by anne lueneburger

To enter Frankford High School, located in a Northeast Philly neighborhood, students have to pass a metal detector. That is if they show up. One out of four students is absent on any given day. Frankford High with its poor socio-economic fabric is rich in hard-luck stories reflected in a 40% dropout rate. Not so for Wilma Stephenson, Frankford High’s culinary art teacher and resident game changer: 100% of her students graduate and find their place in colleges and culinary institutions around the country.

Stephenson demands excellence. She barks out instructions and has her students come in at 5.30 in the morning to peel potatoes for hours until they resemble the perfect “torpedo” shape. The image of a drill sergeant comes to mind (not best practice in giving feedback!). How does she get away with it? One of the reasons students commit is certainly that Stephenson has a track record of teaching those kids to cook well enough to win big scholarship money at the citywide cooking competition every year: close to $1,000,000. But acquiring useful skills or promising outcomes does not fully explain why most students continue to show up for class.

What motivates Stephenson’s students to accept her high standards is that they know her feedback is rooted in one thing. She deeply cares about each and every one of them. She puts in long hours for her students, gets to know them as individuals and will not shy away from standing up for them even in personally challenging situations. Stephenson’s students sense that her “I love you” comes from a profoundly honest place. She bridges her student’s tension of wanting to learn and grow and being accepted for who they are. As Tabeka, one of her students, sums it up: “To me she is a hero.”

We all need feedback, it’s essential. That’s how we get better. But it’s not easy to hear that we screwed up or fell short of our potential. Likewise, it’s uncomfortable to tell someone that he needs to “course correct.”


A recent study showed that over half of feedback received is perceived as unfair and inaccurate. To give good feedback, we must understand what makes it so hard to receive it in the first place. According to Harvard’s negotiation gurus Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone, there are three triggers that cause us to reject feedback:

  1. Content triggers: We see the advice or assessment as unhelpful, if not untrue.
  2. Identity triggers: We see our values and who we are as a person come under attack (regardless if the feedback is “right” or “wrong”).
  3. Relationship triggers: We do not feel connected with the giver, for a myriad of reasons (i.e. perceived lack of competence, goodwill, respect).

There are proven methods such as the Situation-Behavior-Impact approach that can help a feedback giver avoid some of the content and identity triggers that might trip us up. It’s trickier when it comes to the relationship itself. Often, we make assumptions about the recipient of our feedback and bring this bias into the mix. The recipient may have made our life difficult and our frustrations and personal annoyances negatively impact the conversation.

Or we may want to avoid giving feedback and let ourselves off the hook when it comes to having these difficult conversations (often under the pretense that we do not want to hurt someone else’s feelings). Just the other day I caught myself again picking up the clothes after my teenager rather than ask her to do this herself (sigh!). Why? Because it was easier…for me!

Whenever there is a disconnect (between actions, values, or personalities), it will feel like feedback in a boxing ring – for both parties. However, giving feedback is a major developmental tool for leaders. And it is a leader’s responsibility to not rob those under her care of this opportunity.

The good news is that we can avoid relationship triggers and build a sense of connection with our recipients. Ideally, we have already built a rapport long before we have a feedback session. But even in these circumstances, we need to suspend our own agenda first. We have to put ourselves into the other persons’ shoes. What will most likely be their state of mind? How have they reacted to feedback in the past? What might be a particular trigger for them and why?

Then comes the real stretch assignment for the majority of us. And the most important one. Until we feel a sense of true caring and compassion for our recipient, we are not ready to give feedback. Period. Full stop.

So how then can you develop this caring, positive attitude towards someone who may have challenged you in every possible way? Here are 5+1 ideas you might want to try to get yourself into the right state of mind before you start a difficult conversation:

1. Think 3:1.

From research we know that relationships that flourish have a 3:1 feedback ratio. Write down three positives for every piece of criticism you are going to share.

2. Adopt a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed mindset).

Assume that people can change. In this light, be sure to supplement evaluative comments that you prepare (i.e. “your rating is average on commercial orientation”) with coaching questions (“what do you think you can do to improve?”) and advice (“here is what I can suggest”).

3. Leverage strengths.

Take the top three signature strengths of your recipient and explore together with her how she might apply them to develop and evolve. (Don’t know her strengths? Invite her to take the VIA Pro Strengths assessment and leverage the results as part of your feedback session).

4. Keep it real.

Reflect on your own biases. Where might they come from? How can you make sure to stay in a place of thinking in the best interest of the recipient? How can you give yourself reminders not to get tripped up and suffer from amygdala hijacks?

5. Breathe deeply.

Put your hand on your upper chest. Take a breath, then exhale with the feeling and sound of a sigh of relief:”aahhhh.” Notice how your chest softens downward under your hand as air flows out. Do this a couple of more times and think about your lungs releasing toxins and stale air, creating more space for fresh air. Then inhale, and on the exhale whisper, “La, la, la, la…” for the length of the exhale (this helps carry air out of your body.). Let each inhale come naturally, whenever it arrives, allowing your abdomen to soften each time. Repeat until you feel your whole body softening.

+1. Hold a warm cup of tea (or coffee) in your hands.

Say what?!? Yes, that’s right. Warmth dramatically improves our ability to become more caring. Many studies support this finding. Recent research out of Yale showed that a mere 25% of study participants that were holding a cold pad chose a gift for a friend, compared to 54% of those handling a hot pad. And while physical warmth can cause us to be warmer, it also makes us see others as warmer people. So we suggest you also offer your recipient a warm cup of tea.

Caring about our recipients significantly raises our chances to give impactful feedback. It might motivate to know that seeing a world of possibilities also makes us smarter. In a 2009 study, Adam Anderson of the University of Toronto proved that positive emotions literally change how the brain works. Positivity broadens our awareness and we are better at seeing the big picture and connecting the dots. A positive state of mind also makes us more resilient and prepares us for bouncing back from difficult conversations, according to Barbara Fredrikson’s research. An asset for both feedback giver and recipient.

Wilma Stephenson intuitively gets the most essential part of giving feedback right. She breaks many rules on what we know about giving effective feedback, be it raising her voice or publicly scolding her disciples. But what makes her ultimately successful is that she is the number one cheerleader of her students. Her tight ship is founded on a deep sense of caring and love.

So yes, you can learn the skills to give effective feedback. In fact, we are happy to email you a complimentary copy of our North of Neutral feedback guide if you send us a note to But it is only if you engage with the heart that your feedback will fall on fertile grounds and bear fruit.

by carolyn mathews

(posted in 2011, our readers rated this as one of our all time favorite posts so here it is again)

Mention a 360-degree feedback process to those who have experienced it and you will likely witness the rolling of eyes, apparent cringing, or the telling of personal horror stories. This is what I witnessed almost across the board when I told people my dissertation topic. (For the record, its title is, “Enhancing the 360-Degree Feedback Process: A Strengths-based Approach.”) If you read this blog, you likely work in an upper-management/executive position within your organization. Just as likely, you have participated in a 360-degree feedback process, as both a rater for someone else or as the person being rated (the “ratee”). I have been through the process myself. So, it was with some trepidation that I signed up for the Center for Creative Leadership’s (CCL) Assessment Certification Workshop.

My trepidation was borne from my skepticism regarding the process, not from the assessment products offered by CCL. Research shows in many cases, 360s are mishandled from the start in terms of stated purpose, accountability, and psychometric properties. I am happy to report that CCL addresses all of these concerns in their training of consultants, coaches, and HR professionals. Indeed, according to a colleague in the class who experienced the CCL products and process within his organization, when CCL professionals are brought in to run a 360-degree feedback process, they emphasize and explain these elements before any assessments start.

Okay, so having established some 360 ground rules, we know to declare a clear purpose to all participants (preferably developmental as opposed to administrative). We also know that accountability on the part of the raters, the ratee, and the organization is crucial for employees to view it as something from which they will benefit. Further, we recognize that a psychometrically sound instrument, one that has been validated and reflects the organization’s values, strategies and goals, is crucial for the success of this process. But what is a positive psychology coach like me supposed to do with a process that traditionally focuses on deficits rather than strengths?

The 360-degree feedback process is often used as part of an annual appraisal process, and as such, there is a tendency for organizations and managers – and the ratees themselves – to concentrate on deficits while virtually ignoring strengths. Strengths represent what is “right” or going well for the employee. Therefore, we tend to pay little attention to these non-problems. Instead, there is collective focus on what’s wrong, also known as (with a positive spin) “room for improvement,” or “opportunities.” No matter what we call this deficit target, research by the Gallup organization shows that the greatest opportunities for success come not from focusing on what’s wrong, but by emphasizing what’s right.

Does this mean as managers, HR professionals, or coaches we must ignore a person’s lack of skills or behavioral concerns? I don’t believe so. The use of positive psychology in the workplace is not meant to suggest we can ignore problems in favor of the positive. Positive psychology in the workplace provides a holistic approach; one that asserts the “biggest bang for the buck” comes from the acknowledgment and use of strengths as a way to build creativity and collaboration, solve problems, and even address areas those “opportunities” for improvement.

So how can you incorporate a strengths-based approach into a traditional 360-degree feedback process?

Ongoing management: Address problem areas immediately, instead of waiting for this annual feedback process. This is the responsibility of management, and one that often slides further down the “to-do” list. No one likes to be the “heavy.” However, if issues are addressed when current, it will appear more relevant to your direct report than a mention months later in the comments section of the 360 questionnaire.

Before the 360-degree feedback process: Assure your team that the purpose of the 360 process is for developmental purposes (not administrative) and will be considered along with other information gleaned throughout the year.

During the feedback session: Use the feedback related to strengths to discuss how your direct reports can rectify problem areas. This helps align the solution needed for the organization with the person’s personal values, which may result in longer-lasting change. In addition, ask them to imagine ways that using one or two strengths exclusively may turn it into a weakness. A balanced approach is best.

After the feedback: Collaborate with your direct reports on their development plans, based in part on the feedback they received. Ask them to suggest goals that not only relate to the organization’s overall mission, but also will incorporate their personal strengths. My research shows an integral link between elements of positive psychology, positive organizational behavior, and a successful 360-degree feedback process. Adding a strength-based component puts that personal stamp on the goal, making it meaningful.

Ultimately, the 360-degree feedback process is an efficient way to track someone’s development, how well they play with others, and to help direct their developmental goals. And, it can be used in a way that emphasizes positive opportunities for success.

by renita kalhorn

persuasion and perspective

Recently I was coaching a group of Navy SEAL officer candidates. Obviously, with all the hours of fitness training and time they’re dedicating (some of them drive four or five hours each way to the gatherings), they all want very much to be offered a SEAL contract. They also want to avoid the fate of an earlier candidate who told the board, with sincere intention and intensity, how much he wanted to be a SEAL and the extreme sacrifices he had made to get there – and who, ultimately, was declined.

He made the mistake that many people make when they are asking for something, whether it’s an introduction, an interview, a job or a raise. They state their case from the least compelling point of view possible: their own.

“Going to business school will help me transition from consulting to finance.”

“I need this raise because we’re having another baby.”

“I want to pick your brain so I can get my book published.”

No matter how sincere or earnest the reason, guess what the listener (at least subliminally) is thinking: “Yeah, so what? Why should I care?”


So that’s the paradox: to get what you want, you have to momentarily set aside your own desire and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

Because the most effective way to get someone’s attention is to position your request from their point of view. (Isn’t that what works with you?) Show someone that helping you get what you want is somehow relevant to them and they will be much more receptive to listening to what you have to say. (Savvy parents get this when they say to their children: “If you are dressed and ready to go in 10 minutes then you’ll have time to get an ice cream cone before we run errands.”)

To be able to empathize with and understand what’s important to another person even as you have your own urgent wants — now that is a useful and powerful skill.


First, put aside your attachment to what you want. (Go ahead, just put it right over there.)

Now look at the situation from their point of view: try to understand what they want, why they want it and how they feel about things. It takes ingenuity and patience to think it through (especially if you don’t know them well) but a little strategic forethought does wonders to remove obstacles.

Here’s what presenting your case from the other person’s point of view looks like:

         Want the job? Explain how hiring you will make their life easier and make them look good — not why you want to leave your current job. (In the case of the Navy recruiting board, yes, they want men who are dedicated to becoming a SEAL, but more importantly they want someone who has a balanced outlook and will be a good fit with the SEAL community.)

         Want someone to take your cold call? Acknowledge that their time is valuable: “I know you’re busy so I’ll make this brief. I’m calling to see if I might be able to help you save money on your company’s health insurance.”

         Want more time to produce a deliverable? Instead of telling the client you’re backed up until Friday (your POV), tell them it’s in their best interest that you take the time to thoroughly research the case in order to deliver the most informed advice possible and avoid issues down the line.

         Want to ask a favor via email? Start by talking about the person you’re writing to: thank them (for inspiration, insights or information – it doesn’t have to be earth-shaking to be gratifying) or comment on a recent accomplishment (check their Linkedin account, blog or Google). No-one — no matter how famous or busy — is going to stop reading about how great they are! Once you’ve established a relevant connection, they’ll be much more receptive to helping you.

Of course, this all presumes that there is overlap between what you want and what they want, that there are mutual benefits to be had. Taking some time to think strategically from the other person’s point of view will help them see the connection and smooth your path to getting what you want.

think big, start small

July 1, 2013

by renita kalhorn


You know how to eat an elephant, right? One bite at a time.When it comes to elephants, we get it – there’s no way we can eat one all at once. When it comes to our own goals however, we tend toward an all-or-nothing approach.

[Which explains Blue Monday, a theory by psychologist Dr. Cliff Arnall, who came up with a mathematical formula determining that the third Monday of the year is statistically the saddest day of the year.Makes sense: it’s about the three-week point that the zeal for your life-changing “this year will be different” new year’s resolutions starts to fade and the realization of what it’s going to take sinks in.]

Set yourself up for success

For sure, big goals are more compelling. Like Four-Hour Workweek author Tim Ferriss says, “Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal.”

The best way to get the big win, however, is to start small: modest, consistent progress almost always trumps all-out, dramatic efforts. Starting small sets you up for success [there’s nothing that says you can’t scale up as you acclimate!].

Here are three ways to start small:


Inevitably, all-or-nothing thinking – which, by definition, means going from 0 to 100 — creates inertia. Breaking a big goal up into micro-goals may mean less bragging rights [sorry, Ego!] but it busts through the wall of inertia. Once you start taking small steps, momentum kicks in and it actually becomes easier to keep moving forward than to stop.

At BUD/s training, Navy SEAL candidates are taught to “segment” –  rather than thinking about how they’re going to get through the next five days of Hell Week, to focus on the micro-goal of getting to the next meal, the next evolution.

Former SEAL Commander Mark Divine says: “When we set our sights on micro-goals, we achieve micro-wins, which quickly stack up and develop a sense of momentum and “can-do” instead of “can’t – won’t.”

Micro-goals work  in a crisis too. Jeff Wise, author of Extreme Fear, says: “If you’re bogged down in a massive project at work, then, don’t let yourself despair at the hugeness of the task. Break it down into pieces small enough that you can do each one in an hour or less, and focus all your attention exclusively on that.”


Anyone who’s intent on mastering a skill may scoff at the value of practicing only five minutes. But Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, says: “When you practice a little each day, skills don’t erode. In fact, they consolidate. It’s like a bank account earning compound interest: a virtuous spiral where skill accrues quickly.”

This is exactly what my violinist sister found as she was counting down the last three months before returning to her post at the Paris Opera after several years focused on raising her children. By practicing every day – even if only for 15 minutes – she showed up at the first rehearsal feeling confident and in control.


And, finally, for everyone who says they don’t have time to exercise, former Navy SEAL Phil Black and founder of FitDeck, is on a mission to change that with micro-cising. “Basically, he says, “whenever I found myself waiting for someone or something, I started microcising. It didn’t matter what I was wearing, there was no sweating involved, and no exercise took more than 10-20 seconds at a time.”

Check out this example of how he found hidden pockets of time to exercise while the eggs are boiling, a TV commercial is playing and his kids are putting on their soccer cleats.

by anne lueneburger


A few days ago it was a beautiful summer eve in New York. The city was at its best, with blue skies, temperatures in the mid 70s, no humidity, and just a gentle breeze. As a result, it was with some hesitation that I walked up the stairs of Columbia University’s Grace Dodge Hall, a somewhat somber, old red brick building that would fit perfectly onto Hogwarts campus (apologies: my 10-year-old has been sharing all of her Harry Potter stories lately, and some of her preoccupation seems to have rubbed off on her mother).

Fast forward 90 minutes, and I walk back out into the fresh air, feeling inspired. I had just attended a speech by Professor Warner Burke, a guru on organizational change and leadership effectiveness. The message that he delivered with an entertaining Texan twang: Learning agility is the sine qua non when we want to effect change.

Change is hard, even if it involves desired change (for more, see our article “no pain, no gain” here.) No surprise, without the appropriate outlook, approach and support, about two thirds of organizational change efforts fail, and leaders of change are effective only about half of the time.

What then differentiates high performing leaders of change from those that fail? According to extensive research by Burke and his team (and backed up by other high profile studies) it is not what is frequently used in the process of identifying high potentials, factors such as “past performance” and “competence” as well as “other stuff”. The process of changing dynamics can render past experience irrelevant, and it may require few of the skills and competencies that an individual currently possesses. It reminded me of what leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith summarized so well: What got you here won’t get you there.

Now, what about the “other stuff?” Burke went on to explain that “other stuff” is often a selection bias, based on the similarity between individuals. In other words, if your boss feels like you are in many ways similar to her, you are significantly more likely to be considered a high potential. A longitudinal study within AT&T, for example, found that more low potentials were promoted than high potential ones, as long as they worked for the “right bosses”. Not surprisingly, leaders often use the same selection bias of similarity when it comes to building their teams. This helps explain why there are a good number of underperforming teams, as innovation and change is driven by healthy debate and an openness to see the world in a variety of ways.

Successful change agents such as Brian Walker of Hermann Miller, Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Steve Jobs of Apple are role models when it comes to learning agility. According to Burke’s research, in addition to learning agility, the two other key drivers of successful change leadership are emotional intelligence and optimism (which did not come as a surprise to the psychologists and coaches in the room!).

So, what makes for learning agility?

We know that effective learning has both a cognitive and behavioral component. As we struggle to look into what goes on in other people’s heads, the focus of being able to assess learning agility is to look for the following behavioral components:

  • Feedback seeking.
  • Information gathering.
  • Exposing and learning from failure.
  • Risk taking.
  • Collaborating.
  • Experimenting.
  • Reflecting.
  • Quick study.
  • Swift but not hasty decision-making.

If you are like most of us in the audience that day, then you are probably curious to find out what your particular agility score is… While the full research results and an accompanying assessment will not be available until September, here is a questionnaire Burke shared with those of us who are looking for instant knowledge gratification:

Rate yourself on a scale of “1” [to a very small extent] to “5” [to a very great extent] on what extent do you…
1…seek feedback from others about your work performance?
2…update your knowledge by collecting information from outside sources?
3…discuss with others errors or mistakes you may have made and seek help in understanding what happened?
4…put yourself into situations that involve a high degree of ambiguity about the process and/or outcome?
5…facilitate learning from and among others?
6…collect data to test and try out a new idea about and/or approach to work?
7…take time after an event to consider what happened, why it happened that way, and how things should be done moving forward?
8…move easily between different ideas and perspectives?
9…pick up quickly new information, ideas, and behavior?
10…rely on using what has worked for you in the past?

After you have rated yourself on each question, add up your total score for questions 1 through 9. For question 10, revert your number (i.e. if you rated yourself a “5”, give yourself a “1”, if you rated yourself a “4”, give yourself a “2”, “3” stays the same) and then add this to your total score. Why? Question 10 tests our rigidity factor, aka “we have always done things this way”, which is known to get in the way of agility.

If you score 40 or higher then you may well be on your way to mastery. It’s always good to practice some humility though, as we know that for any self-rating assessment a remarkable 80 percent of us tend to overrate ourselves.

And if you are inspired to grow your change agent muscles (as you know now, seeking feedback is a key component of learning agility!), here is an experiment you may wish to try: Why not have your team score you on the same questionnaire, and compare those results with yours? Now take a closer look at where you think you are compared to your team’s perceptions, and you may find where you could stretch yourself a bit more…

by anne lueneburger

As this is one of our top blogs that has received over 60,000 hits and the idea of managing our emotions more effectively never gets old, we decided to re-post this entry  for all of you who have not yet had a chance to read it.

We’ve all been there…

  • You received an email that upset or frustrated you. Were you tempted to hit ‘reply all’, and type a very direct response and send it off with lightning speed….?
  • You’re sitting in a feedback meeting and your boss is telling you that your performance is below expectations. Do you stop him mid sentence, raise your voice and tell him that Brad S. – your ‘peer’ – is a lousy team player and that it’s all his fault?

When we have these experiences and are tempted to react in – what we know in retrospect would be an irrational way – we are experiencing what psychologists call an ‘amygdala hijack’: your emotions taking over your actions.

What happens?

(If you’re not interested in the biological bit then move on to ‘Quick interventions’!)

When we experience an amygdala hijack, the emotional part of the brain – the amygdala – overrides the thinking part of the brain – the neocortex – in response to a perceived threat. Depending on the degree of hijack, your ability to reason and think logically is compromised. Your working memory will become less efficient and your blood pressure, adrenaline and hormone levels rise.  It can take 3 to 4 hours for it to clear your system…

While an overactive amygdala serves a useful purpose when faced with a genuine physical threat (when emotions and reactions are crucial), it can cause problems when faced with an emotional threat.

During the hijack, your number of perceived options will decrease dramatically.  Instead of maybe 4 ways of resolving a problem, you will only perceive 3, then 2 (giving you an either/or choice), and then only 1.  When there is only 1 option left: the hijack is complete. You will turn to default, habitual behaviors: you are on auto-pilot and liable to make dangerously biased decisions, and you lose your ability to communicate effectively.

Successful leaders and business people have to know how to bypass the amygdala hijack. Here are some tactics to help you avoid making any rash decisions.

O Quick interventions

Channel your frustration. Use the extra adrenaline to develop an assertive, but not aggressive, response to the problem. Find what is triggering the emotions in your head.  This will help to keep the neocortex active, and prevent the amygdala from taking over. This also enables you to make your opinion known without hurting others (an aggressive response could spark a spiral of negative exchanges: which isn’t good for anybody).

Physically withdraw. If you sense the hijack, consider removing yourself physically from the situation until you can think more clearly. It can be as simple as excusing yourself to use the restroom or taking a break in the meeting (if you’re chairing it).  If you’re on the phone, you can always say that “something’s come up” and could you call back in a few minutes?

Breathe deeply. Taking deep breaths from your diaphragm (not your chest, as shallow breathing produces carbon monoxide!) with intention and purpose. Pay attention to your breath: repeat ‘in and out’. This oxygenates your neocortex, keeping it engaged and your emotions in check.

Create a mantra. If you know you are about to enter a difficult meeting then come up with a ‘mantra’ that keeps you sane, such as ‘success is the best revenge’ or ‘focus on what matters’. Write this mantra on papers that you bring to the meeting and, if you feel your emotions taking over, look at your mantra and repeat it in your head.

Zing yourself. This is an interesting technique borrowed from neuro-linguistic programming (too big an area to cover in this entry!).  What you need to do: before the meeting put a rubber band on your wrist, then ‘zing’ yourself (snap the band against your wrist) and repeat a mantra such as ‘relax’ or ‘calm down’. Once you’re in the meeting and feel tension beginning to rise, zing yourself again. This will remind you of and enforce your mantra: this really does work!

Envision. For some of you, zinging yourself may sound a bit painfulJ.  If so, then try to just visualize a relaxing experience: a calm blue glacier lake, a green pasture with horses grazing…anything that either your memory or imagination offers you and helps you to relax.

Be appreciative. It may be challenging, but strive to look at the positive aspects of a situation: including the person you may feel aggrieved by. Try to see if there is anything true or helpful in what they say or who they are.

Use humor. This may not necessarily involve you injecting humor into the situation (it can, but bear in mind that this could be misunderstood by the other party). You could, for example, when you are upset and ready to use some extreme (maybe offensive!) words, stop and visualize what you are ‘literally’ saying to the other person – or advising them to do… This should help you not to take yourself so seriously!

Role-play. If you know that an encounter could present problems, then think about role playing the situation – either in your head or with a partner. This is a highly effective tactic for preparing yourself for every eventuality and giving your emotional self a ‘heads up’.

O Long term interventions

Create learnings. Take the time to revisit the hijack experience after it’s over to learn more about what happened and why. Identify the trigger and you’ll better manage your emotions and interrupt the hijack if it happens again.

Loving-kindness meditation. Scientist Barbara Fredrickson, expert on well-being and positive emotions recommends meditation in her latest book. Loving-kindness meditation is a powerful tool to help you manage the frustrations and challenges that life can bring.

Yoga. As with meditation, yoga is a powerful tool for managing emotional distress and creating a balance within that help you deal with difficult situations. Busy executives are increasingly practicing yoga as a means of reducing tension and managing stress.

Company programs. There are company programs in place that recognize the importance of sound mind and sound body: such as the Stanford Corporate health program.  This is a joint effort between the school and leading corporations such as AT&T, Bank of America and IBM.

Read up. Robert Sapolsky, eminent American stress researcher, has written a great book: Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. Sapolsky recommends prevention – learning to recognize the signs of the stress response, and identifying and mastering the situations that trigger it…

So… if you think that you’re about to have an amygdala hijack: be aware of it, master some techniques to help you through and – most importantly – DON’T HIT SEND!

by renita kalhorn


Know the feeling? You’re doing all the right things – following up with prospects, responding to market feedback, knocking at least 72 tasks off your to-do list every day. The pedal’s to the metal, and yet you don’t seem to be getting anywhere.

To add insult to injury, it seems as if everyone — everyone! — you talk to is on fire, signing million-dollar deals, making partner or being featured in Fast Company.

If you asked him, martial artist Bruce Lee would say: “There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”

Hmph. Clearly, he doesn’t get it. You don’t have time for a plateau right now. You have people – customers, investors, lenders, partners — breathing down your neck and threatening you with unpleasant consequences. You need to make something happen.

Unfortunately, all you’re going to get from Bruce is an impassive stare and a view of his back as he walks away.

So here’s the answer: if you can’t change your circumstances, you need to change the way you think about the circumstances. (I know, probably not the answer you wanted.)

So grab a pen and pad of paper, this three-point process will take less than 20 minutes and is guaranteed to rekindle motivation (do it alone or as a team).

1. Make a “things I’ve/we’ve done” list. You’ve probably noticed that, as a species, humans are predisposed to notice the negative. No matter where we are in life, we tend to focus on how long it’s taking to get “over there,” where we want to go – totally discounting how far we’ve come.

So step 1 is to acknowledge what you’ve done: the clients you do have, the development progress you have made, the sales/traffic you do have. This helps you regain your equilibrium and reaffirm that you haven’t been doing nothing.

2. Make a “things I/we’ve haven’t tried yet” list. Even though it may feel like you’ve done absolutely everything possible, inevitably there are new angles you haven’t explored, people you haven’t contacted. Making a list of these can actually be encouraging because it helps you see more clearly that there are still things that you can do to impact your results. It’s a reality check.

Oh, by the way, it’s common to look back and discount how hard you worked. So rather than wait until you feel that mounting panic that you’re not doing enough, give yourself a chance to course-correct by checking in with yourself several times a day, and asking: “Am I doing my best in this moment?”

3. Expand your idea of what’s possible. It’s easy to view other people’s success and think it was a smooth ride. Not surprisingly, comparing ourselves with others when we’re already feeling inadequate spirals down into negativity and feeling like “it’s never gonna happen.”

The way to nip this in the bud is to exercise possibility thinking – to go beyond linear thinking and stretch your belief of what’s possible. Look for examples of incredible rejection — Kathryn Stockett’s manuscript for The Help was turned down 60 times — and serendipity — Howard Schulz of Starbucks changed coffee drinking in the US when he went to Milan to source equipment and, visiting an espresso bar, had a flash of insight that, it’s not about the beans, it’s about the communal experience of drinking coffee. Flood your mind with stories and references so they become the new norm.

Immerse your mind with stories and references like this on a regular basis and they will become the new normal.

by pamela welling


This month I’ve been working with a few clients in career transition who consider themselves introverts. Although technically brilliant, deeply knowledgeable about their field, credible and well liked within their small but perfectly formed network, my clients are having trouble making the switch into their chosen targets. I’ll do my usual audit of checking out their marketing collateral to see if their Achilles’ heel lies in a poorly tailored resume, or a pedestrian sounding pitch. I’ll test for interview smarts to see if they’ve conducted thorough due diligence on their target and can build a business case for their candidacy; nine times out of ten none of these areas are the issue. For my introverted clients, the Achilles’ heel is much more daunting than a one-to-one stress interview or finding time in their busy schedule to craft a targeted resume. Instead their real challenge lies in what I define as the introvert’s dilemma- how to build your brand with people you’ve never met and are maybe just as happy not to, when you are in an active job search. In fact it’s an issue for all of my introverted coaching clients, not just those in the job hunt- to further our careers in our current vertical we all need to self-advocate and find ways to articulate our professional successes to people we may not know so well. So if you find the idea of having to give your professional pitch to yet another new or ancillary contact daunting, here are some tips to help you navigate the interaction and manage your energy:

  1. Create buffers: A recent client of mine loved her career in the fashion industry, but as a self-confessed introvert she was less keen on division wide meetings with her highly extroverted (and highly opinionated) fashion forward colleagues. She found the meetings to be a huge energy drain and rather than speak up, kept quiet- a tactic she knew was hurting her brand. But by building in 10 minute time buffers before and after every divisional meeting, our fashionista was able to restock her energy reservoir, process her emotional response and think about the talking points she wanted to make at the meeting ahead of time in a way that worked for her.
  2. Realign your expectations: If you are more Lisa Simpson than Donald Trump it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to work the room at your firm’s annual summer cocktail party. Instead, aim to meet one or two new people. As you build up your networking muscle, you can increase your target networking number by one at each new event you attend.
  3. Find your safe station: Are you planning on attending a conference you know will help boost your visibility in your new target career field, but dreading having to spend two whole days with complete strangers? Then try of identifying two or three people you’ve already met at least three times who will be at the same conference. They will become your ‘safe stations’, people that you can hover back to after you satellite out to make new contacts. You’ll find that coming back to familiar faces and safe topics at the end of each new interaction will make the process significantly less stressful.

My fashionista client tried elements of all three of these tactics and through one-on-one coaching and 360 degree feedback from team members, she was able to promote herself in internal and external networking scenarios in a way that resonated with her and felt authentic, as opposed to generic and forced. Her end result? She scored a new job and a bigger title at a rival fashion brand in a culture that was much better suited to her introverted, thoughtful leadership style. She’ll never be fully comfortable with the idea of meeting new people and speaking up in a room full of extroverts, but through deliberate practice and managing her own inner critic, she’s well on her way to being a little less Lisa, and being a bit more Donald, we hope you can too!


by anne lueneburger


Walking back to my car after a two-hour coaching session, I came across this billboard in New York’s Meatpacking district. Here it was, bold and bright, and coincidently it perfectly framed the struggle my client was faced with, based on her 360-degree feedback: how to better forge relationships.  My client, Irena[1], a powerhouse in a major investment bank, had been told by her peers, direct reports and supervisor that her interaction with others was driven by a “Me-Me” lens. If she were to stay on then she needed to move towards a greater “Me-You” perspective.

Both styles refer to how we connect with others. The “Me-Me” approach is characterized by treating the other like an extension of the self, as an object that is there to serve our own needs and purposes. Often we project our own thoughts and emotions onto the other person, assuming that they must reflect these. There is no feedback loop between our and the other person’s reality. Few questions are asked, we pretty much stay in our own orbit. Most likely this is not even the result of malicious intent, often high performers used to relying solely on their own efforts fail to make the shift to the “Me-You” perspective when they are given the responsibility for managing teams.

Being treated like an object carries costs, both for the sender of this message, and for its recipient. Neuroscientific research tells us that the same area in the brain lights up when it comes to being treated in a “Me-Me” mode as it does for physical pain. No surprise, the recipient experiences such a lack of social attunement as a harsh sting. Over time, the sender also pays the price for their lack of looping with their environment, resulting in a significant amount of stress.

Most of us have taken on the role of sender and receiver in the “Me-Me” mode. We may have quickly glanced at a direct report’s powerpoint and not appreciated their hard work. We may have forgotten to inquire about our boss’s ailing parent and moved right on to business as usual. Or we may simply ignore a greeting from a neighbor as we are running to catch the train to work. These are every day “Me-Me” situations that we all feel. And some of these are just a part of being alive and recognizing that we do have limited bandwidth. What is important is for us to be aware of this and to gauge whether this is merely a slip, or whether there is a risk of this becoming a habit.

Moving deliberately into a “Me-You” mode, unsurprisingly, has been proven to also carry benefits for the sender. Treating others as individuals in their own right and tuning into their needs allows us to forge alliances that make us feel more alive, motivated and ultimately more successful.  And it is not about how many people we know, but about how connected we feel. Having only one best buddy in the workplace, according to Gallup research, makes us seven times more engaged at work. Moving from “Me-Me” to “Me-You” is where we create the “We”, the sina qua non for success, both internally and externally.

[1] name and context altered to ensure confidentiality

bellies for empathy

March 25, 2013

by anne lueneburger

chinese men as women

Last week I was on a flight to Shanghai for a coaching engagement when I picked up a copy of the “China Daily”. Flipping through the pages I saw a photo that made me look twice:  these were not women but men. And they were carrying around their big bellies in order to better understand more about how “tough life can be as a pregnant woman”.

I am not sure how effective a few wigs and some extra weight around the midriff for a few hours will be when it comes to letting these men understand the emotional and physical challenges of a pregnancy. But a high-five to them for trying to step into someone else’s “belly”.

Exploring the other person’s perspective is a key element in successfully navigating conflict. It allows us to access and appreciate information that we may have missed before. We can get a better grip on what motivates ‘the other’, and how our previous behavior may have impacted on them.

It can be challenging to exercise our empathy muscles, especially if the topic is emotionally charged. The good news is that this option is accessible to all of us. We can start the process by asking open-ended questions around the “How”, “What”, or “When”.  As long as we come from a mindset of curiosity (rather than judgment), we will find ourselves a step closer to bridging differences and forging alliances.