The Positive Stories Project (TPSP)

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I had breakfast with an old friend this morning. He asked me about work and I just unloaded everything. I think I was just so relieved to have someone I could speak with about it that even though I could hear myself and the red flags popped up that the content was a little heavy for this reintroduction, I just didn’t stop.

 

slide 2By the time we parted, I apologized, because I knew that it was wrong, I just couldn’t seem to control the impulse to talk about it, and he confirmed my fears by saying, well maybe the next time I see you we can chat you’ll have some more positive stories to share. And I felt sick. I knew I was being kind of a downer. I kept apologizing for doing it, but it was like word vomit. I couldn’t make myself stop. Actually, the truth is, that I did make it stop, but the next time I opened my mouth again to talk about something else, I kept referencing my own experience which only reinforced my anxiety and made me more nervous.

That’s not good.

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As I walked away with this toxic pit in my stomach, I realized that I had poured so much energy into trying to work my way out of this negative experience that my whole identity had become wrapped up into it. I was either this person who felt like a victim in this scenario, or this person who was intentionally practicing these other coping behaviors because I didn’t want to feel like a victim in this scenario.

What I would have liked to have been, was this person who was able to charm and entertain others with these really awesome, inspiring and uplifting stories; and I honestly didn’t have any to tell, unless I talked about the really small stuff, the little everyday miracles that bore most people and make people want to find someone else to hang out with, someone who’s life is a little more exciting. So the little bits of info that my friend and I talked about didn’t have the same kind of emotional tags and we ended up chatting about the sucky parts of our stories because that’s the kind of energy I contributed.

So I made a decision to sit down at the coffee shop and sketch out a storyboard for what I imagined would be a really great story about me and my friend eating breakfast and me complaining the whole time, me having this realization, and then sitting down and drawing a comic strip for a segment I’d like to integrate into this blog called “The Positive Stories Project.”

slide 4I probably should have picked a different location, because I ran into some old friends who were visiting in town. They asked me what I was up to, how I liked my job, etc. and I made an effort to be positive. But my responses came across as kind of cryptic and weird. You could tell that I was giving kind of a manufactured answer, so they kind of automatically assumed the worst. Then I’d have to go, “well it’s not really that, I’ve had an opportunity to learn ___ from this experience.” And the conversation just kind of dragged on. So I kind of changed the subject and tried to make things as pleasant as I could, but my anxiety at “being found out” kept growing, so at the first opportunity, I ditched them for someone else (almost as if I had the opportunity for a do-over) and extended the appropriate pleasantries for exiting and that was kind of the end of it.

Ironically enough, the person I ditched them for, was there to meet up with the old friend I had just had breakfast with, so I kept the pleasantries simple, briefly explained why I would not be able to hang with them (I was honest about having been kind of a downer earlier since it was someone who was already kind of familiar with my situation and she was super supportive and understanding about it. – She even offered to take our old friend to see her new dog so as to change the vibe for a moment). Then I bolted to the outdoor patio and buried my head in a book.

Speaking of irony, the chapter that I read was about how Inappropriate Self Interest leads to errors we believe will produce short-term gains but instead, produce long-term damage. Yeah, so that happened…

 

slide 5My old friend and other friend stopped briefly to greet me as if I hadn’t seen them earlier and I wished them a great outing and pretended to be deeply engrossed in the reading for my book. Then I read for awhile until I was distracted by an old acquaintance who I talked with about this moped he found on Craigslist that he hoped to buy. Then he asked me how I liked my job; he had recently seen me when he stopped by for information because he assumed that the job should be pretty cushy. I explained that it should be, but that I didn’t expect to be in the position much longer. And we talked a bit and he seemed pretty engaged, so I just kind of let him coax the story out. I felt better afterward, because I had done a better job of avoiding the details and put more of a positive spin on the story, abbreviating the negative parts with descriptions like “misaligned ethics,” “not on the same page when it comes to our operations process,” and my favorite statement, “the reality of working within conflicting boundary constraints, especially when you’re able to quantify it is that when you follow instructions and do what’s asked that when people get the results that they’ve asked for, the reality is that everyone ends up disappointed. Then we discussed whether it would be beneficial or detrimental to include a histogram graphing out the performance progressions/ regressions and how they correlated with the workers performance over the range of time in which the policies were re-structured.

It was a helpful conversation that was very solutions focused. I was obviously craving the need to have someone help me kind of work through it, but I was also kind of bummed that I had not followed through with my intention to publish my storyboard. I decided to change venues hoping that I might be able to find some inspiration with a change of scenery.

 

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Of all of the places to run into people, I found a slew of them on the scenic route home. I happen to live near the college where I went to school and it just so happens that some of the younger siblings of my old classmates were going to be graduating from college this weekend. So not only did I run into my old classmates, but also their very large families. It appears that they had all gathered down at the local park near the cross country trail and had begun to grill up burgers, chicken, etc. Now when I say large families, let’s just say that there were approximately 6 families there by the time I left, the largest had 12 immediate family members (which doesn’t include extended relatives). The next largest family had 9 of the 10 family members present and so on…

Interestingly enough, although I didn’t know their families well, I was the only one there who had stayed at each of their residences (mostly on account of my own family situation is rather complicated, and it creates a fair amount of anxiety to have to explain why I don’t go home for holidays to my friends parents, so I generally avoid family events unless someone has gone out of their way to invite me). Even so, I found myself going through the process of introducing parents at an event to which I hadn’t even been invited. So after the initial introductions and talking with some of the less assertive parents for a bit, I eventually excused myself and made a ghost retreat before too many people noticed.

I felt bad for leaving, and probably would have benefitted from to social activity, especially where play was concerned. But for some reason it didn’t feel appropriate. Plus, some of the families were very different in values and I could see the tension building from some of the more conservative graduates, who were worried that one of her friend had arrived to the event in a very short mini skirt and was slightly inebriated. I actually heard one of the parents (not her own) tell her that her initial reaction was, “wow it’s impressive that you can pull that off, but what in the HELL are you wearing?” And that wasn’t even any of the more conservative parents.

So yeah, that’s right about the time that I left…

The good news is I didn’t talk about myself. It was nice to shift my attention elsewhere for once but I did get that overwhelming sensation that I was grossly out of practice. So I can definitely see some benefit toward using a project like the positive stories project as a mechanism to reinforce the behavior I would like to see. That being said I was able to achieve two outcomes as a result:

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1)      I actually completed a digital version of my storyboard (the dialogue boxes illustrate how much I feel like I dominated the conversation in each situation) and

2)      I completed the first step of my positive stories project by acknowledging what kind of energy I contributed toward those interactions and making a vigilant effort to correct it.

This doesn’t mean that I’m out of the woods, when it comes to my work life just yet. But as long as I have other things to focus on that are independent of that experience, I think that I can start to repair the impulse control portions that have apparently been damaged by internalizing all of this nonsense. And if these positive psyche theories are correct, I should go back to being a happier person again because of it.

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These were some ideas of things I could try for TPSP. I don’t have to be successful at them, I just have to try these out and try to turn it into a positive story. 🙂

 

Move over Bucky; I too want to make a good story…! 🙂

A bumpy ride…

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I’m really excited for you to read tomorrow’s post, but for now I want to reflect upon my experience tonight at the neighborhood gym.  Let’s just say that I ran into some coworkers that had deviated from their regular workout schedule (which sucks, because I like going at night because I don’t have to deal with all of the weird catty and hormonally charged social dynamics. Seriously, if I wanted to watch a bunch of toddlers exhibit bad peer influence, ruin reputations and congregate in the middle of the floor, I’d go to the mall, not the gym). One member of this group who had dropped in for social hour was the incumbent supervisor I mentioned in an earlier post. I suppose she saw me coming around the corner and made it a point to mention to the person that she was talking to how excited she was to be moving on to her Teach for America position in Indianapolis where she would FINALLY GET TO BE TREATED LIKE AN ADULT.  I didn’t know whether to chuckle at the folly of her passive aggressive gesture or cringe at her blatant attempt to be obnoxious.  But I did a quick mental assessment to remind myself that although it pained me to watch, I didn’t have anything at stake that would merit my investment in continuing to internalize it.  I only wish my kidneys had gotten the message.

I pretended as if I didn’t hear and was polite to her as I quickly greeted the group, making a special effort not to interrupt on my way to the locker room. Then I headed to the smith machine and cranked out 36 squats hoping that the physical exertion and the terrible performance of the Miami Heat against Indiana would be a good distraction.  But once the young woman positioned herself on the treadmill across from me, the thought occurred to me,”well if you have to tell people that you’re an adult in order to convince them, then you’re probably not demonstrating it well.”  That’s when I had to acknowledge that despite my best efforts to focus on something more constructive, I was hooked.

So I did what any good little fitness buff would do, and upped the intensity of my workout (no I didn’t do plyo, but I think it might be good to develop so I can move some of my workouts back outdoors).  When I finally got to dumbbell squats however, queen bee and a group of her buddies congregated to my corner of the weight room and I completely spaced on the positioning of my hands on the dumbbell.  I ended up using like 3 different hand positions until I decided to settle on the one that felt the most natural… which as it turns out, was not the version I wanted to use, but was fine enough to get me out of there.  Then I ducked back to the water fountain to hydrate, get my head together and I plugged my headphones into the av jack on a treadmill that wasn’t in view.

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Before I cranked up the pace to full gear, I turned the tv station on to nick-at-nite to watch the episode of Full house. It was the episode where Danny and Jessie find out that DJ is dating Viper, the mullet wearing man-child from Uncle Jessie’s band.  Danny kind of dresses DJ down about the guy because he’s offended that she’s sneaking around (which I thought was valid), but then he negates his position by belittling the guy, which only makes her want to be with him more (if only Danny had read Dan Ariely‘s book he’d have understood that the combination of frustration attraction and making the guy seem unattainable only increase his value).  Meanwhile, uncle Jessie had taken his family with him on tour only to discover that the raunchy hotel room that he used to have fun hanging out in when he hung out with groupies wasn’t really suitable for his new family and that maturity had changed his expectations A LOT.

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I could relate. I even dropped my pace a hair because I wanted to finish out the episode.  Then out of the corner of my eye, I notice the group begin to inch into view, so I went into a cool down about 15 minutes into my run and eventually fled the cardio room.  On my way out, I ran into someone I knew who just happened to be the ex-boyfriend of the incumbent’s roommate, of who she’d formally made a campaign to bully back in school.  To give a full context, the guy was a total jerk back then.  He used to be really arrogant and difficult to work with, and I tried to warn him about burning bridges before he got kicked out of school.  I hesitated for a moment and then greeted him, just out of sight and asked him how he’d been coping since he got out of school.  It appeared that life had not been so kind, but that he’d recently reapplied to school and I wished him luck.  Then I disclosed that I’d made a similar mistake when I was younger and how the consequences I’d experienced had taught me a lot about humility and had instilled a new-found sense of gratitude that when I finally went back to school that I got to look at all of the experiences afterward with a fresh new lens, and that I’d found a college willing to invest in me buy giving me a second chance (tuition free). He agreed. We also talked about how both of our siblings had suffered similar consequences and how they’d matured since then.

If I was being “stalked” or intimidated by the incumbent before, my anxiety dissipated once I saw her poke her head out of  the weight room. I guess she wasn’t too keen on the conversation, because she left me alone after that, although I did  overhear her mention to her roommate that she’d seen me talking to him in the stairwell of our apartment building (unfortunately she lives across the hall from me, so I won’t be able to escape her until she moves). But I don’t think that will escalate into conflict or anything.  Her roommate used to work for me, so she knows my character better than the incumbent does, and she’s the type that would ask me directly about it rather than escalate it or passive aggressively use it as an excuse to be cruel.

On my way home, I walked by the police station and apparently there’s something going down in town, because a bunch of squad cars raced down the road in the opposite direction of where I was headed.  I said a brief prayer for the safety and comfort of those involved and then realized how grateful I felt to be headed in the opposite direction of the danger, both physically and ideologically.  For the first time in a few weeks I genuinely felt grateful for this experience.  I was grateful that I didn’t have to repeat those lessons, grateful for the confirmation and reminder that failure and self-sabotaging behavior doesn’t have to be the end of the road, thus absolving me of the need to keep making an emotional investment that was inevitably (as I’d hesitantly predicted over and over again) with low returns.  Even though I feel as if it’s my responsibility to model and instill constructive behavior, if someone feels threatened because I’ve taken an interest in them, it doesn’t mean I’ve failed, it means they’ve got a bumpy road ahead, but sometimes those failures can lead us to better places… and this young person (who is eager to take on the responsibilities of being an adult) just signed with Teach for America for 2 YEARS (so if she sticks it out, she’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn humility and maturity from her peers and students … and TFA doesn’t exactly have the best reputation for attrition).

What I’ve learned and we discussed tonight, is that once you go back and make an effort to correct your mistakes, most people are pretty resilient and get along much better after they’ve matured a bit a few years after they’ve left college.  I met with one of my old college supervisors (who I hired as my replacement and then didn’t leave) who I clashed with because of ideological differences in regards to how to enforce policy in our office.  And we hung out last week for a few hours and regaled each other with tales of our bumpy transitions after college…

…”oh to be so full of certainty and sure of EVERYTHING… even when we were right we were wrong…”

 

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If you knew back then (before you embarked out into the “REAL WORLD,”) what you know now, what kinds of behaviors would you have avoided?

18 ways to be more positive at work

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Found this on Linkedin today.  Thought I’d include it with some of the coping strategies I keep listed on a post it I have hanging from my computer monitor at my desk.

Sizing me up

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So problematic worker surprisingly enough was in a good mood yesterday.  I spent the first part of her shift under the Martine’s protocol (only contributing to the conversations when I could add something pleasant, taking an interest in the other participants and politely excusing myself to work on another assignment when I began to feel myself become too anxious or hyper-vigilant). This worked well until the shift change when her clients and peers left and I found myself alone with her in the cubicle.

Thankfully we had a events occurring at our venue later this week and there was a day when they’d scheduled to turn the water off, so it allowed me to concentrate very intently on producing and distributing good signage around the building.  After I’d hung about 27 signs on each of the 3 stories, I came back to my desk to determine what other work I could do, but I suppose she was lonely or something, because she whipped her phone out and asked me whether or not I wanted to see a picture of her friend’s puppy (her friend had initially texted her to inform her that she’d planned on going out to get a tattoo and somehow came home with a puppy instead).  Then she told me about new phone cases she bought and some other stuff and I made an attempt to appear to be listening while I began to work on my next project because I didn’t expect her good mood to last long.

Then she did something surprising, she complimented me.

 

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I forgot that I’d mentioned I’d bought this little bauble on ebay only it turned out to be much larger than I realized, so it felt kind of gaudy to wear daily, but I’d paired it with a sand colored shirt layered over a chambray top and topped with a brown quilted vest.

 

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She really liked the fox, to which my response was, “…what this little ole thing? well thank you.  It’s so big I wasn’t sure when I would have the occasion to wear it.” Then she complimented me again, but made sure to note specifically that she thought that I also looked “super cute” on Friday, the day of “the clipboard” incident.  Apparently she was a big fan of not only the scarf, which had generated a lot of buzz by lunchtime, but also the other accessories I’d paired with it — over my white long sleeve shirt and black trousers.

 

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So I felt pretty good about things, for awhile.  I’d overheard that one of the clients who happened to linger a little longer at her desk than usual had just asked her out, so I kind of hoped that would be a good enough distraction to keep her occupied and in good spirits for awhile.

I was just grateful to see that she was making an effort to be nice.

Things even went well into today for the first hour of her shift.  I kept up as many social graces and just focused upon rapport building with our clients.  She did mention that she didn’t have breakfast this morning and she thought it made her mean when she hadn’t eaten.

Then after awhile, when I redirected the conversation back toward work and opened up a discussion asking her how she made decisions about what she prioritized for cleaning, because we had a few areas that were time sensitive, she got really nasty with me, so I literally just rolled my chair back into the corner and went back to my computer.

Later she tried to joke with me about one of her peers who had given her a Snicker’s Bar last night because he’d told her that, “she got really mean when she was hungry” I responded by saying, “well yeah, I wasn’t really sure how to respond to it, so I just figured it was better for me to find something else to do.” Then she told me a story about how she unnecessarily berated one of her friends over something really petty hoping that I’d understand.  But I didn’t.  I simply replied, “I suppose we should probably look at keeping some food back here then” and went back to my work.

Consequently, our cubicle right now is dead silent.  I’d actually started this post last night because I was looking forward to acknowledging that something positive happened and that perhaps I was being hyper-sensitive.  But I suppose when you’re in a capacity where you’re responsible for teaching someone else but you don’t have any real authority over them, sometimes you have to recognize that some people just aren’t receptive to being helped no matter how much you try to take an interest in them.

I would like to be able to say that I have an excellent ability to build rapport with people, and for the most part that is honestly true.

But there are certain patterns of behavior that really hinder that process, and I don’t know how to convey that to any person who knows better but does not respect themselves enough to value their relationships. I know technically by drawing a nonverbal boundary and making it evident that her emotional outburst are not acceptable, goes contrary to the rules of establishing rapport:

Rapport is important in both our professional and personal lives; employers are more likely to employ somebody who they believe will get on well with their current staff.  Personal relationships are easier to make and develop when there is a closer connection and understanding between the parties involved – i.e. there is greater rapport.

 

But I don’t believe it’s wise to set a precedent where I condone that kind of behavior or reinforce it as a behavioral norm. From what was articulated to me, it either sounds as if her friends have either enabled her behavior our of fear that they won’t be accepted or they’ve given it right back to her, which is what I’d more than likely do if she didn’t work for me.

 

I’ve done it with my peers (and am hereby known as the preppy feminist one), but have mitigated the incidents of considerable bullying.  I just worry that if I do cross that line I run the risk of being perceived as a bully.  And as we all know, perception may not be reality, but it can definitely have similar impacts and can also escalate very quickly. So it isn’t my preferred method of conflict resolution unless I have the resources and support I need to address things directly and ethically.

 

So I’m hoping that once I am able to formally address her about her behavior, we can put a stop to this although it’s good that she’s starting to think about these things. What I don’t want to happen is that I move to soon and exacerbate the situation to where she increasingly recognizes that she does something wrong but feels entitled to make poor choices anyway (which is a variation of the unhealthy behavior I had been witnessing).

 

I’m reminded of a quote I read fairly recently from an article that mentioned that
Although these problems are serious, it is important for supervisors to see the difference between employees who don’t do their work properly because they choose not to and employees who don’t do their work because they need help.
This is one of those things that I already know, but when you don’t have the authority to do anything about, it can cause you to second guess yourself. Several weeks ago I had no problem acknowledging that this was a person who valued being accepted more than they did being led, and that her unwillingness to contribute was what made her an outlier more than her lack of expertise.
There’s always a fear that focusing too much upon these kinds of issues will create a pattern of damage or mis-align focus and energy that I could be using to be productive.  But I just read an article that shared

 

When our brain attempts to solve a problem, it wants to be energetically efficient. So it begins by searching for surface answers—those that are easy and obvious. When it’s addressing a question, the brain combs the data “files” of what popular culture thinks of as the “left hemisphere” to find out if it’s seen the problem before. It doesn’t want to invent a solution if one already exists.

 

If there is no familiar and readily available response, that’s when our brain dedicates more energy to draw on deeper resources. It invites the more intuitive and imaginative right hemisphere to participate in solving the problem, scanning remote but possibly relevant memories and abstractions that could provide it with a solution. This information would normally be tuned out by the left hemisphere but has become available in a time of need. (Read: When we’re in that corner.)

 

In other words, solving higher-order, creative problems, requires the types of people who can activate the entirety of their brain, the analytical and the insightful, in order to push, poke, prod, plumb their contents and experiment with that content in order to tease out alternate solutions.

 

So perhaps wrestling with this challenge for a little bit will direct me to some good information about how teachers use classroom management techniques and other administrators have been able to clarify boundaries and create breakthroughs to correct challenging behavior.  I believe it will ultimately come down to finding a way to reinforce acceptable norms so that the worker understands what is healthy and acceptable behavior.  I have a book on how to create a nurturing home environment for step children, but one of the things they emphasize is creating shared expectations and a partnership among both parents, which in this case, I’d have to really work to create leverage before I gain that level of support.  Standard protocols for these approaches that I’d have to develop strategies for include:
A Sample Protocol for Resolving Challenging Behaviors
1. Maintain ongoing observation and documentation of every child.
2. In reflective supervision, review these questions (Wittmer and Petersen, 2006):
a. What is the child experiencing? What is the child’s perspective on the situation?
b. What, when, where, how, and with whom is the behavior occurring?
c. What is the child communicating that he wants or needs? What is
the purpose of the child’s behavior? What is the meaning of the child’s
behavior?
d. What do I want the child to do?
3. Meet with the family to deepen and share understanding.
4. Determine a consistent plan for intervention.
5. Continue observation and documentation to provide data for evaluating improvement and ensuring the consistency of the intervention.
6. Consult with a mental health professional if the child is not responding and the persistence, frequency, and duration of the behavior is not improving.
7. Determine whether further referral to community resources is necessary through discussion with family, the supervisor, and the mental health consultant.

 

So what’s the lesson from all of this?

For millennials: I’d be sure to keep in mind that when you are in the workplace that people aren’t going to want to invest in you if you build a reputation of being hard to manage or difficult to get along with.
For employers: Please make sure that your organization has a mechanism for mediation, or that you train your management staff and hold them accountable for their workers so that conflicts don’t arise from poorly articulated  boundaries.
If you’re suffering from this problem: Give yourself permission to lighten up when you can, but don’t take on too much guilt if you find yourself compulsively working to find a solution to the problem.  Just be sure to take care of yourself (diet, exercise, rest, play, etc.) and don’t be afraid to seek out help.

We’re Going to be Alright

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Say to yourself, regardless of what you are facing…I’m going to be all right. Create an energy of peace, healing and hope around yourself. Whatever it is…finances, unexpected challenges, health concerns, job security, or long-term changes in your life situation.

Despite what you see, hear, and feel…say to yourself…I’m going to be all right. Calm your mind, speak to your body, rest your spirit. Allow yourself to relax so that you can sleep at night. With this mindset, you will be all right!! You Deserve!

—Les Brown

Sometimes when we’re under duress, we can become shell shocked by the challenges we face, become exhausted and deplete our inner reserves of oxytocin (trust) and dopamine (what we find rewarding). Since I never did make up a decision about what to give up for Lent this year, (last year it was negativity…. the outcome of which was AWESOME), I’ve decided that for the remainder of this Lent that I’m going to create a log of activities, experiences and people that I find replenish those reserves — which means that I’ll have to be intentional about creating experiences to discover these things. I have a pretty good list already that I keep at my desk, but I’m hoping that I can implement some of these into my daily practice so that I can anchor some of these behaviors in response to undesirable behaviors. Currently in real time my favorite go-tos are either talking it out (my first go-to) finding tasks that let me appear to be productive but more importantly remove me from the undesirable behavior (when I find that talking doesn’t seem to be effective), or finding another person (usually another person or client) I can take an interest in to change the vibe rather than focus upon the person being rude. A.k.a. modeling the behavior I’d like to see.

I like the idea of imprinting biochemical markers, because I think our first inclination is react (or in my case to withdraw since liability risk is a considerable anchor I have to factor in), so this acknowledges that feedback from those red flags and allows me to redirect my energies to the kind of behaviors that are designed to keep me emotionally and psychologically healthy too.