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Safety in the Air                               

My friend grew up living near a naval air base. As we talked at the reception following his mother's funeral, he commented how fitting it was to have heard the jets fly overhead as we were sitting in the sanctuary during the service.  “She loved those fly boys,” he said.  “Because she knew when the good guys were in the air, they were keeping the bad guys out.”

His mother had grown up during World War II, when physical safety had been threatened.  The “fly boys” gave her a feeling of security. 

In Abraham Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs, after physiological needs are met, Maslow says, the next level of needs to be addressed is Safety.  In our organizations today, this not only refers to physical safety on the job, but also to security of employment.  Many employees don’t feel safe at work because they fear losing their jobs.

In the current economy, few employees have absolute job security. “Will I be able to afford college for my kids?  How will I pay my mortgage?”  Even, “Will I be able to continue to put food on the table?” are all concerns.  Many employees are experiencing feelings of anxiety and worry.   These feelings are sometimes bottled up inside creating additional stress, isolation and low morale. 

Managers have an opportunity, even a responsibility, to address employee’s concerns around job security.  A good manager keeps the lines of communication open with employees.  Talking with employees is critical as we continue to move through uncertain times. 

Using the TALK© model that I’ve developed is a way to connect with employees.

T – Tell employees what you know about impending changes that may affect them

A – Ask employees for their input on solving challenges the department or organization is facing

L – Listen for and acknowledge feelings of anxiety, helplessness or fear

K – Keep employees in the loop.  Let them know that you will keep them informed whenever possible, as soon as possible.

Talk to your employees.

Tell.  Ask.  Listen.  Keep employees informed.  

You may not be able to guarantee job security, but talking with your employees, keeps conversation, like the “fly boys” in the air.  Keeping current information, and conversation in the air, communicates caring and can keep the “bad guys”, anxiety, worry and isolation “out” of your workplace.


So Many Hands                                         

In our home we are trying out a meal delivery service.  Last Thursday we received a large cardboard box, packed full of components for three meals. I eagerly took the box to the kitchen and opened it. For each meal, all of the ingredients arrive chopped, measured, assembled, sealed and labelled.  Everything is kept cool by frozen ice packs and bio-degradable insulation, packaged, shipped and plopped right on our porch.

That evening I prepared Meal #1 – chicken katsu with an Asian green apple slaw and pea-studded basmati rice.  I’d never made anything like that at home, but I know my way around the kitchen, so I jumped in.  I pulled out the ingredient packets, heated the oven, pulled out the pans, followed the directions … 35 minutes later – Ta-Daa! This delicious meal was on our table.

We said grace, including the words we often use, “Bless this food and the hands that prepared it.”  I realized as we began eating that there were a lot of hands involved in this meal.  Many more than just my two.  Sure, every meal has farmers and drivers and grocers galore behind it. But this time, I thought of the hands that had diced the onions, measured the spices, packaged the rice, labelled the sauce, loaded the box and sealed its edges.  We remembered the many hands who made our meal happen.

In every organization there are dozens of unseen people who contribute to the success of the business.  We may not often see them or be aware of them.  They may work on other floors, other buildings, or at home.  They may be analysts, designers, programmers.  They may work in business development or project management.  They crunch data, scrutinize trends, write articles, prepare reports, assemble presentations – on and on.  We may not seem them, but the work that they do allows us to reap the benefits of the product or service they provide.

We need to be mindful of how we all depend on each other.  We need to be grateful for the often-hidden contributions of those around us.  And, we need to take the initiative to recognize and thank all of the people who contribute so much to our success. 


Watch Your Speed                                       

Paul Simon sang to a hectic world, “Slow down, you move too fast.”  This is good advice for most public speaking.

You’ve noticed that people talk at various speeds.  For example:

  • Slow speech is usually regarded as less than 110 wpm, or words per minute.
  • Conversational speech generally falls between 120 wpm at the slow end to 160 - 200 wpm in the fast range.
  • Auctioneers or commentators who practice speed speech are usually in the 250 to 400 wpm range.

For fun, listen to Fran Capo, the world’s fastest talker, who’s been recorded as speaking an astounding 603 words per minute:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yaNyD3sTzLI

Good advice for beginning speakers is that of Paul Simon.  Slow down

Most conversational speech is too fast for speaking to a large group of people.  What you and your staff can easily follow in a meeting or discussion zips by too quickly in a public setting. 

When you speak in a banquet hall, auditorium, hotel conference room,  sanctuary, or gymnasium, you may need to consider a significant adjustment in your rate of speaking. You don’t want your audience to give up racing along to follow you (though you don’t want them finishing your sentences either!). 

The size of your audience isn’t the only variable to consider.  The location of your speech is also important.  People in New York City may be more likely to comprehend a faster pace than, say, an audience in Birmingham.  Some content can be delivered faster than others. Some occasions elicit more nervousness, causing us to talk faster. 

These are reasons why a good public speaking coach is valuable.  Pacing is more of an art form than a science.  Remember that a brief message, well delivered, can be more memorable than a speedy keynote.

A good coach can help you find the pace and rhythm that your listeners will enjoy.  


A Non-Anxious Presence?  Now??         

Maintaining a non-anxious presence in the face of high anxiety is nearly always overwhelming.  It’s often even much harder at the holidays.  Why is that – and what can we do?

Throughout the year we’re able to maintain a balance between individuality and closeness that “works” for our relationships.  Whether we call daily, visit weekly, or write once a year, that particular balance has become the norm for the people involved. Holidays disrupt that equilibrium, or homeostasis.  They invite us into a greater closeness than we’re accustomed to.  Whether it’s geographical or emotional closeness, either way, our anxiety starts to churn.  It bubbles up.  It can bubble over.  It can just plain explode.  

The hyper-polarized spirit of this election year can add to the potential for family conflict, but it’s not the cause.  It’s fuel on a fire that’s already burning, albeit low or strong.  An enforced closeness (or expectation of closeness), combined with difficulty in expressing ourselves in a calm way, often stokes the fire.  It leads to the holiday version of the Big Bang.

“But I can’t help it.  Uncle Rudy is such a jerk!  He always does that to me!”  This is a template for explaining our inability to control our feelings.  “It’s his fault, I can’t help it, she started it, it’s just who I am.”  But these explanations are, we know deep inside, only excuses. 

Only we are responsible for our own behavior.

No one else pulls our strings unless we willingly place them in their hands.

Rudyard Kipling wrote in his poem “If” that one of the hallmarks of emotional maturity – what he in his day called “manhood” – is the capacity to “keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” How do we “keep our heads” and move toward a less-anxious presence?

Family systems – based resilient leadership invites us to think through these interactions before they occur.  “Think process,” we say.  Don’t get caught in the content of the harangue, but be prepared to name the process that’s going on.  You can say, “I know you feel strongly about this, but I don’t want name-calling at the table,” instead of, “What do you mean she’s a crook?!”  Make your response observational instead of emotional.

Thinking process can include identifying your “emotional doorbells.”  We all have what we call “buttons” that, when they get pushed, set our inner alarm bells ringing.  If you name them, you can disconnect a few wires.  When your buttons get pushed, you’ll still feel the tingle, but if you’ve prepared for it you can get some emotional distance and not react so sharply.  You can say “I know what’s happening, this is what usually sets me off, but I can try something different here.”

Carolyn Hax, in her Washington Post advice column, recently counseled a husband to say to his verbally-aggressive wife, “I can see I’ve touched a nerve; do you need a moment?”  It’s a gentle way he can name the behavior vs. letting his buttons get pushed.  If that didn’t stop her attack, the husband could say, “I’ll step away for a bit.”

You can influence others’ behavior, but you can only control your own.  Be ready to meet aggression by simply observing and commenting on what’s happening at the moment.

Time in solitude is a key ingredient to helping our thinking govern our emotions.  Practice taking quiet time for meditation, prayer, silence, rhythmic breathing, reflection – whatever calms your internal agitation.  Cowboys taught us:  when we’re less jittery, we’re less trigger-happy.  Calmness in the face of anxious aggression saves lives – as well as jobs, families, and relationships.

Solitude in these busy weeks is essential.

The holidays can be a good time to practice adopting a non-anxious presence – or at least a less-anxious presence.  Take heart!  What you can attempt in a heated family relationship can be practiced again more easily at work or elsewhere. 

So if you want a Happier New Year – start this month!  It’s a present your family will value for years to come.