How to Set Boundaries Without Drama

One of my favorite talks is How to Lead When You’re Feeling Burned Out and inevitably the timing of the talk coincides with me needing to practice what I preach! I gave the talk several times this past fall and most of the questions the audience asked came back to boundaries, albeit phrased like “These are all great tips but how do you do this when it’s impossible to say no and take time for myself?”

And then I found myself in the middle of having to say no and I too thought it was impossible … at least to begin with 😉 I realized that there were four things I needed to figure out:

  1. What were the competing values I was dealing with? In my case it was a competing value between my own health and wanting to keep a client happy. My tendency is to keep a client happy and deal with my own health later, but I know (and tell others!) that this is not a good long term strategy. So I got clear that it’s ok for me to value my health over my client’s happiness and that became my guiding value.
  2. Whose monkey was it? William Oncken’s brilliant metaphor of collecting monkeys, which are tasks or problems that we take on for various reasons that rightly belong to someone else, became very relevant. This piece of work that had grown into a rather large monkey did, in fact, belong to my client, not me. Sometimes the ownership of the monkey may not be as clear, but in those cases, it’s ok to ask someone who also has a partial ownership in the monkey to take it on (especially if that other person has not properly looked after that monkey in the past!)
  3. What feelings was I experiencing? I was stressed and frustrated but digging deeper, I realized I was a bit resentful. Feeling resentful comes from not being appreciated or being taken advantage of. This can happen when we impose “I should do this in order to be a good ___” or by someone else imposing their expectations on us. Getting clear on our feelings and, in particular, tuning into resentment can alert us to the fact that we need to set a boundary.
  4. What fears were surfacing? I was afraid that if I set a boundary my client would be upset, think less of me and then I would never get another contract ever from anyone else! I know that sounds irrational as I type it but these are the sorts of irrational fears that often prevent us from setting a boundary. In this case, I was able to get some perspective and realize that, given everything, it was doubtful this would happen and even if it did, it would not directly lead to no contracts ever! Often we don’t set boundaries because we are afraid a relationship will end. In that case, we need to ask ourselves if this is a healthy relationship to be in!

Working through these four things allowed me to set a boundary in a direct, respectful and grounded way. I was able to use my guiding value for why I could not complete this work and I did so from a place of confidence instead of frustration or resentment. Boundaries without drama has become my mantra!

Written by Tammy

Are You Safe or Trapped?

Dave and I have been teaching and giving talks for over 30 years and so it was surprising to both of us just how much angst we both experienced getting ready to present at DisruptHR Victoria. To be fair, it was a bit of a different format – 20 slides automatically forwarded every 15 seconds – and it was being video taped but nonetheless I have given hundreds of talks over the years … WTF? Why did my inner critic rear its ugly head to such a degree? My first thought was that my angst was all about not having control over when the slides advanced, but upon reflection there was a lot more going on.

Serendipity being what it is, I was just reading Tara Mohr’s Playing Big and Denise Jacobs’ Banish your Inner Critic, both of which offer insight and tips for dealing with your inner critic, albeit from slightly different perspectives.  Both of them suggest that the inner critic is a hardwired safety instinct. The role of the inner critic is to protect us from harm,  whether that’s physical or emotional.  This insight alone has helped me reframe what’s happening. Instead of the usual “this is ridiculous” message I give myself, I’m now saying, “Thank you for trying to  protect me, but I’ve got enough experience to handle this.” It’s a subtle but powerful shift that leaves me feeling more grounded.

My next insight came from Tara’s book … that our inner critic will yell most loudly when we are getting ready to play a bigger game. I realized that while I have given many talks, I can only think of one or two that were actually videotaped and none were going to get circulated more broadly.  There were several firsts in this talk … first time with a 5 minute, highly structured talk, and first time with a video about to be circulated. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to be “perfect,” another sign that the inner critic truly has a hold on you. I reminded myself of the Leonard Cohen quote I often say when perfectionism is taking over

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

My final insight came from Denise Jacobs’ book. She has a chapter on “comparison syndrome” that really resonated for me. She talks a lot about the role of social media in feeding the inner critic and how to deal with that by tracking your triggers and then eliminating some of those sources. It was her ideas around becoming self-referential, however, that were so helpful to me. In preparing for the DisruptHR talk, I watched quite a few talks from the previous year, watched a number of shorter TED talks and read quite a few blogs about what to do/not do. The more I did this “preparation” the more freaked out I became. I was becoming other referential, not self referential. I needed to stop preparing and comparing,  get centered in on what I wanted to say and trust my own experience.

Jacobs’ suggests that to be self referential you determine your success by looking at who you’ve become over time. You then focus on becoming the best version of yourself. I was so anxious my first day of teaching high school English (many years ago now), I actually vomited in the staff washroom before I made it up to the class to teach! I realized that I had come a long way.  Embracing my “onlyness,” the space in which only you can stand, allowed me to embrace who I am and what I have to offer and do the talk “Tammy style” instead of “everyone else style.”

I’m happy to say that I got myself centered and, while I did feel many nervous flutters while waiting to give my talk, I did not vomit 😉 I have not seen the tape yet, but I will deal with that inner critic when the time comes 😉 In the meantime, I’m excited that I took the risk and very appreciative of the entire learning experience!

3 Tips for Putting Down Your Armour

It seems a natural response to being hurt, facing challenges or experiencing unexpected tragedy is to respond with fear and anger and armour up. Armouring up can be anything from “From now on I copy everyone in on my emails to cover my butt.” to “I will not share anything authentic with you again.” to “I’m going to isolate myself from others.”

But research is clear about the role of optimism in resilience. While these armouring up responses are normal, it’s when they become a long term habit that our overall wellness, effectiveness and satisfaction with life can be affected.

While some people seem to be more naturally optimistic, there are times when all of us need to be intentional about it. Here are three practices I use to put down my armour:

  1. Lighten up. Lightening up means that we don’t take ourselves seriously and we put things into perspective, hopefully finding humour in situations. While that may not always be possible in extremely distressing situations, it can also mean giving yourself permission to “park the issue” even if it’s for a short time. This gives your brain a chance to get out of fight or flight. To lighten up, practice the “pause.” When you find yourself overly stressed, anxious, serious, in a rush, etc, take a deep breath, pause for 4 seconds, name what you are experiencing and then ask yourself a question to shift into more optimism. Some of my favorites are “Will this be important a year from now?” “Can I do anything about this?” “Can I invest my energy into something more important or positive?”
  2. Reframe. Reframing means that we interpret and make meaning of our experiences in a way that is optimistic. Resilience researchers followed children raised in neglect or abuse over a long period of time to see how they fared as adults. Those who did well (lived productive happy lives) did not attach the same meaning to their earlier experiences as those who continued in a cycle of neglect and abuse. The “stories” we tell ourselves about what happens to us can be even more important and crucial in determining how we do than what actually happened to us in the moment. Those children who were able to reframe their early childhood as learning experiences that helped them develop their strength and confidence did better than those who told a story of how their early childhood damaged them. Reframing also relates to how we think about things that didn’t go right for us, or failures. Resilient people are able to reframe mistakes or failures as opportunities to learn or create something different in their lives.
  3. Develop a daily ritual that facilitates connection to yourself, others, nature. Some of the things I do are to write down 3 things I appreciate or am grateful for, go for walks, review my file of thank yous from others, watch uplifting videos or read something uplifting, and send a text or email of appreciation to someone. I find that doing this helps me to lean more towards optimism than pessimism, put down my armour and connect to others in a meaningful way.

What are the strategies you use to put down your armour and develop your optimism?

This blog is the A in our PAUSE model of resilience – Active Optimism. Watch for the U in a future blog!!

What it Takes to Say Yes

say yes

A common coaching question is “what would it take to say yes to [fill in the blank]? In my particular case, it was saying yes to a book.  I have wanted to write a book since I became a high school English teacher at 24. I thought it would be a novel, and then as the years wore on and I changed careers many times, I thought it would be something non-fiction, probably around leadership or teams. I have come up with many book titles and even drawn up outlines for books but have never quite got there until now.

So what did it take for me to say yes to a book? A few rather interesting discoveries, thanks to the conversations with my brilliant book coach, Danielle Pope, my equally as brilliant husband, Dave Whittington and my equally as brilliant friend, Claire Abbott:

  1. That the book was writing me, not the other way around.  When I started the book, I had a vague idea about what I was going to say, but mainly the idea just wouldn’t go away. I needed to give it some time and energy and learn about the book by writing it.
  2. As an adult educator, I think and am energized by developing and facilitating learning. So the first draft of my book was actually an e-learning course, followed by a one day workshop. That was a major “ah-ha” for me and fundamentally shifted my energy about writing.
  3. Related to the above, that a book could start small (a 7 day e-learning course) and evolve into a full length book.
  4. That writing a book is different from any other type of work I do and I couldn’t do it at my desk! I was too distracted by “real work” and couldn’t focus. I actually had to go to another environment to turn the e-learning course into the first draft of a book.
  5. That finding my voice for the book meant overcoming several inner demons related to the last time I wrote something substantial, my PhD dissertation.
  6. That I had to give myself permission to write the first draft as if no one else would ever read it. Until I made that discovery, I edited almost everything I wrote or stared at a blank page.
  7. That I cannot write in dribs and drabs as recommended by lots of people. I could not get up early and write a few hours a day. I needed to delve into the book and make it my sole focus for a period of time.
  8. And the most challenging discovery of all … I had to say no to paid work. I set aside weeks in my calendar and then would get calls to do work and would take the work. The hardest thing I have ever done is prioritize the book. I had to tell myself that writing a book was as important as my “real work” and actually invest time and money (as I went away to The Haven on Gabriola Island, a great place to write by the way.) I realized that saying no was an absolutely critical part of getting this book written, and while this was the biggest no, there were others.

And so, whatever your dream might be, I encourage you to find a few folks who will continue to ask “What would it take to say yes to  ….?”

Oh and I almost forgot … the book is called How to Forgive your Boss and should be published this fall.  Contact me or watch this space for how you can get your copy!

 

 

Join me on pixpired.com

pixpired

For those of you who have been subscribing to our blog, a big THANK YOU. You may have noticed it has been some time since I blogged here and that’s because I have been creating a new site for all of the visuals. I will continue to blog daily, but now it will be done at pixpired.com (visually (pix) inspired (pired). Head on over to subscribe to the RSS feed, a daily email and download a free reflective leadership journal. Hope to see you there!

 

Developing Personal Resilience

I recently noticed that this resource got lost in our web site’s latest reorganization. So here it is again …

This isn’t the only path to personal resilience, but these five practices provide a common-sense approach that is easy to understand and realistic to apply. Please note that because we deliver this presentation in a number of contexts and formats, what you see here may differ from what you experienced in the workshop you attended.

Link to presentation at prezi.com and the handout (one page word doc) that goes with the presentation.

Know Yourself

Get clear about your strengths, develop your emotional intelligence, live your values and confront your self-limiting beliefs.

Set Clear Goals

We need really clear goals. This isn’t news: “Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbour he is making for, no wind is the right wind”. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4BC – 65AD). We need short term goals so that we can measure progress and we need long term goals so that we know which direction to head in.

What’s your long-term BHAG? What are your short-term SMART goals? And what’s on your stop doing list, to make space for the good stuff?

Lighten Up

Most of the truly successful people I have met seem to be having fun. They have a sense of humour, they don’t take themselves very seriously and they laugh a lot. It’s often difficult for us to find humour in the world around us, but we need to find it, and share it with others whenever we can.

Give yourself a break. Take time to connect with friends and family. Find ways to have fun at work. How can you maintain a positive attitude?

Persevere

Viktor Frankl makes it sound so easy – “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

We need to stick at it. We need to work on these practices continually, until they become a habit. Changing habits takes time and there is no instant fix. This is a lifelong exploration. We need to deliberately and consistently put effort into building resilience. This means scheduling time for ourselves to do the reflective work we need to do.

Embrace Paradox and Uncertainty

Uncertainty is one of the biggest stressors for some people. The clever folks who study complexity say increases as the pace of change increases and the level of interconnectivity increases. Our work and our society are destined to become ever more complex and unpredictable.

The new normal

In the last while, I have found myself saying, “when things get back to normal,” meaning when I can get back to doing business the way I used to (or was comfortable with). Well, I think I have known all along that’s a bit deluded and news of a triple dip recession only heightens my awareness that doing business right now requires huge amounts of courage, nerve, risk taking and creativity. This IS the new normal.

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Asking stupid, insulting questions

I am a huge movie buff and really appreciate great talent, and so it is with utter bewilderment to me that reporters ask such insulting questions. Kudos to Jennifer Lawrence for handling herself with such authenticity and humour. We could all learn a few lessons from her!

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Tell a different story

The way we talk about our situations really does contribute to the outcome. What are your “favorite” stories and how do they help or hinder you?

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Change your shoes

We can become entrenched in our attitudes and beliefs. Change viewpoints … assume you are one of your team members and watch your energy shift. If you are having difficulty with this one, find a pair of shoes that are quite different and walk around in them for a while. Symbolically this might help you shift your perspective and energy and communicate differently with your team members.

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Today’s blog is based on the 4 of diamonds, a communications teamwork tip from our Teamwork Explorer.