Stop whining

whine cranky“Complaining is not a strategy” (Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder). This quote hits the mark and is now being featured in Startup Vitamins‘ posters and other products.

I’ve been known to do a bit of complaining from time to time. What separates legitimate griping from unproductive whining? If you’re simply airing your frustrations without the goal of solving the problem, that’s whining.

If you aren’t focused on being part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. How do you stop whining?

Set a goal for positive communication. Kathy Caprino wrote on that you should have five times as much positive communication as negative talk. Doing so gets you 10 key benefits, like getting more support from others and being more resilient through the tough days.

Calibrate to reality. When we’re stressing out, we often lose sight of the facts of the situation. Think about the issue you’re whining about. What are the objective facts? Specifically, consider CIMA: What can you Control? Are there aspects you can Influence? Are there ways to Mitigate the negative effects on you? What’s left over you simply must Accept and move on.

Hang out with positive people. If your buddies are whiners, it’s going to be difficult to stay upbeat. Branch out and develop relationships with people who see the glass half full. You might even ask them how they manage to handle life’s challenges and remain optimistic.

Be true to yourself. When life hands you lemons, sometimes you just don’t have it in you to whip up some lemonade. Be gentle with yourself, recognizing that there are some days when you struggle to be positive. Recognize that tomorrow will be better, but today is just hard.

Whining, like all behaviors, is a choice. It’s your job to figure out if that’s how you want to invest your precious time – and whether it gets you what you want.

We can help you stay on the high road.

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Why change?

Change Decision Making ConceptWe’re confronted by the need to change on a daily basis. New organizational expectations require learning a new skill. External pressures mean that the team must shift their ways of working together. How do you help others quickly respond and make the necessary shifts?

Experts have made it seem that managing change is just a matter of doing the right steps in the right order. The truth is that when it comes to change (and most other things), people aren’t rational. That is, you can’t just create a one-size-fits-all transformation plan and be done with it. (Read this great McKinsey article on the “inconvenient truth” about managing change.)

Leaders have been told to craft a compelling story that will motivate others to change. In fact, there have to be many different stories, and those are best created by the people who are required to change.

As a leader, you can facilitate people’s story creation by exploring their compelling motivations. Compelling motivation is the “what’s in it for me?” that will drive commitment. You can’t tell them they have “skin in the game.” They need to identify this reason to transform.. That might be a positive reason (“a great opportunity”) or a negative one (“if we don’t change, bad things will happen”). Whatever it is, it should be significant enough to compel people to move into unknown territory.

The good news is that your job as a change leader is not to come up with the one right message. It may feel like more work to support people’s individual exploration, but it’s the right way to make sure commitment is achieved and sustained.


We love helping people change.

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When facing an ethical dilemma, ask yourself this

Nothing is going rightLeaders are often faced with tough decisions and must resolve ethical dilemmas. They think about the ends – what will be the possible result of each alternative? Hopefully, leaders also examine the means – what actions will be taken and how will they measure up against our values?

When you are pondering an ethical decision, there is one question that can be a guiding light in the darkness. Would I want my decision to appear on the front page of the newspaper or be posted prominently in the public arena?

Re-think choices that you would not want to showcase on Facebook or to be re-tweeted in perpetuity. It’s said that whatever is posted on social media lives forever. The consequences of your choices do as well.


Make all of your decisions worthy of front-page review. Contact Humanergy today.

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Two ways to boost your employees’ performance

It makes intuitive sense that how people feel day to day impacts their contributions on the job. New research by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer “reveals the dramatic impact of employees’ inner work lives—their perceptions, emotions, and motivation levels—on several dimensions of performance.”

Your inner work life boils down to your emotions, level of motivation and perceptions throughout the day. What is the link between good or bad days and how people perform?

People perform better when their workday experiences include more positive emotions, stronger intrinsic motivation (passion for the work), and more favorable perceptions of their work, their team, their leaders, and their organization.

Not surprisingly how people are managed has a significant impact on the quality of their inner work lives. This study found two key differentiating factors when they examined managerial impact. The first was enabling employees to make progress – to achieve a goal, reach a milestone or solve a problem. This means not getting in the way and actively removing obstacles that derail progress.

The second way to positively impact performance is having managers treat employees decently. Interestingly, this dimension was strongly linked with the previous one around making progress. Praising people for work that did not make progress did not have a positive impact on performance, probably because such fail praise smacks of insincerity. Employees felt better about their work and contributed more if their managers expressed appreciation for valid results and achievements.

The bottom line is that if you want high performance, it isn’t enough to set the bar high. You need to attend to the inner work life of your people as well.


Need help boosting your people’s performance? Contact Humanergy.

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Are you too nice?

I’m all for courtesy, kindness and generosity. But do you want to be thought of as nice? I can think of many reasons to avoid niceness as a label.

Niceness can work against you. Studies about agreeableness show that people who are considered warm and nice are often believed to be less competent.

“If there’s an apparent surplus of one trait, they infer a deficit of the other. (“She’s so sweet….She’d probably be inept in the boardroom.”)”

Nice people can avoid dealing with conflict. Agreeable people don’t say what’s bugging them, for fear of seeming rude or damaging relationships. Unfortunately, those frustrations ultimately are expressed in indirect and unproductive ways.

Nice people don’t advocate for themselves. Because they don’t want to appear greedy, they don’t ask for raises, promotions or a higher starting salary. They hope that their hard work and talent are obvious.

Nice people don’t give feedback when it’s needed. They are indirect (or mute) when it comes to giving constructive feedback, even when the situation clearly warrants it. Confusing giving helpful feedback with being mean, they avoid it or soft-pedal the truth.

Nice people don’t stand up for their truths. Nice people don’t speak up about what is most important – who they are and what “truths” that are central to their being. They don’t want to upset others, even if it means being untrue to themselves.

Yes, I will continue to strive for niceness, well aware that my desire to be pleasant can’t take precedence over good old-fashioned courage and truth-telling.


Need some help being just nice enough? Contact Humanergy.

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Help people learn by experience

Experience is a wonderful teacher. If you’ve ever tried to convince someone of something by using your gift of gab, you know what I mean. It’s hard to talk people into changing their minds.

Once people have experienced something for themselves, they don’t just believe it. They are true believers and are more likely to want (even need) to share it with others. It is nearly impossible to talk someone out of a belief they’ve gained through personal experience.

Helping people learn through experience takes some setup. Imagine that you want to convince people to change the way they do something at work. If the change is significant, you need to give them some insight and perspective before you say, “Do it this way now!”  How do you set the stage for people learning through experience?

1. Frame and message the idea. Put it into context, help people understand how it applies to them and stress why it matters. “Customers have been concerned that our response to complaints is slow. We are going to change processes to stay competitive.”

2. Share and compare. Ask people to share what they already know on the topic. Build on this information and clarify any points of confusion. “Here’s the current process for prioritizing complaints… What has been your experience? What has worked and what hasn’t?”

3. Test and explore. Tap into people’s previous experiences (“When has this happened to you?”) or predictions (“What would happen if…?“). People begin to think critically about the issue and understand it on a more personal level. “Have you used a matrix to prioritize complaints before? What unexpected consequences might we experience?”

4. Do and learn. Finally, help the person to experience the situation for herself; at this stage, experience becomes a shared understanding. “Let’s try the matrix for an hour with real issues. We’ll share our thoughts and suggestions afterwards.”

Even with the best preparation and explanation, it is only through experience that we can achieve profound insights and deep understanding. When a new idea is explained, tested and adapted in real life, enthusiasm and confidence soar. If you’re struggling with a problem, gain clarity through direct experience. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Wisdom is the daughter of experience.”


Want to set people up for great learning experiences? Contact Humanergy for help.

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Can you fix people?

We have heard it before. “You can’t change people.” Yet we persist with the idea that if we just use the right words at the right time, the other person will “get it.”

In “Leadership in the Age of Complexity: From Hero to Host” Margaret Wheatley (no relation to Humanergy’s co-founder, David Wheatley) talks about the myth of the heroic leader. One thing the heroic leader believes is that people will do what they are told, if they are given good enough instructions.

The problem here is the illusion that leaders control what they cannot, like what others do, think or feel. What you can control is your own actions.

Rather than jumping in to correct what’s wrong with their people, leaders can be a positive influence and provide support. They can:

Articulate a vision for the future

Be specific about expectations

Ask great questions

Give feedback on behaviors

Protect people from bureaucracy, politics and other distractions

Celebrate wins

When you feel the urge to jump in and fix a person, say, “I want to help. How can I best do that?”

Want to help your people navigate choppy waters? Contact Humanergy.

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Three steps to selling anything

We recently had a fascinating team discussion about business development. Experts say that the vast majority of successful sales conversations involve the buyer talking more than the seller. (No wonder we are turned off by the fast-talking used car salesperson!)

Whether you’re selling a product, service or idea, the most important job of the seller is to listen. You will gain valuable insight about the buyer, but only if you are fully listening (not planning your next comment).

The next priority is asking powerful questions in order to understand the reality of the potential customer.“How is production affected when this machine breaks down?”

Finally, summarize your understanding to make sure that what you heard is really what the other person said. Do not assume that you get it. Periodically sum it up in your own words. “What I heard was you have a problem with the amount of resources this solution will require.”

One potential pitfall is asking questions in order to persuade, not to understand. Questions with an ulterior motive feel manipulative to the listener and can be a barrier in any conversation. When seeking to influence, whether you’re selling a service or an idea, ask honest and sincere questions.

Excellent tips for asking questions (stay in a state of curiosity to sort out where people are coming from) and listening (eliminate judgmental self-conversation, such as “They’re just not getting it!”) are found in Kevin Cashman’s blog on Fast Company.

You have listened, asked questions and ensured that you have mutual understanding. Now is the time to offer your solution. “The wise man puts himself last and finds himself first” (Lao Tsu).


Want to be a whiz at selling your big idea? Contact Humanergy.

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Are you a bully boss?

I saw these words on a t-shirt yesterday:

Humankind. Be both.

Full of warm feelings about the human family, this morning I read a Washington Post blog titled, Do jerks make better leaders? Geoffrey Nunberg concludes that jerky CEOs (he calls them A-holes) get more airtime from the media and attention in popular culture. “Every age seizes on one social miscreant to personify its deepest social anxieties,” and for the moment, it’s the bully boss.

New leaders can confuse the need for clear expectations or accountability with the need to be a jerk. I hope that everyone who reads Mr. Nunberg’s post will focus less on the Donald-Trump-like antics and more on these last two lines:

“True, every once in a while an A-word aspirant manages to percolate to the executive dining room on the strength of audacity alone. But the majority wind up seven job changes later, still in the company cafeteria, eating lunch alone.”

Bill Taylor sums up the importance of kindness (versus being smart) on Harvard Business Review’s blog:

“So by all means, encourage your people to embrace technology, get great at business analytics, and otherwise ramp up the efficiency of everything they do. But just make sure all their efficiency doesn’t come at the expense of their humanity. Small gestures can send big signals about who we are, what we care about, and why people should want to affiliate with us. It’s harder (and more important) to be kind than clever.”

Go forth and be an intelligent, demanding and nice leader!


Want to find better balance between kindness and accountability? Contact Humanergy

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Use influence to reel in success

Influence allows you to impact results through your interactions with other people. Although you can’t control the outcome completely, you can increase the probability of achieving the impact you desire by how you network, communicate and find common ground with other people.

A powerful metaphor for influence is sport fishing. How is it that you can use a 50-pound line to land a 250 pound fish?

Be patient. Know where you want to end up, but manage your expectations along the way.

Be aware. Influence and manage the other people on the boat – the other people who can affect the situation.

Control yourself. Check your ego and your need to win.

Be purposeful. Be intense, but don’t make rash choices; consider the impact of your actions.

Know your fish. What are the characteristics of others involved? What choices are they making right now?

Be the fish. Don’t focus on you and your needs; get in the heads of the others involved.

Adjust as you learn. Your desired outcomes and your actions may need to change to create the right results for everyone.

Work within the parameters of the line. What are your limits and abilities? What do others want? What can they contribute?

Reel it in. Don’t ease up just because things seem to be going well. Follow through with 100% of the discipline you had when you started.

Use your influence to reel in the big fish and contribute to the greater good. Remember the words of Jackie Robinson: “A life isn’t significant except for its influence on other lives.”