6 Ways to Deal With the Gifts We Don’t Want

We all get gifts we don’t want from time to time. Unless you have a gift registry or Wish List for every birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas and dinner party; you will end up with that clunker gift. The one you have no idea what to do with or why the gifter gave it to you. I just spent my entire Sunday, helping my daughter sift through the treasures and trash of her life, as she moves into her first “real” apartment in her “real” adult life. We had some 15 boxes and bags that contained the contents of her childhood, adolescence and college life. There were figurines her grandmother gave her, several stuffed owls with caps from her graduation, the portrait an old friend painted of her and earrings that she was sure she would never wear. Many gifts. Many laden thick with dust. She diligently sorted through everything and made the tough decisions.6a00d8341c565553ef017ee717d079970d

The unwanted, indiscriminate, poorly chosen gifts were a subject of an email conversation with my “Brain Trust” (my trusted friends who edit and tinker with the blog). What do you do when someone gives you a White Zinfandel, when you are clearly a red wine lover? Isn’t it obvious? Or the house guest brings a fake wooden bowl to a farm to table type foodie. It’s kind of like bringing a Rap CD to a Buddhist monk. What were they thinking? It’s easy to get caught up with the indignant judgment of “Is this what they think of me?” Getting WAY too wrapped up into what the gift givers intent was. It’s all a part of acceptance. Taking the good with the bad. The poorly chosen with the “spot on – this makes me so happy – you really, really know me” gift.

So what do you do when you receive the battery operated singing fish, the Chia pet or the cuckoo clock that chimes every 15 minutes? Here are some ideas.

1. “Your gift is your presence.” This was on a recent invitation to a 50th wedding anniversary I attended. When I saw that on the invite, it was SUCH a relief. What do you buy a couple who have been together for 50 years? A punch bowl? A vase? Nope. A card. That’s what. So, if you really don’t want a gift, say it. Or ask for a donation to your favorite charity. Obviously, this is easier when the occasion dictates a formal invitation but if you really don’t want anything, say it. Let their presence be their gift.

2. Register. If you are having a baby or getting married, please set up a gift registry. This is so much easier for the rest of us who have never been to your home and have no idea if you have a sister who just had a little boy and will have tons of hand me downs. And if you register, please make sure there are gifts at lower price points so that going to your baby shower or wedding doesn’t cause us to take out a second mortgage.

3. Ask. If you are the guest-to-be at the house warming party, ask the hostess if you can bring anything. I’m lucky. My husband is a home brewer, so most folks I visit end up with some homemade brew (if they enjoy beer, which I ask in advance). You never know what they might say if you ask. Folding chairs. Munchies. Extension cord. Imagine the host’s relief when you lend him the 8 foot ladder he needs to hang the party lights instead of yet another “chip and dip” bowl. Ask.

4. Gratitude. Whatever someone brings you, be sure to show your gratitude and appreciation. Halloween dish towels. Thank you! Box of Gallo Chablis. Wonderful! 3 pound bag of Skittles. You shouldn’t have! Do not explain that you are a …diabetic, an alcoholic or that you don’t celebrate Halloween. Take the gift with gratitude and acceptance. The gifter is someone who went out of their way to select a gift for you. Accept it with gratitude and move on.

5. Suspend judgment. It’s easy to get indignant and start thinking about why someone would purchase for you a set of Easter mugs or insulated cups with your rival school’s mascot on them. Any gift is more a reflection of the person giving it to you rather than the receiver. After all, unless you registered for it, this is all about the person giving it. Maybe there is a story to tell. Their brother in-law makes handmade Easter mugs. Their daughter just started going to Syracuse. Or not. Worrying about it will only eat you up. It’s really about them and not about you. Suspend judgment.

6. Let go. When we went through my daughter’s life history in 15 boxes and bags on Sunday, it took a lot of letting go. There were pictures that hung in my daughter’s bedroom for some ten years, that she hated (who knew?). There were gifts from South America that she cherished. There were several things that held a little guilt if we took them to Goodwill. What if Aunt so and so or Grandma or my friend Suzy find out that I gave the gift away. They won’t. There is someone who can use that clock radio, or teddy bear, or bracelet. The last thing you want to do is hold on to stuff and start dragging it around the earth. The guilt will drag around with you when you keep the clock radio stuffed in a box in the attic. Just let go.

I’m not suggesting you get rid of everything. If something is cherished or a memento you want to keep, please do. If you are keeping something only out of obligation or guilt; it might be time to let it go. I have to say that having all the “stuff” out of the house has been liberating. Now I’m looking in closets and thinking…hmmm…I wonder what I need to let go out of here?

Is there something you need to let go of? Please leave a comment on the WordPress site.

Gotcha Management

This is the first cousin to the Tyrant and leads to pointing fingers and silo building.  It’s the story of the boss who pulls the rug out from under her team to point out all their flaws. It’s when the status quo is suddenly way too low and she’s going to make sure you are shown the error of your ways.  It’s kind of like, if suddenly cops actually started pulling you over for driving 60 miles an hour in a 55 speed zone.  You’re saying to yourself, “Really?  It’s only 5 miles over the speed limit.  I’ve been driving like this for 30 years and now you’re going to start issuing tickets?” Gotcha Management

The Gotcha boss feels emboldened because they have “such high standards”.  She feels like she’s really calling the shots and making folks tow-the-line.  In the meantime, her team is living in fear and not producing.  They are constantly struggling to CYA and quickly pointing the finger at the rest of the team members so that everyone else ends up low person on the totem pole.  All the other bosses start building up their silos so that the fingers don’t start getting pointed in their direction.  Ah yes.  There is safety with a thick, high wall between departments.

 

So what do you do if you are unfortunate enough to report to such a boss?  Here are some tips:

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1. Open.  Keep open communication.  If your boss is always busy and won’t make time for you, send an email.  Subject line: Can we meet for ten minutes on the following?  In the body of the email: list the bullet points of what you’d like to discuss.  This gives your boss a heads up as to what the discussion is about.  They get to prepare (if they need to) and don’t feel blindsided when you finally get the meeting.  If your boss isn’t defensive, the communication will be more effective.  Keep communication channels open.

 

2. Solution Focus.  Don’t dwell on the details and drama.  When you bring an issue to your boss, bring the solution with you.   It’s best to bring three options.  Three?  Well, the first option is easy, the status quo.  Option one is to keep on doing what we are doing: “Let’s keep the budget sequence the same and live with some being turned in late”.  Option two is your desired outcome: “Let’s move up the deadline by two weeks and I’ll be responsible for following up with late comers”.  Option three can be a stretch or your best case scenario but you’re not sure the boss will go for it: “Let’s schedule a meeting one week before the deadline to go over everyone’s budget which will reinforce completing it on time”.  When there are three solutions, your boss won’t feel like it’s an ultimatum and will feel more in control.  Focus on the solutions.

 

3.  Sword.  You might need to fall on the sword.   Take responsibility for your part in the mess. “Boss, I didn’t follow up on those budget reports the way I should have.  It’s my fault that 50% missed the deadline.”  This might ensure that the rest of the team isn’t blind-sided and it should built authenticity if not trust with your boss.  I’m not saying that there isn’t a slice of the boss population out there that might abuse this but, if that’s the case; it might be time to update your resume.  In the meantime, fall on the sword.

 

4. Optimism.  Stay optimistic.  Focus on what is working.  It might be that we aren’t losing as much money as we did last year or that sales are flat but we aren’t losing ground.  It might be that you’ve retained your customer base or that your employee turnover rate is holding steady.  Find some nugget of good and emphasize the positive. As I have pointed out in previous posts, staying positive is the best for your brain and build better, stronger pathways to solutions.  Be optimistic.

 

5. Spine.  You’re gonna need a backbone.  Don’t cave if it’s something you believe in.  Explain the rationale in your thinking to your Gotcha boss.  If she can’t point out some flaws in your thinking, then remain steadfast.  Sometimes you just need to go with your gut and stand up for what you believe in.  If the boss doesn’t back you, work on your Linkedin profile and plan your escape.  Have a backbone.

 

These tips can help those of you who need a strategy to improve your relationship with your boss.  Some strategies won’t work.  Many years ago I worked for a boss who didn’t have my back and I was put in a precarious ethical situation with the corporate office.  I planned my escape and got out.  All the advice in the world isn’t going to fix an unethical situation.  Some Gotcha bosses can be turned around if you give it a try.

Chunky Monkeys

imagesDelegating monkeys is an important part of being a leader, partner or parent.  There is a delicate balance between abdicating and delegating.  Abdicating can happen when a leader chooses to ignore a situation (usually a sticky, messy and uncomfortable monkey) which allows the issue to slide down to the next level of management.  Not good delegation.

As Ken Blanchard said in his book, The One Minute Manager meets the Monkey, “for every monkey there are two parties involved, one to work it and one to supervise it”.  The monkey is the task or project.  You may have given the monkey to your child, co-worker or assistant but that doesn’t mean that you have absolved yourself of any other responsibilities.  You’ll need to make sure that the monkey is getting fed….and not over fed.  You don’t want to have a bunch of chunky monkeys running..er swinging around.

So how do you take care of the monkeys without getting them back?  Here are some ideas:

1. Pick.  Pick the right time and place to delegate.  If you are in the middle of serving twenty people a Thanksgiving meal and your daughter has never made gravy before…maybe you should wait until there is a little more time and (in my case) more patience before you give a gravy clinic.  If you are going to give a monkey to someone, pick the right time to do it.

2. Decide.  Decide if this task or project should be delegated.  If it’s not clear who is caring for a particular monkey, then you have decided.  You have abdicated and the monkey is running loose and no one knows who is in charge.  Like that annoying employee that reports to you but that no one likes and is afraid of.  You aren’t handling the monkey, so everyone else has to.  Decide if the monkey is yours or…not.

3. Select.  Once you have decided it’s the right monkey to delegate, select the right person or group to take care of the monkey.  If the new incentive plan needs an Excel expert, then find one.  Don’t just give the project to the closest person who seems available (especially if you don’t know their Excel abilities).  The monkey needs the right talent to take care of it.  Not just another animal at the zoo.

4. Define.  Define what success looks like.  If you ask your child to mow the lawn, you better be clear with timelines, parameters for what mowing the lawn entails (leaf blowing, edging, bagging of grass, etc.), and if there will be any compensation involved.  There have been plenty of family squabbles over something as minor as what mowing the lawn entails.  Make sure you define how to take care of the monkey.

5. Ask.  Make sure that they are up to the challenge of caring for a new monkey right now.  Maybe their plate is full.  Maybe they already have 50 monkeys and 13 of them are sick and in need of intensive care.  If I ask my daughter to edit a blog post for me (and I frequently do), I better make sure she’s not in the middle of mid-terms.  It’s important to ask if she has time for one more monkey.

6. Delegate.  Once you have completed steps 1-5, then hand off the monkey.  Knowing that it is the right time, place and person will make this much easier.  Instill your confidence in their monkey care-taking abilities and then walk away.  If they think there is any chance that you will be back for the monkey, it will erode their confidence and commitment to care for the monkey.

7. Track.  Track progress after you delegate.  Make sure they’re grooming, training and not over feeding the monkey. Make sure they aren’t taking on too many other monkeys or that the monkey you delegated to them may not get as much care and attention.  Let them know their progress along the way.  Just because you delegated, doesn’t mean you have absolved yourself of all responsibility.  Check in on the care and feeding of the monkey.

People who effectively delegate their monkeys are ultimately better leaders and citizens.  The team around them is more highly skilled and feels more empowered.  Try these steps and see if you can’t be more effective with your monkey management.

How do you delegate your monkeys?

Lawnmower Fairies

Human Resource professionals have experienced this and are usually on the losing end of the stick.  Here’s the situation:  The manager has an employee with a  performance issue but they continually overlook their shortcomings. They figure it will just go away.  So whatever the behavior – it is ignored.  Normally, Human Resources gets brought in when the manager is fed up and wants to take action.  Usually the employee is oblivious because they’ve not known there was a problem. This is a losing battle.   IT WON’T WORK.

Stalling or waiting for something to turn around is like hoping the grass will get cut on its own.  There aren’t little fairies that will come in the middle of the night with a weed whacker.  You’re going to need to get out the lawn mower.  Um.  (Not literally for the employee – that would be a different HR nightmare).

When you have an employee, client or child who is consistently late – stalling is going to exacerbate the problem.   When someone’s task or functionality is wrong, incomplete or insufficient; stalling will not correct the issue. Nine times out of ten, when you are sitting in your office, sofa or car rolling your eyes because you are not happy with the outcome, yet keeping silent;  you are stalling.  And.  IT WON’T WORK.

So if you are ready to get out the lawn mower and stop believing in lawn fairies, this is what you need to do:

1.  Grip.  As in, “Get a grip.”  You are going to need to address this.  You need to wake up and realize that putting it off is not the solution.  You are assuming that the offender knows what they have done.  Odds are they don’t.  They don’t have x-ray vision and are not clairvoyant.  You think they should know.  Isn’t it obvious that they have been late for the last three weeks?  If you haven’t said anything, they don’t know.

2. Facts.  Gather the facts at hand.  Did you say they needed to turn in the weekly report by Friday?  How many times have they missed the deadline?  Go through your email, your inbox, your files and figure out when they were late or incomplete.  Get your facts together.  Write it up.

3. Review.  Was there a reason they were late?  Look at the calendar.  Were they sick, on vacation or working on a last minute project?  Why are they always late with this particular report?  Is there a valid reason?  Make sure it makes sense and that your expectations are reasonable.  If you expect your son to cut the lawn and he’s been at camp for the last six weeks – this would not be a reasonable expectation

4. Craft.  Craft your expectations into a reasonable non-threatening sentence or two.  If you can’t describe the issue in less than two sentences – you are trying to tackle too many problems.  You should not be trying to decimate someone’s self esteem.  You are trying to resolve an issue.  Pick the one that is bugging you the most and craft your two sentences.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Don’t bite off too much.  Zero in on THE issue.  If you tell your son he hasn’t adequately cleaned his room, is late doing the dishes, did a lousy job at mowing the lawn, and still hasn’t called his grandmother, he will be lost and dejected.

5. Jump.  Go for it.  Find the right time and place(see my post on Unresolved Conflict) and then address the issue.  It might just be as simple as, “I’ve notice you’ve been late three times this week and four times last week.  It’s important that we are on time because our customers are depending on us.”  Or, “Your reports have been on time but weren’t as complete as I expected.  There weren’t any notes on productivity or quality parameters in the last four reports.”  This works much more efficiently than shooting from the hip.  You’ve got your facts, you verified that they are reasonable and you have zeroed in on what it important. Whew.

6. Listen. Let them vent, explain, bitch or cry.  Now it’s all about them.  Let them fix the problem.  You can add your two cents but let them work out how they want to resolve it.  Don’t take the monkey back and don’t tell them how to resolve it. This is their issue and if they don’t decide how to resolve it – they will not have buy in.  Advice giving is a buzz kill.  You need to just be there for the brain storming.  The monkey is now officially on their back.

7. Faith.  Make sure you have let them know that you believe in them.  This might be difficult when you are exasperated but it’s important.  People want to live up to your expectations but they can’t give what you want unless you give them the latitude and faith.  “I know you can be on time going forward Suzie.”  “I can’t wait to see the next report because I believe we have resolved the issues.”  “I’ve seen you to a great job on the lawn before and I trust you to do it right the next time.”  End of discussion.  Pat them on the back and you are on your way.

Communicating is always a work in progress.  Don’t get discouraged if it’s messy the first few times around.  Just make sure you take that step.  Quit rolling your eyes in disgust and start addressing those issues that are bugging you.  There are no lawnmower fairies.

What would you do?

Heels dug in.

Most people don’t embrace change. It can be difficult. It’s so much easier to dig our heels in and be inflexible.  It’s a great offense.  Inflexible people are left alone. They are too difficult to deal with.  Leave Joe alone, he’ll never get on board with this idea.  Pretty soon the world is dancing around Joe because they don’t want to deal with his stubbornness. He’s out of the loop.

Organizations do this as well.   It’s easy to get caught up in “doing it the way we have always done it” mentality. It’s hard to create change.  Especially in long established businesses. Unless there is a business necessity (imperative), it’s so much easier to keep it status quo.  It’s the path of least resistance.  Why do a leadership initiative? Incentive plan? Enter a new market? If it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.

I’ve been traveling this past week.  I live in Eastern North Carolina.  The land of free parking, no sidewalks and a six-mile commute with one red light.  Every time I head to New York City, I need to load up on coins, cash and the capacity to adapt (easily).  In the last six days I’ve been through twenty toll booths.  Some took $.90, others $12.30.  I needed to be flexible.  The GPS was lost half the time because of new construction or, in the case of downtown Trenton, they didn’t have roads on their map.  We needed to just go with the flow.  Or as my son, who was my copilot at the time said, “Read the signs.” What a concept. Read the signs.  If I’d had my heels dug in, I’d still be in Trenton.  Actually, I’d be on an off ramp in Baltimore in the fetal position.
So, how do you embrace change? Break out of the status quo. Here are 6 steps to dig out those heels.

1. Scan. As in scan the environment. Are those around you avoiding you? Have you been invited to be on an ad hoc committee? Are you out of the loop?  Are you still wearing bell bottoms?  Are you stuck in Trenton? Your coworkers are perfectly happy to leave you in the dust if you are not open to change.  Nobody likes to associate with “Debbie Downer”. Take the temperature of your environment and see if you are reading the signs.

2. Survey.  Take a poll.  What do your closest friends think?  Ask your boss.  Ask your husband.  Ask your mother (OK…I know I’m pushing it a little far).   “Do I seem open to new ideas?” Perception is reality.  If you are perceived as a stick in the mud, you probably are a stick in the mud.

3. Listen.  When you survey, you need to be open enough to listen.  If you ask the question, you need to be able to listen to the answer.  In fact, if you aren’t willing to listen, don’t even ask.  One of the most counter-productive exercises is for an organization to do an employee survey and then do nothing.

4. Plan.  So what can you do about the perception?  You’re going to need to take a hard look at yourself and start paying attention to the “signs.” Maybe you need to work on not interrupting or your need to be right all the time.  Maybe you’re going to need to back off from being in control all the time.  Maybe you just need to buy some new clothes.  Yeah.  Seersucker is dead and so are bell bottoms.

5. Start digging out.  One shovel at a time.  There is no magic pill.  This is going to take work and all you can do is start.  One interaction at a time.  I remember that when I first started working on showing more appreciation, I missed the boat several times.  I’d forget to thank my assistant for getting the report done so quickly or my husband for taking out the trash.  But at least I started somewhere and I can tell you that now I am much more consistent about showing appreciation.  But I had to take that first step.

6. Reflect.  You can do this in any form you like. Maybe in a journal, meditating or brushing your teeth.  How are you doing?  Do you feel like you are making strides?  Are you getting positive feedback?  Are you getting less negative feedback?  Maybe you were selected for the next ad hoc committee. Maybe you didn’t overreact when you ended up getting off at the wrong exit.  Congratulate yourself.  You are on your way.

What would you do?

Interrupters Anonymous.

This is really hard to write about.  I’m Cathy Graham.  I’m an interrupter.  It’s been 3 hours since my last interruption.  So you other interrupter’s out there are saying, so what?  I’m sure you have something important to say.  What’s the big deal?

It is a big deal.  It shuts the door.  It says that my idea or thought or rebuttal is more important than your idea or thought.  I am not saying that I am the only guilty party.  We are a society of interrupters.  Every good political debate, decent reality show and “60 Minutes” investigation usually involves someone interrupting someone else.  Shame on all of us.

Some of you aren’t interrupters.  Thank you. Thank you for your patience and forgiveness.  For the rest of us those who will admit we have a problem let me give you a few pointers on how to get over to the other side.

1. Listen.  I know I’ve written about this before but it cannot be over stated.  Actively listen and quit letting your mind wander into the war zone of rebuttals and/or watching the clock so that you can pretend that you are really listening.  Hmmm.  I’ve let my co-worker talk for at least 2 minutes, so now is my time to jump in.  Stop.  Turn on all receptors.

2. Digest.  Take in the conversation or discussion.  If this is a team meeting, take it all in.  Try and get the whole picture of the other participants’ viewpoint. Is your teammate telling you he can’t get the project done; or just not done in the parameters that the team wanted?  Or by the deadline he initially agreed to?  Take in every detail.  Knowing all the details will help you in the end and the rest of the team will be impressed with your knowledge of the facts and details (pretty cool, huh?).

3. Suspend.  Stay far away from making assumptions.  This is dangerous territory.  If you are assuming then you are not digesting.  There is no way possible for you to read someone else’s mind.  You might have a good guess as to someone else’s motivation but you can’t know for sure.  Your boss might have shot this idea down ten times before but assuming she is shooting you down now puts you on the defensive and lights the match for interrupting.  Suspend all your beliefs and assumptions.  Really.

4. Pause.  As in, wait a cotton pickin’ minute.  OK, maybe not a minute, but wait 5 seconds.  Let there be a little air in the room.  Let everyone take a breath.  Don’t be waiting at the ready to rebut and/or shoot down whatever idea has just been floated.  Pause and take a breath.  And if someone else jumps in, this is your opportunity to learn patience (not my strong suit…this is where I struggle).  Engage in listening mode and bite your tongue.

5. Unselfish. It’s all about them.  Unless this is your wedding day, Eagle Scout induction or your retirement lunch, this is always about them.  Them, as in, everyone else in the room; your teenage daughter, your boss, your coworker, the soccer team or the class.  If you keep them as your focus, you slowly eliminate the amount of interrupting you are doing.  If you can keep your focus on them, on their ideas; you will break your habit.

6. Rinse and Repeat.  Just like your shampoo bottle recommends.  Just keep on keeping on.  There will be times when this is irresistible.  Like when someone tries to instruct me that Napa Valley has the best Zinfandels.  I need to just smile and listen patiently and choke the words back that want to spew forth.  Let them have their peace.  Let them impart their knowledge.  When a manager tries to explain a labor law that I know intimately as well as the latest regulations I  smile and let them have their due.  I’m not going to say that I won’t say anything.  But if they ask?  Sonoma Valley Old Vine is the best, in my humble opinion.  But what do you gain by interrupting to bestow that fact. Unless you’re tasting wines or buying a winery, let them have their way.

I find this to be especially effective with hot button issues like politics, religion and most sporting events (my college Alma Mater is worth interrupting for).  I will say that when I listen patiently, smile and acknowledge others in a heated debate or team discussion, it really improves your reputation.  People gravitate to the person who listens rather than tries to interrupt.  So if you have the habit, acknowledge it and start working on it.  You will be on your way to being a social magnate.

What if you just said “No”?

I’m not sure why, but I have been the trigger person for most of my career.  The gunslinger brought in to say, No.  Human Resource professionals are frequently referred to as The Fashion Police (that skirt is too short), The Personal Hygiene Moderator (deodorant is a necessity), Policy Patrol (insubordination IS grounds for termination) and, worst of all, the b-word.  So why can’t everyone else draw a line in the sand? I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve asked myself that.  They are in avoidance

It’s so much easier to bring someone else in to say No.  You can stay at arm’s length, point the finger and, in essence, say, “This wasn’t my decision”.  Let someone else be the trigger person and stay clear of the wake.

Try taking a giant step forward and say No. Here are the reasons why you should:

1. Respect.  People pay attention to those who pull the trigger once in a while.  You earn the reputation for being someone who has a backbone and stands up for their principles.  People want you on their team when they know you can be counted on to make the tough decisions even if they are unpopular.

2. Honest.  We’ve all known people who are brown-noses.  How many corporate projects have you been party to that went in the wrong direction because no one in the crowd wanted to say No.  Earning the reputation for being candid takes a few No sayings. I’m not advocating just blurting out No but a well-polished, properly crafted No will increase your authenticity.

3. Less Bunkum.  I had to look up that one up in the thesaurus to keep this polite.  When you get the promotional phone calls for a vacation getaway; don’t hang up.  Say No and take my number off your list.  Disingenuous people stay away from No sayers.  They move on to fawn over someone else who doesn’t mind swimming in bunkum.

4. Relief.  Unresolved conflict can fester.  Be the one to step forward and make the decision.  Do you really want to be up at 3 AM worrying about how you tell the PTA that you want off the committee?  When you have given that well-crafted No; you’ll be sleeping like a baby.

5. Empowerment.  Saying No is gratifying.  You can look yourself in the mirror and know that you stood up for something; you stood up for your beliefs.  It might have been difficult (it almost always is uncomfortable…messy even) but once you get past the No, your self confidence will be rebooted.

6. Culture.  No one likes co-workers who get away with clocking in late, not pulling their weight, constantly stepping over the line that no one else would dare to cross.  That crowd; the group at large.  They are rooting for you.  They want you to pull the trigger.  Be the gunslinger for the 95% who are pulling their weight.  Raise the tide for the culture of your company.

It’s not easy.  But you need to do it.  Be the go-to gunslinger.  Everyone is waiting for you to be a No sayer.  Draw a line in the sand.

Advice-Giving…the Ultimate Buzz Kill

I think we all know this.  Unconsciously.  We’ve told our spouse how to load the dishwasher, our assistant how to set up the report, or told our teenage son how to drive a car. And then there is the eye roll….the exasperated sigh.  Once you start giving the how – all engines shut down.  Buzz. Kill.

If you think about it –  where is the engagement, the decision making, the buy in; the flow in someone else telling you how?  Dr. Srinivasan Pillay explains this in his book, Your Brain and Business. According to Dr. Pillay, “brain imaging shows that when advice is given, it ‘offloads’ the value of the decision options from the listener’s brain, so that there are no correlations between brain activation and attributed value when advice is given, as compared to when it is not given…that is, advice turns the brain of the listener ‘off.'”

Whoa.  I need to rethink my next road trip with my 16 year old at the wheel.  So if I tell him to “put both hands on the wheel” or “slow down”…this is shutting his brain down.  Not a good thing.

I am the same way.  I’ve had a coach tell me what goal I was working on for the next two weeks. I felt myself slide back on my heels…and I didn’t lift a finger towards the goal–not a finger.

OK. So how do I stop giving unwanted, unsolicited, mind-shutting-down advice?

These are the FOUR Not so Easy Steps:

1. Listen. This always the first step. Your spouse may just be venting about the frustrations of the day. They could really just want some understanding, or a comforting smile and nod, instead of you jumping in with a 25 step guide on how to fix their problem.

2. Ask.  Use open-ended questions like “what do you want to do?” or “what options do you have?”  Having the listener give you their ideas creates buy in and helps them brainstorm their own options.  Guess which idea will have the most weight…yup…their idea.

3. Don’t Judge.  Unless they are asking for feedback , don’t jump in and start giving them all your wisdom.  If they ask for the feedback, give it constructively and sparingly.

4. Brainstorm.  If it’s going nowhere and the listener can’t seem to decide or is requesting your wisdom…ask for permission to brainstorm.  In brainstorming, there is no “how” or “wrong answer”…just throw out some off the wall ideas and see if the listener can glean their own answer or muddle their own idea from piecing together different ideas.  Making them their own.  Don’t take the lead. Or there will be no buy in, no finger lifting.

Doesn’t this make you wonder why “Dear Abby” was so popular for so many years?  Did anyone ever really take her advice?  Was the column there just for all of us armchair advice givers to live vicariously through Abby?

So help me out, what am I supposed to do with the 16 year old barreling down the road at 65 miles an hour ? How do I get through to him? I am asking for advice here. Really. Leave a comment. Some advice.