Help Your Home Life Survive a Startup: Avoid the Spillover Effect

Founders who are passionate and obsessed with their startup, work long hours and leave work stressed out tend to bring that tension home. Perhaps you’ve heard the following refrains:

You seem so distant when we are together.

Are you hearing me?

There’s no need to raise your voice over this.

If the answer is yes, the stress from work is spilling over into your home life. This is making your home life less satisfying, which puts you in a worse mood when you return to work the next morning. Unless the spillover effect is tempered early on, this cycle only intensifies.

Here are my top three suggestions for reducing the spillover effect:

  • If you tend to come home and want to kick the dog, accept that you may need a buffer before you walk in the door. For example, stop off at the gym for 30 minutes to exercise, or decompress on the drive home by listening to soothing music or a comedy podcast.
  • Re-frame the sources of stress that could have a positive outcome. For example, a prima donna employee who threatens to leave may be a welcome loss. Or a demanding, but caring customer who is pointing out deficiencies in your product may be doing you a great service.
  • Instead of letting your evening be consumed by complaints and worries  open up a journal and write down, complete with expletives and emojis, the stressors and your feelings about them. If your partner wants to hear about your day, at least you’ll have exploded on paper prior to walking in the door. Writing things down also helps you move from emotional to problem-solving (critical thinking) mode a bit faster.

Need more help regulating your response to startup stress? Share your story with us at [email protected], and I’ll blog back some solutions!

The Power of “Willing”

If you are trying to get someone to buy into an idea, purchase something from you, or just cooperate, consider the power of the word “willing.” Questions like “Would you like to sign up for a week’s membership?” “Are you interested in making a donation?” “Did you ask your teacher about extra credit?” are all yes/no questions that hope to elicit a commitment. The trouble with these questions is that they don’t tap into the integrity of the person or make them reflect on what kind of person they are. It’s too easy to snap a “yes” or “no” reply.

I learned the power of “willing” while I sat in on a conference call with a group of very savvy salesmen and potential customers. They were not the “high pressure” kind you might expect; instead they used the power of “willing” to turn a “no” into a “yes” or a “maybe” more of the time. They asked, “Would you be willing to sign up for a week’s membership?”  “Are you willing to make a donation? These questions (spoken, by the way, without any vocal emphasis on the word “willing”) evoked surprisingly different replies:  “In that case, yes!” “Yes, I can do that.”  “Perhaps so, that sounds reasonable.”

The credit for this discovery goes to Elizabeth Stokoe, a professor of social interaction at Loughborough University and the author of an interesting book called Talk: The Science of Conversation.  She claims that “willing” works best in situations where “they care about the type of person they are, and where they’ve resisted doing the things you’re trying to get them to do.” What is fascinating about this approach is how one simple word shift changes the emphasis from what the person would like to do to the kind of person they are or how they would like to be perceived: cooperative, open-minded, reasonable.

So, how about that extra credit question and a few other chores you’d like your teenager to follow up with?  Give the power of “willing” a try! It may lead to better grades and a cleaner room!

 

Managing Conflict: What Planet Are You On?

Marlee, my 11 year old niece, sent me a picture of her science project on the solar system. As I looked for a way to describe the wide range of styles for managing conflict, her picture offered a perfect metaphor.

Imagine the sun being CONFLICT, the good and the bad. It is hot, powerful, intense and we depend on it for survival. The Mercury and Venus types among us, closest to the sun, are very cozy with conflict – they thrive on it. They are the prosecutors and debaters. Armed with strong verbal skills, they are quick, persuasive, and hard-driving critical thinkers. Conflict huggers, comparable to Mercury and Venus, pursue drama in their lives and love to “stir the pot.”

Earth types feel the heat, but do not fear conflict. They line up their facts and listen intently to adversity. Earth types are able negotiators too. They appreciate how different perspectives promote creativity and personal growth. Alert to flare–ups and other signs of conflict, Earthlings snuff out sparks of conflict before they become dangerous.

Martians, farther away from the sun than Earth, are not as proficient with conflict. They stuff their emotions and try to get along so as to diffuse disagreements. They prefer to mediate rather than meet conflict head on. Some have passive-aggressive tendencies− the unpredictable volatility makes others want to tread carefully near their orbit. This is a trait one might associate with the orbit of a “red” planet.

Then, in our solar system, as in real life, there is a BIG gap. We come upon Jupiter, a large slow moving planet. Jupiter types avoid external conflict; it has enough turmoil on its own turf. They will approach conflict reluctantly because they are awkward with it. They deflect conflict with bravado, an over-bearing presence and feigned optimism (Hey, what conflict? We’re all good here, right?) Jupiter types may stonewall, engage behind the scenes, or step in clumsily if the Earth/Mars folks can’t get the job done.

Saturn, with its many moons to distract it from conflict will, along with the Neptune types, please, appease and keep their opinions private.

Uranus-types, very far from the sun but still in its orbit, call in sick, put off performance reviews, and hate meetings. They will do anything and everything to avoid confrontation.

Pluto (a ball of ice considered to be a “dwarf planet” rather than a full-fledged planet) has an eccentric orbit compared to the other eight planets. Folks who cling to this sort of path freeze in social situations and prefer to be reclusive. They isolate themselves and find interactions of any sort, including confrontation, highly reprehensible.

Where do you stand in the solar system of conflict? Perhaps your job or family situation requires a more flexible orbit that wavers between Venus and Jupiter?

Is it possible to change? Nature says “yes!” If the Sun and Earth were the only bodies in the solar system, Earth’s orbit would have a constant shape and orientation in space. However, because the planets exert a pull on each other, orbits change slightly over time, even Pluto’s!

It is helpful to know your style and the styles of those around you. If you can exert some gentle pull, if you can demonstrate a positive change in the way you manage conflict, others may move with you, slightly over time.

 

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Be Alert to Six Sparks of Conflict

As a founder you need to depend on your team to get their jobs done, done well and on time. But in any young startup, pressures mount, and personalities clash.  You may be uncomfortable with any kind of conflict – the healthy and the destructive kind. Healthy conflict is marked by openness and passionate debate that can yield positive changes. It requires a strong sense of trust between team players, and trust may still be a work in progress.  Destructive conflict, on the other hand, is mean-spirited and personal. Its source is often a grudge, an intent to find fault or weakness or a miscommunication. It can ignite a drama that spreads like wild fire throughout an organization wasting valuable time and money. It’s essential to know the difference.

The “sparks” I address in this post are the unhealthy, destructive kind. Those sparks, if ignored, can combust into bonfires. Some sparks fizzle out on their own. But if tempers flare, if your star players get snarky, or when people start calling in sick, a fire has begun because you’ve let things go too long. You can’t play parent to your team members, but it’s your job to be alert to these six sparks of conflict. Snuff them out before they affect your bottom line:

1) If you work remotely, make as many random, in-person appearances as possible. Meet face-to face with your team and watch them carefully as they tell you how things are going. Probe ambiguous comments or non-verbal behaviors that make you uncomfortable, by asking,

Nancy, I noticed you were rather quiet today. Is anything going on we need to discuss?

 Len, I need clarification on that last statement, can you help me understand what you meant?  

2)  Conference calls can be revealing too. Notice: Who is not participating like before? Who is interrupting or taking over the discussion? Do you notice anything unusual in the tone or energy of their voices? These behaviors may suggest a not-so-positive change in the group dynamic in the form of bullying, stonewalling or anger. Mention your observations to the team or the team leader and explore what may be going on.

3) Emails you or your team leaders receive may expose sparks of conflict. Look for unusual brevity, a change in tone, screaming CAPS, desperate run-on sentences with no punctuation, abrupt or disrespectful language. Approach the sender with your concerns and encourage team members to bring any disgruntled office communication, including tweets and Facebook posts, to your attention.

4) Teasing can be in fun, and if in jest, teasing can be a way to connect with the team and show a sense of humor. It can also be a subtle form of bullying. If you notice teasing, inquire privately whether the person being teased is 100% okay with it. If not, the teaser needs to cool down a bit – or a lot.

5) Listen for employees who are blaming others or not taking responsibility for something going wrong that was within their own control. Get the blamer and the “blamee” into the same room and hear both sides.

6) Are any employees taking frequent or suspicious sick days, arriving late to work or leaving early? This could be due to trouble with the team or personal problems that can affect the team. Take them aside, point out the irregular attendance, let them know their presence at work is valuable, and listen. You may discover the underlying cause(s).

Are you uncomfortable with conflict? Let me help you manage conflict painlessly. Contact me at [email protected]   

 

“Not Feeling Heard” What Exactly Do You Mean?

When teamwork is lacking at home or at the workplace, a common complaint is: “I don’t feel heard.” Children and adults speak it differently, using a wide range of emotions ranging from anger, sadness, frustration, indignation and resentment.

I probed deeper into what exactly “feeling heard” means to people. Over the last few months I took a survey of eight families (including the kids who say this) and four businesses (10-30 employees). I asked what they meant by “not feeling heard.” The most common responses (exact wording or paraphrased) were:

I can’t get X to agree with me.

X doesn’t respond; it’s as if I’m talking to a wall.

 X interrupts me all the time.

X thinks it’s all in my head, that I’m wrong or nuts.

X acts like he/she is listening, but then X goes and does what I was complaining about.

Conversely, when asked how they know when they have “been heard,” people said:

When X makes the change I’m asking for

When X tells me back what I said and says he/she will do something about it

When X makes me feel like I’m the most important person in the room

When X is not looking at his/her phone while I talk

 

This survey pointed out two misconceptions and one expectation about “feeling heard.” One misconception is that a good listener agrees with the speaker and makes the changes the speaker wants − false. It is also a misconception that it is responsibility of the listener to do all the communicating − false again. The expectation is that a good listener shows value and respect for what the speaker has to say − true. It’s important for all parties to come to a consensus of what “being heard” means. It includes the following:

1) listening does not always mean agreeing

2) as a speaker, be responsible for helping the listener listen by stating facts and feelings in a calm, clear and concise way. It means collecting your thoughts before sharing them, toning down emotions and avoiding expletives or loud talk.

3) as a listener, try to limit distractions, pay close attention and tell back what the speaker said in your own words as evidence of your effort to hear them and to clarify that you heard them correctly.

Managing Drama in Your Startup

According to a new book, No Ego by business consultant Cy Wakeman, the average worker spends 2.5 hours per day distracted by drama! We’ve all experienced varying degrees of workplace drama in other jobs – personal losses, power struggles, insubordination, office gossip and petty arguments.  Until you start a business of your own, you may not be aware of how significantly drama can hurt your bottom line. How to manage workplace drama is not typically noted in the founder’s play book. If no drama has spiked in your startup thus far, good for you, but unless you’re working with robots, it’s inevitable.

The usual sources of drama in a startup can be traced to hires without proper job descriptions, under-performing or disgruntled employees, changes in procedures, slow periods and accelerated periods where the company has to scale up quickly. Another source of drama is the life of the employee. Just as employees bring the work stress home with them, employees bring their home traumas to work. Let me address some solutions the “trauma to drama” variety.

Most CEOs want to create an open, caring work environment where people look forward to coming to work. The workplace  may be the only safe and inspiriting environment in some people’s lives.  I support mindful listening as a way to understand an employee who is experiencing personal problems outside of work. Listening wholeheartedly to an employee can help you gauge the intensity and duration of the situation so as to come up with solutions that will prevent company losses. It is the responsibility of the employee, not the employer, to ultimately solve his/her personal problems. It must be made clear that work is not a counseling center or a rehab. His or her fellow employees are not being paid to be social workers. Allowances such as a more flexible schedule, an extended lunch hour or such accommodations are appropriate. A business may have to find some temporary coverage, and if possible, the employee may need to train the temp. Your HR department may assist in finding counselors or support groups. But, I suggest that a business set in advance, reasonable limits to these assists. Meet with your staff and talk about what to do if such drama erupts.

More to come on workplace drama in future blogs.

Are you the frequent victim or the instigator of drama at your workplace? Being one or the other could cost you your job or your career. If that’s you, let’s discuss! [email protected]      

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