Saturday, March 10, 2018

Moving From Fear to Calm

I had the privilege of teaching my fourth group of recent immigrants who are aspiring entrepreneurs. As part of the Business Immigrant Mentoring Program (BIMP), this group of nine participants were, as usual, had plenty of questions for me to help them to understand the business culture in Canada. Surprisingly, most of the questions that these budding entrepreneurs asked were very similar to questions posed by non-immigrants. The two most prevalent common themes that emerged were the importance of learning to communicate effectively and the need to make connections that can further their businesses. What also came to light was that the fact that fear of making mistakes in achieving their goals around these two themes was the biggest obstacle to success.

This same fear is prevalent in the North American workforce. Two studies by the Faas Foundation in partnership with Mental health America and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence have shown that over 70% of the entire workforce are not fulfilled in their jobs, do not speak highly of their bosses, and are looking for other 
jobs. Sadly, this dynamic produces a culture of fear where bullying and unnecessary stress are the underlying reasons for 120,000 deaths per year due to stress at work in addition to the loss of productivity that translates to a $1.5 trillion loss to the economy annually. These statistics cannot be ignored if there is going to be any hope to bring civility and success into the workplace.

How do we move from a culture of fear to one where the workplace is psychologically safe, healthy and fair? This requires a conscious effort by all concerned to want to see a change. There must be a desire by enough people to embrace the ethic of reciprocity (The Golden Rule) and employ common sense.

The path to creating such a cultural revolution must always begin with us. We are reminded of this ever time we board an airplane. The flight attendant’s command is that when the airbag drops down due to a change in cabin pressure, place the mask on your face first, then assist others. This is how life works in general. We must be sure to have our own ‘house’ in order before we can effectively be of any assistance to anyone else.

Perhaps I am a slow learner; perhaps I am incredibly stubborn; perhaps my resistance to change is where my commitments lie, but up until recently, I have poo-pooed the importance of the breathing. Odd that we need to breathe to stay alive, yet when we can use this automatic function in a purposeful way, we can actually change our ‘world’ from fear to calm. We have all heard the directive, ‘now just calm down’. That is one of those friendly suggestions that so often fall on deaf ears simply because we have no idea how to actually accomplish this! Breathing is one very practical and successful answer. Try this the next time you are feeling stressed. Four nice long even breaths and a feeling of calm will begin to replace the fear and panic. And, we can then begin to process rational thoughts and figure stuff out again.

Once you have regained balance and are centered within yourself, encourage others within your circle to do the same. A calm state of mind allows us to more easily show respect to one another and to listen to what others have to say.

This change of behaviour is proving useful in schools. Schools are introducing time outs in the form of meditation breaks. This translates directly to the workplace as well. Many organizations are providing quiet rooms where people can take some time to regain their composure after a particularly challenging interaction with a co-worker or employer. A calm mind achieves clear thinking. A fearful mind thinks only of surviving the immediate moment. This is no way to live.

I really want to encourage everyone to honestly look at your life and ask yourself if you like what you are doing – both personally and professionally. Then go further and ask yourself why. If you aren’t feeling fulfilled or even safe, you need to be aware of this, and know that you can change this. Some of us may need to change jobs; some of us may need to edit our list of friends; some may realize that a professional counsellor would be helpful.

All of these choices are big changes for us to make. We need to remember to have compassion for those who are making our lives too challenging. We must also have compassion for ourselves. We are all human beings. We need to connect with one another for our very survival. But the people with whom we connect are our choice.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Pets and the Holidays

Some of our fondest memories are those times we spend with our beloved pets. Christmas is a time of year when we want our pets to be included as much as possible. We have cards created that include images of us with our pets; often all dressed up like Santa’s reindeer.  We celebrate and record these wonderful holidays and the deep connections we have with all family members, including our pets.

It’s important to remember that animals do not have the same understanding of the holidays that we have.  They will recognize that ‘life as usual’ changes into a sometimes confusing series of events that include new people and an irregular schedule. For some dogs and cats, these tumultuous times can be frightening. As responsible pet owners, it is our duty to be sure that any negative experiences are kept to a minimum. Many dogs love the holidays because there’s almost always food and everyone is in such a sharing mood that ‘treats’ were plentiful. As amusing as this may seem, serious consequences can result when dogs overeat or eat a ‘new to them’ combination of foods that can create havoc.

Years ago, I lived in a large house with many dogs. We usually had eight dogs living in the house and a very scheduled routine was the most effective way to incorporate that many dogs into a comfortable household. We always shared little treats of food from the table with them. They quickly learned that begging at the table was neither necessary nor was it tolerated. A few treats followed by a quiet verbal ‘ go lie down’ did the trick. But there was never a meal that went by without sharing with our entire family.

Not everyone welcomes animals into their homes. There are a variety of compelling reasons for them to have such house rules. I am constantly asked about how to tell people, including their own children, that their pets are not welcome. My advice is always to be honest and up front. The governing rule of etiquette here is that one’s home is one’s castle. This means the house rules that are in place should not be questioned and should be adhered to by everyone. During the holidays, travelling with pets to visit friends and family is challenging and stressful for all parties involved. Any travel plans that involve your pets should be crystal clear with your hosts. And you need to be vigilant about grooming; cleaning up after exercising, and keeping food and water bowls clean and out of the way.

Children and pets are not always a great match, especially during the holidays. Children are generally excited and celebrating with new toys and more than enough candy to keep them wound up for hours. Dogs and cats need their own space and quiet time. They will lose their patience with small children, who know no better. I recommend that children be taught to be calm around dogs and cats, especially those that they do not know.

Pets almost always make terrible Christmas presents for children. I understand how cute the whole thing sounds, but from the perspective of the trauma the puppy or kitten is enduring, we need to rethink this idea. You suddenly realize two days later that you are the new caretaker of the newest member of the family. I have told people how this dynamic works, and they realize that shouldering this responsibility is both natural and appropriate. Add freezing cold weather into the mix, when house training is at its most unlikely to succeed, and you have the ingredients for stress. Just remember that a new pet for your child is actually an added responsibility for you.

There are exceptions to this however, and well worth considering seriously. You may want to consider adopting a pet. Older dogs and cats can adapt to new households far more easily than an 8-week-old puppy. The most gratifying part of adoption is watching the extreme gratitude that these adopted pets show. They know they’ve been given another chance on life, and they are grateful.

As long as we are aware of the impact the holidays has on out pets, we can keep them safe and relatively free from stress. Do your best to keep them on the routine to which they are accustomed, and the celebrations won’t be as stressful to them. Locking them away from the action is often a viable alternative, especially when the excitement is just too much for them. Their reactions to this new stimulation are normal, so separating them from the crowd should not be viewed as punishment, but rather as protection.

Spread the joy this holiday season and include your furry friends. Just be sensitive to their needs.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Speaking Up About Harassment in the Workplace

The workplace has recently been thrown into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Sadly, harassment of all kinds is front and center, especially after the revolting sexual harassment of the likes of Weinstein and Cosby, to name but a few. The emotional and mental stress endured by so many hardworking men and women in the workplace today is shameful. The headlines in both print and broadcast media are filled with news about the injustices that run rampant in the workplace today.

One of the most important ways to make a real change in this situation is by supporting a conversation among all stakeholders, encouraging as many perspectives as possible to come forward and debate civilly. The time has finally come when normalizing the abnormal and unacceptable needs to come to an end. Participating in open dialogues about subjects where differing opinions abound, such as the myriad political and social worlds, is a real challenge for many of us.

It’s important to keep a realistic perspective in focus for our children. Protecting children from the cruelties of life is a natural instinct. However, I see a great opportunity for us to teach our children and one another how to engage in healthy, age appropriate discussions.  I received this message from my sister today that expresses my thoughts.

“Another word on this matter... not to be a downer, but a realist... and maybe even an instigator to action. I said yesterday that these shootings have put me in touch with a part of me that grew up under the shadow of the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement. As a child I felt that not my parents, not my teachers, not our leaders could keep me or us safe. But no one talked about it. I certainly didn't. But I felt it. I carried it. Unspoken. In fear. In worry. In helplessness. That is trauma to a child; make no bones about it. “

 “Fast forward to today. How many children are walking around feeling as if they are not safe? That the adults can't keep them safe? And to add insult to injury, with complete inaction on the part of the leaders in this country, just imagine how hopeless children might feel about the whole situation. Is this what we want for our children? If ever there was a time - PLEASE do not be complacent on this issue. Our children are watching and counting on us.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there "is" such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Most of us have been able to sit on the sidelines as bystanders for a very long time. Unfortunately, this apathy has become our comfort zone. We need to reengage with our own lives and with our own communities. The courage required to come forward is considerable. As more and more people do take that brave and responsible first step, they clear an open path for other people to do the same.

Opportunities abound to bring greater emotional awareness and intelligence into the workplace. Exposing injustices and inappropriate behaviours is a good place to begin. Expressing respect for each other is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, this culture of respect and of living our lives authentically is only a glimmer of hope for most people. Primarily because of the fear of retribution, most people do not come forward. Fortunately, there is a growing number of people who act independently or join movements such as #MeToo.

There is no doubt that the exposing of toxic work cultures within corporations is difficult. However, there is momentum building, pushing people to do the right thing and embrace diversity and inclusivity. That same momentum will also give us all a voice we have kept silent for too long. With practice, we will develop civil discourse, where disagreements develop healthier perspectives rather than create adversaries.

If you are experiencing harassment of any kind while at work, I strongly encourage you to speak up. Organizations are taking harassment, especially sexual harassment, very seriously. These horrible behaviours are not gender specific, nor are they industry specific. They are pervasive throughout the workplace at large. Would we not want to leave to our children a world in which the workplace does not tolerate harassment, and that if it rear its ugly head, there was a support system in place to assist? Perhaps teaching our children by example might be a great place to begin.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

How We Can Use Civility to Beat the Bullies

Between elected officials and organizational leaders, bullies rule the world today. Thanks to the false sense of power that fuels the egos of these bullies, society feels the heavy burden of injustice and discrimination on many levels. There is little or no time set aside for dialogue or discussion. Every day we see news headlines demonstrating this sorry and frightening state of affairs. Because of the fear rhetoric used by today’s leaders to gain and maintain control over their employees and constituents, most of us have decided to step out of the fray and become bystanders. Some of us try to evaluate a situation. Most, however, prefer not to engage in a discussion because of fear of retribution. This is exactly what helps perpetuate the culture of bullying so prevalent in the workplace today.

Now is the time to stand up to these unfair practices and take action. If we stopped to put ourselves in other people’s shoes; to understand what it feels like to work in an environment where the deck is stacked in favour of aggressiveness; to feel oppression; and to carry these feelings back to our homes and families; we would understand why we become frozen and unable to know what to do or how to do anything to make things better.

I have written about The Golden Rule and Common Sense for many years. We are inching closer and closer towards an emotion revolution, where injustice will no longer be tolerated. We understand more clearly that diversity, inclusion, and equality are essential to living the fulfilling life we all deserve – as a right, not as a privilege.

The question arises – what steps can we take to make a change? How do we go about moving from the awkward and uncomfortable position of the bystander into the role of resistor and activist? Naturally, most of us are reticent to take on such a mantel for fear that we will lose our job, our friends, and even our families.

These changes must begin at home where our support systems are usually the strongest. As we build foundations of trust within the family, we can continue them into our communities. At work, leaders must understand that their employees’ engagement and productivity is dependent upon the support they are provided.

High stress jobs, such as the armed services (including the RCMP), healthcare, and education, require far more support than they presently receive. We have all heard the old argument that people who enter these professions should know ahead of time that the jobs are high stress. This argument does not mean that appropriate support is not essential. 

No one is going to argue that first responders and others are very susceptible to PTSD. For those of you unfamiliar with living with this painful condition, I can assure you that the agony endured on a daily basis is at time unbearable, hence the hundreds of suicides victims commit annually. Both psychological and physical support must be improved and increased significantly to realize any real improvement. The change needs to be systemic; the old bandaid approach no longer is sufficient.

Most of us have experienced or have friends who have experienced difficult situations at work. These difficulties can take on a whole range of manifestations, none of which are enviable. What we can do about these issues is found within the Six Pillars of Civility, a framework I have devised that incorporates the essential life principles needed to create and maintain a sustainable and healthy society and a psychologically safe workplace.

Our elected officials and corporate executives must take the lead and must be held to the highest of standards. Inclusivity should be a worthy a goal of any healthy organization; where diversity is valued as highly as profitability; and where equality is no longer a necessary subject of discussion because it is automatic.

I was criticized lately for a stance I took on the radio about equality. I stated that I was baffled by the need to have such discussions anymore. Not everyone agrees with me, nor does everyone believe equality is realistic or appropriate. Some early scientific studies suggest that men and women have clearly differing skill sets, thus justifying such companies as Google to hire a widely disproportionate number of men for programming and other high tech jobs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The work currently being carried out at Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence provides quite a different and enlightened understanding of the subject. If we are to achieve cultural changes within organizations, we must treat everyone equally and with respect. Our communications must be honest and open. Remember the etiquette rule espoused by Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, where he advises us to never speak ill of someone not present to defend him or herself.

Human beings have many more shared qualities than divergent ones. While both are essential, focusing solely on our differences allows us to fall into the trap of tossing out the baby with the bathwater. I suggest that we must refocus our attention on positive virtues, on encouraging others to achieve their best with the support required for the job at hand, and on insisting, either vocally or by the written word, that fairness must replace bias; and that humility must replace bullying; and that honesty and civility must replace the distractions, diversions, and denials that allow bullies to run the show. The time to begin is now – first with us, then with our families and our community, and next in our places of work. Imagine what a different world we would be leaving our children and grandchildren!