Monthly Archives: May 2013

Sweeten Up that Sour

sweet sourSummer means certain foods, like coleslaw, and to me coleslaw is supposed to be that perfect blend of sweet and sour.  I am not the type of cook who puts too much emphasis on precision, once I understand a recipe; and so it is a bit freewheeling when I make coleslaw.  I grew up watching my mother mix up the dressing for the slaw in dollops – a bit of sugar, a big splash of vinegar and a scoop of mayonnaise and stir.  Then taste, then a pinch of whichever until consistency and flavor are optimal.  It is a fun challenge, which I have now taught to my younger son.


I’ve been thinking about this balance between sweet and sour in relation to moments in our lives lately; and like with coleslaw dressing how easy it can be to get just a bit too much vinegar or sugar in the bowl/moment.  You think that the imbalance of sweet and sour has ruined the coleslaw, but not true.  The great thing about this dressing is that it is so easily rebalanced – a dollop more mayonnaise for thickening and then pinches of either the sugar or dashes of the vinegar, depending if your balance went too sour or too sweet.


We think that our life is a bit more complicated than this recipe when it comes to keeping the balance of experience, but really it isn’t.  We have control to add more sugar to a sour day or moment, or to back off on the sugar when a moment gets all saccharine on us.


We don’t have control over people piling the work on, or the loud person 3 cubes over, or the traffic – quite true.  But we can rebalance the sweet/sour by conquering that pile of work to the best of our abilities, by humming a favorite tune, by breathing deeply and checking out beautiful landscaping while waiting in traffic.


I used to get so irritated when my husband would come home and the boys would jump up joyfully – I never got such a reception.  But then I decided to take pleasure from their happiness that the pace of the day had changed, that daddy was home & the family dinner would be starting shortly.


Once I started working, I made sure to keep reminders of happy moments on my desk, right in my line of sight to give me a needed attitude adjustment in those sour bursts.  Driving home, I found that keeping the back of my head in contact with the headrest of the car relaxed my neck and back muscles and kept me calmer as I inched my way home.


Sweet is better because of sour, we need them both.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Mental Radio Buttons Pigeonhole

HTML programming defines check box and radio button usage for standard answers on websites, we’ve all seen them.  Radio buttons only allow for the choice of a single response; checking different boxes changes your entire answer.  Where check boxes allow for multiple appropriate answers at the same time.


How many times do we make snap judgments of people based on very little information?  Maybe just appearance will click a certain mental radio button in our head about someone.  There is a graphic that is making the rounds on Facebook of a young man with a Mohawk doing something kind for a younger girl which shows the scene one way in shadow and another in actual; one seemingly menacing and one kind.

(photo credit Wikipedia)

(photo credit Wikipedia)


For a brief time, I had a boss who had spent years at the CIA prior to our shared work experience and I didn’t find out until her retirement party.  (No wonder she was so good at sneaking up on people.)  My mental radio button pegged her as a micromanager, narrowing my view of her and making me forget that she also gave me a chance and promoted me within 4 months.


Years ago my family was coming home from an extended family event where we had arrived in multiple cars.  I left first because my car was ancient, then my mom and sister, and finally my dad.  I arrived home without incident and a short while later, my dad arrived home.  Hmmm.  This was long before cell phones, so we waited.  And waited, pondering what we should do.


At last my mom and sister drove up, with a story to tell.  Mom’s fuel line broke on the way home, which meant that she was driving along the highway spraying gas.  A car-full of young Goth looking hooligans came alongside mom’s car and got their attention, trying to get mom to pull over.  Mom shouted back at them and tried to pull away.  Finally it became clear that they were pointing out this problem.  These kids stayed with mom and my sister and helped them to get the car repaired to a degree that would allow them to get home safely.


Maybe we should not be so quick to use mental radio buttons, for simplicity’s sake, to categorize people that we encounter.  Maybe we should switch to mental check boxes and one that we check should always default to ‘still taking in information’.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Reasoning & Value: Our Work Life Experience

Having nebulous plans to use the results in a blog post and also intending to get better SEO (search engine optimization) for my own name (we are all self-marketers these days), I started a discussion in several of my LinkedIn groups a few weeks ago. (I really like it when one thing can accomplish multiple goals, don’t you?)  The discussion was on a topic that I have written about previously and have mulled over periodically during my corporate experiences –feeling valued at work.


Here was how I worded it (the same in all 4 instances):

The title was Feeling Valued and the content was as follows –

  • When was the last time that you felt valued at work? (How long ago was that?)
  • What were you doing?
  • Who helped you to feel valued and how did they show it?


[A word about starting LI discussions: if you haven’t done so, try it since it can be enlightening.  Start small and by attaching someone else’s content while putting in your own title and two-cents, otherwise LI will not give you enough weight to promote your discussion if you use original content.  Start in one or two of your groups with a smaller overall number of members.]


Two of my discussions, in active but long-shot groups, died without getting started.  Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  One got small traction for a couple of days – a win for me because this was my first discussion to get any notice in this group.  And one went on for a couple of weeks and received decent attention – this was in a group dedicated to customer service, so not surprising that an emotion based discussion received good play.


Less than half of the respondents in any group actually answered my questions, which is pretty standard.  The respondents were in different age groups – baby boomers, millennials; just about equally male and female; almost evenly management and worker bee levels.  No one disagreed that feeling valued had a place in work discussions.


All responses were polite and professional, but despite placement on company hierarchy the discontent was pretty much universal.  And back up experiences that I have in face to face opportunities, plus information presented in other sources.


My tagline on this blog, Reasonable Expectations, comes out of discussions that I had over the course of a working relationship with a great idea person.  Reason is a word, an approach to life that seems to have fallen out of favor but should be resurrected.  You might be of the opinion that it doesn’t belong in the same sentence with value, as I have connected them in the title.  I disagree – while juxtaposed, I think that these things should mesh more frequently in our plans.


A fellow that I know who holds integrity as a dear commodity, has a phrase he uses – spinning orbits – which he describes as activities which have no bearing on the current project.  Spinning orbits prevent us from providing value through the actual task at hand, even if the spinning orbit is about a worthy topic – a topic which reasonably requires attention in and of itself, but should not distract from your current effort.


Do you ever ask yourself, ‘how can I reasonably craft my work experience so that my need to provide value and feel valuable corresponds to the role that I currently play’?  Or despite the current job atmosphere, ‘since I have not felt valued for some time, what should I reasonably consider as alternatives to increase the opportunity for this important sensation in my work life’?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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You’ve Got Skills

I went to the library on the advice of a new contact looking for a book called Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It by Peggy Klaus, and drat it all my library doesn’t have it.  But I did get a different useful book from Peggy, The Hard Truth About Soft Skills.  (I love to support my library, and also get a chance to try out books before I decide whether I should buy them.)


We all know the importance of our thinking skills as knowledge workers, but it is good to actively think about the state of these skills, how current they are and how best to cultivate them to keep them relevant.  This is a nice quick read, and broken up so you can dip in over the course of your library’s borrowing period.


“While hard skills refer to the technical ability and the factual knowledge needed to do the job, soft skills allow you to more effectively use your technical abilities and knowledge.  Soft skills encompass personal, social, communication, and self-management behaviors.  They cover a wide spectrum of abilities and traits: being self-aware, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, critical thinking, attitude, initiative, empathy, confidence, integrity, self-control, organizational awareness, likability, influence, risk taking, problem solving, leadership, time management, and then some.”


In other words, technical skill and knowledge being equal between two or more people, the levels of soft skills between the people are what set them apart in a spectrum.


Taking that even a bit further, it behooves each and every one of us to keep these skills polished up at all times, on our own time and with our own money if necessary because this is an investment in self that will pay off.  (Investing in you starts with you – and often these days, ends with you.  Believing that you can’t increase your skill set because your employer is unwilling or unable to foot the bill is self-limiting.)


Plus, just like checking this book out from the library, the investment can begin just with your time.


Peggy is on my list of smart women I would love to meet, and Brag is on the list that I carry around with me for that off chance of time to wander a book store.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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My Journey through the Working World

DSC03311By starting at the age of eleven, I had a 30 year work history by my early forties.  I took a 3 day seminar for supervisors from AMA (American Management Association) a few years back and the facilitator started by asking each of us to share the number of years we have been working, starting with our first job as a teen.  I had my first babysitting job at the age of eleven so when it was my turn I said that I had 30 years of work experience, which took the fellow back a bit.  (I’ve always looked young for my age, a baby face, which I hated for years and bless every day now.)  There were plenty of folks there who were older than me, but none could claim such an early start to their work journey.

I have read studies now that early work history is predictive of later work success and I see a glimmer of truth there, but also have a dollop of skepticism that this is entirely predictive.  Despite my early start, I have plenty of stretches in my life when I cannot point to any work for pay activity – life transitions that included moving & getting resettled, stay at home mom stints, and my recent transition from the corporate world to becoming a free agent consultant.  Yet I am self-supporting and capable of any number of things.

We modern workers seem to be rather restrictive in the way that we think of work, particularly in regard to work as a progression, these days.  I have not ascribed to work in that view – I have babysat, housesat, done retail, foodservice, office/corporate work.  I have worked alone, on teams, led teams.  I have experienced success and failure.  I have left places voluntarily and involuntarily.  And I have learned a great deal with each type of exposure, with each new opportunity.

I wouldn’t trade my patchwork work journey for anything.  It has informed and strengthened my overall resilience in life.  It has heightened my understanding (and enjoyment) of process.  And it has allowed me great latitude for creative thinking leaps.  I am in good company from a historical perspective – John Muir, Henry David Thoreau and Thomas Alva Edison all come to mind.

Who knows where my work journey will ultimately lead?  In the eyes of many my journey to date has not met the definition of success, with eyes on an ultimate goal.  Can these same folks claim to have gained deep enrichment from their work experience?

UPDATE: This post was written in response to

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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It’s Ok, Just Not the Right Day

Humans come in all sorts of temperaments, which helps us to keep different needs growing and moving forward within groups.  Regardless of your temperament, there are days when you are clicking and things are going well, regular days which are a mixed bag, and then those dreaded days when for whatever reason you are raw and everything is just that little bit off.


“…and for the moment, without ego defenses.”

~Saul Bellow


Most of us, while we would dearly like to do so, do not take to our bed and pull up the covers on days like this, we stick to the original plan for the day and bumble through.  (If we are seasoned enough, we reschedule any big plans to another day knowing that this malady of temperament will pass.)


There is advice given to those who have experienced a great shock or loss, like a death of a spouse or a natural disaster that they should not make any major decisions – because the mind isn’t operating in its normal groove and there is a large possibility for making bad moves at these times.


When we are having a raw temperament day, we should apply somewhat of the same logic – in this case not see this as proof of anything.  This is a time when I agree with the saying, ‘it is what it is’, our minds have just cycled to a difficult place.


Get the basics done, you’ll feel fulfilled that you didn’t shirk your obligations and let the rest realign to another day.  This too shall pass.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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The Data Paradox (Or Why Professionals Benefit from a Successful LinkedIn, While Using the Freemium Option)

Few of us are fond of being boiled down to just a set of statistics and yet our interest in something is often sparked by the statistics that are offered (read Charles Seife’s Proofiness) by a company, in an article, etc.  Business is driven by data – what data to collect, how to collect it, how to best utilize it and on and on.  We humans are fascinated by quantification, but skeptical of being lumped into the underlying statistics.


Marketing companies that design successful rewards cards or programs have found a way into our data paradox sweet spot – offer something that we want or need, don’t sell the resulting data directly tied to our personal info and we will be more likely to sign up and give the company access to our volume of purchase data.  Don’t make our direct benefit clear, or make your data needs too obvious and death to your marketing effort.


Being someone who is fascinated by process, I often like to pull back the covers to see if I can figure out how something is a sustainable business – look at how Facebook is making various money grabs now that they have gone public.  (I used to wonder how they could afford all the employees and sweet digs…)  Unlike many, I don’t resent a company’s ability to make money from their interactions with me, as long as my benefit is equal or greater than the one I perceive they are receiving.  Someday I might be able to reverse that dynamic and gain some business advantage of my own from the relationship.


I think that it is this perceived benefit that is at the bottom of the social media opinion that many people hold.  It is their skepticism of the benefit they will receive versus their sketchy understanding of the value of their appearance on social media.  In my opinion, there is plenty of benefit to professionals to put moderate effort into creating and maintaining a profile on the LinkedIn site.  But the reactions of folks I talk to range from strong agreement to vitriolic dislike of the pull of social media in general and LinkedIn particularly.


These people in the strong dislike category usually object based on their skepticism of putting their personal information online.  When I have the opportunity to delve further with them I like to find out if they have other social media presence, if they hold a credit card or any participate in any rewards programs, do online banking.  More often than not they do many of these other things, but have not associated these activities with the data mining that occurs in these arenas as well.  Hmmm.


I was first introduced to LinkedIn in 2009 by a co-worker.  I wasn’t on any social media site at that point and I am not an early adopter of anything.  So I thought about it and she mentioned it a couple more times and then sent an invitation through LinkedIn to join.  A forum for professionals, interesting – so I created a basic profile and mostly left it to its own devises and accepted invitations to connect from folks.


It has only been in the last few months that I have become a proponent of the site and the benefits.  In my opinion, LinkedIn offers solid benefits in exchange for data mining my business information for their own purposes.  Where do you stand?


Related Data Filled Article:

LinkedIn Connection-Obsession on


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Orienteering, Office Politics & Blind Trust

Some of us plan, others meander, and still others outright stumble along through our work life.  Depending on the stage of life we find ourselves, or the task we are engaged in, we may do some combination of these three things.  I decided that I just had to see if I could connect the dots between this story, 8 Drivers Blindly Followed GPS into Disaster and my blog theme.  Particularly since I just posted something about trust.


Certainly we can’t be expected to be expert at everything required to be successful in this complex modern life, so we must rely upon others to guide us at times.  The basic assumption should still be that we must stay clued in to whether the aid we have chosen is providing useful assistance; we must keep our own common sense engaged.


No device has yet been marketed that will provide step by step guidance through a work day in the office.  (I’m sure someone out there is working to create one.)  Therefore we must rely upon orienteering, dead-reckoning, the kindness of others – whatever local signposts seem to offer the best clues in negotiating our tasks, our co-workers, bosses, clients, etc.  Pick the wrong one and follow it too far past when common sense starts humming, then screaming warning and we end up in some lake or bog – or up a cherry tree.


orienteeringOrienteering relies upon a compass, a map and your own abilities to interpret all the signs.  What does the map translate into in your office – hopefully thoughtfully and clearly written protocols on best practices for your tasks?  (Check the date of the last update, or the creation date – well written but obsolete maps make for interesting gift wrap but not much more.  No date, well…)  And the compass would be the direction that you are given by the person passing out your tasks.  Then it is all yours to put it together and make something useful and sensible.


Everyone can get stuck pondering the validity of staying the course or bailing.  Think about these hapless folks the next time you find yourself wondering whether to question the prevailing direction or to follow it.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Call to Action

Whether we are natural list makers or not, the length of our to-dos requires some type of tracking or we are lost.  The have-tos are simply relentless.  But let’s flip the coin to the other side – when we need something from others or want others to do something in response to us.  Do they clearly know it?


Some people are very good at getting others to do things and the rest of us muddle through it.  Can you recall a time or two when you were pretty sure that someone was asking you for something but they were so vague you either had to ask or pretended that you didn’t catch their real meaning?  They didn’t come right out with their call to action perhaps counting on our good graces to step in and offer.


When my kids were in their early teens they would say things like, I need this list of supplies for a project and I would take it from there and ask questions like when is it due, how many, what color and the like.  When they got into their mid-teens I would respond with ‘that’s nice’ and wait.  (Of course I explained the first time that I was turning more of the responsibility over to them to actually ask me to get the stuff.)  There were a couple of times when they didn’t get what they needed, but they figured out that they had to turn the statement into a question and be the responsible party to get the action completed.


We think that adults don’t need that same process explanation, but sometimes they do.  Send me an email and tell me a nice story, thanks.  Oh, you wanted me to do something, I didn’t see that spelled out.  There wasn’t a call to action on my part.  You were passing on the thing, but I read that you were telling me about it.  Because you didn’t say, ‘I would like for you to do xyz, please’.


Sometimes I truly didn’t catch the intent, and sometimes I used the vagueness to avoid stepping in.


Spend time on your hook – why should I help you, what’s in it for me – but don’t forget to set the hook before you end the contact, by spelling out your call to action.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Challenges of a Mom Working Outside the Home: Parent or Friend?

parent or friendWhen my older son was about 12 we had a conversation that started because he said, “mom, you are my friend”.  At that stage in my own development, I had already had the opportunity to have a fulfilling friendship with my own mother that certainly turned back into a parent-child dynamic at any point that she felt was necessary.  (The best car turning radiuses have nothing on mothers who need to make a point, let me tell you.)   But my friendship with my mother, which we both cherished and I felt was a great example of her abilities, did not start until I was well into my 20s for good reason.


I explained to my son that while it was very much a goal of mine to become his friend, along with being his mom, our relationship was not at that stage yet.  He persisted in telling me that I was his friend and I persisted in telling him that wasn’t appropriate at that stage of his development.  I don’t recall how the conversation ended, but it probably drifted on to other topics as most parent child conversations tend to do.  I know that we had a lot going on in our lives at that point, so the fact that we had this conversation while at home and not on the way to somewhere is rather remarkable.


Looking back now, I still agree with my stance that friendship had to wait, but I would like to nudge my younger self to ask him why he started the conversation in the first place along with sticking to my guns.  I know that my brain was running a mile a minute; sifting through to-do lists and rating priorities and just working to keep up with all the facets of the working parent’s life, so I will forgive myself as a look back.  But I missed a chance for a deeper connection, a look behind the curtain into the inner workings of my son’s mind.  (We have made enough of these connections over the course of his life that now we are friends and enjoy many interesting discussions on a broad range of topics – but it is the mother’s curse to be pricked by the regrets at times.)


I just called my son and clearly this was just a passing kid thought for him since he only has recollection that I’ve brought up this incident in other conversations.  We cycled through a few interesting topics and then rang off.  I think that we are both pleased that I met my goal to ultimately develop a friendship with him.  I am also confident that I made the right decision back in those earlier days to put being a parent first.

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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