several numbers to call and that night I contacted the fraud lines. One of the young men I spoke with said, “Ma’am, I’ve been with Wells Fargo for four years. We’re going to get you through this, I guarantee it. You’re going to be taken care of.”

My business banker explained that Wells Fargo would take the loss in making me whole for the amount that I had lost. They aren’t insured for cyber crime like this. However I am working diligently with every law enforcement agency possible to help track down who did this, as I hardly think I’m the only victim. Likely this is a larger operation and I’m one of many.

That terribly vulnerable feeling that you have when the “house” you’ve built has been violated needs immediate attention. Whether you’ve had a theft, experienced a personal attack, like me had a cyber theft- you feel naked indeed. In that moment the most important thing is that those around you understand your need to feel secure and safe. You must hear the right words.

Wells Fargo has sometimes frustrated me in the past, and we don’t always see eye to eye. But every single banker who touched me yesterday went out of their way to ensure that I knew I would have my funds back and that I would be whole. That’s WordFood of the highest order and that is how you earn customer loyalty.

In your businesses, when you have a customer who is unhappy or in a jam, do your employees have the same authority and commitment to make sure they are kept whole? That they can feed your valued customers the WordFood they need to hear so that they will not only come back again and again, but tell all their friends how great you are as a company? No advertising is more powerful than this kind of word of mouth.

I never thought I’d say this but Wells Fargo has made me feel safe, and for that, they have earned my loyalty. Have you earned your customers’ loyalty? What have you taught your employees to say in an emergency?

This is one of the characteristics that make a good company great.

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.

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