Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Split Personality: Are you different at work vs at home?

I stood in front of the mirror sweating in a 105 degree Yoga studio. It's the same spot I stand in everyday but today I noticed something different about this spot. The mirror split my body right down the center. I had stood their countless other times but today for some reason I noticed it and it struck me as odd. I'm not sure if the heat was getting to me or the Buddhist motivation the teacher was dishing out but either way I became very philosophical at that moment. My body was split and I realized that I often feel like two different people.
My personality like so many others is split between home and work.  Work Donna and Home Donna are complete opposites as my spouse often reminds me. Work Donna is decisive, outgoing, a multitasker, budget conscious, a tireless go-getter and extremely private. Home Donna is quiet, wishy-washy and for lack of a better term often lazy. The two never meet except on a very rare occasion and everyone notices it quickly. My spouse first recognizes the voice. Apparently, work Donna's voice is much different than home Donna. My co-workers notice it when I'm indecisive or share some personal anecdote from home. Both my colleagues and my spouse are quick to point out when the other half of me shows up in the wrong place for good or bad.
After doing a bit of research, I've found that I'm not alone (phew!)  Many people feel their personalities are completely different at work and home. There seems to be multiple reasons for this phenomenon.  For those people in a high powered or stressful job, they may need to recharge when they get home. The same is true if you are an extrovert at work.  Even the most extroverted people, need some downtime. Sometimes, the reason we get a job or are successful in a career is because of our personality characteristic.  For those of us, that work in a non-profit, we know that multitasking is a trait that has to be honed and sharpened and without it we would fail miserably at our jobs.  We are no longer specialists in one area but a jack-of-all-trades in many. Although there is a lot to do at home, my to-do list is more of a checklist than a barrage of people coming at me with needs and wants.  I recognize I don’t have children and I’m sure every mom reading this is shaking her head.
Take a test like the Myers Brigg two times, once in the frame of reference as you are at home and once as you are at work.  Take a look at the differences and examine what the differences are and ask yourself are they working for you at this time in your life and career?  If you’re really daring, take it to your colleagues and family and see if they agree with how you see yourself.  There’s a lot to be learned from what each of them say.  
My goal next week when I stand in front of that mirror in the Yoga studio is to not see a body divided but to see different parts of me that work together to make a better human being.
Are you different at work and at home?  Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How to Execute a “Go-Around” When At First You Don’t Succeed

The wheels went down. There I was, ready for landing. The approach was smooth, on a clear blue North Carolina day.  It was an exhausting long trip, 13 hours since I left Buenos Aires. I was sad, coming back from saying a last goodbye to my beloved mother in law. As we were coming down I was contemplating the familiar landscape, with the uncertainty of how I would cope with this loss in the family, and the unfamiliar sense of emptiness.

Touchdown was only seconds away. Suddenly the aircraft went from a gentle descent to a rapid and sharp climb. Then we heard a calm and reassuring voice: “Folks, we had to abort our approach and we are making a second attempt. The tower just alerted us that we were coming down too steep. We should be on the ground in about 15 minutes” – the captain said.

Immediately, my head started spinning, always needing to give meaning to everything. I noticed that the pilot had just made me realize that I was coming down “too steep” with my emotions -- I was about to crash with my pain! His calm voice, instead, gave me a new chance to control my emotions and try a new approach.

Of course, I had to share my story with my husband, and he explained that “the maneuver is called go-around, and it represents a routine safety procedure to keep planes out of trouble. It is a precautionary option”, he said. Just as in our personal lives, sometimes we need to make a decision, execute a safe go-around, and choose wisely before we crash!

Not an ideal situation, but a go-around is meant to be a preventive measure. For pilots, executing this maneuver is quite straightforward, but it requires making a quick decision and focus 100% on the task at hand. It is intense. They have practiced hundreds of these. They are trained to do it safely.

In life, like in flying, we don’t always make perfect approaches and landings. But think about it, how often do you even consider the option to go-around, embrace the concept of “let's start over” or “let's start fresh”?

When should we execute a go-around? To me, the answer is anytime we feel uncomfortable with any aspect of what we are saying, thinking, doing or delivering. Yes, it might mean starting over, changing gears, trying something new, telling ourselves a different story. During the go-around you are in control, but the alternative is crashing, and it might take a while to recover if you are lucky.

My flight back home taught me that no matter how close we are, how familiar the landscape is, how big our emotions are or how quickly we want to be done with something, there is always a go-around option that can put us back on track. The earlier we perform a go-around the better, but it is never too late.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How to Stand up to Bullies at Work (Even if the Bully is your Boss!)

Growing up in Israel, I recall standing silently and watching a kid in my class whose skin color was darker, being teased by other kids for being “stinky”. Yes, in Israel, the country where thousands of Jews from all over the world who endured the Holocaust and anti-semitic horror and were called “dirty” “evil” and “pigs”, were now having their grandchildren face a similar feeling of being outcasts in the Promised Land.

They say that kids can be cruel…but unfortunately, these kids also grow up. Those who don’t learn these critical life lessons later enter the workforce with the same mindset that it is ok to treat others poorly.

I am not proud of being silent in my early school days but I have learned a great deal about standing up to bullies whenever I meet them, and teach my children to do the same...even if the stakes are high.

I am inspired by Elie Wiesel who said “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

So who is a bully? Anyone who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

In the workforce, most bullies don’t consider themselves bullies. They may call themselves “very passionate” or “results-oriented at all costs” or “my way or the highway” type managers. In reality they manage by fear, creating a work environment where people have to first look at the boss’s face in the morning, in order to know what kind of day they are about to have…
Bullies are not just the bosses, they can be our customers too. An outrageously upset customer ready to bite our heads off for a mistake that is out of our control and threaten that if we don’t fix it immediately they will have us fired. They can be our colleagues who send a nasty email and cc the entire office just to humiliate us, or post a comment on Facebook that makes us look bad.
They can be affluent board members with great intentions but poor people skills and they can also be our employees who hold a grudge over a decision we’ve made and want us to feel their pain in any possible way.

Let me be clear. Complaining is not the problem (on the contrary: constructive criticism helps us improve our performance). Being results-focused is not the problem either (after all we are a business),  It is how we talk to others and how we release frustration might be the border line to being a bully. Just like we teach our children: if you keep quiet, hoping this will go away by itself or over time, the bullies win!

So here are a few ideas that you might want to try out, the next time you are facing a situation where you feel you or others have been mistreated by a workplace bully:

1)  Face your fear. You are not a child anymore and are able to protect yourself and others.  You are stronger than you think and a person of character. Like Viktor Frankl said “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” So the very first thing to do is..choose to act!

2)  Face the beast. I believe that we should always try first to deal with the situation one on one. Have a chat with the bully and tell him/her how their behavior impacts you or others. Yes..even if that person is your boss. Often times, they are unaware of the impact they have over people. Always use specific behaviors and be detailed. For example “At the meeting yesterday, when you called me a loser in front of everyone -- this is a behavior I will not tolerate..and frankly I don’t think you would either…”  or “I thought Sally was deeply hurt when you raised your voice in an unprofessional way and yelled at her for not doing her job right. I must admit to you this behavior made you look as if you are losing control”.

3)  Focus on resolutions. Find out what are the triggers that make the bully blow off steam and plan a strategy for dealing with them.

4)  Find resources. Should the above not help, make sure to keep records of the bullying, document time and events and report it to the HR corporate offices.  Most companies will take your complaint very seriously and will deal with the bully immediately. I’ve known luxury hotels who have asked paying customers to leave property because of bad temper or treating their own staff unprofessionally.

5)  Have compassion. Understand that some bullies were themselves victims of being treated poorly by their own families, environment or previous bosses. If you choose to act from a compassionate place, they might respond back positively.

6)  Understand that others might simply be mean. They were mean back at school, and they are mean now in the workplace...often times these people are highly insecure about themselves. Praise yourself for seeing through that and appreciate the good foundation and confidence that you received from your own family and upbringing.

7) Take a deep breath. A really deep breath. All the way down to your core to allow some time     before you act. Be strategic about your plan: two negatives don’t make a positive.

8) Find another job. If you have tried everything and nothing seems to help (ex. when the owner or founder is the bully and refuses to change), then know that you’ve done your best and there is no reason for you to spend the rest of your career putting up with this. There are plenty other places that would welcome you and treat you professionally.

Lastly, remember this “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” by Elie Wiesel.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Make a Difference in Just 15 Minutes

I was reading my horoscope the other day (OK, admit it….you do it too!).  I love the ones that just get me so specifically and perfectly:  “you are brilliant and will have a very special moment with a handsome stranger today”.   Or the ones that are just so exactly right for me “today you will lose 19 lbs just by eating chocolate”…

But this one really stopped me in my tracks:

“The expression is true: The days are long, but the years are short. What can you do for 15 minutes a day that, by this time next year, will have added up to something remarkable?”

I immediately went to my Blackberry (yes I do have the last working Blackberry in existence!)….today….let’s see….facilitating a Strategic Plan Task Group meeting at the Foodbank, a fundraising 101 class to teach at the Special Olympics, a meeting at the grocery store and a date with a great new novel.  Where oh where can I find that 15 minutes….and whatever can I do with that 15 minutes today that could one day be considered remarkable?

So, in order to avoid the whole big confusing mess, I decided to go for a walk.  Taking my usual route through the mini-park four blocks from my house, my head hunched into my shoulders to stop the icy cold wind and drizzle from running down my back, I passed by the four usual homeless folks huddled on their benches….cold, wet, miserable….and I just turned myself around, walked on home, heated up a huge pot of soup, put it into four containers, toasted up some crunchy bread, added some power bars, chips, chocolate for good measure, added four pairs of dry socks and went right back to the mini-park and delivered the warmth.  And I looked at my watch….15 minutes had passed….15 minutes to make someone’s horrible terrible miserable day just a little bit better. 

For me it was just one little 15 minute excursion, but a lovely man in my town took all of his 15 minutes when he learned of the crises with the shelter overflow during the winter and created a program called NEST – Norfolk Ecumenical Shelter Team – a program where many of the synagogues and churches (and even the JCC) in our town each take one or two weeks during the coldest months of the year to open their multi-purpose rooms and kitchens for as many homeless individuals as they can.  He raised the money for mattresses (I use the term ever so loosely…they are actually more like Yoga mats!) to go from multi purpose room to multi purpose room, and the volunteers at the synagogue and/or church and/or JCC do the rest. 

My friends from my mini-park tell me that everyone loves our synagogue the best because we, surprise, surprise, cook huge dinners stuffing them with hot soups and chicken and yummy desserts and then send them off with five cheese sandwiches the next day all bagged nicely with all kinds of other yummy and useful stuff.   And although the NEST program is replicated in all of our surrounding cities (unfortunately one of the cities begins with a P…not a great acronym!) there are never enough spots.  The street folks come in through a lottery system, causing many to remain on the streets on these miserable nights.

Which begs the question each and every cold winter night: How come we were all so lucky to win the lottery of life? Why do we get to have lives that give us the world…safety, security, family, friends, sleeping in a warm home each night?  And can we use that simple 15 minutes each day to help someone who has never been, and probably will never be, a winner in the lottery of life?  Can a delivery of a bowl of soup and some dry socks first thing in the morning to some guys who live in the park add up to something remarkable??

Yes, it surely can.   And so I ask: what can you do for 15 minutes today?