Tuesday, December 17, 2013

'Tis the Season: Retrain Your Brain and Banish Family Holiday Stress for Good

Oh … the holidays!

Hot chocolate! Fancy cookies! Shopping for that perfect gift for that perfect someone while humming “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

 Sounds pretty good, right? 

Sadly, for some the holidays are more stress than joy. The prospect of spending prolonged periods with family when relationships are strained, hostile, or otherwise unsatisfying can be a major source of angst and even lead to depression or noticeable levels of anxiety.

Philip Rodriguez (not his real name), a professor at a prestigious university, says “I have friends who don’t visit their families anymore because they just can’t deal with it.”

Rodriguez hasn’t made that decision yet, but he’s thought about it. ‘There’s a lot of dysfunction in my family,” he says. “My sister is schizophrenic and bipolar. She’s moody, controlling, and angry. All my life she’s manipulated my parents. [Growing up] many of the holidays were centered around her and her moods.”

And that’s just the tip of the Rodriguez family iceberg. As a single person amongst those with “attachments” (“If you are single you are looked down on. I could write a book about how awful it is to be single in this society”) and a non-Christian surrounded by religious kin, Rodriguez finds the holidays trying, to say the least.

“Each time I see my father he tells me I should give my life to Jesus. He’s 87-years old, and I don’t want to fight him… but can’t we just have a nice dinner without [him trying] to convert me”? asks Rodriguez.

Whatever the cause, family gatherings can morph us into insecure, misunderstood adolescents in no time. Old resentments rise up while old wounds that have never fully healed reopen, and before too long, instead of enjoying a time of celebration with loved ones, we’re on edge and on the defense, looking forward to getting back to our home base and into the space that makes us feel like us again: adult, assured, and in control.

How to Break the Cycle?
How can we break this cycle, and sooner rather than later, so that our time with family is something to anticipate with gladness?

Life empowerment coach Adina Laver, MBA, MEd, CPC, who earned her coaching certificate at the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching and has been helping hurting individuals “break the chains of their childhood stories” for the past 15 years (most recently through her affiliation with the Main Line Family Law Center), says that change is possible, and it doesn’t have to take years and years. During a recent telephone interview, she told me she’s coached individuals to greater happiness in just a few sessions.

What’s her secret?

Change Your Habits and Change Your Life
Laver says that in any relationship each party has developed a habitual response to certain triggers (i.e., “hot buttons”), and if we decide to change those habits we can change the situation. The key is coming to understand how these habits have developed, why they aren’t working, and what we can do about it.

According to Laver, “Research shows that 50% of our predisposition to see the glass as either half empty or half full is determined by genetics, and 10% is determined by our environment. So, a more difficult environment can make for a more unhappy person. But the good news is that leaves 40% up for grabs. We can control what we think … retrain the brain to ‘go down a new pathway.’”

In other words, we don’t have to let our relatives drive us crazy.

What Laver suggests sounds suspiciously like the power of positive thinking, which makes this glass-half-empty girl (hey, it’s genetic, remember?) a little skeptical. However, (mercifully) Laver isn’t saying we can make things true by wishing them so. Instead, she’s advocating adopting a deliberate mindfulness about what we will believe and act upon.

Says Laver, “When your relative complains about the dry turkey or how that dress doesn’t look that great on you, instead of focusing on you, you can turn the situation around and ask yourself, ‘What is going on with this person that [he or she] would say that to me?” In other words Q-TIP, or quit taking it personally.

It also helps to set goals in advance of the get together. Who would you like to spend time with? Which subjects are fair game and which would you prefer to avoid? Perhaps everyone is wondering when you’ll get married, have a baby, or get a job, and you’re dreading the moment the topic is broached. Instead, says Laver, give yourself permission to tell your curious relative “I’m really glad that you’re interested, but I’d rather not talk about that today. What else can we talk about?”

Ultimately, according to Laver, it’s about taking action to transform relationships that aren’t satisfying into ones that are.

“How will you get honor, regard, and respect from your relationships?” Laver asks.

One way is to test perceptions by asking questions. Because look, it’s not always about the other person. If a criticism hits a mark, and you think there may be a genuine issue, take the critic aside and gently probe for clarification. Laver advises asking your relative “Is there something important you think I should know?” and listening for the answer.

Each year the holidays come and then go, but your family is your family for life. Make this year the year you give the best gift ever—the gift of a renewed, more honest and more fulfilling relationship with someone you love.

Check out Adina Laver's website, Divorce Essentials (http://www.divorceessentials.net) or contact her at http://www.mainlinedivorcemediator.com/delaware-county-divorce-attorney or via email at adinalaver@gmail.com. You can also access a Main Line Family Law Center recording of “Surviving the Holidays When Preparing for Divorce here.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What Does Bruno Mars Know About Acing That Job Interview? Apparently Quite a Bit

The interview was over, and my colleague popped his head in my office to tell me how it'd gone.

"She looked great on paper," he told me, "And I'm sure she could do the job. But I just didn't like her answer to one of my questions."

"Oh yeah? What question?" 

"I asked if she'd be willing to stay in the position for at least three years."

Hmmm ...

"And?" I prompted him.

"And she said, 'As long as the company is good to me.'”

Ouch. Wrong answer. Neeeeeeeext—

Well, at least as far as my colleague was concerned.

I thought the candidate’s response was pretty funny, but then again, sass doesn’t frighten me. So long as sass doesn’t cross the line into disrespect and is married to high competence, I’m good.

So I asked my colleague, “Do you think she'd be interested in working for HR?”

And I remembered this conversation yesterday when I read "Want A Players? Here’s The One Interview Question You Need to Ask," by Marc Hoag.

In the article, Hoag defines an A Player as “maddeningly motivated” and “hungry;” someone who is “staggeringly brilliant, inexorably driven to succeed.”

Oh come on, Marc. All that?

And the “one interview question” A-player seekers should ask?

“Are you willing to work nights and weekends to get an assignment done on time?”

Why does Hoag’s article bring to mind the lyrics to “Catch a Grenade for Ya” by Bruno Mars?

“I'd catch a grenade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Throw my hand on a blade for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
I'd jump in front of a train for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
You know I'd do anything for ya (yeah, yeah, yeah)
Oh, oh
I would go through all this pain
Take a bullet straight through my brain
Yes, I would die for ya baby
But you won't do the same”

It’s not that a willingness to work nights and weekends is such a big deal. I’ve done both as an employee, and as an entrepreneur it’s a given.

It’s just that this attitude that employees should be willing to sacrifice everything (or at least lie and say they’d be willing to sacrifice everything) before being deemed “top tier” is so flipping tiresome.

Because let’s face it, this question about weekends and evenings isn’t really about weekends and evenings. It’s about finding that person prepared to say she’d be willing to “catch a grenade for ya,” and why the hell are you asking this question, anyway?

Even if the potential employee crosses her heart and hopes to die, swears on a stack of bibles as tall as Mount Everest, and does a pinky square to prove her sincerity, she’s lying if she claims she’d catch a grenade for you, employer.

She’s read the stats, and she knows the deal. Undying loyalty on her part would be foolish.

(I’d add that it’s completely unnecessary. An employee can be highly productive without letting work encroach on every other area of his life.)

A commenter to Hoag’s article suggested a better question. "
Tell me about a time when you had to work nights and weekends in order to get a task or project done, especially when you had demands on your time from outside work."

And I can totally get on board with that. Let’s stick to what the candidate has done, rather than posing goofy hypotheticals for the purpose of getting in his head and testing how “hungry” he is. 


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Dark, Dark Side of Office Gossip

I’ve read plenty of articles about how office gossip is good for your career, because it keeps you in the know and may even help to increase office efficiency.

But there’s a nasty, dark side to office gossip that has nothing to do with mere unkindness.

Gossip and other forms of negative or unethical communication are used to do extreme harm to targets of workplace bullying or mobbing.

In Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying, authors Duffy and Sperry list these other forms of unethical communication (p. 33, Uncorrected Advance Reading Copy): 

  • Rumors
  • False information
  • Failure to correct false information
  • Ridicule, belittling, and humiliation
  • Leaks of personal and confidential information
  • Failure to stop dissemination of unethical communication
  • Isolation and/or ignoring of target/victim (i.e., shunning)
  • “Cold shoulder”
  • Target/victim shut out of workplace information loops
  • Secret meetings

Look, I’ve written so much about workplace bullying, sometimes even I get tired of hearing about it.

But my weariness doesn’t change the facts. Whatever you call it—workplace aggression, workplace incivility, workplace bullying, or workplace mobbing (for the record, mobbing varies in some ways from bullying, but the two go together like peanut butter and jelly in my view)—it’s a big, icky problem that really hurts people. 

And it doesn’t have to be this way, except so many of us (even me on a bad day), want to shake our heads and say, “Oh well, people will be people. You can’t legislate civility.”

Fine then. Here’s my question. 

Have you ever participated in unethical communication at work, and in so doing, either wittingly or unwittingly harmed the reputation, livelihood, or sense of self of another?

If so, what’s done is done, I suppose.

But whenever you get another chance to say “no thanks” I urge you to take it.

Gossip isn’t always as harmless as it's made out to be. There may be an agenda afoot that, if you knew the details, would floor you with its malevolence. 

Do I sound paranoid?

I don’t care if I do.

Mobbing happens. People do get forced out of organizations through no real fault of their own. And the process is facilitated by backroom, seemingly benign “talk” that quickly spreads until the target is firmly established as the “other” that must be neutralized or eradicated.

So, if some care to claim that gossip is a productivity-enhancing tool, and they have the data to back up those claims, well … I say that’s real interesting—even while I maintain my right to believe that’s a load of self-serving bunk.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The N-Word: Just Say ‘No’

(This posting written with an apology to my friend, D*.)

My friend D* is a white guy who doesn’t understand why black people call each other “nigger” (or more likely “nigga”), but white people can’t.

Yes, this question again.

D*, I’m going to attempt really, really hard to break this down for you, because I believe you’re honestly trying to understand what this is all about, and I respect that.

So here goes.

But first, a small history lesson.

Small, because I’m no historian.

However, Liz Regosin, a professor at St. Lawrence University, is a historian. And a couple of months ago, I attended a lecture with Regosin as the speaker. The topic was “Abraham Lincoln and Emancipation.”

The lecture was excellent. I learned things I hadn’t known. Such as, prior to the Civil War, Lincoln made this statement:

“Blacks and whites should not have perfect social and political equality.”

And this statement:

“Blacks and whites are not equal in color or moral and intellectual endowment; these differences keep us from living together.”

(Hmph. I guess Frederick Douglass was just a flippin’ freak of nature.)

These statements are startling in their boldness. They are startling in their denial of the humanity of black Americans.

And they reflect a worldview, or a belief system, that formed the foundation for race relations in these here great United States.

In my humble opinion.

In FY 2012, the EEOC fielded 33,512 charges of race discrimination, 10,883 charges of national origin discrimination, and 2,662 charges of color discrimination. Considering all the billions of workers in the US, these numbers may seem insignificant. However, I assure you that if you’ve ever been the victim of race, national origin, or color discrimination (I have), the situation wasn’t insignificant to you. I’d also bet cold hard cash that every single one of my readers of color has either experienced or knows someone who has experienced some form of race discrimination in the workplace that went unreported. Cold hard cash.

And I haven’t even touched on the umpteen numbers of microinsults and microaggressions that people of color experience each and every day. Just ask Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips, both detained for shopping while black.

I’m not mentioning this stuff for the heck of it, and I’m certainly not mentioning it to stir up trouble. The point is, there is history here, there is a way that we’ve been taught to interact and view each other, and you could literally jump up and down while pounding your chest and swearing to God until you’re blue in the face that none of this has anything to do with you, a modern day white man, and I will simply respond that you, sir, are a liar.

You are no more capable of being unaffected by the culture than anyone else. We’re all in this mess together. We’ve all been tainted. Period.

So back to the n-word.

It’s simple really. If you are white, just say no. Historically, white people have used the word to demean, denigrate, and dehumanize black Americans. That’s a fact. And like it or not, you D* are a part of that history. As am I.

Perhaps it is hypocritical. Perhaps there is a double standard. (By the way, that’s not my opinion.)

But even if I were to agree that a double standard exists, I’m still perplexed as all get out why it bothers you so damn much. Are you just pissed that someone would have the gall to tell you what you can and can’t say? I don’t get it. Maybe you can write your own article, and then I’ll gain some understanding.

In the meantime, consider this.

There are women who affectionately refer to their girlfriends as “bitches.” (Personally, I have no love for the b-word.)

Now, if a group of women friends are out having dinner, loudly laughing and teasing each other, and one playfully warns the other “Alright bitch, you’re about to cross the line,” is it okay for the server (male or female of any ethnicity) to saunter up to their table, pen and pad in hand wanting to know, “Which one of you bitches is ready to order first?”


Context is everything. Relationship is everything. History as powerful as ours can never be made invalid.

Please D*, just say no.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Struggle for Improved Worker Conditions Continues—Nothing New Under the Sun or the Beginning of a Brand New Day?

There is a battle afoot, and it may not be new but it’s manifesting itself in new ways. I’m talking about the battle between big business and the working poor. Like I said, nothing new... and yet.

This past summer, fast food workers conducted a seven-city strike while demanding a living wage of $15 per hour rather than the federal minimum. Last month, McDonald's cashier Nancy Salgado crashed an event in which McDonald CEO Jeff Stratton was giving a keynote speech and then announced to the audience at large that her hourly rate of $8.25 wasn’t enough to support her family.

Fast food isn’t the only industry to be targeted by worker advocates. Retailers such as Walmart are getting their share of attention, too. This past summer, the Council of the District of Columbia passed the Large Retailer Accountability Act, which would increase the minimum wage for covered employers to $12.50 per hour. A spokesperson for Walmart compared the bill to something you'd find in a communist country. Supporters of the bill claimed that it would “lift thousands of working families in Washington, D.C., out of poverty and support decent wages across the retail industry.” Mayor Vincent Gray vetoed the bill.

Meanwhile, it’s been widely reported that the gap between the 1% and everyone else is getting bigger and bigger, a fact that’s not sitting well with advocates for a so-called more equitable distribution of wealth.

And, increasingly, these advocates are not the traditional unions of old but instead are “worker centers,” community groups usually supported by unions but not bound by all the laws regarding unions because they don’t have continuing bargaining relationships with employers.

But the “haves” aren’t taking it on the chin, and they’ve got friends, too, such as the Worker Center Watch, whose mission is to expose what they see as labor union abuses. Amidst public outrage over Black Friday becoming Brown Thursday, the Worker Center Watch advised consumers to “Just buy your gifts, don’t buy their lies.” 

At a recent National Retail Federation (NRF) Human Resources Executive Summit, Joe Kefauver of Parquet Public Affairs presented “Worker Centers: Impacts and Implications,” which listed the minimum and living wage, mandated paid time off, wage theft, fair share, and retention of the 40-hour workweek as “legislative and regulatory assaults on the business model.” Kefauver also noted that business opponents (i.e., labor unions and worker centers) are “ideologues not pragmatists.”

The Employment Policies Institute (EPI) has gotten into the fray as well. This past summer, the EPI placed a full-page ad in USA Today to promote their position that a living wage would have negative affects on workers. The EPI has also created a website, Minimumwage.com to educate the public about the “myths” surrounding this debate.

Meanwhile, whether employers in the fast food, retail, and hospitality industries could afford to pay workers more has been debated.

Time magazine recently reported that privately held fast-food companies have seen profit margins double at the same time as payroll costs have decreased.

Walmart, in particular, has received all kinds of criticism amid claims that its wages are subsidized by the government in the form of housing and food assistance received by its low-wage workers. Media reports that Walmart had organized a food drive for its own employees only added fuel to the fire, much like the reports about a McDonald employee budgeting manual recommending that employees have second jobs.

Still, many claim that the fight over low wages won’t gain real traction so long as retailers such as Walmart continue to receive more than 300 applications for each job opening.

Again, workers have a long history of fighting against the powers that be for better wages and benefits. However, the internet has taken today’s fight to a whole other level, with secrets from both sides laid bare for darn near anyone to see. 

But is this most recent battle a sign of things to come, or simply business as usual?

What do you think?