The Energizer

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In Tough Times—Silence Is NOT Golden

By Eileen McDargh - Monday, December 02, 2019

In the face of any economic downturn, far too many organizations respond in knee-jerk reaction to the thought of holding all but the smallest of meetings. Training budgets are slashed. Employees hunker behind their desk, hoping that no one from HR can find them or else they’re huddled around a PDA, text messaging about possible layoff scenarios, pending mergers, or hiring freezes. Performance? Productivity? I think not.

Now more than ever, managers at all levels of the organization need to do that which separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom: TALK!

Here’s why:

(1) In the absence of information, we connect the dots in the most pathological way possible. 

(2) E-mail works fine for data but when emotions are involved, only face-to-face really carries the day. 

(3) There’s a huge benefit when people gather to share ideas, brainstorm new procedures, learn more about team members, have questions answered, or explore ways to streamline work loads. 

(4) Smart companies will use this downtime to cross train, to coach for performance and career development, and involve employees in corporate decisions. 

(5) Diverse perspectives are critical for innovation and these are best gleaned through conversation. Bottom Line: The organization will have a solid, committed employee base, poised to move into front position when the turnaround comes. But this will only happen if TALK becomes the preferred vehicle of communication.

Four Communication strategies to increase your Talk Quotient (TQ).

STRATEGY # 1: CONDUCT A TALKING STICK MEETING A talking stick meeting allows everyone to hear a wide variety of ideas and inputs because each person who “holds the stick” is assured free speech, no reprisals, no humiliations, and no interruptions. Many native American tribes used the stick as a way of allowing all voices to be heard.

Talking Stick Meeting Checklist:

(1) Create a focus question to present to the group, assuring them that all are invited to speak, without interruption or humiliation.

(2) Form a real circle with everyone in the circle. This brings equality.



(3) When everyone who wishes to has spoken, summarize the conversation and what you will do with the information.

STRATEGY #2: SEEK OUT THE “ORANGE BATONS”

If you happen to get a window seat on a plane that is coming into the terminal, look out and find the man or woman who is guiding a 737 aircraft (weighing over 90,710 pounds) into position. Those small orange batons wield plenty of authority in the moment. And well they should. You see, there’s a line painted on the tarmac to show exactly where the front wheel of the 737 MUST stop. Otherwise, passengers at the gate literally would have a pilot in their laps.

The problem: the pilot sits too high to see that line. 

The pilot depends upon the “orange Batons” - those closest to the situation-to move the craft into position. Everyone has orange batons in the workplace. The higher up an organization a manager sits, the more crucial is the conversation. As customers, we’ve all been privy to disgruntled customer service reps who can’t help us because senior managers have created practices that tie their hands. Recently, I asked to speak to the support service personnel on a Delta Sky Miles Account. The agent informed me that even THEY can’t TALK to support personnel. “We can only use FAX and Courier service,” was the response. I was angry and so was the agent. “They” had made decisions without asking the Orange Batons what the ramifications might be.



STRATEGY #3 PAY ATTENTION TO LITTLE DAVIDS

When Patrick Harker, now the former Dean of Wharton School, was asked what made the critical difference in the school’s most successful fund-raising campaign ($425 million in six years), he replied that he made it a priority to engage the next generation of alumni leadership. Listening to the voice of David is a tradition from the Middle Ages and the Benedictines. The abbot of a monastery made decisions after getting the input from all the monks, beginning with the youngest monk. Had the elders in the Old Testament listened to the young kid with the slingshot, the giant Goliath would have been dispatched quickly. 

Little David was right, but it took time for the tribe to understand that young (or new) did not mean “unskilled.”

Who are the newest and/or youngest on the team-your David’s? It is often the newest members who ask the most discerning questions. They are not jaded by politics, the past, or protocol. Ask them for their opinions. Tell them that you expect them to teach you something at the end of three months. I guarantee that those employees will search high and wide to bring you innovation or, at the very least, an insight into some of your procedures, products, or services.

“Words of wisdom are spoken by children at least as often as scientists.”
-James Newman, American Astronaut 

STRATEGY #4 LAUGHTER LIFTS THE LOAD

In tough times, humor is an essential survival skill. Talk can also be funny. Not the sarcastic biting humor of put-downs and inside jokes, but rather the humor that can lighten a difficult situation or put something in perspective. A travel agency was known for helping its agents get through difficult customers by awarding the Order of the SALMON. At the end of the week, agents would know which agent had the most challenging week with customers yet still managed to keep a positive interaction going. With much fanfare, the agent explained the challenge and was urged to exaggerate and use as much humor as possible. She was then awarded a plastic salmon for her ability to SWIM UP STREAM.

Being able to talk about the week, laugh at the difficulties, and be rewarded for staying calm helped generate both fun and connection within the office. 

Laughter can put people at ease if it is used to acknowledge what everyone is thinking. I was asked to speak at a convention in which the main session room temperature hovered around 50 degrees. People were wrapped in tablecloths. By the end of the second day, it still had not warmed up. When it was my turn to talk, I welcomed them by saying, “Welcome to the land of the frozen chosen.” Gales of laughter and applause burst out. It made a point. The attendees were CHOSEN to be there. It was a privilege.

Humor also lets us divide the serious from the mundane. Yes-the room was way too cold. But in the scheme of things, it was not as important as gathering to work out a new marketing strategy. Humor can also point out the trite and the silly things we all do in work, relieve tension, and probably improve a process. When one group acted out a very funny skit around the various voice mail doom loops a customer had to go through in order to get to a human being, everyone laughed and the system changed in short order.

BREAK THE SILENCE

The last challenge will be pulling people away from their PDAs and text messaging to actually have a conversation. A number of organizations are experimenting with “topless” meetings-as in laptop-less meetings. San Francisco design firm, Adaptive Path, has also put a crackdown on “crackberries”, as President Todd Wilkens calls them in his company-wide blog. He claims that people now look each other in the eye, develop closer connections and meetings are more productive. Productivity? Performance? If the talk quotient is increase, you bet. Talk might very well become the golden key.

 

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Your Body Outsmarts Your Brain

By Eileen McDargh - Monday, September 23, 2019

David and his wife were scheduled to have dinner with us on Sunday, a date established months before. Alas, three days before our gathering, David sent us a picture of his face and an email that said he’d have to cancel. His face was covered in hives and the doctor was running tests. The doctor said it was a food allergy exasperated by stress. 

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Art from the Heart Makes Hospital’s Smile

By Eileen McDargh - Monday, June 24, 2019

No job is ever ordinary—particularly if one chooses to make it “work”.  Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Work is love made visible.”  No place is this more evident than at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis where a 33-year-old housekeeper decided to make patients smile through her art. 

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Laughter Turns Upset into Onset

By Eileen McDargh - Monday, May 20, 2019

Laughter Turns Upset into Onset… for a relationship that is. Strangest thing about humor. When found and used appropriately, it creates a bond and wins people over. When confronted with serious situations, laughter is often the first ingredient to dispel tension and get things moving again. As Victor Borge was known for saying, “laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” It is also what attracts others to us and our services. 

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A Resiliency Killer: Loneliness

By Eileen McDargh - Monday, April 29, 2019

According to a CIGNA Survey conducted in 2018, 46% of Americans feel lonely sometimes or always. Only around half of Americans (53 percent) have meaningful, in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis. Gen Z's are among the most lonely. Although the 18-23-year-olds think they are super-connected, they are not. They're attached to the wireless "umbilical cords" connected to smart phones which—in the scheme of things—are not very smart. Communication that is purely digital can never replace the sound of a voice or the touch of a hand. Or—for that matter—the tone of a voice. Chronic use of social media increases loneliness. 

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Resilience Requires Support and Empathy

By Eileen McDargh - Monday, March 11, 2019

A recent study at the University of Michigan found that empathetic skills in college students have declined by as much at 48% over the last 8 years. The reasons for the decline are many, but two in particular stand out: 

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How to Stay Happily Married

By Eileen McDargh - Monday, February 11, 2019

Seems crazy but –as the song says—"what does love have to do with it?” 

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3 Tips for Creating Resilient Work Relationships—and it’s NOT Money

By Eileen McDargh - Monday, February 04, 2019

Let me first define what a resilient work relationship looks like. It is not someone who stays in the organization forever. The truth of the matter is people can “stay” but their minds and spirits are gone. Their bodies are present, but they are absentee landlords!  

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Our Common Fate Can Be Eased Through Singing

By Eileen McDargh - Monday, December 31, 2018

I am not talking about singing as you pay your taxes. Instead, it is the one fate that regardless of wealth, we all will experience: death. It is about joining your voice with others to ease the fear and pain of people who are facing the end of their lives. The seed for Threshold Choir began in 1990 when Kate Munger sang for her friend who was in a coma and dying of HIV/AIDS. In the 2 ½ hours that she sang, it comforted her while it comforted him. An idea was slowly born. Finally, through technology and the grace of women gathering together, Threshold Choir was born. 

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Resilience at Work Equals Great Cultures

By Eileen McDargh - Friday, November 02, 2018

Hyper-speed and hypertension. Connectivity 24/7. Disruption upon disruption. Technology that overturns the latest and the greatest. The list is endless as workers at all levels face an array of demands.  According to my colleague, Bill Jensen, 47% of jobs will disappear in the next 25 years which means workers at all levels will face a rethinking and retooling of what “work” really means.  

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