Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Stress for Success
Healthy relationships require honesty
Stress for Success
May 30, 2006

Your boss has a habit of wrapping criticisms of you into compliments. "You did a great job on that report. The grammatical errors made it seem folksy."

What do you do? Do you let it slide? Do you get defensive and snap back? Or do you state clearly and honestly your reaction to it?

Each and every day we make decisions about whether or not to be honest with others. Usually, being candid is very important to the health of relationships, although complete honesty may be harmful -- you don't have to tell someone he’s packing on a few pounds, for instance.

There are many benefits to honest relationships including attracting more trustworthy, open and supportive people according to Julian Rotter of the University of Connecticut. Less candid people tend to attract disloyal, unreliable, and evasive people.

So, if honesty in relationships is so healthy why don't we always tell the truth? Here are typical reasons people give:

• To avoid hurt feelings
• To not upset someone
• To make yourself look better
• It’s not worth your energy
• It would be embarrassing

Only you can decide whether or not to be honest with someone. When hesitant to speak the truth, ask yourself three questions to put the consequences of your honesty into perspective:

• What’s the worst that can happen?
• The best?
• The most likely?

In my example the worst might be that my boss fires me. The best might be that he’d be more direct with me. The most likely could be that he’d say he didn't know what I meant but might be less likely to disguise his criticisms in the future.

When someone’s treating you in an unacceptable fashion it's usually worth your effort to be frank. Think of this quote, "I train people how to treat me." Source unknown. In other words, you're partly responsible for the treatment you’re receiving. In the example above by allowing his putdowns you’ve trained him that it's OK to insult you in this passive-aggressive way.

The good news is you can train people to treat you differently, but you have to do something different. Consider being honest with him.

Use a great assertive technique, the Feedback Statement, which helps you say almost anything to almost anybody more effectively. It gets you to think before you speak in a problem-solving way. It has three steps:

1. Describe the situation you’re referring to
2. Say how you feel about it (if you want)
3. Say what you'd like to see done about it

"When you make comments like that I feel confused because it seems like you're actually criticizing me. I’d appreciate it if you’d tell me directly what you want me to change in my work."

If your boss has been criticizing this way for some time you’ll need to say something to him multiple times before he becomes more direct with you. And let's face it, some people will never change no matter how often you sincerely request the change.

Here are two additional thoughts to help you develop more honest relationships:

• Consciously identify your positive desired outcome before saying anything. In the above example, your goal is to ask your boss to be more straightforward. If you would’ve said, "You're insulting me when you say things like that", your goal may have been to make your boss look bad.
• Approach the person out of love versus fear. Not that you love your boss necessarily but differentiate between assuming the best of someone versus reacting defensively out of fear. Giving him the benefit of the doubt helps you communicate non-defensively, which generally means your message will be better received.

No one is honest in their relationships all of the time. You need to weigh the consequences of saying nothing against the most likely outcome of speaking up. To create healthier relationships it's in your best interest to be truthful far more often than not.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach in Lee County. Her mission is to inspire people to live a conscious life of personal responsibility in relations with themselves, with others and with the environment. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Honesty begins with being truthful with yourself
Stress for Success
May 23, 2006

To develop honesty as a personal trait, doesn't it make sense that you have to begin by being truthful with yourself? Oftentimes, especially when you're doing something you're not particularly proud of, it's easier to deceive yourself. You could blame relationship problems on others or health problems on McDonald's. But you'll only sleep well when you have an honorable relationship with yourself.

To be straightforward with yourself you must live a conscious life, the opposite of living in denial. This means you have to become consciously aware of things you do. For purposes of this article I’ll focus on becoming more conscious of the bad habits you’ve developed. (You can apply this same concept, however, to becoming more aware of any behavior.)

It never ceases to amaze me how people can be so unconscious about their bad habits. If you’ve overeaten for the past 20 years and wonder why your back, knees, and ankles hurt, just step on the scale and see how much weight you've gained. I know many people who once they lose weight marvel at how much better their joints feel. Of course they feel better!

The same thing goes for any bad habit you indulge in too frequently. Too much smoking, drinking, drugs, sedentary lifestyle take their toll after a while --- unless you’re lucky enough to have incredibly resilient genes. (To be safe, assume that you don’t.)

Whenever you indulge in one of your bad habits, you probably remain unconscious about your behavior. This means you’re just reacting automatically without thinking; you’re not paying attention --- you’re just doing it.

To be conscious means that you need to observe yourself while you're doing whatever it is you want to become more aware of. If your bad habit is overeating whenever you're feeling down, observe your fixated-self as you go to the freezer and seize the tub of ice cream and snatch a spoon so you can scoop it down.

What was going on right before you indulged? Notice how you felt when it hit your system. Observe how you felt afterwards.

The information you gather, including how you feel emotionally before, during and after consuming your chosen tranquilizer, helps you become more conscious. You don't have to stop the bad habit. Just become consciously aware of what you're doing when you're doing it.

Another important step to living more consciously in your quest for greater self-honesty, is to notice when you’re criticizing yourself about your bad habit. Instead of criticizing, consciously tell yourself that you choose to continue this habit. This increases your sense of personal responsibility so you’re less likely to fall victim to your own automatic behavior, a helpless and very stressful state.

By repeatedly reminding yourself that you choose this unhealthy behavior someday hopefully you’ll think, "What am I doing? If I choose to do this I can also choose not to do it." Being cognizant of your choice is a necessary prerequisite to pave the way to making healthier choices.

To change any behavior in yourself that you're uncomfortable with, the first and foremost thing you need to do is to become conscious of it. You cannot change anything unless you’re mindful of what it is and when you're doing it. The more aware you become the harder it is to deceive yourself. Only when you're honest with yourself will you take personal responsibility and change.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach in Lee County. Her mission is to inspire people to live a conscious life of personal responsibility in relations with themselves, with others and with the environment. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Dishonesty causes stress
Stress for Success
May 16, 2006

My father used to say, "The only thing worse than a thief is a liar." To this day I find it incredibly difficult to lie. It has helped keep me on the straight and narrow all of my life.

Which is good because lying is stressful. That's why it shows up as physical changes on a lie detector test. Liars’ fight/flight reactions give them away.

There’s research that supports the idea that lying isn’t good for you.

• The University of Connecticut’s Julian Rotter “compared the social lives of habitually honest people with those who agreed with statements like, ‘You can't afford to be honest.’” Rotter discovered that “honest people tend to attract trustworthy, truthful, and supportive people into their lives. Less honest people tend to attract disloyal, unreliable, and evasive people.” Whom do you want to attract?
• In a survey of 425 mental health professionals, 96% thought that becoming more "open, genuine, and honest" was an essential requirement for mental health.
• James Pennebaker of Southern Methodist University found that people who habitually withhold information about themselves, especially dramatic events, are more susceptible to contagious diseases than people who are more open.

Up to 60% of people lie, with males lying two to three times more than females according to recent research. People lie mostly to duck trouble, to enhance their image, or to avoid hurting others.

Robert Feldman at the University of Massachusetts found:

• “Over 60% of students lied when introducing themselves to others. They made up fictitious information to make themselves look better, even though there was no benefit to the lie.”
• “People ‘shade the truth’ one to six times per hour in interactions. Gender differences show that women more often lie to protect others, while men lie to protect themselves (from The Truth About Lying, 2001).”

The Center for Academic Integrity research by Don McCabe, released in 2005, surveyed 50,000 college undergraduates from over 60 campuses.

• 70% of students acknowledged some cheating
• Almost one-quarter admitted to serious test cheating in the past year and one-half to one or more instances of serious cheating on written assignments
How do most of us justify our lying? Just like most criminals, we rationalize our lies. A Harvard researcher, A. Bandura, has identified common defenses people use for lying to avoid feeling guilty:

• Moral justification: "I stole to feed my family."
• Euphemistic labeling: "I just sort of borrowed it (vs. stole it)."
• Looking good by comparison: "I’m not nearly as bad as rich people who don’t pay all of their taxes."
• They made me do it: "He just kept pushing until I gave in."
• Denial of responsibility: "I just went along with the crowd."
• Denial of consequences: "My company is so huge they'll never notice the little things I pilfer."
• Dehumanization: "If they're dumb enough to buy swamp land in Florida I'll sell it to them."
• You (the victim) caused me to do it: "You shouldn't make me so mad."

To whom are you most likely to fudge the truth? What does your lie due to the health of that relationship? Why do you do it? After you’ve lied, how do you feel? What are the consequences of your lies? How do you justify them? Are little white lies harmful? I'll explore these and other questions in the coming weeks.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach in Lee County. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Monday, May 08, 2006

If depressed, listen to yourself less and talk more
Stress for Success
May 9, 2006

Recently someone related a great quote to me that went something like this, “When depressed you need to listen to yourself less and talk to yourself more.” It's excellent and succinct advice.

This quote represents the heart of cognitive psychology, which tells us that what you think determines how you feel emotionally, which determines how you react, which brings about your outcomes. When you’re depressed it's because you're thinking depressed thoughts. If you want a different outcome you have to change what you're doing. To change what you're doing you must change what you're thinking.

When in the throes of depression you probably become consumed with your negative thinking. You pay very close attention to it and believe every word of it.

For example let's say your boss has criticized your work and you hear yourself think, "I’m such a loser. I can't believe I ever landed this job in the first place. I'm certainly not qualified. And now my boss knows it. I'm surprised it took her this long to figure it out. She'll fire me any day."

You probably don’t question the validity of what you're thinking so it doesn’t occur to you to challenge your thoughts. But that’s exactly what you need to do. Follow the quote’s advice; listen to yourself less and talk to yourself more by rationally challenging your negative thinking. In the above example, if you’ve never been reprimanded before you could say, "Wait a minute. I've worked here for over two years and this is the first time I've ever been reprimanded. I can't be that incompetent."

If you become easily depressed it probably means that you have repetitive, automatic and probably unconscious thoughts that you've said to yourself over your lifetime that are habitual reactions to specific situations. Examples include, "People must like me for my life to be good", or "I'm not worthy unless I'm perfect." They're not rational since it's unrealistic to expect everyone to like you and it’s impossible to be perfect.

When automatic thoughts are in control you ignore evidence that contradicts them. Since many things in life are unclear and can be interpreted in multiple ways, you choose to negatively interpret events so they agree with your disappointing automatic thoughts.

Develop the habit of challenging and ultimately changing your depressed thinking to rational thinking. Try this cognitive exercise for 20 minutes a day:

• Draw a line vertically down the middle of a piece of paper.
• Label the left side, "automatic thinking" and the right side, "rational thinking"
• Write your automatic and depressed thoughts on the left-hand side of your paper. After you've purged your thoughts challenge them on the right side as I did above.

Another trick to limit depressed interpretations is to identify one thing you’re grateful for in every negative situation. For example, you’re backed up in traffic making you late for work and grateful that your car hasn’t stalled. There's almost always something to be grateful for even in the most negative of situations.

Depressed perceptions sadly limit your options for resolving your situation. That’s why you need to talk to yourself more in a problem-solving way and listen to your negative thinking less. Don't expect to overcome depression over night. It takes time and some people may need to take anti-depressants to support this process. But the payoff is well worth the necessary and on-going effort.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach in Lee County. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

To remain competitive hold on to your employees from all four generations
Stress for Success
May 2, 2006

Most forecasts regarding the future of the American workforce predict a severe skilled-labor shortage. You’ve heard the numbers by now: 76 million Baby Boomers retiring with only 51 million Xers to take their place. (Followed by the very large Generation Y.) Justin Heet, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute said, "(By) 2011, when Boomers begin to retire, we'll start to notice the tightness in the labor markets, and that's likely to become a pretty perpetual condition from here on out.”

Others say this is a myth because:

• People are working longer; AARP reports that 80% of Baby Boomers surveyed plan to work well into their 70s
• The number of Generation X college graduates compares favorably to Boomers
• Productivity increases historically have compensated for labor shortages
• Jobs will continue to be shipped overseas

These critics, however, suggest the same solutions as those who believe in the looming skilled-worker shortage: invest in the right technologies and retain older workers.

Time will tell how accurate the projections are. Hiring is a challenge right now, not to mention what it will be like in the future. Assume that as the workforce shrinks, recruitment and retention will become more critical to every organization's success. With Baby Boomers retiring to Florida we should have a large supply of those who want to work at least part-time.

To make your organization attractive you must look through each generation’s eyes to understand what motivates them to work for you. Then customize your approach to pretty much everything like Ernst & Young has. Their retention rates are at historic highs because they embrace flexibility for employees at all levels.

All generations are motivated by flexibility, so consider:

• Compressed workweek: 4,10-hour-days/week vs. the traditional five-day workweek to provide flexibility for personal/family responsibilities and to save on childcare and commute costs
• Flexible start and stop times that allow parents to drop off kids at school or to avoid rush-hour traffic
• Job-sharing is popular with some parents as well as with Boomers
• Working at home: telecommuting is growing in popularity, especially with today's gas prices. In 1999, only 18 of Fortune’s best companies to work for offered telecommuting. Today, 79 do.
• Vacation by the hour: this is especially good for hourly employees and for small businesses. Vacation time becomes a debit account to be deducted from so employees can also take care of personal responsibilities as needed. For example you could deduct 3 hours to take a child to a doctor's appointment and then return to work.
• Turn unused sick days into available hours to use for non-work responsibilities. Or, instead of sick days offer personal days to use as employees see fit, which appeals to Gen Xers who bristle at too much supervision of anything they do.
• Tailor your management style considering information from When Generations Collide, by Lancaster and Stillman:
√ “Veterans believe in the chain of command.
√ Boomers want to change command.
√ Gen Xers want self-command.
√ Gen Yers don’t want command, they want collaboration.”
• Supervisory training: you can’t afford supervisors with high staff turnover. Either train them in how to keep employees or replace them with supervisors who can.
• Elder-care education and benefits for Boomer caregivers
• Concierge services: long offered to executives, they help employees feel balanced, satisfied and appreciated; services like carry-out dinners sold at work, on-site laundry, etc.

There are so many ideas that can help you recruit and retain the best. What can you offer employees? If you don't know, ask them. Research your competitors to see what accommodations they’re making. Start small if you like by making changes on a trial vs. a permanent basis.

Look through each generation’s eyes and tailor what you offer to meet their needs. The sooner you start the fewer staffing problems you'll have.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach in Lee County. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics. Register for her open enrollment seminar on June 9 at FGCU, Bridging the Generation Gap (590-7815).