What Kind of Mood are You Creating?

Sarah was excited about the birthday gathering planned for her spouse’s big day. A lot of thought went into some special details and family and friends were attending. When a family member walked in it was immediately clear the person was in a bad mood.  Sarah immediately thought that the event would not be as positive as she hoped. Her first thought was to be angry at the relative about ruining the atmosphere. Then she recalled that emotions are contagious and that she could influence the mood. She chose to remain positive. She consciously smiled at the relative and remained upbeat. She noticed that within five minutes the relative and others started being positive and joking with her spouse. The event was a success.

It is worthwhile to be aware of our own mood and how we are influencing others. Even if the other person does not shift, you are likely to have a better experience when you are aware and more positive. 

Start noticing your mood and others’ and the impact on the environment.

Try an experiment of shifting your emotion and notice the impact on others. You can do so by your intention to be open, body language, words and humor. Sarah was excited to share her experience with me. She realized that in fact, emotions are contagious and that she could be more intent on influencing her environment.

Leaders recognize their influence and focus on enhancing their awareness of how they affect others. It is worth noticing your openness.

Attend to Relationship and Task

Often, executives I work with feel a lot of pressure and the need to produce results. Sometimes they feel they don’t have time or energy for addressing people’s emotional needs. First, they need to attend to business. One client experiencing serious business challenges said, “I need to attend to the fire. Then I can connect later.” However, people had begun complaining about his leadership style and more work was required to reconnect. If he continued along the same path, then there might not be a later opportunity for him.

We are each wired differently and have different preferences. Some of us like to get the work done first and then we have more energy for connecting with people. Others, start their day with the need to feel connection and may reach out for coffee with others and then have the energy to focus on the task at hand. 

If we focus on relationships too much then the results are likely to suffer. We never complete the presentation or job. If we focus on task too much, people don’t feel that you care and tend not to trust you. Ultimately, there can be negative consequences, since you may not retain strong people and in the worst case, they may not support your tenure. Trust—the glue of successful teams—requires valuing others, giving empathy and building relationships.

Of course, we always need to attend to both the task and relationships. It doesn’t necessarily require a lot more time—just intention and focus. I liken it to speaking with a puppy and letting it see you have positive intentions before rescuing it if its leg is trapped or if it is in an unsafe place. It takes a moment to pet the pup and speak with a soothing voice before pulling it to safety. The moment of attention can save you from a bite and scratch.

Consider your situation and identify how you are attending to both task and relationship and what balance is needed.

The Ukulele Effect

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

I have a lot of aspirations. For example, I want to write several more books and want to support open-minded conversations to create shared solutions around the many issues facing our world.

I talk to a lot of leaders who have such goals and feel pressed on how to best make a difference given the pressures they are facing. We so often put off taking action because we don’t feel we have enough time or space to start big projects.  I introduce the Ukulele effect.

I recall that my daughter hoped to learn the guitar and yet she was too busy with a full schedule. We visited family for Thanksgiving and her aunt brought a ukulele. Within an hour she learned a few chords and was strumming songs. She wanted a ukulele and we ordered an inexpensive one and she continued playing within a few days. She then naturally grew her repertoire and with confidence moved to playing the guitar and singing.

What if we could each take small steps toward our aspirations. If you would love engaging in art, take a small step and doodle with colored pencils or explore an app on your phone. If you want to write a book, start writing blogs. If you want to make a difference in an area such as food safety, read an article and talk with others about what you are learning.  If you want to become a better leader start listening to blogs on your commute, hire a coach or read articles and talk with your friends about what you are learning. 

Notice an issue or an area that excites you and take one small ukulele step in that direction and then pay attention to what the next step may be.  At a minimum you will know you have taken a step. Experiment on a small scale and see what emerges.

What’s Wrong with the Pumpkins?

Photo by Ann Van Eron

My daughter looked at the pumpkins on the table and immediately declared, “Something is wrong with these pumpkins! Why did dad buy these?”  She continued to comment for a few days how she did not like the bumps on them and felt they should come off. Her father had a different view and liked the pumpkins because they are unique and have character. They looked a bit more like squash rather than smooth traditional pumpkins.

It is just a small example of how we are each having ideas about how things “should” be and how we tend to make situations and others wrong when they don’t meet our expectations.  Of course, our expectations come from our past experiences. My daughter had seen many smooth pumpkins and had never been exposed to pumpkins with bumps.

We are making these kinds of assessments each day. We continue to believe our assumptions and stories are correct and others are wrong. We see a polarized society and we face the same challenges in our homes. For example, I thought we should have lunch with my daughter and her friend.  My spouse felt we should go out and give them time together and my daughter wanted to order in and eat in her room alone. We each believed our idea was best and the other ideas were “wrong”. When we listened to each other (after believing our idea was best, noticing our judgment and then shifting to being open) we found an easy solution. My daughter ate on her own, visited with her friend and we met for dinner together.

It is useful to notice how often we feel “right” and notice our ability to catch ourselves and be open to other ways. It is one of the most valuable skills both at home and at work.

Notice your sensations when you believe that an idea or something is “wrong.” Catch yourself from reacting and become curious about your expectations and shift to be open to new possibilities.

How do you become calm and open?

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

It is easy to become “triggered” these days when watching the news, engaging with colleagues and interacting with colleagues and family. How can people see things so differently?  It can be frustrating and challenging. 

How do you respond? Do you retreat and avoid difficult conversations? Do you talk negatively about others? Do you live with the internal stress and heaviness? Do you find a way to distract yourself—work harder, watch television, go shopping, eat more, exercise more, breathe more deeply or tell yourself to calm down?  We can learn how to notice our reactions and manage how we respond.

First, we need to accept that our reactions are a normal part of living with people who have different perspectives in our global world. Then we need to notice our responses and acknowledge them.  Sometimes a simple “hello” or “I see you” and naming our emotion is enough. “Yes, you are angry to hear what this person is saying and believing.” Then allow yourself to receive this empathy and understanding. Take a deep breath.  Then support yourself by recalling how you felt when you were in nature or another positive place. You can also tell yourself, “I can handle this. There is more to learn.” There are many strategies to calm yourself down. 

What is the benefit of calming and shifting to being open?  First, it a healthier way to live. Second, others are picking up our energy and when we are calm and open, it supports others in doing the same.  Then we can engage in a real conversation to co-create possible solutions.

Reflect on how you can calm yourself and shift to being open. Experiment with one strategy and explore others to try.

Are You a Weaver?

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

We are experiencing an epidemic of isolation in organizations and communities. People often tell me of their pain of feeling “on the outside” and not respected based on their real and perceived differences.  We see a rising culture of fear, distrust and polarization. People don’t feel connected and understood. They sense that others are closed to them and they don’t feel open to others either.

Many sense an unraveling. Almost everyone I meet knows someone who has committed suicide or had a drug overdose; 47,000 Americans kill themselves each year and 72,000 die from drug addiction. Of course, this pain influences families and communities.

I wonder, what could happen if more of us embraced an open mindset and thought more about “we” than just “me”?  Would we be more kind to our isolated neighbors in our workplaces and our communities? 

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and author, shares about the power of “Weavers.”

These are people who are building community in their neighborhoods and workplaces doing such things as working with youth, visiting the sick or befriending the isolated.  Brooks suggests that we are experiencing the excesses of hyperindividualism and a focus on self-interest and self-expression. Perhaps it is time for the pendulum to shift in the direction of relationships and a focus on community and building cultures where openness and well-being are valued.

We know that when we are open to others the openness is contagious.  By each of us setting the intention to be open, supporting others and engaging in productive conversations we can create more positive work and community cultures.  The benefits ripple.

Make it your intention to be open and to spread that openness to your colleagues and community. Notice your experience and impact. What small step can you take today? 

Be Open to Influence

Most of the leaders I coach are focused on how they can influence others. How do they ensure team members are committed to a shared vision and strategy? However, equally important is that leaders be open to being influenced.

People sense when a leader, a colleague or a parent has a fixed point of view. Often people say they see no use in trying to change the person’s view. Important conversations are not being had that will benefit all involved. Leaders need to check themselves and truly be open to learning more and be willing to be influenced and change views.

J did not believe her colleague was open to new ideas and therefore J did not try to influence him. She complained about him to others and disliked working with him.  She complained that he was not open. In fact, through coaching she became aware that she was not open herself. When she became curious and engaged in an open conversation with her colleague, he felt more understood and was less insistent that his way was the only way to proceed. In fact, J’s curiosity and openness to being influenced herself allowed her colleague to himself be curious and thus, both were influenced by the other. They implemented a new process and productivity soared. 

The key is catching ourselves when we believe others are not open and start by honestly becoming open to new ideas. It helps to give yourself empathy, along with your colleague. Experiment with becoming open to changing and notice what happens as you are open to influence.

You Belong and We Care

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

Searching for the “right fit” college for my daughter was a long and challenging process. She wanted an academically strong institution that had a collaborative culture.  We visited many colleges to find one that matched her ideal. Each place we went she carefully paid attention to how people interacted and the messages conveyed.

When we dropped her off recently, we were not disappointed. We heard students, faculty and administration provide a consistent and authentic message. They said things like, “Don’t doubt that you belong here. We selected you and we want you to succeed.” “You have a place here.” “We care about you and your family.” “We believe in working together.”  “You are a part of our community now.” 

When I shared with a few long-time staff members that my daughter selected the school because of the culture, they were genuinely interested in what she saw. This was just the way they were and they did not know what made them different. They genuinely cared about students and wanted to ensure they experienced belonging to the community. 

Anytime I mention my daughter’s choice people tell me how happy they, a friend or a relative is who went there. “They loved the school.”  Prospective partners and customers pay attention to culture.

How consistent is your organization’s culture?  Do you tell people who join that they now belong and that you care and will provide resources reflecting your care? 

Are You a Victim?

A senior leader called me for executive coaching. She said she was not happy with her job and thought she should move on. She felt bored and felt she was falling behind in her career because she did not yet have the COO position.  She felt held back and a bit hopeless. In particular she felt that one member of the executive team kept her out of big projects and would never let her in on the inner circle. In essence she felt like a victim. At the end of 5 sessions she had a completely different picture. She said that her entire view of the situation changed. 

It was she who was closed and did not make it easy for people to bring her in on projects. She realized that senior leaders thought she was too busy and in fact, she had been the year before. She had not communicated that she had the desire or capacity to be involved in other corporate projects. Next, she realized that her negative view of her colleagues (assuming they were trying to keep her out of important things) in fact contributed to them not including her.  She began to seek to understand their perspectives and learned to respect and appreciate them. In a short while, she had enhanced trust and she offered to help. They accepted her involvement and her role became much more interesting.

By shifting her perspective and managing her tendency to be closed and feel like a victim she opened up possibilities for herself and the organization.

Where do you feel like a victim and assume others have negative intentions? What could be another way of seeing the person and situation? Ask if you are being closed and how you can be more open.  Consider asking others for support.

What Can You Do to Create a Wonderful Life?

Love where you are as much as where you’re going so you never miss a moment of the journey.—Katrina Mayer

Recently some friends were talking about a colleague. They were saying how positive he is and that he is a great person. He shared that he has had an amazing life and if he died tonight he would say that he had a wonderful life and was grateful. True, he has been successful in his career, traveled around the world and had a positive relationship with his family and is happily married later in life. But what most impresses his colleagues is his positive attitude. He is able to see the bright side of things and to envision possibility. 

We all face adversity and challenges in life. Hopefully, we learn and grow through these experiences. Ideally, we also are present for the positive experiences and allow ourselves to enjoy them too. 

I am consciously focusing on being grateful for all that I have and allowing myself to enjoy my days. I regret that in the past I was so focused on the future and worrying about others that I did not allow myself to be fully present. I am experiencing a wonderful life by simply catching myself and being present to what is. I now look for the joy of the moment rather than thinking that someday things will be in order and then I will be able to enjoy.

What will support you in appreciating this day?