Sunday, June 27, 2010

Harness the Power of Risk

In a recent conversation, a young man expressed his concern about asking a woman out for a coffee date. He explained that he was feeling anxious, and wanted to know how to eliminate the risk associated with his request.

Later, a mother and her teenage son told me about his difficult first year of college. Since he hadn't performed as well as expected, his parents felt uncertain about the advisability of supporting his return, and wished they could eliminate the risk of doing so.

How do you eliminate "risk"?

To answer this question, consider the definition of "risk." The dictionary states, "the danger that injury, damage, or loss will occur."

Risk involves possibility.

In the first situation, the man hadn't dated the woman yet, so he had no relationship to lose. The possibility of injury or damage was not a physical likelihood. So what was he anxious about?

As he reflected on his feelings, he realized that most of his apprehension was historically based. In the past, he had been intimidated by interpersonal encounters, especially with women, and had experienced rejection and diminished self-esteem. Despite feeling more self-confident now, his anxiety about her response had well-established roots that produced a habitual (historical) reaction pattern of hesitation and fear.

In the other scenario, the college student's mother had been concerned about his adjustment to a large school even before he started. Then her anxieties were substantiated by his initial lackluster performance. Although he significantly improved in the second semester, his mother was now worried that the problems he had managing his first semester's social and academic activities would continue into his sophomore year. As a result, she felt nervous about the possibility of wasting money to pay for his education.

In both circumstances, people anticipated the reoccurrence of some unpleasant past experiences, and they couldn't see any other possibility. In this way, their past history dictated their dire expectations of the future.

As you can see, your perception of risk will be dramatically affected by your past history and habits. To change how you respond to "risk," you need to change your perception and habits.

To begin the process of change, write your responses to these questions:
  • What's a current situation (action) that involves some possibility of relative loss or harm for you, or feels like a risk?
  • What unpleasant past experiences and habits do you associate with this kind of risk?
  • What have you felt and how have you reacted in the past?
  • How would you like to feel and act in the current challenge?
  • What new skills or resources do you have?

Now you have articulated your history with this kind of risk, and what you want for the future. To freely engage in this new way depends upon these two factors:
  • Are you willing to accept and let go of the past?
  • Do you believe in your ability to act as you wish and competently manage your responses in the present?
When you answer "Yes!" to these questions, you declare your commitment to be fully responsible for yourself. You know that a past rejection or adverse experience does not necessitate a fearful reaction. The past is gone, no longer exists, and represents your having done the best you could at that time.

Now you can choose how you will respond to any "risk" you encounter.

The world in which you live is a realm of fluctuating possibilities for growth, development, and expression. By taking "risks," you clarify and determine those possibilities that create options for you.

Anais Nin beautifully captures this compelling, life-giving nature of risk with her words:

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."

Love and Peace,

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Create Your Own Lineage

The other day I was talking with my sister about "stuff," and particularly the handling of non-digital materials such as photographs, slides, LP music albums, audiotapes, videos, and books. The actual process of sorting can be daunting, and you still have to find ways to store some items and dispose of others. In addition, processing may involve the transformation of a fossil (e.g., slides) into a digital piece of contemporary culture (e.g., photos on an iPhone).

Over the next day, I reflected on the countless repetitions of this cycle through history. Forms from a particular era eventually become obsolete, or are challenged, and are replaced by the latest innovation. Along the way, "users" must make an active decision about whether they will accommodate the newer forms and assimilate them into their lives.

Besides concrete objects, these forms may pertain to societal issues including healthcare, education, religion, politics, and customs, or personal matters like values, beliefs, aspirations, choices, and actions.

When forms are maintained through the efforts of identifiable people over time, you might conclude that a lineage exists. For example, many spiritual traditions have sustained forms of belief and practice for hundreds of years through oral, then written means, with traceable teachers as their different lineages.

On this Father's Day, I'm reminded of the family's significant role in establishing lineage. Within this context, consider these questions:
  • What is your family's lineage?
  • What "forms" have members of your family sustained through generations?
Remember, these forms may be "abstract" (e.g., aspirations) as well as material (e.g., bequests). In your responses, write a list of the various forms that demonstrate the traditions, styles, and qualities of your family. Give yourself plenty of time and space for this exercise. You may come back as needed to complete your observations.

Here are some examples:
  • Higher education is the key to success in the world today.
  • We always have lasagna for Christmas and Easter.
  • Laboring with your hands represents an honest way to make a living.
  • We only buy cars made in the US.
  • Charitable giving and community involvement are necessary family responsibilities.
  • Having dinner together as a family is important.
  • Certain jewelry has remained with the women in the family.
  • Providing for the family is the man's job.
  • We're cat lovers.
  • The women often act with anxiety and have low self-esteem, despite being smart.
  • We have a big Superbowl Party every year.
  • Many of the men in the family are rough and uneducated.
  • Church attendance on Sundays is expected.
  • We don't like to eat fish.
  • Our summer vacations include outings all together.
  • Road trips are an essential mode of travel and education.
  • And so on . . .

When you're finished, you may express silent gratitude to your ancestors for all the characteristics of your lineage. You know they did their best, and your heritage has helped you become the person you are today.

Now, ask yourself:
  • Which characteristics from my list do I want to end, and which to sustain?
After you have carefully identified those qualities you wish to continue, respond to this question about characteristics you'd like to add:
  • What other forms do you deliberately choose in order to establish a lineage that supports and expresses your own way of living?
Finally, combine the old and new characteristics. You can periodically review this list, incorporate any changes, and share the content of your consciously created family lineage with your children or interested relatives.

Enjoy your lineage--your inspired legacy!

Love and Peace,

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Other Golden Rule

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

This common phrasing of the Golden Rule appears in the Biblical gospels and is attributed to Jesus of Nazareth. Philosophies from the ancient cultures of India, Greece, China, and others state the rule in similar positive variations of "Do to others what you would like to be done to you," or, in the negative form (the "Silver Rule"), "Do not do to others what you would not like to be done to you."

More recently, the Golden Rule has been viewed in terms of the feelings of others, and reconfigured as the "Platinum Rule," "Do unto others as they want done to them."

No matter which forms you apply to guide your behavior, these rules create an important ethical foundation for reciprocity and human rights. And, the principles emphasize the necessity to develop empathy, compassion, kindness, and respect in your treatment of other people.

Despite episodic discrepancies between what they know and how they act, most people seem compelled by these principles.

Therefore, in my own professional experience with individuals and organizations, I acknowledge their desire for and commitment to principle-based living, and shift the focus with this question:

To what extent do you apply these principles and their related qualities (e.g., empathy) in your treatment of yourself?

In order to answer this question, you might want to reflect on the following considerations:
  • Have you ever said something like, "I'm my own worst enemy"?
  • Do you give others, not yourself, the benefit of the doubt?
  • Do you "sacrifice yourself on the altar of another person's comfort"? That is, make it easy or more comfortable for others before yourself.
  • Do you support everyone else's needs to feel cared for and loved, and ignore yours?
  • Do you forgive other people, while criticizing yourself?
  • And more such questions . . .
You get the idea.

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you can see that you're applying the principles of the Golden Rule in ways that primarily benefit others and not you.

Many societal, cultural, and religious norms support this disparity by stating that you shouldn't be concerned with yourself, that such concern is limiting, and that self-regard generates egotism.

My encounters with people who live the Golden Rule principles on behalf of others and themselves, suggest another conclusion. In different situations, and with different people, they use their self-awareness to determine their ability and willingness to give freely. Within this awareness, they can typically give to others from a space of love, not fear (i.e., scarcity or defensiveness). In this way, their self-orientation and self-acceptance allow them to be expansive and empathic, rather than limited and egotistical.

In my view, this orientation to self becomes a necessary and healthy condition, and promotes the actualization of the Golden Rule in your interactions with others.

In this Light, I offer another loving principle to accompany the rules discussed here:

"Do unto yourself as you would do unto others."

Love and Peace,

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Beyond Service with a Smile

In the past couple of weeks, I've had several experiences that illustrate the challenges customers face in the contemporary marketplace.

The first occurred in a fine restaurant at the end of a very enjoyable evening. I asked our waitperson if the front desk could call a cab for us. With a pleasant smile, she answered, "Probably," and walked away. She made no offer to check on our behalf.

The other incident involved an online e-card business. In the process of canceling my subscription to their service, I spent days tracking down a correct phone number, email address, and offline location. When I eventually reached a "real" person, I was warmly informed that her company no longer owned the online portion of the business, and she redirected me to an ineffective automated phone service. Fortunately, I had decided to refrain from any further action.

As you would expect, these stories represent a small portion of my encounters with businesses of all types. Some have been worse, while others were happily much better. You probably have your own favorites.

Instead of focusing on specific details, my intention in using these examples concerns the issue of customer ease. That is, the degree of effortlessness a customer experiences in engaging a business and completing a transaction.

No matter what role you play in a business, or whether your company participates in online or "bricks-and-mortar" activities, the critical question remains:

How easy is it for customers to do business with you?

After you've had a chance to reflect on this broad question, consider ways in which the following specific areas apply to your company:
  • What procedures do you have in place to insure customer ease?
  • Can online (and offline) customers readily find your contact information?
  • Can your customers actually reach you by phone or email?
  • Do you help potential customers decide whether your product or service fits their needs?
  • Is your communication with customers satisfying to them? Do you respond fully to their questions? Are their concerns addressed quickly and resolved smoothly?
  • How easy is it for customers to navigate your website, locate products and services, and meet their needs with your organization?
  • Is your billing organized, straightforward, and clear?
  • Do you offer a simple and supportive return policy? Do you have free shipping?
  • Do you provide a money-back, no-hassles guarantee?
  • Does everyone in the company know how to facilitate a pleasant experience for the customer at each point in their involvement with you?
  • How do you handle difficulties or surprises with customers?
  • And so on . . .
As you can see, these kinds of questions ask you to take the customer's perspective and determine the level of ease in her experience. You're not only concerned about high quality customer service. You're also examining the ways you establish genuine, meaningful rapport that helps the customer feel welcomed, safe, and supported.

With conditions that promote ease, most customers feel more receptive to learn about your products and services.

Of course, the experience of "customer ease" can apply to your life outside of the business world as well. In this way, ask yourself:

How easy is it for people to interact with me?

Explore your current relationships for instances of varying degrees of ease, and identify those you'd like to enhance. Start with less challenging individuals. Then, clarify how you can make changes that will create more ease with those people. With practice, notice how these changes in you will lead to different responses from others . . .

Ease begins with you!

Love and Peace,