7 Lessons from Reconnecting. No Regrets.

“Those Girls and The Blonde” sounds like a great name for an eighties girl band.  It wasn’t.  It’s the name of my two roommates and I from 1981 when our landlord (otherwise known as Dragon Lady) coined the phrase after “The Blonde” (Susannah) ripped up the carpeting in our basement, slummish apartment in College town.  Susannah is one of the few born and bred Manhattanites I know.  She takes charge.  She’s decisive.  The carpet was horrible and “there’s hard wood floors under there”.  So the other “Girl” Janine and I went along for the ride, ripping up the carpet.

We have remained friends for over 35 years.  We all had our first born children in 1993.  We’ve seen each other marry, sometimes divorce and move to various cities (Washington D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Croton-on-Hudson and Scottsdale).  We’ve never lived in the same city at the same time since Ithaca.  We’ve had a few reunions but since about 1983, TG&TB have not reunited at the same time sans kids and spouses.  So when I had an opportunity to go to Paris, I contacted them both and suggested we reunite in the City of Light.  Janine and I were both Paris Virgins and Susannah was fully versed in all things French.  We had a plan and TG&TB always execute a plan.  We spent 6 days reconnecting in a lovely apartment near the Eiffel Tower.

These are my lessons from reconnecting some 33 years later:

  1. Let someone lead. Several weeks before departing for Paris, I found some activities that we might want to try out. There were huge email trains between the three of us about costs, times, travel between arrondissements, etc.  It wasn’t working.  It would take several days to get confirmation.  So I finally suggested that Susannah take over the planning going forward.  Janine and I signed off on whatever Susannah wanted to cook up.  We had faith that she knew what we would like and what would work.  As they say, too many cooks spoil the broth.  Pick a leader, have faith and stick with it.

 

  1. Be willing to get lost. Ever since my daughter turned me on to Google Maps for walking directions in Manhattan, I’ve been pretty obsessed with not being lost. I realize now I am a “Direction Control Freak.”  I also hate to appear the tourist with the pocket map.  I had to let my judgment go.  For God’s sake Cathy, you are a tourist.  Who cares if someone else knows it?  They will the minute you try and say “Bon jour.”  So what if we walked the wrong direction for half a mile in the Marais. It’s Paris.  Every street is interesting and unique.  I believe it was Janine who said, “It’s all as intended. We are where we need to be. No regrets.” When we were lost, we stumbled on an out of the way café full of locals and sans tourists.  It was wonderful.  Get lost.

 

  1. Quality versus quantity. When you go into one of the largest museums in the world, focus on quality over quantity. We took a guided tour through the Louvre with an American expat who had phenomenal art and history knowledge.  We stood looking at a sculpture of Hercules for almost 20 minutes.  We discovered how his face change from docile to contemplative depending on the angle.  It was fascinating.  I’ve never spent that kind of time on one piece of art….ever.  I’m more of a fast food consumer of art.  Trying to check off each piece as fast as possible, Degas…check, Renoir….check, Mona Lisa…check.  This is not the way to appreciate art. This was a huge shift for me and I appreciate our guide’s contemplative example.  Don’t consume, appreciate.

 

  1. Make space for connection. I’m not positive but I think we ducked into at least three cafes a day. So if we had walked for an hour, let’s grab a table and a drink.  If we stumbled on an interesting café, let’s grab some café crème.   It was around one of these tables that we reconnected about career choices, our kids and reminiscing about our youth.  Those conversations may not have happened if we were too busy trying to make sure we went to every museum in Paris (which I’m not sure is possible but is certainly not practical).  I found fantastic advice and stories from two women I respect immensely.

 

  1. Utilize your strengths. We all were paying for different things. I figured, it would all wash out by the end.  I didn’t feel compelled to keep track.  Thank goodness Janine is incredibly organized and meticulous.  Between the exchange rate and dollars versus euros, she kept it all straight.  Susannah was our motivation.  She knew the best falafel place in Paris.  It might be a mile and a half away but her enthusiasm was contagious.  So what if we walk 8 miles in one day.  I was the compass.  Street crossing in Paris is pretty crazy.  There are cars and motorcycles come ricocheting in from all angles and walking at the cross walk is critical.  It became a chess match as to how to get to the street you wanted without losing life or limb.  Fall back on your strengths.

 

  1. Be realistic. We made sure that we were rarely rushed. So if we wanted to check out a park on the way to Notre Dame, we make sure it was doable at a slow pace with time to spare.  If it wasn’t?  Move on.  If the uber driver hasn’t been able to find you for twenty minutes, take a cab.  If the maître’d explains that the dish has raw duck in it, order something else.  Be realistic.

 

  1. Be open to adventure. Janine and I went up the Eiffel Tower together. It’s a pretty trippy adventure. The funicular is at an angle and with all the structure supports going by, it is a bit disorienting. When we got to the top, I wanted to stay inside.  I was as high as my acrophobia wanted to take me. Janine ran upstairs and ran back down.  “Cath.  You have to go to the top.  It’s not bad.”  I did and it was worth the flight of stairs up.  Susannah wanted to see the Saint-Chappelle.  From the outside, it’s not very impressive and we had just been through Notre Dame.  When we entered what I later found out was the first floor, it was some chipping paint with a low ceiling and trinket stands.  I thought, “What’s the big deal?”  Then we walked up a stone circular staircase (did I mention I’m claustrophobic?). At the top was, and is, the most beautiful chapel I have ever stood in.  My breath was taken away and tears were in my eyes.  I know that if I hadn’t gone with TG&TB to Paris, I would never have stood in that awe-inspiring spot.  Be an adventurer.

 

This was a trip of a lifetime with two of my favorite people in the world.  So think about it.  Who would you like to connect to again?  Break out of your normal agenda and take off on a reunion adventure of your own.  There will be no regrets.

How to face your fear. What to do when a tornado is approaching.

My home was under a tornado warning last week. I remember on the television screen they mapped out the path of the potential funnel cloud to “Walnut Creek 1:14.” It was 1 PM. Fourteen minutes. Suddenly my television screen was locked with a banner across the top saying to go find shelter. Believe it or not, I tried to change the channel. Like maybe I should catch “Let’s Make a Deal” while the tornado is bearing down. Maybe another channel will predict the storm going elsewhere. My cell is alerting me that I need to take cover. So I call my husband “Should I take shelter?” and he said “Yes.” Like I need permission to find shelter. Crazy things you do in the moment of fear.photo-1442213391790-7656f6e368b9

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So I grab a pillow and my dog and headed to an interior bathroom. I feverishly watch the radar on my phone and listen to the television set muted through the bathroom door. I sat there on the slate floor reflecting on the fact that my dog had no idea what was happening. She was free of the abject fear of that moment. As I sat there wondering if that huge pine in the front of the house would fall on us. I reflected back on the book The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal. Hmmm. How can I use some of the things she recommends. This is the perfect Petri dish of fear to give it a try.

So here is what I did to face fear:

1. I started by reframing it. I initially thought “I’m scared.” Then I thought about reframing that to “I’m excited.” So I started to appreciate the uniqueness of this situation. “Wow, I’ve never been under a tornado warning before. This is exciting.”
So my daughter was under a tornado warning some 3 hours later in Durham, NC. She was scared. I tried to reframe it for her. She texted, “I’m scared to be all alone :(.” I replied, “We are with you. Rise to the challenge.” I don’t know if it helped her but I know that when I reframed the situation as I sat on the bathroom floor, I used my energy to focus on being proactive by searching radar information and taking my mind off awful-izing what might happen.

So if you are headed to speak in front of an audience of 100 or having to terminate an employee, reframe it to excited energy. Harness that energy to help you move forward through the fear.

2. Find the positive spin. I realized that I was glad I was with my dog. How often do I get to sit on the bathroom floor with my dog? Like never. I appreciated her calmness. She walked around in a circle and sat down like this was as good a place as any to take a nap. It’s hard to be panicked when you’re sitting next to a Zen dog. I started to think about the fact that I was safe at home and not out on the road. This was the safest place in the world. In the text conversations with my daughter, I kept up the positive spin. “The house you are in is a newer house” and “the storm is traveling fast you’ll be out of it no time” and “you are strong.” Shoring up your resources keeps your mind in a more positive state.
So when you step on that stage in front of an audience of 100, think about the positive intention you are going to bring to the folks. And when you are terming an employee? Think about their positive humanity. The upside propels you forward.

3. Find someone to connect with. I was texting my husband and daughter in a group text while I sat on the floor. I was snuggled up next to my dog as she lay on the bathroom floor. As McGonigal wrote, “Connection with others activates prosocial instincts, encourages social connection, enhances social cognition, dampens fear and increases courage. You want to be near friends or family. You notice yourself paying more attention to others, or are more sensitive to others’ emotions.”

While I was texting my daughter as she sat on her bathroom floor, I asked if I could call. We spoke on the phone as the worst of the second storm cell passed over. I don’t know if she felt better but I felt better by connecting with her. I felt like teleporting my dog up to her bathroom floor. There have been several times that I have been on the phone with my daughter and I’ve said, “I am holding you right now.” It might be virtual but I know it helps. If you are unable to connect due to loss of power or phone connection, try a mantra or affirmations. You can also imagine that your mother is there holding your hand. So when you walk up on that stage, make eye contact and smile at one or two people. When you terminate that employee, look them in the eye. Shake their hand when they leave. Connection dampens down the fear.

It’s not obvious my daughter and I lived through three tornados that day. No downed trees, damage or loss of power. But I have to say I learned from the experience. For one, I didn’t succumb to the stress of the situation. I stayed focused and positive. My husband, who had been on a group text with my daughter and me, came home that night and commented, “You did a great job.” He showed me his phone and there were apparently 80 text messages that went back and forth that afternoon between us as two separate tornados spun by my daughter’s home. If you are in a similar situation, I recommend you focus on the upside. You will think better if a catastrophe does happen instead of reacting out of fear.

How to Harness the Power of Connection.

You walk into a store and the cashier is more robotic than friendly. No eye contact; and repeating the same “Have a nice day” with no expression of sincerity. Your coworker is demanding a document that you are sure they already have and this might be the fourth time you’ve sent it to them. It’s easy to get sucked into a malaise of disconnectedness. You start putting up walls and keep everyone at arm’s length. It’s easy to fall into being out for yourself and out of touch with others. And you begin to shut others out.

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I was fortunate to facilitate a team of 65 in the construction business. The theme was Team Dynamics but what it really was about was connecting. Truly and literally standing in another department’s shoes to understand their perspectives and their challenges is an amazingly transformative act. The outcome was magical. I’d say the group was at least 75% men. Men in the rough and tumble world of construction where swearing is encouraged and feelings need to be checked at the door. I have to say I was nervous. Would these guys really buy in? Would they really be able to open their hearts and minds to their teammates? Well, I’m happy to say they did and the end result was powerful.

Here is how to harness the power of connection:

1. It always starts with the team alliance. This is a tenet of CRR Global. It’s basically an agreement of how we want to “be” with each other. As long as there’s clarity and agreement some remarkable things can happen. I worked with a technology team that wanted to make sure that “swearing” was encouraged. As long as everyone is on board, then swearing can be encouraged. It could just as easily have been respect or openness or confidentiality. You just need to be clear about how you want the team to be together and starting off a meeting or project or team dynamic session should always have an alliance. I have to say that during the facilitation with the construction company, I had to remind them a few times that “respect” was on the alliance. When ground rules are set, people are more likely to participate.

2. First seek to understand. This is habit 5 from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In a nutshell, this is all about active listening. It’s not listening until I can get a word in edgewise. It’s not biting my tongue until I can impress you with my retort. It’s seeking to understand. It’s about being open and non judgmental. In a room full to the brim with 65 people, they all listened attentively to each other. The knowing head nods. The smile of acknowledgment. How often can you say that?

3. Everyone has a voice. What’s powerful about the “lands work” from CRR Global is that each “land” (department) gets to speak up without any interruption. Each person gets to represent what it’s like in their “land” and there can be no disagreement, no denial. If a project coordinator says “I have to juggle the demands of four superintendents.” There is no denying that. It is that project coordinator’s truth. Their unadulterated voice. It’s powerful to here a co-worker state a truth that you didn’t even realize. Connecting involves everyone having a voice.

4. Stepping into someone else’s shoes. This is the magical part of “lands work.” All the superintendents took a seat while everyone else in the company stood in their “land.” They then spoke on behalf of the superintendents. There was one woman from administration who when she stood in each of the other lands said “I don’t like this land.” She acknowledged how difficult the other positions in the company were. The superintendents were constantly on the road, the business development folks were constantly handling rejection, the project coordinators had to deal with uncooperative sub contractors. And on and on and on. I could see the impact of having the other people who didn’t have your job speak on behalf of your job and suddenly connection was created. They get it. They were able to move on with a new understanding of each other that would not have ever existed without this effort.

5. Making sure there is a take away. In the end, there must be an understanding. What will this group take away from this experience? How can we take this forward? In a nutshell someone said “Empathy.” There is a new understanding that for each of them to be clear what the priority is. An understanding of what the effect they have on others. Some folks wanted an email with a clear subject line, some folks want a voicemail and still others wanted to get a text. The point was they had a new understanding of flexing and adapting to each other because now they understood each other’s perspective.

So I challenge you to be more connected at work. When was the last time you asked the Project Manager what their challenges are and what do they need from other departments to be more effective? Give it a try and sit back and listen. Really listen.

Originally published on Change Your Thoughts on January 8, 2016