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.


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!

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!

Why Simple is Often Better

I have a love/hate relationship with McDonalds.  On one hand I love the fact that I can stop off on any long car trip in the morning and get a decent (albeit unhealthy) breakfast with pretty good coffee.  But as an organization, I hate that they can’t seem to embrace what they really are:  cheap, unhealthy comfort food.  Their latest gimmick is artisan sandwiches that are supposed to help them compete with Panera (sort of like a Smart Car competing with a Chevy Tahoe in the heavy hauling vehicle category).  Nothing new here.  In the past we’ve seen offerings with salads, all-day breakfast, fancy coffee, and wraps.

But in olden days, McDonalds owned what they were.  I found a photo of an old menu.  Take a look:



First of all, the pricing dates this.  But notice the simplicity.  And, since it’s so simple, the menu can add helpful descriptors that make me want to purchase.  Yeah I know McDonalds makes money hand over fist but I wonder if they stuck to simple then maybe their operations costs would lower enough to match today’s profits.  Sometimes simple is just better.


Which brings us to my lesson today.  Sometimes simple plans with clear communications give us a great chance for success.  Military planners, known for their complex plans that don’t translate well into an actual battle made this mistake in the ill-fated Operation Eagle Claw hostage rescue attempt back in 1980.  The complexity and overplanning of this operation resulted in multiple aircraft lost and eight servicemen killed…all without ever confronting the Iranians.  Simple, yet not simplistic strategies with significant training to run that simple plan might have led to success.


So what about you.  What about your business?  Is the presentation you’re planning to make full of jargon, complicated figures, and wordiness that’s sure to put an audience to sleep?  Is your customer acquisition strategies so complex that it requires the lining up of the planets to make it work?

It may seem counterintuitive, but I’m convinced making your plans, presentations, strategies, and initiatives simple and uncomplicated eliminates confusion and results in a better chance for long term success.  Maybe McDonalds should ditch trying to be cool and trendy and on a par with Panera and Chipotle and go back to what they really are.  Cheap, unhealthy comfort food.  I might even become a raving fan then.

What do you think?

Are You Aware of Your Bias?

Unconscious BiasAre you biased?  If you say no, you’re just not human.  If you’re reading this, trust me, you’re human.

Recently I put together a short seminar on dealing with unconscious bias.  In researching the topic, I found some interesting information.

First, we are all biased.  It simply means we tend to sort out information and give preference to one piece of data to solve a particular problem.  Also, we as human beings sort out data as we see it.  For example, when we enter a room, the first thing we do is scan up and down and side to side.  Then we notice people.  The first thing we notice is their skin color followed quickly by their gender.  Up to this point, there are no problems.

Unfortunately, when it comes to that sorting and bias, if we’re not careful we can start giving preference unfairly when we’re not aware of our thinking process.  That’s where the conscious bias (what we’re aware of) can be influenced by our unconscious bias (what’s inside us and often has free run of our brains without ever being questioned).

My first wife hated fish.  She had the privilege of visiting some amazing places like Hawaii and Australia and had access to some of the best fish on the planet.  As long as I knew her, I never saw her take a bite of fish, and yet she always told me how much she hated fish.  Our daughter grew up hating fish.  She never took a bite of fish (as far as I could remember).  When she was in her early 20’s, she moved in with us for a couple of years.  I convinced her to try fish.  She loved it.  Her fiancé (and now husband) cooked lots of fish and she ate it.  She even ate calamari, not just the cylinder-shaped ones but the ones with all the tentacles.  An unconscious bias against fish (from her mom) led to a conscious one (from her) until it was challenged and overcome (by me and Chris).

But enough about fish.  Could a host of early experiences be lurking in our subconscious and affect our decision-making?  Absolutely.  Here’s how it works:

Think about your most trusted circle of advisors.  Don’t count family members in this group.  These folks are the ones you can rely on, can relate to, and can be counted upon to never let you down.  Do you have your list?

Now take a good look at them.  I’m willing to bet that most, if not all of them look like you (gender/race/age), think like you (political leaning/religious affiliation), and act like you (sexual orientation/marital status).  If that’s your trusted inner circle, you might be tempted to use them as your yardstick when measuring others.  If they “fit” you, then you trust them, if not, then you discount.  You do this unconsciously.  It’s normal.  Just pay attention to it.

It becomes a problem then when we select only those people or people like them for special projects, promotions, or favors.  We discount those we don’t know and don’t even give them a chance because on the surface we can’t really trust them.

Many years ago, a dentist that I assisted looked past the obvious (an enlisted kid with no motivation) and took the time to push me to attend college and dream bigger.  It’s the reason I have the career I do today.  The dentists I worked for before him and after him saw just the surface and treated me like crap. Had I never met Greg Nelson, I would not be successful today. Don’t let an unconscious bias derail the potential in others around you.

Bias is normal.  It’s the lack of reflection and honesty that makes it dangerous.  This week, make it a point to expand your circle of trust and begin to draw from the wealth and wisdom of others you may have previously ignored.  Everyone wins if that happens!

Why Being FIRST Sometimes Makes You Best

copyHollywood seems to be in full-bore reboot and sequel mode.  Where Summer and Thanksgiving used to be the launch of the big blockbusters, now they seem to be nothing more than a couple of new ideas but many more sequels and more recently, the reboot – a remake of a remake…of sometimes another remake.

Up until just about 10 years ago, there was the Batman movies which built on the original TV series from the 1960s with Adam West (with several different actors) and the Superman movies (with Christopher Reeve).  Then came The Hulk and Spiderman.  Then nothing.  Then of course came the multiple other superhero movies and then the phenomena of multiple Hulk movies (reboots) and to date, two more Spiderman reboots, another Batman reboot, and then of course Batman vs. Superman.

It’s not just superheroes.  Since the original Jaws movie in 1975, there have been four sequels and several other killer (really insane killer) sharks in movies.  Just when you think it’s safe to go back into the water…

What does this all have to do with you?  Well, how original are you?  How groundbreaking are your ideas?

There is a risk with being first and with being original.  You could of course be wildly successful.  That’s what happened with the original Jaws movie.  Even though the shark looked fake, the terror kept people in real life off the beach.  Sequels tried to recapture that same magic but aside from more realistic sharks and bloodier human feedings, they just didn’t have the same effect.  There was always a comparison to the original.

On the other hand, you might fail.  It’s possible.  But here’s the thing.  Even if it failed, you were the first to try.  Even if someone builds and perfects your idea, they still keep YOU in the conversation.  Someone else is trying to improve what YOU started.  YOU started.  You’re still memorable.

Hollywood seems to have lost its creativity.  And the more it happens, the more we think about and miss Adam West, Christopher Reeve, and the robotic fake shark Bruce.  The more you copy the original, the more the original shines.

What new idea have you been thinking about proposing?  What new direction have you been contemplating in your current career path?  Instead of waiting for affirmation from what’s already been tried, why not be the pioneer that will be remembered for no other reason maybe than it was simply the first…



Unleash Your Inner Ninja Warrior

ninjatrainingThe other night while flipping channels on the TV, I happened to come across the American Ninja Warrior TV show. If you’ve not seen it before it involves some very physically fit individuals who run on a timed obstacle course. The course requires balance, stamina, and most of all upper body strength. I was amazed at watching some of these people and then even a 65-year-old who managed to finish several of the obstacles before falling off and losing his dentures in the water. I thought about what it would be like to be on this program but at my age and with my hip replacements and bad back, just bending over to tie my shoe is enough of a warrior challenge.

For all of us who are not athletes, I believe there still are some Ninja challenges we can do when it comes to our professional development.  It’s easy to admire of those in our field who are committed to excellence, who managed to give great presentations, do amazing analytical work, or solve complicated problems. The good news is that all of us have the potential to be in that class. It simply involves your commitment to personal and professional development.

I don’t know what these Ninja athletes do but I can imagine it involves several types of training, many of which are not directly related to the obstacles they must overcome in the challenge. What that means is that not only do they need to know how to climb on parallel bars, they need to develop the upper body strength and the hand strength to hold their grip. It doesn’t always involve just cardio as we might think about it via long distance running, it might be short interval sprints. This means that transferable physical strength and agility must be made to be the focus competitive strength and agility.  In other words, you have to train for more than just the actual competition.

We need to do the same in our professional lives too. While we might be really good at our jobs, there are some ancillary skills we might not be good at. I must admit I’m pretty good at what I do in organizational and management development consulting, but where I come up very short as in sales. That may not seem like a logical business skill for me to have but if I can’t sell what I do then I won’t be able to do it. With that in mind I’ve spent much of the last year and a half reading and studying everything I can get my hands on about sales. That is an additional skill that will help me be more successful.

But what about you? Right now are there other skills that would help you be more successful? You might be good at making a presentation but how are you and navigating the politics of your organization? You might be great at solving a complicated problem but how good are you at actually preventing that problem in the first place? All of us have a responsibility to be the best in our field. Since only a few of us can be an elite athlete, why not be excellent in the everyday playing field that is our professional lives?