Remove Drama to Reduce Stress and Increase Energy

“Because we celebrating no more drama in our lives”

 Mary J Blige, Family Affair

I have a confession.  I love drama.

I suppose that isn’t surprising since I have a bachelor’s degree in drama and spent years in various stage productions.  There is nothing quite like the thrill of developing a character and getting caught up in all the story lines as they unfold around you.  It’s a great feeling to be a part of it and part of a group of people creating an imaginary world where problems arise and play out as directed.

It’s a great feeling unless it happens at work.

actorA friend of mine was talking about the dynamics in his office recently.  He works in an office with a small staff, all in relatively close quarters.  These people have worked together for years and know each other pretty well.  Unfortunately from time to time there are some personality issues and these issues tend blossom into fireworks in relatively short periods of time.  It even seems like some of the staff enjoys the drama and feeds the fire to keep people on edge and uncomfortable.

This isn’t an unusual situation.  I have worked in both large and small offices and regardless of size there always seemed to be some sort of Tony Award worthy production going on.  Some people call it office politics but it really comes down to drama.  People who feel threatened tend to create situations to discredit the person who is threatening them.   Then they try to enlist other members of the community.  They create entire story lines that have no basis in reality.  The result is an unhealthy working environment, higher levels of stress, and decreased productivity and job satisfaction.

Drama takes up a lot of time and energy.  Not only in the workplace but in personal arena as well.  Oftentimes people create their own drama in order to avoid dealing with issues that challenge them or make them uncomfortable.  After all, if you are have a major problem demanding your attention or you allow someone else to upset you then you don’t really have the time or energy to focus on what is important to you.  And the truth of the matter is that most drama is our own creation.  It ebbs and flows, and in the long run it only matters if we allow it to.

At one point in my corporate career I was hired to fix a  large dysfunctional accounting department.  I was relatively new to management at that point, but it quickly became clear to me that there were so many factions in this group that is was like being in a corporate version of “Survivor”.   No one was working with a common purpose in mind, nor was anyone working in conjunction with their core values.  So much energy was wasted in the daily soap opera that was office life it was no wonder that the bills weren’t being paid on time.  It wasn’t until they could identify what was important to them about their jobs (not just a paycheck) that they could focus on getting the job done and feeling good about it.  It was not a popular management theory at the time, but it got results.  And I got an efficient department that was actually an enjoyable place to work so it was a double win for me.

Drama is a great indication that someone is not connected to their purpose or working in conjunction with their own values.  This holds true in both personal and professional life.  Coach and author Brendon Burchard states that “people on a path of purpose don’t have time for drama.”   I’ve been part of management teams who lived for drama and also part of teams that got things done.   When I was part of Team Drama I was stressed and exhausted at the end of each day–and not from the work.  It wasn’t until I was able to separate myself from the distractions and focus instead on what I found meaningful about my job that I felt I was successful in my job.  Working with Team Value was exciting and exhilarating.  Recognizing common goals and working in conjunction with complimentary core values made the projects easier to accomplish, the time fly by, and enough energy left at the end of the day to enjoy a personal life.

So I still love drama.  Now I just love watching it, not being in it.  These days I know when drama starts to creep back into my life I am losing sight of my chosen purpose.  I would rather use my energy to create a life filled with things that matter to me than waste that energy caught up in someone else’s story or distracting myself from my own.

After all, this life is not a dress rehearsal.  We don’t get a lot of do-overs, so we should do our best to make this performance count.

Do you let drama sap your energy or do you think the best place for drama is on the big or small screen, but not your living room?  I’d love to know what you think.  


Mindfulness vs Multi-tasking

“Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”–Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, 1994

Here’s a little quiz.  How often during the workday do you find yourself putting out fires and moving in two hundred directions at once?  Have you ever found yourself thinking that you do many things during the day but feel that you do very few of them well?  If you answer yes to either of these questions you can consider yourself a functioning member of the modern workforce.   It seems that multitasking is here to stay.  It  is the only way we can possibly keep up with increasing productivity demands in an environment plagued by diminishing resources.

Studies show that our minds wander away from the task at hand about 49 percent of the time.  And that is without any additional prompting or stimulus.  Throw in digital technology–texting, face time, email–and it seems that focusing on what we feel is important is almost a lost cause.  We have been conditioned to respond to  a smartphone alert almost like a Pavlovian dog.  It is not at all unusual to see someone stop during a conversation to check a text or email.  Couple this with the fact that a whole generation has grown up with TV remote surfing syndrome, and it is not surprising that staying focused on one subject for a given period of time seems almost impossible.

Many people regard multitasking as the ultimate productivity tool.  The number of items crossed off a list in the shortest period of time indicates your effectiveness at work.  However, findings from Basex, a New York based business research firm tend to disprove this concept.  Data from their studies shows that multitasking costs the US economy an average of $997 billion in lost productivity and a minimum of 28 million hours annually.  In a time when people are asked to do more with less, it would seem that multitasking has finally become counterproductive.

So how can you, and the company you work for, possibly hope to combat this loss of productivity?  Is there a way to create an increased productivity flow with stronger personal interactions  along with a decreased error ratio?

Yes, there is.  More and more forward-thinking companies are introducing mindfulness training programs into their daily operations.  The result?  More rational decision-making and problem-solving, not to mention a stronger sense of equilibrium no matter how many  fires are burning around you.  Companies such as General Mills, Apple, Google, and AstraZenenca, to name a few, have a successfully incorporated mindfulness practices into their workforces.  Apple even has meditation rooms where employees can regain focus during difficult periods.

There is a bias against mindfulness in many circles.  Often it is thought of as some esoteric type of Eastern religion that couldn’t possibly mix with a modern corporate culture.    Mindfulness is  most often associated with meditation, which when misunderstood can seem like a selfish waste of time.   However, if meditation is introduced not just as a mindfulness technique, but a secular exercise in concentration, there is more often a willingness to explore the possible benefits in corporate cultures.  After all, who wouldn’t want to experience increased concentration, stronger relationships, enhanced decision-making abilities, and a more positive work environment?

One way to bring mindfulness to the office environment is take a few moments each day and focus inward.  Begin by sitting comfortably and focus on your breath.  Breath in for a count three and out for a count of five.  Chances are your mind will immediately rebel and start throwing around any thoughts it can to distract you.  The mind does not like to be challenged or harnessed, so that is perfectly normal.  Simply acknowledge the thoughts as they appear, then let them float away.  Do not focus on them, but at the same time, don’t try to pretend that they don’t exist.  Continually let your focus come back to your breath, breathing in for three and out for five.  Continue the practice for five minutes in the beginning, or even three minutes.  Meditation is not as easy as it sounds, but you will be able to extend your practice as you become more comfortable with it.  If you feel that it sounds like a waste of time, just remember that Apple, Inc. allows each employee thirty minutes a day for meditation, with on-site classes offered as well.  I think we can all agree that Apple doesn’t appear to be suffering from a decreased level of productivity.

The goal is to be present in each moment throughout the day.  To be aware of what you are doing at the time you are doing it.  It sounds so simple, but keep in mind that we lose focus about 49% of the time. That is when mistakes and faulty decisions are more likely to be made.   There are physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits to mindfulness practices in addition to  improved best-business practices.  As companies become more concerned with the overall well-being of their employees,  it seems only natural that mindfulness practices will become accepted as the norm if an organization truly wants to flourish.

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you break down self-imposed barriers and reach your Personal Best?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.

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If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

When was the last time you said something nice to someone at work?   How about hearing something nice said about you?  Sure, compliments or praise about your performance make you feel good, but they are also good for the bottom line.  It may not be a well-known fact,  but positive communication plays a huge role in company performance.

I believe the workplace is undergoing a transformation.  It may be slow, but it is underway.  Studies show that the companies with the highest levels of performance also have the highest levels of positive communication.  Positive communication is defined as comments or statements that are supportive, encouraging and appreciative versus comments that are critical, disapproving or contradictory .  In broader terms, positive communication takes place when supportive and affirmative language is used in place of negative or critical language.

So how can you tell if your company practices positive communication?  It can be broken down by numbers, really.  This is  an area where the trickle down theory really does work.  Top management needs to be involved.  The ratio of positive to negative comments from management must be above five to one.  So for every negative comment made, there are at least five positive comments.  Interestingly,  medium performing companies have a ratio of 1.85 to 1.  Low performing companies show a ratio of .36 to 1.

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather work in a place that puts more importance on what goes right than on what goes wrong.   Seems like it would make for a better working environment to me.

There are other factors involved in positive communication.  High performing companies have a greater rate of inquiry statements to advocacy  statements.  Not surprisingly, asking others for advice, opinions, or viewpoints fosters stronger communication and results than standing firm on or defending an opinion or position.   There is also a balance regarding  self-focused statements versus others-focused statements in positively aligned companies.  High performance companies show a ratio of almost one to one in this regard.  These organizations show a pattern where concern for others is on par with concern for one’s self.  As companies move down the performance scale, the ratio of self vs. others concerns grows by almost three to one.

It is important to note that high-performance companies do not try to eliminate negative statements altogether.  That would be unrealistic as well potentially damaging.  There will always be areas of concern and the need for correction in organizations.  The difference is how those concerns and corrections are addressed and handled.  As with anything, there  must be a balance between positive and negative communication.   Too much positive communication can lead to complacency and mediocrity.  Too much negative feedback  can instill defensiveness or withdrawal in the workforce.    Neither extreme is beneficial to high performance in the workplace.

The power of positive communication  plays a huge role not only in the workplace, but in our personal lives as well.  This same ratio of five to one can determine the long-term viability of a marriage or relationship.  In 1994, a gentleman by the name of John Gottman studied couples in fifteen minute conversations regarding difficult subjects.   Child rearing, money, or time spent at work were examples of topics covered.   He discovered that one of the best ways to predict if a relationship would survive was directly related to the ratio of positive to negative communications.  Once again, the magic formula of five to one was the benchmark that indicates a relationship’s sustainability.   Gottman followed these couples over ten years, and predicted with a high measure of success which couples would still be married ten years later based on the fifteen minute conversation used in the study.

Why is positive communication so important to successful relationships, both personally and professionally?  Most likely it is because a supportive and appreciative method of communication fosters stronger and more trusting relationships.  Living or working in an environment where you feel valued and appreciated will almost always guarantee that you bring your best self to the  table.   Sharing ideas or thoughts is much easier when you don’t feel that someone is gunning for you–looking to prove you wrong or shoot your idea down.   Positive communication fosters a positive environment which acts as a cradle for creativity and productivity.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth once said, ” If you can’t say something nice about someone, come sit next to me.”  She may have been fun at a cocktail party, but I don’t know that I would turn to her for relationship advice.   Positive communication may not always be witty, nor is it necessarily easy.  However, I believe it is crucial to bringing out the best in each of us.  When we support and encourage those around us, it is much more likely that we will be supported and encouraged in return.   A supportive atmosphere encourages growth and performance, and positive communication is vital if you want to create that atmosphere–whether at home or in the workplace.

Ref: Positive Leadership, Kim Cameron, 2008

Ref:  The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman, 2000


Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you break down self-imposed barriers and reach your Personal Best?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.

Using Social Media as a Personal Support Network

I have a confession to make.  I love Facebook.  The whole idea of having a network of caring, supportive  friends at my fingertips is so amazing.  I may not use it as much as the “younger generation”, but I do check in on a regular basis.  Through Facebook, I’ve been able to connect with long-lost high school and college friends as well as being able to keep up with family members I would usually only hear from at holidays and birthdays.  So there is a lot I am thankful for about Facebook.

There are also some issues that I find troubling with this social network device.  It seems to act as a mirror for trends in communication and focus in our society.  Facebook gives us soundbites.  Little bits of people’s lives shared–usually during the best of times.  Very little is posted about the difficult times.  It also echoes the attention span of the MTV generation, where focus is allotted  two-minute intervals before moving on.   Some people find this to be enough interaction for them.  It almost seems like a game or contest at times.  Popularity and self-worth are determined by the number of friends we can show on our homepage or timeline.

To be honest, keeping up friendships is no easy task.  Making new ones can be even more difficult, especially as we move through life.   It seems so simple in high school, and then possibly college, to meet people and forge relationships due to common bonds and situations.  These friendships just seem to occur naturally, without a lot of effort.  I believe this is because we usually have more time during these periods to devote to  nurturing and building relationships.

Once we graduate and enter the workforce however,  life speeds up exponentially.  Building a life becomes the priority.  Soon there are bills, kids, carpools, traffic, deadlines, pets, and a myriad of other daily dramas that require our attention.  It is no surprise that as time progresses, we have less and less time available to spend with friends and just…connect.

One of the keys to having a satisfying life lies in a strong support network.  It may be possible to go it alone in life, but it is not the easiest way, and certainly not the most fulfilling.  We as humans are a social animal.  We have reached our greatest accomplishments when working together.  Our celebrations of those achievements are sweetest when they are shared.  So on an individual level, it only makes sense that we are at our best when we surround ourselves with  people who care, and are concerned about us.

Facebook is a great tool to foster relationships and rekindle connections.  However, it is no substitute for the power of time shared together over a meal or a cup of coffee.  It is so easy these days to shoot off an email or a text to keep in touch, but honestly, it doesn’t take much effort.   Keeping any relationship thriving takes work,  and the amount of effort expended corresponds to the importance of that relationship in your life.  So it really comes down to choices.  How important is a strong support network in your life and what are you willing to do to make sure that it flourishes?

Studies show that if you have one or two people in your life that you could call anytime without any hesitation you are very lucky.  Many people have a lot of acquaintances, but few–if any–friends they would feel comfortable calling at 4:00 in the morning.  But those people, the 4:00am friends, are the ones who have our backs when we need help or just a sympathetic shoulder.   In order to keep those relationships strong, it is vital to spend time together, if not in person, then at least over the phone, or email as a last resort.

Facebook is great fun and certainly has its place, but it can’t replace human contact.

As wellness coaches,  we know that it is much easier to make any change in life or behaviour when you have a strong support network.  It is possible to make a change alone, but it is much more difficult and the rate of sustained success is much less.   That is why maintaining and nurturing a personal support network is so much more important than just building a large electronic one.

A friend of mine recently said that when times are tough she acts like a sick dog and hides under the porch instead of reaching out for support.   It’s not an uncommon behaviour, but even she admits it is not the most helpful when trying to deal with problems.  Retreating into yourself rather than making the effort, sometimes painfully, to reach out to others usually prolongs the situation and provides very little relief.   Ironically, it was Facebook that put us back in contact after several years of  unintentional separation.

That is why I love Facebook.  It reminds us of the power of friendship.  It  is a great springboard, but only if you take the next step.    One of my goals for this year is to reconnect with some of my Facebook friends on a real, and not just virtual, level.  People who played important roles in my life but slipped away over time, for whatever reason.  It is important to invest the time and show those people that they are important in my life and that I care about what happens in theirs.

It seems odd that keeping in touch has never been quite so easy, yet quite so difficult at the same time.   But one thing is clear–no matter what the effort, staying connected is more than worth the cost.

So what do you think?  Is a strong support network important to you?  What do you do to keep it flourishing?

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you break down self-imposed barriers and reach your Personal Best?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.