I spent a couple days last week not enjoying them. I contracted the common cold and I, being a man, turned into a snot-nosed, drawly zombie who’s thirst is quenched only by at least 64oz of orange juice. Three days later I returned to being human. Women seem to have this resilience to work through colds or for them, more aptly named inconveniences. They somehow shrug them off while the germs slowly decay over time all while maintaining their fullest dignity. Conversely my dignity is reduced to carrying a tissue box as an accessory. This isn’t however, a comparison between sexes. It’s about another affliction entirely that befell me during those two arduous days. Time Warp.
Time is Fleeting
When I went down, gravity inexplicably increased on the sands of time. What was but a short morning felt like weeks. Weeks I had wasted, not moving forward on long-term goals while my body fought back it’s attacker. Where the day prior I was no closer to these goals, yet the next, I was three steps back. The world moved on without me and as I lay, humidifier on full blast, I wondered if this sudden mental shift is a shared experience.
Madness Takes its Toll
Getting sick is involuntary. No one wants that. So when a force beyond your control causes you to slow down, it amps up the emotions or feelings we might have had prior but did not take heed in listening to. This notion reminds me of when I was in college during finals week each semester. The best nights of sleep came after my last final. It wasn’t because that day alone was exhausting, it was that the last two weeks had been. My focus had been on studying and not sleeping so my mind postponed that feeling. Our drive to get things done can overpower what our body is physically telling us and it only catches up when we give it the chance.
During my second day of sniffles, I considered what emotions I might have been putting off. I realized the largest was procrastination. I had been weighing a couple lifestyle changes I wanted to make but hadn’t been committed to the research. Layering on top of this, a few outstanding tasks that were gnawing at my ankles. Previous weeks, I was telling myself I’ll do it all tomorrow or save it for the weekend. Now, getting a cold removed those options and I was left facing my own reality. I could no longer say I just didn’t want to today, it became I couldn’t and that put me over the edge. Outwardly, I expressed frustration and pointed it merely at not feeling well and being bored but that was a cover up. What I really felt was disappointment and regret of my own inactions. All those days of not doing and postponing finally caught up. Time Warp achieved.
But Listen Closely
When we’re handed moments of stillness, it can help us reset by gaining clarity and alignment on what emotions we’re feeling or what our bodies need. Finding time to practice this regularly can help tremendously in avoiding a shock to the system. Even fifteen minutes a week can help. I think this is why so many people look to meditation. Maybe I need to add this to my list of lifestyle changes. However you do it, try not to be me and wait till you’re forced to by an invasion of germs. If you do, it’ll hit you harder than a zombie horde banging down your door. Though, you may find one not looking for brains but Vick’s Vapor Rub. Please toss it to him. He needs it to sleep.
I’ve previously discussed the importance of keeping wants in parallel with needs. With a constant barrage of needs in our lives, it might be difficult to perceive how one could bring our wants up to par. Instead, what if we could reduce our needs? What if, to one thing today, you had said no?
What No is and What it Should be
Most of us shrink when reading that last sentence. We’ve been conformed to believe the word is negative, forbidden, and frowned upon. I want to change it to be empowering, taking back control, and committing to your well-being. When you tell someone no you’re prohibiting an action or call to action. Yet, when a request comes to us, despite our internal desires to say no we say yes. Later confiding to others that “This is dumb, I don’t have the time and I don’t want to do it.” What then, drives our almost immediate inclination to agree?
Against our will, fear can drive our unsolicited affirmation. Afraid of how others would react. To be seen as incompetent or not a team player. We can feel guilty. That after saying no, you’ve let them down, that they’ll think less of you. These dark thoughts limit our courage to say no even when we’re fully aware we can’t commit wholly. In the end, when we say yes but mean no, we’re inhibiting ourselves to Show Up. As counter-intuitive as that sounds here’s how: saying yes when we mean no means we’ve relinquished control of our actions, allowing them to be dictated by others. That loss of control leads to stress and anxiety and anxiety consumes energy. Without energy, we don’t do things we want to do. Without doing the things we want to do, we can’t Show Up to things we need to do.
How Do We Say It?
There’s two things I’ve learned that build up my courage to say no. The most important is that declining cannot stand alone. It requires definition and reasoning. Why are you saying no? If speaking honestly, and your reasons are how you feel, it’s tough for someone to judge in the ways we’re so fearful about. The second is that yes and no don’t have to be the only answers.
One for Family
When someone requests something of us, they’re usually not aware of other time commitments or wants and so that responsibility falls to us to communicate. This gives perspective on how their request might fit into your grander plan. A request should not be a one way transfer of information. They require negotiation, compromise, and understanding. Similar to my logo with arrows facing each other, people can come together in the same way. My wife and I are consistently asking “What are you going to do?” At face value a harmless inquiry but it’s much more. What we’re really saying is “I want to open the floor for conversation on our individual wants and needs.” Now, eighty-percent of the time it’s met with “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” because we’d both rather bend a little for the other. Love right? Other times the conversation goes something like this where my wife might start by asking…
What are you doing to do today? I was wanting to read for a little, then I need to mow the lawn, and after I’d like to play video games. That’s a good plan, do you think we could put up curtains today? Hmm, does it need to be done today? No, tomorrow is fine too, I wanted to get them up before Monday. Ok, let’s do it tomorrow morning.
Before out rightly making her request, she wanted to know where I stood. It’s a fantastic toe dip into in any conversation. Showing that you’re curious by asking open-ended questions shows you care and want the full download. Charging right into a demand creates a sense of urgency which could lead to a yes but means no – not beneficial to either party. Outside of emergencies, it’s worth the extra time to use gauging questions like “What’s on your mind?” or “What do you have to do today?”
When asked to put up curtains my internal rebuttal was no. Still, I remained curious myself and I felt I needed more information. My wife then divulged that it didn’t have to be till Monday in which I agreed to. Referring back to my two courage building techniques, after I gave her the run-down of the day she was able to infer that video games after mowing is my time to recharge. This was my why. I didn’t have to be explicit since she was able to read between the lines. We’re married and we can do that. Remember, without doing our wants, we can’t Show Up fully to our needs. Second, I never said the word no. Here there was a third option of later.
Two for Work
The next example is in a professional setting. Knowing that the relationship isn’t a marriage, we can’t leave anything to chance and must be more direct.
It’s our responsibility to communicate our wants and needs.
Hey Nick, I sent you an email for some information the executives need. Do you think you could compile and have it by today? Maybe. I read the email and I need some clarifications. Are we wanting to see it by geographical region or by warehouse? By region. Region will take about two hours, I’m not sure I could get it done today. Here’s what on my list for this afternoon: Need A, Need B, Want A. I at least want to keep Want A to keep making progress on that longer-term project but I also think both Need A and B are more time-sensitive. Other departments are relying on one and the other our entire team utilizes heavily in getting their weekly word completed. I agree. Could we have it by tomorrow at noon? That would work much better.
To start with, what they could have done better is by asking a gauging question instead of straight to business. What if I wasn’t feeling well that afternoon? What if a family matter had come up? After learning more of where someone stands, they may opt to not even make the request. Since this didn’t happen, I had to insert my wants and needs myself. In the same breath, I stated my why for each along with my preliminary no.
This could have gone a different way. Since I was speaking with my direct manager, I left open the opportunity to shift around the needs if they felt the new request was of higher importance. If so, our conversation would have been longer discussing which of the two needs, or both, would be delayed all while protecting my want. This scratches the surface of cultures where executive’s requests are somehow the most important, drop everything, do it now fire drill but in reality disrupt multiple people and their work and inevitably suck up more time than anything else but I digress.
Three for Us
At this point you might be thinking ‘Hold up, both these situations in the end you ended up agreeing to the request. What about when it comes to saying no altogether? No compromising to be had.’ I will say it was easier to use those actual examples to break down the individual parts and expand on differences between environments. Respectfully saying no doesn’t come with flair and will be our last example.
Hey Nick, did you want to go to brunch with us on Sunday? Where you going? *Insert restaurant where the food is not great and the only reason you’d go is for mimosas* No, I’ll pass. I want to stay home and get some reading done.
I Can’t, My Llama Needs a Bath
When it comes to giving your No a why, make it the truth. People will eventually see through lies. Once they do, they fabricate their own truth. If your fifth-time excuse to not attend game night is we’ll be putting the two-year old down which takes two hours, they might begin believing you don’t want to spend any time with them or you’re holding a grudge. Worse yet, maybe aren’t as good of friends like they thought. I’m not a parent yet but I know baby sitters exists.
Countless times I’ve declined invitations to “go out” because truthfully, I had plans to play my new video game that night. I used to be afraid of the judgement that would come from it but I realized people think quite the opposite. I get responses from “I respect that” to “What game is it?” to “I’m jealous, I’d rather binge watch that new show on Netflix than go but my other friend is dragging me.” Don’t allow your actions to be dictated by others. My true friends have learned that if they want me to attend an event, I need adequate time to mentally prepare. As an introvert, depending on the intensity, social interactions lean more towards a need than a want. I have to plan time to get my wants up to par.
The idea of saying No is taking control of your day. If you have a plan, own it. Not to say you can’t be flexible, the first examples showed you can be and still say no with grace and professionalism. Define your no with supporting information and stick to the truth. Turn no into not today, maybe, or next time. Please though, if it is next time make sure you mean it and you can commit!
Lastly, if you do in fact own a Llama, I’d like to know if you’ve ever used that as a valid reason!
An average nights sleep being constant, we dutifully approach each day with relatively equal amounts of vigor. We have about sixteen hours to do it all before we sink into our next bedrest. Society splits our days into two sections. Work and Out of Work. Work being a job, whatever form that takes for you, and life outside of work alluding to the common phrase of work/life balance. I’ve had a problem with this phrase for a while and I’ve landed at a few conclusions as to why.
Why It’s Broken
We Gain, We Lose
A “balance” implies that to gain any traction in one, the other must be lessened. If one wants to grow rapidly within their career, sacrifices must be made to other pursuits of life. The only way to get ahead is to commit longer hours and invest considerable energy into work projects. So much, that once outside of work, there’s none left for socializing or enjoyable activities. Unconsciously going through a dinner, TV, Facebook then bed all to repeat the cycle. Visually, we can think of it as an X on a graph. One goes up, the other down.
Work vs. Life
The work life balance also represents a dichotomy between the two. Separate entities independent of each other with no influence on the other. Some attempt to keep them separate by leaving work talk at work. However, one can’t leave the emotions brought out by work at work. Emotions are contagious. Have a conversation with someone beaming positivity and you’ll find yourself thinking the sun is brighter that day. Emotions can not only spread through others but between activities. Stress, fatigue, frustration, impatience, can be your passengers home from work. So can happiness, fulfillment, and excitement.
You Can’t Stop the Flow
Finally, is work not part of life? Whatever you do, traditional job or not, there’s an aspect of work to it. Earning an income to support ourselves or others is mandatory and we have to do it. Even if you “love what you do” you’re still forced to work at it. That’s life – and a large portion of it. Over half our waking sixteen hours. I don’t see these two parts represented as an or. We don’t have an on off switch in our brains that says “Time to start thinking about work now, life switch off.” They’re connected. Our emotions are like pipes running through us. There’s no separate connections for each section. Nor can we block a flow of emotions we felt at work when we get home. If we do, we can explode onto ourselves or an innocent bystander.
We need to rethink how we approach this concept. Instead of work and life, let’s call it what it is and replace it with wants and needs. What we NEED to do over what we WANT to do. Instead of a balance, think of as parallel lines instead of the X. This is one instance where I believe we can have our cake and eat it too. We do this by netting out our needs by making time for our wants.
Keep It Even
If you knew me well, you’d know that in times of stress or heavy workload, I reserve more time in a day for myself. I prioritize activities I want to do. Video games, exercising, reading, and doing puzzles to name a few. Instead of waltzing through free time unconsciously, I’m being deliberate in things that bring me joy. I bring my wants to the same level of needs. However, your wants and needs are limited by time. Restricted by those sixteen hours again. Luckily, it’s also our control limit, our ceiling. If I get to a point where there isn’t enough time to do an equal level of both, I know I need to adjust my needs down. If I get behind on my needs, wants are slowly brought back down. This completely breaks down the gain or lose dichotomy and instead gives it a positive relationship. If we Show Up to the things we want to do, it helps us better manage how we Show Up to things we need to do.
Timing is Everything
In order for our formula to work, we can’t push out our wants. They need to coincide with the needs. Don’t tell yourself “I’ll do what I want this weekend and it’ll make up for all the late nights I’ve been having.” Looking forward to big to-dos and vacations to be rejuvenated is a trap. It feels amazing in the moment but once we’re back, we immediately look towards the next big thing. You’re telling yourself that tomorrow just won’t be as rewarding and that the needs are going to be equally if not rougher as before the grand event. Over time, the intensity of the needs is too much and we begin cracking. I’m not saying never take extended times of wants. They alone do not net out the daily needs. We need breadcrumbs along the way.
A day requiring high need, requires high want. Time dedicated specifically for me with zero excuses of skipping. Be intentional in what you want to do. I begin planting my bread trail when I first wake up. Instead of churning the tasks, meetings, expectations, errands, chores, logistics, commitments, time constraints, and energy required of you today, define your want and at what point you take it. Whatever it is, remember it has to be intentional and to keep it all in parallel. So go on, take on life, both the wants and needs of it.
I believe that leaders can be anyone, regardless of title, who are willing to invest time and energy in others in the pursuit of growth. That aside, let’s be more specific to leaders in title, or managers. These managers set the tone for the rest of the team and are held at a higher standard. One expectation of managers, and probably one of the toughest, is giving feedback. These conversations require tact and keen observation in the moment. What’s troublesome is that most managers are either unequipped or unwilling to have these conversations. Although it’s an older Harvard Business Review article and the population was small, the numbers still surprised me. Two-thirds of the managers surveyed are uncomfortable in this setting.
As the article suggests, on the opposite end, employees yearn for valuable feedback. Teammates in their first or second position are especially interested in feedback. They’re on their maiden voyage in unexplored waters.
Setting sail from the shores of schooling where their habits and tendencies may have been more…in the wind. These younger professionals are at their most impressionable and therefore feedback is critically important. If executed correctly, feedback can quickly course correct an otherwise oblivious captain from rough waters.
Not All are Created Equally
The best feedback I’ve gotten has always been in the moment or shortly after. Whatever occurred is still fresh in the mind and it’s easier to reflect on where I went wrong and the subsequent correction for next time. Timing is crucial and the most important factor in feedback. Timing can ruin decent, productive feedback. Maybe after an interview…
I was going for my second promotion within a company and after learning it wasn’t my time, I was told the following: “Over the past few months, a few managers have told me you appear apathetic in meetings. Some of your actions, like leaning back in your chair and making slight comments gives off the impression you aren’t engaged. I know that’s not entirely true but it’s something you need to work on. That was a factor in preventing your advancement.”
In the moment, I was saddened over being passed up. Afterwards, my melancholy mood was replaced by disappointment. It was legitimate and valid, I should not have been doing either but the timing was all wrong. It was striking that at a time when it really mattered, this was the first I’d heard of it. I kept getting hung up on “Over the past few months.” Months? This could have been a non-issue. I was engaged in meetings. In fact, I believed to be more engaged than others as when I was leaning back, it forced me to look up and away from the stream of e-mails on my laptop. Unfortunately, the position comes more natural to me. I’ve never been one to sit correctly and even as I’m writing now, my leg is tucked underneath the other. It takes only a brief moment to check myself at the door but taking a more professional stance in meetings was a quick correction and I did benefit from it in my next opportunity. I continued to wonder though, how long that feedback had been kept a secret because someone lacked the courage to give it.
We Can Show Up
I was personally reminded of how much courage that can actually take last week. An opportunity came up to flex that muscle by giving a small piece of feedback to a co-worker. To my regret, I missed taking advantage of it. I made excuses claiming office politics or that the responsibility to tell them lies not with me. Reflecting later, it went against my own definition of leadership and my mantra of Showing Up. I know all too well what it feels like to be withheld constructive feedback. Who am I to deny what was once denied to me? We can’t expect courage without it being in ourselves first. Nevertheless, it was only a speed bump and not a dead end. There’s always road ahead.
Another excuse I hear we make to ourselves is that over time, without intervention, it’ll get better. We’ll deal with it. Someone else will tell them. It’s just the way they are. We convince ourselves of these notions and allow it to creep into every interaction with them seeding animosity. After it doesn’t get any better, we conjure another excuse. “It’s been so long it will be awkward now.” Indeed the conversation will be harder. The alternative though is living with a permanent stain in a one-sided relationship. You suffer, while the other could have no idea the angst they’ve been causing. They believe inquiring about life out of work is small-talk and building a relationship. In reality, because of tone or choice of words, it may be received as intrusive.
The best thing we can do for each other is routinely take pulse checks and create spaces where feedback is normal. Honesty truly is the best policy here. Heed the pointers from the article remember that early is always easier. If you do find yourself in a spot when it’s been happening for months, focus on recent examples. Be concise and stay away from broad characterizations. “Part of the image you are projecting to people is that you are always late” sounds much better than “You’re lazy.” The conversation won’t go perfect and words may get jumbled and that’s ok. Having the courage and decency to say anything is empowering in it’s own right.
No impactful decision comes without contemplation, evaluation of opportunity costs, and weighing pros and cons. It consumes even more energy when it’s for the first time. I think of these as thresholds – like through a door. The physical doors in our life can play tricks on us. We’ve all walked into a room and immediately forgotten our thoughts or why we walked in there the first place. Just the same, the metaphorical doors can have the same effect. You can scheme up a hundred possibilities but no matter how many practice rounds you take, it never goes exactly like you’d imagine after you stepped through. Once you’re in the arena, emotions take over rationale and you’ve forgotten it all. Luckily, understanding this truth is an amazing first step.
I separate these types of situations into two different terms. Experience thresholds, physically participating in an event for the first time, and relationship thresholds, the first few conversations with someone new. You can only do something new once while each relationship is unique.
Behind Door #1
Relationship thresholds can feel like a maze as even before that first interaction we can be influenced from all different directions. This is especially true in work cultures where rumors run rampant. For example, imagine you’re set to meet with a manager from a different department on a cross-functional project. You tell some of your co-works and it’s almost too easy for them to list off their two cents.
“I’ve heard that manager is all work and no feeling.” “I heard they’re combative in meetings.” “The emails I’ve been copied on are brash and passive aggressive.”
The first thing you should notice is those statements are not facts nor first-hand experiences. Regardless, after hearing this you prepare to match the managers intensity, getting your facts straight, and rehearsing exactly what you want to say. Then, ten minutes into the meeting, you realize everything you heard about them is not what you’re seeing. Where someone might see combativeness, you see passion. Where someone might see passive aggressive emails, you see clear direction.
In e-mail land, it’s so important to practice positive intent. Without hearing tone and seeing non-verbal cues, an innocuous message can be twisted by the receiver that may be desperate to find hidden meaning confirming their own bias formed from preconceived notions, from the rumors, about the sender.
The meeting ends without confrontation and you leave with high aspirations of the success of your project. Yet you wonder, “Where on earth could my co-workers have gotten those ideas?” It’s incredibly easy to accept other’s perceptions especially if you trust them. We need to remember that perception is function of experience. People, from their past experiences, react to others differently. The only way we can truly know is to step over the threshold into the unknown, first-hand. These first interactions may elicit some fear or nervousness.
For me, to quiet those fears is to think back to other threshold-crossing moments. Moments that turned out fantastic in the end. The sense of confidence and courage I felt afterwards. Why should this one be any different? Once you’ve done it once, it’s replicable. I also remind myself that regardless of the outcome, I will for sure learn something about them and if I’m lucky, something about myself.
Behind Door #2
Experience thresholds is doing a physical act for the first time. One of my thresholds I have yet to cross fully is flying. I flew often as a child, younger than six. As an adult, when we’re no longer indestructible, I’ve flown just once. A ninety minute flight to Illinois for a wedding. I know; statistically planes are safer than driving, I know that. I also know my definition of flying – Listening to the slow drone of engines keeping a one-hundred and fifty ton chunk of metal cruising at thirty thousand feet in the air and me being stuck in a small cabin with no control over any of it – Not conducive to my inner peace.
I want to cross this threshold though as I can see what’s on the other side. I’d love to visit other states and someday internationally to Rome or Ireland. I’m not sure what would happen if you fold in “over water hundreds of miles from land” to my personal definition. Probably s*** a brick, which would make the plane too heavy, then panic by running down the aisle which will also make the plane become unbalanced and now given that it’s too heavy, begin barrel rolling into a uncontrollable downward spiral towards a cold, shark-infested ocean where I can’t swim. Yup.
When considering to cross an experience threshold, hesitation comes when we have a fear of it. If it were exciting, we’d go for it immediately. When we’re fearful of what might happen, we’re mostly asking ourselves if we’ll regret it later. Chip Conley’s Emotional Equations tells us two things: we more regret instances where we didn’t do something over instances we did; and we tend to weigh short term pain over long term gain. To help guide us, he asks two questions. “Is it repeatable? Can it be repaired? If it’s not repeatable, beware of saying no. If it can’t be repaired (if something goes wrong) beware of saying yes.”
I haven’t had the opportunity to put this into practice with flying. My wife however, played this out beautifully a few years ago. She had the opportunity to spend a week in Greece…for $500. Two zeroes. Her first flight ever was with me to Illinois just a few months prior but instead of ninety minutes in air, she clocked in fourteen. Applying these questions:
Is it repeatable? Will you ever get the chance to spend a week touring Greece for 5 Benjamins? Doubtful, unless you win The Price is Right.
Is it repairable? This answer is situational and less direct. What you may be most worried about going wrong differs from someone else’s and the solutions to circumvent or rationalize those concerns will also differ.
In the end, her downsides were minimal and she earned a lifetime memory.
On the Other Side
Stepping through relationship or experience thresholds is an endeavor. It means getting out of your comfort zone, accepting you don’t know what comes next despite your careful planning and forethought. On the positive, it gives way to richness and fulfillment. Deeper relationships with co-workers or friends. My final reminder that it does get easier over time and for better or worse, you’ll learn a thing or two.