How to Handle Family Stress

Stress is defined as a response that comes when we are threatened with a demand for change.  We’ve already talked about work stress but there is a second stressor that can give us a bigger challenge:  family stress.  A Healthline study done back in 2015 showed that around 53% of the population experiences increased stress around the holidays, and this is usually because of family.

Why can family stress be so strong and what causes it?

In my opinion, it’s because we often view family as our safe place away from other stress.  Depending on your childhood experiences, family could have been the one place you can hide from outside demands and challenges.  But of course as you age, you become your own person and yet your immediate family has a hard time seeing the new arrangement.

Of course if you had a challenging family upbringing, those painful memories can impact your current family situation.  There are too many variables for me to even take a stab and helping you think through.  After all, I’m not a counselor or therapist but it might be a good idea to seek on out.

Case in point.  When our daughter left for college, it wasn’t hard to let her go.  That summer between high school graduation and college orientation was an adjustment for all of us.  She was frankly a big challenge for us as she was ready to spread her wings.  When she left, things settled down around the house.  Then, when she came home for winter break, things got rough.  She was used to being on her own, staying out all night and doing whatever she wanted.  When she came home, she wanted to go out and spend time with her high school friends.  I wanted her home by 11 (it is my house after all!) and she had a problem with that.  What should have been a fun, stress-free break from stressful college created more stress for all of us.

So how can we better manage family stress?  I’m still trying to figure it out (again, I’m no therapist) but maybe this is a start:

  1. Learn to reframe the relationships.  For parents, realize your job was/is to get your kids out of the house and self-sufficient.  As much as you miss your kids, “raising” kids means they need to move on and live their own lives (again, I’m still learning this…).  For kids, realize your parents will always feel the need to protect you.  They will never fully trust your decisions because it’s their job to make sure you are guided into what they THINK is the right decision.  This by the way will be the case when your parents are elderly and are not making good decisions and you actually DO know more than they do (I learned this one the hard way…).
  2. Look for your contribution to the stress.  Are you triggering a reaction subtly?  Even a statement like “This Christmas can we please not discuss politics around the table?” could be a call to arms for the person who is being singled out (and that’s usually the case).  Expect the silent treatment from that person which will fuel the stress levels of everyone else.
  3. Keep family in the proper perspective.  Remember, home and family should not be the dumping ground for your stressful experiences.  If your expectation is for family to coddle you while you recover from your day, you’ll be disappointed.  After all, they’ve probably had a rough day too.
  4. Treat family like a garden.  You have to tend it.  It won’t produce unless you contribute something to it.  If you neglect it then don’t expect it to stay healthy.  This is why work stress is compounded by family stress, which further compounds work stress.
  5. Get professional help.  If family stress becomes overwhelming, then think about professional help.  Family therapy and counseling might be the key to managing this important area.

Whether you’re The Boss or you’re impacted by The Boss, or you’re The Boss of something, keeping your stress is crucial.  By dividing and conquering, we can keep stress in the healthy area and focus on other areas in which to succeed.


How to Handle Work Stress

Work stress comes from many areas:

  • You hate your job
  • You hate your boss
  • You hate your commute
  • Your job under pays you
  • Your job is boring
  • Your job is not secure
  • You hate your co-workers
  • You hate your customers
  • The work itself is stressful
  • The pace is too slow
  • The pace is too fast

…and the list can go on and on.  How do we fix this?

Work Stress Remover #1:  Treat work as work.  A means to an end.  Something that brings in money to help me live.

One key to managing work stress might be to reframe work itself.  For example, if you identify your self-worth with your job or job status, then if the job goes bad, you feel stressed, inadequate, angry, etc.  During the recession of 2008-2009, I did quite a bit of outplacement work (think George Clooney in Up in the Air).  In many cases, when people lost their jobs, it wasn’t just the lack of income that stressed them, it was the loss of identity when they were asked to pack up their stuff and leave.  Reframe your job as a means to an end and this might take off some of the pressure.

Work Stress Remover #2:  Figure out what you really want to do…and get busy doing it!

But another issue is work stress from a situation where you are in a bad fit or don’t have the skills or ability to move into the role you want.  In this case, you have a couple of choices.  You can be miserable and play the victim or you can get busy figuring out what you want to do, find someone in that field to guide you, and then get the necessary education, skills and experience (maybe through volunteering while still keeping your day job) .  I was miserable in the Navy as a dental assistant but when I figured out what I really wanted to do with my life, I just got busy moving on that path.  I did my share of complaining, playing the victim, and making everyone around me unhappy.  Once I made the decision to move forward, everything changed!

Work Stress Remover #3:  Move on.

If any of that above list rings true with you, why not quit?  Yeah I know it’s not always possible but ask yourself what would happen if you lost that job.  Would you have to do some crazy planning to survive?  Of course.  Would you die?  No.  Yes you might have to take a pay cut.  Yes you might have to relocate but fortunately you have choices.  Keep in mind that life is short and every miserable second spent in a bad job is another second that ticks off the good part of your life too.

Work stress is something that we all experience, even in a great job but it doesn’t have to be something we just accept.  This week, think about what you can change and what you should change.  If needed, find a career coach to help you think it through.  Either way, don’t let work stress bleed into other areas in your life.  It will if you let it.


Divide and Conquer to Beat Stress

Stress is an interesting phenomenon.  On one hand, it can save our life if we are threatened.  On the other, it can kill us if left unmanaged.  Not enough stress can stress us out.  Too much stress can over-stress us to the point of illness.  The key of course is to learn to manage it.

Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye coined the term “stress” back in 1936.   He referred to the condition as one that happens when there was “a non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.”  This could mean a good response (eustress) or a bad one (distress).  In figuring out how to deal with stress more effectively, we then must learn how to divide and conquer.

In my mind, there are six areas that can cause us stress.  They are:

  • Work
  • Familial
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Relational
  • Spiritual

For us to manage our stress, we first must identify the area that’s triggering it and deal with that area first.  If we don’t, then we can expect the stress will move from eustress (helpful) to distress (harmful).

For example, if we are stress out about our tyrant boss, the way to deal with it wouldn’t be working out harder (although that might help with the symptoms).  We would have to develop the assertiveness to confront our boss or look for another job.  Over the next few weeks we’ll look at each stressor and identify some coping mechanisms to deal with them.

For this week, take some time to identify the areas in your life that lead you to the most stress.  By using the principle of dividing and conquering, we can better manage stress and become a more effective worker, family-member, and friend.

If You Show Favoritism…

...You Might Be a Bad Boss

If you ever talk to a parent of multiple children and ask them if they have a favorite of the bunch, they’ll always tell you “No. I love all my children equally.”

But they’re lying.

Having a favorite child doesn’t mean you love one and hate the others.  It simply means that there is a special connection in at least one area that makes them connect just a little bit differently and closer to you.

It’s normal.  And if you’re a smart parent, you’ll never share this with your children.

Even Jesus played favorites.  Out of all the people who wanted to hang out with him, he hand-picked 12.  And from those 12 he had a special group of favorites, Peter, James, and John.  And according to John, HE was “the disciple that Jesus loved.”

But of course you know that there is a dark side to favoritism.  It happens when you happen to be the non-favorite.  In the workplace this is a huge issue.  And if you SHOW favoritism, you’ve created a huge mess.

There are two types of favoritism.  Legitimate and perceived.  Of the two, perceived favoritism is the worst one.  Let’s look at them.

Legitimate favoritism.  This is when you allow the normal special affinity you might have for one of your direct reports (their promptness, neatness, thoroughness, etc.) become known by overtly calling attention to it (“Hey why don’t you guys work hard like Jake does?”) or by giving plum assignments to Jake which will of course get employees to start referring to Jake as the “golden child” and resenting him.  Now of course if Jake is a stellar employee, he should be used as the standard of quality and also be given challenging assignments that align with his abilities but how you do this and how you communicate this will impact the reactions of the other employees.

Perceived favoritism.  Perception is reality in the eye of the perceiver.  If your employees believe you have a “golden child” they will look for examples of how you treat them compared to the rest of the team.  Sadly, you might only call attention to that employee once but since the rest of the team is watching for it, they’ll see the “favoritism” in action and make a note of it.  This issue may never be resolved but at least if you’re aware of it, you can work hard to prevent it from becoming a habit.

Issues Cause By Favoritism:

  • Apathy
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Lack of trust
  • Underperformance
  • Back-stabbing
  • Loss of your credibility

How to Prevent it From Becoming an Issue

Awareness! Start paying attention to:

  • How much time you spend with each employee
  • Who you give good assignments to
  • Employees who you have something in common with (military background, sports, hobbies, etc.). Are you subtly affinitizing with them?

In my experience, most bosses swear they don’t play favorites.  If it comes across to employees like they do then it’s up to the boss to make the adjustments.  A workforce that feels favoritism will absolutely underperform.

As the boss, YOU have the responsibility to fix this.


I Have a Bad Boss. What Can I Do About It?

If you’ve never had a bad boss, trust me, one day you will.  Those of us who have had one (or many) have felt the pain and agony and frustration that the bad boss causes.  I’ll be addressing bad boss behaviors as part of my focus but first it might be a good idea to talk about how we ought to handle having the bad boss.

Option #1:  Overlook the bad boss’s behavior and focus on the task at hand.  Depending on what the behavior is, we might have to take this option.  Depending on the health of the economy or the scarcity of jobs at the time or the career goals you might have, simply focusing on the task and trying to compartmentalize the bad boss behavior might be your best choice.  During my 15 years in the Navy, I had no choice but to do this.  Without the positional authority to do otherwise, I simply gritted my teeth and pushed on.  Yes, it was stressful and yes I hated Mondays but what else could I do?  Now this does not apply to behavior that is illegal or immoral. You have a responsibility to report it and have no obligation to take it!  If the behavior falls into this category, be sure to document the behavior accurately and contact HR immediately.

Option #2: Confront the bad boss.  This option takes guts but it can work.  If you’re going to do it, be sure to have your documentation current and be prepared to state facts, not opinions or perceptions.  One option is this:

To the Boss who discounts my ideas in front of my peers

When you discounted my ideas in front of my peers at today’s staff meeting

I felt insulted

Because my ideas are done out of concern for our company and my concern to add value

What I’d prefer is that you criticize me or my ideas in private

Because I’d rather not be embarrassed in front of my peers

What do you think?

The idea here is to state facts and to be assertive.  Also, be sure to do this in private as well and do it in person, not by email or text!

Option #3:  Quit your bad boss.  I know it’s not always possible but if this relationship is causing you mental or physical stress, it might not be worth it to stay. If you’ve made the decision to leave, be sure you have at least a few strong job leads.  Also, don’t make a big deal when you head out the door.  As much as possible you should leave with grace and dignity and hopefully at peace with your decision.  Your bad boss will eventually cause their own demise and there is no need to make a big production as you move on.  If you felt this way, you should have tried Option #2 at least once.  Then of course, let it all go.  No sense allowing the bad boss to remain alive in your memory or your attitude.  This is harder than it sounds.  Don’t ask me how I know this!  Also, don’t mention the bad boss when you get your new position.  Start fresh.

Having a bad boss doesn’t need to be a rite of passage but it seems like we all have to experience it at least once.  I’ll be working on preventing bad boss behavior but do your best to hang in there and make the most of the opportunity.  And NEVER let your experience make you a bad boss!

Is Your Bias Hindering Your Decisions?

Beautiful Vacation Sunset, Hammock Silhouette with Palm TreesThis year we decided to take a vacation to an all-inclusive resort in Cancun.  Because I travel so often, I wanted to go someplace with no crowds and (selfishly) no kids (having done the Disney trips for years I was ready to just be with adults).  Adult-only, all-inclusive sounded good to me.

Until I read an article in USA Today about alcohol poisoning at all-inclusive resorts in Cancun.  Over 30 people reported being sickened after drinking at the many bars at the resorts. Some totally blacked out and woke up only to find they had been sexually assaulted or robbed.  Many wound up in hospitals where they were forced to go to ATMs to get cash for payment.  Frankly, it scared me.

Then I read where the gangs in downtown Cancun had shootouts that often wounded or killed innocent bystanders, including tourists.

The whole trip seemed really scary and even though I travel internationally, I had real reservations about it.

We went anyhow.

And what I realized is that 30 cases of poisoning over several years was somewhat insignificant when you consider there are probably over 100 all-inclusive resorts in Cancun and Playa Del Carmen along with hundreds of thousands of tourists, all of whom seemed to be drinking and having a good time.

I survived the vacation.  Even in spite of drinking alcohol (although I still didn’t drink the water!).  I’m here to tell the tale.

But It’s the tale of Availability Heuristic Bias.

This bias means that we have a fear and then support that fear with information that speaks to that fear.  I was afraid of being shot or poisoned so I read every article I could find about it which confirmed my fears.  I should have just done a little simple math in my head.

But don’t we all do this occasionally?  We fear something and then seek out news (sometimes even reputable news) that confirms our fears.  Then we act or refuse to act and seek support.

What we end up doing is missing out on what might actually be safe and fun.

So this week, take a look at what scares you.  Are you getting the correct information to confirm this or simply what fits and what’s available?  Your success and relaxation depend on it so choose wisely!

Try Reading a NEW Language

Boring presentation. Group of young business people in smart casual wear looking bored while sitting together at the table and looking awayRecently I attended a conference in the Northeast.  I was speaking in the afternoon so I got there early to do some prep work and networking.  During the lunch break, a few speakers came up to do some announcements.  Now a big reason people attend conferences (myself included) is to network.  With over 300 attendees, there was a lot of networking going around at all the tables.  People then began to leave and with about 20 minutes left of lunch break, only 1/3 of the room was full.

The featured lunch speaker was from the national chapter of the association and she was going to talk about trends in the industry and how the national chapter would help.  She was very enthusiastic and full of energy.  Unfortunately, those who actually listened to her numbered about 10 and they were up front.  The rest of the room ignored her.  Seemingly oblivious to this, she talked on and on from her prepared script.  It was a bit sad.  She seemed to have no clue that she was talking to nobody.  The paltry applause she got at the end from the remaining audience had to alarm her but she smiled and walked off the stage.  Either she pushed on professionally and then went into the Ladies Room and had a meltdown or she was simply clueless.  I felt very uncomfortable for her but it reminded me of the importance of reading an audience.  Learning the communication that body language provides us. Then, reading in that language.

Back in the 1960s, a researcher named Albert Mehrabian did a number of studies on communication, particularly which form of communication could influence the most effectively.  Although his data was coopted and inaccurately compared (this is the common statement that 55% of communication is from body language, 38% from tone of voice, and 7% from the words themselves) it’s pretty clear that body language talks. Loudly.  You have to be observant!

So if you find yourself getting the opportunity to speak to a large group or you have to speak to a smaller group to maybe make your case for a new idea, be mindful of the following:

  1. Empathize with Your Audience.  If it’s near lunchtime or the end of the day, be brief.  Nobody will complain if you end early.  If it’s late afternoon or midmorning, the audience may be tired.  Acknowledge all of this verbally. “Because it’s late in the day, I’ll make my remarks quickly so we can all get out of here sooner.”  Trust me, you’ll win big fans!
  2. Speak a Language the Audience Speaks.  Use their jargon, not yours.  Use examples that relate to them, not you.  If you use audio or video examples, use ones that relate to this particular audience.  Tie the unfamiliar to the familiar (again, familiar to them) and you’ll transfer your knowledge to them.
  3. Tell a Story.  Nothing communicates like a good story.  Told correctly, it will capture your audience and hold them to the end.  But you need to practice the story.  It should also be YOUR story.  No more “Starfish on the Beach” or “The Commanding Officer of the Battleship Arguing with the Lighthouse” stories.  If you want to look like a complete amateur, just use tired speaker-stories like these.  Be original and be YOU!
  4. Watch the Body Language of Your Audience.  This is where the lunch speaker failed.  If she had noticed people leaving or ignoring her, she should have stopped going from the script and tried something different.  Maybe even stopping to just tell a story.

Even if you dread it, there is no better way to connect, convince, or control a group of people than to speak in front of them.  Don’t waste the opportunity by failing to connect.  You always connect better if you read their body language and engage them on their level.  When you connect, you can convince.

How Well Do You Sell?

Above view of consultant shaking hands with customerIf you’re anything like me, you probably hate selling.

Most of us get our hate for selling from early childhood experiences like selling Christmas cards door to door or worse, having to sell Girl Scout cookies outside of a store to total strangers.

Then of course we deal with salespeople as adults which can put us off even more.  The car salesperson who we just know is dishonest and wants to screw us over.  The cold caller who pesters us to switch from Dish Network to DirectTV.

As someone who actually has to sell in order to get more clients, I’ve seen both extremes in the world of sales.  On one hand, there is the salesperson at the booth at a trade show who is too afraid to look at your when you walk by, instead peering intently into their smartphone.  Then there is the other extreme.

On a recent vacation to Cancun, Mexico I walked into the crowded flea market next to the Senor Frog’s to buy some souvenirs for family and friends.  I was about 10 feet from the entrance when I was immediately swarmed by vendors selling anything from t-shirts to plaster skeletons to spoon holders with Our Lady of Guadalupe on them.

“Where are you from?” they asked.

“Tennessee” I replied.

“Ah Tennessee Titans” (they pronounced it “Thennessee Thitans”) and proceeded to show me a plaster skull wearing a Titans football helmet.  They offered me a beer, probably to relax me and intoxicate me enough to suddenly develop an obsession for turtles sculpted out of abalone shells.  As it happens, I walked out of that market with a lot of stuff I really didn’t need nor intended to buy.  At least I was able to negotiate with them which meant I was only a little ripped off buying Mexican stuff that was probably made in China.

But it taught me a sales lesson:  There is a balanced approach to selling something to someone.

And just to be clear, all of us are salespeople.  We may not all sell products or services but all of us have to sell our ideas or opinions, or even ourselves to a hiring manager.  What is the best way?

  1. Build a genuine rapport. One of the T-shirt vendors in Cancun asked me where I was from originally which of course was California.  He said he was from there and lived there 6 months out of the year.  He referenced places only a Californian would know so we hit it off.  After buying stuff from him, I asked which vendor he trusted to give me the best deal on some plaster jewelry boxes.  He walked me over a couple of booths and introduced me to a guy who I then bought from.  When we went back for more t-shirts a couple days later, I went right back to his booth and we bought from him.  Rapport builds trust.  We buy from people we trust.
  1. Be Assertive, but Not Aggressive. Assertive means asking for the sale.  Aggressive means insisting on the sale.  I recently purchased a new Mazda CX-7 in Clarksville, TN.  The salesman spent about an hour demonstrating the features and benefits of the car.  At no point did he pressure me.  Finally though he asked, “What will it take for you to purchase this car from me today?”  Assertive?  Yes. Aggressive?  No.  Had he asked me that in the first 10 minutes it would have caused me to walk away.  But after an hour of conversation, it was an appropriate question.  After some haggling, I bought the car from him.
  1. Ask for the Sale. That’s the point of selling isn’t it?  Don’t expect the customer to just open up their wallets to you and ask you to reach inside.  This means you have to do the hard work to build rapport and explain the features and benefits of your product, service, proposal, or SELF.  Then, when it’s time, ask for the sale.

Selling is difficult and scary but by practicing the techniques and then putting yourself into that assertive mindset, you’ll be able to do it.  Trust me, I do a whole lot of selling in my business and even though it doesn’t come naturally to me, I’m getting better all the time.

All of us need to sell.  The question is:  How well will you sell?

The Wrong Way to Solve a Problem

remoteWhen faced with a problem, what do you do?

Some people rise to the occasion.  They are at their best when chaos reigns and solutions seem elusive.  They don’t show emotion, think and act rationally, and have a knack for making a tough situation seem rather ordinary.  We admire people like that.

And then there is everyone else…

One of the biggest challenges for my mom was learning new technology.  It seemed to grow in prominence in her life even as she aged.  My dad described her method of problem-solving a misbehaving computer or a confusing remote was “push every button until you figure it out.”  That of course never worked.  Their DVD player played every one of their movies in French until my son was able to fix it for them.

Sadly, that’s how most of us solve a problem.  We don’t really know what the root issue is so we go after the surface solution and try multiple attempts without documenting or testing anything which results in the occasional fix, but most often, a more complicated situation.

What’s the best way to solve a problem?  Try this approach:

Step #1:  Specifically define the problem.  This means name the problem.  Rather than “The TV’s broke” say “I can’t seem to figure out how to change the language from French back to English.”

Step #2:  Get out all documentation and manuals you have.  Intuition works occasionally but why reinvent the wheel when you can refer to some documentation.

Step #3:  Work systematically while testing and documenting each step.  Take a step.  Test the result.  Write down what the result was.  When you get a step correct, take the next step.  Stop, document, and move on.  Then, when the problem is solved…

Step #4:  Document everything you did.    This way you have more data to use when you need Step 2 in a similar problem.

This is the standard way to solve a technology problem but it can certainly work in other areas.

  • “John is a terrible employee”  (Vague, subjective, and not very specific)
  • “John is unreliable”  (Better, but still not specific.  What makes him unreliable?”
  • “John never seems to be here when we need him” (Still better, but more specific please?)
  • “John has been late 5 times in the past 2 weeks.”  (Now we have something to work with!!!)

Work through the steps using documentation from time and attendance, the HR handbook, and of course any previous performance documentation.  Then sit him down and figure out why he’s been late and get him to fix it.  Rather than trying a bunch of solutions to motivate John, be sure to go through this methodically.

Our organizational value is quantified by how well we solve or prevent problems.  Try these four steps next time you get challenged by a problem.



Is the World Ready for Your Big Idea?

bbbLately I’ve been watching a unique cooking show on the Cooking Channel called Big Bad BBQ Brawl.  It involves two brothers, Shannon and Big Rich Ambrosio who own a successful BBQ food truck in Brooklyn, New York, traveling the country competing with local chefs in a fun competition.

On a recent episode, the Ambrosio brothers entered a full BBQ competition in Florida.  This meant that they competed against real Pitmasters in three types of meat: brisket, ribs, and chicken.  Wanting to dazzle the judges who were used to traditional sweet southern flavors, they opted for Italian style brisket, Vietnamese-flavored ribs, and non-traditional chicken.

They didn’t place in any category.  And they were very disappointed.

Here’s the lesson:  While the food was good, the Florida judges weren’t ready for it.  A good idea at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We’ve probably experienced that too haven’t we?  We have a great plan in our heads for a new process and the boss shoots it down.  We come up with a new product or service we KNOW our customers will love and they simply blow it off.  We try to impress our partner or spouse with a new restaurant or gift and they don’t react the way we hoped they would.

In ALL cases, we approach the idea from OUR point of view rather than from that of our intended audience.

I know, it’s that Golden Rule thing:  Do unto others and YOU would have done unto YOU.  Unfortunately, most people don’t really care what YOU want done unto you, they simply want what they want done unto THEM.

If that’s the case, maybe we should approach anything new with a little market research or at a minimum, careful observation.  And innovation, while very cool, is a risky business.  The world might not be ready for what you have right now.

It takes patience and lots of careful research.

So this week, before you unleash your new idea on the world or even your relationship, ask the following questions:

  1. Is there a need for this right now?
  1. Is there a need for this EVER?
  1. Do I think it’s a great idea without even testing it?
  1. What will I do if the idea is rejected?

I don’t intend to discourage you.  Just wanting you to maximize success!