by renita kalhorn

Recently, I went to a chiropractor here in Paris to treat the pain in my lower back. When speaking in English, I have a wide range of vocabulary to describe pain — throbbing, aching, burning, shooting, tender, sore, tingling. In French, however, all I could say was “it hurts.” If it had been a more serious condition requiring surgery, my inability to describe more precisely what I was feeling could have been a real hindrance to getting the best treatment.

It turns out the same is true with our emotional vocabulary. If we want to master our emotions, we have to first be able to understand them and express how we feel to others. In its research of 1M+ people, however, TalentSmart found that only 36% could accurately identify their emotions in the moment. This is problematic because unlabeled emotions often go misunderstood, which leads to drama, irrational choices and counterproductive actions.

There are six basic emotions — fear, anger, disgust, surprise, happy, sad — but they don’t begin to cover the nuance of feeling we can experience in a given situation. If the COO corrected you in front of the team, you would probably speak to her very differently if you knew you were more embarrassed than furious.

So the ability to pinpoint what we’re feeling accomplishes at least three things:

  • It gives us a sense of control and helps us find better solutions. 

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  • It helps us communicate better.

In my case, the subtle nuance between my “mad face” and “grumpy face” can be hard to detect. But if I say, “Don’t mind me, I’m feeling out of sorts today,” it creates a kind of emotional buffer, saves others the mental energy of wondering if they’ve done something to offend and avoids an unintentional flare-up.

  • It helps us feel empathy and bond with others.

My friend was having a rough day, and seemed agitated. “Sounds like you’re really getting pummeled,” I said using a word that I thought might conjure up a lighter image and take some of the edge off. “Yes!” she said. “That’s exactly how it feels,” and we shared a chuckle.

Does your vocabulary revolve around the usual suspects — mad, sad, bad, good, fine, upset, anxious, happy, stressed or tired? Pick your “favourite” and find a juicy alternative in this word wheel with almost 100 choices:

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by renita kalhorn

How do I know if it will work out? In working with 1,000+ clients over the past 10 years, I’ve heard countless variations on this question.

How do I know …

… if I should start my own company.
… if I should take the new role.
… if I should reach out to that person I admire.
… if the guy/girl will stick around.
… if people will read what I write.

As a coach, my job isn’t to answer your questions, it’s to help you upgrade their quality. And any question that starts with some version of “How do I know if…” is not a high quality question.

Because that’s your primitive brain talking, and its job is not to look for opportunities for you to have an exciting, fulfilling life. It wants you to be SAFE, and it’s looking for guarantees: “Show me evidence this is going to work out and then I’ll do it.”

When we let our primitive brain run our lives, we get so fixated on SURVIVAL that we don’t give ourselves a chance to truly LIVE.

And most of the opportunities that make life interesting come out of the unknown and unexpected:

The musician who founded a tech startup when his iPhone died and he lost hundreds of valuable contacts (the Amos Winbush story).
The Japanese salaryman who invited the daughter of his American colleague to live with his family (my story).
The tongue-in-cheek article meant to be an inside joke for other chefs that gets published in The New Yorker (the Anthony Bourdain story).

The world is only going to get more uncertain and unpredictable. Instead of trying to control what happens, you would be better off deciding what you want to experience — and then developing capabilities that would support your evolution towards it.

So, instead of trying to figure out what to do to avoid disappointment and mistakes, what if you learned to bounce back quicker.

Instead of being afraid to make the wrong decision and getting caught up in analysis paralysis, what if you learned to make the best decision you can with the information you have —  and then commit to making it the right one.

Instead of trying to control external circumstances, what if you became more mentally agile and resourceful.

Because these skills — resilience, conviction, adaptability — are the ultimate survival kit. With them, you’ll create a sense of safety and confidence no matter what happens. And that will fuel your ability to spot and take advantage of the next opportunity.

With this, as we are coming to an end of 2018, we hope to have inspired you to make 2019 count, to get closer to living the life you want to be living.

Check out some of our previous posts on how to develop resilience and make better decisions:

Resilience as the new happiness

Bouncing back after Sandy – a matter of resilience

The body scan may build your resilience for change

Slow down and speed up your resilience to stress

Are you agile enough to lead the cahnge you want to see?

How to make good decisions


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by anne lueneburger


Psychiatrist Dr. Raj Persaud shares some insights on how to seduce others. And while our work life is in many ways separate from our dating life, both share our need to connect with others.

Most of Persauds’ suggestions may not be ground breaking, such as the necessity of meeting another persons’ wants in order to persuade them into our camp. One thought was noteworthy, however: to influence others, in exchanges it serves us to strategically disagree with everything the other party says for the first half of the time and then to switch to agreeing for the second half of the conversation. What we know from social psychology research, this approach flatters as it gives the recipient the impression that they ‘turned us around’ due to their own powers of seduction. It provides the illusion of having an impact, a very seductive thought.

Is this playing a game, is it manipulative, even Machiavellian? Persaud argues that life itself is a seduction and that if we do not play the game we risk running into trouble.



by anne lueneburger

Lumbergh’s a purveyor of the blandest cruelty possible. He is despicable, smug and downright unpleasant.  Movies are full of Lumberghs aka arseholes (onward referred to as AH). Unfortunately, AHs are ever present in reality. They have a clear lack of respect for boundaries. They intimidate and harm others, repeatedly over time. AHs often feel threatened by others, they might feel weak and insecure. Sometimes they desire to get a competitive edge over so-perceived limited resources. Often a more powerful individual attacks a less powerful one.

Bullying is a well-known term to describe those types of behaviors. Bullying is bad for everyone involved. In fact, already looking at youth, both bullies and victims of bullying have a raised incidence of suicide attempts. Both perpetrator and victim are at particular risk of psychological distress: anxiety, low self-esteem and depression.

Toxic physical stress literally ‘gets under the skin’ as it raises inflammation levels. It is the number one cause of job absenteeism. The exception are psychopaths who show up as bullies – they will not experience any stress but derive pleasure from inflicting pain on others. About a quarter of all bullying in organizations can be traced back to corporate psychopaths.

Nobody likes an AH, so why do they survive in organizations? According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 70 percent of today’s workforce has been exposed to bullying. And why do we enable or even get a kick out of AHs? After all, we could be the next victim. Social media makes it even easier to attack someone without a ‘real trace of blood’. It can be fairly easy to be a bully when you can hide behind a screen.

So how can you deal if you have an AH in your ranks? Given this is such a common source of stress, Stanford’s Richard Sutton has launched a bestseller with his book “The Asshole Survival Guide”. It is an interesting read and offers some good tips on how to manage this dilemma. However, while quite insightful, it is not a silver bullet when it comes to dealing with AHs. Toxic situations are often very unique to the individual and their context. This in turn will determine what strategies and tactics are most effective.

Here some thoughts for you to consider:

Step 1: Self-awareness first.

We often have knee-jerk reactions when we suspect someone to be an AH. But before we react, we have to ask ourselves the following mortifying question: who is really the AH here? It may not be the other party after all. Or it may be the two of you. Research tells us that we tend to inflate our own abilities and downplay our faults. We are quick to label others as the problem. In challenging situations, start with asking questions, be curious, and understand more of the context and what drives another’s behavior. Consider this: “Be slow to label others as assholes, be quick to label yourself as one.”

Step 2: Remain curious.

Let’s assume your assessment confirms that you are not at fault for the current dilemma. What now? Whether you should act, according to Professor Sutton, depends on your answer to the following questions:

  • How long does the bullying last?
  • Is he/she a temporary or a permanent AH?
  • How much power do they have?
  • Is it one or are there many?
  • How much are you suffering?

If the dilemma seems to last for a while, you are looking at a permanent AH, possibly with power, and he/she is causing you significant stress, there are some ‘flight, freeze or fight’ tactics that you might find useful.

And as you contemplate your next step, important is to target the AH, not the team or organization as a whole. Radical and general actions such as withdrawing from work altogether, reducing your visibility or slacking off in your deliverables is bound to result in self-sabotage and play into the hands of the toxic individual.

Step 3: Act.

Option ‘Flight’: Create distance.

*Minimize time with problem people. Keep interactions as short as possible, slow down the rhythm of interactions.

*Stick to the facts, keep it logical. Communication should be fact based. Trying to connect or even reason with toxic people has a high chance that it will derail.

*Deflect, focus on them in conversations. Change the topic if they try to put the attention on you. This way you avoid being the target for any manipulative tactics.

*Distance yourself physically. If you can, get 150 feet (45m) away from them. It is almost like you are in another country.  If toxic people are within 25 feet or less, the odds go up that you will also become toxic and are more likely to get fired.

*Create a distraction. Plan the interaction around a recreational activity, one that keeps them busy and occupied.

Option ‘Freeze’: Protect yourself emotionally.

*Find ways to emotionally distance yourself.  If it is someone you feel close to, resist the temptation to save that person. Consider looking at this from an angle of the future, such as “how will I feel about this 10 minutes/10 months/10 years from now”?

*Get support. Collude with others, possibly with someone who has previously been the victim of the toxic individual. Realize that you are not alone, you can turn to peers, family and friends for support.  If there is no one in that very moment, think about what you would tell your best friend, what advice you would give. Then take this advice and use it on yourself.

*Learn how to reframe the situation, a technique often used in cognitive behavioral therapy. The more you can change the definition of the situation, depersonalize it (“he is the problem, not me”), the less will it upset you.

*Adopt a learner mindset: what can I learn about this? Especially if you are someone who needs to understand something to process it, this tactic can be very useful. Google toxic behaviors you are exposed to (i.e. stonewalling, contempt) and explore publicly available advice on how to deal with it.

*As they go low, go high. See if you can find sympathy for the devil. Try to see them for what they really are: weak, insecure, often victims themselves.

Option ‘Fight’: Take back control.

If the AH is Machiavellian, often the best approach is to stand up, step up and speak up.

*Use the ‘velvet hammer’ and address them in a direct but respectful fashion. It is a thin line between assertiveness and aggression, but staying respectful works like a charm.

*Connect with your values, to what matters to you. Setting boundaries involves tolerating the uncomfortable feelings that often accompanies that. You may encounter anger, disappointment or retaliation from the other party. Not surprisingly, it can be scary to speak up. Reminding ourselves of our purpose, of our own value or that for what we stand for strengthens backbone.  You might even create your own mantra around this such as “I am enough” or “People first”.

*Document everything. While there are some jurisdictions where this is illegal, many do allow for this option. Record them, keep records of emails, phone calls etc. It may be very useful, should the dispute become elevated.

*Love bomb them. Turn haters into friends. I have a colleague who is an absolute pro when it comes to turning skeptic clients into devoted fans. One of her techniques is to shower them with attention and to be fully tuned into their needs.

*Have them accept your favors or accept their favors, assuming it feels ethical. Psychologically, due the concept of cognitive dissonance, we are programmed to perceive people who we exchange favors with as being in ‘our camp’.

*Use humor. Humor reduces social distance between people, it makes us seem more approachable, supportive and reduces stress. If you are witty, why not use that to your advantage? Make them laugh. When Abe Lincoln was aggressed by a bully who accused him of being ‘two-faced’, his response was “If I had two faces, do you really think I would chose wearing this one?”

Final food for thought

I don’t believe, however, that the burden of stopping an AH or bully should be the burden of the victim alone. It is not enough to ask the bullied person to step up and be courageous. All of us need to take responsibility. We need to build powerful coalitions around a victim to make progress. Leaders in organizations need to promote and reinforce a ‘no asshole rule’.  There needs to be awareness, dialog and support as well as accountability.

In this context I am also thinking of those of us who are parents/uncles/grandmothers/family friends, responsible for raising the future generation. A 2012 research study by the Journal of Cybertherapy and Rehabilitation showed that both a lackadaisical (permissive, lack of boundaries) as well as an authoritarian (harsh, punitive) parenting style breed future bullies. While the two styles are seemingly on opposite spectrums, both lack a respect for rules and for the rights of others, essentially what characterizes AH behavior.

So as grown ups, either directly or indirectly, modeling a facilitative, warm and responsive style and providing appropriate levels of autonomy, is where we need to start. If you do not wish to raise a bully, don’t bully your own kids.










by anne lueneburger

If you are like me, chances are that you have struggled with setting boundaries. I hate to disappoint, I am a people pleaser and struggle with the anger and resentment I have to face when I make it a  ‘No’.  Sarri Gilman’s brief video gives a humorous introduction on how we can get better at setting boundaries. And if you like this video and want to learn more, check out her web site:

by anne lueneburger

We spend a third of our lives sleeping. Not surprisingly, many of us are preoccupied with how to get the best shut-eye. Charles Dickens insisted on his bed facing North. Benjamin Franklin would have an extra bed on standby, so that should he wake up feeling hot, he could switch to a bed that was still cool and fresh. Michael Phelps sleeps in a pressure chamber that simulates an altitude of 9,000 feet to increase red blood cell production.

Most of us need anywhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Sleeping less or more is not optimal unless you are part of a tiny minority. In a study of 3000 professionals the fewest sick days were reported with about 7.7 hours of sleep per night. An indicator of whether we are getting enough sleep is looking at the time it takes us to fall asleep: anything less than 5 minutes means we are sleep deprived, the typical time it should take is between 10 and 15 minutes.

Getting the right amount of sleep is closely related with mental and physical health. In fact, sleep has significant restorative qualities: it promotes white blood cell count and immunity and reduces the risk of stroke, heart attack and overall inflammation. Adequate sleep keeps our weight in check as it regulates appetite and increases metabolism. It functions like ‘spring cleaning’ for the brain, flushing out memory-robbing protein fragments, solidifying memories we wish or need to keep. Sleep reduces stress and boosts creativity by up to 20 percent. As Steinbeck said: “It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.”

In fact, during REM sleep, the dream stage, our brain’s neurons look for patterns and connections between new memories and existing knowledge. As we dream, the rational control center of the brain is deactivated, producing an amazingly creative state. Ideas pop up that we would normally suppress. Paul McCartney conjured ‘Yesterday’ following a dream.

Want to send your creativity in a certain direction? Contemplate a situation you are interested in solving (make sure it is not a problem that stresses you) and think about this conundrum as you brush your teeth before you hit the sack.

Here a few quick tips to boost your shut-eye:

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If you still cannot get the shut-eye you need, consider seeing a professional such as Dr. Guy Meadows who runs London’s Sleep School.

Having said all this on how sleep is important, there are times when sacrificing sleep can be life affirming. This Sunday I got up at 3.45 am to catch the sunrise in London’s Richmond Park, a once in a life time spectacle I wouldn’t have wanted to miss:

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by renita kalhorn

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Dave Cooper, a Navy SEAL widely recognized for his ability to build high-performing SEAL teams says: “The most important words any leader can say are “I screwed that up.”

I learned this intuitive lesson at a young age from my parents. My dad was quick to laugh at himself and do a face palm when he tripped up  (“stupe, stupe, stupe”), which only engendered in me a sense of loyalty and safety. My mom, on the other hand, refused to allow even a hint that she had made a mistake and, in my childish quest for fairness, I created a lot of animosity trying to get her to admit she was wrong.

Now, however, I get it. There’s a very real biological reason for our aversion to being wrong, and it stems back to our cavemen days.  Back then, making one too many mistakes — you know, like telling the tribe “Hey, guys, I think there’s food over there,” and leading them into the camp of an enemy tribe instead — could lead directly to being thrown out of the tribe. Because back then, before the days of corner delis and Amazon Prime, exile from the tribe was a very real threat to physical survival.

So now, when we make a mistake, the primitive part of our brain still has the same “fight or flight” reaction, in essence, translating it instantly as “We are going to die!”

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? That “oh, sh*t” moment of realization, when your heart begins pounding, your stomach gets queasy and your mind starts popping out justifications.So what we need to do first is ease that very real sense of danger. (That’s where our rational brain comes in handy.)  Here are three strategies to make it feel less threatening:

*Leave your self identity out of it.* If your ego had its way, you would never make mistakes. You would never have to apologize or admit any hint of imperfection. (Maybe you know someone like this?) Tell yourself, “I am not my mistakes. I am not my behaviors or decisions.”

Once you separate the implications from how you see yourself — you can be someone who makes thoughtful decisions, for example, and still have made a bad call this time — you can start to think more clearly (less defensively) and come up with better solutions.

*Pinpoint the mistake.* After the Columbia space shuttle explosion that killed seven astronauts, N. Wayne Hale Jr. said, “The bottom line is that I failed to understand what I was being told; I failed to stand up and be counted. Therefore look no further; I am guilty of allowing the Columbia to crash.”

Okay, while it’s laudable that Hale is accepting full responsibility, this is a very all-or-nothing, melodramatic approach — really, he didn’t understand anything that he was told?!

Better to be precise in your admission (and stick to the facts — there’s no need to bring guilt into it): “I take responsibility for not cross-checking the figures.” “I made assumptions about market conditions that were incorrect.”

In this way, you show that you understand what your role in the outcome was and also put boundaries around your mistake, which will solidify trust in your ability to do it differently going forward.

*Get more info.* In today’s fast-moving world, most decisions are made with imperfect information. Undoubtedly, your team saw inflection points or, with your encouragement, could share useful insights. Ask them: “If we’re in this situation again, what do you think we could do differently next time?”

Then create a system around getting their input. Ask them, “Am I missing anything? Are there assumptions I should question?”

The more you can show your willingness to take responsibility, the more your team/leadership/colleagues/clients will respect you and have your back. And that’s the ultimate mistake insurance.