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:

Richmond Park_2 copy












by renita kalhorn

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 16.51.38

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.

My friend and colleague Hanneke Frese recently used this video in a senior leadership program she was running to show how rampant our inner critic can get. In one of the most famous Dove films, Real Beauty Sketches explores the gap between how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. Each woman is the subject of two portraits drawn by FBI-trained forensic artist Gil Zamora: one based on her own description, and the other using a stranger’s. Which one do you think will be more flattering do you think?


by renita kalhorn

racing mind

“We are always getting ready to live but never living.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Recently I’ve noticed my mind getting into a bad habit. A bad habit with three parts: thinking about how much I have to do, racing ahead to the next thing on the list, and feeling resistance to doing that next thing, because it’s standing in the way of the next three things I have to do after that.

So if I’m on my way to a meeting, I’m thinking about how I don’t want to be in the meeting. On the ride home from the meeting, I’m thinking about how I don’t want to work out. Basically, I’m taking a perfectly good present moment and tainting it with my resistance to a moment in the future, something that doesn’t even exist — sounds like insanity, doesn’t it? What’s even more ridiculous is that once I get to the meeting, to the gym, back to the laptop, I settle in and do my thing.

So what was the point of the resistance!?

It’s like Kerry Gleeson said: “This constant unproductive preoccupation with all the things we have to do is the single largest consumer of time and energy.”

If any of this resonates with you, here are two strategies you can use to rein in your racing mind.

First, think of your day in terms of segments. Getting ready in the morning, for example, can be one segment; the commute to work, each phone call, meeting or email session is another (30 minutes or less is the ideal length). This helps creates boundaries for your attention so you don’t feel like you have to think about everything at once. Now, when I catch myself rushing I say, “Hold on, we’re in the ‘getting ready for work’ segment.”

Second, pump up the sensory experience of your daily routine. We’re here in physical bodies, able to see, hear, smell, taste and feel the aspects of a physical world and, yet, when we’re in our heads, it’s like we’re snorkeling through life, not registering the full sensory input of what we’re doing.

Silly example: Here in France, the towel racks are heated. So when I get out of the shower, my towel — which is already unbelievably soft — is also toasty warm. At that point, I’m not thinking about the emails I have to write or the tasks I have to complete, I’m thinking, “I lovemy towel.” There are so many opportunities during the day to notice and appreciate — how the first sip of bulletproof coffee tastes, the ink of your pen flows, your daughter’s hair smells — and the ability to dive into the sensation is a really powerful skill.

Neither of these strategies will take time or slow you down. You’re going through your day anyway, what if you actually paid attention and appreciated it?


by anne lueneburger


Willpower    /’WIΙ paVe® = capacity to regulate our thoughts, feelings, and actions

Have you already made your New Years resolution for 2018? If you have and you do succeed, you are part of an elite minority of 8 percent that achieves their goal. What makes it so (damn) hard to succeed?

Slava Koza, a 33-year old chess instructor from New Jersey, led a pretty ordinary life. Everything changed when he fell madly in love with Alina, a New York City ballet dancer who did not love him back. Heartbroken, he was determined to prove that he would go to the end of the world for her. He started running 50 miles a day, first through the US, then Europe. Mile for mile he pushed forward, despite swollen feet, aching knees and a heavy heart. Even when Alina told him that she had started dating someone else, did Slava not stop running.

What allows one person to push through hardship where another would long give up? The phenomenon of willpower has long occupied psychology and neuroscience. Willpower as a psychological trait is the game changer in life: it is a key predictor of happiness and well-being. People who have superior willpower do get better grades in school, have higher levels of confidence, are more successful in their careers, have stronger relationships, and are physically healthier and live longer.

So if willpower carries so many benefits, why do we struggle to resist that extra helping of Tiramisu or getting out of our chair for a 5K run? While willpower varies based on our DNA, it does not really explain why we slouch on the couch. The reason we fail to achieve future dreams is that we frequently do not know how to use and strengthen our willpower in the here and now.

The bad news is: willpower functions like a muscle, it tires when overused. On average we spend about 4 hours a day challenging ourselves to make good choices and decision fatigue creeps in. The good news is: like a muscle, we can train and grow our willpower. Princeton trained psychologist Roy Baumeister shows in his research that with clever tactics we can increase our ability to achieve our goals by a whooping 89 percent. Here is how:

1. Set a measurable, achievable goal: the more specific you make your goal (i.e. what, by when, how) the more likely you are to stay on track.

Do: Read this if you want to learn more how to make change stick.

2. Get the basics right. Attend to your willpower physiology  such as sleep, following a healthy diet, and exercising. Without a basic life hygiene we are setting ourselves up to fail.

Do: Daily get 7-9 hours of sleep, aim for a minimum of 35 minutes of exercise, and, as Michael Pollen said: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. We also know that keeping track of what we do helps to stay on target. So if your goal is weight loss, consider using a food diary where you record your daily weight, what you eat, how much you move.

3. Envision your future self. The more we feel that our future self is a stranger, the less likely we are to protect it. However, if we feel familiar with our future self we are twice as likely to invest in our long-term vision. We procrastinate less and we are more likely to make sacrifices in the here and now for a better future.

Do: Imagine yourself in your future daily life in great detail, even to the degree of imagining yourself grocery shopping. Write a letter from your future self to your present self: who you are, what you are doing, where you are living, what you care about. Thank your present self and why it matters. Be optimistic in this letter and imagine the positive effects of making that change. Create a 3-D avatar; what does your future self look like? Feel like that future self is real and in some way you. Also, think about what will it feel like if you do not make that change.

4. Plan for obstacles. Even if it is nice to envision success, be interested in how you might fail and plan your responses. Predict when you might be tempted to break your vow and it prepares you to make good decisions in the face of temptation. Optimism motivates, but a dash of pessimism can help us succeed and we can better manage the shock factor when we have a set back.

Do: Ask yourself: What will be the biggest obstacle(s)? When and where is this obstacle most likely to occur? What can I do to prevent it? What specific thing will I do to get back to my goal when this obstacle happens? One obstacle to staying strong can be a messy surrounding. Environmental cues influence our mind set. So consider either stepping out of your messy home for a bit or run a 20 min clean up session for the room that you plan to hang out in.

5. Practice self-compassion. The harder (shame & guilt) you are on yourself when you get off track, the more likely you are to fail again. We are human and set backs are bound to happen. In fact, studies show that when people are reminded of their to-date progress they are much more likely to do something that interferes with their future success.

Do: Go for encouragement over criticism: Think about what you would say to a friend if they failed. And reward yourself often. Just denying ourselves becomes a dreary venture.  Find your own little thing, make sure the reward is relevant for you.

6. Surf the urge. It is hard for us humans not to give in to temptation in the moment. During a 2007 study of chimpanzees and humans, both groups were offered two favorite snacks now or six favorite snacks later if they waited two minutes. While 72% of the chimpanzees were able to wait out the two minutes, only 19% of the humans were prepared to make the short term sacrifice.

Do: Notice your thought, craving or feeling. Accept this inner experience. Breathe in to the count of 5, hold on the count of 6, and breathe out on the count of 7. Do this several times a day and give your brain and body a chance to pause and plan. Broaden your attention, and look for the action that will help you achieve your goal. If this sounds too esoteric for you, try this: as you think about having a the extra fries with mayo, tell yourself that you can still order it if you crave it 10 minutes from now. Often the urge gets smaller, we move on and vice delayed can be vice denied.

7. Never break the chain twice.  Progress will happen even if you take baby steps. Say you want to stop eating meat but have set backs. As long as you make sure that you never have two set backs in a row (i.e. eating meat during two consecutive meals), you will slowly but surely get closer to achieving your goal by pure mathematics.

Do: Watch this.

And as for love-struck Slava, you might wonder? After running more than 10,000 miles, Alina finally went out with him for another date. Like a good fairy tale with a happy ending, Slava got the girl.

slava and alina

Slava is likely among the few lucky ones who are born with a high degree of determination. For the rest of us, while we are unable to draw on what Mother Nature didn’t give us, we can use the tactics described earlier and build good habits. Creating automated processes will help us overcome decision fatigue and use the willpower resources we have more effectively.

With this, borrowing from Star Wars, May the force be with you in 2018!

Read more:

The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal

Willpower: Why Self-Control is the Secret to Success by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney