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

March 23, 2016

The Power of Tone of Voice

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 7:04 am

This past weekend, Denver got one of its classic early spring snows. My part of town, which is close to the foothills, was snowing and the roads sheer black ice. I’d signed up to attend an animal communication class which was located fully an hour from my house out on the plains, so I packed up very early, two hours ahead of schedule. However, my world was dangerously icy.

So icy, in fact, that I ended up sliding through a stop sign and slamming into a snowy embankment, hurting my neck and back. I was just lucky that no cross traffic was out that early.

After I got my car out and inched home in the snow, I repeatedly called the school. No answer. I called the instructor twice, and finally reached her. She informed me that according to her, the weather was “brilliant, the roads green,and everyone ELSE was going to be there.” Not only did this completely dismiss my accident, it was shaming.

That annoyed me, and despite being injured I still attempted to make it to class. I took three sheets of instructions, left when the sun finally cleared our roads (about 11 am or so). As it happened, my Google instructions got me lost. At 1 pm I called the school again, no answer. I called the instructor again, no answer. I gave up and went home- and had to lie down. I was in bed all day Sunday.

I requested a cancellation due to the circumstances. I also cancelled a week long program in May. Both programs had a very rigid cancellation policy. What followed was fascinating.

Her partner,  penned me a lengthy email informing me of the instructor’s intention to be kind, how much trouble she went to in order to change the curriculum for me so that I could attend, the fact that EVERYONE ELSE  found it easy to find the location. Identical dunning language. He pointed out that the weather report didn’t indicate snow anywhere (so clearly I had to be making it up). The instructor had called Saturday while I was in bed, so I listened. It was a long, rambling message that again, pointed out, with that treacly condescending tone that one uses with small children and the very old, that EVERYONE ELSE found the location without a problem, that she went to great trouble JUST FOR ME to move the topics around, she held up starting the class for fifteen minutes JUST FOR ME.

This is an instructor who teaches leadership and promotes herself as a coach. In no way did she express compassion, except in the most childish way, for a very real and dangerous situation which caused an accident. What she did express was what little regard she has for a client’s. Foothill neighborhoods have different weather than the plains. People get lost. In her message she went on and on about how I could possibly have ended up in Castle Rock. She said, Elizabeth (where the class was held) is nowhere near Castle Rock. You can hear the message  (STUPID) in her voice. Having lived in Colorado since 1979 I know perfectly well where these towns are- however one wrong turn led me astray. Had someone been available by phone I might have made it.

This delivery made it abundantly clear that the instructor considered my accident ridiculous, my version of weather in my neighborhood a fantasy, and the fact that I got lost simply ludicrous, since everyone else made it just fine.  The partner’s email simply regurgitated the same message that clearly, something was wrong with me.

Tone is body language. It’s far more powerful than words. Tone says what you really mean. Kids get it. Adults are deeply  insulted by it. People who consider themselves true coaches and leadership trainers wouldn’t stoop to using it. Whatever you’re saying becomes toxic with the wrong inflection.  Tone demonstrates your intention, as clearly as if they had shrieked “STUPID” at me. I got the message all right, loud and clear.

I got my refunds, which was appreciated. However, they were delivered like a burrito, wrapped in the same condescension and shaming language as the first conversation. As a result, not only will I never have anything to do with this organization, I will be warning all of my network, which is considerable, not to do business with them.

Tone is intention. Let’s make sure ours isn’t toxic. It can be costly.

February 3, 2014

WordFood in a Public Forum

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 8:11 pm

Last Thursday I landed in Denver after a one month trip to Vietnam. It was one of those remarkable journeys full of discoveries and learning, surprising insights and flashes of empathy from places you can’t anticipate. Like the day I was hiking through a particularly tough bit of primitive Central Vietnamese jungle during a wet, cold day, stuck in the mud, struggling with creepers,  whacking my head on fallen trees. In that moment it suddenly dawned on me that these – and far, far worse- were some of the conditions that my fellow veterans had to deal with forty years ago during the war. Along with booby traps and jungle rot and so very much more. But the fleeting insight into that world was priceless. I was hiking back to a hostel. They didn’t. Most of us won’t see that jungle up close and personal, and for me it was a paid adventure. I’m a Vietnam-era vet, never been there before.

The warm welcome I received, the kindness, their laughter at my attempts to speak their language, well, let’s just say it was a cathartic experience.

While I travel I write on various forums. My style is to find the funniest things that happen and relay them along with observations about the country and its beauty.

It happened that on one occasion I had paid for an excursion which required that I give up the use of my own gear and use the company’s equipment, which was not very good, and that, along with very cold water and mud, caused me to take some pretty good falls. We crossed about eighteen streams both coming and going. By the time all was said and done, I’d thrown my back out twice and fallen on my knees on some nasty rocks three times, using shoes that had no tread and that were a size too big. My shoes are excellent hikers, good gear in any condition. I hadn’t expected so many stream crossings, and I should have asked about it beforehand, because I have gear up to the task. Good head’s up for next time.

The couple who were along on this trip were impatient when I couldn’t keep up with the very fast pace set by our guide and their kindness turned to condescension as they increasingly got tired of having to wait for me to catch up. The next day they left early. The guide, whose job it is to keep the group together, didn’t argue. This had consequences for us all. At 2:30, right on the nose when we were supposed to get our ride, my guide, two porters and I came out of the jungle onto the road, which was totally empty- no ride. The couple had taken it. It was cold, windy, wet, no cell signal, and a five hour trek back to town. We started hiking back.

When I did get back to town about two and a half hours later (a van finally did pick us up) I had found my funny again. I wrote my version of the story. I didn’t make a big deal of the dangers of being left in the middle of nowhere without adequate supplies or much else. But I had been angry. So I had a little fun at the expense of the other couple. Who ended up reading my post.

The woman’s response was probably the most bilious, angry, vicious character assassination I’ve ever read. It also went a long way towards proving every point I’d made in the post. She also pointed out that I’d have it removed. Of course not. The post was so extreme it was funny in its own right. However there were some good lessons to come of it.

The reason is three fold. It was an excellent reminder that those posts are public, and if I’m of a mind to poke fun, I need to be uber careful about how I do it. It’s fine if I do it to myself. But not to others. I did apologize. And I took the lesson to heart.

Second, if someone wants to put bile online, it speaks far more about their character than it does about their target’s. There are ways to disagree, ways to take issue, and ways to take someone to task. There are as many versions of a story as there are people involved including the butler. No right or wrong.

Third, it is a lesson in how important it is to sit on your words before you publish them.  This is like that angry email you write and should hold off on for 24 hours until you cool off. Had I taken a day to cool off about being abandoned by the roadside in the rain, the post would have read differently. By the same token, had she sat on her response for a day, she might have seen the contradictions in her angry claims.

Once we hit “publish” there’s no going back. Public forums can be entertaining and they can also be highly revealing in ways we really don’t care for them to be. Toxic WordFood has no place in social media. And I am most grateful for this excellent reminder.

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.

October 22, 2012

How We Talk to Ourselves

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Julia Hubbel @ 9:41 am

Several weeks ago, my big brother took his life, at only 61. I hadn’t seen him in seven years, and had learned of him through his girlfriend on Facebook. She contacted me and I listened to her explain the circumstances while I sat in my car, stunned. How could a multi-talented, athletic, literary, motivated and capable man end up dead in a car, having given up on life altogether?

As I listened to her piece together the last years of my brother’s life I heard the thread. She quoted him as repeatedly saying that he was “only taking up space.” That he “couldn’t make her happy.” Other toxic comments, clearly taken out of what he was saying repeatedly to himself.

She had spent years trying to bolster him, and redirect his thinking. Unfortunately, my brother would pull events out of his childhood and angrily focus on them as reasons to be bitter, reasons he wasn’t happy or successful today. She would point out that each day was a day to recreate possibilities but he wasn’t open to such words.

My brother was subject to terrible mood swings, and had prescriptions he refused to take. As a result, he had alienated all but one or two of his lifelong friends. By the time he took his life, he had few left who were invested in his future, and he took this as proof that no one cared any more. This added greater toxicity to his internal conversation.

The truth is that he had, and made choices. Like all of us, he had pain in his life. He also had the choice to allow that pain to make him stronger, more compassionate, wiser. Instead, the WordFood he fed himself was bitter and self pitying.

I loved my brother and I am sorry that the world lost a talented man. But Peter talked himself into a selfish act that damaged a great many people.

It speaks to how powerful self talk can be, that we can persuade ourselves to take away the greatest single gift we have been given: the right to live, to be, to thrive, to make a difference.

As I wake up each day, I thank my big brother for the reminder of the sacred gift that we are all given, to speak to ourselves with the respect we deserve, to honor the journey we are on, to ask for help and guidance through the tough stuff which is inevitable and important, and to embrace each day with all its challenges with humor, dignity and courage.

September 17, 2012

Send it Back to the Chef With Kindness

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 9:31 am

You know how it feels when someone feeds you toxic WordFood. It’s tempting to hurl it right back, to be offended, to be hurt. However, there are other choices in our toolbox when someone is “in their stuff” and out of sorts.

We may have said or done something offensive without realizing it. In our increasingly diverse culture, this is easier to do. Sometimes no matter our best intentions, we may say something that years ago may have been innocent but in today’s climate is an insult.

They’re having a bad day, coming in from a tough family situation, walked out of a previous argument. You have no idea about someone else’s emotional state unless it’s written on their face and body language- and it often is- but not always.

So what can we do when we get a bad reaction, when someone insults or hurts us with toxic WordFood?

We can send it back to the “chef” with kindness, by saying “I’m sure you didn’t mean to say it that way. Perhaps what you’re trying to say is…” or “Thanks for letting me know your feelings. How can we now work together?”
By not taking things personally, you rise above the situation, and let the person keep their dignity. They’ll appreciate your graciousness.

Or, internally “spit it out.” If you’re on the receiving end of insults, you have to let this information and ugliness go through you, not into you. Understand that for whatever reason, the other person is in pain, and is inflicting it on you. As hard as it may be to not take insults personally, the higher road requires that you offer compassion. You are all right with you- it’s the other person who’s got a problem. This takes courage on your part. In the end, if you’re willing to let them work out their anger and frustration without engaging, you will be whole. They might or might not be apologetic. But you didn’t buy into the garbage they were feeding you.

Every one of us is subject to anger and frustration. In those moments we may fire off toxic WordFood to those around us that we regret. If we’re lucky, our friends, coworkers and loved ones will keep in mind our momentary madness. We all do it, and by offering this forgiveness to others, we can do it for 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 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?

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 14, 2012

Costly Toxic WordFood

On a beautiful day in Boulder, Colorado I went to lunch with one of the most powerful women in the state. My friend Meg is a serial entrepreneur, a brilliant businesswoman. She has sat on some of the boards of the biggest banks in the country, created jobs, and been a powerful force for women in her state and the business community for years.

I’ve known Meg for more than thirty years. I don’t know how old she is, somewhere in her late 80′s, I’d imagine. But she won’t tell anyone her age because of incidents like this one.

She was traveling with a business group in Viet Nam a while back when they had missed a return flight to Hanoi. One man in the group offered to rebook the flights and took their passports to get this accomplished. Afterwards, he approached her in a huff.

“If I’d known how old you were I’d never have allowed you to go on this trip,” he said condescendingly, and with force.

Meg has been an athlete all her life and she still is. She works out with a trainer, runs, does yoga, has a personal chef. She is up earlier than most of us and looks perhaps seventy. She still climbs mountains. She is likely in better shape than this dope.

What he didn’t know was that Meg was considering him for a job in one of her companies. His toxic WordFood and obvious age discrimination cost him a significant opportunity. Typical of Meg, she didn’t mention it. This fool will go on in his self-righteousness, clueless about what his ugly words cost him.

Our prejudices can be expensive. Age prejudice can make us overlook, ignore and bypass some of the most amazing and brilliant people all around us.  And our assumptions, based on those prejudices, can cost us the chance to learn from the richest resource in our society.  We may worship the young as a society but I’ll take Meg any day.

We owe our most respectful WordFood to those who came before us. Many of the things we take for granted, they put there for us. The inventions, buildings, highways, infrastructures that we depend on. And oh yeah, us.

Pick up the phone, email, go to a senior center, make the time and feed an elder the WordFood they so rightfully deserve today.

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