Respond Instead

If I asked you how your day was going, how would you answer? I’m 99.9% sure you’d easily say “Good” or “Fine” because it’s polite and expected. The person being asked is hoping with all that’s in them that these one-word retorts will placate the inquisitor enough that they’ll move on. We say these responses because it is the norm of a shallow acknowledgment as humans. We may care how the other person is when we greet them, but chances are we care “ish.”

You see, far more daunting and important battles lay ahead of us. We are sure of it because why else would we venture to work if it wasn’t to slay the dragons that no one else is capable of handling? We tell ourselves we are indispensable due to a mix of self-assuredness and a need to feel valued as a contributor. So, now that the obligatory greetings of our co-workers are complete we can get to the day ahead which is sure to be far more fulfilling. As we open our “to do” list, the inevitable happens . . . something arises that catches us completely off guard. We didn’t want to be interrupted and we can feel our faces start to get hot because we want to stick to the list that we had so carefully crafted sometime before.

Then it happens. The instant it occurs we grasp the air trying to get the words that just spouted out back inside because the tone they carried was sure to sting. We snap. We react. We’re bothered that our idea of a perfect, lined out, step-by-step existence was thwarted because someone had the audacity to break the pattern !! Our reaction is swift, emotional and contrite. We blurt it out because, again, we want to return to what is more important to US. Don’t they understand that by asking for our input they’ve created an imbalance? Don’t they understand that this is so unsettling that I won’t be able to get back into my rhythm?

The answer is – No, they don’t. Nor, do they really care. They’re coming to you for a valid reason . . . they feel you are the one who can help them get things done too !!

I know it’s radical, but we weren’t meant to be isolationists in this world. That is especially true in the workplace. I also don’t think it’s feasible for you to constantly be surrounded by people all day because it would be exhausting and ineffective. (This is coming from one of the biggest self-avowed extroverts you’ll ever meet.)

Since we’re meant to interact, we would be better off by seeking a balance of being prepared and structured while allowing for interruptions and interactions weaved throughout our days. The way to find, and keep, this balance is to choose to respond vs. react. Doing this requires us to resist the environment we all currently find ourselves in.

In today’s rapid mad dash, reactions have become the norm. People expect you to snap back an answer on the fly and without context. We have bought into the myth that if answers aren’t given instantaneously, then they don’t have merit. The pace of social media, snippets, and partial scenarios drives this expectation. Then, if you do react, a multitude of similar reactions come flying back requiring us to react once again – or so we think. We have to break this incessant volley.

You have time. You have time in almost every, single situation of your regular day. I understand that some things may have more urgency, but even in those rushed circumstances you have time to breathe, pause, contemplate, consider, gather context . . . and then respond. You really do.

If we keep in mind that all humans are one giant ball of emotions, reacting is our natural tendency. We can’t help ourselves. That’s why responding takes practice and discipline. You need to take my word for it that this disciplined approach is far more effective and sustainable than being reactionary. Also, it’s not an either/or type of approach. Life never has fallen into two distinct camps where you can pull an answer from a set playbook with certainty to ensure the outcome you’re seeking. This is because people are involved and we just muck it up . . . because we’re human.

This week try to respond more and react less. It will take time and you won’t do it well every time. If you choose to follow this more constructive approach you will see better interactions, more collaboration, in-depth and contextual discussions and you’ll start developing relationships. Also, you’ll make more well-rounded decisions when that interruption hits you.

From now on . . . respond instead.

Others Needed

This past week I joined a conversation with friends on Clubhouse. Now, I know it’s all the new rage, and it’s fun to see people get excited about gathering.

(Quick obligatory disclaimer – This post isn’t about the new platform, and I understand it works with iPhone users and not Android users at this time. It isn’t about jumping on a bandwagon either. Read the rest of the post and you’ll see why . . .)

I was asked to join four friends and we were going to talk about leading remote workers. What was amazing is that the five of us were located in New York City, New York; Granada, Spain; Manchester, England; Concord, New Hampshire and Cincinnati, Ohio. As others joined in the chat, there were others from all corners of the planet. It fascinates me that peers chose to show up for a conversation !! And, then it hit me . . .

Our topic was timely and is something facing the new definition of work and the workspace. Noted. It also had people with different perspectives and experiences with this new environment. Noted again. What was most intriguing to me though was the engagement, energy, respect, laughter and encouragement !! Then it sank in . . .

We need others in our lives.

I think this simple notion is overlooked and misconstrued in far too many ways. We come up with ways to discredit, distance or overanalyze this human reality. We want to say that there’s “more to it” because it can’t be that basic. We are far too intelligent, complex and knowledgeable. We can’t just “need” each other.

It is that simple.

If you know me at all, I thrive on connecting people. It drives me and fills my bucket. I want to make sure that anyone I encounter is not only connected to me, but to others who may anchor them more to reaffirm that they are needed. I’m not kidding. I would think that a significant portion of every day is made up of various quick check-ins and barometer checks with friends around the globe. This is on top of having the same approach with the people I’m fortunate enough to work with. As humans, we are wired with a desire to be connected and needed by others.

I’m concerned that people are walking in and around us feeling lonely, isolated and not wanted. There is a myriad of reasons why that is their reality. I’m not going to be bold enough to try to give a litany of reasons for this disconnectedness. I don’t have to have a “reason” to connect with others. If you’re a fellow human, you’ve passed the only criteria I find necessary. People don’t need to jump through hoops in order to know they’re needed with me. Nor do I fault someone else who feels they need to make sure it’s safe and valuable for them to connect with me.

While we were having our chat, I also took the time to tweet and share some of the insights that people were giving. You could feel the energy of our time together grow even more !! People who weren’t able to join could now learn and comment. You see, I feel we get into a trap of getting excited about events and our focus is purely on those that participate at the time. That is incredible, but the way we make sure others are aware, informed, interested and even geeked is if we have a mixture of an internal and external mechanism with interactions. This isn’t for notoriety. It’s to make sure no one is left out.

This week look around. You’re going to have a multitude of conversations and interactions in person, virtually and online. Keep your head up and make sure the others you’re talking to know they’re needed . . . on purpose. Don’t assume that just because they’re in the conversation that they’re connected. You can be a person who becomes THE anchor for someone and not even know it. You may unlock the talent of someone because they were intentionally acknowledged.

Remember you’re needed. Others need you and you need others. It’s that simple.

Experience Needed ??

It’s hard to believe that I’m entering the 35th year of my career. I can distinctly remember the challenge of finding my first job. You see, I was trying to land a role in the newly renamed field of “Human Resources” before the internet was anything to be reckoned with. In fact, I went to a library on the campus of Ohio University at the beginning of my senior year and found a book called The Million Dollar Directory. It was a list of companies and their profiles. I picked out a list of 200 brand name firms and typed (yes, typed) a cover letter and resume for each one, and mailed them out.

I had to patiently wait for responses by mail. (yes, mail) Of the 200 letters I sent across the country, I received a handful of rejections and one positive response. I interviewed with this Fortune 500 giant and was fortunate to get hired. Did I mention that the country was in a recession when I was graduating from college? Also, unemployment was at a record high at the time. Sound familiar?

The one difference is that the company I joined was just starting to look for recent college graduates to join the recruiting department. I was the first college graduate they hired. Every other manager in the department had grown up by moving up the career ladder of the organization. I was an “experiment” in response to a directive that said that HR was going to start using the model the revenue-driving departments had used for some time. I was at the right place at the right time. I didn’t have any tangible experience. I just wanted to go into human resources.

I’ll never forget this story because it runs against the grain of ALL companies when it comes to hiring people. We continue to rely on old models and expectations with the myth of experience. If we review a resume that states someone has between “x” and “y” years of experience in a role, we attribute talent and skillset purely based on tenure at a company. That is the first hurdle candidates MUST pass in order to hit the next incremental step of consideration. If people can’t pass this barrier of chronology, then we keep digging until we find someone who matches.

You’d think after 35 years things would evolve. You’d hope that with AI, ATS, chatbots, digital methods, etc. we’d have moved the needle. We haven’t and, honestly, we refuse to because we feel if we eliminate the “experience” parameter then we’ll get a mish-mash of underqualified people. Here’s a more current example . . .

My son, Josh, graduated from Ohio University in 2019 with high honors. He’s a great, talented young man with a degree but he didn’t secure an internship or co-op during his time in college. I understand that is a choice, but again, there’s no measure as to what students did during internships. It’s just key for people to list one on their resume because it reflects . . . experience. This story isn’t true only for my son. It’s how HR and organizations continue to filter out new graduates, those trying to change industries, and people making career changes from one field to another.

When we were on a recent call, he was telling me the steps he was pursuing in his continued job search when he choked up a bit and said in frustration, “How am I supposed to gain experience if no one is willing to give me an opportunity?”

There it is. There’s the crux of this long-held myth. How does one gain experience to match the job requisition when companies aren’t willing to take the chance/risk on investing in someone first? We have all been lulled to sleep and complacency as business professionals because we’ve forgotten that when our careers began someone opened a door for us and invited us in. We lose sight of this because we’re working. I hate to be this candid – but if you have a job, you typically don’t care about those who don’t.

This has to change. There is no reason for people to continue to have to fight through unneeded steps in order to prove that they made it through some imaginary gauntlet and have earned the right to work for a company. It’s archaic and unproven. How can we state we are hiring for “talent” when we’re really looking for people to match buzzwords, overly complicated job descriptions and hidden preferences and biases in our current approach?

It’s time for all of us to open doors. As HR and talent acquisition professionals, we need to redefine the landscape that allows everyone access to jobs and then go through a process of consideration which measures aptitude, character, strengths and potential. We need to come to terms that we can train the details of the jobs they’ll take on. We’re going to anyway.

We should value the skills, knowledge and experience people earn over time. But, instead of playing organizational match game, we should see how we can take those attributes to our organization in order to have their talent move us forward by adding value. It’s time for this current generation of professionals in HR to change the landscape.

I’m not sure how it’s supposed to look. I’m not sure the facets needed to make a design that is inclusive, consistent, and accessible. I just know it can, and must, exist. I plan to start by opening doors for others. As an HR practitioner myself, I can reach out to job seekers and be a person who helps make connections in other organizations if I don’t have roles available myself. We have to think of others outside of ourselves and our companies. Think of how companies would excel if we opened doors to introduce them to talent all over because of the connections we have.

I hope someone opens a door for my son. I know that when it happens, he’ll remember his experience of landing his first job and he’ll open doors for others. You see, experience isn’t needed . . . genuinely helping others land in roles is !!

Don’t Be Sisyphus !!

How’s your new year shaping up? Is your plate full? Chances are it’s overflowing. I know this may be stating the obvious for most people. I’m not just referring to work either. Yes, work may take up the majority of your daily time, effort and attention. We need to remember that each person we encounter has their version of “life” going on. You may be addressing personal/family situations and struggles with spouses, partners, kids, or parents. You may be in between jobs now or you’d like to change your role/company if you had the chance. I’m not going to try and capture all that is in front of you. I’m just sure that you’re full (too full).

What’s interesting about being full at work is that we don’t view this positively. We complain. Incessantly. It’s true. So much of our daily routine includes bemoaning all that we have to do. On top of that, we complain about co-workers that are intertwined with our mountain of work. We exhale a gigantic sigh as if to get the attention of others so they can commiserate with us. Others follow this pattern and they grouse as well. For some reason, we find comfort in this mixing of conversations which look at all that is wrong with our day . . . because we’re full.

I remember a time when I went to a restaurant in downtown Cincinnati by myself (pre-COVID) to run an errand. It is a great, local Mexican place that I try to visit when I get the chance. I was by myself which is a rarity in itself. I ordered the daily special and found a table to sit in the middle of a full gathering who were “enjoying” their lunch break. Instead of scrolling through endless social media threads, I sat quietly and listened to the conversations of those around me. I know it’s a bit intrusive, but I curious to hear what others were talking about.

Every single conversation was negative. Every one. The people eating around me weren’t upset or animated. They were speaking at ease because this was, and is, normal for them – as it is for all of us. They were complaining about the work they had in front of them and the people that had to “deal” with in order to try and move forward. I’m sure there was a smattering of constructive input during the chats, but that was hard to assess. Since no one was phased by how the conversations occurred, I’m positive people went on with their day oblivious to the tone.

I understand that being full can be overwhelming, and it may even feel that we’re going to sink rather than swim. But, isn’t that a great position to be in? Seriously. When you are full, then, chances are, you’re either adding value or others are counting on you to come through because of your talent. So, we need to quit being Sisyphus !!

Illustration by Temujin Doran and Max Robinson

Who’s Sisyphus? He was a character in Greek mythology who was not a good king. His lifestyle of deceit and conniving angered the gods and he was given the task of rolling a massive stone up a hill with the hope that he’d clear the peak and the stone would roll down the other side. He would struggle and push against the boulder, but he could never clear the precipice. Oh, and he only has to push this immovable object up the hill . . . for eternity !! Sound familiar? THIS is how we sound when we talk about our work. We come off more like martyrs than contributors.

This needs to turn around and disappear. If we want to have people-centric organizations filled with performers, then we need to do all we can to destroy how work is talked about. And . . . it starts with us HR !! I understand that working with people can be daunting, challenging and even disheartening IF you view people as a problem first. Our mentality and mindset have to be reset. We must talk about how the work in front of us is an opportunity and not a burden. We must embrace the conversations we have with other employees as a chance to learn, hear new ideas and perspectives and work together collaboratively towards moving things forward.

I’m not a Pollyanna, but I am an optimist. I am grateful I am both full and overwhelmed with the good work I get to be a part of in my role. It’s very easy to go dark and complain. Very easy. I just choose not to. I plan to get that rock up over the hill so that I can see past the peak, go into the next valley and get the next boulder that is sure to be there.

If we would shift and become beacons of light as HR practitioners in our organizations, then others would see the great work they have in front of them positively as well. Organizations would thrive and cultures would improve. We’d actually have “best places to work” because you’d see people embrace their place as the talented people they already are. Be glad you’re full.

Capture Your Thoughts !!

As we jump into 2021, we’re already being bombarded by more and more circumstances and situations. I’ll be honest, it’s hard to try and clear your head with all that is happening. I didn’t expect a magical switch to flip after we hit January 1st. That’s not realistic.

On top of the constant waves of activity, there are distractions that are all clamoring for our attention. There are those that deserve our focus such as our family, friends and work. However, we need to be self-aware that even these important areas of our lives may not get the time they need. Add on top of all of these factors, that we want everyone to organize our lives according to their methods and/or systems.

My wife is the best person in my life. That has nothing to specifically do with organization, but I never miss a chance to recognize how fortunate I am to have her as my partner. The bonus is that she is incredibly organized !! She has a distinct advantage over me because she is a rational, linear thinker. It makes sense for her to compile lists and then knock things out as they’re completed. She has lists for each day, week, and even some looking far out into the future. I admire that this approach works for her because it keeps her life, and our lives together, in order.

I am about as far from a rational, linear thinker as one can be. The slightest piece of activity going around me gets at least a glance. This is not new. I’ve always wanted to take in everything that occurs as it happens. This allows me to be more observant and open to various perspectives, but it also means that I can bounce back and forth between a multitude of things without landing on many. I find this freeing, but it also can be limiting and even frustrating when working with others.

I don’t know one person who doesn’t have a full plate in their role at work. Not one. Our plates may not be filled with the “right” things, but they are overflowing nonetheless. In order to make sure the plates I had didn’t only get a small snapshot of my attention, I had to come up with something that reflected how my brain works to capture my thoughts.

Just a few . . .

I use notebooks. Many notebooks. Each one contains some aspect of my job. A few contain thoughts and projects outside of work. If you picked one up and started to thumb through the pages, it would not make much sense to you. It’s not supposed to though because it’s my personal approach. It makes as much sense to me to use multiple notebooks as it does for my wife to utilize lists.

The key to making progress during these uncertain days is to have a method which works for you. Where I’d encourage you to change though is for you to understand that your system won’t work for others. People are unique and will put their own twist on how they feel most comfortable to capture all that is happening so they know how best to reference the information when and where they need it.

So, instead of letting this world overwhelm you come up with the best technique that will allow you to remain calm, clear headed and “organized.” Then, follow your process and make sure it becomes your fabric. Value that others do things differently and see how you’ll have a way to move forward.

I better write this down. Time to find a new notebook . . .

Every Moment

This post represents quite a few milestones !! It’s a New Year, it’s my birthday and it’s the 10-year anniversary of my blog. Hard to grasp that all of these events convened at the same time. It also is a great example of what I wanted to “talk” about this week.

You do tend to reflect more as you get older. I never thought that would be the case, but it happens because I think you realize your time on this planet is on the downward side of the curve. Please don’t think I’m being pessimistic because that rarely occurs in how I live and see life. I’m being realistic though because I’m much closer to my sixth decade roaming the earth than my first !!

So many people have sentiments about escaping 2020. I am not one of those people. Yes, it was a tough year for most everyone I know including me. The loss of my father and my boss will alter my life. There is no doubt about it. I can’t adequately capture the myriad of events that happened around the world that seem that we’re far more unsettled and divided than we are cohesive.

As I reflect on getting the chance to celebrate another year of life, I’ve come to realize something is so true that I never grasped until late last year. My brother was with me and our mom as our dad was passing. As we were discussing all that was happening, a well-intentioned surgeon was telling us he was sure he could perform a procedure which may have a sliver of success for my dad. We discussed this as a group, and my brother, a doctor himself, shared a piece of advice he received from his Chief Nursing Officer. She told him, “Mark, you need to remember that we see people for only a few moments of their life.”

That struck me. It’s true. We act on very little information with very little time in each other’s lives. When you step back to look at it, the majority of how we live, what we believe, and how we view the world is made up of a series of very small moments. For some reason, our brain takes these various interactions and pulls them together to make thoughts, opinions and perspectives.

We need to keep this in mind because it seems that we are acting on these small moments to make massive assumptions, judgments, and movements. We tend to expand these encounters to make our feelings and attitudes absolute. We fill in the pieces on people without even thinking about asking them for any details or context. This concrete approach leads to putting people into compartments that validate our personal view and outlook on life . . . and they may be very skewed and we don’t even see it happening.

The surgeon I mentioned earlier was trying to do his best based on his talent, skills, and experience to help our dad. Fortunately, my brother remembered the advice he was given and called his colleagues to explain the situation and get input from others. It confirmed his suspicion that the chances of my dad recovering were remote. So, we thanked the surgeon and chose not to proceed. The surgeon was indignant about our decision. He was very confident in his abilities. I’m sure he was talented, but he didn’t realize that he had little knowledge of who my dad was and what his wishes were if he were in a life-ending circumstance. He was only in my dad’s life for a moment but didn’t recognize that.

As we all take our next trip around the sun, I’d ask you all to join me in stepping back to acknowledge that we are in each other’s lives for mere moments. Hopefully, you have family and friends who get to experience more moments than others and that is positive. I know that may not be the case with family or friends, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m an eternal optimist.

I don’t want to overlook any opportunity I have to be in a moment with others. Not one. I want every person I meet to know they matter and that I would rather enjoy our time together regardless of the circumstance. You never know. The one time you are with another person may be the ONLY time you’re together.

Why wouldn’t you take that brief time to make it the best possible moment you could? You need to remember that you will be remembered by whomever you encounter – every. time. You have the choice to make that a positive experience. I would encourage you to embrace that !!

I typically write to an audience of HR pros because I feel we can always improve how we work with others. I believe this approach of enjoying every moment should be the baseline for great human resources. If you choose to adopt this, I guarantee that you will enjoy not only the work you do but (more importantly) the fabulous people around you.

Enjoying every moment with all people is an even bigger expectation, but I think it’s needed now more than ever. If we would cherish the moments we have with each other, I think we would appreciate people as the wonderful, creative, and humorous works in progress we ALL are. I know there will continue to be trials, disappointments and failures. However, I can be assured that I will have people who will be doing life with me and the moments we share together will help us work through whatever we’re facing.

Start your year with a positive outlook which will take you forward through the years to come. Enjoy every moment !!

Legacy

For those of you who know me, I am rarely at a loss for words. This past week, however, has left me speechless.

There are countless accounts of the challenges we have all faced in 2020. They range from personal loss of loved ones to jobs being affected to swimming in a constant sea of uncertainty. Not one person’s experience is the same. We all hope for this barrage to stop, but it doesn’t. Life has been filled with far more trials than joy.

I had a text on my phone very early Tuesday morning before work asking me to call. I hadn’t responded when the second text stated, “I have some really bad news.” I wasn’t sure what this was going to mean, so I called. I heard the news on the other end and wept. I couldn’t form a word. I wept with my entire body and stood shocked and stunned.

My boss had died unexpectedly and suddenly.

This didn’t seem real, and it still doesn’t. This news was devastating because Kevin, my boss, was also a dear friend. I was asked to share the news with some others, and their response was the same as mine had been. The whole idea of him being gone was surreal and painful. No one was sure how to move forward.

You see, Kevin held a very special place in my life personally and professionally. A little over 14 years ago, we sat across from each other in a booth in one of our pizzerias. He was interviewing me to see if I could join the company as their HR Director. I enjoyed his warmth, laughter and accessibility the moment I met him. Fortunately, he put me forward and I’ve been with the company ever since. I can say that we’ve either seen each other or talked almost every day over those 14 years.

Kevin modeled a behavior I have adopted and valued more than any in my career. Each time I met with him, we talked about people. He talked about them candidly and fondly because he knew so much about everyone. He worked with our company for 45 years, and he could tell you something about each person he encountered whether they worked in our corporate office, manufacturing plant, pizzerias or franchises. He knew every person’s spouse, partner, children, grandchildren and extended families – by name !! He would make “rounds” around the office daily and have rich conversations to make sure others were okay.

He also had an incredible wit and sense of humor. He’d make a comment that would catch you off guard and laugh. He poked fun, and I always enjoyed that. I laughed with him and made sure to share barbs with him as well. He naturally made work human and I admired that. He emphasized that the workplace should always be people-first and that I should always value the work every employee did – especially those on the front lines. He had grown up in the organization as many had starting out in a pizzeria and then growing up in the company.

Kevin also developed others who worked for him. He was very intentional and kept high expectations of people to perform and be accountable. The key to his approach is that he developed others in a very human way as well. It never seemed forced or formal. After some time, you’d see how far he’d encouraged you to grow.

He built a legacy with all of those around him. He invested his time and attention with others throughout every workday. People knew they mattered to Kevin. I don’t think he was even aware he was making such a lasting impact on those around him. With him leaving, we have lost part of our soul. There’s no other good way to describe it. That’s why it hurts so deeply.

This last week has been different. The person I was most connected to wasn’t there to catch up on work items, share a quick story, or check in on how others are doing across the organization. It’s a hollow feeling.

I plan to follow his lead and make sure to invest in others, keep a people-first focus and take time to laugh. I feel there is no greater legacy.

What If You Broke Your Bubble ??

For the past several years, I’ve contributed to the #AdventBlogs series. It’s a great series from a multitude of global HR pros, and it’s a joy to be included. The series is now hosted by my friend Gary Cookson. I would recommend you connecting with Gary and read all of the Advent Blog posts from this year. I’m sure you’d get connected to some HR folks you don’t yet know – but should !!

Here is my submission. I hope you enjoy it and join me in expanding your personal horizons by breaking some bubbles.

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I’ve always been a person who has multiple interests. Growing up, I was fortunate to be in a loving, caring home nestled in a small town in the Midwest. This environment allowed me to explore a variety of activities. I wasn’t limited by the scope or number of things to try. What was ironic about this now reflecting years later is that I didn’t know that this was unique. I assumed everyone growing up at the time I did had the same experiences and opportunities I did. I understand now that this was a bit naïve because I didn’t have exposure to people who were much different than me.

Even though I had such a positive childhood, everyone I knew was similar to me in race, background, education, and belief systems. I was in the classic “you don’t know what you don’t know” setting. It was like I lived in a Norman Rockwell painting. Before I talk about how my perspective was broadened, let me share one more advantage of my small town. I didn’t think in terms of barriers or obstacles when it came to participation. I was involved in sports, academics, music programs, drama, and civic/faith communities all at the same time. I was a member of every stereotypical high school group. I hung around people who chose to be in only a few groups and relished that I could have relationships with people regardless of who they were or what their interests were. That was “normal” for me. My parents encouraged me and my brother to try everything and then stick with what interested us. We both were as well rounded as possible. Most of my core friend group also had this multi-faceted approach to life. It was exhilarating !!

When I went to college, my horizons were instantly expanded. It was the first time in my life that I met people who grew up in large metropolitan cities and foreign countries. I made connections with people who were vastly diverse from me and I loved it. I was disappointed that I wasn’t aware of how amazing and unique people were. Even in this, I realize now that college was only a microcosm of how limitless the variety of humanity truly is. However, it was a great way to challenge what I had known and experienced in my small town. I had to decide to stay cocooned in my small bubble or break that bubble to take in everything around me. I broke the bubble, and I’m glad I did.

I continued to be involved in as many different activities and social groups as I could throughout my college years. What I found is that the fabric of people I encountered gave me experiences I would have never had if I hadn’t ventured forth and taken risks to be fully engaged with people regardless of their background, culture, and experience. I never felt confined to be connected only to certain social groups.

Unfortunately, it was also during college that I learned that people also chose to not be as open to others as I was trying to do. I remember taking a class my senior year which studied the life and efforts of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. We had to do some form of visible non-violent activity and then write about our experience with the reactions we experienced. It was a group project. Four of us decided to “march” with banners and sheets with messages on them to bring attention to inequities we saw at that time happening at the University. As we walked through areas that were filled with the housing of our fellow students, we were jeered, cussed at and people even threw things at us. I was confused, angry, and hurt. My group’s experience was more visceral and emotional than some of the other groups in the class. It has stuck with me ever since. I didn’t understand why we received such a reaction from people just by walking down a street. It was hard to process.

This leads me to today. What if people intentionally chose to connect and have meaningful relationships with others just because they are fellow humans?

I understand that each person on the planet is unique and different. That doesn’t intimidate me. It fascinates me !! If I could spend each day I walk on this earth to meet and know every single person that I’m around, I would be fulfilled. I mean that. I would be completely content listening to the story of every person I encounter to try to learn from them and understand their life experience.

I was sitting on the steps of the New York Public Library a few years ago having a coffee with a dear friend while visiting New York City for a meeting. I said, “I wish I could stop and talk to every person walking around us. Don’t you?” He said that would be uncomfortable and uncertain. He’s right, but I’d love to take the risk.

I’d love to see the world, in general, come together and get to know each other and understand our various outlooks on life, work and society. I want to take the background I’ve grown up with and apply it to all aspects of human connection. I don’t feel we’ll ever come together until we take the time to learn, listen, respect and value where people come from. It doesn’t mean we’ll always agree, and it may lead to deep, intense dialogue. Isn’t that worth pursuing?

I have never felt comfortable when people want to put me in a box to say that you must be this or that or be part of this group or that one. Why can’t you move across all groups and types of people? I’m going to keep working on my “What if” because I know it works. I’m not sure where it will lead me, but I feel the world has so much to offer because of its people. I know that in doing this I will discover ways to view and experience a much bigger slice of life than if I only stayed complacent and within a defined bubble.

I’d encourage you to join me and break your bubble because I’d love to get to know you as well !!

Adjust Your Shelves !!

My wife and I had a significant event happen this past week. We emerged from our basement after four months !! This wasn’t due to the never-ending pandemic. The renovation of our home’s first floor was completed. Now, please understand that we had this transformation planned before the world changed forever.

We have been very fortunate to have lived in the same house for 29 years. When we had been married for two years, we purchased our home which was originally built in 1977 and we moved into it in 1991. Over the nearly three decades, we’ve changed paint, carpet, decor, roofs, appliances, etc. However, the basic look of our family room and kitchen still had that late 70’s vibe. We had a discussion at the end of 2019 when my wife said she wanted to remodel or move.

That’s quite a decision !! Do you spend money to redo the house you’ve enjoyed for so many years and “update” it, or do you go through the adventure of finding a new home that brings its own level of stress? I’m fairly comfortable with change, but I hesitated when I was faced with these options. We raised our two kids in this house and have had many family gatherings, scout meetings, dinners with friends, and more. I know we could do that in a new house, but I wanted to stay. That decision meant that we would go through a patience exercise that you’ve never planned for. We got everything designed and once the project began, we went down the stairs to our new living quarters . . . for four months.

We completely altered how we normally live, and then the pandemic hit. Honestly, we got through life together in a much smaller space with very little conflict. As we came back up to the first floor, it felt like we were emerging from a bunker. The work of replenishing, reorganizing, and getting rid of things we didn’t need was at hand. This too went very smoothly and ended up taking multiple trips of donations to Goodwill and finding new homes for our old furniture and appliances. Everything went well . . . until the shelves.

On the “end” wall of our family room, we had two built-in bookshelves added to frame a fireplace. One bookshelf came with five shelves and the other with four. That was the first discrepancy. The next one was the placement of the shelves. My wife and I are very different which is what makes us a great couple. She balances me in so many ways. One area where we differ though is she likes order and I like variety. The shelves we added have clips on each side and it takes considerable effort to unsnap them before they can be moved.

Debbie wanted everything to match so when you faced the built-ins they would have symmetry. We hadn’t added anything to adorn the shelves yet, so we didn’t account for different sizes of items. I didn’t care. There didn’t need to be symmetry for me. As I was trying to get the levels right and have things match, I started to lose patience. I just wanted things to be completed, and my wife wanted things done correctly. You’d think that something so “easy” would not have added so much consternation. Sound familiar ??

This simple act of adjusting shelves reflects what we face at work every day. You have at least two parties working on the same task. I guarantee that many sides will be taken because no one approaches work the same way. We claim to be so good with change and being adaptable, and that just isn’t true because we overlook one simple fact. We’re “good” with adjustments if they match how WE want the outcome to be. People want to get their own way. I feel it is the underlying obstacle we hit whenever two or more people interact – which is the majority of every. day.

The shelves were adjusted. They’re symmetrical and they look wonderful !! The other part of adjustments to be successful is compromise. There is value in evaluating other people’s perspectives because we should learn from each other and stop knocking heads with each other. The goal is to move forward, not just be right and get your way.

Our house will keep coming together, and I’m sure that more adjustments will face us along the way. This week take a look had how good you are/aren’t with adjusting, and be honest with yourself. Once you assess this, then start applying new methods to move forward and truly get comfortable with adjustments.

Now to the kitchen cabinets . . .

Carry On

Have you noticed, or felt, that we’re stuck? My wife and I were hanging out with another couple enjoying a few Moscow Mules and we caught up on life. Instead of talking about the various activities of our grown children or the status of our jobs, we talked about the constant wave of global events that have happened throughout 2020. Each one has had a profound experience on each of us personally as I’m sure it has for you. There doesn’t seem to be and “end” to any of these events, and maybe that’s the point.

When the pandemic hit (and it’s still happening to some exent), people longed for normalcy and a return to the life and patterns of what we’d been accustomed to doing. Now, the civil unrest, protests and call for social justice has moved us in a new direction emphasizing that we should not return to how things “have been.”

People are frustrated, angry, anxious and uncertain as to what lies ahead for our society and for each of us personally. When this happens, there are three possible reactions which will occur – (1) You’ll stay put because that gives you some sense of stability and less volatility; (2) You’ll do all you can to slide back into comfort zones and make efforts to get out of all that’s going on; and (3) You move forward and carry on.

As I was thinking about writing this week, I had the Grateful Dead radio station playing on Spotify. I am a hippie in the 21st century. The station plays a variety of artists from a similar genre, and one of my favorite groups started playing – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The song they were singing was Carry On which is one of my favorites.

The song is about a relationship that has broken off, but it is laced with a message of encouragement to carry on because “love is coming, love is coming to us all.” With everything that is daily affecting us, I want to assure you that we can, and should, move forward by carrying on. We’re all tired and reaching the end of our ropes emotionally, physically and spiritually. The people I talk to are exasperated. They want to move forward, but are just so spent they don’t know how. If movement doesn’t occur soon, then they’ll become stagnant and ambivalent. This doesn’t have to happen.

At some time, we all will need to carry on. Now, I’m not going to be so bold as to list specific steps and a model to help you do this. I will say though that in order to start carrying on, you need to acknowledge that you can’t stay put where you are. It’s not easy and the urge to remain where you currently are is powerful and hard to break. You may even feel that others will chime in and tell you they’re not moving forward themselves, and they will do their best to have you join them. We can’t afford to do that as people or as HR professionals.

It’s time for us to take beliefs, words and sentiments and turn them into actions. We can’t continue to be aspirational and hope that someone will pick up the mantle and run with it. This is our task and our opportunity. So, what can you DO to ensure inequality and racism isn’t present in your practices and organizations? What can you DO to care for former employees who are now in transition after the pandemic? What can you DO to show your company that every situation in your company is centered around people? Every. Situation.

It’s easy to get caught up in the ground swell of emotions of all that is going on. I’m sure you’ve experienced strong feelings yourself. After time, this level of emotion, passion and outcry for sustainable change will subside. It always does. A good friend of mine and I were talking about this, and he had a great suggestion which he finds works well.

Write down what you want to accomplish in your calendar and then write out steps you need to reach that accomplishment. Set them all up as reminders so they don’t disappear. Let them be gentle nudges for you to continue to carry on.

As I mentioned before, I’m not going to give you absolute suggestions for you to pursue. I don’t know what is facing you – but you do !! Let’s all commit to not remain stagnate. Let’s be intentional in putting accomplishments out in front of us to see ourselves, and our companies, improve. Let’s make our words turn to action. Let’s all carry on !!

Just so you have a little reminder and inspiration to get you started, here’s the CSNY classic for your listening pleasure . . .