A New View of Working Relationships: Part One-Introduction

There are certain stories we all carry around with us, certain common cultural memes that resonate. For example, we’ve all probably learned that if you show up first, work hard, and recognize your opportunities you’ll likely be rewarded, because “the early bird catches the worm.” Or that consistent effort pays off because “slow and steady wins the race.” Similarly we’ve learned a host of values and mores, all guiding us toward ways we should behave.

These stories persist into our working lives; we carry them with us wherever we go, and that includes into our organizations and into the relationships we have with others in those organizations.

But as often as these stories are true, they are also misleading. We know, for example, that it isn’t always the early bird that gets the worm, because what really pays off is to “work smarter, not harder.” We also know that the sudden burst of inspiration can lead to innovation and growth for a company—along with instant “overnight” success for those who haven’t just worked slowly and steadily hoping to win the race.

One of the most pervasive myths that we find in working with organizations is the idea that everybody knows what they need to succeed, to get their jobs done. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you: “I need so-and-so to give me this-or-that.” And it will be spoken with such surety that no one will ever question that what people say they need is precisely what they do in fact need.

But, as it turns out, it isn’t.

When the company succeeds, so too can the individuals within it. But for that has to happen there needs to be a foundational understanding between and among the people who do the work, the people who actually are the company.

It starts with understanding need, but in a way that hasn’t been truly addressed before, in a way that recognizes that needs must be surfaced quite clearly, then negotiated and agreed to, almost as if they are an internal contract between parts of the company and the individuals within those parts.

We call this the development of mutual relationships, relationships that are based on fulfilling needs for each other in the context of performing actual work tasks.

And it’s entirely new.

Over the next few weeks we plan to introduce a variety of these new concepts—concepts that will change the way you think about relationships at work.

UP NEXT: What it means to NEED things…

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Getting Unstuck: It Starts with a Question

I got stuck this past week. Twice.

Two unrelated things happened. Both left me feeling out of control and unable to unravel the twisty-turny, thorn-ridden mess before me.

First up: the next learning achievement in my PhD program. The assignment is a literature search that sounded like it would be straightforward enough, but turns out to be a bear of a project.  The problem that I’m having, though, is that I love to explore and, given the vast amount of extant literature, I get embroiled in distractions, each one potentially sending me in a slightly new direction. I’m like the lost wanderer standing at a crossroads, but each time I think I’ve made my decision I suddenly see another road opening up and I think “That might be an interesting path to poke around for a while…..” After all—endless curiosity is a boon, isn’t it? I like to think so, but my husband, less kindly, thinks I need to focus. Perhaps he’s right: too many paths definitely leave me feeling lost and, as I said, a bit out of control.

I’m starting to get through it, though, by asking myself questions like, “What’s here that is interesting?” and “What nugget is most important to me?” Those questions (and similar ones) are helping me get beyond the pile of articles, books, and the odd-and-sundry charts and graphs that litter my office floor (many of which lead down still-unexplored paths). Questions become the Geiger counter I hope will uncover the precious metal that will illuminate my ideas.

My second “stuck” experience, completely unrelated, had to do with my healthcare coverage.  This episode involved a particular medication I’d been taking for a couple of years, a compounded regimen that has improved my bone health exponentially. Up until the end of 2013 our healthcare provider covered the prescription. But with all of the health care policy changes we were switched to a new plan, one that no longer covered my prescription. My doctor and I sought an alternative, finding one that was as close as I could get to my original prescription; I bought a three-month supply, most of which was covered by insurance.
When I attempted to renew, I was told that our insurance had decided to drop that prescription and that there were no other formulations that mapped to what I had been taking–generic or otherwise.  Let’s just say, I was frustrated, confused, and angry; I felt like I had no control in the situation and was, well, stuck.

After taking deep, cleansing breaths to calm my mind, I thought…”Is there a question I can ask, something that will help sharpen my focus on solving this particular problem?”

Our pharmacy is the small-town, locally-owned kind where “everybody knows your name.”  They provide personalized service and are open to exploring options. So my husband and I dropped in on a snowy Saturday. The pharmacists and his assistants greeted us and we launched into our story—and our question. “What,” we asked, “might be our options?”

The pharmacist (dear, dear man) called us into a small consultation room and began to pick away at his computer while writing numbers on a piece of scratch paper. It turned out that one of our options—one we’d never considered to ask about—was not going through insurance at all. And, believe it or not, that option meant that I could go back to my original prescription which, when the insurance company’s computer system remained uninvolved, would costs us less than half of what we used to pay merely as a co-pay. (Don’t get me started, by the way, on how ludicrous that sounds.)

I was thrilled and surprised. And unstuck.

Getting stuck is a human condition; we can easily get caught up in what’s not possible to the point of clouding the possibilities that do exist. I have found that when I’m able to push through the cloud enough to ask questions—even a question that, on the surface, might not seem like it makes much sense—doors swing open to reveal a new view of the situation.

We all get stuck at some point. The quality of our questions can pave the way to insights that we never thought possible.

What types of questions help you get unstuck?

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Newtown and New Year: Thoughts on Change and Transition

The end of December brings many things that I look forward to, things like those overly-rich holiday treats unabashedly consumed until the last crumb (or drop!) is gone, and the hoped-for snowfall that compels us to strap on our snowshoes and take wooded hikes with our dogs.

There’s also the annual “The Lives They Lived” edition of the Sunday New York Times magazine.

Those who know me well know that I’m fascinated by obituaries. It’s not because I have a morbid streak; not at all. The interest comes from a fascination with lives, and these little snippets, simultaneously public and private, tell the simplest and most intriguing stories about people. Some I recognize and others are unknown to me, yet it doesn’t matter: I read them still. Even in their simplest form I am struck with the way they create images of lives lived, families loved, and accomplishments fulfilled.

“The Lives They Lived” that arrives on the Sunday before New Year’s Day is, for me, a rich culmination of reflection upon those lives that have transitioned before us over the past year, blending both sadness and celebration, shifts and changes, wins and defeats in its journalistic pictures and stories.

Not surprisingly, this year’s edition opens with the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. The article juxtaposes the tragedy with a much older story. In 1937, a New London, Texas elementary school blew up from a natural gas explosion. The accident claimed the lives of 295 students and teachers, making it the deadliest school disaster in our history.

Both stories depict tragedy and sorrow so great that it was (and still is) difficult to bend our minds around how such horrific things can happen. Both created an immediate groundswell of reaction aimed at fixing the problem; in the case of the gas explosion, the Texas legislature rushed to regulate the lax engineering practices that were deemed the cause of all those deaths, while with Newtown we once again struggle to understand the role of guns in our society.

What hasn’t yet garnered as much discussion are the changes all those affected are going through. And yet nascent change creeps and crawls into our consciousness, begins to unfold. New thinking comes to the surface, forcing us to explore a transitional journey that will hopefully lead to growth.

In William Bridges’ “transitions” work, he makes the point that, “[t]he transition itself begins with letting go of something you have believed or assumed, some way you’ve always been or seen yourself, some outlook on the world or attitude toward others.”

In both cases—Sandy Hook and New London elementary, there will be (and has been) a period of “letting go,” a letting go of how we view the world, what we accept and don’t accept regarding how our world is oriented around decisions, laws, and safety. It happened soon after the New London tragedy when new regulations were passed, and, as of this writing, we anticipate what will be changed regarding gun legislation and our provisions for those needing mental health services.

Regardless of the final changes, we are afforded an opportunity to shift our current mindsets, to adopt new thinking, make new decisions that will, hopefully, positively impact the lives before us. In doing so, we can generate conversation instead of conflict, possibility instead of prohibition.

Here are three suggestions that I offer to help many of us understand and even thrive through the transitions we face:

  1. Let go. Release the old thinking you might be attaching yourself to about others. Our self-propagated assumptions about others block possibility, not only for us and those we judge, but for the potential of having a relationship with them. Ask yourself these questions: What haven’t I allowed myself to see in this person? What haven’t I allowed myself to see about myself in relationship with this person? What am I not allowing myself to know? What am I pretending to know?
  2. Practice self-awareness. Carl Jung said, “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” Create quiet time for yourself to explore your inner thoughts and drives. Keep a journal and write down what comes to mind during your quiet time. We all have what it takes to change, to transition to new ways of being that we never thought possible. Questions to live in regarding practicing self-awareness might be: What is possible? Where might this take me? How might I make room for generating more possibility?
  3. Practice other-orientation. Seek out ways to become more aware of others around you and how you might contribute to their well-being and growth. As you discover new ways of being for yourself, broaden your practice by becoming more aware of others’ needs. Look for how you can help another person grow and learn.

Bridges’ work reminds us that we are always in transition—in both our personal and professional lives—and that what’s at stake is how we view ourselves, how we open ourselves to new awareness of the world around us, and that as we pay attention and get in touch with our thinking, we have the power to affect change and navigate transitions with impact and grace. Until then, our world might be held hostage to our attachment to what was and always will be rather than to the possibilities of what can be.

It’s true that tragedy focuses a lens on transition. It happened in 1937 and it happened again in 2012. But transition is something that happens every day in smaller, more private ways. Perhaps it’s these smaller ways that will eventually make the difference for all of us, personally, professionally, and socially.

Let’s work toward supporting each other and being in partnership to create positive change, embrace possibility, and navigate our collective transitions throughout 2013.

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3 Ways to Retain your Employees (Hint: It’s about Learning…)

We used to think that people leave their jobs because they weren’t earning enough, that “cash was king.” Turns out that’s not the case. Not anymore.

According to Diane Stafford, a business, economics, and workplace writer with The Kansas City Star, The biggest reason people leave their jobs today is that they’re not learning enough. She cites a recent study published by The Harvard Business Review which says that:

Multiple studies find that today’s younger workers have absolutely no intention of sticking around if they don’t feel like they’re learning, growing and being valued in a job. Beth N. Carvin, a consultant who has spent 12 years researching exit interviews, finds that a loss of training opportunities and a lack of mentors in the workplace are two of the biggest reasons why young workers leave. “Companies need to recognize that these young workers are very mobile,” Carvin said. “They have to understand that they want a personal and clearly articulated career path.”

The loss of such talent will ultimately hurt any company’s bottom line, not only because of the potential “brain drain,” but also because of the high costs of recruiting, hiring, and training replacements. Maintaining and sustaining performance, therefore, should be a key goal for your business. Retaining and providing opportunity for learning for your top talent, especially those who will potentially grow to lead your business in the future, should be a top goal.

Here are 3 important ways to create a learning-centric environment that will encourage your top, fresh talent to stick around:

  1. Provide opportunity to learn new things. Often. There’s nothing more deadening to a thirty-year-old (or younger) employee than to be stuck doing the same job the same way day in and day out. Mix it up a bit, even for entry-level folks. Is there a new project or program being talked about? Is there a new planning group bouncing around interesting ideas? Bring in the new, raw talent to be part of these forming conversations. Inevitably, you’ll find a perspective you had’nt considered, a viewpoint you hadn’t realized might be important. They’ll surprise you with what they know and what they contribute every time.
  2. Encourage mistakes and reward do-overs. Really! Nobody (not even those of us who are more “seasoned”) learns anything unless we try something once, perhaps fail, and try it again in a different way. Unless you are in the business of brain surgery, I’m guessing that there’s plenty of runway for your folks to take on new challenges and go with it. Again, the outcome will probably surprise you. More than once I’ve seen someone come up with a new way of doing things—something I hadn’t thought of—that increased everyone’s productivity.
  3. Ask them, and often try what they suggest. Initiate your conversations with a “beginner’s mind”, staying completely neutral and having no hidden agenda or preconceived outcome in mind. Be curious about what they think and where they’d go with a problem. Then, try what they come up with. This sends a powerful message that you are listening and that you respect creative opinions. This is the vortex of learning, both for you as a leader and for your workers. When you come out the other end, you’ll both be surprised at the learning that has occurred.

American author and poet Christopher Morley once said that “there are three ingredients in the good life: learning, earning and yearning.” It’s no accident that “learning” is first on the list, for without it the others are much less likely to happen. We, as managers and leaders, are in a unique position to encourage that learning in our younger staff members and, as a consequence, strengthen our organizations overall. These three ideas are just the beginning; I’m sure many of you have your own ideas as well. Please share them in the comments below.

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The Paleontology of Coaching

When I was a little girl, my family would take month-long, cross-country camping trips each summer.  After first spending weeks plotting out our route from maps strewn across our dining room table, my parents would pack us all into a van: four people and three dogs, with a trailer looming behind us, hooked by steel and tethered with cables. My brother and I would load up on books (and, in later years, 8-track tapes) to occupy our time, since at least a part of each day was spent traveling long asphalt ribbons on which the scenery rarely changed.

We hadn’t much money to spend on extraneous activities. I remember stopping at the many historic sites marked by roadside markers, lunching at the picnic tables at the roadside overlooks and, vividly, stopping at hokey rock-and-fossil tourist shacks to satisfy my brother’s and my taste for something other than American history. These ramshackle places were usually managed by a proprietor who lived in back of the gift shop.

These were my favorite places.

For a nominal fee my brother and I would each be handed bucket, shovel and pick ax (those were the days when kids were allowed to try their hand at using, by today’s standards, “dangerous” tools) and sent out behind the shack to a sad little rock pile with promises of finding something possibly rare and precious. We were so hopeful. What might we find? Could it be that on this remote road in the western desert lay buried that one gem that might bring us wealth? Would we find a fossil that, when examined by the some museum, would be the link to a long sought-after geological question?

We’d dig, pick, and turn over the earth for what seemed like hours, hearing the tinny plunk as we placed our treasures into our metal buckets.  Then off we’d go to have the shop owner sort through our findings and provide us with his wise and experienced assessment.

Looking back on these experiences, it must have been with great patience that our parents allowed us the time to go on these adventures. I’m sure they had a schedule, and that stopping at a fossil pile was not originally part of the itinerary.  Still, it gave my brother and me time to play and dream.

This experience got me thinking about coaching and how often what we are seeking to accomplish might look, at first glance, like everything else around it, another mound of earth, of rocks, of sand. How might we sort through all that is here to discover and find those most important and valuable treasures? Just as with my experience in searching for fossils, the coaching relationship takes on that same pick-and-sort, save-or-toss kind of experience.

If everything is valuable to use or save, then nothing is. It takes time, work, and curiosity to find those few, precious treasures that will guide us towards effective change.

I remember saving those rocks and fossils on my bookshelf as I grew up. They would be a reminder of happy times spent in an adventurous search for the undiscovered. Today I no longer wield either pick or shovel, except metaphorically. That I do all the time, always looking for the new, the hidden, the treasured.

How might you sift through and examine what’s most undiscovered in your life?

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Three Easy Steps to Hiring the Right Leader

Thanks this week go to our Guest Blogger, Robin Eichert of PeopleSense Consulting, for this thoughtful and interesting article.

I wish I could tell you that every person I ever hired worked out perfectly. They didn’t.

There were some great hiring decisions I made when I was managing boatloads of people, and also some wonderful outcomes when I’ve been a part of a hiring team. But, unfortunately, there have been a few notable flops as well.

Sometimes I could tell after a few days, other times it took a few months, but in the general scheme of things, it didn’t take long before I knew I had made a mistake.

We all know how critical a decision it is when we bring a new person on to a leadership team. Of course we expect high levels of skill and competence in their area of expertise, but even that can easily be misjudged, especially if we only go by the information they provide about their past experiences. Just because someone has been a CEO at a company before doesn’t necessarily mean they were a good one.

When we hire into a management role, we don’t usually plan for the same generous ramp-up time that we do in entry-level or middle-management roles, either. We expect leaders to hit the ground running, making changes that will turn around big issues that we’ve been struggling with, either because the last person in the role wasn’t successful or our growth demands new expertise.

There is a lot resting on this new person’s shoulders from Day One—and yours, too, if you make the wrong choice.

What makes it so hard to get the hiring decision right?

There are a number of factors, but I believe the most common reason for failure when hiring at the executive level is that the person doesn’t fit the culture of the organization. We move too quickly when we get absorbed in all they say they are capable of doing, or we make a decision because we genuinely like the person sitting across the table. We fail to explore how they achieved their results, what methods or systems they used, and then evaluate if that approach will be effective in our culture.

There are three steps you can take to increase your odds of success. These steps aren’t difficult; it just takes discipline and commitment to the process.

  • Slow down. Hold multiple conversations with the candidate, even if on the phone, to explore different topics. Ask about the person’s past experiences, and listen carefully. Be curious about the types of projects they got involved in, understand the process they took to move it along, what results occurred, and what lessons were learned? Listen for realistic situations and honest recollections; be wary of sugar-coated stories where everything went right all the time.
  • Use assessments. Getting objective data absolutely helps you understand a candidate more thoroughly. None of us can uncover the nuances in a typical interview that you will learn from using a reliable, valid assessment instrument. There are great tools on the market; explore the ones that you feel comfortable with and that measure the areas that are important to you. Ask for reliability and validity scores from the publisher to ensure that you can trust the data.
  • Understand your organization’s culture. If you aren’t clear in your own mind what the important characteristics of your culture are, then you are destined to bring on someone that doesn’t fit it. For example, does your organization make decisions quickly without much involvement or discussion throughout the functional teams, or do changes in policy take time and consideration from multiple groups before moving ahead? Understand how the candidate’s natural style matches to your organization or you will introduce conflict and frustration before anyone gets on solid ground. You may want this hire to effect a change in your current methods, and that can work, too. But you have to know the starting point and where you’re headed.

Want to make the perfect choice every time? I wish I could tell you that you will.

Be thoughtful in your process, be curious about the other person, and understand what you want. Glaring differences will uncover themselves when you focus on the cultural fit between the candidate and your organization. Discovering that will be beneficial to everyone involved.

These are easy steps. Not foolproof. But what do you have to lose?

Robin Eichert is the Owner and Principle of PeopleSense Consulting LLC.  PeopleSense helps business leaders select and retain inspired employees who match the job and fit the culture of their organization. Together, we can create respectful, productive, and rewarding workplaces.

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4 Tips for Anyone Who Needs to Begin Something…Anything!

I’m sitting here, stuck for something to write about, so I’ve decided to write about it.

It doesn’t matter if you are a leader, coach, homeworker or student, I’ll bet there have been times when you’ve been stuck about how to move forward with a project or with your things-to-do list. Perhaps you’re a bit distracted by something that happened at home that morning. Or maybe you’re facing a tough nut and haven’t yet had that eureka moment that will help crack it open.  Or maybe you’re just simply blocked, short of ideas and frustrated.

I know I’ve been there (many times), and what I’ve slowly discovered is that by tapping into these four behaviors, I’ve been able to get myself refocused and unstuck, allowing me to move forward toward what I want to achieve.

Here are four things I do to get myself going:

Just Start — It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But the fact is that you can’t get moving until you start to move.  It doesn’t always matter how or what you do; just begin by picking up a pen, contributing a thought, initiating a conversation. The rest will oftentimes follow. Just think to yourself: “Why not?” and “If not now, then when?” Sometimes just one step towards your “doing” will gain you the momentum you need.

Just Breathe — Sometimes, by taking the time to take a deep breath, getting in touch with what you are feeling and calming yourself, you can get clear about the one thing that might be getting in your way. Reflect upon and identify what might be getting you stuck. Is your inner critic questioning your original idea? Is there someone’s approval your trying to get? Taking that extra moment–changing your “space, place or pace”– can often release whatever’s blocking you.Try it in whatever way you feel comfortable. It’s really quite powerful.

Just Ask — Asking those whom we care about and whom we respect can provide us with a broader view and additional insights. Anais Nin once said that, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Sometimes we need to get out of our own way to see clearly. Allowing ourselves to detach from our own thinking and consider someone else’s perspective may give us the shift we need.

Just Walk – Taking time away can often open new ways of thinking. Take a walk, outside if possible.  Notice your surroundings, listen to nature, recharge your brain. We know that our brains need oxygen to function. That fabricated cubicle and formaldyhyde-laden carpeting may be clogging up the pathways to your eureka moment. I’ll bet that the unknown British chap who first coined “stop and smell the flowers” had this in mind.

Sometimes just one of these things will do the trick; other times it may be a combination, so feel free to pick and choose. Whatever helps you get yourself unstuck is fine. The point here is to take one step outside the space called “being stuck” and see what happens. My guess is that you’ll quickly find yourself back on track.

What have you tried that has helped you get unstuck?

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Getting (something) Out of a Scrape: 4 Questions to Ask Yourself

I have an artist friend who oil-paints en plein air; he goes outside, sets up his easel and whatever he sees in front of him, he paints. It’s a very in-the-moment type of art.

I asked him one day if he ever wishes he had an Edit|Undo option in his paintbrush. He laughed and said, “Yes!” then told me a story about a time when he attended a workshop taught by a renowned painter.  On one particular late afternoon my friend returned from a day of painting and the instructor asked how his day had gone. My friend said, “It was a ‘scraper’”.

“What’s that?” you might ask. A “scraper” is when an artist, unsatisfied with what he’s spent several hours toiling over, takes his trowel and scrapes everything he’s painted off the canvas, leaving it bare and wanting. Personally, I can’t imagine how difficult a decision that must be, what it must have taken for him to recognize that all his time, his effort, needed scraping away. Possibly he learned something, possibly he realized something; yet still, the work was gone.  And how and when, I wondered, did he know that the scene on the canvas in front of him had reached that point?

Then I realized that we all have our “scrapers.” As HR executives and as leaders we are constantly faced with such situations.  Maybe a training program isn’t working out the way we thought it was, or a recruiting strategy isn’t producing the results we expected.  How often might we hasten to scrape what we are working on or have worked on?  And how do we know we’re not dismissing those efforts in haste? Might there be opportunities to stop, wait and consider what might be preserved? I submit that there are and propose four questions to consider when deciding when to toss or keep:

1. What might I have if I keep it as it is? Perhaps there is something of value or something someone else can use. It’s always worth taking a few minutes to think this point through.  Once scraped, whatever we’ve done is gone and we can’t usually get it back. Perhaps even asking someone else’s opinion would be worthwhile.

2. What is here that I’ve not explored? Sometimes we want to get rid of something because it doesn’t fit the purpose for which it was originally intended; put another way, a good idea or a good effort may simply be targeted at the wrong purpose.  Is there another way to use this? A different kind of value?

3. How can I make sure I remember what I’ve learned? As my painter friend reminded me, there’s always something to learn, even from a failed attempt.  In fact, if we don’t sometimes fail, it’s arguable that we never learn.  So I always take the time to jot down the few kernels of value that have come from my efforts–even if the value is noting what not to do again.

4. In the bigger scheme of life, how important is this? All too often we let our egos and emotions guide us.  What will people think of us if we admit to a “scraper?” Will we feel like we’ve failed and will others see us that way? But that’s not what’s important: what’s important is the doing and the learning–at least as much as the achieving–and I always try to remember this, and to remind others of it, too.

Sometimes scraping is the right thing to do, but it’s important that we know why.  Asking these questions always seems to help me.  Are there others that help you?

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Being and Influence: We Lead as We Are

I’ve been thinking a lot about influence lately and about how our everyday, small behaviors and attitudes impact those around us.  Eleanor Roosevelt, possibly the most dynamic First Lady in our history, writes that “The influence you exert is through your own life, and what you’ve become yourself.”

This is true both in our home lives and in our work lives, in our spiritual lives and in our mundane lives.  When we awake in a bad or a good mood our husbands or wives, our children, are influenced by how we feel. Even my pets, I’ve noticed, pick up on the little signals I give off.  Those around us influence us in return, their own signals effecting small changes in our reactions, our thoughts, our feelings.

As leaders we obviously exert influence on those we lead, but how we influence those people is up to us.  We can pressure, insist, demand and force.  We can coax, cajole, persuade and convince. Certainly there are times when any of these approaches may be needed, but our approach, our preferred behavior, will have a long-lasting effect on those people.  We should never forget that the way we influence them will impact the way they influence others when some of them, too, become leaders in their own right.

How do we consciously influence others to be good influencers?  How do we teach negotiation, compromise and consensus through our influence?  There are scores of books on the subject, from “How to Win Friends and Influence People” to “The Art of Woo.” How do we pick and choose not only what works, but what will work for others who learn from us? What tenets do you subscribe to?  I’m interested in hearing what you think.

Renee

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Hoarding is Sometimes on the Inside…

Everyone has a guilty pleasure or two.  Without them I don’t think we’d be the people we are. Oh, there may be one or two people out there who claim to watch only Public Television (always said with capital letters) and to never eat at McDonald’s, but do we really believe them?  And don’t we think them a little odd?  No, guilty pleasures are everywhere.  My husband, for example, is debating whether to go see the Monkees on tour this summer.  And I have another good friend who seems to know far too much about Snookie….

So I’ll admit it:  I like “Hoarders.”

For those of you pretending not to know what I’m talking about, “Hoarders” is a show on the A&E Network, now in its 3rd season.  It has racked up over 40 episodes, all with essentially the same theme:  an otherwise very nice person has a terrible obsession: hoarding things.  Buying, boxing, hanging, crating, piling, cataloging and saving… things.  Things and more things.  For many it has led to divorce, loss of a business, even criminal charges.

Despite the “watching a train wreck” fascination of the show itself (I did say it was a guilty pleasure), each episode is about a real person, trapped.  And not just by the things around them, but by their own obsessions and habits and (in some cases) real illnesses.

But how much hoarding is more subtle, more amorphous?  How often do we collect and save, not physical things, but emotional ones? A grudge here, a slight there.  Impatience.  Failure to listen. Disrespect.  Now and then these things happen to everyone (and, by the way, now and then we do them ourselves).  When we’re healthy we deal with them through caring conversation, or, sometimes, by recognizing them for the accident they are and then just letting them go.  But not always.

Now with every client I meet, I look for this type of hoarding. I ask questions designed to help people unpack such behaviors and, when they find them, to uncover what might be packed behind those behaviors.  And I, as their coach, need to recognize those behaviors in myself, too, in order to be in the best service for my clients.  We should all be looking for those small piles of mental and emotional artifacts that get in the way of our being our best selves.  They’re always there, and we must always be working to find them, sift through them, and throw away what no longer works for us, what no longer matters, what only holds us back.

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