Eye Contact

I love going to the grocery store !! I mean it. I love going every time. I meander up and down every aisle even though I have a list and don’t need something from every aisle. I enjoy searching for those hard to find items that you need to make sure your recipe is complete. The mix of people walking to and fro doesn’t phase me at all. In fact, I love seeing them !!

Almost every time I visit the grocery store, I get pulled aside by someone who is a stranger and they ask me to get an item for them from a top shelf because I’m taller than most. I love when this happens !! It fills my bucket to grab that hard to reach yogurt or box of cereal to helps someone out.

One thing that I notice when I walk through the store is the lack of eye contact. Even though the store is usually teeming with people, very few people connect visually. It’s astonishing to me.

Here’s my quick, obligatory HR disclaimer . . .

I know that I’m an extreme extrovert. Whenever I’ve taken assessment that measure extroversion, I’m at the top of the scale every time. I keep that in mind when I write about interactions with others. However, I still have observations that I feel can apply to one and all.

Now, back to the post !!

The reason I bring this up is that it seems that people are far more focused on getting to the task at hand while casually passing by every other person as if they don’t exist. I know that’s a broad generalization but it’s my observation. I also understand that everyone shopping may have a zillion things going on in their lives and they are trying to utilize their time well.

I don’t expect everyone to stop and have meaningful conversations, but people don’t even greet one another. When I do get someone to make eye contact, there’s usually a casual “Hello” and a smile. Simple. Honestly, all that’s needed. Intentional human interaction and connection.

The grocery store is just one environment where people spend more time passing each other as if no one else is in the room. I see this happen almost everywhere. When did we become so self-focused? How does this affect others? What would happen if people did slow down, make eye contact and greet each other?

As an HR practitioner, my hope is that others in this field are ones willing to be intentional. Ironically, some of the greatest times I see people avoid each other is at HR conferences !! The people who are genuinely in the “people” business, should be the last ones to avoid contact and connection.

Again, I know this is a generalization, and I respect that people have different comfort levels of meeting and connecting with others. However, I’m willing to challenge this “norm” and ask everyone to press through and start making eye contact – especially our HR peers. Instead of having assumptions that people will ask too much of you, or that something will be negative in nature, look forward to making contact.

I have been a person who tries to establish eye contact with everyone I pass by. My intent is to just be a friendly face, a welcoming smile and an acknowledgement that they exist. You’d be surprised how many wonderful conversations have occurred after such a simple action. Also, the vast majority of my closest friends started with this introductory movement.

I’m not naive and know that you could have a negative, or challenging, interaction if you make eye contact with some people. However, I think those examples are the exception. Also, if does go south, you could be the one positive encounter that was needed for someone. The fundamental approach I take is that making eye contact will result in a positive interchange. It may not go past this effortless action, and I’m good with that.

This coming week (and at future conferences), be intentional and look at others eye-to-eye. Smile. Say “Hello.” That’s it. You never know. That easy action may be the difference to make someone’s day brighter, and that’s worth everything !!

Arise !!

As an HR professional, you’re in one of the most emotionally demanding professions around. That’s the case because you are bombarded by the various emotions of every person you encounter throughout your day. This isn’t bad. It’s just a fact. The result of this is that HR pros are flat worn out. This is the type of tired that goes to your bones. And, it can become a daily reality.

Add on top of this the reality that in today’s workplace the majority of employees also are exhausted and drawn out from a mixture of the pressures of their jobs and their lives. It doesn’t matter if you personally feel that their “pressure” may not be as extensive as what you’re feeling. We have to remember that the pressure everyone feels is real to them. And, THAT is their reality.

Since that is what we face when we go into the workplace, how do we cope? Seriously. How do we continue? What I’m seeing much more often than not is that people are either feeling burnout, emotional detachment or loneliness. And, that’s descriptive of my HR peers.

Arise !!

What in the world does that mean? I mean it’s time for us to face this harsh reality and do two things – (1) Deal with it and (2) Turn things around. How do we do this? We need to encourage each other. Genuinely encourage each other. The one way out of this pit of despair (not exaggerating) is for us to come together as peers and as a global HR community.

We spend far too much time nitpicking and cutting around the edges for the sake of hearing our voice or personal viewpoint. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be critical where and when needed. Not at all. However, encouragement takes far more courage in today’s workplace than adding to the tenor of people tearing things down.

I’ve mentioned this in the past through blogs and at presentations – HR needs to stop trying to do things in isolation. There’s no reason for it. You can connect with at least one other peer outside your organization who can be your sounding board and someone who lifts you up through encouragement. You need to have a person in your life who breathes life into you when you aren’t sure if you can take one more breath.

One key piece to this is to not compare. I mean it. We get caught up in how many people we are/aren’t connected to. To me I think you should understand your personal capacity of how many folks you can comfortably, and consistently, communicate with. Then remember that this is YOUR capacity and don’t worry about what others do.

I’m fortunate to have many connections. However, I have an incredible capacity to connect. One reason for that is that I encourage others. I’ve learned from others who always pour into me. My circle is filled with a mixture of family and friends who I see in person and also talk to on Social Media. Figure out the sphere you need to have in order to fill up your bucket of encouragement, and work on keeping it active. If you need a connection to get you started, reach out and I’ll be glad to both connect and encourage you. I’m grateful you’re in HR and know that you can make a positive impact on the people in your company.

Taking this first step will give you the energy and support you need to press on. I understand that it won’t be easy. But, it’s worth it. Get connected now.

Arise !!

What You Have . . .

This past week we celebrated Thanksgiving in the States. It is my favorite holiday because it is a chance to step back, reflect and give thanks for all that you have. We kept things low key as my immediate family gathered. It was wonderful to spend time and cook with my wife and two kids (adults). Everyone pitched in as we put our meal together and each person was responsible for a dish. After eating we watched a little football and then a new Christmas movie on Netflix.

The following day we continued our family tradition by putting up Christmas decorations throughout the house as well as lights in the front yard. This time always brings the four of us together and helps us break out of the crazy pace we all seem to follow. The break was needed for all of us.

Now, I know this isn’t “unique” to many situations that happened this past week. Most of the people that I regularly talk to, or hang out with, were fortunate to have similar Thanksgiving gatherings. I was reminded, however, about the power of being thankful for what I have . . . not what I lack.

Too often our days are filled with all that’s “missing” or desired. Few people ever seem content with how life, work and relationships are going. There seems to be a missing component somehow. If someone is grateful, or satisfied, with how things are going, others seem sarcastic, doubtful or challenging. You may even hear someone retort that if you’re not always going after more and more, then you’re actually slipping behind.

To be honest, this negative mindset is exhausting to me. I ache when I hear that people are struggling. I also understand that there are tangible and legitimate mountains that people face every day in regards to all facets of life. I’m not naive. However, I choose to be grateful in the midst of all situations that I face. This runs against the grain of how most people face each day, but I’m good with that.

To help in launching a counter movement to what society has to offer, I choose to encourage others, connect others and let others know that I am thankful for who they are.  This simple approach is daunting because every comment is often met with resistance. The key is to keep moving forward and be persistent. I truly believe that being  genuinely consistent in this approach breaks through in the end.

This week take note of all that you currently have in your life regardless of your circumstances. I’m sure that you’ll find a mix of friends, family and connections all within reach. Tell them that you’re grateful for them and how they impact your life. Don’t let it pass by as an assumption. Make a call. Write a note. Send a text. Whatever it takes, let them know how much they matter to you and others. Who knows? It may be just the spark they needed.

Image from www.sticky-quotes.com 

Wonderful, Always

This past week I woke up earlier than normal because I need to do some last minute shopping and prep for a day of development for our managers. As most people tend to do, I had a list in my head of what I needed to purchase. I wanted to get into the store and avoid contact if possible so I could “get things done.”

As I was hurriedly walking to the aisle for the supplies I was seeking, a cashier caught my eyes and greeted me. “How’s your morning going so far?”

“Great !!” I replied. “How about yours?”

She said, “Wonderful, always !!”

I stopped walking. I was struck by her response. This was not your normal greeting. I smiled and made a note to remember her reply. I gathered my supplies and couldn’t wait to get to her checkout aisle. I just had to talk to her more. As I checked out, we chatted for a few minutes about the day ahead and how it was sure to be great. I thanked her and I went off to set-up my meeting . . . but my attitude had completely shifted.

Did I mention that this interaction happened at Wal-Mart at 7:00am in the morning? Yes, Wal-Mart. There was something else that occurred as I was shopping. Every employee warmly greeted each other. Every. One. And, they didn’t do they typical “drive-by” greeting with the obligatory non-engaged response of “I’m fine” or “I’m good.” It was so refreshing to see and experience !!

Let’s put things into context. The employees I was observing worked in a retail environment that gets more criticism than other retail outlets. People judge folks who shop at Wal-Mart and make offhanded, look down your nose remarks about them. However, the employees seemed more authentic and engaged than most employees I’ve seen in any workplace !!

Now, I understand that all of us have “life” going on in varying degrees of challenges and/or success. That won’t change because life moves in waves. I wish we were always on the crest of those waves, but there will always be the inevitable troughs that come as well.

I admire Carol (that is the Wal-Mart cashier I met) because regardless of what is happening in her life, she chooses to genuinely see things as “wonderful, always !!” I love that a front-line team member is positively authentic. It’s a posture that I try to take and would love to see be the truth of anyone who works in Human Resources.

This isn’t about being naive or utopian in your approach to the day. It’s proven that if you start your day, and then continue through it, with a positive mindset that most of your interactions will go well. This is true even during the most emotional and/or dark circumstances you encounter during your day.

This week be intentional and determine that you will start each day positively. Don’t just make this a resolution. Work on making it your norm.

You have to trust me that when you do this things will improve. Your work will become manageable regardless of the obstacles that will occur. When you are out with your employees, you’ll brighten their day first before they have a chance to dump another load of crud at your feet. When you’re consistently positive on purpose, you eventually shape the culture of your company and the relationships you have with others.

I hope that from now on you’re  wonderful . . . always !!

Allow Grace

Have you ever made a mistake at work? Have you ever talked poorly about someone else you work with, or that you know, without that person knowing about it? Have you ever disappointed someone else because you didn’t follow through on what you said you’d do? Have you ever said something that you thought was harmless, but it hurt someone deeply?

The answer for me is a resounding “Yes” to all of the questions listed above. I’m not proud of that, but it’s a reality. I’m human. I’m sure to fall and fail others. Hopefully that’s not intentional, but it could be. I could have filled this entire post with more questions which feature how people fall short of positive and/or ideal behavior.

The challenge in today’s workplace, and in society overall, is that when we fail each other that there is no room for grace. We demand an instant response along with a staunch stance to be taken that has little room for a right/wrong position. We usually want others to hear our opinion and then we make arguments for others to come to our side. In the midst of this type of reaction, we completely run over our humanity.

Now, please understand that I’m talking about when someone makes a mistake and is insensitive or thoughtless about others and their feelings and/or diverse viewpoint. I’m not talking about overt actions and/or poor behavior. That is at a much deeper, and more concerning, level. Poor behavior should always be addressed. Even then though, I would offer that you can allow grace when entering into these difficult situations.

As HR professionals, we are daily in the midst of people. (At least I hope you are !!) People are messy and will fail each other. It’s unavoidable. When it occurs we have a choice. We can either rely on a system of unrealistic policies and procedures as a list of do’s/don’ts as our response, or we can be humans ourselves.

I would recommend that you try a new approach and allow grace to occur.

This may be foreign to you, and I can almost guarantee that it’s foreign to how employees have been approached in the past. We don’t feel that we have the latitude in our roles to show grace to others when they mess up. I just don’t think it’s true. We have more latitude and ownership in how we approach others because it’s our own personal style.

I know that when others have shown me grace when I’ve stumbled, I’ve been thankful. It allowed both of us to breathe, calm down and look at the situation in a fresh and open way. More often than not, it led to a productive outcome and a stronger relationship. Trust me when I say that allowing grace in our interactions with others will be positive most of the time.

This week buck the trend of others who tend to be reactive and destructive when people fail them. Instead of talking ABOUT others, talk TO them with an attitude of grace first so that you seek to understand them, the situation they’re facing and how to potentially move forward. If you try this, I think you’ll see the people aren’t as bad as you think. Also, it will make HR, and your life, more balanced and fulfilled. It works.

Be Good

A few weeks ago I received a nondescript envelope in the mail at work. It was from my dear friend, Brad Galin, who also happens to be in HR. Inside the envelope was a small scrap of paper and a sticker. The note said, “Saw this and thought of you. – Brad” I looked at the sticker and smiled.

A small black circle with a positive message that fit in the palm of my hand stated – Be Good to People.

It’s a simple message. Four words that carry incredible weight and meaning.

It’s interesting that there’s an entire company that produces this message on a variety of products. (You should check them out !! – Be Good To People) Their whole mission is to spread this message in many different ways so that we all have a visible reminder. They want to see kindness be a constant in our lives and our society.

So, you need to ask – Why would we need this reminder? Unfortunately, it’s necessary because the majority of all that we see, consume and share isn’t good. I appreciate people speaking out against wrongs and ills that are happening in our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our cities and our country. It just seems that we’re constantly in some form of battle that pits people against each other. It’s exhausting and disheartening.

It’s also ironic when someone brings up a simple solution such as “be good,” the response is a scoff and skepticism. Now, THIS is something worth challenging. I’m an unapologetic optimist. I believe in humans without having them go through hoops to earn my trust or respect.

I dig that Brad thought of me when he picked up this sticker. I also appreciate that he took the time to reach out and mail it to me. That personal touch is so meaningful and it gives me a framework on how “being good” can work.

Small actions make a huge impact !!

That’s it. Simple. We need to understand that much of human interaction can turn from ugly to positive by small steps that happen on purpose. When you have that first encounter at work or at home tomorrow to start your week, the move is yours. If you are pressed and you feel your face begin to get flushed with your reactive response, breathe and then be good.

The reason this call to action is so difficult is that we need to fight against our inclination to instantly respond and try to solve something. Being good fights against the urge to react and move on. This call asks you to go against the flow of not only what you’re used to doing, but also how others expect you to respond.

What you need to know is that it’s worth the effort. It doesn’t matter what role you hold in your organization. This call isn’t only for HR because we’re the “people” people. Being good is for all people.

This week look for areas where you can take a small step. When you see that opportunity, take it. It will change your day, your week and possibly your life. Remember this – Be good to people.

Shine !!

I look forward to the weekend after Thanksgiving because that is when my family traditionally decorates for Christmas. I’ll hold out every year even though society keeps trying to make the holiday season start earlier and earlier. My favorite part of decorating is putting up lights outside. It’s special because my kids (now adults) always jump in to help. They get geeked about stringing lights, building massive electrical connections and making sure that the coverage is balanced and colorful.

Our family also has a tradition where we’ll get in the car and drive throughout neighborhoods to see the various displays that people have constructed. I like to see actual lights and not these projection systems because I enjoy seeing the creativity that people have. The homes that go crazy and try to drain the local power grid are fantastic !! However, I also enjoy someone who can use light subtly, and still convey an artistic display. I’m also a bit biased to multi-colored lights versus vs. monochromatic yards. But I digress . . .

What does this have to do with HR ?? Everything.

You see we can be the ones who shine in our workplace. We can be that attractive display that people would get out of their office to meet and work with. What would HR be like for you if you were the light in the office and not the bearer of darkness?

I think shining your light is essential for HR. It’s actually easier that you may think because you are in control of how you approach your work as well as how you interact with others. I’m not talking about putting on some fake trappings to be peppy just for show. No one wants that. Shining to dispel the darkness is much more welcomed, and needed, in our workplaces.

We tend to think that making people feel good and enjoy what they do is a “waste of time” or an unnecessary “soft skill.” People are supposed to come to WORK, and that is all. (Insert giggle of disbelief here). The idea that people show up only to do their job is a misguided myth. Yes, they do their jobs. And, more often than not, they do it willingly even though they receive little encouragement or regular feedback.

Shining your light breaks up the drudgery of work. Being a beacon of light allows employees to look up from the grind of what they do to catch their breath and know they’ve been acknowledged and recognized. It’s time that HR intentionally be the light within their organization and push back the attitudes and approaches that look to force control and possibly anguish.

I understand that being someone who shines may not come naturally to some, but I encourage you to push through. Trust me. If you are someone who brings light to situations, you will be successful in all you do. It’s such a missing facet of today’s workplaces, that people will respond because they’re longing for it.

The key is to be the light in your organization year-round and not just during a season. It will be surprising to others at first, but how cool would it be if it became the norm? It would rock !!

(To give you a little nudge, I leave you with this gem from the 90’s !!)

What You Say . . .

. . . matters.

This may seem like an overly obvious statement. However, I don’t think we believe it because we are extremely careless with our words – especially when it comes to people.

It’s so easy to get frustrated with how others treat you, or the situations you find yourself in. Words that describe your immediate feeling and reaction usually aren’t positive. And, if we’re honest, we feel “better” by taking a shot at someone else – at least for the moment. I think we do it so often that we’ve become desensitized to how we casually describe others. It has become an expected response . . . and that is sad.

Now, trust me, I’m not pointing fingers at others because this is something that I struggle with as well. It’s not something I’m proud of, and it’s actually something I’m trying to turn around.

People don’t deserve to be called names that belittle or degrade. No one. Ironically, most of this happens out of earshot of the person we’re frustrated with which makes it even more underhanded. On top of this, we unfortunately highlight name calling and labeling almost incessantly in our social media forums or in the news. The juicier, or more vicious, the better. The response to when these barbs are thrown about is to take it up a level so it gets more and more harsh. I want you to note something.

Tearing someone down has NEVER improved a situation or a circumstance. Not once.

I mentioned before that I’m working on this. That’s the truth. I don’t mean this as an HR professional. I mean this as someone who’s a husband, a father, a friend, a volunteer and a co-worker. I observe that the ease at which others are torn down is the norm, and I can’t accept that. I understand people can be frustrating. However, what I think gets completely glossed over is that we’re ALL people !! I have to be someone who frustrates others. So, is the same name calling being used towards me when I push someone’s buttons? Of course it is. Even if I don’t hear it directly.

I had a conversation recently with a friend, and we were letting off some steam about a person who wasn’t in the conversation. It wasn’t positive. I’m embarrassed to say that. Afterwards, I decided that this isn’t how I want to behave. It’s an easy excuse to justify venting, but it isn’t how I want to see others treated, or be treated myself.

I believe we can, and should, be encouragers of people. This doesn’t count just for people we like. It’s for everyone because it honestly doesn’t happen enough. I know that when a kind word is given that is has meaning and impact. It matters. Now, it may be the exception in what people hear, but that means that kind words should be used even more regularly !!

We will all still be critical and there is value in that. We should be critical of the behavior we see and experience and not the person. Most people reading this will not agree with this position because it takes effort and grace to not bundle the human in our response.

This week I’m asking you to join me in changing the tide. Take time to encourage people and lift them up. When you’re faced with the urge to lash out, don’t do it. Breathe and then assess what was said. See how to respond positively and then act. It’s not what we’re used to doing in our interactions with others. What’s cool though is that people won’t be expecting a positive response either.

What we say matters. I choose to encourage and I hope you will as well !!

Be the Change !!

SHRM17 just wrapped up this week in the midst of tropical storm Cindy knocking on the door as everyone finished the conference and headed home. Ironically, the energy that emanated from the event was almost as moving as the storm !! The vibe this year was positive, collaborative and you could feel a sense of togetherness throughout the entire week.

I had a lofty goal to meet every attendee, and I fell a bit short. It wasn’t for a lack of effort though. I was astonished how many people I observed that continued to move from session to session without meeting a single person. Please note that I don’t think people had to meet me, but I did hope that they’d connect with someone !!

I noticed this continued “eyes forward” approach while people were waiting to hear me present. As I saw this, I asked the AV folks to turn up my mic, and I implored the people who were kind enough to choose my session to look up from their phones and meet the people around them. The energy jumped through the roof, and I actually heard from someone later who said, “I appreciated the reminder to meet others because I was caught up in the stuff at work, and lost sight of others sitting right next to me. I liked meeting everyone.”

I may sound like a broken record, but, taking a page from Patrick Lencioni, I will keep reminding people of what seems simple – because people aren’t doing it. I find it so hard to grasp that HR pros almost refuse to meet their peers. They seem so set on getting to a class or training session to wait to see the person at the front of the room speak. I hope that those speakers rock and that you learn from each of them. But, what if the person sitting next to you was facing the same issues and challenges you were, and all you had to do was say, “Hi, my name’s ________. And you are?”

I closed my session this year with my most favorite quote from history. Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I don’t mean to overstate, or simplify this, but I truly want to see HR become a global community that is connected though people – on purpose !! I know that if this happens, then the desire for us to look at our field, and the people in it, positively won’t be some aspiration, it will be a fact.

I loved meeting the new folks that I did during SHRM17. The ranged from a room full of students and young professionals on Sunday, to HR folks who were from Cincinnati (where I’m from) whom I hadn’t met in the past, to people from Guam, Australia, Canada, India and Brazil. Each one of these HR pros is now a connection and I hope we stay connected for years to come !! In fact, I wish I had more time reconnecting with some of my friends who I get to see more regularly, but our paths didn’t cross as often as I’d hoped.

I ask those who attended SHRM17 to not let the energy and vibe of such a massive event slip by as we all return to our regular roles and duties. You experienced a shift and not it is up to YOU to be the change in your world. I plan to keep the movement going, and hope you join in !!

Get Rid of the Can’ts !!

Have you ever reflected about your perspective and approach on things in life? Do you tend to look at things logically or emotionally? Are you someone who sees the worst in others or the best?

Chances are you’re a blend. Most people are. I tend to start from a positive perspective on life, people and the situations I face. It’s interesting that being positive is unnerving to some. I’ve had people wonder if my approach is genuine or something that just comes on when I’m surrounded by others. Sorry, that’s just not the case.

It’s appropriate to write about this because I honestly can tell you that my approach was built over years by watching . . . my mother. My mom is the case study for positivity. She sees the best in others the moment she meets them. There’s no cautionary period or gauntlet that she requires people to struggle through before they earn her favor. The other amazing aspect of my Mom’s approach is that she isn’t over the top. It comes natural to her and people are drawn to her. She also is comfortable with people regardless of their background, status or heritage. She’s sees others in one way – as humans. So, growing up with this role model set the stage for who I am and how I view others as well.

My Mom also taught me to look at what you “can” do versus what you “can’t.” I never realized how critical this was going to be throughout my career. You see, the majority of people tell you what they can’t do when they are presented a situation. It’s our first instinct to look at obstacles. I don’t know why that is what we do, but we do. Once this stance is established, the dialogue continues to drum up more and more obstacles. The “cant’s” just pile up on top of each other. Then, when we hit a certain level, we feel that we can finally take things on to fix them.

It amazes me that the majority of people who go to work feel that their only true worth is when they are fixing problems. I don’t understand that. Do we go to work to perform or to repair? If everything is messed up, how does anything ever get accomplished? It’s seems to be a defeatist approach to work.

The folks who tend to say “can’t” the most are the people in HR. I say this with assurance because of how I was taught to practice human resources, and how I hear many of my peers discuss what we do. This has to stop along with one other thing. I know that many people state that HR says “No” too much. I disagree. You see, we’re supposed to say “No” because one of the primary values we add to organizations is to reduce liability. Saying no doesn’t curtail things moving forward. It allows people to move in a direction which has fewer chances to fail !!

We have the ability to be encouragers in our roles and throughout our organizations. We need to be the ones who show others how they CAN perform. We need to be the ones who believe that people CAN work from their strengths. We have to be the ones who are positive first. Every time and in every situation.

You CAN do it !! I believe in you !!