Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Are You Smooth or Strong?

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

Would your organization ever promote smoking or other bad practices that are scientifically linked to health problems? It’s not too likely. Because if it did, they’d be undermining all of the arduous efforts to enhance employee health and well-being.

It’s time to equate toxic attitudes to smoking. They not only damage the health of your employees, but horrible attitudes also directly affect your workplace culture and your organization’s bottom line.  

When employee health suffers, your organization suffers. Unhealthy, unhappy employees negatively affect:
  • Performance
  • Attendance
  • Customer ratings
  • Quality
  • Profit

You say it’s a beautiful day, she tells you why it’s not. You tell him about your new idea, he tells you why it won’t work. You proudly share a recent work success, and she replies with, “Yeah, but what about…?” I refer to these toxins as “Debbie Downers,” “Cynical Sams,” “Pessimistic Pauls,” “Negative Nancys,” or “Gloomy Glens.” They spew venom to anyone and everyone who will listen.

Cutting ties with “Nathan Naysayer” is much easier said than done. Even when bosses need to sever ties, employees often hope they take the necessary action, so the morale of the team doesn’t take a bigger hit. Yet, according to a survey featured on, fewer than half of managers said they would fire someone for damaging team morale. Interestingly, 88 percent of employees would. Team members understand the direct impact of these destructive types. They personally experience their high-performing, fun and collaborative team morph into something unrecognizable—a team they don’t want to be a part of any longer. Sadly, it’s often too late when management finally realizes the extent of the damage.

Regardless of your role, putting distance between you and harmful naysayers is essential for healthy, meaningful and respectful relationships to prosper. By making small, purposeful changes in your behavior with negative influencers, you can better control your own thoughts and actions, and more positively influence those of your team. If you know you ought to put distance between you and “the Nathans,” consider trying one or more of these strong ideas:

Change your routine. Instead of sitting through lunch with someone who whines and complains about her troubles, critiques mutual friends, and sits and pouts, choose to do something different with that time. Go for a walk, eat with someone else, or spend time reading. If she questions your behavior change, engage in candid dialogue with her. The exchange may influence a behavior change from her, too, or at the very least, you will more easily be able to enjoy lunchtime without facing unwanted whining and negativity.

Keep interactions short. If you have to engage with a pessimistic individual, keep the interactions short and focused on the desired outcome. Instead of empathizing as she rambles on about her mountainous workload or frustrating spouse, listen for a few minutes, and then explain that you really need to cut this conversation short due to another commitment—the commitment you made to yourself to limit interactions with this person.

Maintain perspective. There are reasons people behave the way they do. Sometimes the reasons are clear, while other times it’s murky. Perhaps the bothersome naysayer you wish to avoid is facing self-esteem issues, ongoing job performance errors, money problems, health concerns, or something completely different. We each behave in our own way when we have concerns that are weighing heavily on us. Understanding that there may be a deeper cause for the pessimistic persona wouldn’t cause me to excuse it, but I could more easily maintain a greater sense of perspective with it.

Optimistically oppose. If you’re stuck in a situation where everything that is flowing out of “Gloomy Glen” is anti-positive, tentatively articulate kind, opposing statements. For example, if he says his food sucks, combat that with, “My food is pretty good. Perhaps, you could try a different entrée?” Or if he says the (mutual) boss is a pain to work for, optimistically oppose by saying, “I used to think of her the same way. Then I decided to focus on the positive difference she has made to our team, and that helps me view her in a different light.” If this tactic doesn’t influence a more positive tone right away, hopefully you have given this individual a little more to think about. At the very least, “Gloomy Glens” tend to move on to others when what they are getting from you isn’t satisfying their mantra.

Almost all of us have dealt—or are still dealing—with an annoyingly negative co-worker or an unbearable pessimistic boss. Avoid shouting, “Take a shower! Your attitude stinks!” Instead, consider Albert Einstein’s words of wisdom: “Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.”

Rather than being a smooth character, choose to demonstrate strong character and color any situation with a positive attitude.  

Friday, April 5, 2019

Can You Change Other People?

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

Whether at work or at home, most people experience times when they desperately want to change how another person thinks or behaves. Maybe you need a colleague to follow through on project expectations because his procrastination is causing you delays. Perhaps you can’t stand the late hours your spouse puts in at work, which is taking a toll on your relationship. Or maybe your best friend incessantly whines and complains with a never-ending negative view of life and you just want her to stop. You likely realize that no matter how hard you try, you simply can’t change other people. Period. However, you can, though, positively influence someone to change. 

If you find yourself faced with needing or wanting to influence behavior change, here are four strategies I have used with great success:

1. Identify the specific behavior. Pinpoint the exact behavior that you want this person to change. If you want the person to just “be less annoying” or “call more often,” you will not get the results you want. Pinpoint the exact behavior you want to see change and note exactly how you want it to change. For example, rather than saying that you want her to “be less annoying,” plan to say that you want her to “stop interrupting conversations she’s not part of.” Or, instead of wanting him to “call you more often,” you could prepare to ask him to “call you every Sunday.”

2. Obtain and acknowledge perspective. Determine what their concerns, fears and assumptions are regarding the change. Doing this will definitely help you counter some of their concerns, and you’ll also better understand their perspective by valuing their opinion and incorporating them into the conversation. Even though you may not agree with their point of view, acknowledging that you understand and appreciate their perspective is a great way for you to confirm that you heard them and their point is valid.  

3. Explore motivations without pushing. The other person often already knows that s/he should change a specific behavior. And if you try to present one side of an argument, s/he will feel compelled to push back. When trying to influence people who need motivation, but not more information, ask questions that allow them to explore their own motivations without feeling pushed. Some examples include:
  • “What makes this behavior worth changing?”
  • “If this change was easy, would you want to make it?”
  • “What makes this behavior change hard?”
  • “What are the pluses and minuses of changing or not changing?”
  • “If you’re able to successfully change this behavior, what would be different?”

4. Highlight benefits for him/her. Based on the individual motivations uncovered, subtly highlighting why changing could benefit this person can offer illuminated advantages that answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” For example, my young adult sons are glued to their phones—texting, snap-chatting, watching videos, viewing or posting on Facebook, etc. Because I live in Colorado and they reside in Wisconsin, when we visit one another, spending quality time together is our shared focus. Sometimes, though, daily routines prevail and it becomes a bit more challenging to disconnect to reconnect. Since recommending a digital detox wouldn’t work for them or me, I usually offer one or two reminders of how limited our time together is, and that’s usually enough to re-engage them.

With the above point in mind, laying out the advantages in a specific order also helps heighten the level of persuasion: start out emphasizing a strong advantage, share another pivotal benefit, and then bring commanding closure by underlining the most important reason for him/her. 

Everyone faces instances when positively influencing another person’s thoughts or behavior is advantageous. Rather than impeding success, choose to offer assistance by understanding another’s perspective, exploring their motivations and encouraging commitment to change. When your intent to help is positive and genuine, your level of influence is endless and can truly make a difference. Influence—the true measure of leadership. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Are You Driven to Distraction?

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

Three evenings ago, my husband and I ordered a pizza to be delivered from a local eatery. We were told the wait time from kitchen-to-door would be about 45 minutes. A little over 75 minutes later, the driver arrives with my husband waiting on the porch. As he approaches the vehicle, the young man steps out of his driver’s-side door and opens the door to the backseat. In a frenzied state, he turns around after looking inside his car, faces my husband and asks, “Where’s the pizza?” My husband replies, “What do you mean?” The driver, incredibly flustered now, says, “Where did the pizza go?” The driver proceeds to look under the seat (really?) and then opens his trunk. He says, “Man, I don’t know where the pizza went. What should I do?” Once again, really? My husband responds, “I guess you may want to head back to the restaurant and see if the pizza is still there.”

I realize mistakes happen. They happen to all of us. Yet, when someone neglects to perform his/her core job responsibility, is that a mistake or an error due to ineffective training? It’s neither. Instead, I believe it’s an example of a huge mental traffic-jam.

So how do you regain mental focus and become productive again? Are there strategies we can apply ourselves and also share with our co-workers to help them? The answer is “yes” and if you want a high-performing workplace culture, it’s important to apply these five practical prescriptions to fine-tune your focus:

Rx #1: Reduce distractions. While it might be as simple as unplugging from your favorite device for a bit, you might find it much more challenging to deal with a colleague who frequently interrupts your train-of-thought. One way to help mitigate this problem is to identify a specific time and place where you can be distraction-free. Be sure to schedule that time in your calendar and find a quiet spot to ensure you can maximize your productivity during that time. Maybe it is only for 30 or 60 minutes per week, but that sure beats never.

Rx #2: Focus on one thing at a time. Juggling multiple tasks at once can dramatically cut down on productivity and it becomes much harder to hone in on the details that are truly remembering to put the pizza in your car. Why? Because our attentional resources are limited so it is important to budget them wisely.

Rx #3: Take a short break. Have you ever tried to focus on the same thing for a long period of time? After a while, your focus starts to break down and it becomes more difficult to devote your mental resources to that specific task. By taking a brief break, you are able to push pause on your level of concentration, helping you to regain mental focus after you have allowed your brain a rest.  

Rx #4: Avoid negative emotions. Negative emotions can represent an “off-switch” for peak performance. If you work in an environment where emotions run high on occasion, you likely wonder when the next outburst will ensue. Do your best to stay clear from unnerving emotional situations and also steer away from letting your unwanted emotions escalate.  If you can’t avoid negative emotions, do your best to control or minimize them as quickly as possible.

Rx #5: Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Start by getting to bed and getting up at the same time every day, including weekends. As tempting as it may be, don't try to make up for a lack of sleep by staying in bed on the weekends. Sleeping in won't make up for a sleep deficit. In fact, according to a recent Harvard study, when you snooze extra hours to compensate for sleep deprivation, your ability to focus is worse than if you had stayed up all night.

Even though we never got to enjoy a delicious piece of pizza pie that night, my husband and I did have a few laughs over the experience and I did get a great story that I couldn’t wait to share with my readers. So the next time you encounter a craving for thick-crust, consider averting a similar outcome by tossing a few ingredients together yourself, staying focused on the oven timer, while saving some dough in the process.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Discipline to Delay Indulgence

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

Have you ever wondered why you make some of the decisions that you do? I believe one significant factor that influences one choice over another is a human desire to move toward pleasure and avoid pain. By pleasure I mean things that create feelings of happiness, strength, optimism, energy, or inspiration. With pain, I am referring to feelings of anger, confusion, helplessness, frustration, or even boredom. If you are regularly able to demonstrate self-discipline by delaying pleasure or gratification, your chances for achieving success in life increase substantially. 

According to a landmark Stanford University study, children were provided one marshmallow and given the choice of eating it or waiting fifteen minutes and being rewarded for holding out with a second marshmallow. Some kids ate theirs right away. Others waited. But the study’s real significance came years later, when researchers discovered that the children who held out for the reward had become far more successful adults than the children who ate the first marshmallow immediately. This “marshmallow theory” was found to explain that the key difference between success and failure is not merely hard work or intelligence, but the ability to delay gratification.

If you are looking to delay gratification, like to save money now to be able to purchase a more desirable item in the future, here are five strategies to help you stand strong: 
  1. Be clear on your values and what matters most. Have a clear understanding of what is important to you and what you want to accomplish. When you realize these aspects, you are more likely to make choices that can help you achieve the goals and success you desire.
  2. Break down big projects/goals. Just like running, athletes train very differently for a sprint than a marathon. The long project will help you to learn about the process, setting mini-goals along the way, and ongoing persistence.
  3. Offer visual progress. Use a jar of marbles or some sort of visual tool to demonstrate working toward a goal and making progress versus giving yourself a huge reward after accomplishing a task. Once the jar is full, then you get to reward yourself.
  4. Get an accountability partner. Just like it is often times easier to workout with a buddy so that you both are less inclined to stop because you know the other person is counting on you, sharing your plan and progress with an accountability partner can help maintain your focus and discipline.
  5. Frequent reflection. When you find yourself struggling with wanting something now and you’re about to cave in, stop to consciously reflect as to why you are feeling more vulnerable than usual. Try to pinpoint the motivation and reasons behind this strong craving. This time spent in reflection just may be enough to break the cycle of “now” and allow you to postpone the pleasure. 
Delaying gratification can be hard-work. Depending on what you want to achieve, it may take weeks, months, years, and sometimes even decades. And even if you don’t always make the best choices, hopefully you learn from the poor ones and appreciate the good ones. As I contemplate my life, I know that when I exercise self-discipline to delay an indulgence or an instant pleasure, I reap the sweet rewards. I tend to appreciate it more, feel a greater sense of accomplishment, and achieve a more successful outcome. Hold it, smell it, or even lick it, but don’t gobble the marshmallow yet.

Personal Challenge: What areas in your life do you feel you need instant gratification and find it difficult to delay? What other strategies do you have for delaying gratification?

Strengthen Your Courage Muscle

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP

Perhaps you are confronted with taking a chance when others will not, or your idea is very unpopular. Maybe you desperately want to follow your vision, no matter where it takes you, but you are meeting intense resistance. Perchance you are simply trying to do the right thing, even though far easier options exist. Most of us are called to be courageous more than we think, and we likely already possess many of the qualities that other remarkably courageous people have demonstrated. But if building definition in your courage muscle is a strength-enhancing exercise you want or need to target, highlighted below are six ways to grow that muscle: 
  1. Stop procrastinating and give courage a try. Do your best. Learn from the results of that first attempt and avoid becoming discouraged.
  2. Face what you fear. Look it in the eye and determine exactly what you are afraid of. Rejection? Being laughed at? Not being accepted? Then once you know what you fear, face it and tell yourself, “This fear will pass.” Take one small step, then another. Action builds courage.
  3. Step outside your comfort zone. By being open to meeting new people, visiting a city you have never been to but are curious about, or tasting an appealing entrée, one that you hadn’t considered before, you gradually strengthen your ability to be courageous.
  4. Stand up for others who need it. Find your inner strength to take a stand when necessary. Start by demonstrating courage when someone else is in need, rather than standing up for yourself first, since that is often times less intimidating.
  5. Demonstrate self-discipline. Be very clear about what you want and don’t want, and remain steadfast even when you are enticed to veer off course.
  6. Be willing to fail. True learning happens when things don’t go your way; when you fail or lose. Be willing to fail, but never willing to quit. Failure doesn’t feel good, but the result, if you learn from it, is powerful. 
Rather than succumbing to the learned behavior of fearfulness, know your limits, but commit to exercising courage more. If you want to transform your life and not reach the end of your line with regrets, make courage a conscious virtue you need to live with, versus without.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Keystone Habits: A Non-Negotiable Routine

Blog by Tracy Butz, CSP
Habits are powerful forces. They influence what our brain tells us to do, based on decisions that have become part of engrained routine. Everyone has routines, or habits; things you just do—without thinking about them. According to research from Duke University, up to 45 percent of your actions are unconscious habits. This means that a significant part of what you think, say, feel and do are strongly shaped by your habits—whether they are positive or negative.
But all habits are not created equal. Some have little impact on your life, and others, referred to as “keystone habits,” can affect your life immensely. Exercising on a regular basis is one example of a keystone habit—which is a habit that creates a domino effect on the rest of your life by naturally influencing you to build more breakthrough routines that produce positive outcomes. Keystone habits are very different from regular habits, like posting a daily message on multiple social media platforms. A regular habit is a positive thing to do, but whether you choose to do it or skip it, it doesn’t have a huge impact on the rest of your life.
By contrast, a keystone habit, like consistently exercising five days per week, is a habit that can also lead to other positive, unintended outcomes like a stronger and more flexible body, enhanced mood, decreased level of stress, reduced risk of heart disease, enhanced productivity, improved quality of sleep and heightened brain function. When you choose to make keystone habits a non-negotiable part of your routine, you change. You take more control of your life and the positive ripple effect naturally occurs. In addition to exercise, three common keystone habits include: active goal-setting, efficiently managing time and saving more money. Three uncommon keynote habits that also create breakthrough routines are:
  • Eat dinner together as a family. Not only does this habit encourage healthier eating patterns—like a greater opportunity for portion control and nutritionally balanced meals—but it also is a perfect setting to expose your family to different foods, save money with less expensive home-cooked entrees, and spend quality time together. Moreover, according to a report by Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA), when this routine is practiced at least five times per week, a teen’s chance of smoking, drinking, and using drugs is drastically decreased.                                                                                                  
  • Make your bed. It may seem irrelevant, but tidying up your bed as part of your morning routine is a small, quick habit that sets a precedent of order and productivity for the day. Creating a neat and organized environment can positively impact your mental state with a small sense of accomplishment—in just 30 seconds, no less.
  • Discard and replace. Choose one day a week, or every other week, or even once a month, where you discard something you don’t love or need. This process helps reduce clutter and gives you the opportunity to replace things that don’t add value with items you enjoy and appreciate. 

Rather than going through life without thoughtful intention, make today the day you choose to cultivate one keystone habit. By taking this one small action, you will likely find the momentum to set off a slow avalanche of additional changes, positively transforming your life in amazing ways.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Stand Out...Nicely

Blog from Tracy Butz, CSP

Since moving out to Colorado, I now see more individuals holding signs pleading for money or food, as they stand alongside a busy street or off ramp. I am guilty of thinking, “Does she really need money?” or “Why doesn’t he apply at one of the many establishments needing able bodies to join their team?” or “What will s/he really spend the money on if I choose to give?”

Recently, I was traveling for work, heading back to the airport in a rental car, somewhat hurried and looking forward to returning home. As I approached a stop light, an elderly man was holding a sign that read, “I’m an injured, retired vet looking for a little help.” What caught me off guard was his clean and orderly appearance, his combed hair and shaved face, yet a look of despair and sadness I couldn’t shake. Time seemed to simply stand still while waiting for a green light.

For the first time in several years, I opened my wallet and saw a twenty dollar bill. Without hesitation, I lowered my vehicle’s window, stretched out my hand and proceeded to hand him the bill. As he slowly accepted it, his eyes filled with tears and he said, “Thank you so very, very much. This money will help me more than you’ll ever know.” As the light turned green and I started to drive away, I heard, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I obviously will never know this elderly man’s story of hardship. I’ll never find out what that small gift of money was used for, nor will I ever realize if he perseveres through it; however, there is one thing I’m confident of: he needed someone to step up and offer a kind gesture. Twenty dollars for many of us equates to 3-4 fast food lunches, gasoline or highway tolls for a few days, or several candy bars in a cup from Starbucks®. But a twenty dollar bill for this man clearly will stretch so much further.

Offer a sense of genuine “niceness” or a gift of kindness to someone today—like a simple smile or something more. Regardless of how you choose to express it, know that nice people are all around you. And by demonstrating simple acts of niceness, you can significantly elevate your sense of meaning and gratitude in life. Positive acts, when not demonstrated for reciprocity sake, usually offer profound positive effects, which inevitably actually lead to a reciprocal ripple effect. So be the one who “nicely” stands out in the crowd, towering high above the rest.