Finding the Space

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

I do love this quote often accredited to Viktor Frankl (though it is not) and I share it in almost every workshop/training I facilitate.

Its message is spot on but to achieve this ‘space’, we need to develop our emotional self-regulation. This isn’t easy but it is essential. Self-awareness is the critical first step.

Knowing our values is part of this, as are developing strategies to create the gap between trigger and reaction, so we can choose our response and not get hijacked by the triggered emotion.

Being able to name our emotions also helps to take some of the significance out of them. Especially important for the ‘not so feel good’ emotions. And this does take practice! It’s incredibly liberating and confidence building when we have developed these skills. They also support us in becoming more resilient – one of the critical factors psychologists believe is needed to be successful both personally and professionally.

This is, in fact, what the above mentioned Viktor Frankl accredited quote is referring to. I truly believe we underestimate our ability and our responsibility in developing these skills. Most of us haven’t received any ‘schooling’ in these areas and many of our traditional role models weren’t able to demonstrate them either.

Organizations also have a responsibility to their employees in helping them develop these skills and also in making the systemic changes needed so their people can thrive. By investing in these critical skills, employees stay engaged and the likelihood of absenteeism (and the recently coined term ‘quiet quitting’) is reduced. It also creates an organization that talent will be drawn towards.

 

Navigating Stress: Suppress or Mitigate?

Did you know that humans are the only species that consciously or unconsciously suppress their stress recovery? Well actually, according to Stanford University Professor Robert Sapolsky, other primates like baboons do it as well. It’s one of the things that intrigues participants in my sessions on developing stress hardiness and resilience strategies.

It seems the higher evolved our intelligence is, the worse we are at protecting ourselves from the ravages of stress on our physical and mental health. As we have evolved, we have moved away from how our primitive ancestors handled stressful situations. A quick recovery was essential. It meant life or death.

Now, the stress response we trigger is usually with our thoughts, fears and worries. It’s not the same as if we’re being chased by a black bear or in my case, thinking we might be chased by one – something that happened while I was visiting my sister in Wild West Virginia this summer. FYI, the bear didn’t appear near her house until after I was gone.

Since it was only a thought, I didn’t have to run for my life. What would have happened though, IF I had let this thought hijack me emotionally? The hormones, glucose and neurotransmitters my body would have produced wouldn’t have metabolized, or at least not as quickly, as if I was running for my life. I would have had extra stress on my heart, blood vessels and other organs for hours, maybe even days. Our imagination is a wonderful thing, until it isn’t…

And yet, there are strategies, beyond the toddler’s shame and blame game (thank you Dr. Gabor Maté), that we can learn and apply to support our stress recovery in modern times. Science has provided us with the knowledge of how our bodies function and how we can best adapt to distress. We can even learn stress mitigating behaviors from other species, that enable us to become more resilient.

One participant asked me why we’ve evolved so far away from how we are meant to respond. Again, I think the reason has to be due to our evolved intelligence. We are continually triggering a stress response for non-physical (hence mental and emotional) causes. We have imaginations that create (disaster) situations which are unlikely to occur. In the words of Mark Twain: “I’ve been through some terrible things in life, some of which actually happened.”

Now, some worry is good for us. It can help us prepare for or prevent a future event that might be harmful to us. “That can lead to some important choices. If you worry about a car accident, you’ll wear your seatbelt. If you worry about skin cancer, you’ll wear sunscreen. Worry prompts you to do something that might be inconvenient, but protective. It also makes you prepare: If you fret about a job interview, you’ll spend more time preparing for it. “ 

The most definitive research (*see note below) I can find is entitled ‘Worry’s Deceit’ by Pennsylvania State University researchers.

They found that about 91 percent of worries didn’t come to pass. Of the remaining 9 percent of worries that did come true, the outcome was better than expected about a third of the time. For 24% of participants, exactly zero of their worries materialized. What a colossal energy drainer, don’t you think?

We are doing this constantly in our daily lives, and it’s taking its toll on our health. We need to learn healthy strategies to deal quickly with stress and build resiliency to thrive. We need to learn when we can make stress our friend. It is, after all, a signal. How we interpret that signal is something we can choose. For that, we need to become emotionally agile, so we can make the right choices that will support us. Luckily, our brains are malleable. We can learn how, no matter our age.

 

 

* LaFreniere, Lucas & Newman, Michelle. (2020). Exposing Worry’s Deceit: Percentage of Untrue Worries in Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment. Behavior Therapy. 51. 413–423. 10.1016/j.beth.2019.07.003.

Should Resilience be our ‘North Star’ Skill in the Workplace?

I’ve been promoting building personal and team resilience for more than 12 years. Never have I seen a time when its needed more, than now.

In May 2023, the World Economic Forum published its ‘Future of Jobs Report’. What didn’t surprise me is that Resilience in the 2023 report went to number 3 as a top skill, from number 9 in 2020.

Analytical thinking is at the top of the list for both reported years. Creative thinking went from number 5 to second place.

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My potentially controversial thought for the future of work is since without resilience during stressful, challenging times, you can kiss Analytical and Creative Thinking good-bye – shouldn’t Personal and Team Resilience be desired skill #1?

Our analytical and creative thinking functions get hijacked, if our ability to be emotionally Agile and Flexible ‘in the moment’ isn’t highly developed. Staying calm is of paramount importance in the face of disruption and uncertainty.

A variable of resilience, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Dep’t, is Self-Awareness (#4). Building resilience means building self-awareness. It’s actually the first stepping stone to being able to ‘bounce forward’ and not just ‘bounce back’ from adversity. Bouncing forward means we’ve learned something from what we experienced.

Another of the variables of resilience, as mentioned above, is Emotional Self-Regulation or Agility. With this, we can make choices that are much more likely to serve us.

Curiosity and Life-long Learning skills are also dependent upon being resilient and developing stress ‘hardiness’. When our pre-frontal cortex is heading down the proverbial drain, we start to narrow our focus, which means we’re less likely to be open-minded and have the mental agility we need, when we need it.

When we are self-aware, emotionally and mentally agile, we can be more analytical, more creative, more curious, and more open to learning.

Am I biased in thinking that in addressing the shortage of resilience skills (most of us haven’t received this in our education or in our upbringing) might just be the antidote to many of the other skills we need?

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts on this!

Unleash the Full Human Potential in Your Organization

My friend and colleague, Vivian Acquah, has regular live LinkedIn webcasts entitled ‘Let’s Humanize the Workplace’.

So I was happy to read in a recent that: “Unleashing the full human potential in an organization is why forward-looking companies work so hard to create environments of belonging and psychological safety.”

This article states that one of the critical shifts in leadership, for a company to thrive, is to show up as an authentic human being and not only as a professional.

What this entails are three critical factors:
* increasing (self)awareness
* emotional regulation (or emotional agility, as I like to call it) and
* total or integrated wellbeing, embracing the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pillars

I was extremely pleased, since ALL of these factors comprise what I and the network of partners I work with, share in knowledge and experience, from when my company started in 2011.

Why are these factors critical for a sustainable future? Without these being part of your DNA, you are unable to let go of instinctive, fear-based reactions; exactly the opposite of what’s needed in this changing and disruptive world.

Diving into your most creative, innovative, and logically reasoning mind is imperative. These can only be tapped into when you are calm (in control of your emotions), energetic, and collaborative. And you will achieve the inclusive cooperation from your teams by becoming so.

As any caring, professional facilitator will tell you, these qualities aren’t developed in a one-off workshop or one-day training. You would be well-served to take a very close look at your leadership team and make a commitment to provide them with the knowledge (training over extended time) and coaching (long-term) most of them will need to become leaders of the future.

Much of the training and coaching on these kinds of topics can be done regularly, at an interpersonal level among team members. However, periodically, these in-context sessions need to be augmented with a professional facilitator and/or coach who are experts in these topics. They can evaluate the progress being made and whether there are interventions needed to accelerate the learning and implementation.

The benefits more than outweigh the costs, when implemented correctly. When respect, appreciation and trust are core values expressed by leaders to their team members, mountains can be moved. Mindsets will be open and limiting beliefs will be challenged to find new solutions to existing challenges.

Harnessing, Harvesting & Embracing Our Differences

“How organizations could be so quick to dismiss the work experience & wisdom coupled with the life experience the 50+ workforce brings is mind boggling to me. When I was in full time employ this was the generation that guided me when I fell, when my head got too big 😅, when I needed advice or guidance or a push towards bigger things… invaluable!” Rodney Frank

Let’s Harness, Harvest and Embrace our Differences in our Workplaces!

This is a call to action to all the readers of this article: please pass this on to someone in your organization who can make a difference in ensuring the 50+ employees still have a voice; that they are still relevant at 60+ and maybe even at 70+, if they want to be.

Neuroscience research has shown, unless we have a diseased brain, we are all capable of learning until the day we die. Our brains will develop new neural pathways and connections, as long as they are challenged to do so.

Companies are facing enormous issues with a continuing shortage of younger people entering the workforce. Next to that, they need to be able to manage a quickly ageing workforce. Most companies don’t even have this on their radar! The only research this author can find, which is continually stated and restated in online articles, on just how many companies have age as part of their DEI strategy, dates back to research done in 2015 by PwC.

At that time, of the 64% of companies which had a DEI strategy, only 8% of the programs incorporated age as a diversity factor. I wonder what this percentage is currently and whether no additional research is available is indicative of its relative importance. This while ageism is the one ‘ism’ we’re all going to face, if we’re lucky enough to reach an older age, unless we can reverse the stereotypical thinking that is so ubiquitous in our societies.

(HR) Leaders must see that the needs of this ageing workforce, up until now what I call ‘the forgotten child of DEI’, are equally important to any other DEI initiatives. Age diverse organizations score higher in engagement, innovation and productivity. Though I wonder how much psychological safety plays a part in this, as it does with diverse organizations, in general.

“Age is a number, not a credential. A person’s potential is not dependent on, nor should it be limited by, his or her age.… By removing the lens of age as a way to view existing or potential employees, we shift the focus to their abilities, skills, and knowledge.” Lori A. Trawinski, PhD, CFP® AARP Public Policy Institute

This quote is relevant whether an employee is younger or older. Ageism knows no boundaries. I’d like to add, that it is about capacity. Again, it’s NOTHING to do with a number!

The ‘four stage life’ needs to be embraced. Avivah Wittenberg-Cox wrote about this eloquently in a 2021 Forbes article. She calls these stages the 4 quarters of life from 0 – 100 years: Grow, Achieve, Become and Harvest. I feel the words, in and of themselves, are self-descriptive with little or no translation needed.

Let’s all work towards creating more inclusive and equitable environments that empower all individuals to thrive.

The Wize Move Society, which is part of Creating Waves Partner Network, has developed the Wize Moves @theWorkPlace program. This program supports both employer and employees to harvest, harness and embrace the intergenerational workforces for a sustainable future. Contact: info(at)wizemovesociety(dot)com

Trust IS the Glue (part 5)

Why is trust so elusive for an organization?

While trust is so fundamental to an organization’s real potential for success, it remains elusive to achieve. There are so many factors that will influence your trust ‘quotient’, some of which are hard to define. In essence though, the ability to attain and maintain trust comes down to people.

It’s people who will ensure trust stands or falls. It takes diligence to safeguard against the hard won trust being wiped out by one action or a poorly worded comment. Gaining and earning trust usually needs time to build, yet it can be destroyed in seconds.

It’s not the rules or values hanging on the walls that build trust but what is happening in the halls. Are you aware of what’s going on ‘in the halls’? Are you adding to a culture of trust or are you responsible for diminishing it through your personal behavior?

Do you listen to your team members and actively seek their ideas, perspectives or feelings? Are you congruently setting realistic expectations? Do you do what you say you’ll do? Do you make only promises you know you can keep? Do you give credit where credit is due?

These are just a few of the questions you can ask, to judge for yourself (or let others respond to these questions about you) how you are personally contributing (or not) to a culture of trust.

If you suspect that a culture of trust is not living and breathing in your organization, start making it a priority.

Throughout this 5 part series of articles, I’ve mentioned a variety of ways you can do this. Peruse the first four at your leisure. And implement just one action.

https://creatingwaves.nl/trust-is-the-glue-part-2/

https://creatingwaves.nl/trust-is-the-glue-part-3/

https://creatingwaves.nl/trust-is-the-glue-part-4/

https://creatingwaves.nl/trust-is-the-glue/

Creating Waves is owned by Mary Jane Roy. She is an advisor, facilitator & presenter on topics supporting (age) diverse workforces in building stress hardiness & resilience skills to increase their staying power and to thrive! #livingfrommyheart

Trust IS the Glue (part 4)

What Comes First: Psychological Safety or Trust?

In my last LinkedIn post on this topic, a colleague, Bogdan Manta responded with the 5 drivers his company focuses on when it comes to employee engagement:

Choice / Autonomy | Fairness / Equity | Psychological Safety | Learn / Challenge | Voice / Recognition

I, in turn, responded to his comment with the following: “Bogdan, in looking at this list, I feel that Psychological Safety (PS) is the foundation for the other drivers.” I promised to explore this further in my next article and told him I’d love to have his feedback on this. He has promised to do so and I look forward to hearing his thoughts and yours as well.

To begin, I thought that trust and psychological safety are the same. In doing a deeper dive, I’ve come to the conclusion there are some differences but they are definitely interdependent.

In relation to the team or group experience, psychological safety is best defined as: “… a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes and the team is safe for inter-personal risk taking.” Amy Edmondson Or, in other words attributed to her: “the sense that we can share our feelings, beliefs, and experiences openly at work without fear of retribution, loss of status, or punishment”.

Trust is in relation to each other, how we view another. Psychological safety is the belief regarding the norms within the group. In other words: “Trust is personal; psychological safety is a group phenomenon.” I may trust you to get the job done or to be honest about a situation. But do I feel safe to admit when I’m wrong or have doubts about a project, that these will not be thrown back in my face.

With this deeper dive into trust, I discovered there are two elements to trust, which if both are present, builds the psychological safety of the group. Cognitive Trust, is the confidence one has in the abilities and reliability of the other to get the job done. It’s more ‘head based’ or rational. Affective Trust is more heart based and is described as “mutual interpersonal care and concern or emotional bonds”. Our behavior then, towards another, is fundamental in building trust. Both aspects of trust are needed to create a psychologically safe work environment with each other and within the group.

Recently, I facilitated a team session on building personal resilience. Someone expressed their desire to be able to speak freely when something is bothering them, when they’re feeling stressed. To be able to express feelings of overwhelm, when things aren’t going the way they were expected to, is of paramount importance in building a feeling of safety.

With this deeper dive, in looking at Bogdan’s list of drivers to promote Employee Engagement, then I have to say this can’t be achieved without psychological safety as the foundation. Or is it the chicken and egg metaphor? When all the other drivers are in place, then you’ve created a psychologically safe work environment in which employees thrive?

Starting the conversations, listening with and expressing empathy, having an open mind and leaving judgments out of the conversation are just a few essential ways to build this safety. Be curious, be open, be courageous, be non-judgmental. Who then is going to start the conversation? In the words of a Ready for Female Leadership co-author, Archana Wuntakal, ‘if not you, then who?’.

Nothing IS Something

Next to the work I do in my company, one of my focuses over the years has been supporting women in advancing their careers and achieving gender balanced leadership. To this end, I recently co-authored and helped publish a book entitled ‘Ready for Female Leadership: The Future is NOW’.

In the past few years, I’ve expanded my desire for an ‘all encompassing’ equitable and inclusive workplace and society. This embraces not only all the ‘isms’ we commonly hear about but also one which has taken a backseat to all the others: ageism (I call ageism the ‘forgotten child of DEI strategies’ – hopefully a useful oxymoron).

In 2020 and 2021, I was fortunate to be a guest speaker for Vivian Acquah’s ‘Amplify DEI’ summits. She asked me a question in our pre-summit interviews: “What would you tell your younger self about the topics you spoke about (Discrimination and the Stress Response / 50 plus As Change Agents)? And why?”

My response to her was as follows, though perhaps not verbatim: “Every action has a consequence which falls somewhere on what I consider the scale of good or bad. Doing nothing is also doing something and that is bad. We all need to play a role to ensure racist and biased behavior becomes intolerable behavior.”

In replaying this back to myself recently, it made me think of an essay I wrote in the late 70’s. I had joined the Canadian Armed Forces as a military nursing officer. During basic officer training, we had to write an essay and share this to our group. A high ranking officer would grade us on poise and confidence. Nothing exciting came to mind as a topic, so I decided to write my essay entitled ‘Nothing is Something’. Here follows a portion of that essay. How I was rated by the attending officer is a story for another day…

The dictionary describes ‘nothing’ as:

  • Not any thing : no thing
  • Indicating the absence of meaning, value, worth, etc.
  • Of no importance or significance

Now let’s think about all the euphemisms we use for the word ‘nothing’ in our everyday language.

That person means nothing to me – which should tell the listener that this person is of no significance to me. Actually, it speaks volumes about the impression this person has made on me.

Nothing doing which means definitely no. If I hear a definite no then this is the opposite of yes, which tells me I’m not going to get what I want – and that is something.

Then we combine it with the word less. The idea is nothing less than revolutionary. [= the idea is revolutionary]

If you come to the party empty handed you have nothing in your hands, which can be very significant to the person hosting the party.

Has anyone ever told you that you have nothing to fear? Just how relaxed did this make you feel?

And when you see a wrong being committed against someone or society in general, doing nothing is tantamount to doing something, which could have very dire consequences.

The Cost of Doing Nothing

It’s this last one for which I hope you’ll sit up and take notice. How often have you let a minor or major transgression pass without calling it out, personally or professionally?

The cost of doing ‘nothing’ is incalculable: mentally, emotionally and financially to our society as a whole. Why would we perpetuate something that has so many negative consequences? Is it to preserve a false sense of superiority or privilege, which only serves to harm us? If so, how ridiculous is this?

We can all do something, even some little thing, to ensure an equitable and inclusive society. What will you do?

Trust IS the Glue (part 2)

Trust is the Glue: be an emotionally inspired leader!

According to research by Richard Boyatzis, Professor at Case Western University in the US, trust is one of 5 characteristics of an emotionally inspired leader.

Building Trust

Trust is an emotion you inspire in others and it’s essential for a thriving workplace. You can’t demand trust. It just doesn’t work that way.

In a WEConnect International webinar, facilitated by Evoloshen, a TRUST acronym was shared which resonated with me in answer to the question: How do you build trust?

T= Transparency

R= Relationships

U= Understanding

S= Shared Success

T= Truth-telling

Trust also goes hand in hand with traits such as credibility, reliability, openness, confidence, and a focus on best results for your employees and the organization (not for yourself).

When your employees trust you, they will invest time and energy that they wouldn’t be willing to do with a leader they don’t trust. They will dare to take risks, which they otherwise wouldn’t. There is a willingness to ‘go the extra mile’, even when they don’t know what’s around the corner. Trust in your people to do the right thing, and they most likely will.

Remember that trust is fragile. Even so, it doesn’t need to break. Take the time with your team to define what trustworthiness means. You may be surprised that not everyone has the same definition. Create a definition that resonates with everyone. Discuss which behaviors lead to a lack of trust and which lead to a trusting relationship. Calculate the costs for your team and the company, when low trust exists.

In his 2006 book ‘The Speed of Trust’, Stephen M. Covey came up with an equation defining the economics of trust (please click on the image to see it fully):

 “Economists care about trust because it is closely connected to economic activity. Its absence leads to lower wages, profits, and employment, while its presence facilitates trade and encourages activity that adds economic value.” https://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/trust-project/videos/matouschek-ep-1.aspx

Without trust as the glue, collaboration and innovation are almost impossible to achieve. If you don’t have trust in your people, or they don’t trust you, they will only do the minimum it takes. They will do what they’re told. Nothing more.