Steven Gaffney's Communication Blog

How to Deal with a Negative Co-Worker Using Six Easy Strategies

Addressing negativity can be complex, because negativity and disagreement are often confused. It is helpful to have someone express opposing view, so flaws can be addressed, but if we try to stamp out all negativity, we will give the impression that the only correct opinion is our own. When this happens, some people may stop providing valuable feedback and information.

On the other hand, if not properly handled, negativity can be harmful to a team, department, or organization. Negativity is like a weed, and if weeds aren’t dealt with, they spread. In a group setting, negativity can severely decrease morale, productivity, and effectiveness. The following techniques can help you address negativity in your group.

1.  Acknowledge the person being negative with a sincere and appropriate compliment.

Sometimes people are negative, because they don’t feel appreciated. In other words, negativity can actually be a cry for attention. Acknowledge the person for something that you appreciate about them and see what happens.

2.  Point out the negativity.

Many people don’t realize they are being negative. Often, they think they are simply being honest and helpful. Point out how they are coming across and the effect their words and attitude are having on the group. If they rarely say anything positive or offer potential solutions, let them know that as well. If this person does not agree with your perspective, ask them to keep track of how many criticisms versus solutions they offer in a week. Or, you could keep track. This depends on your position. Obviously, if you are the person’s manager, you have the authority and responsibility to proactively resolve the situation, and others on the team probably want you to do so.

3.  Facilitate a solution.

Helping this person come up with a solution is especially important when you are in a meeting. The key part of this strategy is to ask, “What would you suggest?” It is difficult for someone to continue to be negative when you consistently ask, “What would you suggest?” This takes the focus off of the past and makes the discussion more positive and solution-focused.

4.  Coach them if they are willing to look at things in a different way.

Someone who is negative often wants to change but doesn’t know how. If this is the case, you can coach them. But first, you must gauge their degree of openness. Start by asking the person if they are open to the possibility of seeing the situation differently. You may even ask if they are open to the possibility that they may be wrong. If they indicate they are not open, you may want to move on and not waste your time. Interestingly enough, sometimes by merely asking that question, the person examines their behavior and becomes open to other points of view. If they are open, then give them your perspective and advice. If they are willing, then make sure your coaching provides tangible, specific actions and accountability, if they so choose.

5.  Allow them to say their piece and then move on.

This technique is especially important in a meeting when the person is not open to another point of view. Remember that other people usually want you to move on; most of us aren’t interested in getting caught up in a negativity battle. After something negative is said, move on by saying something like, “For the sake of time, let’s move on. Our next point is…” Use this technique selectively. If you just move on, you run the risk of the person tuning you out and possibly becoming disruptive for the remainder of the meeting.

6.  Choose to avoid people who are negative.

Choose to spend time with people who have attitudes you admire. It is amazing how often people allow themselves to be around people with lousy attitudes. If you cannot control who surrounds you, try to limit the time you spend with them. For example, if a co-worker starts complaining about the work environment or another person, politely excuse yourself from the conversation.

While an opposing point of view can be helpful, persistent negativity never is. Constant negativity can affect our emotions and waste our time. But now you have the steps to take action. The question is, what are you going to do about it?

If you get stuck or have any questions, don’t hesitate to call us at (703) 241-7796 or send an email to info@stevengaffney.com

The 7 Ways Managers & Executives Make Their Lives Miserable at Work and How to Fix It

On any given weekday, we spend more time working than we do engaged in any other activity, even sleeping. That is reason enough to eliminate sources of workplace stress and misery. As a coach and trusted adviser to executives and managers across various industries – from corporate and association to government and military – I’ve observed that people often make misery for themselves at work. I think it’s time to change that.

Read this list of seven ways you may be making yourself miserable in the workplace, but be sure to focus on the solutions to see what you can do to dramatically improve your life at work. Much of this is common sense; the trouble is that we often fail to act on the things we know we should do. Decide now to make these valuable changes, follow through, and I think you will be surprised by the results.

1. Meddling in the “How.” Sometimes when we do not have the right team in place or we are worried about an activity, project, or program, we start to meddle and micromanage. We dictate the way we want things to be done. When we do that, we make ourselves, and others, miserable. Micromanaging disables others, and it causes people to back off and implement our directives like robots. As a result, we lose out on their creativity, ingenuity, and responsibility. In the long run, this costs us dearly and increases our misery immeasurably. When we dictate the “how,” we build a team or an organization that is completely dependent on us. Think about this. Can you take a vacation without checking up on things? If you cannot, that is a sure sign of this misery maker.

The solution is simple (though not necessarily easy): Assess the situation. Evaluate whether you are making matters worse. Hold your direct reports accountable for results; don’t tell them how to get the results. If they’re not getting the job done satisfactorily, make some changes. Remember: problems left alone tend to get worse, not better. Hire and surround yourself with the best people and then give them the guidance and tools so they can do what needs to be done.

2. Venting to the Wrong People. As leaders, we should not be venting to direct reports and others in the workplace. The old saying is true though: It’s lonely at the top. That is why it can be easy to fall into this trap. The trouble is that when we vent, we infect others with our way of thinking, which can, in turn, make matters even worse. For example, let us say we are upset with a goal we consider to be unreachable. If we show that feeling to folks who report to us, their feelings will be affected, which will affect the actions they take on a daily basis. Pretty soon we will have multiplied our difficulties, and the goal we thought was unreachable truly will be a self-fulfilling prophecy if there ever was one.

This problem is not hard to solve. First, think of negative feelings and thoughts as if they were germs that can infect others. We may get over the infection, but when we spread it to others, they may never recover. Second, vent to the appropriate people– whether it is a coach, a peer, a friend or, if appropriate, your boss. Find someone who can listen objectively (without being negatively affected by your words) and give you some guidance. The value of a trusted adviser or coach cannot be overestimated.

3. Neglecting the Power of Expectations. People like a certain level of security. They want to know the guidelines, what they can affect vs. what they cannot affect and just need to live with. They also want to know what they can count on to stay the same vs. what could possibly change. In other words, they need to know what is negotiable vs. what is non-negotiable. When leaders neglect to manage expectations, it can lead to a lot of frustration and wasted time throughout the organization. That leads to misery for everyone, especially for you. How much time do you spend each week fielding complaints about policies and procedures that make people’s jobs difficult but are not going to change? Frustrating, right?

The solution is to spell out what is non-negotiable and unlikely to change vs. what is negotiable and open to change. This is true on the broad organizational level as well as for teams or special projects. In setting others’ expectations about what is negotiable and what is non-negotiable, you are freeing them to focus on what is truly within their control (and as a result you should have fewer complaints to listen to). One of the most frequent negotiable vs. non-negotiable issues I encounter is in the realm of roles and responsibilities. (In all my years of doing this, I have yet to see an organization with roles and responsibilities clearly defined so everyone understands. Maybe it is time to reset the expectations.) If the roles and responsibilities are unclear for your team or in your organization, you can even let the people know that you understand that they are unclear, draw some guidelines, and then reset the expectations so that the people understand that you expect them to take initiative within those guidelines and be open to ongoing change.

As a leader, you already know you have to focus on what you can control and mentally and emotionally let go of everything that you cannot. But by helping your direct reports understand what is not within their control (in other words, setting their expectations) and encouraging them to give 100 percent of their attention to what is within their control, you increase their efficiency and reduce their stress level considerably. That is a win-win for them and for you.

4. Lying to Yourself. The worst lies we ever tell are the lies that we tell ourselves. Those lies often take the form of outright denial, and that is what makes them so dangerous. Sometimes leaders make their lives miserable because they choose not to look at the reality of a situation and make the hard changes. For instance, maybe someone is being difficult and not getting the job done. If you avoid that reality, then you are making yourself (and others!) miserable. Perhaps that person needs to be let go, or maybe they need to be moved to another position where they can be more effective. Sometimes we lie to ourselves about our products and services. Maybe they have passed the expiration date and need to change. Lying to yourself about that will only lead to more misery in the long run.

The solution here is to look at what you’re avoiding. Set aside thirty minutes to think about what hard truths you have been sidestepping. What person do you avoid in the hallway? What don’t you want to talk about? What situation makes you groan inwardly? Look at those things head on and identify what lies you have been telling yourself. Tell the truth to yourself; then for each truth, write down a step you can take to deal with each situation you’ve been avoiding. It may not be easy, but you will be a lot less miserable when you’ve dealt with all the issues that have been haunting you. I bet that you will be surprised at how much more optimistic and energetic you feel once you stop lying to yourself.

5. The “Yes” Team. Hiring and surrounding ourselves with people we like and who think like we do is a common leadership issue. Organizations have a tendency to hire people who “who have the corporate mentality,” and unfortunately get rid of people who are different. This problem is a tricky one because a corporate mentality is good. You want people who buy into the corporate vision. But if you have ever heard me speak or have read my books, you know the trouble comes when no one will challenge the status quo or speak the hard truths. Here are two questions you should ask yourself to determine whether you are surrounded by “yes” people: How often do people argue and debate you and others? How often are people presenting new ideas? If the answer to the second question is “not often,” then you may have created an environment where a train wreck is lurking around the corner. This is a silent killer because the work environment may not feel miserable; but when the train wreck takes you by surprise, then there will be plenty of misery to go around.

The key to eliminating this source of misery is to make room for debate and differences. Only by encouraging people to tell the hard truths and not marginalizing those who see things differently can we avoid ugly surprises. It may feel uncomfortable to hear the hard truths, but the reward is rich. You will be able to steer your organization effectively and avoid being derailed. Adopt the slogan “No surprises.”

6. Too Many Priorities. Leaders sometimes mistakenly believe that it is beneficial to have many priorities. In reality, multiple priorities confuse people and often cause them to freeze and avoid taking action. The other possibility is that they will choose what they think are the top priorities and act on them. When they choose the wrong priorities, it causes organization misalignment. This is a common source of misery for managers, but it does not have to be.

A simple solution to this problem is to ask your direct reports to write down their top 5 job priorities and turn them in to you. (They should write them in priority order.) Let them know this is not a test of them, but a test of you and how consistent and clear the organization is. Obviously this exercise will reveal how clear folks are on their priorities, but it will also help you see how to provide the necessary clarity. The end result will be greater efficiency, which always alleviates misery and stress. We all have 24 hours in a day. The key is to focus on the ROI on our activities.

7. Focusing on Overcoming Weaknesses. People spend an inordinate amount of time trying to fix their perceived weaknesses, and it is a huge time waster. It’s also the source of a lot of misery. When you spend a lot of time focusing on what you perceive to be shortcomings, you are also spending a lot of time trapped in negative thinking about yourself. At the same time, you are closing yourself off to finding genuine solutions.

You can reduce your misery by embracing who you are and acknowledging your strengths, and by surrounding yourself with people who are strong in the areas in which you are weak. We do not have to have all the ingredients; we just have to make sure that we have all the ingredients covered. For example, if you are great in operations but you know that someone on your team has more expertise and experience with creating a big picture vision, allow that person to take advantage of his or her skill set while you focus on your own. Great leaders know how to use their own traits effectively and help others recognize and make the most of their traits in order to produce the desired outcomes.

Take this article, share it with others, and ask them what they think. Use it as a topic of conversation at your next staff meeting or off-site. In doing so, perhaps you will uncover more sources of misery in the workplace and how to turn them around. If you do, I’d love to hear your feedback. As always, call me if you need any help.

Remember: life is short: enjoy it!

How to Get What You Deserve

I’ve noticed that many participants in my seminars are struggling because they are not getting what they want from others. They are hoping that people will get the point (their subtle hints) and give them what they want—whether it is a promotion or a raise at work, or flowers or cards in their romantic relationships. Unfortunately, this “hoping” often causes disappointment because people don’t always do what we hope they will do.

The answer to this dilemma is simple. Don’t wait; start asking for what you really want. I know what you might be thinking… if someone gives you what you want because you ask for it, it is not as meaningful as if they just figured it out on their own. I agree. But the trouble is that not asking usually doesn’t produce what you want. If you’re not getting what you want, you have three options: you can complain about it, throw the relationship (or job) away, or do something about it. If you do something about it, then maybe people will learn how to treat you correctly. After all, the only person you can control is you.

If you’re in this situation, I recommend that you try training and conditioning people to treat you the way you want to be treated. The results can actually be life altering. My close friend was dating someone who told him, “You don’t appreciate me.” So he asked her how she would like him to express his appreciation for her. She said that she’d like cards and flowers and other small tokens of affection. He asked her why she hadn’t simply asked him for these things so he would know what to do.

She replied, “If I have to ask you, it will lose most of its meaning.”

He responded, “True. But it isn’t working this way, and I keep missing it. So why don’t you try asking and let’s see if over time, I can learn what to do.”

Reluctantly she started to ask for things. Most often he responded by giving her those things. Eventually my friend caught on and needed fewer reminders from his girlfriend. In other words he “got it.” And then one day, his girlfriend discovered that he really got it.

Here’s what happened. One day my friend’s girlfriend was told by her boss that the two of them would need to travel to London for business. When the day came and they arrived at the airport, her boss informed her he was not going with her and in fact she was not going to London. He gave her a notebook from her boyfriend to read through. She was to follow all of the instructions in the notebook. In the notebook was a ticket to Ireland where her boyfriend would be meeting her as well as strict instructions not to ask any questions once she landed.

She followed the instructions and flew to Ireland where her boyfriend met her. That night they stayed at a bed and breakfast. The next morning, the boyfriend left the room and the proprietor of the B&B knocked soon after and said, “Please come with me.” The proprietor drove the girlfriend to a field and dropped her off.

Let’s pause here. Just a day earlier this woman thought she was going on a business trip. Instead she found herself in a foreign country standing in the middle of a barren field early in the morning without anyone around. In other words, who knows what might happen when you start asking for what you want. Soon the girlfriend saw someone coming across the field on horseback. As the person got closer, she realized it was someone dressed in a battlefield costume like in the movie Braveheart. Eventually she discovered it was her boyfriend.

What the girlfriend didn’t realize was that she was standing in the middle of a historic battlefield. Her boyfriend was from Ireland and he had paid someone to come up with an authentic costume of what people wore when they were going into battle — complete with a shield with his family’s coat of arms.

When he rode up to her, he got off the horse, turned to her, and said, “I want you to know the man I am and the family I come from. Will you spend the rest of your life with me?” And he gave her an engagement ring. She said yes and they now are married with two children. You see, my friend got it. Because his girlfriend spoke up and asked for what she wanted, my friend learned the kind of things that made his girlfriend feel loved, valued, and appreciated. It isn’t that he didn’t love and appreciate his girlfriend before; he did. He simply didn’t know how important it was to her that he express that love and appreciation in particular ways. Because she helped him to understand that, eventually he learned. He learned to such an extent he was able to envision a proposal that would speak to her heart — an idea he came up with entirely on his own.

His girlfriend had successfully helped to train and condition him to appreciate her in the way she would want to be appreciated. In the beginning it may have not been that romantic; it may have even seemed laborious. But look at the results!

This principle isn’t just true for romantic relationships. Asking for what you want has applications in all aspects of life. Are you asking for what you want at work? Are you hoping to get a promotion or raise?

No matter what area of your life you want more results in, speak up, ask for what you want, and help make it happen…And watch out for a man riding a horse!

Take Action

Pass this tip on to people you care about; your co-workers, your boss, your employees, your family and friends. Use it as a basis to talk to the people around your office, in your organization, and your personal life. Consider when you are not getting the results you want in life and start putting a plan into action. If you get stuck, send me an email info@stevengaffney.com or contact my office for help at 703 241 7796.

Close But No Cigar

Governor Christie addresses bridge scandal, but misses some key steps in delivering the news.

Yesterday, Governor Chris Christie addressed the media regarding the release of e-mails and text messages that described his office’s role in creating massive traffic jams in New Jersey this past September. This scandal brings up a challenge that we will all face at one point in life: being surprised or blindsided by an issue that we then must deliver to others, resolve, and move forward.

Just last week, Steven Gaffney, expert on open, honest communication, released his latest booklet on the 21 most essential strategies to help anyone deliver difficult messages. He developed these 21 rules through working with employees and top leaders in Fortune 500 organizations and government agencies over the past 20 years. During yesterday’s press conference, Governor Christie did an excellent job of immediately addressing the current issue, taking full responsibility for it, and sincerely apologizing. While these are included in some of the key strategies Mr. Gaffney presents in his booklet, there are additional important tools that could have made the press conference more valuable.

While the governor resolved this specific issue by removing the aides involved, he did not publicly address the lessons he learned that will help him prevent anything along these lines from happening again. People tend to have an underlying fear that issues will be repeated, and if this fear gains a foothold, it will create distrust. When issues like this scandal arise, it is absolutely imperative to clearly demonstrate what the situation has taught you so that you will be able to prevent it in the future. People will also want to know how something like this could happen, and what is going to change within an organization to weed out those who could create similar problems. Although Mr. Gaffney has no intimate knowledge of Christie’s particular office, most often these types of issues are a result of a systemic cultural issue within an organization. It is important that leaders recognize that issues such as this scandal are usually not isolated situations, but are indicative of a larger problem within the culture of the company that needs to be addressed.

Some may say that Governor Christie was not truthful, but his actual honesty is an entirely different issue. Regardless of what you believe, we have all been surprised and blindsided, and how you go about addressing such events is the key to moving forward.  Steven Gaffney is available by phone, Skype and via satellite to comment on Governor Christie and how to effectively deliver difficult messages.

Eight Ways to Jump Start the New Year

The following are 8 crucial actions you can take to Jump Start 2014 and make it your most meaningful year yet. These changes, though initially very small, can help to put your life on a different path. Good luck to you and we would love to hear about your successes.

  1. Let go of the garbage that you are carrying. Reach out to someone you have written off (but still think about) or to someone you have given up on or with whom you had a problem with. Talk to that person and do what it takes to reach some sort of resolution and put the situation behind you. Ask the other person, “What would it take for us to put this behind us?” Their input can help you create a solution that works for everyone. By reaching out and having a conversation, you are extending the olive branch. This can create a new beginning and trigger conversations and events that can ultimately change your life. Remember: forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. Make 2014 the year you give that gift.
  2. Stop negotiating things that are not negotiable. Are you suffering because you are being flexible and letting go of standards and principles that are important to you? Decide what is negotiable versus what is really not negotiable to you. If you are not clear, how can others be? Then let others know and take a stand. Many people get inspired when boundaries are set because clarity gives them power to focus their time and energy on areas of flexibility.
  3. Adopt accountability partners. What is one of your behaviors that you really want to change? The truth is that if you really want to achieve this change, you will. Set up accountability partners and consequences to help ensure that you will make that change. For example, if you find yourself repeatedly complaining about a particular issue and you want to stop being so negative, tell five people you are going to stop complaining about the issue. Every time you complain about it, give them each a dollar. The point is to send a message that your promises are not empty and you are committed to changing the behavior. Being accountable is one of the most important ingredients in lasting change.
  4. Use your strengths. Your relationship with yourself and your talents is the most important one you will ever have. Appreciating yourself and your strengths is at the core of your ability to create and enjoy the life you want. When you appreciate yourself, you are also more likely to take action and make changes on things that are important to you. Focus on what makes you happy. Don’t overlook your talents and make sure to maximize your full potential. If you’re good at something, why not become great at it? This year, if you remember to appreciate yourself and foster your strengths, you will be more self-empowered and confident to face anything to come.
  5. Choose a coach or mentor. Whether it is personal or professional, everyone benefits from someone who guides and advises them. Athletes don’t get better at their specific sports by simply playing on their own each day. They improve by employing a coach who challenges and inspires them to grow and achieve success. Athletes also don’t improve their skills by playing teams equal to or worse than they are. They advance the most quickly when they are challenged by a better team. It is important for your mentor to be someone who may be wiser, more experienced, or more successful than you are to help you reach the goals you have.
  6. Apply your personal method of success to a current problem. What is the biggest problem you are currently facing, professionally or personally? Once you’ve identified that problem, change gears and take a moment to remember a specific moment of success in your life. What were the keys to help you achieve that success? Brainstorm a few ideas of why you think you were able to be successful in achieving the results you wanted. Over a person’s lifetime, we develop a few “go-to” methods to help us achieve success in various situations. Many times, in problem areas, if you think about it, you are usually not applying one of your normal success methods to help you through it. Now, return to that original problem. Of the ideas you’ve brainstormed, which are you currently not doing to help you tackle this issue? Apply them and you will see new direction to help you resolve it.
  7. Decide on your number-one goal and create a plan to achieve it. Make sure your goal is measurable and that there is a deadline for completion. You might think this is simple – and it is – but people often neglect to set clear goals or create so many that they do not accomplish any. I see this frequently with organizations that have so many goals that people do not know on which to focus. The result is they try to focus on many and often achieve little. Remember confusion causes delay and often failure. Clarity and focus gives us power and inspiration to achieve.
  8. Distance yourself from the dream crushers, naysayers, and negative influences. Just like we are what we eat, we are a product of the people with whom we spend our time with and the information we digest from them. With whom are you surrounding yourself? Are those people negative or are they inspiring to be around? What kind of books and materials are you reading? How much are you dwelling on negative news stories? I am not suggesting that we put our heads in the sand. I am suggesting that we fill our minds with the influences that empower us. Take the time to clean house.

If you run into challenges and need help or have questions along the way, email us at info@stevengaffney.com or call my office at 703 241-7796 and we will do our best to help you.

Radio Interview with Juanita Dillard

Last week, I did a radio interview that is a bit different than my usual radio interviews; it gives a light-hearted yet, hopefully, insightful point of view on how you can make your holidays the best they can possibly be. Scroll down and click below to listen:


How to Combat the Stress and Challenges of the Holidays

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with the holidays. It’s a great season, but it can be stressful. Here are six tips to take the stress out of the holidays and help make the season a magical one:

  1. Your focus will determine your future. Have you ever noticed that if something bad happens and you focus on it, then more bad things happen? If you think that a certain holiday function is going to be bad, then most likely it will be just that. I’m not saying that if you think happy thoughts, then you’re guaranteed happy times. That’s absurd. I am simply saying that if you focus on the positive, not only will your experiences feel more positive, but the negatives won’t feel so overwhelming. If you tell yourself that the holidays are going to be enjoyable and then you encounter a rude relative, you are more likely to take their rude behavior in stride and not allow it to ruin your holiday spirit. This in turn will affect others in a favorable way. If you don’t get rattled, others are less likely to get rattled. Remember to watch your self-talk and make sure you are not saying to yourself, “I know it is just a matter of time before something bad happens and my time is ruined.” Focus on the positive and see what happens.
  2. Handle emotions with finesse. There are many reasons people find the holidays to be stressful. Loneliness, financial pressure, and unfulfilled goals and desires are just a few. Expressing emotions is a great way for people to begin to free themselves from their built-up feelings of stress, worry, fear, and anxiety. Unfortunately, many people encourage others not to express their emotions by saying things like, “I don’t want to hear it,” or, “Get over it.” This is like putting a lid on a pot of boiling water. Eventually it will boil over, and when it does, it will be a mess. When someone is upset, the best thing to do is simply acknowledge that the person has the right to that emotion. It’s not necessary to agree with the reason they’re upset. Just say something like, “I understand you are upset” (or stressed or annoyed). This sounds simple, but unfortunately we often do the opposite and invalidate others’ emotions by saying things like, “I understand you are upset, BUT…” or, “Don’t get upset,” “Calm down,” “Don’t worry.” When we tell someone not to feel a certain way, it can actually have the opposite effect and make that person even more emotional, prolonging or even escalating the emotion. Ironically, the more we acknowledge another person’s emotions, the more likely that their emotions will be diffused, allowing us to change the subject and discuss other things.
  3. Use the Law of Reflection to your advantage. The Law of Reflection says that whatever we give out in life we tend to get back. Unfortunately, this law can work against us if we allow it to. Think about it. If someone is down, we are down. If someone is negative, we start to allow ourselves to be negative. If someone complains about someone else, we allow ourselves to get caught up in their drama. But there is no reason to allow others to set the tone for our holidays – we should set the tone ourselves. We cannot control what happens but we can control how we respond, which may in turn inspire others to respond more positively. In other words, no matter what others do, choose to have a good time and do what it takes to enjoy the holidays. This will help send the message that unlike previous holidays when we allowed others to push our buttons, times have changed. Once they get the message that there is a new sheriff in town, their bad behavior is more likely to stop and you’ll be able to have the holidays you truly desire.
  4. Don’t be stingy with your compliments. We often hold back our expressions of appreciation for one another. In fact, sometimes we reserve our compliments because we believe the person doesn’t deserve the appreciation due to something else they’ve done or because we think they’ll take advantage of it. But if the only things that come out of our mouths are negative, then others will get tired of listening to us and disconnect — even if what we have to say is “true.” Instead, keep the Law of Reflection in mind. The more we compliment, the better the holiday spirit will be. The holidays can be a great time to express how much we care for and appreciate others. After all, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring and whether each of us will be around to celebrate the next holiday together. Don’t withhold your compliments. Cherish the time and each other.
  5. Go beyond your feelings and remember why. When you can’t seem to love the holiday event or gathering, remember to love why you are there. Be the model, set the tone, and do what it takes to avoid getting caught up in other people’s drama. Choose to enjoy the holidays for the sake of your children, your spouse, your parents, and others. Give your friends and loved ones that gift. Isn’t that what the holidays are all about?
  6. Reach out and touch someone. There are a lot of lonely people out there preparing to spend the holidays alone — perhaps as a result of divorce, the loss of a spouse, a break-up, or a move. Reach out and invite them to be a part of your holiday festivities. When you do so, keep in mind that just because a person doesn’t return phone calls or e-mails, it doesn’t mean they really want to be alone. Sometimes people reject our invitations because they feel like they are not genuinely wanted or they’re afraid of being reminded of past holidays. Sometimes “No” means “Ask again and tell me you really want me to come.” Be persistent and reach out to family, friends, and neighbors. Don’t let others be alone. Maybe you can use some of these strategies to show them that the holiday season can be a great time of year. Just think how good you will feel when you reconnect with a long lost relative, or when you show a hurting friend or neighbor some true kindness and the real joy the holidays can bring.

We all say that the holidays should be a joyful time of year, but sometimes we forget that we’re responsible for making them that way. Choosing to focus on the positive and finding enjoyment in all the activities and festivities is not a selfish thing. When we choose joy, we help others do the same. By reaching out to help our friends and loved ones connect with their emotions and enjoy the holidays, we spread the holiday cheer that is the true meaning behind all the season’s celebrations. Happy holidays!

The Power of Appreciation

How to Create an Organizational Culture of Appreciation that Impacts the Bottom Line

My grandfather lived in a nursing home during the last several years of his life. During one of my visits to see him, a nurse pulled me aside and told me what a great man my grandfather was. I appreciated that and asked her why she thought so. She said, “He is one of the only people here who consistently says thank you.” That’s the power of thank you. They may be just two words in the English language, but those words mean so much to so many people. To this nurse, they meant everything.

Thank you. How often do your employees or coworkers hear those words? Many work extra hours, often for no additional money or benefit, and often without the benefit of hearing someone say thank you. Why do they do it? Because, like you, they want to make a difference in their jobs, and they want to contribute. In fact, through conducting seminars, I have learned that one of the biggest fears that people seem to have in common is the fear of dying without making a difference. We all want to know that our lives count, and we need to feel like we matter to someone. That’s what makes appreciation so powerful.

In fact, appreciation is so powerful that it affects the bottom line. People who feel valued and appreciated are more likely to remain in their jobs, making appreciation a key factor in employee retention. Furthermore, sincere expressions of appreciation open the lines of communication and improve teamwork because people tend to be more open with co-workers who appreciate the job they do. This makes people more likely to express ideas and feedback, which also positively affects the bottom line.

As managers and co-workers we often need to share difficult feedback and constructive criticism. But how often do we share positive feedback – praise for a job well done? I’m not talking about employee awards. Those have their place, but I’m talking about words. “Thank you, that was just what I was looking for.” “Thanks for the extra time that you put into this. I know you had to sacrifice some personal time.”

I heard from an employee of a Fortune 500 company who was recently nominated by her team for a formal award. She appreciates the nomination – particularly that the entire company received the text of her nomination. She said, “The public nature of it was quite validating. It doesn’t even matter if I receive the formal award. The initial nomination is enough. It makes me want to work harder and motivates me to want to invest myself more fully in what I do.” But she went on to say this: “Receiving acknowledgement from people throughout the year, in a less formal way, helps me to get through each day in a way that no amount of money could.”

When you express your appreciation, you are basically saying, “I notice you. You are important. You are significant. You are making a difference.” Acknowledging others comes with wonderful benefits. When we express appreciation, we have to think positively, at least for that moment. The more we acknowledge and appreciate others, the more positive moments we have. Over time, that makes us feel better about those around us and about ourselves.

Developing an organizational culture of appreciation may sound like a lofty goal, but it’s worth the effort. Once it gets going, appreciation is contagious. It creates positive feelings in the person saying thanks and in the one receiving it.

Do you know anyone who has ever left a job (or a relationship) because they received too much appreciation? Of course not! Now think about the people you know who have left jobs – despite a good salary and benefits – because they didn’t feel appreciated for the work they did or failed to see how they made a difference. Managers often think a salary increase is what employees value most – and for some that may be the case – but for most, receiving appreciation is even more important.

Four Keys to Effective Appreciation

To ensure that your expressions of praise and appreciation have a significant impact, remember these four keys: ISOS:

I = Immediate

Express your appreciation immediately, even if it is over the phone or via e-mail. Often we want to do something special to show our appreciation, but that can take time. It’s important to act quickly, even if it is a small token gesture. You can always do more later. If you don’t do something immediately, the person you appreciate may feel unappreciated. Seize the moment. Do it right away.

S = Specific

Make the acknowledgement specific. Rather than saying, “Thanks for all your help,” say, “Thanks for the detail you put into the report. It obviously took a tremendous amount of time and dedication.” Being specific adds importance and validity to the appreciation.

O = Often

Few people have ever suffered from too much appreciation, but many enough. Don’t be stingy. Offer it frequently, appropriately, and creatively.

S = Sincere

Say it only if you mean it. People are smart, and they can tell if you are faking it. A sincere expression of appreciation that comes from the heart is a powerful motivator.

Make It a Habit

There’s an exercise I sometimes do with my seminar attendees to help them practice the power of appreciation. I ask everyone to write down sincere compliments and “thank yous” for their co-workers. At first it feels like a silly game, but after a while people feel less awkward and begin to enjoy it. The exercise opens up lines of communication. During debriefing at the end of the seminar, people always talk about the unexpected results of this exercise. Some participants even save the notes of appreciation for years.

Many of us inherently understand the power of appreciation, but few of us practice it regularly. To successfully develop the habit of acknowledging others and expressing appreciation, ask everyone in your office to commit to appreciating five people a day for one month.

Sticky notes are a great way to express one’s appreciation. We all have them in our offices and all it takes is a quick note to say “thank you.” Adhere the note to a good report or memo you’ve just reviewed, or stick a note on your co-worker’s computer monitor or chair. However you do it, the note will always be received positively. People do save these notes and soon, you may even see these sticky-notes covering one’s office wall!

The Greatest Gift

Benjamin Disraeli said, “The greatest good you can do for another is not to share your riches, but to reveal theirs.” That is the job of any leader – of a family, of a team, of a department, or of a company. Reveal the riches in others by expressing appreciation for what you see.

Remember to say thank you. The gift of appreciation is the greatest gift you can give. Tell someone today what a difference they have made in your life. Then watch the difference you make in theirs.

The Halloween Principle


Beware of the Halloween Principle

Are there life principles that you used to live by, but now you don’t? Have you ever allowed someone to spook you to such an extent that you change your behavior? It’s natural to let someone’s bad reaction derail us from doing what we know needs to be done. I encounter this reality so often as I speak with people across the country about communication issues that I have a name for it: The Halloween Principle – because people get spooked, and then they start living according to fear rather than the life principles they believe in.

The sad part is we often do this subconsciously, meaning that we’re unaware of how much a past situation is affecting our present. If left unnoticed and unchecked, our changed behavior could even alter our future.

It often takes someone to point it out before we can say to ourselves, “That is so true. I know what needs to be done and I know certain life principles work, but I’m not living that way.”

To help you see whether you’ve been spooked, let’s look at a few life principles that most people believe in but have trouble living by because the Halloween Principle has taken over.

1. Honesty Is The Best Policy

Most people I meet believe that honesty is the best policy. They may even believe they live by it. But on further examination, they don’t. When they are upset, they stuff what they are thinking and feeling and tell others that things are okay. Or when people ask them for feedback, they spin their answers to sound nice and pleasant out of fear that if they say what they really think, that person will get defensive and react badly.

The result is that people don’t get their issues handled. In our personal lives this can lead to all kinds of trouble. Spouses fall out of love and get divorced. Kids fear telling their parents the truth or just don’t feel comfortable talking, so they stop talking with their parents and get advice and support from peers instead. Good friends get annoyed or angry, drop out of communication, and friendships slip away. When issues aren’t handled in our professional lives, program and project problems can escalate into bigger problems; good employees get fed up and leave, and clients and customers stop hiring us.

Considering all these negative ramifications, why do people continue to withhold, spin, and alter the truth when they know that honesty is integral to fixing problems? After all, someone can’t fix a problem if they don’t know about the problem.

When I ask people why they withhold or spin the truth, they often say, “I used to be more honest and straightforward. But awhile back, I was in a situation and …” And then they proceed to tell me how a boss, a spouse, a co-worker, or a friend got upset when they spoke the truth and took it out on them in one way or another. No wonder people get spooked.

2. The Law of Reflection

The Law of Reflection says that whatever we give out in life, we tend to get back. You may say if another way: what goes around comes around, you reap what you sow, do unto others, but it’s all the Law of Reflection.

Most people know this is a sound principle to live by, but few implement it to its fullest capability. For example, sometimes a person chooses not to give as much as they could because in the past they encountered someone who took and took – and kept on taking until they drained that person dry. So that person allowed someone’s selfishness to stop them from giving their heart and soul to others. In other words, they allowed the person to spook them and started to live by the Halloween Principle.

On further reflection, this person may realize that we all run into selfish people from time to time, even people so selfish that they’ll take advantage of others. But that is no reason to stop living the Law of Reflection – because there are always exceptions to the rule. In general, however, the more we give and help out others – whether that’s our boss, our co-workers, our employees, our spouse, or our friends – the better our life will work.

Choose to Overcome the Spook

No principle will always work out just right. But as a whole, these life principles do work and provide benefits to us and to others. For that reason, we have to stop letting people spook us. We need to make our choices and live by our principles rather than allowing others to derail us and dictate how we’re living.

When we become aware of the Halloween Principle, it gives us the power to choose a different course of action – the one we know is right for us.

Here are a few practical recommendations for disarming the Halloween Principle:

  1. Separate:  When you feel an internal disconnect between the way you want to live and the way you currently are living, try to remember when that disconnect started. Then ask yourself why you’re allowing that situation to continue to affect you. Maybe it is time to separate from the situation by forgiving and letting go. If you can’t let it go yet, implement some practices to work on it. If you are not sure of one, contact us and we can give you some simple recommendations that produce a profound effect.
  2. Counteract:  There are several ways to counteract the Halloween Principle. First, surround yourself with people who have the attributes you want to live by. If you believe that honesty is the best policy, make sure the people around you are willing to tell you the truth. If you want to live by the Law of Reflection, then choose to be around people who try to help out and give value to others. Another important key to counteracting the Halloween Principle is to read books and articles, listen to podcasts and radio broadcasts, and watch DVDs that provide information, advice, and encouragement to live by the principles that are important to you. Remember this: insights can happen in an instant, but sustained change takes effort, reinforcement, and reminders.
  3. Model:  In the future when you encounter someone who spooks you from being yourself, ask yourself whether this is an exception or the new rule. Remind yourself that every life principle has exceptions, but overall, they do work. Choose to live your life principles – modeling them for yourself and others – rather than being controlled by your reaction to an exception. Think about the situation as a valuable reminder of the importance of standing up for what you know is right and taking responsibility for your life.

Who have you allowed to spook you? Have you stopped living by any of your life principles? Now that you are aware of the Halloween Principle, what are you going to do about it?

If you need help or would like more information, please call us or send an e-mail to info@stevengaffney.com

Dan Rivers Radio Show

In recent weeks, I have been invited to do a number of radio interviews. In my latest interview, which is embedded below, I discuss a variety of topics; from the government shutdown, to how to facilitate more honest communication in the workplace, and what leaders can do to move their organizations forward. Enjoy the interview below, and keep me posted of your feedback.