Saturday, March 27, 2004

Showing Affection in Our Present Society

This past week a question was posed to me that has made me do a great deal of thinking. Along with the question was the comment "This might make a good blog" : ) So here goes! I didn't respond immediately to this for a few reasons. One, because I had a lot of ideas on the subject, which I'll get to in a moment. Two, because I have an incredible amount of respect for the person who posed it and wanted to give it my best shot and, thirdly, because I was very honoured he felt comfortable enough with me to even ask it and want my opinion on it, so wanted to write when I had the time to do it properly.

The question/comment or combination of both that was share was "Our society frowns upon us openly showing our affection and love for anyone outside of our relationship (for example our significant other), and that the world would be a better place if we could feel comfortable doing so, enriching the lives and experiences of those expressing and receiving love."

We briefly talked about 'Agape love' or love for fellow man. Agape love is when you give love without any expectation of receiving anything in return. A long time ago I wrote about a passage I read where a grandfather was sharing with his granddaughter how special it was to acknowledge others. That even if you don't say a word to a stranger on the street, but make eye contact and nod or smile, that in itself validates a person's existence and can make all the difference for someone having a very bad day. That is, in a way, a form of giving love and one that many can feel comfortable in showing. Since reading that, I make a point of acknowledging people as they walk by me and it's amazing the response I get. Many stop in their tracks, just for a second, look back and almost always smile back. And when I watch them continue on their way, there's usually more of a bounce to their step.

When I did my first course with my mentor, Jim Quinn, one of the things we talked about was Agape love. He was an amazing man....someone who reminded you of your grandfather with twinkling blue eyes that saw right through to your soul. He would always hug you when you walked into a room and no matter what turmoil you went through you knew it was OK. He used to tell us that when we could say to others or even ourselves "I love you and I accept you even when I don't understand you" that was the perfect 'place to be', for you are giving love to another individual even when you don't agree with or understand what they are doing or saying. You no longer own their choices, but share love and acceptance regardless.

I read somewhere that you need 6 hugs a day to stay healthy. I don't know if it's true but I love the concept : ) I realise I can't go around hugging clients (though for some who bug me about touchy-feely stuff I sometimes threaten a hugging lesson, just to see the reaction). I think in our society it's not so much showing love and affection to someone other than our significant others that holds us back; it's more not knowing whether or not it will be accepted, or if the reasons behind it will be misinterpreted. And in a world where everything has to be politically correct, that doubles our hesitation.

Even so, there are many clients who will kiss me on both cheeks when they see me passing in the hallway. And many will come up even in a food court and give me a huge hug, which is such a wonderful gift. Not only because they're still talking to me after I pressed all their buttons, but because many of them wouldn't ever think of hugging in the first place and feel it's OK to do it now.

I don't ever want to be a part of a world that stops showing love to others, whether in a subtle way or not. So I will continue to tell a client that I love him or her because they are amazing people who I absolutely respect and am blessed with knowing. And I will always tell my friends, male and female and family that I love them. They are what make my life extraordinary. And they should know it.

I thank the person who brought this up in the first place. I owe him a hug : ) And yes I absolutely agree that the world would be a much better place.

I know this is different, but still, the analogy fits. When sharing thoughts on the topic of 'Love Based Leadership' a very wise man wrote me a while back, "I think that is the only true leadership there is. If it is not popular, that I can understand because the contemporary world is not lead by love. People only claim that they do. They even claim that all their acts of violence are based on care, love and responsibility. True leaders always go to places no one have ever been before and do things no one has ever done before.

We need to create a new culture based on universal values. This might feel big and heavy but as Harry Palmer, the founder of Avatar says: "The history of civilizations is the story of beliefs originated or adapted by influential individuals." If I was asked to say something this is what I would say: "Imagine this current world like a turbid water in the glass. Just keep on dropping clear water into the glass until at one time the water in the glass is clear."

My philosophy in person at a time, one choice at a time. The ripple effect goes far beyond anything we can imagine. Show love to one, and they will almost always show it to the next person. How you choose to do that is up to you. There are ways that don't cross any politically correct boundaries, but the message is there all the same.

Donna Karlin

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Happiness is a Choice

"Happiness is a choice
For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life.
But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first,
some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid.
At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.
This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness.
Happiness is the way.
So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one.
Happiness is a journey, not a destination"
. - Souza

I've always believed happiness is a choice, not conditional upon any circumstance. I've written about that before. In all the time I've been coaching, never before have I heard the line "I'll be happy when..." so many times from so many people as I did this past week. It's been an intense time across the board. I recently joked with some clients that it must have been a full moon kind of week because so many bizarre things happened. And I've never before come across so many stressed out, unhappy people. I was in a taxi with someone who works for a client and she started teasing me that being a consultant I was making the megabucks while she, being a public servant, was scraping by. I'd love to know the consultants she's talking about, but that's for another time. My first question to her was "What do you need?" And she listed off "A vacation, a new car, new dress shoes..." and went on and on. When she stopped, again I said "Actually what I asked you was, what do you need?" Now she was looking at me puzzled. So she answered again in a similar way.

Once more I looked at her and without going into explanation, I asked her "What do you NEED?" Now she stopped and asked me why I was asking her the same question three times. And I said "Because what I asked was what you needed, not what you wanted. There's a difference." What one needs is food, a roof over their head and clothes on their back. And I would add another and that would be wonderful people to love and be loved by. The rest is wants. And when I hear someone add that they'll be happy when they get a new car, new clothes, a new job, new boyfriend or girlfriend, my first question is "Why are you making your happiness conditional on things or situations? And what happens when those things become old and used. Does that mean you won't be happy any more? How about just being happy? The rest is gravy so to speak."

Friday night I spoke to a friend in Panama who I miss dearly. She had always told me that on your birthday, as in Finnish tradition (her heritage) one should celebrate for a week. Your birthday should be somewhere in that week and you should do something special every day. When we spoke about me turning 50 this year, she told me that I'd have to celebrate at least twice that. And we both heard the smiles in our voices. I thought about it for a while and decided, why wait until a birthday to celebrate life? Every day there's something that happens that should be celebrated. And I do. Every day I come home and journal about the extraordinary things that happened in an ordinary day. I never have to struggle to find something. That in itself is a celebration.

Then on Sunday I called my aunt. I try to speak to her once a month or so to see how she and my uncle are doing. Actually they're my great aunt and uncle. My uncle hasn't been well and my aunt has to care for him. Whenever I speak to her she's always cheerful and happy and I asked her about it this week. She really is amazing and a joy to talk to. She told me we're all given one life to live. We can choose to complain and bring everyone down around us or we can choose to thank God for every day we have on this earth and make the most of it. Words of wisdom from someone who lives them.

In a past blog, I quoted someone who said "One should be less afraid of dying and more afraid of an empty life" Anyone who chooses happiness will never have an empty life, because they'll create a full life. Enjoy the journey. It's the only one you've got (as far as we know at any rate) so shouldn't it be one of your choosing?

All the best..
Donna Karlin

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Positive Feedback

Giving and receiving positive feedback is one of the most powerful exercises a group could take part in. It's more than a 360 evaluation. It's face to face feedback from your peers and colleagues in a way that encourages honesty with respect; open communication with the opportunity to facilitate change. When you’re receiving feedback, you need to be accepting, even if you disagree or don’t immediately understand the comments. Reflect and incubate on it and then ask for clarification. If there is a breakdown in a team, then the only way to rectify and get past that is to communicate your needs in a positive, constructive way.

Asking for feedback and accepting it openly takes a great amount of humility. Sometimes it's hard to accept, and tells you as much about the people giving it as yourself. It can be done in many ways, but I prefer a facilitated meeting where the person receiving the feedback appoints a colleague to write down all the comments they're getting so they can look at it at a later time. They can reflect on it and then go back to that colleague to discuss what they said in greater detail. Just as powerful, is saying "thank you" after you've received it. It takes just as much courage to give feedback than it does to receive it....sometimes more.

It's not only telling your colleagues what it is you need from's asking how you can help them give it. When this is done from a basis of integrity, it's no longer threatening. It creates an immediate bond, a cohesive partnership whereas you not only draw from each other's strengths, but recognise weaknesses and jump in where others have difficulty. From this, instead of conflicting comes complimentary and taking, interacting and developing innovative ways to get past challenges.

It's not something that should be done once and forgotten. Rather a continuous process to be used whenever there's a breakdown of inter-personal communication.

As the saying goes, "Try'll like it". Clear the air and begin to build. One brick at a comment at a time.

Donna Karlin

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Talk vs. Communicate

In the book Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsch, he has a “conversation” about communicating.

“First, let's exchange the word talk with the word communicate. it's a much better word, a much fuller, more accurate one. When we try to speak to each other - Me to you, you to Me, we are immediately constricted by the unbelievable limitation of words. For this reason, I do not communicate by words alone. In fact, rarely do I do so. My most common form of communication is through feeling.

Feeling is the language of the soul.

If you want to know what's true for you about something, look to how you're feeling about it.

Feelings are sometimes difficult to discover - and often even more difficult to acknowledge. Yet hidden in your deepest feelings is your highest truth.

The trick is to get to those feelings”

How many times is your heart or ‘gut’ telling you something that you work SO hard with your head to overrule? Exactly why do you do that? I’ve always wanted to know. Inevitably it’s our heart and gut that have the answer…the one that will ultimately work better for us. So why would we try to counteract that….put so much energy and focus into going against our beliefs and what we absolutely know to be true for us? We beat ourselves up when we try to fight it, knowing full well it’s what should be.

Some cite responsibilities that stand in the way of truly being happy. Some say that’s just how it is. Life was never meant to be easy. Well why not? I had a conversation about this the other day with a client. It’s choosing happiness over misery….living life over existence. As I quoted in my last blog, one should stop being so afraid of dying and instead, be afraid of an empty life. I see so many people working themselves to death because they’re escaping what they lack in life. It’s bad enough when they love what they do….but much much worse when they’re miserable at work and even that is better than the misery at home, so they choose the least of two evils.

Easy is when you choose to be happy and live life, laugh, and enjoy every day. My concern is for those who finally retire and have nothing whatsoever to look forward to in their retirement. So they work until they drop. And for others that put away for later everything it is they’ve wanted to do in a lifetime and run out of the time and health before they even begin. What are you waiting for? Retirement doesn’t constitute starting life. It’s just the beginning of another chapter in life without the work schedule constraints. Life is now. Get past all the excuses you have to not start living it, throw them away and look for all the possibilities, the ways and means of getting what it is you want. Look for your highest truth. That’s what should guide you. The first conversation should be with yourself. Listen to your heart. It will never let you down.

Donna Karlin

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Making the Day Extraordinary

We need to be less afraid of death and more frightened by an empty life. When we feel the most love, passion or energy is when we are the most alive. That’s when our soul sings.” - author unknown

I recently read this comment somewhere, sometime, I can’t remember when, and it absolutely resonated within me. When we feel we’re contributing with value, we’re energised. When we love unconditionally, removing barriers, that too energises, for in doing that we no longer put parameters and controls on how we feel and it just flows. When happiness, giving love, living from your values and in tune with what’s important to you and who you are, is a choice and not conditional on any thing, person, experience or circumstance, we approach life in general with a zest and a passion that is contagious.

This morning I had a discussion with someone who told me she was in a relationship and marriage with someone for the express purpose of “saving him”. What a huge burden to bear. The only one who can save you is yourself and when you take on that enormous responsibility, it wears you down. And because it’s almost impossible to do, it eventually gives you this sense of failure. You can give love and support, friendship and guidance to anyone you choose to without owning the responsibility of their happiness and well being. But how many of us do that? How many times do you find yourself saying “I don’t want to get involved. It’s too sensitive or touchy a subject” or “That’s too touchy-feely.” Well I have news for you. It’s being human. Humanity, feelings, and emotions are touchy-feely things. Get over it and live it.

Removing barriers enables us to live life with passion. Whether at work or home, it’s up to you to find your fulfillment. It’s not conditional on any other person. It’s your choice. In the book Romancing the Ordinary, Sarah Ban Breathnach talks about living for you, meeting yourself for perhaps the first time. Doing things you want to do regardless of whether or not you have a partner and, as the title says, finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. So my question to you would be, what five extraordinary things have you found in an ordinary day? It might not mean changing your life as much as looking at it through new eyes. I’d love to hear what they are if you’ll share them with me. In the meantime I wish you an extraordinary day….and life. Create it…and as my motto says, “Invent your Future”!

Donna Karlin

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative inquiry is change based on strengths, values, victories and dreams. It focuses on the positive, not the negative, recognising the value in each other and building on it. People want recognition, validation of what they do well. They aren’t clairvoyant and can’t know if you find them valuable or not unless you share that with them. Similarly, change begins with you. It’s not only working through conflict in the workplace, but recognising that individuals not only want to change but are working on it. Changing behaviour is very difficult, especially if that behaviour is ingrained in everything you do. It takes a great deal of effort and energy and if it isn’t recognized by others, then what would be the point of change?

You get what you expect. If you’re still seeing the past, holding on to a lot of baggage, judging an individual by what was rather than what is, then you’ll only see the negative. And if you give them the encouragement and recognition that you notice the change happening, then you will be instrumental in empowering and supporting that person through the path to positive change.

When I interview staff within an organization and ask them what they would like more of within their teams, the first answer is almost always “Recognition and respect for what I do”. Most tend to chastise and share anger way more than encouragement and praise. Put yourself in their position. If you’re a leader, which do you think will build more loyalty and create willingness to work harder, focusing on common goals?

It only takes a second to say thank you, job well done, or to give recognition where it’s due.

Donna Karlin

Recommended reading:
Appreciative Inquiry: The Power of Positive Change by Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom ISBN 1576752267

Friday, March 05, 2004

What Do You Really Value In Your Life?

Have you taken time lately to look at what is really important to you in your life? I was having that conversation with someone at work yesterday who is so bogged down by workload that she can't see which end is up. So in my blatant 'honesty-in-your-face' kind of way I gave her a small exercise to do. I told her to write down the year she was born and then, in chart form, to write all the years to date. Then to estimate, based on family history and lifestyle, to what age she thought she would live and to write all the years between now and that date.

At that point I asked her to cross off all the years that have passed. And then to work backwards and cross off all the years she felt she wouldn't be productive enough to accomplish what she had yet to do or wished to do.

And then she saw what was left .....there weren't many years left uncrossed, and looked at me in shock....telling me that was cruel.

I told her, no, it was in your face honesty....something to make people wake up to the reality that time passes whether or not we wish it to and if we let it pass without doing what we're passionate about, sharing the time with those we love and want to experience life with, then we've let our most precious commodity slip through our fingers.


We can't get it back. We have to do whatever it is now, not "one day" because one day is usually a day too late.

Because of all the demands on our time, we might not reflect on this often enough. For me it comes down to the people most important in my life, laughter, and respect for who I am and what I stand for. That also means respecting myself enough that I go after and do what is most important to me.

So try that exercise and while you're doing it, ask yourself these questions:
What would I miss with every atom of my being if it were taken away from me? (People, things, abilities).
What is most important in my life?
What don't I want to live without? (People, things, feelings)

Then look at the number of years uncrossed on your sheet and ask yourself when are you going to get off your you know what and go after them, do them, feel it, experience it. Later might be too late.

Donna Karlin

Monday, March 01, 2004

The Four C's of Breaking Down Trust

Small, subtle remarks do more harm when it comes to shattering trust than anything else (see The Trust Building, May 27, 2003). They come in many forms, the four most destructive being Comparing, Complaining, Criticising and Competing. The first, Comparing is very subtle, for example putting others down so you look more powerful or needing to feel superior so in comparing someone else’s talents to yours in a specific way, you come out on top. What is more powerful? Negating someone else’s talents, or showing how their strengths mesh with yours, creating a stronger force, rather than a segmented weaker one?

Then there’s Complaining. Instead of working out a solution, one complains about another. “She’s never around when I need her”. “He never meets deadlines”. “I’m not sure what my boss wants and he’s never clear on instructions”. Trust is broken down systematically. Would you trust someone with a tight deadline or support if all you heard about that person are complaints? Could that person be reliable?

Criticism probably tops the heap on breaking down morale and team cohesiveness. It’s bad enough when the person is in the room and you knock them down. Even more damaging is criticizing them when they’re not there and can’t respond to the comments or show their value.

And last but never least is Competing. Healthy competition is a good thing and keeps everyone on their toes, but when it’s a rule of thumb and an organization promotes competition at every turn, the other three C’s come to play in a very destructive manner and you have a group of people working in secrecy. “Why share solutions or brainstorm when I can’t be on top?” Corporate loyalty goes down the drain and it becomes every man and woman for themselves.

What exactly are you afraid of? Strong cohesive teams have more power than the individual. To use an analogy, pointed out by Vista M. Kelly, “Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together.”

Be mindful of how you speak of others. Do you build them up or knock them down and, if the latter, ask yourself why. You get what you expect of others. When you expect the worst and verbalise it, that's exactly what they'll give you. Is that what you want? And, alternatively, how would you feel if someone spoke of you that way?

Last night I was watching an interview with one of the cast of the TV show 'Friends'. Matt was talking of how they all stuck together as a group. One lobbied for the six of them to get the same salary. That would eliminate any competition and strengthen the relationships. When one was attacked in any way, they all walked off the set. No questions asked.

What resonates best within you? Watching your back or knowing without a doubt those around you are watching it for you?

Something to think about.

Donna Karlin