Kelly’s Soapbox, and when she got kicked off it.

Just after Christmas, I received a message via Facebook messenger. The content of the message jarred me, and after stewing for a day, I ranted on Facebook thusly:

Dear Facebook Friends:

I invite you to contemplate the issue of Manners. Yes, manners. I realize that we communicate these days in a very informal ways via Whatsapp, FB Messenger and so on, with phone calls and emails taking a back seat. I’m all for it. I hate phone calls…so intrusive.

Anyway, in using various instant messaging applications, we tend to economize on characters used and so shorthand communication is the order of the day. Please be aware that in your quest for brevity and conciseness you sometimes come over as rude, imperious and demanding. And I’m not here for it in 2018. I know this is not your intention. But I’ve rolled my eyes and sighed one time too many this year at some of your messages to me. Please don’t force me to ignore or block you in 2018.

Exhibit 1:
 
“Hi Kelly. Please give me your email address. I have an assignment that I’d like your help with.”

This assumes that we already had an agreement in place that I’d assist you. And of course I’ll help. It’d be my pleasure! But your presumption was offensive. And even after I overlooked and assumed that your motives were pure, and took my valuable time and shared with you, you never ever came back and told me how your final assignment turned out. Shame on you. This is how you should have approached the situation:

“Hi Kelly. I would really like your help on an assignment I have. Could you? I’d happily email the brief to you. Please let me know.”

Exhibit 2:
 
“Hi Kelly. Hope the holidays were good. Please call me at 1234567.”

This was from someone who I haven’t spoken with in years. Let me fix it for you:

“Hi Kelly. Hope the holidays were good. I’d like to ask you a question about xyz. May I call you? When is a good time?”

Exhibit 3
 
“Give me a number for xyz”

No “Hey Dog” or “please”.
You will be blue ticked.
Even if you are my bosom buddy, if you message me requesting something from me without saying please I will ignore you. Y’all have a nasty habit of typing in short-hand which seems to include omission of manners.

General tips
 

Use my name please. It’s a mere 5 letters. Hell… you can even stick with “K”. In face to face communication I prefer eye contact. In digital communication, I prefer establishing the interaction with the use of my name. C’mon. It’s not that hard.

If we speak after a protracted period of non communication, for God’s sake do NOT begin with “yuh dash me weh.” I most certainly will if you go there though. We’re now speaking. Let’s get on with it and keep it moving.

So in closing, as you seek to economize across your various communication modalities in 2018, do not skimp on good manners.
Regards,
Kelly

I felt good after hitting Post. “That will show them. People must have manners” I congratulated myself.

Then I received another notification via FB Messenger. The person who had messaged me and prompted my rant had something to say to me, and it went like this:


Good morning Kelly. I apologize for the approach previously in asking you to call me. I was diagnosed with Z (condition redacted) and I’ve been home couple months immobile, having to be attended to from bathroom help to feeding. While I can touch even to type, this is major improvement. I wanted to tell you two things. Like I called X and Y (names redacted) in person to thank them for their contribution to what I am today. I wanted to tell you in person how much unknowingly you have made me who I am. You have inspired me from my education to growing my children unknowingly. Thanks for sharing your life that has inspired me in so many ways.

I also wanted to thank you for sharing your meals as I have been able to accept now that I’ve have to live on plant based food. Thanks and blessings in 2018. I was able to see my error because anything you put on FB I read. …you do give me a positive outlook on life
 
Oh God.
I was thrown for a loop. I felt like a complete shit.

So I called her. I was terrified and ashamed. But I had no other choice but to call. She was so very gracious in accepting my call. We spoke. Her life had taken a sudden, horrific turn in October and yet she was so optimistic, open and grateful for life when she spoke. I was left with these questions:

  • Was the content of my rant wrong? 
  • Was I being unreasonable?
  • Did the fact that my friend was ill change the veracity of my post?

I’m still processing the whole sequence of events, and before I wrote this post, I messaged her requesting permission to blog about our conversation and the events leading up to it. She was as gracious as ever in granting me permission, and for that I am grateful.

I am not sure that I have conclusively put the matter to bed in my mind. Here’s where I am as at now:

Sometimes a direct and gentle approach is more meaningful and effective than a general rant that comes across as a “sub-tweet”…ask your millennial what that is 🙂 Perhaps if I had messaged her back instead of sub-tweeting, I could have made whatever point I felt I had to make in a more constructive manner aimed more at preserving relationships than proving a point. 
 
I am grateful for her graciousness and ease of overlooking offence. It made it easier for me to swallow humble pie and question my motives and modus operandi going forward. I hope that when an occasion that requires understanding and forgiveness and graciousness arises in my own life, that I will do likewise.
 
So sure, manners are important. Along with humour, manners act as the lubricant that allow us to get along and thrive. But relationships are more important than being right, and one must never forget that we are dealing with people. 
 
What are your own take-aways from this story? Did you agree with the points in my rant and do you now have a change of heart? I’d love to hear from you.
 
 





 

In search of Poinsettias…or so I thought….

“There’s a lady on Church St with the loveliest poinsettias at good prices” she offered.

I was looking for fluffy, good looking poinsettias that wouldn’t  break the bank and a colleague at work tried to help. She too wanted some and we agreed to pay this downtown Kingston vendor a visit. She reassured me that I would get parking (in the JPS parking lot…she had business to do at JPS so we wouldn’t be lying) and that she would direct me.

So at the appointed time, we removed our jewellery (Downtown Kingston, DUH!), grabbed our tiny purses (no need to advertise) and headed out in my car. Traffic was heavy going up Duke St. The commercial district that is Downtown Kingston was a bustle with pedestrian and vehicular traffic. On a regular day, Downtown is a bargain hunter’s paradise. So everyone and their mother trying to maximize their Christmas spend was out in the brilliant December sunshine in the middle of the day in the middle of the week.

The traffic was sluggish and I decided to make conversation as we slowly made our way up the road. You see, my passenger/guide is my co-worker but we’re not close friends, if you understand what I mean.

“So what are your plans for Christmas dinner?” I enquired. Food is always a great place to start as far as I am concerned.

“Well…” she hesitated…“We would normally go to my in-laws, but for the past two years we’ve done nothing.”

There was an awkward pause. But not for long. I sensed a story.

“How come?” I pushed.

She sighed. “Two years ago my sister-in-law was rude to me at dinner, Kelly. I was hurt but I held it in. And I decided that I didn’t need to put up with that ever again.”

As I listened, I sensed that she was conflicted, that she responded the only way she thought she could have, but that she wasn’t comfortable with her own decision.

“So how do your hubby and your kids feel about your decision? Don’t they miss the jollification and family togetherness?” I asked gently.

Another sigh. “I’ve encouraged, I’ve begged them to go without me, Kelly, but they don’t.”

I explained to her that as mothers WE are the nucleus of the family, that everything revolves around us, and that if we aren’t happy, no one else is really happy. Then I felt led to share a story with her.

I told her about my friend Rachel Cunning. I met Rachel on Twitter. She was a thirty something professional who was suffering from Lupus when we met. She was a lively and engaging tweeter, posting links to interesting topics and offering witty comebacks up and down my timeline. She tweeted in passing that she was spending Christmas alone. Immediately I perked up. No one should be alone at Christmas unless they choose to, is my belief, handed down to me by my own mother. Now let me confess, I am not the most sociable person. I am no social butterfly who loves to entertain. Not me, no Siree. But Christmas has always been a time for family and food and fellowship and so I reached out to her. She immediately accepted my invitation to dinner. It was a bit of a logistical challenge for me as she was not mobile and she lived all the way in Portmore, miles and miles away from my Coopers Hill home. But I planned around it, picked her up early, and warned her that she would have to watch me cook and prepare and just spend the day with me. I got a bedroom ready for her in case she needed to rest and took out blankets and socks since Coopers Hill is delightfully cool at this time of the year. I fussed for nothing. Rachel fit right in with the family and we all embraced her immediately. Our other guests came later in the day and December 25 2016 was another warm, enjoyable, fun time.

One Wednesday in early October I spoke to Rachel. She was in hospital but was upbeat that she would be discharged on the weekend. I was supposed to call her that weekend to make arrangements to get something to her later that week or so. I didn’t call her. The weekend passed and on the Monday morning heading out I remarked to Nick that I had to call Rachel “today today today.” Imagine my horror when I saw “RIP Rachel” on my twitter timeline later that Monday morning. Two phone calls later confirmed the worst: Rachel had passed away in hospital the previous evening. 

“Life is short” I told my colleague. “At the end of the day, is whatever you’re holding on to really worth it?

By this time, we had parked and exited the car. All the nice poinsettias were sold off. But I wasn’t disappointed. I had the distinct feeling, almost certain knowledge, if you will, that the drive out for poinsettias was not really about poinsettias, but more about the delivery of a well needed, perfectly timed message to my colleague that could potentially impact her life and her family’s life for the better: something infinitely better than potted plants for my home.

This morning she came in late and came straight to my desk. She was beaming and bubbling as she pulled up a chair.

“I know you were disappointed about the poinsettias, Kelly. But I have to tell you, I think the reason for our little outing was bigger than poinsettias.”

She shared how late into the night she wrestled with the challenge I offered her. She felt compelled to reach out to her sister-in-law to resurrect family dinner on Christmas day. She had discussed it with her husband and children and they all eagerly encouraged her to reach out. They were in full support. She eventually Whatsapped her sister at 7:30 this morning and almost immediately her phone rang. Sister-in-Law was on the other end, happy and eager to pick up where they had left off two years ago. My colleague told me that she felt a great weight off her shoulders and lightness in her heart. She was excitedly working out menu plans and best of all, the family was going to be together for Christmas. She knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that she had done the right thing. I have a feeling that this Christmas will be a very special Christmas for that family.

Is there a fractured relationship that you need to address? Christmas is as good a time as any to deal with it. 

Is there a lonely person in your circle that you can include in your plans? Christmas is a great excuse to intrude. 

Are you the lonely one? Are you the hurt one? I am sorry for your pain and hurt. I encourage you to reach out. You’d be surprised at the welcome waiting for you at the end of that call or text message. 

Here’s to an abundance of love and happiness this Christmas. 

Courtesy Marion Ann


 

Ever heard of Conversational Intelligence?

NOTE: Today is my penultimate working day of 2017 (Yay!) and I wanted to share some learnings that I’ve found useful in this last quarter of the year. “Conversational Intelligence” by Judith Glazer is a must read, and the following is merely my own takeaway from her stellar work. This was meant to be a LinkedIn post, but all truth is parallel, they say, and the same principles that we can apply in a professional context to improve relationships are applicable in our personal life. So I’m sharing here. Feel free to take and apply whatever you need. Happy New Year!

Dysfunctional organisational culture. Toxic relationships. Self- doubt. Mistrust. Misaligned objectives. Perverse metrics. Silo-ed-approach to business. Misunderstandings. Wasted time. Defensivenes.

All of the above are directly related to the quality of the conversations we have. The culture of an organisation and the ease (or not) of interpersonal relationships do not exist in vacuum. Think about it. The intangible “this is how it is around here” results from how we relate to each other.
Courtesy Jane Genova
How Dysfunction Looks
Ever sat in a meeting, listened to the usual suspects pontificate on and on, listen to silence when feedback is solicited, leave the room and see the mini meetings taking place in huddles across the department? Ever wondered why your partner just can’t seem to understand why this is so important to you yet does nothing to change the way they operate? Ever yearned to get into your teenager’s head to understand just how the heck they came to make that decision to carry out that act? Ever stepped back aghast that your friend or colleague took offence to that off-hand remark you made the other day?
Meaning resides in the Listener
The person speaking assumes that what he means to convey is what the person on the other end understands. After all, words have meanings, and when put together in a sentence can only have one meaning, the meaning the speaker ascribes to the sentence. Right? Not so fast.
There is a difference between Intention and Impact. You see, both the speaker and the listener don’t exist in a sterile environment where the only variable are the words being bandied about. There is a context that absolutely determines how something is said and how it is interpreted. What is this context? It comprises a number of factors: past experiences, how the person was raised, personal values, expectations, …and biology.  Biology? Yes.
Courtesy The American Negotiation Institute
Why don’t they get it?
Uncertainty and fear are the two biggest hindrances to effective communication. They are the filters which have the biggest potential to distort meaning leading to the attributes that kicked off this essay. Where there is ambiguity, our brain naturally and instinctively fills in the gaps.
Simply put, our brains operate at two levels: a more primal, instinctive level where we react to unfamiliar, potentially hostile situations in a particular way, with the sole aim being self-preservation, the old fight or flight response, if you will. Then there’s our higher order brain which is more capable of interrogation, judgement, linking facts, and rational responses. This part of our brain does not operate instinctively, but we can learn how to train it such that we are more mindful and deliberate and intentional in how we converse with those around us.
Judith Glazer in her book “Conversational Intelligence” quite appropriately described what our brain does in the face of this uncertainty as “creating a script and playing a movie” that fills in the blanks in the World According to Us. In the face of ambiguity, our more primitive lower brain kicks in and creates a scenario where we go into protective mode. The result is a chain reaction of distrust which blocks effective communication.
But we can fix it!
Here is how we can, by understanding the biology at work, move beyond an instinctive posture to a more deliberate one aimed at creating constructive conversations:
1.       Listen without judgement. Listen. Make the effort to hear what the other person is saying without running them through your personal filters.
2.       Ask Discovery type questions. These are not yes or no answer questions. These are more how and why ones. Asking questions aimed at uncovering the real message being conveyed allows you the listener to suspend the judgement mentioned in 1. above and clears the path so that all that remains is What Is Meant to Be Conveyed.
3.       If you are the one conveying a message, then you have to be aware that the listener will most likely interpret what you are saying based on his own filters. This will force you to address fears and concerns that you think they have up-front in your messaging, again clearing the way for What Is Meant to Be Conveyed. You should also feel free to ask the listener to tell you what they got from what you were saying. This creates the opportunity to clarify and refine your message.
4.       An environment of openness and acceptance are a must for points 1 through 3 to flourish. Easier said than done though, right?  What if you are not the one in the position of leadership with the implied authority to create such and environment… is all lost?
No. YOU can contribute to a cleared pathway for effective communication by adopting points 1 and 2 above: listen without judgement and ask discovery type questions. In the absence of an open and accepting environment this could be difficult, but still doable. And slowly, you could see a paradigm shift in the quality of your own relationships with those around you. It’s a start.  
As we build our conversational intelligence we’ll see the quality of our conversations evolve along this continuum:
TELL/ASK >>>>>>>ADVOCATE/INQUIRE>>>>>>>>SHARE/DISCOVER
It is when we are operating in the share/discover mode that conversations are most productive and where dysfunction in relationships and culture disappear.
A Personal Commitment to Building Conversational Intelligence
Going forward, let us, wherever we are, regardless of our position of power in the relationship, seek to create a new context, one that minimises fear, doubt, uncertainty and ambiguity. Here are some suggestions as to how we can do this:
Maintain an open posture: be open to new thoughts and ideas and let this inform your body language and choice of words.
Display appreciation: saying thanks and acknowledging good quells fear. And that’s a good thing, right? Because fear distorts meaning and blocks understanding.
Focus on Discovery in the conversation rather than seeking to make your own point.
Practice Empathy and Curiosity: This narrows the gap between expectations and reality, the root of ambiguity and uncertainty.
Here’s to a 2018 where we level up and become better parents, partners, leaders and servants by creating a context where fear and ambiguity are minimized and where sharing and discovery can thrive, and conversations are meaningful and productive. 
Courtesy Wheeler Blogs

Happiness at Work: Why does it even matter?

Last night I saw a RT by #OOMF on Twitter: “Being Happy at Work Matters.”  To be honest, had it not been retweeted by this person, I’d have skipped straight past it. But his past recommendations and RTs have been pretty spot on and relevant, on so I clicked on the link. This HBR article started out immediately debunking the common view that how you feel and the quality of your relationships at work don’t really matter.  Many of us think we can safely separate how we feel about what we do and who we do it with at work and our performance.
Guilty as charged. I once had a colleague that I was not fond of, and I’m pretty sure he felt the same way. We managed to handle our respective portfolios despite the growing acrimony and dare I say malice that was growing between us. But one day things came to a pretty pass. I erupted in a meeting, decrying the unit that he was assigned to and what I perceived to be their approach to the mission at hand, and he rose to my very vehement and aggressive challenge and pushed back in a most admirable manner. I punched back hard…damned hard… and a few days later he called me and asked if we could talk. I had a feeling that this was going to get all touchy-feely but I pretended that we were going to discuss some work related issue and agreed very breezily. So we met and he said that he wanted our relationship to improve. I assumed the alpha dog position and looked at him with great incredulity and asked him why in hell he thought that was of any importance. I don’t think that was the response he expected or wanted. You see, I had zero desire to be his friend. I felt very justified in taking this stance. This individual had been more than rude in the past and to my mind, too cursory in his handling of matters of strategic importance. He had effectively pissed off several members of my own team, and I had very good reason to believe that he enjoyed this sterling reputation across the wider organisation.  I figured that how we felt about each other could at best lubricate our interactions and up the pleasure quotient, but I strongly believed that I could relate to him and get the job done without having to like him. And I told him as much. The discussion ended the way it started, two colleagues no closer to smiling and getting along.  
So when this article claimed that the quality of your output at work is directly linked to your happiness and the quality of your relationships at work, and that neuroscience supports this claim, I sat up a little straighter. This wasn’t mere drippy feel good opinions being pushed at us, here was some science challenging my cosy, self-contained world.  There are, the article claimed, clear neurological links between feelings and thoughts and actions.  Apparently, in the face of strong negative emotions (think anger, distrust, resentment) our ability to process information decreases, creativity declines and decision making is compromised! Anger and frustration effectively shut down the thinking part of us and we cope by doing this: we mentally check out, or as the experts say, we disengage. 
So despite how well we think we are coping in a sub optimal work environment, we really are not! A sub-optimal work environment could be one where you feel that you don’t get enough support from above, where you feel that your efforts are not appreciated, where you perceive that others doing less than you are progressing while you remain stagnant, where your evaluations are unfair, where your compensation does not match the value you bring to the organisation, where fear drives decision making, where form trumps substance, where you are underutilized, where you are over-worked, and so on and so forth. You think you are delivering, but you really are not being all that you can be due to compromised cognitive processing and shut off valves that you unconsciously activate in an effort to  protect your core.
So if this is the situation, what is the remedy? The article proposed that a happy, engaged workforce results when there is a meaningful vision of the future, a sense of purpose and great relationships prevail. Daniel Pink too maintains that stakeholder engagement results from three things: autonomy, mastery and a sense of purpose. Sure, at the individual level, you can accept responsibility for building great relationships. But that is only one aspect of happiness at work.
Most of us feel as if we can’t affect the vision of the future or inbue a sense of purpose to what we do. We feel as if it is the role of leadership to create that environment where we can thrive. And that indeed is so! I could never pretend that it is the role of effective leadership to ensure that team members feel connected to a bigger vision, that they have the freedom to create and produce and that they are given the opportunity to develop and to be all that they can be. So what happens when leadership is found wanting? Are we destined for unhappiness at work and therefore sub-par performance?
I am very, very unwilling to allow my own performance to depend on the actions of someone else. So I challenged myself to think of how I, not at the top, but not at the bottom, could create more happiness and feelings of good will at work such that my brain would work properly, my creativity would be given free reign, and my decision would be clear, straightforward and efficient.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Be the Leader you wish you had… trite but worth considering. If you are actively seeking to influence your own orbit, you will likely build solid relationships across, down and up, and this working towards a better future will likely fill you with positive feelings and energy.
       
Create your own Vision.  Find something:  a phrase, a direction, a goal from the grand Organisational mission and distill it down to a bite sized vision directly applicable to your role and make it the driver of your actions and decisions. Even when there is obvious and blatant misalignment between what you see around you and the stated organizational goals, you can still carve out relevance to your situation and make it work for you.
In an unhappy work environment, we unconsciously cope by disengaging and shutting down.  Perspective, though, allows us to deal more reasonably with perceived disappointment and disillusionment. We in fact alter perspective when doing 1 & 2 above. But I think we can also shift our perspective from what we consider to be a hopeless, dysfunctional work environment by compensating though building interests and purpose and happy experiences outside of the work environment. Think volunteerism, hobbies, activities that use your best talents and so on.
I wonder about how happiness at work affects men and how it affects women. My own informal recollection is that I know more men than women that have walked out of jobs because they were unhappy with the job. Women seem to hold on and persevere despite being less than satisfied with the work environment. Many years ago my own mother proffered the view that men define themselves though their jobs, so-called “job satisfaction” being of paramount importance in their personal matrix. I don’t know… worth thinking about. 
I can’t say that in my 20 year career that I have ever worked in a single context that I would describe as optimal. I’m not even looking for perfect, but I am looking for a context where I learn, where I am inspired, where I am valued and compensated accordingly, where I can’t wait for tomorrow to come. But throughout these 20 years I have very deliberately done things outside of these sub-optimal contexts that paid my bills, preparing for the future and as a way to cope. I’ve put myself in the role of perpetual learner (I’m happiest when I’m learning) and ensured that I have constantly retooled and gotten the certification to prove it. I’ve taken up different hobbies along the way (writing, cooking, and I’m about to take up photography). I’ve had the honour of building relationships with a few select switched-on colleagues and mentors who to this day enrich my professional activities with their sage practical advice and their willing ear.

I do have my periods of abject disenchantment, but I try to remain hopeful, and I especially compensate in the ways I described just now.  This is now even more important given the link between happiness and effectiveness. I still hope to find that work environment that ticks the boxes of compelling, clear vision and purpose, where functional, good relationships at work predominate. I’m pretty sure I have a part to play in creating this environment.
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