When Drama Overwhelms You

You’ve seen it at work and at home. Someone is anxious about something and suddenly you are feeling anxious too. You know this isn’t healthy and that you shouldn’t feel this way which only makes it worse. Now you’re self-judging for not distancing yourself from the drama and begin to doubt your own effectiveness. You start losing sleep and wake up in the middle of the night, running the day’s conversations over in your mind.  

Lately, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and sucked in by another person’s angst. Drama is created when a person can’t accept the way they feel so they try to externalize it or put that feeling off on others, usually in a highly demonstrative or desperate way. This behavior provides them a temporary yet unsustainable relief from their discomfort. Thus, they continue the drama dance to try to unload their despair. 

I notice I have been feeling anxious and assuming the anxiety of this person. I’ve...

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What Beliefs Affect Your Career

As children we adopt a belief system based on the belief system of our parents. Depending on the parenting style, we are likely rewarded and reinforced for doing what these teachers think is good. We are criticized and penalized for what is bad. It is how we learn to stay safe. It is how we fit in. 

Negative feedback can be helpful in an urgent situation such as a hot stove. Not so much when it comes to development, leaving us feeling as if we don’t belong unless we are ‘good.’ 

As adults we live out this belief system and learned perspectives. When life sends us a difficult situation often we internalize this as having been “bad” and deserving of this hardship. “Must be something wrong with me.” 

Beliefs translate to behaviors. If we grew up around anxiety we’ll likely address discord with it. If we grew up around positivity we’ll find the good. Often negative life messages are merely assumptions but we are...

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When They Threaten to Make You Look Bad

Last evening a client told me a story of how a customer was being condescending and threatened to report her to her boss in a truly snotty way over something that didn’t make sense. My client felt under siege and desperately asked her not to do that. The customer is doing it anyway. I suggested three things:

  1. Never act desperate. Never. You have no power after that. 
  1. Write down the script of the conversation between both parties word for word (don’t just tell him), put it in front of your boss and ask one thing, “Do you have my back?” Trust must occur between manager and direct report or your culture is crap. 
  1. The next time anyone threatens you, confuses you, accuses you or makes you feel undone ask one question, “So that we are clear, what is it that you really want?” Most unhappy people don’t know and will try to deflect. Just keep asking the same question. This is your home base. 

My client said that if she had asked...

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'Older Workers' Are Getting Phased Out

Older workers face a brave new world: 56% of employees over 50 have been pushed out of their longtime jobs, according to recent analysis from ProPublica. And of those workers who find employment at all, only 10% end up making as much as they did before. How can workers protect themselves? First off, know your rights. Also, everyone — no matter their age — ought to focus on keeping their skills fresh, LinkedIn’s Dan Roth tells “CBS This Morning.” And in the meantime, Roth adds, line up a side hustle. “If you have a high likelihood of being pushed out, then you want to make sure there’s something you can fall back on.” 

Be prepared. Make sure you are working on things that are 1) measurable, 2) not easily transferable and 3) new and different and 4) hold a high learning curve. Up your savings or the amount withdrawn from your pay for retirement. Start the side hustle. Stay in shape. Work for a comapny that LIVES its...

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It Touched Me

This week I was refelcting on having had the good fortune of visiting the beautiful town of Copacabana and the city of Rio in Brazil for New Year’s Eve. Ten barges of fireworks are parked in the water all day on New Year's Eve awaiting three million people of all socioeconomic levels from all over the world to descend on the beach in white clothing at sundown. As the late evening approaches, seven cruise ships pepper the water behind them perched for the perfectly coordinated midnight extravaganza in perfect unison. I’ve never seen anything like it. I now know why they call it the best New Year’s Eve celebration in the world. 

In Brazil I was profoundly touched by the natives' desire to work hard and thrive. The lust for life is palpable. There are no entitlements in the country so indeed there is poverty too. But the people are not an angry. They have light hearts, play soccer all over the beach, collect empty cans for money, work tirelessly at whatever they...

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Eight Questions to Set a New Start in Motion

New Year’s Eve has come and gone. It’s a funny night. You are left with a twinge of remorse and a twinge of hope. People migrate to parties and streets with champagne in their hands surrounded by 150 of their closest friends to watch a ball drop anywhere from 10 to 141 feet, while they try to forget that they didn’t accomplish last year’s resolutions and set lower bar resolutions for the coming year. Truly the happiest people of the evening are the cabbies who are out in scores to drive all the partiers home where they welcome the next day with a headache, little recall of their pared back resolve which sounds something like “I will not drink caffeine when the Penguins have a full healthy roster” and a pork shank that needs to be roasted.

 

Most resolutions don’t come to fruition because they are merely notions. “I will lose weight” and “I will get a new job” are notions. “I will go to the gym for an...

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Undoing the Wicked Toll of Comparing Yourself to Others

Recently I listened to a client who is struggling in her marriage discuss how difficult it is to watch other happily married couples. I understand the feeling. I spent a lot of time in my first marriage wishing I had what others had and comparing myself to them as well as enabling bad behavior by making excuses for him. Then my third child was born with a developmental disability and I used to sit at playgrounds comparing her to other children while somewhat insensitively pushing her and her therapists like machines because I became so outcome focused. 

What I realized is that when we compare our lives to others and grasp at what isn’t ours we lose sight of all the good things we do have and this strips our fulfillment. This “less than” focus keeps us from letting go of what boundary maven Dr. Henry Cloud calls ‘necessary endings’ to allow for things to bloom in our lives. A healthy rose bush needs to be pruned for new buds to grow. If not,...

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When Relationship Issues Tear Your Heart Out

I have a client who is struggling hard in her marriage right now and it reminds me about the stake we take in dreams. Pain and suffering are real and raw when they hit our emotions yet we justify that the situation might not be that bad because we care about someone and the thought of losing them threatens our ability to be strong and rips at our dreams - in this case the dream of happily ever after.  

Make no mistake - there is no ‘strength’ in putting up with something that doesn’t feel right and isn't showing any sign of gettng better. That is denial. As much as you love someone if they have it in them to tear out your heart that is a choice and they are not a victim of circumstance. Communication is key. If there is none, you have a problem. If the other person doesn't choose to improve the communication and passive agressively makes you the issue that is a serious red flag. 

Separate the person from the dream. The dream can still be...

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When Someone Makes You Look Bad at Work

If you work anywhere you likely have had a colleague try to make you look bad. Most of my clients have had to struggle with this. It is disempowering and injects a fear of losing your job which ultimately leads to a fear of losing people who you love. This is where executive presence is crucial. This is where you don’t react at all. This is where you just pause, stare at them for a count of five and then ask, “Are you trying to make me look bad?” That will stop them dead.

Call them out with curiosity for exactly what they are doing. Don’t characterize them, get angry or defensive. Simply ask them if what it looks like they are doing is in fact what they are doing. If they deflect back to you say, “Ok, I wanted to get clarity on that because for a minute it felt like you were trying to make me look bad.” No one can argue with how you feel.

This scenario gives you a few moments to recenter yourself, for people on the periphery to validate in their...

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A Client Letter - You're Bad Leader

Below is a note I recently received from a client that although makes me sad, it carries great wisdom. This high performing executive leader was leaving an organization she loved and had relocated for with mixed feelings. As is often the case, she was leaving because of her boss.

 

Good morning Mary Lee,

I have one more week reporting to this woman that has made the last 14 months of my life incredibly difficult. The exit process has been even more difficult.

In 20 years in the workplace I have never experienced anything like this from someone at this woman's level. 

Every leader has opportunity, but I do not believe there are many who behave as badly as what I have witnessed over the past year.

I am also amazed how her leaders look away, an ostrich to this woman's behavior. I am not personalizing this (thank you Mary Lee), I understand it is simply inconvenient to disrupt the status quo or face the difficult conversations or the admit that perhaps it was a mistake to...

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