How To Have Nice Things

Every day I reflect on my life to figure out what lesson I learned that day. Then, I share that lesson with you.

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I have really nice things. I carry one of the best smartphones, all my clothes are expensive (compared to most big box/mall brands) and fit my exacting needs. I eat organic, healthy foods and I drive a nice car.

I am not bragging. Less than 10 years ago, I lost everything. I was living paycheck to paycheck, wondering how I was going to survive a divorce, a new career, and a new life in a new city on less than half my former salary. I cried myself to sleep many nights. I had no friends, no family nearby. It was just me and my misery for a long time.

I am not looking for kudos or empathy. I know you have probably been there, or at least felt like you have at times. Maybe you are in a tough spot now. I thought you might like to know how I rebuilt, and ended up with even nicer stuff, in 3 easy-sounding (but immensely difficult) steps:

     1.  I singled out the real, true essentials. I turned to a minimalist lifestyle. I threw out every thing I did not need. I mean everything from old year books to pots and pans to clothes to furniture to towels to books. If I did not use it, touch it, look at it, or notice it over the course of a year, then I decided it must not be as important to me as I thought. I tossed it, whatever it was. Soon, I only had what I truly needed, with very few exceptions.

     2. If I could not afford it, then I did not buy it. Money was tight. I might have wanted a new (blank) to replace my old (blank) but if I did not have the money in hand, I simply could not buy it, just like when I was a kid looking at the candy in a grocery store. Sure, I wanted it all but if I only had 50 cents, then all I could afford was a couple of suckers, and that was better than nothing. No credit, no borrowing, no creative financing. The fun ran out when the money did and that was that.

     3. When I did buy it, I bought the best one I could afford. I needed jeans for a long time but I did not buy a pair until I had saved enough to buy the only pair I wanted–the vegan friendly Prana Axiom jeans with gusseted inseams and rugged stretch fabric. They were (and still are) the gold standard to me and the funny thing is, they were worth every penny. They still look like new and fit like a charm, plus I can sit cross-legged in them without any worry of tearing the fabric. I bought one pair. It was another year before I could buy a second pair. The same went for every product I now own. Until I could afford the one I wanted, I either bought nothing or the absolute cheapest piece of junk that would help me get by.

 

I still live small but everything I own is the thing I chose. I went from zero to luxury in less than a decade and you can, too. I had no idea how little I actually need and how much better I can live, when I think small, live without owing, and pay the most I can afford for the best I can afford.

For me, it is the tale of two worlds, and frankly, I like the world I live in now better.

 

 

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How to Set Powerful Goals

Goals are falling out of style but they still have a place in helping teams align.

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I am in a weird place with goal-setting. I used to be a huge proponent for goals, but now I am experimenting with eliminating goals from my routine in exchange for principles and values to help guide decisions. Goals can sometimes lead to a never-ending rat race of chasing goals. Nonetheless, I still think setting goals is a useful tool, especially around work, and here is how to do it well.

There are two ways to climb a mountain. The first is to strap on a pair of boots, head toward the top, and hope for the best. The other is to have a map—a planned route and clear direction showing the best, fastest, most likely way to reach the summit.

Goals can be like maps—they help us see the way ahead and plan a path to success. And what happens when you reach the top of a mountain? You feel like a champion and see other mountain tops to climb!

There are five ways to make goals powerful and useful:

1. Goals must exist in reality. This means a goal must exist in both specific Time and specific Space. If you can not measure what you have done by the time you committed to doing it, then how will you know if you achieved it? A goal of meeting Brian at 8:00 for drinks, for example, meets the criteria of specific time–8:00. But where? By contrast, meeting Brian at Zod’s Cafe for coffee meets the specific space criteria–Zod’s Cafe. But when? The more you narrow it down, the better. “Brian, I will meet you outside the doors of Zod’s Cafe Wednesday morning, the 28th, at 8:15am.” Now you have a legitimate goal! On Wednesday morning of the 28th, at 8:15am, you are either waiting for Brian at the doors outside Zod’s or you are not. You hit the goal or you didn’t.

2. Avoid ambiguity. Words like “every” and “always” kill goals. As in, “I will ask every customer to try our widgets” or “I will always try to improve”. As soon as ambiguity enters your goal, it transforms the goal into a wish. Of course you are not going to ask every customer every time about widgets. A customer probably walked in while you were reading this and you forgot to ask. In other words, do not set a goal up for failure. Answer the question, “What will be different than it is now, by what amount between zero and infinity, and by when, exactly?” 

 

3. Remember, goals are not assigned orders. There should be no additional penalty for not reaching goals (the penalty is not reaching the goal). Many leaders drop the ball here by attempting to provide negative incentives for missing a goal. This is like telling a marathon runner who falls short of the finish line, not only did he lose the race but also you are going to shoot him in the foot. Chances are, he will not be eager to run the next marathon for you.

4. Goals should be a stretch but possible to achieve if everything goes the as planned. There was a time when leaders were being pushed to set unrealistic goals (“Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals” or “BHAGs”). The idea was that teams do not know what they are capable of unless or until they reach for something that seems unreasonable. There is some truth to this, of course. Until you are pushed, you do not know where your limits are. However, you do not start a daily jogging routine by entering the Boston Marathon. First, you have to learn to run to the stop sign at the end of your block and back. Make goals a stretch, but achievable, and then build on successes and work toward larger goals.

 

 

5. Goals should be inspiring. This is, admittedly, the toughest part for me. I am not great at creating clever, fun ideas, or games to inspire people (luckily, though, I am good at finding people who love using those creative muscles, and I ask them for help). A goal that inspires the CEO (“Let’s increase revenue 40% by June 15th of next year”) may not inspire the clerk in the mail room even if he or she is necessary to the goal (maybe they are responsible for collection notices being sent each month). The owner of one company I know found a clever way around this. He turned company goal-setting on its head. Rather than him coming up with the next company goals for everyone to chase, he asked every department to create 1-3 goals for the next quarter (and a tracking system to measure their progress) and then he reviewed all the department goals to create the overall company goals to tie them together!

 

 

Those are the most effective strategies I use, or have witnessed, to create goals but I am not convinced “goals” as we know them are going to survive in the transforming workforce. I have begun trading goals for values and principles that over-arch all decision-making but, at least for now, I still think goals have a valuable place in our lives. Goals are especially useful for helping bring a new team together or helping an individual start down a desired path.

If you use goals, at least now you know how to use them well.

 

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How To Have A GREAT Weekend

Today’s Lesson: Less planning equals greater possibilities.

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I don’t know about you but weekends are serious business for Nicole and me. And that is the problem. We often plan our weekends like military extraction operations.

Our list of must’s typically includes mission-critical tasks like laundry, groceries, cleaning, grooming, taking out trash, changing litter, making meals, preparing for the coming week, clothes shopping, etc. That is before anything is planned for fun or relaxation, which sometimes feels like added chores anyway (we have to be at the movies by 10, so we can have lunch at 1, to get to the beach by 3, and leave by 6 to get to the grocery store… you get the idea.).

I have found sometimes the planning leads to paralysis-by-planning. Nothing seems to get done and we are more tired at the end of the weekend than when it started. Of course, I know we are not alone.

Here is a little trick I have found works wonders (but it is REALLY tough to adhere to). Whenever I plan my weekend like this, it allows for spontaneity, adventure, and fun, and somehow the mission-critical stuff is still accomplished (or, it turns out, some of it is not actually critical and finds its way postponed into next week).

Plan no more than 3 things each day. Pick the truly “must be done” things. “Wash the car”, for example, is something that is convenient to do on weekends but not critical. If it gets done, fine. If it does not, people will judge you about your car but they were going to judge about something anyway. At least you will already know you have a dirty car.

Keep the tasks simple–so simple you can remember them all day. Saturday: Pay bills, vacuum, groceries.

Do the crucial stuff first. If nothing is more important than making sure your budget is done on Saturday, then just do it first thing. When you put it off, you waste energy worrying about it, which means when you get to it, you have less energy and focus to do it right.

Keep a list for spontaneity. It sounds counter-intuitive, but we share a list in Google Keep. Whenever we drive by a sign or place and remark, “Oh, that looks cool. We should check that out some time…” it goes on the list. Then when we find ourselves bored, saying “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” We consult the list and pick something. The list is always growing so there is always something to do! There are parks, stores, events, bike trails, beaches, all kinds of things on our list. We don’t consult it very often (we usually know what we want to do) but it comes in handy on occasion.

 

I find this method of not cramming a long wish list into the weekend helpful but the hardest part is remembering to keep the weekend simple. Allow breathing room. The space between chores is where creativity, spontaneity, and even romance can occur. Otherwise, you are only extending your work week… and it is good to have a day off once in a while.

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5 Super-Easy Ways to Be Vegan

Eat the Rainbow, by Markus Spiske / raumrot.com / CC-BY

Today’s Lesson: Changing your life is scary, but your life is truly a matter of life or death. Making your life better does not have to be all or nothing and it does not have to happen all at once. Just take one step. Then another. Stumble. Try again. Remember, that worked for learning how to walk…

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Friends and family often come to me for advice on how to be more vegan or adopt a more vegan-friendly diet. The question has come up lately–“How do you do it?”, which means, “How can I do it?”

Usually someone is asking for advice on eating a plant-based diet to enjoy some of the many health benefits I have experienced being vegan (needing less sleep, thinking faster, losing weight, having more energy, lowering risk of diseases, etc.).

I think better health is a fine reason to go vegan. I hope that also leads to more people thinking about a better system of care-taking for the world’s other inhabitants. It would be pretty cool, I think, to have as many cow friends as people friends, or deer friends that have become dear friends. I remember the thrill of learning our cows and pigs had names when I was a kid, and then the horror of learning we were going to eat them. That was long before I would become vegan but it stuck with me.

The mistake most people make when considering being vegan (or vegan-ish)  is thinking it is an “all or nothing” game, that it is going to be a drastic and miserable life change. It can be, but it does not have to be. I see all change in life (positive or negative) as simply a system of habits. Eating one bad meal won’t kill you. Eating one good meal won’t heal you. It is the habitual practice of one or the other that will lead you to your results (good or bad).

I have five tips to offer that will help you on your way to taking the first step (which you will practice, and stumble, and practice again–remember, it worked for walking–it works for eating). I want to note, however, these are not necessarily healthy tips. These are to help you take the first step. I am not going with full-on tofu love and crazy-sounding ingredients (except one) to make you vegan like a pro just yet. This is for those of you who do not live in vegan meccas or even really have an idea where to start. These tips are training wheels to get you moving the right direction. That being said (and apologies for the long intro), here are 5 Super-Easy Ways to be Vegan (or more vegan-ish):

1. A vegan meal is just a regular meal with one or two things traded out. It’s not all tofu, tempeh, and seitan with Nori salad. Check this out.

Non-vegan plate: steak, mashed potatoes, and a side of corn.

Vegan plate: baked potato with broccoli and McCormick Bac’n Bits (the original–they have always been vegan!), corn, and a side of asparagus (or just an extra helping of corn).

Non-vegan plate: burger with beef patty, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard. Crinkle-cut french fries. Pepsi (because Coke sucks).

Vegan plate:  burger with Portobello mushroom cap patty, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard. Crinkle-cut french fries. Pepsi (because Coke still sucks). To note, the buns probably are not vegan, but just worry about the basics for now.

2. Replace meat with potatoes. Potatoes are hearty and filling like meat. If you feel like Spaghetti Marinara is not real spaghetti because you need meat sauce and meat balls, then chop up some potatoes, pan-fry or roast them, and then toss them into the sauce. Add a few other veggies too, like, zucchini, mushrooms, and green pepper. Or make gnocchi instead of spaghetti. (If you have never had gnocchi, they are like ravioli but made with potatoes and super-easy to make from scratch–just search online). With all the other flavors and hearty starches, you will never notice the meat missing.

3. Replace butter with olive oil. Many top chefs already do this and the idea has been advocated on America’s Test Kitchen. Olive Oil is heart-healthy and delicious. In fact, it is not actually oil like other refined oils (including vegetable and corn oil). To make olive oil, you crush olives. That’s it. Olive “oil” is really just olive “juice”. It can replace butter on anything. Try a little olive oil instead of butter on toast (it’s awesome!). Use it on popcorn, mashed potatoes, literally anywhere you would use butter.

If a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of butter, just use 3 tablespoons of olive oil. There are many kinds and flavors of olive oil. Find the one you like best. Most grocery stores charge outrageously high prices for olive oil and I have no idea why. You can find absurdly cheap prices if you have a Mediterranean grocery store or deli nearby (Italian deli or Arabic grocery store, for example).  If nothing else, even Amazon.com has better prices than most grocery stores, including shipping.

4. Replace cheese with Nutritional Yeast. This is the one weird-sounding ingredient that is an absolute must in our house. Nutritional Yeast is a flaky, yellow powder that adds a tart, cheesy flavor to anything. You can sprinkle it on macaroni and stir it in with olive oil for a light, zesty mac and cheese flavor. Use it on soups, salads, pretty much anything. If you can not find nutritional yeast at your local grocery store, order it online for a pretty good bulk price. In my experience, no specific brand is better than any other so just go with the cheapest (although you might prefer flakes over powder, but they taste the same).

5. Replace dairy milk with any other milk. In most local grocery stores, you can now have an abundance of non-dairy milks, either in the health food aisle or in the refrigerator section. This was tough for me, at first, because I used to drink cow’s milk with every meal. Now, this is one of my favorite parts of being vegan. There is a type of milk for every meal!

The choices are amazing. The biggest part of this tip is to try them all until you find a few that you love. You have lots of milk choices here and they are all healthier than normal cow’s milk (which was made for baby cows, not baby humans): Soy, Oat, Almond, Coconut, Almond-Coconut Blend, Hemp, Flax, Rice, etc. They are all great. My personal preference is unsweetened Almond-Coconut for cereal, Soy for coffee/lattes, Oat for drinking with dinner or just as a treat. Think of them as flavorings for whatever you are eating.

Also, you might find you like a particular brand of milk over another. They are not all created the same, so take your time trying different types of each milk. There is definitely something for everyone.

If you live where there are no store-bought options or if the alternative milks are still outrageously priced, consider buying a milk powder from Amazon or other online retailer (there is soy, almond, rice, etc…). The powders can be mixed with water and you get a lot more for your money, but in my opinion, they are not as tasty (you have to get the water to powder ratio just right!). Nonetheless, they are often a better value than what you will find in the store.

Bonus Tip: The more colors, the more nutrients. Since this applies across the board, I am not considering it one of the 5 tips. Both non-vegans and vegans have heard this advice: “Eat the rainbow,” which basically means the more colors your meal has, the healthier it is likely to be. The reason is the colors of fruits and vegetables is determined by the amount of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients within them (their only ingredients).

A dark, leafy lettuce, for example, will likely have more vitamins than a lightly colored leafy lettuce (it will also have a stronger taste). Have fun with colorful meals. Try to have at least 5 colors in each meal: white potatoes, red tomatoes, green broccoli, yellow corn, and orange pepper, for example, could make an interesting veggie soup! Purple shredded cabbage, brown mushrooms, tan chickpeas, dark green spinach, and blueberries might make a great salad!

 

There you have it. Some super easy starter-tricks to start adopting a healthier, closer-to-vegan lifestyle. You can worry about getting good and reading ingredient labels later. You don’t have to fall in love with tofu to start (or ever). Just focus on the big three for now: meat, dairy, and cheese (I know “cheese” is dairy but a lot of people do not–it really is practically its own food group).

In the future, I will share a few super-easy vegan recipes I use for every day meals, and I mean SUPER-easy. I am the laziest cook in the world because I am busy and I need meals that are even easier than ordering from Chipotle! I’ll share a few that work for me and maybe they will help you, too.

Feel free to toss questions my way via your social media of choice (I’m “Michael Salamey” everywhere) and share with your friends–having a supporter can help you go a long way. Plus, questions help me create new blog posts without having to come up with ideas myself!

Good luck on your journey to better living.

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How to be Heard

Today’s Lesson: Speak up (but not too loudly).

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I have a bad habit of talking under my breath. I have been accused of mumbling but it is not mumbling because I enunciate enter word. I just speak down and low as if I am the only person who needs to hear me.

This means I frequently have to repeat myself which irritates me because then I feel like people are not listening or paying attention to my words.

Of course, my response to that is to that is to overcompensate and repeat what I said in an aggressive, loud tone.

It turns out that makes the listener feel stupid and attacked.

Today, I met a waiter with the same affliction. After listening to me repeat my order three times (exasperatedly by the third), he said very loudly (and a bit exasperated himself), “I HEARD YOU THE FIRST TIME. WHAT I KEEP ASKING IS, ‘DO YOU WANT IT ON A WHOLE WHEAT TORTILLA?”

(Yes, I do.)

If I remember to speak from my diaphragm (so I feel my voice resonate in my chest) instead of letting most of the sound come from my nose and throat (that nasally voice some people use, particularly when whining), the sound carries further with less effort. Facing the person I am speaking to and listing my head to project the sound toward them helps too. I never need to overcompensate when I simply speak well.

Don’t speak softly and carry a big stick. Just speak well, say what you mean, and you won’t need the stick.

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An Easy Way To Have More Energy

Some days seem to drag while others zip by. You are the same person every day, so why don’t you have the same energy each day?

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Some nights you sleep well, some are a struggle. For the most part, you have your daily routines, eat pretty much the same types of food, and for the most part have the same amount of activity each day.

It all seems to average out but I have noticed people’s energy (meaning awareness, activity, and acuity) is all over the map. Some days we drag and feel sluggish, others we seem to come out swinging and hit home runs all day! Why isn’t our energy level average most days?

The easy answers, I know, are always external factors like sleep, caffeine, exercise, etc. Today, while I was driving, the sky was overcast and I did not care for the music playing in my car and I felt really bored and on the borderline of a headache. Then, one of my favorite songs came on just as the sun came out and before I knew it, I was singing and tapping my feet and I felt lively and alert.

During moments of the day, I had lots of energy–when I was engaged and enjoying myself, and during other moments all I wanted to do was nap.

I thought I did not sleep well last night or maybe I needed an extra caffeine or sugar boost today. Then I realized I was responding to external stimuli but the energy was coming from inside of me the whole time. I generated the energy I wanted when I wanted it. When I felt bored or depressed in a moment, I let that take over. All I had to do, though, was put on a good song, or smile and move and suddenly I felt better. I could have done that the whole time!

 

Today’s Lesson: You choose your energy level.

 

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How to Tactfully Challenge Your Boss (5 of 5)

A friend asks: “Do you have a blog post on ‘How to tactfully challenge your leader?” Yep. I have 5!

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Your boss asks you to do something that seems bad for business or bad for your team. You want to speak out but you are not sure how without the situation backfiring.

Every boss and every working relationship is different, but here are five tips that help me keep the peace while challenging the status quo:

((Read part 1part 2, part 3, and part 4.)) 

 

5 (of 5). Ask dumb questions. A “dumb” question is what I refer to as “a blatantly obvious question to which you already know the answer“. Pretend you have no idea why your boss is asking whatever he is asking and that you are somehow missing the point. Ask the dumbest question you can think of that will innocently challenge his proposal (probably something like, “Okay, but may I ask why?” or “Help me understand why we are… ” And consider following up with, “Okay, what can I do to help?”

Today’s Lesson: Sometimes asking dumb questions leads to great insights on both sides of the conversation.

I hope this series helped you find ways to politically and tactfully challenge the ideas you think might not lead to the best outcomes. If you want to keep the conversation going, share a story, or offer a tip of your own, be sure to comment on my FaceBook or Tumblr page, or via Twitter. Also, if you found value in the posts, be sure to share them or subscribe to the blog. Thanks for reading and sharing!

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How to Tactfully Challenge Your Boss (4 of 5)

Reader question: “Do you have a blog post on ‘How to tactfully challenge your leader?” Why, yes. In fact, we have 5!

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Your boss asks you to do something that seems bad for business or bad for your team. You want to speak out (and your peers are hoping you will) but you are not sure how to do it without the situation blowing up.

Every boss and every working relationship is different, but I can offer five tips that help me keep the peace while challenging the status quo:

((Read part 1part 2, and part 3.)) 

4 (of 5). Use humor. Not agreeing with your boss is almost always more palatable if you can have her laughing while disagreeing with her. Most people love to laugh and are more amenable to suggestions if they are at ease in a good mood. Here is a super secret pro tip I stole from James Altucher: if you know you are going to confront your boss tomorrow, spend today listening to comedians or watching stand-up comedy.

Think about it. Stand-up comedians are professional speakers who challenge conventional ideas for a living and they do it in ways broad audiences accept (and even laugh about!). Before having a challenging conversation, watch stand-up acts. Pay attention to their movements, mannerisms, and vocal cadence. Notice the pauses and set-ups for punch lines. Don’t steal their act. Steal their actions.

This tip is also great as preparation for public speaking, interviews, most social gatherings (if you feel nervous about crowds), or pretty much any speaking engagement.

 

Today’s Lesson: Laugh it up before putting yourself on the spot. It puts both you and the other person at ease. Also, learn from the people who do what you need to do best.

Tomorrow, I’ll share a dumb tip that works magic.

 

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How to Tactfully Challenge Your Boss (3 of 5)

From a former colleague: “Do you have a blog post on ‘How to tactfully challenge your leader or something like that?” Why, yes. Yes, I do. In fact, we have 5 now!

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I have been there. My boss asks me to do something that seems bad for business or frankly just sounds like a bad idea. I want to speak out (and my peers are counting on me to) but I am not sure how to do it without the situation blowing up.

Every boss and every working relationship is different, of course, but I can offer five tips that help me keep the peace while challenging the status quo:

((Read part 1 and part 2.))

3 (of 5). Understand your boss might not necessarily agree with the instructions he or she is giving you either. If your boss is generally a bright person yet he is asking you to do something that seems counter to his personality or typical leadership style, he might be following directions, too. A good manager never lets his direct reports distinguish from the Company’s viewpoint and his own (because that is a sure-fire way to disenfranchise employees and pit them against their employer, as well as make the boss seem ineffective and powerless). Or he might understand how the Company is looking at it because he has information you are not yet privy to. That info might change your mind but he may not be at liberty to share it yet.

In all my years leading teams, I have never seen a strategy rolled out without the Company’s best interest in mind. Companies never come up with ideas to sabotage themselves (not intentionally). Front line workers and middle managers do not always see the big, long-term picture. Unfortunately, middle managers are stuck between both standing behind the Company and standing up for the Employee–it is a tough, unfair spot but that is why the best people in the company are usually there.

 

Today’s Lesson: Companies and bosses, like all people (which is what companies and bosses are made of) sometimes have to learn from their mistakes before they can grow again. You can challenge every decision you think is bad but remember you might not have all the information and you can always try trusting your boss first…

Tomorrow, I will give you a super-secret tip that will help you stand up in front of any crowd!

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How to Tactfully Challenge Your Boss (2 of 5)

Question from a reader: “Do you have a blog post on ‘How to tactfully challenge your leader or something like that?” Why, yes. Yes, I do. In fact, we have 5 now!

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((Read part 1.))

I have been there. My boss asks me to do something that seems bad for business, for my team, or frankly, just sounds like a bad idea. I want to speak up (and my peers are counting on me to) but I am not sure how to approach my boss without the situation blowing up.

Every boss and every working relationship is different, of course, but I can offer five tips that helped me keep the peace while challenging the status quo so far in my career:

2 (of 5). Keep your emotions out of it. When your boss asks you to do something you think is stupid or not in your best interest, probably two things are happening. The first is, your boss likely struck a nerve that makes you feel intimidated by the request or demand (which probably means it will lead to personal growth–something we all react to with initial resistance). The other thing that happens is it becomes an interruption to your emotional comfort zone, which means you are going to feel emotional about it. The problem with acting on your emotions is they are sometimes misplaced or out of proportion to the actual problem.

We sometimes become irrationally mad at inanimate objects that do not act differently than they have acted before (I am prone to be angry at my phone when it runs slowly–something it sometimes does yet I am always surprised and angered by until I reign in my emotions). When I react emotionally, I am giving away my power and authority to random chemicals and inciting the other person to do the same. Soon, any actual conversation has ended and we are both only trying to out-emotion each another (whoever seems angriest wins). The actual problem is never solved. The only resolution is the contest of emotions is over and ultimately my boss has the trump card on that anyway.

You can not control or dictate the emotions of someone else but the calmer and cooler you remain the more you signal the other person to do the same and the more power you gain in the conversation.

 

Today’s Lesson: Some people think power is loud and boisterous. Power is the opposite. It is the quiet, calm collection of thoughts and precision placement of words and influence. Before any storm, there is always the Calm.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you what your boss can’t or won’t.

 

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