Pause … to Be Still (Volume 1)

How the World’s Big Pause Allowed Us to See Things More Clearly

Pause to be still and see things more clearly.

What a Year It Has Been

So many anniversaries of strange, never before imagined life milestones have been occurring from the events of over a year ago. I have found myself reflecting during these past several weeks on what it has all meant to me when the world hit “pause” and forced us to just … be still.

“It’s in the Pause” ® is about Emotional Intelligence lessons and tips, and I found it ironic that the entire world was put into the very state of PAUSE that I have been focusing on in my business just at the time when I was expecting several aspects of my career to really take off for me. Instead, the opposite happened. Life slowed waaaaaaay down. I was suddenly in a speed that I didn’t recognize, forced into my very own pause. It has been an interesting journey, to say the least

Despite many negative circumstances stemming from 2020, I have tried to view whatever I can as a gift, as I often do in life. I have used the happenings of Times Like These (Foo Fighters song title shout-out there – I highly recommend the pandemic video of that song) to percolate and grow.

As an empath, the past year was incredibly difficult for me on many levels. I absorbed it all. As someone who lives life in the middle in more of a grey area, I found that the negativity, tribalism, and us vs. them of the past year all took its toll on me at an energetic level. We are all energetic beings, after all. I found that it zapped my creativity and shut me down in some capacities. Many times, it felt like it was just all too much to take in … but, I recognized this and accepted all of it, set some healthy boundaries, and then tried to understand how I could use what we were all experiencing to provide insight and push myself forward to be better in the future.

Buckle up … this is a long one. (It’s been a while … surely this is no surprise!)

George Floyd – R.I.P.

There have been so many things I have discovered over the past 13-14 months, yet some lessons are standing out more clearly for me this week than others.

Because the world had paused due to COVID-19, it enabled us all to see and experience the pain and injustice that was inflicted upon George Floyd last year. Distractions were minimized, and attention was easily drawn to this horrific event of 2020. Watching what we now know to be a brutal nine minutes and 29 seconds was a wake-up call for so many. The trial this week had all of us reliving what happened to him in May of last year, wondering if justice would indeed be served.

I want to be very clear. This is NOT a political writing, so please do not infer anything or read it as such –if you tend to view life from that approach, please gently remove those glasses and slip on your humanity spectacles instead. Those who know me realize I am rarely approaching something from that sort of angle. Rather, this is about people, and how we can all learn, grow and live more peacefully together. From an emotional intelligence perspective, we MUST get back to the place where we are able to have respectful conversations, examine issues deeply, listen intently, and explore things together as we look for our common ground as humans working collectively to improve our world.

My heart has been full of so many emotions this past week. Well, for the past several weeks, really, as I have watched the feelings being expressed by some of my black friends and their family members navigating the complexity of what the Derek Chauvin trial brought up for them. I have watched my friends of color feeling exhausted by their ongoing frustration, pain, hope and continuing concern. I have shed tears of sadness, relief and exhaustion with them as results from the trial were released, realizing it is a small step toward accountability and justice.

One of my dear friends said she was, “Tired, angry & mourning our brothers & sisters.” Another said, “If you have a black friend, and you don’t understand their pain right now, you don’t have a black friend, you simply know a black person.” I am grateful that I am blessed with some wonderful friends of color who allow me to see the world through their lenses. While I truly cannot understand the depth of what they experience, I can certainly empathize and stand beside them in their pain, wanting more for our human race.

How Did We Get Here?

Let’s take a step back from the trial to reflect upon the past year. Although it is already April, in many ways it has been difficult for many to embrace the new year because it started out feeling very much like 2020, a year that brought so many unimaginable changes into our lives.

The past year has truly been a year like no other. I had gone into 2020 thinking it was going to be my best year yet! Having just come off a phenomenal 2019, I had very high expectations for 2020. Ha! So ironic, looking back now. Little did I know then that 2020 would sit me down instead and say, “No, girlfriend. Be still. This is your time to learn.”

My last flight of 2020 happened in February, which was on the heels of my last business trip to Atlantic City. It was the last time that year I would be able to see my family in Oklahoma on the way home. Thank goodness my niece had a baby shower so I could celebrate with everyone. Welcoming the impending arrival of her twin babies, I didn’t know then that I would not see my family for another fourteen months (an absence joyfully remedied this month!). We had to protect my sweet mom’s health, so I stayed here in California for the first time ever over Christmas until she could get vaccinated.

Like so many people, I remember the early weeks of the pandemic and how unsettled I felt with everything. My work traditionally had me traveling quite a bit, usually at least once or twice a month. Suddenly I found my business trips being canceled and postponed, week after week after week. With those cancellations were of course the cancellations of the revenue I had planned to receive with those trips. It was all quite unnerving.

I had to spring into action to be the CFO of my small business, trying to figure out what assistance was available and what I could do. I pivoted and offered different types of programs online to try to get exposure through the audiences that were accessible. All of this while trying to figure out what COVID-19 was and how to better protect myself and others. It felt like I was constantly researching!

How Our Nation’s Pause Opened Our Eyes

I found my normally steady emotions were on a bit of a roller coaster at the beginning of the pandemic. About the time I started to adjust and began to settle into the odd quality of being stuck at home, that is when we all saw as Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd and broke our hearts.

Watching the trial these past few weeks brought it all back anew …

I believe that because our nation was in a unique state of pause due to the pandemic, because we were all still, eyes were clearly opened. With other deaths of black and brown people stemming from non-violent offenses or encounters with police leading up to this event, people everywhere were now fully able to see, receive and process what was undeniable in a way they had perhaps not been able to before.

As confirmed by the jury this week, we had all witnessed a murder that was drawn out for nearly 10 minutes. At the time it happened, and for months thereafter, I was in disbelief and so shaken by what I knew I had seen. When all of the protests sprang up afterward, it seemed we were suddenly thrown back to the 1960s, a time I had thought was simply part of our nation’s past.

While I believed we had made much progress since that time – and of course there has been advancement in many areas – after this there was no denying that additional improvement was still needed. Despite the prior lives lost, many weren’t able to see the desperate need for change so obviously until we all saw what happened to George Floyd. People sprang into action, calling for justice! Our nation’s history has shown that when citizens band together for change, voices are ultimately heard, and action is taken. Many just couldn’t see it all clearly previously.

As a coach of mine once told me, “A blind spot is, by definition, a blind spot.”

What My Black Friends Taught Me Last Year

I had some incredibly meaningful conversations with some of my black friends last year, and I am so grateful to those wonderful, generous friends who opened their hearts to me to share some of their experiences through the years. I cherish those conversations. I wish I’d had some of those talks sooner. After these vulnerable conversations with my friends, I found myself experiencing sadness for not knowing what they had dealt with so frequently in their lives. It truly impacted me, and I have found myself thinking about it all quite often.

I discovered things they have struggled with daily, despite the “progress” in our world – things they have assimilated into their lives as just a normal part of having darker skin. Some things I had known on a general level. There were also experiences they shared that I could not imagine facing, because those types of things simply don’t happen to me … a tall, fair-skinned brunette. Things like being followed around the store by someone fearing theft; being singled out in a traffic stop despite not being the driver; being stopped while walking a bicycle up the hill; being looked at or treated differently in a group; knowing racists were in the room but walking in with head held high and bringing the magic, anyway.

In looking at my wonderful friends with their beautiful black skin, I was not seeing that other layer that was so deeply a part of them yet had been somewhat hidden or invisible to me. After our conversations, I was finally able to see all of it clearly … because I was still. I could pay attention. I could have these talks. I could read important articles. I could watch eye-opening documentaries and movies about black history. I listened to stories I had never heard before. I saw and heard many things for the first time, things that broke my heart. The entire nation – the world, even – could finally see more clearly, because we were all forced to be still due to COVID-19. The pandemic snapped all of us to attention.

When we are still, we can open our eyes and be aware of the things we may have missed beforehand, or we may find ourselves able to notice things that were perhaps unseen or buried from us. I am grateful for expanded vision, because it creates more compassion and empathy.

Moving Toward Change – The Importance of Accountability

The initial and misleading police report was titled, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” The report read, “Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”

Well, that’s one view, I suppose. It was, however, obviously not an accurate report as proven in the trial. These things unfortunately make people doubt police accounts, attempting to paint a picture that is different or more “acceptable” from what actually happened. Thanks to young Darnella Frazier, who had the bravery and strength to record the video on her cell phone, along with other multiple witnesses, the truth was discovered and available for others to see. While the guilty verdict on three counts in Chauvin’s trial does not bring back George Floyd or others who have been lost unnecessarily at the hands of violent or careless police officers, it does create accountability and offers hope that perhaps change is finally on the horizon.

The beauty of accountability in this scenario is that it calls out those in law enforcement who are not doing their jobs properly, which will allow the principled officers out there like those who testified against Chauvin to lead and hopefully be more effective in their jobs. This is the change people are crying out for, because accountability is important. Training is important. Self-management skills are important. Being proactive and not reactive is important. Listening is important. Empathy is important. Yes, there are life or death situations that officers will unfortunately find themselves in due to the high-risk nature of their jobs, but this incident was certainly not one of those.

There have been justifiable calls to action because these types of senseless deaths resulting from use of deadly force by police officers against people of color must stop. I heard it recently said that “people should be able to survive their stupid mistakes.” Each one of us should be able to trust in those who are there to protect us, regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability (these are the federally protected classes under fair housing laws in case you were wondering – one of the many reasons I am always focused on equity, given my exposure to the law through years in the multifamily industry).

But What About “Them”?

Things get more complicated when we label people. When we lump people into an “us” vs. a “them” – as unfortunately many people are prone to do these days – it can make the pathway to workable solutions more difficult. Seeing several sides to a situation allows for the evolution of progress. One of my COVID-19 binge shows has been Madam Secretary. In one episode, Tea Leoni’s character said, “When only one truth prevails, everything is broken.”

We should try to see all truths, even when they are different from our own. Do you attempt to see more truths, or do you typically just stick to one view? I try to look at many angles, which allows me to see multiple viewpoints, therefore opening more possibilities for communication or resolution.

In addition to talking with my friends of color, I have also been having some thoughtful conversations with law enforcement friends recently regarding types of force used, how and when they are applied, other alternatives available, and specific communication that might help prevent negative or lethal outcomes. We talked about the unfortunate reality that when they or others are in dangerous situations, officers are sometimes literally forced to protect themselves and/or others with a split-second decision that could potentially lead to a lethal outcome. Critical thinking, training, muscle memory and the emotional intelligence skill of self-management are of particular importance during these complex circumstances.

An officer friend of mine and his colleagues mourned the loss of a friend on the force last year in my hometown after the shooting of two officers during an early morning traffic stop. The first officer had tried to use his taser before the assailant grabbed it, upon which the officer pepper-sprayed him while trying to get him out of the car. He was not using his gun. The man then reached under his seat for a gun and fired at the officer and his partner. The first officer was shot in his head and body, and he died from his injuries. The second officer was shot in his head, upper body, and lower body, and last I heard he was still recovering from the gunshot wound to the head. Like what happened to George Floyd, this was horrific.

This officer was doing everything “right.” It was a traffic stop for a paper tag on a car that had expired. The man shot them to avoid being arrested, and then even pled not guilty. There are many brave law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day, and there are good police officers in communities nationwide who deserve our support. At the same time, we have seen some non-violent offenses evolve into unthinkable situations, often involving people of color. So where does all of that leave us?

It is disheartening to me that so many people resort to the “us” vs. “them” mentality, thinking that if an individual wants accountability and positive change in policing, then it must certainly mean that person doesn’t support the police. Or that if someone wants to see Black Lives Matter, that they surely must not believe in policing. While that may be the case for some people, nothing could be further from the truth for the majority of people I know. It is often BOTH … NOT one or the other.

And what about our friends who ARE both. Our black law enforcement officers have been dealing with a lot this year. My heart goes out to them as they navigate these complex times.

I am grateful for the officers I know in my own life and the things I have learned from them. The last thing they want is to be put in a difficult life or death situation, yet they are required to protect and serve in ways I cannot conceive that could result in demanding, life-changing decisions. Many of these officers want to continue to train and try to do things in the best ways possible, and they are open to conversations and change that can help. Of course, as we saw with Derek Chauvin, there are also some who do not have those intentions. The hope for so many is that some clarifications in policy and accountability can identify any disparities and hold people to a higher standard.

It’s important to keep in mind that when a difficult circumstance or event initially occurs, we should try to avoid drawing immediate conclusions. Look first for all of the facts to fully understand any actions. With emotional intelligence and self-management skills, we try to focus on facts vs. feelings first, as much as those feelings try to lead.

As citizens, we can approach things from an observer perspective, understanding one another and working together to make things better instead of vilifying each other and creating further division. That will allow progress to surface. I have found that when we can have actual thoughtful and (here’s the key!) respectful conversations – when we look at things through a bigger lens with a focus on solutions – people have little choice but to listen and learn while opening themselves to new possibilities.

Law enforcement and the community will need to come together, not as an “us” or a “them,” but as a “we” with everyone accountable to one another as we move forward into a new era. My hope is that everything we encountered in 2020 will ultimately help us rise together.

Building a Foundation of Change

Many other lessons were gleaned from the past year of stillness, but given the close of the trial this week my mind has been here. The gift of stillness can help bring clarity. 12 people were very still these past few weeks as they listened openly to testimony after testimony. With their unanimous verdict they brought peace to a heart wrenching situation.

It is not the end, but it will perhaps allow for the building of a foundation of justice. As Philonise Floyd, George Floyd’s brother, said, “This is what justice feels like: gut-wrenching relief, exhaustion. It’s not sweet or satisfying. It’s necessary, important, maybe even historic.”

What can we all do during these times to make things better? Ensure you’re not speaking into an echo chamber made up only of people who think and look like you. Be part of groups and have friendships where you can hear different voices and perspectives. Those voices should not be “yelling” their position to you on your (or their) timeline, but should instead be heard through thoughtful, respectful conversations. Pose questions. Be curious. Don’t judge. Be open to ideas that aren’t the same as yours. Interact with those who are different from you, but respectful of those differences. Grow. Engage. Watch. Learn. Love.

Equality and Accountability go hand in hand, and they are part of a greater cultural change. My friend Kelly Ingersol, whom I have known since junior high, is a minister these days. I thought he summed everything up well with what he had written this week. I share his words with permission:

“No group of people can be all right and good. It is time for us to move beyond blanket acceptance. It is time to honor those who do well and live right–even if they are part of ‘them’. It is time to hold accountable those who mess up and live poorly–even if they are part of ‘us’. Us is not always right and Them is not always wrong. Let’s widen our perspectives.”

Tonight at the Academy Awards, Tyler Perry won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. During his acceptance speech, Perry told a story about helping a woman in need who just needed some shoes, and the lesson and gift of withholding judgement. He said something that resonated with me and completely complements this post.

Perry stated, “I want to take this Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and dedicate it to anyone who wants to stand in the middle,” concluding, “… because that’s where healing happens, that’s where conversation happens, that’s where change happens. It happens in the middle. So anyone who wants to meet me in the middle, to refuse hate, to refuse blanket judgment, and help lift someone’s feet off the ground, this one’s for you, too.”

Thank you, Tyler. I’m with you. I hope many of the rest of you reading this will join us here in the middle. Let’s all be a force of good in the world.

Until next time in Volume 2, when we will deal with self-care, mindfulness and healthy boundaries … Sending peace and love to you all.

Protecting Your Team Culture

How Can You Positively Contribute to Team Performance in Divisive Times

fighting-co-workers

It happens every four years. During elections many people become impassioned with communicating their every thought and feeling about the candidates, their concerns and the causes important to them. This is all well and good when having discussions with friends who will likely be open to having a give and take conversation, but if your employees are connected on social media there are potential pitfalls that could crop up in the workplace.

As we focus on enhancing teamwork and communication through Emotional Intelligence, let’s examine some possible threats to productivity as we enter into a New Year with an upcoming transition happening in the White House this month.

OVERSHARING

While people are often friendly in the office, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have deep and abiding friendships in life – e.g. they may not spend time together outside the office, share common views, etc. When this is coupled with being “friends” on social media, it can present challenges.

Because social media is a great way to stay in touch with many people from across different facets of life, people sometimes have a tendency to “overshare” information with a larger group of people than they actually would without that podium. When these associates also work in the same office together, people who do not share the same viewpoint may start to view their colleagues with different lenses. In doing so, co-workers may find themselves wanting to disagree, dislike or disrespect someone in the office because they did not like their point of view outside the office. Even though they may try to set aside what the other person has posted that they didn’t like, it can secretly linger in the back of their minds as a judgment.

To overcome this, co-workers connected on social media should consider setting up specific groups to share certain information with when posting, to share with an audience that shares the same views or to share with a close group of friends. If your platform does not allow this function, we should encourage associates to think about professionalism and how they want to be perceived in the workplace (and in the world – your digital footprint will follow you forever!). Do employees want to be taken seriously, work well with others and be a contributing team member? Then mindful posting and possibly filtering information shared would be advised.

Of course social media is considered “your voice” … so why, you ask, should we have to employ a filter? Just think about how you feel when you think someone else shares damaging, hurtful or one-sided information when you somehow identify with the opposite view. This bus usually travels on a two-way street, and there are times people could be feeling the same thing from you. Sharing more benign, thoughtful and universal information helps prevent this and can assist with keeping the peace in the office. Limiting your posts about a topic are also helpful – some get carried away and post several times a day about the same viewpoint, which can actually lessen a message anyway due to overexposure.

ATTACKING

This comes into play specifically when people share such opposite or one-sided viewpoints that they can be seen by the “rival” group as extreme or caustic (when, in fact, someone from this other group may be doing the same thing from the opposite extreme, which results in both sides feeling the pain). These “one-sided” individuals tend to generalize and may, purposely or inadvertently, attack an entire group of people when trying to prove a point. This may occur even though all people in that group (or even people in the middle) may not share some of the viewpoints associated with the generalized rant.

Attacking can come in the form of name calling, condescending, bullying or making fun of individuals or a group. A post that feels like an attack to one person may have been as helpful by the person giving the information, because when they are so passionate about their viewpoint they put it out forcefully in an attempt to educate or convince others of its importance, certain of their message. Unfortunately, most of us have never seen anyone won over by these types of posts that poke fun of other people. It just serves to alienate others, sometimes even those who are in the same camp. When people feel “attacked,” the intent of the poster may not even realize the energy conveyed with their post. In some cases, they were just trying to be funny. Not everyone sees it that way though. Then you wonder if you run into a situation where someone ends up feeling harassed for differences, which could get you into legal hot water.

Attacking is particularly dangerous to a work culture. It causes people to not want to cooperate or work together, and often breeds discontent and disrespect. In the case of a supervisor being “friends” with employees on social media, if a leader’s posts appear to attack a certain group of people (voting affiliation, candidate supporters, belief holders, etc.), any subordinates in that group could feel their job is threatened back in the office if they don’t subscribe to the same viewpoint, even if it’s not. It’s all about perception.

TIPS FOR PARENTS

This happens in schools, too. I have spoken with students who held opposing views and were afraid to say anything for fear of repercussion from their teacher. Children’s viewpoints often come from their parents, so parents out there should be aware of the things they say about candidates and issues, noting that the impression is being made on young minds and the way they communicate in the world. This is sometimes the beginning of bullying among children in schools, when children debate who is best on the playground. Wouldn’t you rather they just play as planned instead of argue?

Raise open, intelligent, tolerant minds who will move well together in the world. They are our future, and teaching them that differing values can help provide balance is useful. Specifying to them that it’s good for people to hold different views, but that we should all respect one another and work together well regardless of differences is the key to success.

SAFEGUARDS

To prevent divisiveness and a lack of teamwork, everyone should consider what type of information they share and how they share it. This is primarily a Relationship Management issue, but it requires a high degree of Self-Awareness and Self-Management in order to execute effectively.

Why should you care? Shouldn’t you be able to share whatever you want, whenever you want? Of course … your social media platforms are your voice to freely express yourself. Just realize there could be some repercussions to that, especially when you are connected with others in the workplace. Others can and will view you differently based on what you disclose about yourself and your life, opinions, actions and activities. Consider privacy standards and connections as you navigate your positive EQ pathway.

From an Emotional Intelligence standpoint, it would behoove you to pay attention to how people make you feel. We are a diverse country with many different viewpoints, backgrounds, races, religions, national origins, etc. It is one of the best thing about living in these United States of America.

It is important that we come together and work to accept one another, even at times when that may feel tumultuous to some and individuals do not appear to understand one another. I have seen some unfriending going on in the cases where there was such a value mismatch that people can’t imagine themselves staying connected. That ended up being a good solution for some if they needed to not be connected with people they weren’t really friends with anyway.

But just think … if some of those people also worked together, what then? De-friending can lead to divisiveness spreading into the office, and it can then breed gossip. That is not a good scenario for your company, and productivity and cooperation will go down.

Be mindful of your actions, and realize there are certain helpful tools that allow you to hide updates from people so you don’t even see them. Or I like to think of Dory in “Finding Nemo,” and how she always said, “Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!”

In this scenario, every time you see the familiar poster you have no desire to read come across your timeline, you can simply tell yourself, “Just keep scrolling! Just keep scrolling!”

THE BEST APPROACH

Ultimately it comes down to the thought I saw on a recent meme, regardless of your viewpoint: “Be a nice human.”

When you have a goal of treating everyone with kindness, compassion and tolerance, wanting to be an example rather than operate on a need to prove a point, the rest of it fades into the background.

Look for the common ground with others, not the differences. That is where we find our connection and are truly united.

Wishing you all a safe, happy, productive and healthy New Year!

OH! AND PS …

If you are posting on LinkedIn, that is a business social networking site. Posts there should definitely have a professional tone, and not a personal one. 🙂

 

Valerie M. Sargent is a dynamic speaker, trainer, consultant and executive coach. A natural and engaging motivator, Valerie is a Level I and Level II TalentSmart Emotional Intelligence Certified Trainer and President of Yvette Poole & Associates. She helps individuals and organizations increase their EQ, managing emotions and relationships better on the job for maximum performance. Her signature message, “It’s in the Pause”® focuses on the need for Self-Management skills to preserve positive relationships in the workplace and beyond – follow her blog: https://itsinthepause.com/). For more information: http://ypooleandassoc.com/  or http://valeriemsargent.com/.

Pause … for Tolerance

Do you know how your core values play into your Emotional Intelligence? Caitlyn Jenner and social media are giving us lots of examples of this right now, and why the need for tolerance in our society is so important.

One of the activities that I have my EQ executive coaching clients go through is to determine their core values. The reason for this is that our values determine our assessments of situations, judgments, offenses and reactions. In the workplace, conflicting values can create stress, discord, lack of communication and troubled relationships.

What I am seeing a lot of lately on social media with the reveal of Caitlyn Jenner is a lot of posturing one way or the other with regard to her choices and actions, typically based on whether or not people think it is “right” as associated with their values. This is not dissimilar from the types of posts that people make with regard to political leanings, religion, child rearing, etc. All of these types of thoughts are tied to values. Reactions and outcries happen when someone or something offends our values.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs. Diversity can be a beautiful thing that makes our world far more interesting. The danger arises when we don’t accept people for having beliefs which may differ from our own. I’ve seen general, all-encompassing calls for unfriending those who don’t agree with a post. This is nothing new. I see it periodically each month. I call it to our attention now because it points to how the nature of those inflammatory statements (which are a type of public shaming against those whose values don’t align with the poster’s beliefs) can impact things on a  grander EQ scale.

For those of you who mix business with pleasure and have workplace associates on your friends list, when you make broad, sweeping statements associated with a value and then you have to work with someone on your friends list the next day, it can create the possibility for a hostile work environment; or at the very least, a sense of discomfort if someone doesn’t subscribe to the same belief system. If it is the case of a subordinate and a supervisor, this can create additional potential for further complications if the same values are not shared, and it all plays into company culture.

Every day, I see a lot of things on social media that I don’t necessarily subscribe to or agree with, yet I still appreciate the person who has those opinions. I believe our society would benefit from trying to practice tolerance more often. Perhaps part of this stems from my years in the property management industry and the need to treat everyone equally for fair housing purposes, but also because I know that tolerance breeds acceptance, and acceptance breeds trust, cooperation and communication in the workplace and beyond.

Am I saying we need to accept every person or every situation that we completely and fundamentally disagree with? Absolutely not. That’s why they call it tolerance. The definition of tolerance is, “A fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one’s own; the permissible range of variation.” What are you willing to tolerate?

Being mindful of the ways in which we share our thoughts and opinions and how they will be received is what we mean when we say someone has a high level of Social Awareness. Those who don’t care, well, let’s just say that they could end up with a Social AwareMESS on their hands.

Trust me, I am as sick of the whole Kardashian clan as everyone else. In the words of John Oliver who hosts HBO’s Last Week Tonight, “How is this still a thing?” Yet Bruce Jenner’s association with that family most likely led him to realize that it was easier to do this publicly than to try to do it quietly as most people would like to be able to in that situation. Now as Caitlyn, she sees an opportunity to help people learn more about and understand the Transgender community. Whether or not you agree with her choice, she has done what she felt she needed to do to be true to herself.

Yesterday, thanks to my friends at J Williams Staffing I had the opportunity to hear Mike Staver, speaker and author of Leadership Isn’t For Cowards, talk about one of the obstacles to being a person of influence: The need to be right. When we need to be right, it doesn’t allow for other viewpoints. He said the cure to needing to be right is to instead be curious … be interested.

Try to figure out the following: What can you learn about the other person? About the situation? Can you try to understand that his or her feelings come from personal values, which may not be the same as  yours? Shouldn’t that be okay, even if you don’t agree?

When we become curious and try to learn more about other people, it helps us become more well-rounded individuals. We may not always agree with everyone or understand them or their choices, but in learning more about them we will hopefully appreciate them for the unique individuals they are and the diversity they bring to our world.

If you feel yourself getting riled up because someone doesn’t agree with your viewpoint or your values, I encourage you to pause … for tolerance. And please … be mindful and respectful of the ways in which you present your thoughts to others. In doing so, you will enjoy much more harmony in your personal and professional relationships. And possibly avoid a lawsuit in the workplace!

(Photo courtesy of Ronn Ruiz of Chulo Chonies)

Valerie M. Sargent is a dynamic speaker, trainer, consultant and executive coach. A natural and engaging motivator, Valerie is a Level I and Level II TalentSmart Emotional Intelligence Certified Trainer and President of Yvette Poole & Associates. She helps individuals and organizations increase their EQ, managing emotions and relationships better on the job for maximum performance. Her signature message, “It’s in the Pause”® focuses on the need for Self-Management skills to preserve positive relationships in the workplace and beyond – follow her blog: https://itsinthepause.com/). For more information: http://ypooleandassoc.com/  or http://valeriemsargent.com/.

Pause … for Compassion

A Lesson in Customer Service

Just over a week ago, I lost my best childhood friend to cancer, that horrible disease that has stolen way too many lives far too soon. I was so grateful that my schedule enabled me to be there across the country with her during her final days. I was even blessed enough to be in the room with her as she took her final breath. Although it was all such a gift, it was a mentally, spiritually and emotionally draining time, as you can imagine.

After a trying experience like this, you begin to notice the many little ways in which people serve you and tend your wounded soul: the silence and tears shared on the phone with your BFF as you acknowledge and mourn the loss together; Chinese food, a bottle of wine and much needed laughter with a longtime friend you haven’t seen in years; the texts from those who care to check in and see how you are; the perfect books loaned to you by a loved one that are just what you needed to read at just the right time; or the surprise vase of flowers and card that a neighbor delivers with love and a hug. People are awesome. Because of this, you also notice the glaring absence of the smallest acts of kindness from strangers in moments when it would be so easy to make someone feel just a bit better on a challenging day.

In the name of Social Awareness (one of the four key competencies of Emotional Intelligence), I felt it was necessary to write this particular post based on a few customer service experiences I had after the death of my friend. As someone who conducts training classes on customer service, I share this in hopes that we all recognize the importance one little sentence can have on people everywhere who have suffered loss and have taken a moment to share that information with you in either a business or a personal capacity. Just one sentence would have offered a spoonful of comfort at a necessary time. Can you guess what it might be? It is simply this:

“I’m sorry for your loss.” 

That’s it. Just four little words. It seems basic enough, right? Something that should almost be second nature? But apparently it’s not. 

I think perhaps people sometimes don’t know what to do when confronted with death. That’s okay. I get that. It’s not a comfortable thing. But having compassion for someone in that situation can help keep emotions in a more “normal” place for both you and your customer. Let me explain. 

The morning my friend passed away, I knew it was time to book my flight back home since I had just bought a one-way ticket there. An American Airlines AAdvantage member, I went online and looked for flights home where I could use my miles. Not having any luck for flights that day based on the number of miles available for my use, I called their customer service line. I enjoy traveling on AA and had hoped my circumstances, which I explained to her, might create better luck when working with a human being rather than a computer. It did not, and there was a $75 expedite fee on top of it all. I hadn’t known about the fee that occurs with miles use without a 14-day advance purchase. Good to know, but unwanted in that moment.

While I was disappointed that she was unable to accommodate my needs that day (because, as she told me, the same information was available on her computer that I had seen online), what was more disheartening was her lack of warmth during the process, given the information I had shared with her. It felt more as if I had inconvenienced her by calling to book my flight rather than handling online myself (which I would not have done from public wifi anyway). Trust me, when you are making a call from a hospice room, you just want someone to be nice to you. That was missing. She also missed her opportunity to extend a little empathy to make it all right with the four magic words that would have set my soul at ease in that moment. At no time during the conversation did she ever acknowledge the magnitude of what I had shared with her and say, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

I found that her somewhat cool approach that lacked compassion made me feel more on edge and frustrated by my circumstances. She didn’t even seem to care what had just happened in that room not even two hours beforehand, and that bothered me. It felt as if she didn’t even hear me or care about what was so monumental to me. Luckily, I practiced my Self-Management skills and breathed my way through it. You think to yourself in this situation, “Hmmm. Maybe she was having a bad day.” I certainly was, after all. Geez. It left a sour taste, but I moved forward with arrangements to stay one more night and fly out the following day (see Chinese food, wine, and laughter comment above – thanks Bryce!). 

It Happened Again!

After making it home, I realized I had some electronics that needed to be returned to Fry’s. I had been on my way to do it prior to my trip when a car pulled across a driveway I was trying to enter, causing me to hop a curb and pop my front tire. It really was quite spectacular. You’re sorry you missed that one! Anyhow, because of tire replacement and store location I ran out of time to get my items back prior to travels once I realized my friend was entering her final days and I flew out to be with her and her family.

The Fry’s customer service guy sounded slightly accusatory when I stepped up to the counter, asking me, “Was something wrong with it?” as I set it down and told him I had a return. I told him it just wasn’t what I needed. Upon looking at my receipt he flatly informed me I was past the 30-day window for return. (That 30 day policy was not printed on the front of the receipt, by the way, and I was only a few days past the mark.)

I proceeded to tell him about the flat tire and my travels due to the sad circumstances that occurred. He looked at me warily and with mistrust, again telling me I was past the 30 days. It dawned on me that a smile had never crossed his face from the moment I stepped up to the counter. No care. No understanding. No acknowledgement. NO magic sentence! I am sure he is probably a nice guy at heart (he reminded me a bit of Healy on “Orange Is The New Black”), but it just flipped my switch! I said, “Are you serious?! I’m about to cry here!” 

And I was. And I did! My eyes started to tear up as I prepared to ask for the manager. I have managed a customer service team and I realize many people try to pull things over on customer service reps; but just as with our judicial system we should really look at people as innocent until proven guilty. I wasn’t making up those stories, and I was barely past their time frame! He then took my next move and called his supervisor over, which I appreciated.

The manager was kind and accommodating, and quickly agreed to take back the items and generate the refund despite my few days of lapse. However, neither of them looked me in the eye from that point forward as I stood at the customer service counter silently weeping, my grief coming quietly unleashed while they took action with the register. I had to ask for a tissue, which was quickly accommodated in the form of a rough paper towel torn from a continuous roll. That made me giggle internally through my tears as I realized they were an all male group who were probably unaccustomed to reducing a customer to tears. Note to everyone: It is always good to keep some Kleenex boxes on hand … one never knows. 

As I returned to my car with my refund receipt, I let the grief I had been  denying wash over me (thanks, Fry’s guys!). It arrives again now as I write this post on my Southwest flight back to my hometown for my sweet friend’s celebration of life service … I am once again crying on a plane, damn it. I did that last week on the way home as I processed the loss. Sigh …. breathing deeply. Ahhhh. Funny how that always works, the breathing. I love the gift of presence and Self-Management. And I reflect that one of my Southwest curbside baggage agents came to greet me when I checked in today, saying he could tell I’d lost some weight since he’d seen me last, bless him! (Southwest, I always say your SNA curbside agents are the BEST!!) Okay, smiling now. And breathing again … oxygen is good. Life is good. 

On a Personal Note

I want to share one final story with you that brought this full circle for me. I mentor a young man through my volunteer work with CASA, and he has been assigned to me for nearly six years. When I told him of my travels and my friend’s passing, he didn’t say anything in response. I said, “You know … when someone shares information like that with you where someone close to them has died, it is typically customary to say, ‘I’m sorry for your loss.'” 

He still didn’t say anything, and we moved on to deciding where we wanted to go as I pondered why this phrase is missing so much these days. “I planted the seed,” I thought. “It’s all I can do.” After getting our food later and sitting down at the table, he paused and said, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

I looked at him and smiled, seeing the sentiment take root in him. I felt such peace and gratitude. I said, “Thank you,” and asked if he wanted to see a picture of us together at our senior prom. He did. We laughed and went on to have a lovely day. 

That’s really all it takes. If you ever encounter someone who has just experienced the unfortunate death of a loved one, simply say the magic words: “I’m sorry for your loss.”

It acknowledges the pain and lets someone know they are not alone in this world. Even as strangers, we can generate empathy and compassion to another person who is experiencing grief and sorrow. Not only does it comfort the individual who is feeling that loss by calming them and letting them know someone cares, it makes you a connected and more compassionate human being in the process. 

Thank you. Truly.

Valerie M. Sargent is a dynamic speaker, trainer, consultant and executive coach. A natural and engaging motivator, Valerie is a Level I and Level II TalentSmart Emotional Intelligence Certified Trainer and President of Yvette Poole & Associates. She helps individuals and organizations increase their EQ, managing emotions and relationships better on the job for maximum performance. Her signature message, “It’s in the Pause”® focuses on the need for Self-Management skills to preserve positive relationships in the workplace and beyond – follow her blog: https://itsinthepause.com/). For more information: http://ypooleandassoc.com/  or http://valeriemsargent.com/.