Monthly Archives: November 2015

Change Starts with Ourselves

By Sameer Bhangar, Simple Intentions Consultant

mobile deviceAs a parent, I try to limit how much time my 6- and a 3-year-old kids spend in front of a screen. I read articles by folks like Sheryl Turkle, who speaks passionately on the topic of lost conversation in a digital age. My wife and I discuss strategies like setting specific “iPad time” each day. I mask my frustration by turning a blind eye, pretending it’s not an issue, that I’m not really bothered by my kids staring blankly at a screen.

And then it struck me: the gap between my desires and actions. I’ve become painfully aware of the amount of time I spend on my own mobile device. At work, certainly, but especially at home around the kids. While walking to grab a glass of water I’ll peek to see if any new emails have come in; in between playtime I’ll check if I have any new Facebook notifications, and on and on.

We’ve all heard and likely repeated the relevant clichés: “Change starts with oneself.” “Be the change you want to see.” “Lead by example.” We know it’s hard to change a habit, especially when it provides a real and immediate reward, like the mini dopamine rush we receive each time we see a Facebook Like or a retweet of an article we just posted.

We tend to look externally for strategies and solutions to changing habits. Yet, the clichés are true: We must first look internally and become aware of where our actions misalign with our desires. For me, it’s being aware each time I pick up my mobile phone while I’m playing with my kids.

We can extend this to the workplace, to a broader team context. As a manager and leader, what are some behavior shifts you seek for your team, and how are you going about shaping the changes? Do you start with creating strategies and communicating “the plan,” or do you start by trying to model the behavior change yourself? If you want your team to take more risks, what is the risk you took this week that felt a bit scary? If you want your team to collaborate better, what are you doing to reach out and cultivate stronger relationships yourself?

As you work on shifting your own behavior, are you sharing your stories and including the team in this conversation, thereby creating permission for them to learn from each other as well? I’m not likely to sit down with my toddler and have a conversation about my struggle with setting and enforcing electronic boundaries, but you have the choice to do that with your team. And it starts with an authentic conversation with yourself.

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Who Wants to Be Vulnerable at Work?

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.]

vulnerable“Who wants to be vulnerable at work?”

It’s a question I often ask during workshops or speaking engagements. And surprise: Very few hands go up. I understand why. We are programed to act as if we know what we are doing at work, even in moments when we have no clue.

Who wants to risk being perceived as defenseless, weak or unsure in the eyes of our superiors, employees and colleagues? Not many of us. We act instead from a shared belief that being vulnerable at work is not acceptable, that it will result in perceptions of incompetence, lack of confidence and poor reviews.

But what if we upended that belief? What if being vulnerable at work was in fact the linchpin that meaningfully shifts the way we work? Open workspaces and flex-time options are great, but they’re not game changing when it comes to HOW we show up at work.

What if — like the invention of the pen, typewriter or computer — vulnerability could radically shift the workplace in the coming decade? What if today’s children could enter the workforce with the ability to fully and authentically show up, owning their strengths as well as their uncertainties and imperfections?

Vulnerability can mean both openness and defenselessness. Not many words encompass such paradox; no wonder it’s so difficult to express, especially in the workplace. Defenselessness is driven by fear. As humans we avoid this feeling at all costs given that it used to mean death when we were all running around as cave people.

Whereas, openness captures our human desire to been seen and acknowledged, and can only happen if we are willing to put down our defenses, to acknowledge and share our fears of being wrong, failing, embarrassing ourselves, or not being good enough. When we show people who we really are in all aspects of our life, we risk being rejected or ridiculed for what we value and believe. For some, this risk feels as primal as defending ourselves from a wild beast.

But when we choose defense over openness we rob ourselves the opportunity to contribute a foundational element of team success: trust. As any business expert will assert, trust is essential to building and maintaining successful teams and companies. Avoiding vulnerability at work is avoiding the parts of the journey that galvanize effective teams.

Meaningfully shifting how we show up at work begins with being vulnerable. Think about it: Where are you open and where are you defending at work right now? What would happen if you dropped your guard? How would openness impact the people with whom you work?

The choice is yours to defend or open. What are you going to choose?

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Portrait of a Perfectly Balanced Working Family

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

balanceTo working parents across the country, the portrait that emerged from a Pew Research Center survey released earlier this month is no surprise. According to the survey, in nearly half of two-parent families today, both parents work full-time. And these families aren’t just busy; as Claire Cain Miller describes in a follow-up report, today’s modern family is stressed, tired and rushed.

According the survey, 56 percent of all working parents say balancing work and family is difficult. Nearly a third say parenting is stressful all or most of the time. And 40 percent of all moms who work full-time say they always feel rushed.

Given today’s highly-competitive, 24/7 work cultures, this data isn’t surprising. It fuels a long and active discussion on work-life balance, and looks to public policies and workplace structures for solutions.

But let’s view the data in a different way. Let’s see a portrait of those working parents among the survey’s 44 percent who say balancing work and family is “not too, or not at all difficult.” Building on our philosophy of personal choice and intention, our picture is one of working parents who:

  • Know and prioritize their values
  • Know and maintain their boundaries
  • Fearlessly share their values and boundaries with the important people in their lives

In reality, “balance” means something different to every working family. But at its core is a shared awareness and regard of personal values. “Balanced” working parents know their values and make intentional choices that support them. They value family, so purposefully prioritize time with their kids. They value work, but make choices around their work that don’t compromise their family time.

They also know that values change with life’s circumstances. While their kids are small, for example, they may set aside values around community or personal growth. And they’re OK with it because they know it’s not a forever choice. Creating balance around what we most value at the present moment gives space and acceptance to reserve other priorities for another day.

Closely linked to values is boundaries. Balanced families intentionally set and honor boundaries around their time and various roles. At work, they know when and where “office hours” begin and end, what meetings they can skip or delegate, how to say “no” to demands outside their scope. Increasingly, families are setting digital boundaries around their devices in an attempt to create more balance.

Finally, it’s not enough for working parents to know just for themselves their values and boundaries. Balance requires broader awareness among those with whom we work and live: the boss, clients, friends, and family. Communicating our values and boundaries appropriately sets others’ expectations and creates a layer of balance in the support we receive.

Of course there’s no such thing as a perfectly balanced working family. We are in and out of balance daily, weekly, yearly. But through our choices, we can gain an acceptable level of balance that minimizes the stress and exhaustion felt today by too many working families.

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Urgent Overload! (Is it Really Urgent?)

By Jae Ellard Simple Intentions Founder, and Kim Lowe Simple Intentions Managing Editor

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.]

Just like the word “busyurgent,” the word “urgent” is being abused, misused and overused in the corporate world. The relentless drive and determination to be first to market and best in class are fierce and relentless. Add the element of social media – where customers can instantly broadcast even the slightest delay or misstep – and it becomes understandable the circumstances that have spawned a perpetual culture of urgency inside many office environments.

The question to ask ourselves is: Is this culture of urgent sustainable? Intuitively, we know it’s not. Stress, burnout, disengagement, and low quality of work are major consequences of urgent overload. It creates a team environment in which people are only reacting to what’s urgent, and rarely – if ever – responding to what’s important.

Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “What is urgent is seldom important, and what is important is seldom urgent.” This thinking spawned The Eisenhower Decision Matrix, which productivity pioneer Steven Covey popularized in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s become a common and useful productivity tool to help define and differentiate urgent versus important.

Indeed, the matrix is a strong foundation to help us intellectualize the concept of urgent. But how do we make it real and actionable in our day-to-day corporate lives? How do we actually manage the volume of “urgent” requests most of us face at work?

First, let’s stop abusing the word urgent. Truly, it’s not urgent unless it involves birth, bleeding or obstruction of breath. (Unless you work in health care, it’s rare that something is truly urgent at work.) Rather, the real conversation is about priorities: getting clear on and responding to what’s highest-priority for our roles and businesses. This is where people struggle, because “urgent” often comes with layers of non-verbals that can confuse its rank against other priorities.

To help decode what is really urgent or highest-priority, consider what’s driving the urgency: Is it the person making the request? A deadline? Is it you, the person doing the task or service? Or is a particular energy or emotion driving the urgency?

When we think about urgent as highest-priority it becomes easier to decode. Is something “high-priority” simply because it’s coming from your manager or an executive? Is a date attached that may or may not be a real deadline? Are YOU making it urgent because you don’t have enough information to know whether it’s highest-priority for your team or the business?

Or does the request come across as urgent because of the energy of the person requesting? Does their excitement make it feel like it needs immediate attention, whether it does or not? Is the person angry or upset, and you want to please them? Are they stressed out, and you’re feeling their stress? Are YOU excited because the request maps to your values so you want all of your attention on it now?

As important to consider is: When does urgent end? When is something no longer highest-priority? The answer depends on the driver, but it’s important to acknowledge when a cycle of urgent concludes, to prevent lingering confusion over conflicting priorities that may cause unnecessary stress.

Let’s save “urgent” for what is truly life-affecting, and shift the conversation to what it’s really about: competing priorities. Let’s allow space for decoding high-priority tasks and requests, and support an environment of more responding, less reacting.

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A Case for Reclaiming Conversation at Work

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

conversationConversation is a persistent theme in every program we teach at Simple Intentions. Particularly, we strive to raise awareness of the conversations we are not having at work – with our colleagues, but also with ourselves.

These are conversations around values, boundaries, needs, and wants. We teach that having awareness of our behaviors and their impact on everyone around us allows us to have more authentic conversations – conversations that create shared understanding and empathy – which ultimately lead to more sustainable success. When we avoid these conversations, we risk creating imbalance and disengagement from our work and colleagues.

As strong proponents of authentic conversation, then, we’re energized by the attention being paid to the new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and professor at MIT, who also wrote, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

In this new volume, Turkle explores the impact of technology on communication and relationships. Specifically, she warns that so much texting, tweeting, emailing, and other forms of “flat” digital communication are preempting opportunities for meaningful, face-to-face engagement. She cites a statistic showing a steep decline in measurements of empathy among college students over the past 20 years, mostly over the past 10 years.

Turkle also laments technology’s role in decreasing our capacity for being alone without being lonely. Boredom is beneficial, she claims, a chance to tap into our imaginations and get to know ourselves. In an interview Turkle says, “it is only when you can go within and know who you are that you can then be in a conversation and hear someone else…really hear who they are” rather than project onto that person what you need them to say or who you need them to be.

In the workplace, too often we see conversations interrupted or omitted altogether by a continuous flow of email, instant messages, likes, and follows. Increasingly, the imbalance and stress we hear about stems from over-engagement with devices. Still, like Turkle, we aren’t anti-technology; on the contrary, we love our devices and having the option to text, email and work from anywhere.

But we also promote more mindful and intentional usage of our devices – in the appropriate settings and for the right reasons. Above all, we are pro-conversation – the dimensional, face-to-face exchanges that spark connectedness and creativity. Technology has its place, but it shouldn’t take that of real conversation.

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