Monthly Archives: March 2016

Series on Stress Management: 24 hours in a day

Sometimes the humdrum of daily life and working for a living makes us forget what really are the most important elements of our life…read on to gain another perspective.

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A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full.

The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes.’The professor then produced two beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed. ‘Now,’ said the professor as the laughter subsided, ‘I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.

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The golf balls are the important things—your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else—the small stuff. ‘If you put the sand into the jar first,’ he continued, ‘there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.

The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. There will always be time to clean the house, fix the disposal or deal with things from your job.

Take care of the golf balls first—the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The professor smiled and said, ‘I’m glad you asked.’ The beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers with a friend.

Series on Assertiveness: Meaningful dialogue

In the story below we see how important it is not lose equanimity even when faced with sudden disappointments or upsets. A true professional should attempt to convey his/her message in a neutral manner without ever being personally accusatory.

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Kim and Gretchen are both freelance graphic designers. A small publishing company had decided to bring out a new line of cookbooks, which would be very design intensive. Kim and Gretchen were both hired to work on the new line. Although they don’t know each other, they negotiated deals for themselves that come out to just about the same amount of money. Both of them were really excited about the new project. They were also gratified to get personal calls from Paul, the editorial director of the publishing company, who told them how great it made him feel to give them this break.

That was on a Friday. On the following Monday, the phone rang again in Kim’s studio, and in Gretchen’s also. This time it wasn’t Paul. It was his assistant, who told the two designers that over the weekend Paul had thought about the new project and had decided to cancel it. He was sorry, but that was his decision, and thanks for your time.

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Kim was instantly furious. First she gave Paul’s assistant an earful, and then she quickly wrote an email to Paul himself. She told him that it had been extremely unprofessional to commit to something and then to suddenly back out of it. She mentioned that she had put other work on hold in order to keep herself available for this project, and now she had probably lost that business as well. Finally, she pointed out how gutless it was of Paul to make his assistant deliver the bad news. From a purely factual point of view, Kim was correct in just about everything she said.

Gretchen was also angry when she got the call from Paul’s assistant, but she knew that moments like this are the test of a professional’s people skills. She spoke briefly but politely with the assistant, and then, like Kim, she wrote an email to Paul. She disciplined herself to express her appreciation for the opportunity, as well as her disappointment that it was not going to take place. And she closed with the hope that even though this didn’t come through, perhaps there, would be another project down the road.

What was the outcome of the episode? First, within a year Paul was gone from the publishing company. His former assistant took over his job, and one of his first acts was to sign Gretchen on for some major new work. He thought of calling Kim as well, but she had seemed so angry that he was sure she wouldn’t want to work with him.

In a walkway situation, it is critical to address future possibilities, not current problems, and definitely not personalities. Resist the temptation to attack anyone personally. If the dialogue starts talking place on that level, people will just defend their self-esteem. Try to maintain a rational frame of mind oriented toward your long-term goals. If necessary, let the other blow off steam without your talking it personally. Make it clear that you know the conflict is about the issues, and it’s not personal. This will help to prevent the other side from feeling angry and defensive both now and when future opportunities come up.

Series on Assertiveness: Communicating Assertively

How important is it to effectively get across a point of view, most politely and without any offence? The story below demonstrates how assertive communication can go a long way in resolving difficult situations.

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Molly is thinking of quitting her job because of the demands of her boss that crossed her work-life balance boundary. Her boss would typically call, text, and email her questions and change orders at night and on weekends. When Molly tried to address this the last time, the conversation went something like this: Molly: “I really don’t like that I have to respond at night when I always complete everything on time at work and will take care of it first thing in the morning.” Boss: “There are times when I really need you. There are emergencies.”

Here’s where the conversation on Molly’s part ended. The boss wins a point in the match!Molly is tired of making her boss understand how his erratic requests are taking away the peace from her life.

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A few days ago, Molly attended a training program on Assertive Communication. As an action plan, she decided to practice assertive communication with her boss. So when she received yet another erratic text from her boss quoting there was an emergency, here’s how she replied – “That’s understandable and I will definitely be there in a big emergency. It will help if we can take a few minutes to define what constitutes an emergency so that we both have the support and work parameters we need. What would be three examples of emergencies in which I need to respond to at night?”

She really caught her boss off guard as he had never thought of what constituted to emergency. He merely used it as a convenient excuse to cover his inefficiencies.

By asking a question objectively Molly made sure that he boss doesn’t take her for granted. The idea was to collaborate and negotiate as necessary so that the boss feels taken care of and Molly’s boundaries are maintained. Assertive communication is not aggressive and can be strategically applied to every relationship and professional context.

Series on Assertiveness: Put yourself out there

To be able to move out of your comfort zone and behave differently requires an ability to think assertively and be positive regardless of the outcome.

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Jigar Parikh was working as an attorney at a New York law firm, and hated his job so he hired a personal coach to help him find a new profession. He soon, however, realized that the problem wasn’t his field; it was his firm. His coach encouraged him to build his network and secure enough clients to quit his job and start his own law practice. But Jigar was shy and uncomfortable reaching out to people he didn’t know. “I was someone who really held back,” he says.

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So Jigar started small. He made a commitment to talk about his budding law practice with one or two people each day. This proved to be harder than he thought. “I didn’t want my current employer to find out, so I had to be especially careful,” he says. And he struggled at the networking events he attended three or four times a week. But he didn’t want to fall down on his pledge so he soon found himself talking to strangers on the subway or in a restaurant. “I once talked to a doctor who was an entrepreneur himself and he gave me some great advice,” he says. “I had some amazing conversations.”

This all gave him the confidence he needed to leave the firm. “When you’re not assertive, you settle for things and I had a high tolerance for being in places where I was unhappy,” he says. Now he feels like a very different person. “Anyone who knows me now is shocked to find out that I was shy. But it’s not always easy. I still have to remind myself to get out there,” he says.

Series on Assertiveness: Make promises and keep them

Many times both professionally and personally we accept situations despite our misgivings. The story below highlights the stance taken by a filmmaker to consciously be assertive in all aspects of her life and how this so positively impacted her confidence levels.

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Katie Torpey is a filmmaker and screenwriter. Assertive executives and insistent dealmakers dominate the industry she works in. Katie was successful, making several movies and television episodes, but she often held back in meetings, rarely saying what was on her mind. Instead she said what she thought others wanted to hear. “I was a people pleaser. I didn’t want to piss anyone off or hurt anyone’s feelings,” she says.

When Katie pitched work to producers they often low balled her. “I was getting work, but I was not getting what I was worth.” She blames no one but herself. “I would take what they offered because I was afraid to demand my asking price,” she says. She was worried the project would fall through or they’d find another director. It became clear to Katie that this was hindering her career.

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To change, she made a promise to herself: if she left a situation without saying what she really wanted, she would have to remedy it within 24 hours. For example, when she walked away from a meeting without telling her boss that a product wasn’t actually ready, she forced herself to contact him within 24 hours to fess up. This practice paid off. After cleaning up several of her messes, she realized it was much easier to be assertive from the outset. “Living a life where you speak what you think and feel is so much more freeing than holding everything in,” she says.

This has changed her career for the better. “People respect me. I still have the same abilities but I now have more confidence. People know that I won’t take a job unless my heart’s in it and I’m paid well,” she says. And if producers ask her to take a lower price, she stands up for herself, saying, “I will do an excellent job for you, but you have to pay me my asking price.”

Series on Assertive Behaviour: The Three Guard Dogs

The story below demonstrates how the correct balance of being alert, proactive, friendly and calm can make anyone the most valued resource for an organization.

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A Morris the dog was walking past a property one day and he was suddenly confronted by a large black dog who barked ferociously through the fence at him. “What are you doing?’ asked Morris. “I’m guarding this property.” responded the black dog. “What are you barking at me for? asked Morris.

“Because you’re a threat. Everyone has the potential to break in and steal from me, so I’m not taking any risks and am barking at everyone.” Morris shrugged his shoulders and walked away, thinking about how much energy the black dog was unnecessarily wasting.

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The next day, he walked past the same property, but instead of being confronted by the vicious guard dog, he was met by a furry ball of fluff. “What happened to the large black dog?” he asked. “He annoyed his owners by barking all of the time, so they gave him away and replaced him with me.” replied the ball of fluff.

“You don’t look very scary.” observed Morris. “I’m not. You never have to worry about me being too angry.”

“What would you do if someone tried to steal from you?” asked Morris. “Why would anyone try to steal from me? I’m such a nice cute doggy that no-one would ever take advantage of me.” Morris shrugged his shoulders and walked away, hoping that the little ball of fluff would be OK.

The next day he walked past the same property and was met by a large golden retriever. “What happened to the little ball of fluff?” Morris asked. “Some intruders came last night and all he did was roll over to have his belly scratched while the place was ransacked.” replied the retriever.

“So, what’s your strategy for guarding this place?” asked Morris. “I’ve learned that not everyone’s a threat, so there’s no point in barking at everyone and keeping them at a distance, but I’ve also learned that being nice and polite won’t always cut it either as not everyone has my best interest at heart. Others will always know that I’m here, but I feel comfortable enough with myself that I don’t need to rant and rave to be heard or look after everyone else’s needs to be liked. I’ll just be calm and clear when communicating, decreasing the risk of being taken the wrong way.”

“I think I’ll be seeing a lot more of you,” said Morris, suitably impressed as he went on his way.

Let me encourage you to learn from this story that you don’t need to be an angry, rabid dog or a delightful ball of fluff to be successful in what you’re doing. Instead, learn to express yourself with clarity, honesty and calmness.

Teamwork Series: Together we win

Teamwork is not only about working in cohesion but also being able to think smart and help each other to achieve a win-win for all.

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The members of a gathering were given a task to perform. That was to eat laddus given to them. The only condition was that their right hand will be stretched and they have to find some means to eat the sweet without bending their arms.

When the time started to tick, most of them started throwing the laddus in the air and geared up moving towards it with their mouths wide open to catch the prize straight into their mouth. Behold!! As Expected, most of them failed and the laddus fell on the ground.

Just then two individuals who were seeing the complete drama unfolding before them had a spark. Both of them stood face to face before the other; their stretched hands were facing each other’s face; so the laddu of one man was eaten by the other without any difficulty and the other ate from his opponent’s hand.

Don’t you think this was a classic example of “Together we win”?