Our Kids Need Us To Take a Stand

A couple of nights ago during dinner, my daughter saw a letter from a local organization called REbel. They work in middle and high schools to address body image issues and eating disorders. The organization makes a difference in hundreds of lives every year, impacting student's self-confidence and understanding of beauty. Makenna read the letter and asked what it was about. She is just six and in the first grade. While I can already see how her self image is impacted by what kids say at school, she is still a little young to fully grasp self confidence and what it means. Just that day, I found her in bed crying because a fellow student had laughed at her when she said she had a step-mom. 

My natural reaction to her question about REbel was to tell her that they work with kids in schools and to leave it at that. Too difficult to explain and maybe too deep for them to understand, was my thought.

Thankfully Chesney, my fiance, has much better instinct on this than I do. She began to share about the work they do. She explained, "as girls get older they some times start to question what they can accomplish in life or worry about how they look or feel bad about how much they weigh. This group talks to girls about how they can be anything they want. They can be President of the United States if they want! Fitting into what other people say to us doesn't matter, what is inside matters the most"

I was blown away. Actually, I'm still blown away. She gracefully explained a very difficult topic to a 6 year old, in words that could be understood and she reinforced Makenna's self confidence while she did it. It was simply amazing. 

As soon as the girls went to bed, I turned the TV to the day's political coverage and quickly back to our reality. We have a candidate for President that at every possible opportunity is degrading and offensive to a majority of people. Every compliment he pays a woman is about her looks, every criticism is name calling and also...about her looks. His son was quoted recently as saying women that can't handle harassment don't belong in the workplace. 

This is a family that in offends me in every possible way. Their attacks on women don't just impact my daughters, they impact all of our kids, girls and boys alike. They like to argue this is about too many people being "politically correct", but that is a garbage argument. Political correctness isn't a liberal agenda to soften America. It's a human agenda to demand respect for all people. Being aware of our words and our actions and how they impact other people isn't about ignoring the truth to make other people feel good, it is about stepping outside of ourselves to see the truth. 

I clearly have hopes for how this election turns out. But with either result, we are at a critical time for the lessons we show are children. There will be anger and uproar on either side come November 9th. It is time we take a vocal stand for the world we want them to grow up in. It is time we have difficult conversations on all sides and all topics to build a world that is less divisive. It is time we actually hear the opinions of others, regardless of our own. It is time we do more building up than we do tearing down. 

The Simple Truths of Building Trust

I’ve been involved in a number of conversations recently, both at work and in my personal life, that all circle back to trust. This topic comes up for a number of reasons. How does this person build trust with coworkers and direct reports? Why don’t we trust each other? What can rebuild the trust that was broken? As I think about this topic and how it plays out in my own life and with the people I trust most, several behaviors pop up as the most critical.

People want to be heard. Whether it is to express frustration or just talk about how things are going, people want to feel comfortable to share and talk. The only way for people to get comfortable is for you to listen. Not listening for the chance to talk or to help or to solve their problem. Just to listen and make clear you understand. Not listening for the chance to talk or to help or to solve their problem. Just to listen and make clear you understand.

Be willing to apologize
Lots of people think they apologize but they never really do. They say things like: “I didn’t mean for that to hurt your feelings” and “that wasn’t what I was trying to say”. While these express a regret for the outcome, they stop short of actually being an apology. Truly saying I’m sorry requires acknowledgment that you screwed up, self-awareness to see the impact your actions had and confidence to be vulnerable with someone else.Truly saying I’m sorry can begin to fix relationships and rebuild trust.

Have difficult conversations
No one likes to have difficult conversations. We all get anxious and fear the worst. But a few years ago I went through some challenging personal times where difficult conversations had to happen. What I learned through that experience was that they get easier. You still dread them but you have a more realistic view that they likely will go better than you expect. Also, I found that the more times I was willing to have a difficult conversation with someone, whether it is work related or personal, the more comfortable I became in articulating the message I intended while fighting the anxiety. They are no more fun than they were before, but like anything else, practice has made it better.

Lose the humor
People often see humor as a way to warm someone up and make someone else like them. But humor doesn’t work like that. We have all made the mistake of a sarcastic joke or something we think is funny that doesn’t go over well because we don’t know someone well enough. We misjudge the relationship, or someone’s sense of humor, assuming they will laugh and they will help us get to know each other. It ends up being a pretty unpredictable thing. While trying to build trust with someone or even more, when trying to rebuild a fractured relationship, an effort at humor usually does more harm than good.

Extend trust
In most relationships, work and personal, there is far more to be gained by extending trust to others first, rather than waiting for them to prove themselves to trust someone. If you are waiting, they may never do enough. But the vast majority of people are well meaning and good, so trusting first doesn’t risk that much in the long run. Particularly in work settings, with supervisor and employee relationships, a lot more work gets done when you trust first, until someone proves unworthy.

Say thank you
This may sound a bit out there but hear me out. Showing appreciation for someone,the work they do or something nice your partner does for you, doesn’t take much effort…but it does take awareness. People love to be genuinely appreciated and when they know that you appreciate them, they are much more likely to trust you.

Clarify your intent
I used to work for a guy that taught me a lot about building relationships, but the one that sticks with me the most was how he approached clarity. Every time he asked me a question he followed it up with, “and the reason I’m asking the question is”…and proceeded to explain why he needed what he was asking for. We often start a question to someone after putting a lot of thought into what we need to know, but forget that the other person may be caught of guard, or certainly hasn’t been thinking about the topic. His clarification always dropped my defenses and gave me an understanding of where he was headed. I’ve taken this on as my own and have seen it work both personally and professionally.

We often overthink our relationships, and think there are perfect solutions with how to build trust or patch a relationship that has been damaged. It isn’t that the answers are always easy, but they certainly aren’t complicated.

- See more at: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-simple-truths-trust-pksl/#sthash.QfFdt6yp.dpuf

Is It All About Winning?

Riding in the car with my twin girls recently, they were playing the same game on their tablets and this conversation happens:

Avery: “I’m winning Makenna!"

Makenna: “It’s not about winning Avery."

Me: “What is it about then Makenna?"

Makenna: “It’s just about playing the game and if you win, that is great"

Avery: “But it’s a hard game, you play to win!"

I was blown away by the debate two five year old’s were having…and a little at a loss as to a response.

They are both right. But what do I want them to know? How do I want to settle the debate? For now, I listened. I didn't want to discourage either opinion. In part because this perfectly sums up their very different personalities and I encourage those differences...but also I'm skeptical I have the right answer.

Winning and losing can both teach valuable lessons. I have always been competitive and ambitious, tending to agree with Avery, winning is the whole point, why else would you do anything? But as I've gotten older I have come around to Makenna's point of view on many things, I try to enjoy the effort involved and try to be pleased with whatever outcome I get. It isn't an easy perspective for me.

When I think of the most rewarding competitions in recent years for my life, they haven’t been important to me or successful because of beating someone else. They mean so much because of continuing to outdo my previous best, to battle the person within. I think about these lessons I learned later in life and question how I share these with my daughters? How do I teach them to appreciate their own improvement and their own journey while maintaining ambition?

Life is competitive and I’m firmly against participation trophies, so balancing these seemingly opposite attitudes is a work in progress. Failure is a tremendous teacher, and focusing on self-improvement and overcoming challenges insures there will be plenty. Arguably more important to our kids reaching their full potential than intelligence or grades, their resilience determines where they end up.

With the goal of raising well adjusted and happy adults, I believe in teaching them the value of effort and competition. The ability to challenge yourself, without regard to where other people stand. Understanding there is a big difference between trying to do well and trying to beat others.

So I let the conversation with my daughters go, each of them still owning their own perspective on winning. There is an ongoing balance for all of us on when are we competing with others and when are we competing with ourselves. My hope is to provide guidance so they can define for themselves a healthy balance of both.


Originally published on The Good Men Project

The Lessons I'm Taking From 2015

This time of year usually brings on a lot of excitement and renewed energy with anticipation of the new year. I also think it is a great time for reflection on what lessons I learned in the past year.

Personally, 2015 was as a really positive year. Probably the best I’ve ever had actually. Not that everything went smoothly or positively, but there were great things both personally and professionally. Maybe that contributes to my desire to build on it, to learn from my experiences and to keep the momentum going.

Everything is a choice
I realized last year that my reaction to situations, my attitude about life and my priorities were all a choice. The circumstances and factors at play might change…which could change the choice…but either way, I own it and have to consciously make up my mind where my energy is going.

I’m not “busy”
It is incredibly frustrating, but I find myself answering “busy” anytime I visit with someone and they ask about work or how things are going. I hate that answer. Everyone is busy. Busy doesn’t mean productive. It doesn’t mean challenging. It doesn’t mean impactful. It means nothing, yet so many of us use it as the default answer. As Henry David Thoreau said, “It is not enough to be busy, so are the ants. What are we busy about?” I pledge to stop saying this in 2016.

Social media as a comparison is a waste of time
What we post on social media often isn’t our reality…it is a version of reality we want people to see. I find I can be genuinely excited for people’s success, but still find myself making the comparison to how things are going for me. We all want what we don’t have or what it appears other people are achieving. I have found nothing personally productive or positive happens when I make that comparison.

Quality over quantity
I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of people over the last couple of years, both personally and professionally. It struck me recently that I haven’t done a great job of deepening those relationships. I know people through professional groups and we may grab lunch or catch up every few months, but the relationship doesn’t go deeper. It has always been a challenge for me, to get to know people on a deeper level. I think it leaves a hole in life, to not dig deeper with people. Making sure the friendships and connections I make are high quality instead of a larger network of people needs to be a priority the older I get.

Stop assigning intent to people’s behavior
Small slights happen throughout our lives. Your friend doesn’t text you back, a coworker doesn’t invite you to join the lunch outing, you get bad customer service at a restaurant. Often these things offend and frustrate us. These relatively minor slights generally have no intent behind them, but we take it as a personal attack. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, but have realized over the last year that this reactoin sucks all the positive out of the day. It isn’t worth it to make assumptions about intent, it is far better to move on without a second thought.

The world is full of amazing people
Recently I’ve done a lot of reflecting on people in my life and just how many people there are doing amazing things. The passions and career choices aren’t always things I understand or even get excited about…but seeing people live out their passion or walk their talk is endlessly motivating to me. On the surface these are “everyday people” with inspiring stories, from feeding the homeless every week, to giving up the corporate life to start their own business or welcoming a young man they mentored into their home as family to make sure he graduates high school. If you look close enough I’m sure your friends are the same.

You don’t have to be perfect
I probably beat myself up the most over parenting. Or maybe its not being in as good a shape as I’d like to be. No, it’s probably the mistakes I make at work…on and on…you get the point. I’m guilty of not accepting myself when things aren’t perfect. But they never will be. Maybe a few things go well, but other things fall apart. This year I learned to focus on the positive outcomes. While one part of life may not be working out how I hoped, several others may be thriving…I can’t keep the focus on that one part when many others areas are positive.

This time of year is always great for reflection and realizing even if you didn’t recognize a lesson at the time, there is something valuable to be learned from almost everything we do and everyone we interact with.

Originally posted on The Good Men Project

The Smartest Thing You Can Say

At some point everyone has struggled to say these three words. However, the smartest people I know aren’t afraid to say them. It is a very simple statement, really.

“I don’t know.”

It is a simple statement, but it can be so hard to say, particularly in front of co-workers or one’s boss. We have all worked with people who refuse to say they don’t know the answer. The problem is, when someone consistently refuses to acknowledge something they might not know, nothing they say can be trusted. Often people would rather make up an answer, guess or outright lie than admit needing to do some research to get the right information.

As tough as it is to say these words, there are several benefits to saying “I don’t know.”

Builds trust
Nothing builds trust like honesty. It sounds so simple but we often screw it up. People get caught up thinking if I always have an answer, if I’m confident or if I’m in the know…they will trust me. It’s not that complicated. Saying “I don’t know but I can find the answer and get back to you” does far more to build trust.

Avoids promises you can’t keep
An often used cliche is “under promise and over deliver”…and yes, it’s a cliche because it is true. One way to do that is to avoid making too strong a statement, particularly about something you cannot fully control. I recently had someone on my team at work telling me: if we do this, it will change this outcome by X%. Do you know that for sure? No. Do you believe it will work? Sure. Opening this with “I don’t know for sure, but logic shows doing this will change the outcome by X%” leaves an opening to be wrong. You aren’t making promises you can’t keep.

Shows strength
We hold ourselves to a high standard. We don’t want to show weakness. We are scared of being vulnerable. Admitting we don’t have the answer isn’t either of those things. It is a strength to admit a gap or a blind spot. It is comfort in your ability and your intellect that you don’t have to know everything to still be talented and smart.

Promotes discussion
No one likes to work with people who have all the answers. It can be exhausting. The reality is, none of us can do it alone. A willingness to acknowledge what we don’t know encourages engagement with those around us. Often, the people we work with can fill in some gaps. They have insights and knowledge we don’t. The exchange of info and ideas is empowering and encourages people to do more.

Shows wisdom
Knowing what you don’t know is often as important as knowing what you know. When people willingly admit a lack of knowledge on a given topic, it tells me they have a high level of self awareness and have considered their strengths and weaknesses. They know where they have gaps and rely on others to help fill those gaps.

Strengthens other opinions
Everyone seems to have an opinion. Often people have strong opinions on things they actually know very little about…just look at Facebook any random day. An openness about where you know little, or haven’t formed an opinion, gives much more credibility to the opinions and knowledge you do have.

Saying “I don’t know” is simply part of developing honest relationships with your co-workers and effective work relationships must be built on honesty. Along the way, admitting you don’t know everything can result in the benefits listed above. It’s too bad this phrase is so rarely used. As Socrates put it, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Originally published on the Good Men Project