How to Navigate Controversial Topics at Work

A Guest Post

My thanks to Jessica Pyykkonen for this guest post.

Picture this: you’re on your lunch break and have been invited to sit with a group of coworkers who appear to be deep in passionate discussion. When you sit down and ask what’s new, two colleagues on opposing sides of the table begin disparaging each other. You quickly learn that their opposing political views are the source of their disagreement, and you begin to feel uncomfortable.

Have you been there? Or perhaps you have been in the seat of one of the debaters at that table, and didn’t realize that you may have made a coworker feel uncomfortable?

Controversial topics seem to be everywhere in the workplace these days. If conducted with respect, they have the potential to bring coworkers together, but they’re also ripe for sticky social situations. This article and infographic can help you navigate these delicate situations, no matter what your role in them, so you stay professional and avoid creating difficult moments for those around you.

Five Ways You are Making Your Work Harder than It Has to Be

Are you overwhelming yourself?

“I’m so busy.”

“I’m overwhelmed.”

“There’s too much to do.”

Do you ever say that? Feel that? I do.

But sometimes, we’re our own worst enemy.

We can be the blame for our own overwhelm. Here are a few ways we sabotage ourselves, which fall into four categories of  stress and opportunity, a line of thinking I’ve been considering lately.

H – Habits
O – Organization
P – People Skills
E – Email

  1. We don’t keep up with email. By not using the ADD method (act on, delegate, or delete) on a regular basis, we create a stagnant puddle of information that zaps a little bit of energy every time we look at it. (Email) 
  2. We pack too much into a time period. I’m guilty of this. I THINK I know what I should be able to get done in a day, but don’t leave adequate breathing space to think, deal with interruptions, or account for technology issues. (Organization) 
  3. We make relationships difficult.  I like to say, “We don’t have time to be difficult people.” (Notice I didn’t say “be around” difficult people.) We can easily create energy zapping drama by misconstruing a colleagues words, being too sensitive to other’s tones, or snapping at those getting in the way of our agenda.  This can lead to relational issues that take a lot of  time to figure out, and may even draw from the energy of other co-workers or bosses that have to step in to get the parties on the same page again. (People skills) 
  4. We don’t practice adequate self-care. You can’t pour from an empty pitcher. We need regular rhythms of rest and self-care to be our best for our work. But we cut corners on exercise, nutrition, and rest. Then we wonder why we feel grumpy or fatigued.  (Habits) 
  5. We don’t utilize good systems. We react to the tasks that come our way based on the urgency of the moment, rather than having an effective system in place to capture the task and assign it a time. I’m working on this myself–responding, not reacting. As an administrative professional, I tend to try to get everything done quickly, because it’s my job to take care of those details. But I can only take care of so many details in a period of time. It’s better to have a system to capture the tasks and plan a proper time to deal with them. (Habits, Organization)

So the next time you say, “I’m overwhelmed” ask yourself, “Am I overwhelming myself?” You may not like the answer, but honest consideration will help you make some changes.

*****

 

One potential solution to overwhelm is to get some assistance. Our unique model of a virtual service collective puts a team at your disposal without the headaches of managing one, and the freedom to use us on a sporadic or minimal basis. Because of these flexible models, you can retain an assistant even if you don’t own your own business. Click here for more details.

How the HOPE Family Encouraged Me

Some time ago, I faced a season of discouragement in this business. This defeated feeling was prompted by a mistake I’d made in book keeping despite my attempts to be careful and strategic in how I have my business set up.  But numbers are not my strongest point. (I defer bookkeeping clients to a member of our collective!)  

I can be good at visioning what information I want. I am strong at developing a system.  I can come up with a strategic approach. But I can also get over-complicated, making it easy to miss (for example) formulas that aren’t consistently applied throughout a workbook or a series of cells.  Thankfully, I discovered the mistake before any major damage was done. However, there was an effect on my income for a short time so that my account could build back.

I chose to post on Facebook about my discouragement. My approach to sharing with my readers (whether through blog or social media channels) is to be real, and generally optimistic. I don’t want to only portray the fun stuff of life, but I don’t believe in using these channels for pessimism or being whiny either.

However in this case, I admitted I was discouraged. And a community of people (both in real life and online) rallied around me and helped me navigate the journey of questioning that I found myself taking.  Here’s how they helped:

They reminded me I was not alone.  Several friends had gone through similar feelings in their own projects, and helped me see that “down times” were part of the business journey.

They affirmed what they saw in my character. It was touching and meaningful to be reminded of what others see in my character. I know my own brokeness, and that any good thing people see is the work of God in me. I am both humbled and encouraged that people see that values are important to me, despite inperfection.

They prayed for, and over, me. One of my friends used a video app to pray powerfully over me. Others expressed that they were praying.

They acknowledged that they read what I write. I wear many hats, writer being one of them. From time to time, it’s easy to fall into the trap of wondering if what I write makes any difference. But in this season, people responded who normally don’t comment or say much. But they were prompted to chime in, and sometimes suprised me. You just never know who is reading in the background, and receiving benefit.

Other things happened during the time around this brief season of discouragement–Scripture coming to mind, an unexpected interaction with two former bosses, a completely surprising gift of financial support, a sermon about the meaning of our work, even an out-of-the blue gift of a HOPE necklace–all of which served to remind, reaffirm, and re-energize me toward the calling of this season of my life.

I’m grateful for the HOPE family–whether you are primarily a reader, a client, a product-user, or a friend or family member–you are all collectively part of my HOPE Unlimited family. Thank you for helping me stay the course, realize my blessings, and continue the call to help overwhelmed professionals excel.

 

 

Guest Post: 7 Lessons I’ve Learned in My First Year of Business

by Megan Constantino, Parachute Partners


Megan ConstantinoToday Facebook reminded me that I have officially been in business for one year. Really? It has already been a year? It has ONLY been a year? The desire and dream of owning my own PR firm was planted in my heart a long time ago. Many factors led to my plunge but ultimately it was God’s timing that sealed the deal. Basically, I needed to develop my craft and be circled with an extensive, powerful network of clients and collaborators for a sustainable launch. What I didn’t anticipate was the having to put on my big-girl pants and figure out my own special recipe for work-life integration. Oh what a year of growth!

Let me save you some stress, anxiety, and heartaches by sharing a few crucial amazing and heart-filled lessons that I have learned over the past 12 months. Perhaps this post is just a self-reflection or it will touch one or three thousand budding hopeful entrepreneurs. Save yourself some sanity and stand firm on boundaries around these 7 things.

  1. Put God first. Every area of your life should glorify Him. If you are working only for earthly recognition, you will not find that deep fulfillment. Each day is nuts when you are running a thriving and growing startup and you cannot do it without Him.
  2. Care for yourself. I ran myself in to the ground. This is easy to do when your laptop is available 24/7 and your phone, social media, etc. are always within reach. If you don’t make moments for you, nobody will. Actually, nobody can care for you. That is up to you. Even if you just take a bubble bath or fifteen-minute walk, treat yourself. Your clients need a well-balanced and rested partner. Do it for you. Do it for them.
  3. Secure family time. When we are all retired or our life has passed, the amount of revenue you brought in a quarter, year, or decade will not matter. We have an amazing and wild two-year-old. I finally have learned to secure quality time without a screen to relish this time. Your family is your most important stakeholder. Secure time for them.
  4. Don’t slave for money. Yes, work hard and be extremely ambitious but don’t sacrifice your sanity and soul for dollars. Pace yourself already! Sign only work that makes your heart skip a beat. There is plenty of business out there… wait for the right matches when you financially can. If you are trying to find happiness in money, you will never be able to earn enough. You will let life pass you by and regret much. Balance needs with sanity, okay?
  5. Price right. You will spend much more time on each project than anticipated if you’re a perfectionist like me. Also, you are worth it! Ask for fair market value! You have invested YEARS in developing your craft. Not to mention, it costs money to make money plus rent isn’t free, right?
  6. Use a project management system. Once you get going and things get crazy, details can become a blur. Perfectionists, find a good low cost or free project management system like Asana or Basecamp. Document each detail with deadlines!
  7. Remember that camaraderie is worth a million bucks. If you are working remotely, enlist the dialogue of collaborators. I now take time to talk on the phone to a few great partners and even do a regular video prayer meeting with Beth. (If you are our client or teammate, you get prayed for!)

I cannot believe my business is already a year old. Happy birthday, Parachute Partners… thanks for the grey hairs but ability to make a difference the way God intended for me to do.

If you are in business for yourself or thinking of taking the plunge, know that you can do this but it might be a little wonky finding that balance or integration that first year. Learn from my top 7 tips on how to keep sane, okay?

I am thankful for this wild journey and see God’s blessings in my work each day. Here’s to our second year serving the world’s best clients.

My best,

Megan

Megan Constantino

Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Half Crazy Mother, and Frazzled Wife
Parachute Partners

android-icon-36x36[1]A note from Beth: building a friendship with Megan (who I call my ‘business sister’) has been one of the recent joys I’ve received in running HOPE Unlimited. Megan is also one of our ‘strategic referral partners’ — part of the network HOPE has established of trustworthy, ‘rock-star-service’ professionals designed to help your business excel. To see more about our team click here.

There is an “I” in TEAM

Team

 

There is a well-known quip that there is no “I” in the word “team.” After all, team is spelled  T-E-A-M. One catalog for team building materials uses TEAM to mean “Together Everyone Achieves More.” There’s truth to that.

In real life though, using team building language, giving out mugs or hanging posters doesn’t automatically lead to a team working “like a well-oiled machine.” It takes time, effort, and understanding to truly relate as one, and it isn’t going to happen unless each member does indeed focus on the missing “I” in “team.” Teamwork starts with YOU.

Teams are only as good as the individuals that make them up. Yes, the whole is greater than the parts, but if the parts are defective, the team will be affected. (Hey, that sounds like another quip! “Parts Defective Means Teams Affected.”)

So, the place to start with team building is you. Here’s an assessment to help you determine what type of a team player you really are. Ask yourself:

  • Do I enjoy working with other people? (Some personalities would rather be in a corner doing tasks all day.)
  • When I meet with other team members, do I contribute to the conversation? (Or do I sit and say nothing?)
  • When I share my ideas, do I limit my words so others can contribute too?
  • Do I want people to carry out my idea in exactly the way I envision it?
  • Am I willing to ask questions to learn from others with a different expertise?
  • If I’m naturally a take-charge person, do I willingly step back sometimes to open opportunities for those less likely to step up?
  • Do I feel I am more experienced than the others on my team and that they should listen to me most of the time?
  • Do I note what is going on with others by truly listening, acknowledging events like birthdays or accomplishments?
  • Am I quick (but not insincere) in giving thanks and praise to others in the way they would most enjoy? (i.e. not embarrassing them)
  • Do people come to me to ask for help? Am I approachable?

If you are really brave, after answering these questions, give them to your coworkers to answer anonymously on your behalf. Do the answers match up? Be prepared to make changes without defensiveness if something surprising is revealed to you. In the long run, that will be for your good and the good of the team! Make sure the “I” in your team is the best example of teamwork!

BWM CoverFor a handbook of fun activities and discussions to share with your team, you may enjoy my book Boost Your Workplace Morale. Visit my store for this book and other helpful resources.

 

How to Say “No” – Graciously

A flashback on an important skill

No

I was chatting on social media with a friend—let’s call her Angelica—and asked if she wanted to help me with a project. She replied, “No.”

Then she added, “But thank you for asking me.”

I admit I was briefly taken aback. Moments before, Angelica had just agreed to help me with a different task, one that was related to the latest idea I had suggested. However, the second idea would be more of an ongoing commitment, and she said, “No.”

I told Angelica that I respected her decision and thought it was great that she felt comfortable saying “no.”  She said that “old age” had helped her with this–I responded “not old age…maturity.”

“No” is one of the hardest words to say. Why?

  • We like to be liked, and a “no” can be disappointing to others.
  • We want to be positive, and “no” comes across as negative.
  • We are afraid of missing out on great opportunities.

However, if we don’t say this word enough, we can end up disillusioned, disappointed or exhausted.

There are ways to say no graciously and effectively. Angelica did it. Here’s how:

She understood her life.

Angelica was able to discern pretty quickly whether my request would fit into her current season of life. That tells me she was keeping an informed perspective of her opinions, commitments and relationships.

She gave an immediate answer.

Angelica didn’t hesitate or string me along. It made the outcome quick and relatively painless.

That’s not to say that we should always answer quickly. It’s completely appropriate to tell someone you want to think about it, IF you give them the courtesy of a self-imposed deadline. For example, she could have said, “I’d like to think about this. Can I give you my answer Friday?” and then be sure to give the answer on Friday or before. It wasn’t necessary in this case because of her confidence in her decision, but if she needed a little time, that would have been fine.

She thanked me.

Angelica understood that it is an honor to be invited to participate in an event or project. The requester is somewhat vulnerable when extending the invitation, risking rejection. By saying “thank you” she acknowledged that she appreciated being considered, which softens any possibility of coming across as rejecting the person doing the inviting.

She didn’t give an explanation.

Angelica gave a simple “No, thank you.” She did not feel compelled to explain or rationalize her decision. I admire that. I tend to provide more information than necessary and would do well to just provide a simple answer more often.

“No” isn’t easy to say, but it often makes your life easier!

Question: Do you find it difficult to say “no?” 

This post originally appeared in January, 2014.

How to Give an Effective Apology

Take responsibility when you need to

Sorry

“First, I need to apologize. We understand what it means to work on a deadline, and we’ve made that difficult for you.”

I was working on an interview-style article that required a good deal of input from someone else, in this case, two business partners*. While they had agreed to be featured in the publication, they were having a challenging week and were not able to mentally focus on gathering the information I needed.

I sent a gentle reminder and received a gracious response.  Instead of an excuse or request to give them some more time, I received what was essentially a professional apology, the words you read above. I was impressed and am happy to report the article went well and turned out great.

There are times in your professional life (personal too!) when you are going to have to apologize. Hopefully, your reason for an apology isn’t that you’ve purposely behaved like a jerk. But overwhelmed professionals can unintentionally cause stress to others. Maybe you have misplaced something someone else needs, or have forgotten to do something, or are feeling pulled in all directions and get snippy with a colleague. In those cases and more, a professional, sincere apology can go a long way toward keeping the relationship strong.

In the scenario above, this duo handled the apology in a way that provides an example for others. Let’s take a look at why it worked

They immediately acknowledged the need to apologize. There was no sidestepping the issue (they had broken the expected rhythm for the project) but they took responsibility for the delay.  (This wasn’t a case of, “I’m sorry someone/you were offended” which puts the responsibility on the other person.)

They articulated exactly what stress they caused. “We understand deadlines, and we’ve made this difficult for you.” This wasn’t just an off-the-cuff “Sorry this is late.” It took my feelings into consideration.

They provided what I needed.  In this case, they were able to not only apologize, but include the material I needed, which moved the project along. While that may not always be possible, it’s the ideal way to make amends. At the very least, giving a hard deadline for when the material would have been ready would have also been acceptable.

Apologies aren’t easy. We all want to think we are consummate pros who do all things right. But that is not realistic. You WILL have to apologize at some point. Don’t make things worse by not giving an apology well.  We have plenty of poor examples in popular culture.  Don’t be one of them.

*scenario has been changed to protect privacy

How to Get Along with the Colleague Who is Faster than You

Techniques for navigating swift waters in business relationships

By Staff Sgt. Timothy Chacon (https://www.dvidshub.net/image/906682) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Staff Sgt. Timothy Chacon (https://www.dvidshub.net/image/906682) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A swift water rescue team fans out into a V to navigate the fast flowing rapids. The leader carefully checks for unseen holes. The others slowly walk forward, providing a human barrier for the current to rush around. In the center, an area of peace is created, and the team members rotate opportunities to walk in it to rest and replenish for a few minutes.

There’s a technique to handling rushing waters to benefit the team and accomplish the goal.  And there are techniques that can help you navigate interactions with people who work faster, and differently than you do.

I remember a situation* where a colleague was coming into town for a few days. Our work styles were different. Mine includes a plan for the day, allowing space for highly creative spurts in balance with repeated implementation of administrative tasks. I’m a pretty fast worker myself, but I’m also learning to embrace slower, reflective moments and tease out time to think.

My colleague moves faster than I do. They’re up early and run on high energy most of the day, responding to things as they come up, eager to tick off the to-do list, and crashing early in the evening. They think on the run and tend to like to be in charge, much like the swift water you see in areas of heavy rapids. How were our work styles going to work for the days we worked together?  

One key–the same key used by swift water rescue teams–is preparation and mindset. I reminded myself to:

Anticipate.  I knew enough about the person to know what to expect. This helped me in thinking through an agenda/itinerary for the project since I was the host.

Acclimate. For a few days, my workflow was simply going to be different. I had to adjust. I could not expect to do everything the way I normally would.

Appreciate. I asked myself,  “What three blessings there would be in working with this individual more closely than usual?” What came to mind was creativity. Getting things done. Laughter.  I could choose to focus on those things even prior to their arrival.

Abdicate. I chose what battles would be worth standing firm for, and what I could let go of. I knew that while my colleague would appreciate my being a good host, they would NOT want to be treated like a child with no say in the schedule. So I planned opportunities for choices. For example, I’d narrow down some lunch choices to two or three, present them, and ask them to choose where they’d like to go for lunch. A plan, but not a rigid one, was just right.

Allocate. I thought through their visit and developed an itinerary that they would enjoy, allocating certain time blocks to meetings with others or particular projects that would also balance my need for some project time unrelated to their project. By making this itinerary ahead of time, I had a plan that could make us most productive and give us both breathing space.

Activate. I made a basic plan for their visit and worked it. I made sure we had a list of “must do’s” and attacked those we could finish the first day, so they would feel quick wins about the trip.

A swift water team regularly trains and learns to read the river. You WILL experience a swift water situation at work eventually. What can you do to prepare now?

 

*As is my custom, while many of my illustrations have elements based on my real life experiences, I reserve the right to mix and modify details and enhance with some fictional elements in order to protect privacy and prevent any recognisable association to specific people or companies.