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31 Essential Email Etiquette Tips

In today’s fast paced world, the information we need is often right at the touch of a smart phone button. The convenience of tapping or typing out quick emails and responses makes it tempting to hit send without giving much thought to what we have written. The tricky part is that unlike with personal messages, business emails blunders may have serious and far-reaching consequences. Our tone may be misinterpreted by the reader, we may inadvertently include confidential information, we may offend a reader from a different culture. Not taking the time to consistently deliver professionally drafted emails will invariably color our attitude to work as being inattentive, immature or sloppy.

The standard of quality of our email correspondence forms as much a part of our professional presence as the way we speak and the way we dress. Every email you send will either help to build your reputation as a competent professional, or run the risk of destroying the way you’re viewed at work. Etiquette may seem like a stuffy, old-fashioned concept, but there is nothing old-fashioned about having excellent standards. Perfecting and consistently applying good email etiquette will go a long way toward boosting your reputation with colleagues and bosses for years to come. It’s never too late to start forming positive new email habits.

Here are 31 essential professional email etiquette tips which should help you make a positive difference in most professional environments:

 

1. Ask yourself: Is it email worthy?

Avoid introducing highly confidential or private matters over email. If you would hesitate about broaching the topic publicly, then you should carefully consider the appropriateness of the contents before hitting send. Some topics should only be discussed behind closed doors, and face to face. Make a commitment to thinking twice about discussing sensitive issues via email.

2. Use a well-crafted subject line

Never leave an email subject line blank. Readers often decide if and how soon to open an email based on the subject line. Make a habit of giving your readers a concise snapshot of the contents to follow by using a precise and unambiguous subject line. If the topic in an email thread has changed, keep the subject line current, as well. Consider keeping the original subject in brackets.

3. Use an appropriate greeting

Each new email should always begin with an appropriate greeting and the name of the person you’re writing to. Dear _____, Good day _____, Hello _____and Hi _____ are all appropriate email greetings, in decreasing order of formality. Out of courtesy, try never begin an email with just the recipient’s name, or by going straight into the content. Save very informal greetings for casual friends.

4. Open on an agreeable note

Being pleasant to deal with, even in challenging situations, will increase your influence and help others enjoy working with you. On the other hand, being a Gruff Grady or Pessimistic Pete may have colleagues ignoring your emails until they’ve worked up the courage to open them. Make a commitment to conveying warmth in the very first line of every email. Sharing related good news, giving a sincere compliment or a personalised word of appreciation is a great way to open an email message.

5. Be concise

If your email recipient cannot quickly process what you have written, this is guaranteed to reduce the probability of a prompt response. Be concise when writing emails. Use clear language and avoid rambling sentences. Respect the recipient’s time. Don’t attempt to convey long drawn out incidents or complicated concepts via email. Be clear and up front about the email’s purpose and what you’re asking.

6. Maintain a positive tone throughout

Just like spoken communication, effective written communication is best achieved with a positive attitude. Using active, positive language and a high level of respect and courtesy in your emails will set the tone for your reader to mirror your behavior, and respond in like manner. Select your words carefully. Avoid negative or emotionally laden words, accusing statements and blaming. Practice using empathy, neutral word choice and clarifying questions instead.

7. Be structured and thorough

Be thorough. Email replies should answer all previously posed questions. Always respond point for point before introducing new information or making requests of your own. Avoid table-tennis email matches by making your best effort to pre-empt further questions by crafting a well-considered, thoughtful and efficient response.
Be structured. If you’re asking three questions, enumerated them clearly. When you’re responding to emails, do the same.

8. Use the AIDA formula

Use the AIDA formula when composing emails to improve the likelihood of a positive response to requests.

A: Get the attention of the reader with an appropriate subject line.

I:  Stimulate their interest with a pleasant opening sentence.

D: Create desire by explaining the details of the situation, clearly stating what’s in it for them.

A: Give a call to action with a request that outlines what you wish to happen next.

9. Use white space

Always make your emails simple to read and easy to scan. Do your best to minimize the need for scrolling, bearing in mind that many emails will be read on mobile devices. Make use of white space by limiting the length of each paragraph, and keeping your email to a maximum of three or four short paragraphs. Each paragraph should only be three or four lines long. Use paragraph titles in bold if you must cover more than a single topic in one email. Use bullet points or enumeration to add clarity to your content when possible.

10. Conclude intentionally

Make it a habit to close your email with confidence. Confidence breeds attraction and respect. End your email in a positive, optimistic manner that demonstrates you have confidence and anticipate the required response outlined. If you expect a response, conclude by saying so e.g. “I look forward to your response”, or “I look forward to us setting a meeting time”.

11. Sign off cordially

Your closing should be both warm and reflection of your personality. ‘Warm regards’, ‘Many thanks’ and ‘Cheers’ are all appropriate email sign offs. Don’t ever just close with your name alone, or worse – by abruptly leaving the reader hanging.

12. Always use a signature

Always use an email signature. A signature is an important contact tool, which makes it easy for your recipients to reach you. Set up an automatic signature on each of the email platforms you use, including all mobile devices. Your email signature should include your full name, position, company name and telephone contact number.

13. Use Cc and reply with care

Avoid drama, confusion and unnecessarily clogged inboxes, by taking the time to send email messages only to the right people. Be careful when replying to emails where numerous others have been cc’d. Instead of automatically clicking ‘reply all’, ask yourself if every one of the recipients needs the information in your message. Remove recipients who aren’t relevant. It is not necessary to respond if you have only been included in the cc line.

14. Use exclamation points sparingly

Excessive use of exclamation points puts you at risk of appearing overly emotional or immature, and of offending the reader. Only use exclamation points lightheartedly to convey excitement, never to convey anger, frustration or disappointment. As a rule of thumb, use a maximum of one exclamation point per email, and say no to using multiple punctuation marks e.g. ??? or !!! or ?!?

15. Be cautious with humour

Humour, irony and sarcasm can easily get lost in translation without the tone of voice or appropriate facial expressions to back them up. Comments perceived as funny when spoken may be interpreted very differently, perhaps even as offensive, when written. In a professional exchange, it’s better to leave  humour out of emails unless you know the recipient very well.

16. Be sensitive to your audience

People from varying backgrounds speak and write differently. Miscommunication occurs more often over email when we can’t see each other’s body language and facial expressions. Higher context cultures e.g. Asian, and Caribbean may appreciate a more polite, personal approach compared to lower context cultures where you can get straight to the point. Learn to balance your approach, and when in doubt, choose to err on the side of courtesy.

17. Respond in a timely manner

Emails should receive a response as swiftly as you would return a phone call—generally within the same working day. If you can’t provide the response or action within the required time frame, acknowledge the email and state clearly both your intended delivery date, and what your plan of action is e.g. research, contact supplier. While you may not be able to respond to every email immediately, avoid keeping the sender waiting for more than two business days.

18. Proofread before you send

Always read through each email before sending. Proofread to verify that you have not forgotten important details. Check thoroughly for spelling and grammatical errors and to ensure clarity of meaning. Set your email program to automatically spellcheck before sending. Be sure to double-check that your recipient’s name is spelled correctly.

19. Ban text-speak from your emails

Many common text-message abbreviations, emoticons, acronyms and slang are not appropriate for professional emails. Make it a habit to avoid using shortcuts to real words, even when you’re sending emails from mobile devices. Save the abbreviations such as Gr8, 4 u, IKR and BTW for instant message conversations with casual friends.

20. Avoid using ALL-CAPS

Writing emails, or portions of your emails in capital letters is considered to be shouting. Be courteous to your readers. Don’t yell; always avoid using all caps in written correspondence, even for emphasis.

21. Do you need to talk instead?

You may have started composing an email only to realize that the topic is too cumbersome to be effectively handled via this medium. Never use email as a means of covering a mistake, dodging an uncomfortable situation, or avoiding personal contact. ‘Well I sent you an email’ is a refrain too often used to avoid taking full responsibility. Pick up the phone and request a meeting when the topic is a potential “can of worms” i.e. has many parameters to be explained or negotiated or that may be potentially confusing.

22. Give a heads up when needed

Some emails should never be sent cold. It may be much more effective to prepare your reader in advance for what you are about to send. If your email is more than a few lines long, be sure to contact the person in advance to let them know. If you agree to do this in advance, emails also serve as great reminders of the salient points from quick meetings or telephone discussions.

23. Never send an angry email

If you are upset, disappointed or displeased about something, take a moment to calm down, then deal with it face to face, or over the telephone. Refrain from delivering bad news, reprimands, or firing an employee or supplier via email. Email is forever. Avoid writing something you may regret. Even if you are in the right, never adopt an arrogant, condescending, or demanding tone. Practice composing every email as if you were addressing a future employer or your most important client.

24. Be considerate with attachments

When providing email attachments, be sure to carefully list each item you are attaching, with a brief explanation of why you are sending it. Use meaningful file names for each attachment, and avoid sending large and numerous attachments unless necessary.

25. Run away from one-liners

If you’re expected to respond to an email, don’t cherry pick the points you will address. Be courteous enough to address all points thoroughly and respond using full sentences. Unless necessary, avoid sending one-liners such as ‘sure thing’ and ‘oh ok’, which do not advance the conversation in any way. If a response is not expected or required, don’t send one.

26. Avoid read and delivery receipts

Email delivery and read receipts are discourteous, and run the risk of annoying the reader, before he/she has even had a chance to read the message. If you want to know if your intended recipient has received your message, politely request a reply within a specified time frame, or pick up the phone and ask.

27. Respond to angry emails with care

When you receive an angry email, it is important to respond with great care. Investigate the details of the situation fully and speak with the offended party in person. When you respond, apologize first. Nest, express both concern and an empathetic understanding of the impact of the circumstances. Thirdly, explain. This way, it does not look like you’re merely letting yourself off the hook with an excuse.  Finally, offer a remedy or solution.

28. Respond to calendar invitations

Meeting invitations are emails, too. When you receive a meeting invitation via email, it is impolite to ignore it. Respond within an appropriate period of time letting the meeting organiser know if you plan on attending. You can accept, decline or accept tentatively. If you’re declining, be sure to edit the message before sending—briefly providing a polite explanation of  why you won’t be able to make it.

29. Avoid SPAM

Cute poems, off-color jokes, threats of 7 years of bad luck, Nigerian bank account promises, and other email hoaxes are often vehicles for malicious content. Worms, viruses or Trojan horses can find their way onto your computer and the company’s information systems via these emails. Delete junk mail as soon as you receive it. In professional settings, make a commitment never to forward this type of unsolicited email to anyone.

30. Your email is a reflection of you

Are your emails scattered, disorganized or filled with typos and grammatical mistakes? Are your emails curt, too short or have a rude or negative tone? Do your emails ramble on without getting to a clear point or request? You may not think so, but if your colleagues or bosses think so, they may also think poorly of your professional standards. Make your email a reflection of you. Begin with the end in mind; think of the professional image you want to project and make it a habit to ensure that your emails always reflect this.

31. Share the knowledge

Don’t assume your direct reports are familiar with the email etiquette standards you expect. Explain to them clearly the guidelines everyone should follow. As a minimum, ensure their email signatures are set up and that they adhere to standard company fonts and stationery. Share this post with your colleagues if you’ve found it to be useful.
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10 Ways to Stop Talking Too Much

Are You a Chatterbox?

Do you know someone who talks too much? I’m sure you can think of an acquaintance or colleague who makes you want to head in the opposite direction as soon as you see them coming. Maybe you’re bringing to mind the aunt or uncle who starts off asking how you’re doing, but without even giving you a chance to respond, launches into the tedious details of the medical procedure they underwent six months ago. The person you’re thinking of may be a sweet, friendly and well-meaning magpie. Or he may be an extroverted windbag—always cracking jokes and full of gossipy tidbits.

Guess what. The person you’re thinking of is you! To the irritation and dismay of those around us, we ALL talk too much sometimes. Whether our chattiness is needy or noisy, when we start over-sharing, we become tolerable only in small doses. We leave the person we’re yammering to wondering why we keep rambling on long after they’ve lost interest.

On the occasions when we talk too much, we miss the generous stream of verbal and non-verbal clues heaped on us by our disinterested audiences. We miss the folded arms, stony faces, wondering eyes and vague remarks of the bored. We fail to notice how conversations sometimes break up as soon as we appear. Like the fat kid at a birthday party, we obliviously eat more than our fair share of cake.

The Dangers of Talking Too Much

We all gossip sometimes. Occasionally, we become over-excited and hog the flow of conversation. Most of the time we manage to keep our chattiness from getting out of control. We have all had instances, however, where running our mouths has had far-reaching consequences:

  • Talking too much can destroy our friendships
  • Talking too much can cause strife in our family lives
  • Talking too much can cause co-workers to distrust us
  • Talking too much can keep us from advancing at work
  • Talking too much can get us fired

One of my newest coaching clients is a talented and engaging young man. He completed university well ahead of his peers and is holding down a good job with a large company. He has identified one major challenge he’d like to work on: sometimes he talks too much. I’m inspired by this young man’s wisdom and bravery. He has recognized what most of do not—that the words that come out of our mouths should always be under our full control. Together we will work through strategies to help him develop high levels of discipline governing his speech. This will place him even further along the road to success in his career and in life.

Here are 10 steps we can all take to help us take control of unguarded speech:

1. Take Responsibility

Whether you’re an occasional over-talker, or a full-time blowhard, recognizing that there is room for improvement, and that you have the power to change is the first step to succeeding at any personal goal. In his brilliant book, ‘The War of Art‘, Steven Pressfield writes, “There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny.” All bad habits can be broken.

2. Keep A Log of Transgressions

Benjamin Franklin built his strong character by recording his progress on personal development tasks every day. He was famous for keeping a special notebook for this purpose even into old age. Keeping a record of the number of times in a day when we shoot off at the mouth can help us to gauge the severity of our over-talking. To become more mindful of when your mouth should be kept shut, record the following in a notebook daily for at least a week:

a) Each time you offered up criticism or hurtful opinions about other people
b) Each time you let confidential or unflattering details slip about a friend, family member or colleague
c) Each time you blurted out inappropriate personal information or secrets
d) Every instance when you rambled on in conversation giving unsolicited details

3. Become a Good Listener

Listening is hard work. To become good listeners, we must develop a genuine interest in other people. One of the adages from Stephen Covey’s best-selling book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People‘ is “Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then be understood.” Look for opportunities to ask people open-ended questions about themselves. When they respond, instead of looking for the first opportunity to jump in and relate a similar experience, ask them to elaborate.  You will find that others enjoy talking with you a lot more when you give them the opportunity to talk about themselves.

4. Be Sensitive to Cues

A conversation should be an ongoing exchange. As in a game of tennis, if someone decides to hog “the ball” instead of volleying, the game will be over. People will generally let us know when we’re hogging the ball—we just need to pay attention to the cues. Their eyes will stray, they will fiddle and seem distracted. They respond to our drone with a few polite smiles, nods and okays, all the while thinking of clever ways to escape. Learn to sense disinterest in others and either engage them or be the one to end the conversation.

5. Practice the One Sentence Rule

Practice responding to any question in a single thoughtful sentence. This will require some effort. Compose your response carefully before speaking, instead of thinking aloud and rambling on. Then pause, and wait for a response. If your conversation partner is interested in what you have to say, they will dig deeper and ask questions. If they don’t, this is a clue that you shouldn’t continue talking. You should aim to own only 30%-40% of the talk time in any conversation.

6. Calm Down

For some of us, talking too much is a defense mechanism—a sign that we are feeling nervous, tense or uncomfortable. One great way to slow down our racing inner clocks is to spend a few moments in meditation each day. Sit or lie quietly with your eyes closed and a half-smile on your face. Focus on your breathing. Feel all the rhythms of your body as you inhale and exhale. Do this upon waking, and several times per day for ten breaths. Work toward spending as much as 30 minutes daily bringing your mind in tune with your breathing. You will begin to feel a greater sense of control and calm in everything you do.

7. Embrace Solitude

Sometimes when we talk too much, we’re performing—working hard on presenting the best version of ourselves. We’re uncomfortable being alone, and may find ourselves constantly craving an audience. Stillness requires discipline. Spend 30 minutes to one hour a day engaging the practice of a quiet activity that requires concentration. Read a book, or listen to an audiobook. These quiet activities will help you to exercise your mind without simultaneously engaging your mouth.

8. Work up a Sweat

Talking too much may be the result of having excess nervous energy. Vigorous exercise is a great way to rid ourselves of the desire to keep talking. When we tire out our bodies, our brains settle down as well. Even people who talk too much as a result of ADHD benefit from significantly reduced symptoms as a result of regular exercise.

9. Build Mystique

People are more interested in those who have a bit of mystery about them. We don’t need to blurt out all the details of what’s going on in our lives all the time. Speak generally. The less we say, the more interesting we become to friends, co-workers and even lovers. Keep some things to yourself, and allow others to discover more about you over time.

10. Commit to Self-Improvement

At times, we over-talk as a result of insecurity. With bosses, colleagues and strangers, we overuse conversation is an attempt to improve our image. We brag about our achievements and season our conversations with names and details that help us seem more successful, and our lives more glamorous. This insecurity may also cause us to become judgmental toward others. We inadvertently criticize people and spread unflattering gossip as a way to bolster our self-image. When we discipline ourselves to invest more time working on becoming better, we have less of a need to cover up our inadequacies by trying to convince others of how great we already are.

 

 

 

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How to be a Winner: 10 Attitude-Adjusting Commitments to Make to Yourself

The Comfort of Mediocrity

Growing up, I struggled with low self-esteem. Sometimes I would get ‘A’s at school, but because of my poor self-image, I would often get ‘C’s and occasionally ‘F’s. I was bright and talented, but I was not confident enough to apply myself to my studies or to sports or to art. I was inconsistent – at everything.

I had a desire for success, but I wanted to do well without actually trying. I was mortified of daring to really study. What if I tried my best and then failed? Even worse, I was scared of putting in the effort, and actually succeeding. That would mean I would have to continue working hard to keep it up. Then the pressure would really be on. I remember being angry at my parents for not pushing me, but deep down I knew that it was my responsibility to live up to my own potential. It was only after leaving university that I decided to face my fears and begin working hard. It was only after adjusting my attitude that I began to succeed.

The comforting lie of mediocrity is that if we don’t bother to try, we won’t ever have to take responsibility for succeeding. Most people continue to fly beneath the radar and live below their potential because they’re terrified of deciding to be successful. Let’s face it, success is a scary thing.

Attitudes + Habits = Destiny

I read a lot. I soak up non-fiction, business books, books on self-development, classics and biographies. My reading is driven by a thirst for knowledge and for an appreciation of different perspectives. I am curious as to why is it that some people are happy, while others are not. Why is that some people succeed, and others don’t? After reading hundreds of books, and through my own experiences, I can conclude that the secret of success is a simple one.

Our attitudes, plus our habits shape our destiny. Our way of thinking shapes our prevailing attitude towards life. Our attitudes in turn direct our actions and our reactions. These daily practiced actions and reactions take on the predictable pattern that forms our habits. How we think, how we feel and what we do every day takes us step by step along the path that is our destiny.

It isn’t rocket science. The path you are on right now can be traced back to what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling and what you’re doing. If you feel like a victim, you will not act like a winner. If you think that you haven’t been given enough opportunities in life, you will not develop the habits that will help you to succeed.

If you want to achieve the happiness and success you desire, you must reset two things: your attitude, and your habits. In order to succeed, you must commit to adjusting the thoughts that go through your head every day. To be a winner, you must commit to reshaping your daily habits.

Here are ten commitments to make to yourself today to re-adjust your attitudes, re-shape your habits and re-set your destiny:

 

#1. I will succeed

Decide to challenge yourself to achieving the biggest, hairiest goal you can dream up for yourself. That dream exists in your heart because you know you have what it takes to do it. Don’t play it safe. Dare to make the new commitment to yourself: I will succeed.

#2. I accept full responsibility

When you make a decision to win, you must also accept responsibility for making it to your goal no matter what. Whether you’re from a challenging background, have no resources or have physical disabilities, you must make the commitment to yourself to accept full responsibility. Continue to say to yourself “I am responsible”. Repeat it over and over until it sinks in: “I accept full responsibility for my success”.

#3. I will decide on a strategy

Long-term success does not happen by accident. Figure out what needs to be done in order to achieve your goal. You don’t need to have the entire plan in mind; begin with a general idea. At each stage, you must know exactly what needs to be done next, otherwise you will choke. Commit to always pushing yourself to decide what comes next.

#4. I will do the work

This is the absolute hardest part. Planning and preparation can be fun and easy. Starting is hard. Doing is hard. Continuing to work after you’ve experienced failure is the hardest of all. But as every champion will tell you, there can be no success without first overcoming obstacles. You must do the work it takes to succeed. Commit to yourself: I will do the work.

#5. I will learn each day

In order to be a winner you must always be learning. Continuous growth and development are absolutely necessary to be a winner. Study your craft. Expand your mind. Read. Take the time to carefully analyze what’s working well, and what needs to be discarded. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. Make the commitment to become better each day through learning.

#6. I will compete only with myself

There will always be people better looking than you, more talented than you, richer than you, smarter than you. Make the commitment to compete only with yourself. When you constantly challenge yourself to be better than you were the day before, you will come out on top. Commit: I will compete only with myself.

#7. I will make no excuses

Life constantly throws us curve balls. Hurricanes happen, banks fail, we get ill. Regardless of what fate throws your way, just keep going. Forget what’s happening around you and find inspiration in your added challenges. Refuse to ever make excuses.

#8. I will give 100%

In order to win, you must persist until you succeed. You must force yourself to give 100% of yourself every time. If you don’t, you just won’t make it. Go out determined to win every battle. There are so many stories of people who came so close. But that’s not you. You will make the commitment. You will always give 100%!

#9. I refuse to play small

Doing the work, learning every day and competing with yourself is not easy. The decision to succeed demands sacrifice and passion and dedication. Never pretend to yourself or anyone else that you aren’t going to win. The voice in your head that says you’ll never make it will always be greater than the external voices of discouragement. Once you become master of the voice in your own head, haters will not even exist for you. Poof! They will disappear. It’s not about being arrogant, just refuse to play small.

#10. I will never give up

Your journey will be a series of  ups and downs. There will be victories and there will be defeats. But, even when things look darkest, even after repeated failures, don’t ever give up. You’re on a path. You’ve chosen your destiny. You have made the commitment to succeed, and succeed you must.

 

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How Usain Bolt–the Fastest Man Ever–is Just Like You and Me

 

Jamaican runner Usain “Lightning” Bolt is widely accepted as the fastest person ever. A commanding presence in athletics since he burst onto the world stage in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, he is the first athlete to hold world record for both the men’s 100m and 200m events, as well as the 4 x 100m relay. The first man to win six Olympic gold medals in sprinting, and an eight-time World champion, Usain Bolt has become the most loved, and most marketable track and field star on earth.

Seven years ago, a 19-year-old Usain Bolt stepped out unto the track at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica. Four years earlier, in that same stadium before a jubilant crowd, Usain had distinguished himself from his peers by becoming the youngest junior gold medalist ever. In those 2002 World Junior Championships Bolt and his relay team also set national junior relay record and scored two silver medals that year. And here he was again at his towering height of 6’5″, a rising star before his adoring Jamaican fans, about to begin his leg of a 4 x 400m race. And then he pulled his hamstring.

Perhaps as the partial result of occasional lapses in discipline during training, Bolt hobbled off the track injured and in pain, seeking assistance. Disappointed, his eyes searched the crowd for his coach. And then, from the bleachers he heard a boo. And then another, followed by the low rising murmur of what would become a voluble expression of dissatisfaction from his most ardent fans. By the time Usain reached the sidelines, the people in the stadium were shouting, jeering and cursing, even accusing him of copping out of the race because he’d felt he wouldn’t win. “Forgot the pulled hamstring, this was pain on another level… the criticism hit me hard”, remembers Bolt.

 

Just like Usain Bolt, you sometimes question your ability

Even with the hopes of a dazzling career ahead of him, in that moment, Usain Bolt questioned his ability to become a top-level sprinter. With this washout on his home turf, he agonized about whether he had the stuff to compete successfully on an international level. “I’m not good enough for this sport…”, Bolt remembers thinking to himself. We’ve all experienced these moments. We feel the failure and disappointment, and we wonder if we are good enough.

 

Just like Usain Bolt, you doubt whether the pain and effort are worth it

Usain Bolt had trained hard for years, he had moved to Kingston with the promise of becoming Jamaica’s next big hope in track and field. When he failed to meet expectations that day, he wondered if he was headed in the right direction. He wondered if all the pain and sacrifice were worth it. “Is this really working?” he said. “Should I really continue? “Three years ago I started this life. Three years I’ve been injured. This might not be for me.”

 

Just like Usain Bolt, you and I sometimes feel completely alone

“My world crashed in; I couldn’t believe what I was hearing”, Bolt recalls in his new book, ‘Faster than Lightning: My Autobiography‘ [release date: November 5, 2013]. In an exclusive extract serialized in ‘The Times’, he relates how he could never have imagined a time when a Jamaican crowd, his own people would boo him as he came off the Kingston track. “Wow, I got booed in front of my national crowd when I was giving it my best.” “What the hell is this? I thought, feeling sick – seriously sick. Where did this come from?” Usain had to learn the tough lesson that even though the training and preparation happen alone, rising from defeat after giving it your best also takes place alone.

 

Just like Usain Bolt, you have greatness within you

There’s a spark of infinite potential within you. It is the desire to do something extraordinary, something only you can do. Maybe it has been recognized by others, maybe only you can feel this little light burning inside you. What do you do about it? Are you listening to the voices that say “you’re not good enough”? Or are you prepared to bear the embarrassment, disappointment, self-doubt, and move forward toward becoming your dream?

You are Usain Bolt. I am Usain Bolt. But are you the Usain Bolt who chose to walk off the track at age 19, allowing pain and pride stop him from succeeding in athletics? Are you the Usain Bolt who decided that his congenital twisted spine condition, scoliosis, would be enough to stop him from becoming a world-class athlete? Are you the Usain Bolt who decided he’d rather return to Trelawny, chill with the boys, play cricket and PS3, drink Guinness and run a grocery store like his dad, never to win an Olympic medal and never to fulfill his destiny?

Every day, we make important choices. Each little decision we make has an impact on our fate. What were you put on earth to do? Are you making the hard choices that bring you closer to becoming the person you were meant to be? Steven Pressfield poignantly asserts in his book ‘The War of Art‘:

“If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet. You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts.”

Don’t let embarrassment, failure, fear, poverty or sickness keep you from showing the world what you’ve got!

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3 Things To Do Before Picking A Fight

© 3RiiN at deviantART.com

 

Fight or Flight – Silence or Violence

When someone disappoints us, it isn’t always easy to stop and figure out what went wrong. We are far more likely to jump to conclusions, blame the other person, then either silently fume or angrily drag them over the coals. This is the beginning of conflict. To many of us, every possible confrontation has only two options: fight or flight.

Although we know better, many of us are often too afraid to speak up. We choose to sweep the issue under the carpet to avoid the threat of being embarrassed. We may resort to dropping subtle hits, changing the subject or becoming withdrawn. We default to silence rather than broach a topic we know to be of critical importance. We may be aware that if we say nothing the problem will get worse, but instead we agonize in our own private hell.

On the other hand, sometimes we’re amped up for an altercation. Bring on the battle, we say.  Desperate to prevent our thoughts from being overlooked, we attack. We cut others off, employing debate, insults, threats and sometimes even physical violence to get our point across. As a result, our position is resisted all the more vehemently.

People Who Know How to Fight Win

The ability or inability to handle conflict lies at the heart of success or failure in almost every relationship, whether personal or professional. The failure to manage confrontations effectively can lead to disaster. Businesses fail, family members become enemies and marriages end up in shreds because disputes were either conducted poorly or not at all. People who know how to fight, approach confrontations carefully, lead them skillfully and walk away with clear benefits over not having had the fight.  Those who don’t know how to fight bring the drama time and time again. Their actions become the kind of fodder that fuels the ridicule and cheap laughs we love to hate on reality TV.

The most influential, and well-respected people are those who approach conflict as an opportunity to hold others accountable in a respectful and well thought out manner. They skillfully execute confrontations with friends, family, colleagues and bosses knowing which fights to take on, which ones to delay and which ones are better left alone.

Here’s a three step process, to help you bridge the proverbial “fight or flight” impasse, and decide what to do before responding to any potential conflict that arises.

1. Identify the Problem Clearly

When someone disappoints you, emotions may run high. Quite often, allowing situations to fester is a risky proposition. In some circumstances, remaining silent can lead to disaster. If you are truly seeking to achieve a positive outcome and reverse a trend of bad behavior, you must start by clearly identifying what has gone wrong.

The goal of your interaction should never be for you to vent your anger or assert authority over the other person. ‘Crucial Confrontations‘ advises that you should first unbundle the problem, decide what about it is bothering you most, and finally distill it into a single clear sentence. This very simple technique will help you to focus on the real issue and prevent conversations from straying off topic.

If you know exactly what behavior you would like to address, there is little or no risk of taking cheap potshots once the session has started.

2. Decide Whether the Problem Requires A Confrontation

After expressing the issue as one clear thought, ask yourself whether it is really necessary to discuss the matter. Consider the possible consequences of an interaction before bringing it up.

Failure to meet performance indicators, missed deadlines and broken promises are all good opportunities to talk. If you feel inclined to be silent, ask yourself some questions. If you’re feeling inner tension, if your conscience is nagging you, if you are feeling afraid or if you are feeling helpless, then you probably need to speak up.

Downplaying the cost of not taking action, or exaggerating the consequences of broaching the topic are not valid reasons for backing away. One of the biggest considerations in deciding if to speak is evaluating the status quo. What would be the result if the  behavior in question were to continue indefinitely? It is often useful to differentiate yourself by clearly in advance by letting those around you know where you stand with regard to commitments and expectations. This way, your holding them accountable will not come as a surprise.

3. Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes

You’ve zeroed in on the issue, and decided it is worth addressing, here is the last and probably the most important step. Before you broach the subject, put yourself in the others person’s shoes.

Force yourself to go through a detailed process of asking “Why?”. Ask why a reasonable, rational, decent person might do what you’ve just seen. Think about all the possible reasons why the person acted the way they did, or failed to act. Consider the facts and circumstances you know about, and the ones you may be unaware of.

What are all the possible influencing factors? Make a list: work load demands, school assignments, family obligations. Next, think of what might have influenced the person; look at carrot and stick motives within the contexts you’ve identified. Finally, think about limitations that may have been at play and the person’s ability to behave in the way you expected, before opening your mouth.

 

Summary

When someone acts badly or fails to live up to a commitment, your response options are not limited to silence or violence. You can choose whether to address the situation from the point of view of exploring expectations and clarifying accountability in three steps. First, pinpoint the core issue and express it in one sentence. Next, assess whether it is important enough to call for a discussion. Finally, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and explore all the possible motives and limitations that may have influenced their decision or behavior.

 

I’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts

In the coming months, I will continue to discuss how to handle conflict in a meaningful way. In the comments section below, let me know if you have any questions, and if this post has been helpful. Do you feel you can practically apply these suggestions in your life? Do you have any other tips to offer?

 

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10 Great Ways to Rise Above Office Politics and Be a Winner in the Workplace

“Mondays aren’t so bad, it’s your job that sucks.” -Anonymous graffiti artist

It’s Monday again, groan… This is the exasperated refrain that can be heard around the world, in every language at the start of each new work week. In the photo of street graffiti above, we are cheekily chided: “Mondays aren’t so bad, it’s your job that sucks.” In a typical case of “it’s funny because it’s true”, the accusing words resonate with us. But are those irreverent words really true? Do the millions of people around the world who dread each Monday’s arrival really have jobs that suck? With all the drama, frenemies, nonsensical rules and un-stimulating environments many of us experience at work, maybe do have horrible jobs. Or maybe not.

Maya Angelou wrote “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” I’m with Maya. I can’t promise you that after reading this you’ll be bounding out of bed gushing with anticipation for the work week ahead, but here are ten tips to help you get out of your own way, and become a winner at work.

1. Be Strategic

Focus on what you are longing to achieve. When you go to work each day, you should have your life goals in mind. Do you want a raise or a promotion? Are you working at accumulating the downpayment for a house? Are you planning on starting a family? Concentrate on the future, and you will find yourself less concerned with gossip and petty complaints.

2. Take the High Road

When you’re stuck in close quarters with the same people for eight hours day after day, sooner or later someone is going to do something that will make you really angry. You’re only human, and tempers will flare. The key is to not let it get the best of you. As a person with big goals in mind, don’t ruin your reputation just to get a few moments of gratification by publicly venting your anger. In explosive situations, walk away, have a drink of water, take a break, but by all means do not blow your top. In the same vein, don’t resort to becoming passive aggressive and taking things out slowly on the person who upset you with sarcasm or political maneuvering.

3. Craft a Personal Vision

What do you want to be known for at work? How will accomplishments in this job affect future career aspirations? When I was fresh out of university as an audit assistant with Ernst & Young, I made a list of qualities I wanted to strive for in my work. “My Commitment to Excellence” was my professional manifesto, printed on an 11′ x 4′ card and posted on my cubicle wall. It listed a handful of values and practices I wanted to be held accountable for by myself, my colleagues and my bosses. This was probably taking it a bit far, and it makes me laugh to think of it now, but it helped me to go from being an unmotivated, mediocre student to a top performer at work.

4. Choose to be a Victor, not a Victim

Every situation in life comes with its own set of limitations; work is no different. There are inevitably going to be circumstances which occur at work which will be both unpleasant and outside your control: the sick day policy might change, you may have to suddenly start working shifts, there may be a wage freeze imposed. Only losers waste time pining over things they cannot control. Be a winner; decide today not to waste your time and energy complaining about things you can’t control. Get over it and move on.

5. Set Growth Goals

We all have things we can do better in life. You will not become a winner by basking in mediocrity. Commit to being much better than average. Set a goal to become one of the top 10% of performers at your workplace. Pay close attention to performance reviews, and create your own personal self-improvement plan. Get ongoing feedback from your colleagues and supervisors, and set yourself daily goals and measurable targets.

6. Become an Effective Communicator

It has often been said those who are able to communicate effectively have an advantage at work and in life. Make a decision to become one of the best communicators among your colleagues. Good communicators know how to effectively employ eye contact, body language, tone of voice, and they are adept at choosing the right words. Challenge yourself to speaking up, and to being courteous and friendly in every interaction. Most conflicts arise or are fueled by ineffective communication, so your new skills will go a long way toward helping you avoid workplace misunderstandings.

7. Embrace the Big Picture

If you’re going to be a winner in the work place, you’re going to have to trade in your myopic mindset for one that embraces the big picture. If you had your supervisor’s job, would you be spending time grumbling in the lunch room about the new policy on tardiness? Probably not. Make an effort to learn more about how the organization functions, why certain decisions are made, and what makes it tick. Finding out the reasons behind unpleasant mandates can give you a different perspective, and will neutralize the powerlessness that comes with not knowing why.

8. Stay Organized. Stay Busy.

My grandfather used to say “the devil finds work for idle hands to do”. Many people develop the habit of lack-luster performance out of sheer boredom. If you go to work every day waiting to be told what to do, watching the clock and longing for home time, you are bound to hate your job. You’re bored. It is no wonder you’ve become embroiled in office gossip and politics just to liven things up. Instead, make a commitment to go to work each day with a purpose. Have a list of the things you would like to accomplish, and volunteer to help out if you run out of things to do. In this way, you will no longer have time to wonder who is talking about you behind your back.

9. Think Win-Win

To truly be a winner in the workplace, you must learn to think win-win. This will require you choose to compromise, not to give in, but to evaluate all the options and choose a path that will not only benefit you, but all concerned. It’s a give and take. If you make a decision to work on this every day, you will develop the reputation of being a fair-minded person, and a good negotiator. You will find yourself gaining a lot more than you would have by selfishly fighting for your own gain.

10. Nurture Your Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm can be an elusive quality. Many of us only show it in response to exciting events, others hardly ever, and yet there are those who appear to exude it from within. An enthusiastic person has a winning attitude. They choose to see the opportunities in every challenge they face. They know how to generate energy and positive vibes even in the worst of circumstances. Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, wrote a groundbreaking book called ‘Man’s Search for Meaning‘. In it, he celebrates the kind of attitude it took to make it through a Nazi death camp alive. The person who is able to think positively in sticky situations, and devise a desirable conclusion, is the person who will win. Commit today to becoming an enthusiastic person.

 

Being a winner in the work place starts with a decision, it starts with you. Here’s to happier Mondays in the future!

Let me know what you thought of this post in the comments section, and if there’s anything else you would add to the list. If you liked it, be sure to share it with someone you care about.

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Anna Karenina: The Beauty and Tragedy of Life

Anna Karenina by Lucio Palmeri for Dolce & Gabbana

Anna Karenina has been on my must read list for many years. I have been keeping lists – and book lists in particular – since my first summer journal at eight years old. The epic Russian novel appears at the top of many top ten novels lists and has been referred to as “flawless” and “the greatest novel ever written” by two of the most celebrated novelists of our time.

I have owned a copy of Anna Karenina for about ten years. If I have made any attempt at all to read it, I have never gotten much past the first sentence, which is one of the most iconic quotes from the book “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. Last Sunday, realizing for the first time that there has been yet another movie remake – this one starring Kiera Knightly and Jude Law – I decided I’d better read the book before “accidentally” catching it on television.

Tolstoy’s world is mid-to-late nineteenth century Imperial Russia. The primary characters live lavish and eminently superficial lifestyles. Their daily existence is a whirlwind of sparkling balls featuring hair-pieced chignons piled high, and decadently luxurious boudoirs where the aristocratic Russian society of Moscow and St. Petersburg affectedly pepper their speech with French. In stark contrast to the elaborate, but constricted life of the city is pastoral Russia. The agrarian countryside has expansive landscapes, rich soil and an unending sky.

Tolstoy’s romantic masterpiece is as vivid as it is relatable. The book captures the imagination with its straightforward and exact language. Tolstoy stops time as he bores into his characters’ every thought, motive, and facial twitch, even as dialogue is being exchanged. It is a romance – admittedly not my favorite genre – but juicy from the get-go with marital infidelity, unrequited love and a tragic love affair.

The novel is sweeping, with at least two dozen named characters whose lives spiral around the two central protagonists – Anna Karenina and Tolstoy’s alter ego, Konstantin Levin. Tolstoy peers not only into the lives of a few rich 19th century Russians, but into the whole of humanity. The novel has stood the test of time because it reminds us that even the most desirable of circumstances may be unbearable, that bumps in the road may still lead to happy endings, that glamor and frivolity are but fleeting joys, and that family and real love are worth crying for, fighting for, striving for, waiting for.

Anna Karenina is a celebration of human frailty and redemption. Tolstoy says its okay to be flawed, its okay to make mistakes, just keep trying. We see that there are infinite possibilities in life, but we indeed choose our own path. Without seeking to reduce a 150-year old, 900-page classic tome to a few epithets, Anna Karenina is a celebration of life – its beauty and its tragedy – and all the meaning there is to be found, if only we will choose to see it.

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A Century of Wisdom: 34 Quotes from the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor

Monday, November 26, 2012 – Alice Herz Sommer celebrates her 109th birthday. Living alone in a small London apartment, this amazing woman is the world’s oldest living holocaust survivor. A former concert pianist, Alice has been playing the piano since she was five years old. Using only eight fingers, Alice still practices for hours every day. Alice’s story is a testament to the power of the human spirit. She and her six-year old son survived two years in the Nazi concentration camp of Theresienstadt, escaping almost certain death. She has witnessed unspeakable cruelty, watching hundreds go to their deaths in the gas chambers or through sickness and starvation. And yet, this living hero has never stopped smiling. This ever-laughing centenarian credits her longevity to a lifetime of optimism.

In commemoration of Alice’s 109th birthday, I would like to share with you some of the wisdom of Alice Herz Sommer – gained from living nearly 40,000 of the most richly textured days.

 

Alice Herz Sommer – On Education

School is only the beginning; we can learn all our lives.

No one can rob your mind.

Education of the children is the most important family value.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Friendship

I love people. I am interested in the lives of others.

Understanding of others can lead to peace.

We do not need things, friends are precious.

Be kind, kindness is free, it costs you nothing, and the rewards are great for everyone.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Laughter

A sense of humor keeps us balanced in all circumstances, even death.

Laugher is wonderful. It makes you, and everyone else feel happy.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Life

We need to treasure time. Every moment that passes is gone forever.

Only when we are old do we realize the beauty of life.

Everything we experience is a gift. Everything is a present.

I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times – including my husband, my mother and my beloved son. Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Marriage

In marriage, friendship is more important than romantic love.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Motherhood

How can any woman ever be unhappy after she has seen her infant’s first smile?

It was my greatest privilege to raise my son.

A mother’s love is a child’s only fortress against the world, come what may.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Music

I am richer than the world’s richest people, because I am a musician.

Children must study music, it helps with everything in life.

Music saved my life and music saves me still.

There was no food. Music was our food. Through music we were kept alive.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Optimism

My optimism has helped me through my darkest days. It helps me now.

Always look for the good things in life: the world is wonderful, it’s full of beauty and miracles.

When you are optimistic, when you are not complaining, when you look at the good side of your life, everybody loves you.

Every day in life is beautiful – if we only look up from our reality.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Parenting

Reason with your children, never use harsh words.

Patience, kindness and love, this is the food a child needs.

To survive, a child must never, never doubt your love.

Children need unconditional love to grow and develop into full human beings.

School is important, but what children learn in the atmosphere of their homes lasts for life.

Alice Herz Sommer – To Single Women

Have sex. Have fun. Have someone in your life, but don’t tie yourself down in marriage. Cherish your freedom… Take care of your career, your life.

Alice Herz Sommer – On Work

Love to work. When you love your work, you are never bored. Boredom is unhealthy.

When we love our work, we can enjoy a sense of achievement, every small achievement.

Work is the best invention.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post ‘Today I’m Inspired by: Alice Herz Sommer‘ about Alice’s awe-inspiring life, and and some of the lessons we can learn from her. Very recently, I was contacted by Caroline Stoessinger, the author of ‘A Century of Wisdom‘ a touching biography of a Alice’s noteworthy life.

In honor of Alice’s 109th birthday, Ms. Stoessinger will be donating all the proceeds from the sale of her book to the Alice Herz-Sommer Scholarship Fund at the Music Academy of Jerusalem where Alice taught for 37 of her happiest years. Please consider buying and reading this wonderfully enriching biography of an extraordinary woman, and helping a worthy cause.

 

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Love Hurts?

Love hurts. Love scars. Love wounds and mars. Ooh ooh. Love hurts. ~Beverley Ross and Neil Fredericks, performed by ‘Nazareth’

Rejected by Cyberspace

Many years ago, newly single, I tried to sign up for an online dating service. The television commercial boasted the site’s ability to find “soul mates” for its members based on “29 dimensions of compatibility”. So, I slogged through the 436-question Compatibility Profile. Apparently, now it has been shortened to 250 questions. To the faceless evaluator, I shared self-descriptions, personal characteristics, important qualities, personal beliefs, living skills, communication style, relationship style and my family background. I answered scores of multiple choice questions such as “If you decided to stay at home for the evening would you tend to: A: watch TV B: clean C: talk on the phone D: read”. At the end of the questionnaire, eHarmony.com informed me that the calculator had concluded that based on my unique combination of preferences and traits, I could be matched to only about 3 – 5% of men in the general population and vice versa. To add insult to injury, the site further informed me that it could not find even a single potential match for me at that time, and summarily turned down my business, curtly suggesting that I return at a later date to try again.

I could have taken that experience as the ultimate rejection. If cyberspace turned me down, what could I expect to find in the real world? Today, it still makes me chuckle. Ironically, the Internet-calculator must have been on to something; I have spent about 75% of my adult life unattached. I’ve endured the “why have you never been married?” questions, as well as the unsolicited explanations for my predicament: “you are too picky”, “you intimidate men.” Those people may have been concerned that during the periods when I have been single, I would be sad, lonely and unfulfilled. A person can never be sad, lonely or unfulfilled when they accept themselves. Whether I am in a relationship or not, I strive to love and respect myself every day.

Silent Agreements. Unspoken Expectations.

Men and women go into relationships searching for love. They feel empty inside and go begging for someone to fill the void. They find themselves moving hungrily from lover to lover, or smothering their partners with a ravenous neediness — “make me feel loved”. They become obsessed about never being alone, willing to give up their very sense of self in exchange for enjoying the company another person. These people are as much controllers, as they are the controlled. Women change the way they speak, act and dress to please their husbands. Men give up their hobbies, change their jobs, and even their friends to fit into their partner’s mold of an ideal husband. Some people leave their countries, their families and even abandon their religions, just to hear three little words.

When we enter into a relationship with another person, we have expectations that are never communicated. Our partners also load upon us unspoken obligations. When they say the words, “I love you”, what they might be saying is “I love you if” — if you behave a certain way, if you are good to me, if you fit my mold, if you fulfill my dreams, if you let me control your life. When we say “I love you, I want to be with you forever”, what we might really mean is: “I have finally found the right person. Now I am going to place all my hopes and dreams in you. Promise to be perfect and to never disappoint me. I am giving you responsibility for my happiness, so you must never hurt me or leave me. If you do, my world will fall apart.”

A promise to make another person happy is a promise no one can ever hope to fulfill. We will never experience our partner’s thoughts or their feelings, so why should we try to control them? Who can fulfill obligations they are not aware of? Selfish expectations will eventually destroy almost any relationship. When we give love because we feel we have to, then our generosity will soon turn to selfishness. When fun and freedom turn into obligation, then respect turns to hatred. There is no more spontaneity and romance, just a burden and the growing desire to escape. If you do something just because you feel you have to, it is not really love.  Love only thrives when it is given unconditionally. Love should always be an expression that is motivated by desire and free will.

Mastery of Love

True happiness can never come solely from receiving another person’s love. Happiness is your own responsibility. Happiness comes from the love inside of you, that you freely give without conditions. You already have all the love you need. The love you have inside is infinite. Don Miguel Ruiz in his book ‘The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship‘, writes “Love is not about concepts; love is about action. Love in action can only produce happiness… The only way to master love is to practice love.”

You can love someone else when you have learned to love yourself. When you have accepted yourself the way you are, then you don’t go into relationships trying to find the love you’re missing. This is why needy relationships always fail. You have a right to be free, and so does everyone else. When you try to control someone else by depending on them for love, all you really do is become dependent on them and give up your own personal freedom. When you truly love yourself, you will never trade in your freedom.

Being Together. Staying Together.

We can only ever be responsible for ourselves and our half of any relationship. Two people can be happy together in a relationship by entering into a new kind of agreement. This kind of agreement requires you to take responsibility for your own happiness and to love the other person unconditionally, finding a balance that works just for the two of you. There are infinite possibilities for relationships based on respect.

You must know exactly what you want. What are your likes and dislikes? Who are you compatible with? What brings you joy? What are your needs? Feel free to be yourself. Anything less, will leave you feeling disappointed, used and abused. You have to love yourself, and you have to trust your partner. You don’t need to be afraid to be taken advantage of because you guard your own happiness. There must also be compatibility. Both of your needs must coincide in a way that works for the two of you. You both agree that being together simply means that you are both going in the same direction and decided you can be happy together.

When you know that you love this person unconditionally, without any ifs and expectations, exactly the way they are without wanting to change a thing, then you know that they are right for you. If that person feels the same way about you, then there will be no need for false pretenses. Neither of you is trying to fulfill the other’s unspoken expectations. You don’t want to change them, and they don’t want to change you. You can be finally just be yourself, and you are happy taking a risk.

What if you start going in different directions? What if the situation no longer works for you and no longer brings you both joy? You can simply walk away without being selfish. You wish your partner well, because you accept that you cannot control him, you cannot change her. You give yourself a chance to be happy and you give your partner the chance to be happy.

Love Hurts?

Anger hurts. Betrayal hurts. Blame hurts. Conflict hurts. Disappointment hurts. Drama hurts. Fear hurts. Guilt hurts. Gossip hurts. Jealousy hurts.  Judgement hurts. Selfishness hurts. Love does not hurt.

 

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Crucial Confrontations

Slightly ahead of my annual goal, I have just completed book number fifty-three for 2012. ‘Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior‘, was released a few years ago by authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler. The book teaches how to confidently address violated expectations and resolve accountability issues without harming relationships.

The Scenario

[Husband lying on the sofa watching TV.]

Wife: Honey, can you please remember to take out the garbage tonight?

Husband: Yeah

[Thirty minutes later.]

Wife: Honey, are you going to take out the garbage?

Husband: In a minute.

[One hour later.]

Wife: Honey, the garbage!

[Snore.]

How Do You Respond to Bad Behavior?

We have all been there, situations where someone disappoints us not just once, but repeatedly. Your wife takes so long to get herself dolled up that you are late every time you go out together. Your assistant hands in sloppy assignments. Your boyfriend drinks too much and embarrasses you. Your boss screams at you. Your best friend borrows money and does not pay it back.

How do you respond to similar disappointments?

A) You handle yourself with grace and aplomb. You introduce the topic of the broken promise or inappropriate behavior in a safe environment, explain your disappointment, carefully get feedback from the other person and mutually agree on a plan of action.

B) You condescendingly remind the other person that the infringement has now been committed for the two-hundredth and thirty-seventh time.

C) You silently replay your fantasy to strangle him or her and curse under your breath.

D) You grudgingly ignore the first few instances, whine to your friends about it, and then explode like a crazy person when it happens a third or fourth time.

If you answered A, then you’re already applying the skills taught in ‘Crucial Confrontations’. If you answered B, C or D, then you’ve done what most modern human beings have been conditioned to do. We respond to conflict in one of two ways–fight or flight.

Crucial Confrontations

The pre-programmed responses do not work. Failing to adequately resolve touchy, controversial or complex issues at work can lead to major organizational problems and can be very costly. Picking fights or ignoring ingrained family problems because we feel ill-equipped to deal with broken rules or failed promises is a common cause of long-lasting family tension and strife. In ‘Crucial Confrontations’, the authors teach how to skillfully handle sticky situations without resorting to silence or violence. The book explains how to carefully prepare for an accountability session, how to conduct one and how to follow-up so that the behavior does not continue to occur. These skills applied in a disciplined manner will empower you to face the challenges that plague families, teams and organizations and resolve them permanently.

In a coming post, I will discuss some of the valuable lessons from ‘Crucial Confrontations’ in more detail. If you are struggling with unresolved conflict, I recommend that you read this book right away.

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Antigua and Barbuda, Have You Made A Pledge?

Antigua and Barbuda Independence Flag

Antigua and Barbuda Independence Flag

Memories of My First November First

Antigua and Barbuda celebrated its 31st anniversary of independence on Thursday, November 1st. As an Antiguan national recently transplanted to St. Lucia, I indulged in a proud display of nationalism. Photos of what I consider to be the most beautiful flag in the world adorned my facebook page, and I tweeted YouTube links to the patriotic son-of-the-soil calypso renditions of yesteryear.

In 1981, I was six years old — old enough to appreciate that something of great significance was occurring. I remember standing uniformed in the dusty schoolyard of the local Maria Montessori school singing our national anthem, ‘Fair Antigua and Barbuda’, and waving mini flags as a tribute to our newly independent nation. Later, there would be impressive fireworks and copious celebratory rum-drinking.

Has Our Nation Gone Astray?

Perusing cyberspace from abroad, I noted this year that along with the swelling comments of pride were the usual copious helpings of negative feedback about our progress as a nation. Some cried foul about allegations of corruption, others criticized the state of the national debt, inability to reliably generate enough electricity and still others denounced perceived failures in education. At 31, we are still but a fledgling nation, and like many young adults we have had our share of blunders. I suspect that most of our errors have been of the character-building variety, with fewer tending toward the reputation-obliterating.

Nation Building is Everyone’s Business

By gaining independence, Antigua and Barbuda shed the heavy burden of colonialism. Our nation-building forefathers took risky leaps of faith; they looked beyond their own shortcomings and personal inadequacies to heavily invest in a dream yet unfulfilled. We are that dream. We are here because of those who have gone before us, clearing the path we speed on today. We enjoy the fruit of struggles long past.

Our forebears fought for the right to shape their own destiny. They made the changes that helped to shape our present, but our nation’s future depends upon our own actions. Breaking the yoke of colonialism meant accepting the heavy burden of personal responsibility. Our forefathers, nation-builders believed in us. They entrusted the future to us. That future will not be bright unless we, like them, turn disappointment into activism and criticism into commitment.

I believe Antigua and Barbuda will move on, continue to grow and be strong, because I believe that its people will continue to grow and be strong. And here is the challenge for us all: instead of continually pointing out the shortcomings of the land we love and *smh* ‘shaking my head’, why not consider the bolder alternative of suggesting solutions and *rmh* ‘raising my hand’ to take responsibility for making difference? I believe a personal pledge is what King Short Shirt had in mind when he sang his first tribute to our independence so many years ago:

Our Pledge

We pledge to be good citizens from now on
Casting away victimization
Corruption will cease
Nepotism decrease
Throughout the whole nation
Our country then will be
Not just a society
But a just society
Let this be our pledge
~King Short Shirt, Our Pledge

Happy birthday, Antigua and Barbuda.

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Choose Your Fate

This week, I took advantage of Audible.com‘s promotion for the new Whispersync for Voice feature. The new technology allows readers to listen and read simultaneously or switch seamlessly from audiobook to e-book and vice versa. Up to 22 free Kindle ebooks are available here for a limited time. I shamelessly downloaded 19 of the available 22 titles, even though I’d already read some of them.

Ethan Frome: The Story of a Loser

The first title I read is one of Edith Warton’s best known works. ‘Ethan Frome’ is the story of a poor, downtrodden New England farmer trapped in a loveless relationship with a conniving, invalid wife. The book’s protagonist can’t seem to catch a break. As one bad thing after another comes his way, his story inevitably ends in tragedy. Surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed this dark book;  it served as a poignant reminder that each of us shapes his or her own destiny.

The Choices We Make Seal Our Fate

We seal our own fates every day by the choices we make, the friends we choose, the opportunities we don’t pursue. All around us are people brimming with ambition, ideas, talent and promise. So many of these lives end up as sad reflections of what might have been. Within them lie the untold stories of dreams deferred.

How to Lose

When you choose to accept the poor odds and negative labels cast upon you by circumstances, you lose. When you sink under the burden of a few bad grades, a lost job, ill-health or a bad economy, you lose. When listen to the inner voice that whispers for you to go so far and no further, you lose. Losers unwittingly self-sabotage their careers and personal lives. Set-back after set-back, losers trudge inexorably through an increasingly barren wasteland of their own shattered dreams.

How to Win

On the other hand, in business, entertainment, science and sports, winners refuse to live in the land of “almost”. Winners rise above personal setbacks and see failures as temporary. “So close, what a pity” is not an ending winners will accept. Winners recognize that their most formidable opponent is the nearly imperceptible voice of self-defeat. They train themselves to detect and defeat that enemy every day.  Winners refuse to lose sight of their dreams.

Make the Choice to be a Winner

None of us have to be losers. Instead, we can choose to allow ourselves to dream and never stop dreaming. We can choose to laugh in the face of every voice that says “you can’t have that”. Choose to be a winner. Never accept the lie of personal limitation. Never accept from yourself less than you know you are capable of. Never be satisfied with living below the threshold of your own limitless potential. Never settle for less than you know you deserve.