“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”

~ Albert Einstein

time

by renita kalhorn

If you’re a working human being in the modern world, you’re keenly, maybe even obsessively, aware of time, with thoughts like: “I don’t have enough time.” “This is taking too long.” “I’m falling behind.” For sure, it’s hard not to come from a place of scarcity around time when our success seems to revolve around it.

But before you read another article about time management or productivity hacks, first understand this: Your brain perceives lack of time as an actual survival threat. Which means every time you imagine an unwanted consequence related to time, you’re likely triggering a “fight or flight” response.

You think: “How are we going to get this bug fixed before the client meeting tomorrow morning?” (Your brain registers: Death is imminent!) You think: “We’re not going to make our quota this month.” (Your brain registers: Death is imminent!)

Now, think about the hundred other ways you can be triggered by time scarcity during a typical work day: you need to hire that rock star salesperson before your competitor does, get through traffic to a client meeting, finish a meeting in time to make your flight, get home in time to see your kids before they go to bed, and the list goes on.…

The thing is, there’s a cost, a sort of bandwidth tax, associated with this “time scarcity” mindset. According to economist Sendhil Mullainathan and psychologist Eldar Shafir, authors of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, our perception of being overwhelmed or feeling behind induces a kind of shortsightedness that makes us “less insightful, less forward-thinking, less controlled.” Not exactly the recipe for stellar decision-making.

And remember, fight-or-flight reaction produces a rush of stress hormones like adrenaline or cortisol and, over time, we can become as addicted to this state of scarcity as we do to caffeine, alcohol or other chemical substances. So even though you may think you want to feel less stressed and more calm, your body has other ideas — it’s craving its adrenaline fix and is not going to easily let you change your habits.

So while you can’t eliminate the fight or flight response, you can train yourself to interrupt and neutralize it. Here’s how:

Step 1: Recognize the false alarms. Because so much of our behavior is automatic and deeply conditioned, most of the time we’re not even conscious of what sets us off. But you can start to notice your signature “fight or flight” triggers: Do you feel a pit in your stomach when you see the CEO walking toward you? Panic a little when a certain name comes up on your phone? Each time, ask yourself whether your survival is literally, actually, in danger: “Am I being chased by a sabertoothed tiger?” “Is my hair on fire?” If not, you can tell yourself: “False alarm! My life is not in danger.”

Step 2: Get back to the present moment. For most of our waking hours, we’re in our heads, reliving the past or transposing it into the future. When we’re in a meeting, we’re thinking about getting back to work; while writing an email to the team, we’re rehashing what someone said in the meeting; in a call with the client we’re wondering what to eat for lunch…we’re never really fully present in the moment that’s right here, right now.

And yet, all our power to solve our perceived problems is in the present moment: “It’s easy to miss a potential piece to your innovation puzzle when it’s right under your nose if you aren’t there,” says Angela Benton, founder of NewME Accelerator. As I’ve said before, a ridiculously simple but effective way to bring your attention back to the moment is to simply narrate the facts of what you’re doing (leaving out the emotional content): “I am listening to the conference call…” “I am calling the client…”

Step 3: See time as a tool not a threat. “Time and space are not conditions in which we live but modes in which we think,” said Albert Einstein. That’s the difference between being in survival mode and working well under pressure. If you see time as a condition that you can manage, you will feel out of control when you perceive that you can’t. Instead, use time as a tool to manage something that is in your control: your attention. Decide how much time you’ll spend answering emails (15 minutes), brainstorming new sales prospects (30 minutes). Try the pomodoro technique.

You’ll have the same amount of time as before, but you’ll feel more in control, less in survival mode.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

cat and dog negotiate

by jennifer bezoza

So often the anticipation of having a “difficult conversation” is worse than the reality of actually having the conversation. We build it up in our heads, avoid it and imagine the worst case scenario for it. We may feel too emotional about a topic to hold a productive conversation or we may anticipate the subject may be too emotional for the other person so we may avoid it for too long.

I recently had the opportunity to teach a few half-day classes for a financial services client; this particular client is going through a major transformation in how they provide technology services internally.   As a self-described “nice” culture, the organization’s leadership wanted to enhance technology leaders capacity to confront business leaders productively and transparently, and help business partners to own the change implementation process alongside the technology function; thus, they needed to build managers confidence and competence in leading delicate conversations with the internal client groups they serve.

So often, what makes the difference between a difficult and productive conversation is our level of care and planning in advance of the conversation. What I increasingly appreciate in reflecting on this topic intensely over the last several weeks is that our tolerance and savvy for difficult conversations grows exponentially the more we do it.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself and also practice answering with a thought partner when you are thinking about broaching a difficult conversation with someone else at work or in your life:

1/How could having this conversation positively advance the cause?

2/What could be the worst case scenario of having this conversation?

3/What would be ideal outcome of having this conversation?

4/Do you care enough about this person, this work and the beneficial outcomes to broach this topic?

5/What is the most constructive, positive next step(s) you can take to prepare for the conversation?

In teaching this topic, I have had to ask myself whether I am fully seizing every opportunity I have to be a positive change agent as a coach and consultant, a parent, a friend and colleague, and as a concerned citizen. I realize that with lots of practice, it has become much easier and even seamless for me to regularly confront difficult topics, and also to make those “difficult” conversations natural, respectful and even enjoyable.

Especially in today’s climate, where political outcomes and decisions in Washington, DC may have thrown us for a loop, it’s grounding and affirming to be able to speak up and impact change in our sphere of influence.   It seems there is no better time to be able to navigate and confront meaningful topics, in face of an increasingly volatile national and international climate.

Want more? You might also enjoy reading our entry the road from ‘no’ to ‘yes’.

by renita kalhorn

“If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart…”

Pema Chodron, American Buddhist nun

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Standing at the crowded coffee bar, I waited patiently to catch the attention of the server frantically busy filling orders. A tall German woman strode up next to me and, with no hesitation, called out her order for two cappuccinos. I looked at her, incredulous, feeling the urge to slap her arm and say: “Are you serious?! Do you not see the rest of us waiting here?”

The thing is, I wasn’t in New York, where a moment of indignant rage might make sense in a relentless “survival of the fittest” kind of environment. I was at a hotel in a sleepy resort town in Verona, Italy, two days into a four-day meditation retreat where we had been meditating for hours starting at 6:00 am. In fact, we were just coming out of a meditation session — and yet, I was still immediately triggered.

“If you can’t stop that emotional reaction, then you’re addicted to that emotion,” Dr. Joe Dispenza, the neuroscientist leading the retreat, had told us. (Because, as I’ve mentioned before, emotions are simply chemical reactions in our body and we can become as addicted to them as an external substance like nicotine or caffeine.)

So, with newfound clarity (probably from all that meditation!), I saw how interactions like the one at the bar — where not only am I quick to feel slighted, judgmental and self-righteous, but I think my reactions are totally justifiable — were simply insidious ways to feed my addiction to those emotions.

If you’re human, you, too, probably have hundreds of seemingly justifiable emotional reactions to what happens every day: Colleagues [spouses, children, friends, strangers] take credit for your ideas, call in sick (again!), dismiss your suggestions, talk over you in a conversation, criticize your work, make annoying sounds when they eat, fight with their siblings, invade your privacy…

It’s these emotional patterns that keep us tethered to the past. So if we want to create a new future for ourselves, we have to get beyond them — to recognize our typical reactions and choose different ones. Which isn’t easy because: 1) we are in autopilot for most of our waking day, our reactions driven by our unconscious thoughts and beliefs; and 2) we associate those reactions with our identity — “I am someone who gets upset when others don’t follow the rules” — and no matter how unpleasant or uncomfortable they may be, we don’t know who we are without them.

But, with practice, it is possible (and you don’t need four days of meditation). Just start by identifying one of your signature emotional reactions — you know, the usual suspects like frustration, guilt, anger, regret, overwhelm. What are the situations that typically trigger them? Now, what’s one small way you could change your reaction?

Me, I’m learning to recognize the first signs of an emotional charge, like the first rise of a wave, and catching it before it gathers momentum and, hard as it is, instead of giving someone the death stare, saying, “Let it go, just let it go

Nisse in town!

12/22/2016

nisse

As coaches, we commit to “walk the talk.” As such, we embrace living lives that are balanced and fulfilled, both personally as well as professionally. Part of this balance means we take time to enjoy the winter holidays. While we will continue to work on a number of assignments and remain dedicated to our partnership with wonderful clients, we will take the time between now and February 1st off from writing our blog.

If you have some time and wish to explore some of our past blogs, simply scroll down and check out the Archive. If you, too, are able to make this a time when you slow down the rhythm of life, take a step back and enjoy the beautiful season with family and friends – congratulations! This is another step towards building sustainable happiness and well-being.

Happy holidays!

by renita kalhorn

defensive

“Have you ever been incarcerated?” When I was mentoring at Defy Ventures, an organization that trains formerly incarcerated individuals for employment and entrepreneurship, I learned that that was the question participants dreaded most in a job interview (and understandably so, since it often meant the end of the interview).

Though, for most of us, the question we dread being asked may not be as damning, we all have one that puts a pit in our stomach: What’s your market traction? Who are your competitors? Why should we partner with you? Why did you leave your last job? What happened in your last relationship? How come you never got married?

Nothing will trip us up faster, however, than getting defensive. As Mannish Sethi, creator of the Pavlok wristband for changing habits, told Business Insider after his painful Shark Tank presentation: “I was caught off guard by how quickly and forcefully Mark [Cuban] turned against us, and that really changed the tone of the pitch.” Flustered, he wasn’t able to address the Sharks’ focus on clinical studies to tell them about the thousands of “real-life user” success stories — at one point, grabbing his face in frustration, saying, “You guys are making me so ADD” — and he walked away without a deal.

So, earlier this week, at the Paris Pionnieres incubator coaching a group of start-up founders in preparation for an upcoming pitch competition, I asked them: “What’s one insecurity you have about your business?” As it turns out, two of them are married to their co-founders — a set-up they’ve found investors typically frown upon —which means they need to be prepared to respond to that concern.

How do you respond to tough questions or being put on the spot without getting defensive? First, understand that our defensiveness stems from feeling judged, that we’re in the wrong somehow, which — thanks to primitive fears of being thrown out of the tribe — our brain translates as a survival threat and goes into “fight or flight.” And in survival mode, as you may have noticed, rational thinking (and active listening) go out the window.

Since hoping that people will not ask you about aspects of your experience that you’d rather not talk about is not a reliable strategy, you’re better off learning how to override the instinct to protect yourself or attack back: Answering “I don’t agree,” “how is that relevant?” bumbling through your answer or becoming a deer in the headlights (my personal default) is likely to trigger a “fight or flight” response in the other person and derail the conversation.

 The answer is: practice!

Know your trigger questions and come up with several variations on how to answer. If the question highlights something you know is a weakness — like low user conversion — say, “Yes, you raise a good point and here’s what we’re doing to improve it” (which is what the question is really asking). If the question is about something that was out of your control, like a toxic work environment: focus on what you did accomplish while you were there and that it’s not a good fit with your goals going forward (you get to decide what’s most relevant to answer the question).

Practice your answers over and over — at least 20 times, I tell my clients — including having someone ask the question so you can practice feeling the emotional response when you hear it.

Yes, it will be uncomfortable. But the real question is, would you rather be uncomfortable now or later, when the stakes are higher?

run1.jpg

by victoria crawford

I am sure you have heard that running is good for you – and there is a plethora of evidence to show that running makes you healthier, happier and even smarter.

But if that’s not enough to get you off the sofa, then know this: playing sports can make you a better leader. In fact, research surveying 400 women executives for the EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW showed that the majority of C-suite women played sport at university level, and concluded that a sport background can help accelerate a woman’s leadership and career potential.

During my time as a Global Leadership Fellow at the World Economic Forum, I have reflected on this and what I have learned personally about leadership from my experiences as a competitive runner.

Here are my top takeaways.

1.Know your goal and want it

I really like running, and I don’t often think of it as a chore. But when I do, it is less often because of some self-imposed obligation to follow a training schedule, and more often because my diary is blank. With no race to aim for, I begin to feel like a hamster running round and round my wheel but going nowhere. Without a purpose, it is difficult to have much motivation and drive. Yes, it’s nice to go outside and get some exercise, but for what?

On the other hand, with an upcoming race to focus on, I actually quite enjoy a hard training session. Not that I particularly like the jelly legs, metal taste in your mouth, can’t-catch-your-breath feeling – but there is a strong sense of satisfaction in setting out a goal and taking concrete steps to get there.

Even better is when you’re in it with your teammates. Long runs in the rain together, track sessions trying to keep up with one another, and evenings spent chatting over plans or sharing war stories, all contribute to a shared focus, and a desire to do better with and for (or even against…) your friends. And what is up for grabs when you work together is much greater than anything you can do by yourself: when my team Serpentine won the London cross-country league or the UK marathon team championships, I wouldn’t have got very far solo.

Winning a cross-country league isn’t a goal that everyone aspires to, but whatever you’re aiming for, having a clear vision of what you want to achieve gives you and your team a sense of purpose that will help you get through even the most soul-destroying of necessary tasks.

 2.If you’re always at your peak, you’re not at your peak

When runners train, we are preparing to run at our fastest on race day, not to run as fast as we can every day. This means working systematically on the individual components of running: lots of slow running, steadily building up strength and endurance, with the occasional day of short, fast bursts to improve our speed. Going out as fast as possible every run would leave us shattered – or worse, broken – and unlikely to be able to switch it up a gear when the starter gun fires. And herein lies a key trick of racing – learning how to peak when it really matters, and making sure we don’t blow up getting there.

This graph shows how a sports player might alter the level of their training over a training cycle in order to ensure they perform at peak level during the main competition

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This is the same in other contexts. Whether it is a first meeting with a potential partner, a deadline for an important report, a deal, an event, an interview or a presentation, we need to be the best we can be on the big day. That means taking the time to prepare, to rest up and, importantly, to relax and celebrate our victories after a big push. It might mean some slow days but it also means avoiding a perpetuity of mediocrity: ready to rock and roll – stronger than ever – the next time the pressure’s on.

3. It is always a game of psychology

It is pretty obvious that if you want to run at your best possible, you need to be physically fit. However, often overlooked is the need to also be mentally prepared. Even at my amateur level, I can think of races when I have failed to do as well as I could have, and psychology is often a key culprit (along with unexpected hills, and blizzards, and someone faster than me turning up). In a situation where the results are so obvious – you get a time and a position – it becomes very clear that top performances require focus.

Elite athletes are cottoning on to this and are increasingly employing psychologists as part of their support teams. From talking through how to react to high-pressure scenarios, visualizing what they are going to do in competition, to figuring out how they can best use stress and anxiety to their advantage, the mental is increasingly becoming part of their preparation.

So being on top of your game means being focused and present, anticipating what you need to do, and being prepared for the unexpected – as well as having the slide deck in order. A good leader needs to make sure they and the people they are collaborating with are in that place.

4. Be in it for the long run

From months of training, to turning down that last drink for an early night, to the feeling of exhaustion as you push to the finish line, it is fair to say that distance running is not about immediate rewards. There is however a “theory of fun” that explains why we keep coming back for more. It says that fun can be classified in three ways:

  1. Fun when you are doing it (example: a party or concert)
  1. Not fun when you are doing it but fun afterwards (example: a 10km race)
  1. Not fun when you are doing it and not fun afterwards, but makes a very good story (example: a near-death experience in the mountains).

Now, spending weekends racing around a muddy field has certainly left me with a greater appreciation of Type 2 fun. Sure, some of it might be unpleasant, but the fun lasts for longer and the rewards are greater in the end.

There is a lesson here for leaders: in a world where the challenges we face – from climate change, to gender inequality, to the protracted crises affecting so many people –are complex, long-term and without quick fixes, this ability to look to the long term, whatever it feels like right now, is critical.

5. Invest in communities

Even as one of the most individual of sports, running doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The person standing on the podium may have the medal round their neck, but there are teammates and coaches, volunteers and physios, supporters and friends and family, who all played a role in getting them there. To be as successful as possible means building your network to include the right support that works for you, and drawing on it when you need it – whether that is words of encouragement and advice from a coach or some friendly competition from your teammates.

But leadership goes beyond drawing on your contacts, to actively contributing to building that community – and the running community is full of examples of people giving back in support of those with similar aims, from marshals, to coaches, to race organizers, to cheerers.

For leaders to make a true impact in the world, whatever their aims, they need to be able to build that community and take their allies with them.