Posts Tagged ‘expectation setting’

I’m a bit of a sloucher. It’s an ingrained habit which I’m not particularly proud of. In fact, if you forced me to make a list of 10 things I’d like to change about my physical presence, standing up straight would probably make the top 5.

Until recently, I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. When someone tells me to stand up straight, I would be able to do it for a few minutes, but would always relapse into my slouchy stance.

Over several months of doing yoga, working on building my shoulder strength and opening my chest, I realize why I could never stand up straight – I didn’t know how. When reminded to do it, I’d roll my shoulders back. But it was always a temporary fix.

Really standing up straight, in manner that can be enduring, requires more than just rolling the tops of your shoulders back. First, you need to moving your shoulder blades towards each other, and pull them down your back. This enables you to open your chest without sticking out your boobs, creating breadth across your shoulders and chest and causing you to, yes, stand up straight.

Who knew?

Well, of course, lots of people knew. They just didn’t know that I didn’t know. And they just didn’t think to teach it to me.

One of the biggest challenges of learning new skills is that when you don’t know what you’re doing you don’t know what questions you need to ask in order to learn to do it better. 

This challenge exists when when you’re trying to build technical skills like qualitative research or doing a better asana, but it can be even more difficult if you’re trying to develop fundamental skills like connecting with others or standing up straight. People are used to teaching technical skills, and may even remember learning them, so they have a grasp on what the steps of the process are.

When we’re learning fundamental skills, our teachers may be unconciously compitent, or naturals at something, and therefore unable to effectively teach. Worse, we’re often trying to learn from people who are not actually ‘teachers’. They don’t always teach by breaking down a skill into it’s component pieces and helping you develop them one by one until suddenly, you’re standing up straight more than you’re slouching.

There are a couple of ways that as learners and teachers, we can help make learning fundamentals easiers. First, as a learner, know what you want to learn. But don’t stop there – be on the lookout for when people around you do things well that you struggle with and proactively engage them in a conversation about what they’re doing well, how and why.

As a teacher, take the time to break down the outcome you desire into the multiple elements that can impact success and failure. Then, focus on teaching those elements one at a time. Many basic yoga postures are interim steps that build upon each other and ultimately lead to the ability to do something you never imagined that your body could achieve. If, as teachers, we break down even fundamental skills like listening and leading into their consituent parts, our students can learn one element at a time, slowly making progress until one day, they can stand up straight all day long.



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I just finished watching 3:10 to Yuma, which was a completely enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. Like all Westerns, it was a story about What It Means To Be A Man wrapped in a plot involving horses, guns, and manhunts.

What was particularly interesting about this one was it’s emphasis on parenthood – well, really fatherhood, but I’ll take it.

In the story, the good guy, Dan Evans, is escorting the bad guy, Ben Wade, to the 3:10 train to Yuma prison after watching him hold up a stagecoach and helping capture him.

The reason Dan takes on this foolish and likely lethal assignment is to save his family farm, ensure that his young son with tuberculosis has a healthy environment to grow up in, and show his older son, Will, that he is honorable and heroic. For the sake of Providing for His Family and Being a Good Role Model, Dan is willing to die.

Now this might be a stretch, but it made me think of something I hear a lot of working moms tell themselves and others to make them feel better about missing a soccer game, bed time, etc. “By working, I’m being a good role model for my children.” It’s something I tell myself on a regular basis.

Just as I take issue with what most Westerns tell you about What It Means To Be A Man, I take issue with this idea that Being A Hero and Being Honorable the most important lessons you can teach your children. Are they really more important than the many tiny lessons you could teach them every day if you were there to watch them grow up?

I know that working hard and having a successful career isn’t quite like dying to make a point, but it made me think. Are we really trying to be role models or that just a nice excuse that seems less selfish than the real reasons we work? And if we are trying to be role models, what exactly are we modeling?


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I like to think of myself as open minded. But sometimes I realize that, well, my mind isn’t as open as I’d like.
Over the course of several weeks, I read several mentions of the same book, Momma Zen. I’ve been writing about parenting and yoga and how one informs the other in my life, and the book seemed perfect. So I bought it, and loaded it in my suitcase to take with me to California. It was to be my treat, my pleasure-escape reading during a business trip.
After a long week planning the meeting, a long flight sitting in the middle seat, some long conversations, a quick dinner, and a long drive, I arrived at a gorgeous hotel in wine country. It was 3 AM my time, but I was determined to take advantage of my location and end the day with a relaxing book and bath. I cranked on the hot water, poured in the bath salts, and cracked the spine.
Within minutes, I was seething. Another book about how hard it is to be pregnant. Another book about how hard it is to have a newborn. Another book about how hard it is to transition from a person to a parent.

“Ugh,” I thought, “this writer has no bleeping clue what hard feels like.” I was thinking, of course, of how hard it was for me to be pregnant. How hard it was to carry two babies, not knowing if they would both survive. How hard it was to wonder if the in-utero death of one would cause birth defects in the other. That was hard.

Even as I continued to read the book, I was having a mental conversation with Karen Maexen Miller, the author, in my head. You know what’s harder than having one premature baby, Karen? Having two premature babies. And you know what else is hard, not being able to …

The mental comparisons went on and on, even as I continued to read the book. I’m not even sure why I continued to read it, but I did. And as Karen’s descriptions evolved from the early stages of parenting towards the toddler years, that little voice inside my head finally quieted. I began to enjoy the book, to see myself in it, and to learn from it.

I am, of course, very open minded. Except for when I’m not. And I now know that I have a very particular mental block: I can’t relate to folks writing about how hard it is to have either a healthy pregnancy or a single healthy baby. Now I know that it’s not really fair. I know that even one healthy baby can be challenging. But my situation with the monkeys was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through, and often, those stories look to me more like best case scenarios than like a reasonable cause for angst. The little voice is pissed about people complaining about these situations, and angry that I never got to experience a ‘normal’ pregnancy. It feels unlike me, but it is, in fact, me.

If I had listened to the little voice in my head, and left the book in the hotel room, like it really wanted me to do, I would have missed the chance to hear a voice filled with reason, warmth, and enlightening thoughts on raising kids. 

I would have missed a reminder to take care of the present without worrying so much about what’s already happened or what’s to come. I would have missed the challenge to step into what’s most frightening and most exciting to me. And I would have missed the realization that there are times when my mind is not open.

We all have our mental blocks, these inabilities to listen to a particular topic. They come from areas of feeling that we know we must protect, even if we’re not sure why. And it’s OK to protect those feelings, and allow them to exist, for a time. But it’s important to recognize them, to know where they are, so that when you’re ready, you can engage with information that challenges them, pokes them, and loosens them.

I’ve obviously got to work through some feelings of anger and frustration that I have about my pregnancy and the monkeys’ infancy. But until I do, I can at least know that it’s there, so that the little voice doesn’t prevent me from hearing some really important stuff.

It’s funny, to be on this side of the fence. Often, what I do for a living is to poke at and challenge an organization’s mental blocks, or a team’s. I help them see something that they were blocking out with their own little voices, unable to process, because it touches on something that’s sensitive to them or questions something that’s core to who they think they are.

Since I do it to others all the time, it’s only fair to do it to myself, and to open myself up to similar challenges, similar opportunities to grow and create something entirely new. But it’s not easy. The little voice is insistent. And loud. I’m glad, Karen, that your voice was louder. And sorry about the cursing.







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I had a chance to have dinner with an old friend the other night. Once we got through the stories about how cute our kids are and the stories about what our mutual friends are now doing, we started comparing notes on the whole part-time working mom thing.

We both love working part time and really value the time that we get with our kids. We both love our jobs and have been very focused on our careers for many years before having kids and even once our kids were born. And we both feel that our jobs, in their current instantiations, are a little bit boring. More specifically, we both think that our jobs would be more interesting and engaging if we didn’t have the time/travel restrictions that we do.

I try to avoid traveling too often, limiting trips over a day to one a month and not traveling more than two weeks in a row. (Try is the operative word). She works a 26 hour work week, scattered over the course of four days. What this has meant for both of us is not going after opportunities that would otherwise interest us and not taking on challenging projects that would fully engage us and provide opportunities to grow and learn.

Both of us are in situations that many would envy – doing the work we love, part-time, while still taking time to focus on our growing families. It seems like a dream. But then there’s that boredom, that itch to do more even as you know that you don’t want to take on more.

My friend’s interpretation of our situation: the mommy track is alive and well. But that doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t feel like I’m being mommy tracked by my company. And I’m trying not to mommy track , making sure I stay engaged, am still learning, and continue to hone my art. Yet the feeling persists.

I’m constantly hearing and reading about “The end of work as we know it” and how traditional careers are becoming less common as people “customize”their careers. Yet as someone who’s trying to capitalize on/create those trends in the workplace, I’m finding challenges. Challenges that stem from my company and my client’s ideas of how much I should be putting into work, a little. But even more surprising and difficult to manage, challenges from my own ideas about what’s OK to do and not do,  what makes an engaging job, and what makes a job worth doing. 

Is the mommy track alive and well? And what can we mommies (and daddies, and artists, and…) do to make sure we’re not getting in our own way as we try and redefine what it means to have a successful career? 

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I was trying out a new pair of jeans by wearing them around the house the other day, and I asked Mr. Daddy if he thought I should keep them. He commented on the length and the color, but the crux of the question for jeans is all about one critical component: how my butt looks.

 “They’re good,” he said, “better than some of your other jeans, like your skinny jeans. I think you should keep them.”

“Just good?” I replied, sticking my butt out a little for him to get a closer look. “I think they look really good.”

“OK, just stand normally.” He paused to reflect. “I don’t know, I think your jeans should make your butt look bigger, more luscious. These jeans make your butt look smaller.”

And here we had come to the heart of the matter. His criteria for making my butt look good is the exact opposite from my criteria. He doesn’t love them because thinks they make my butt look smaller. I want my butt to look smaller.

Needless to say, I’m keeping the jeans. We’ve talked about how various pairs of jeans look on me before, but we’ve never had the conversation that we had the other night: what criteria are we using to determine whether the jeans are good or not. And we’ve never stopped to ask: are we using the same criteria? This hasn’t really been a problem in my life becasue as vain as I am, we’re talking about jeans, so the disconnect doesn’t really damage our relationship.

But it is representative of something that happens all of the time: two people (or more) are discussing a topic, making evaluations, and disagreeing without knowing why. Without taking the time to discuss our criteria, we assume that we have a shared sense of what good looks like. It happens between clients and consultants. And it happens between managers and teams. Often, it happens late in the stage of a long discussion or project, once time has been spent and decisions have already been made.

In a way, the assumption of a shared standard is nice – it feels better than assuming that you’ll disagree with someone. But not taking the time to articulate those standards can have dire implications. Imagine, I could have returned these priceless jeans!

Authors note: This may surprise you, but the image above is not my butt. But they are my jeans!

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One of the things I’ve learned from work is around setting expectations. The work that we do is often ambiguous and we often take our clients through a process is is scary, uncontrollable and unlike anything they’ve ever been involved in before. And we need to get through that process so that we can generate ideas that are both truly new and really good business ideas. (It turns out its easy to come up with ideas that are new and bad, but that’s a whole different post.)

One way that we address the issue of clients calling in a panic about the process is to set expectations as soon as the project begins. We share a document called The Emotional Rollercoaster that gives them a sense of what they’re likely to feel, when. It highlights ups and downs that we’ve seen clients go through time and time again. This is a great opening into a conversation about the emotional side of innovation. It also provides a tool for us to talk about during the moments when people really begin to panic. Reminding them that it’s common and necessary doesn’t ease the pain, but it makes the pain more bearable.

The conversations I have with my kids are, of course, a little less heady. But kids require the same kinds of expectation setting so that they can be emotionally prepared for what’s coming next. That applies to little things: I always have to warn them in advance when I’m about to cut a bagel in half and give them each half a bagel instead of a whole one. And it applies to the big things: their nanny, grandmother, father and I talked a lot about what would happen when they started school and developed an entirely new routine. While helping them anticipate what they’re going to experience and potentially feel doesn’t always mean I can help them avoid feeling it, it does leave the door open to helping them make sense of their emotion and, ultimately, get past it. Which means we can spend less time focusing on the emotional cost of an activity and more time doing it.

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