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The Body and Brain Say: “We’re Warning You…”

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“Are you Leslie Schreiber?” the stern, male voice demanded on the phone asked.  “This is Lieutenant S. from the Sheriff’s Department.”  Gulp.  My mind raced.  When was the last time I was in R-land and what did I do?!

“Yes,” I replied tentatively. My heart was pounding.  “I saw you on TV,” he barked.   I could feel my adrenaline kick in.

I quickly weighed my options.  Do I deny everything?  Ask for a lawyer?  Hang up?

“And we’re interested in hiring you for some training and…”

Whew. Deep breathes.  My body relaxed.  I could think clearly again.

Where did my mind go in those few seconds?  Guilt, fear, paranoia, etc…  And my body exhibited the behaviors of stress – increased heart rate and increased adrenaline being most common.  I’ve also experienced increased sweating, flushed neck and face, and feeling nauseas.

Why?

This is a reaction called emotional hijacking when the limbic or emotional center of our brain, specifically our amygdala, takes over.  It’s hard to think rationally and feel in control.  Our tendency is to fight or flight or freeze in these moments.  Our bodies prepare us for battle, for fleeing, or for camouflaging.

But when you can recognize your emotional and physical responses, then you are better prepared to handle your verbal response.  We are fortunate to have this warning system hard wired into our brains.  As you become more in tune with your specific warning system, the easier it becomes to communicate more calmly and clearly, keeping your emotions in perspective.

41 Years and Still Talking

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Imagine the scene:  you’re standing in the midst of rolling green hills covered with blueberry bushes. The sound of bagpipes drift through the air.  Occasional laughter and happy voices bubble up.  It’s nearly sunset and a picnic dinner just beyond the bushes beckons you away from foraging.  But you’re back at the bush, trying to find the “best” berry ever.

This I how I spent a recent evening.  And my competitive edge would not be subdued as I quickly noticed that some berry pickers were more efficient than me.  Their quart boxes filled up more quickly than my pint!  What was their secret?  I spied on an older gentleman who clearly knew the efficient method of berry picking.  After a while, we began to chat and I forgot about my lack of berry picking competence.

His name was Leon and he was a native Vermonter in his 70’s.  I was impressed to hear he still owned a thriving locksmith business.  And he had experienced many forms of employment over the years: teaching, farming, and politics.

But one constant had remained for him: his wife.  I asked him what advice he would give after being married for 41 years.  Without hesitation, he replied, “Share responsibilities, laugh, and talk.”  I was thrilled to hear such sage yet simple advice.  Especially the “talk”!

So the next time you’re blue berry picking (or reflecting on why certain relationships last longer than others!), think of Leon’s words.  Healthy, long lasting relationships require direct and honest communication.  Good luck talking!

How Many Crayons Are In Your Box?

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Last night, I was at a networking event.  A lively discussion began when someone proclaimed that, as children, we all start out with the same primary colors of crayons in our boxes (red, blue, green, etc…).  But as we get older, women add more crayons with colors like magenta, gray, peach, maroon, etc…  but men do not.  As women’s boxes get more diverse with color, men stick with the basics.

I don’t intend to open a can of worms about the sexes and our respective paths of development!  But I do want to explore the idea of crayons representing your emotions.  How many “crayons” do you feel comfortable using?  Do you always use the same “crayons”?  Is there a certain “crayon” that is difficult for you to use or to see other people using?

The field of Emotional Intelligence embraces these questions and makes the following recommendations:

  • Knowing the crayons in your own box is key to be able to understand your own emotions.
  • Knowing the crayons in your own box will help you understand the crayons in someone else’s box.
  • The more crayons in your box, the better.  A full color approach to emotions will serve you better than black and white.
  • It is encouraged to color outside of the lines!  Becoming Emotionally Intelligent takes practice, courage, and patience.  It is a work in progress.

So how many crayons are in your box?  (And do you have a sharpener in the back?!)

 

TTYY – That’s Them You’re You

TTYYA training colleague of mine recently introduced this concept to me: “TTYY”. It means “That’s Them You’re You.”  It was in the context of how to handle difficult people.  Let me clarify what I mean by difficult.  Typically this person is afraid of something such as change, failure, the unknown, looking foolish, etc…  So the fear translates into becoming resistant to the situation.

We’ve all been guilty of it.  Imagine a time when you felt uncomfortable or nervous – did you make up an excuse to leave the situation?  Did you redirect attention to someone else to avoid the spotlight being on you?  Have you ever avoided someone or a situation entirely?

I saw these behaviors while working with two very different clients this past month.  The first was a group of production workers at a local manufacturing facility.  In the beginning of my required Improving Workplace Communication class , one participant was very clear about not wanting to be there.  I paraphrased what his concerns were.  I sympathized with his feeling that he hadn’t been given enough information about why he was asked to attend the class.  I encouraged other people to share if they felt similarly.  I then asked, “What can we do differently to change your mind about being here?”  “Nothing.  I’m outta here.”

So this is a good example of employing “TTYY.” I had tried to engage him, relate to him, have others validate his perspective. But his mind was made up.   Later, I was told that there were extenuating circumstances contributing to his behavior.  A good reminder that we rarely know the whole story behind other’s resistance.

The second example, albeit less obvious, was a mixed group from higher education – professors, staff, and administrative employees.   Very bright, well educated, and engaged.  The class was optional and the topic was “How to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence” so I didn’t anticipate much resistance.

But it did show itself during activities!  As I introduced each activity, I was bombarded with questions. At one point, I simply stopped the questions and said let’s begin.  I realized that “TTYY” applies here as well.  Questions are a clue that resistance is mounting, particularly with  “What if…” questions. They were spending too much time in their resistance to simply have the experience!   It wasn’t about the activity or me.  And, in the end, they really enjoyed the activities.

When needing perspective when someone appears to be difficult, remember “TTYY.”  We rarely know their whole story.  For me, using a combination of inquiry and/or firmness, I can move on without being distracted by their behavior.

Importance of Accurate Communication in an Emergency

emergencyToday I went to a local pool and tennis club to inquire about a swimming membership. As I entered the main area, I overheard a woman say, “I don’t know what to do. She’s just lying on the floor and not moving.” Two more women quickly went into the women’s bathroom. I thought, well, this could be anything. Let’s see how this unfolds. I started to engage with someone at the front desk but we were then interrupted by one of those women saying, “Call 9-1-1! She’s unconscious.” Immediately, I decided to get involved.

Unconsciousness is a life-threatening situation when someone can no longer respond to you. It frequently is the beginning of cascading events in which the body shuts down in various ways – stopped breathing, no pulse, etc…

My years of training as a Red Cross CPR/First Aid Instructor had prepared me well for this moment. Mentally reviewing the ABC’s, (Airway, Breathing, Circulation) I introduced myself to the woman and she ushered me into the bathroom. As it turns out, the young woman, while pale and shaky, was still conscious – thank goodness! She was able to answer my questions such as are you a diabetic, do you have allergies, when was the last time you ate something, etc… It’s important to get as much information as you can just in case the person does go unconscious.

EMS personnel arrived promptly, I told them what I knew, and they took over the scene. She was still conscious as they placed her into the ambulance.

Lesson learned: In an emergency, if you can help, get involved. Clearly and accurately communicate what you know. And if someone is no longer responding to you, that means they are unconscious and they need immediate help. Call 9-1-1.

*Update – the young woman is fine. She was severely dehydrated.

5 Strategies When Facilitating a Group

3856525Ever been nervous about facilitating a day-long meeting?  A perspective client was planning a day-long session. No one had much experience leading an event like this.  They envisioned a type of mini-retreat and professional development opportunity for about 25 people from all over New England.  This was the first time they were hosting these people.  They were eager to make a lasting impression.

The proposed agenda placed me after lunch for an hour of teambuilding – the shot in the arm/let’s have some fun approach. But I quickly discovered an overloaded agenda.  There was a lack of focus.  I saw a deer in the headlights.  So I recommended these 5 strategies for them:

1.  Work backwards: Be clear on your outcomes for the day.  Ask yourself, “What do I want participants saying to one another at the end of our day together?”  “What are the takeaways from the day?”

2.  Tell them 3 times: At the beginning of your session, tell your participants what they will experience.  Then, during the session, comment on the actual experience.  Finally, at the end of the session, remind them what they just experienced.  This dramatically increases their retention of their experience or learning.

3.  Theme:  It’s easier for the facilitator or leader of the session to keep participants focused if there is a theme woven into the day.  It becomes the anchor for the session and encourages a flow.  Participants also like to know what to expect so be transparent about the theme.

4.  Less is more:  Most people new to facilitating underestimate how long everything takes, from transitions from breaks to presenting basic information.  Be sure to add in a buffer for questions, off-shoot conversations, or A/V snafus.
  
5.  Planning time: Preparing for any type of meeting is the key to its success.  If new to facilitating meetings, plan to spend twice the amount of time planning for the session than the session itself.  My client was planning on a 7 hour day so they should be willing to spend 14 hours to prepare.  This includes preparing the agenda, anticipating potential road blocks, and being so comfortable with the agenda that if something needed to change at the last minute, it would not throw the day into disarray.  But don’t worry, with most things, the more you do it, the less time it takes!

Reminders from a Walk

puppyI had been working all day, preparing for a class that’s somewhat new for me. That means I’m creating curriculum, adapting from previous classes, trying new methods and tools. I do enjoy it but it can be a mind-numbing process. So I decided to take a break and take Milo for a walk around the hood.

We first went to the local park. Two young men were playing basketball on one end while at the other end, two little boys were attempting to play. The ball was bigger than the kids’ heads and they could barely hold it in their tiny hands! But they took shots at the impossibly high basket and they ran after the ball time and time again. I was waiting for Milo (he’s off-leash in this park) near the water fountain and the young boys came over. So I helped them by keeping the fountain button pushed. The arc of water was also too high (just like the basket!) and the water got everywhere besides their mouths. In their ears, up their nose, into their hair! I laughed and they didn’t seem to mind. They were just going with the flow.

As we returned home, I ran into a young couple that recently moved into the neighborhood. They were returning from a day on the man’s family farm. They looked tired but relaxed.

Then I saw another neighbor. He looked great from a year off on sabbatical. Tan and fit, he said he’s been enjoying playing tennis. Finally, across the street was a neighbor relaxing on her porch. She asked if I liked cherry tomatoes. I thought a moment as I find most tomatoes too acidic. But these are the small ones! Yes, I do like them. She said to help myself from her garden, especially the orange ones.

What luck! I’m so glad I took that walk with Milo as I stuffed my pockets with delicious tomatoes and baked them in butter that night for dinner. And I was reminded how important it is to take breaks from our hectic days. Get some exercise, help someone out, reconnect with your family, enjoy your time off, and finally, share your abundance.