Tag Archives: Problem Solving

Hassle Anticipation

We’ve all heard the advice not to buy trouble.  But we should also be prepared for certain eventualities.  Some days, certain activities are just like… doing your taxes or going to the dentist.  A hassle, an aggravation, frustrating – and so on.  But sometimes we expect something to go wrong and so we start to work ourselves up, just ready.  Going to get your license renewed, for instance.  Encountering certain people at work, perhaps.  Waiting in line just about anywhere for anything.  (I’m not an early adopter so I really don’t get the folks that stand in line, sometimes for days for the latest release of any technical item – don’t ever tell me you hate to wait in line.)

Construction is always a hassle.

Construction is always a hassle.


Back to hassle anticipation – could we possibly experience the hassle just because we became so certain that we would have one that we somehow brought it on?  I’ve certainly watched it happen to others – someone ahead of you in line is giving off that vibe by fidgeting, sighing, or other cues gets up to the counter and their voice has that edge right off the bat.  I imagine that I have probably done it too, though no example comes to mind as I type.


We are bound by rules almost everywhere we go – the employee handbook at work, bank rules, insurance rules, school rules – piling up in front of us and blocking us from just getting the simplest thing on our to-do list done.  (Well such-and-such isn’t going to happen today because I forgot to bring that stupid form with me.)  It is such a hassle, why are there so many rules?


We know on one level that we need the rules to create structure and protection for certain rights, but do we need so many?  (The answer to that is probably not, a lot of rules are around just for the sake of rules or to benefit the institution over the individual…)


Back to anticipating the hassle, logically we are just in knowing that these established steps and rules can make things go slowly so why do we not allot enough time to accommodate this awareness?  I’ll just be a minute at the bank at noon on a Friday – sure.  Why is the doctor running late at 4pm, I have to get my daughter to dance class you know?


We are mad at the system, the institution for making our quick task or errand drag on and put us farther behind for the next one.  On top of it, we knew this would be a hassle, so we waited to the last possible minute to do this thing so it isn’t like we can come back later – how dare they?


How dare they indeed.  Do you have any stories about hassle anticipation?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations



Filed under Personal Growth, Work Life

Separating Out Thought Strands for Clarity

It would be such a relief to come to a resolution or to gain some understanding in one or perhaps several nagging corners of our lives, wouldn’t it?  Clarity on the issue and ‘what would happen if I do x versus y’.  But this relief will only come with the unsnarling of the various complications that are revealed when we track the particular strand of thought.


Imagine if we could actually isolate a thought strand and follow it through it’s whole length, teasing it straight and clear of the spots where it intersects with other strands so that we could really examine it without having to consider anything else.  ‘But if’, ‘what about’, and all other contingencies could be swept aside, to be slowly added back in later; after your head is clear on the main issue.


thinkingHow many times have you thought that you had a solution to something, went to tell someone and been stopped cold by, ‘did you consider…’?  I came at this issue in a different way earlier this year; We Want Linear, We get Billy from the Family Circus.  We crave simplicity, but we are complex and we have created a complex world.  There is nothing for it, but to roll up our sleeves, find a relatively quiet spot and carefully think through one problem at a time.  One step at a time.


Messy, inconvenient, tedious – I know.  It would be so much easier if someone would just come up with a formula for each of our more common difficulties (like a vlookup for getting along with coworkers) where we just plug in our particulars in the right part of the formula and voila – instant solution.  But wait, remember that we like to be treated as individuals and not just a number?  Snap, now we have to decide – formula or individuality?


Individuality usually wins out because the thing about those formulas is that they have snarls of their own.  Daggone it.  Maybe someone is working on a real pensieve, the thing Dumbledore used in the Harry Potter books…


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


Filed under Personal Growth, Work Life

What is My Intent?

It must be about a decade now since I gave myself the mantra, maybe tenet is better, in the title.  It has been highly useful and I have shared both the tenet and my thoughts behind it with many along the way.  The question, posed to myself, helps to formulate my communication methods in a way that should diffuse any P.C. traps.


Most of us live and work in communities that are no longer composed largely of like-background and like-thinking individuals, hence the birth of political correctness.  Because when there are too many sensitivities, and they are often in conflict with each other and potential objectives, they can easily get trampled on the way to something else.  And the idea of political correctness is honorable, meaning to offer equal respect for the make-up of all the individuals in any particular group at any particular time.  But, whew, P.C. can act as a wall which prevents that group or community from ever actually resolving the real issue.  (Talks between countries that never happen because the preliminary how-the-meeting-will-go-down discussions break down over the shape and size of the table and the placement of the attendees.)

public domain drawing

public domain drawing


Back to my question.  If we each look into ourselves and determine the answer to our intent – resolve an issue, say how best to configure new office space – then we can better craft our method of resolution, down to approach, consideration of any objections or risks and how we will address them before we even gather.  Deciding that our intent is to work together to create a pleasant and productive office space, thinking about what we know about potential pit falls and how we can handle them reasonably would go a long way toward mutual benefit – a place that doesn’t need P.C. to be effective.


Now this question works best when all involved are asking the same question of themselves, but it is still effective when used by one individual, me.  Because I also turn the question and ask myself what the intent of the other individuals might be, how it might differ from mine, how it might affect the encounter or project.  Then I can be prepared with persuasions to keep things on track toward plan, and away from anything that could lead to non-P.C. territory.


I won’t claim that this is easy, or that I am always successful; but I have gotten a lot of mileage from this one simple question.  I invite you to try it out.  Let me know how it works.


(This post is written in response to Daily Prompt: P.C.)


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Give Yourself Permission

Our well-meaning parents, in an effort to teach us and keep us safe, told us no quite a bit as we advanced through childhood.  Some of us, being naturally more mischievous, heard no many times a day as we explored our environment.  (I busted my head open three times before I was five because I liked to climb.)  Yes got thrown in occasionally for variety but the ratio of no to yes was pretty skewed toward a negative message. Ironically, our parents were narrowing our world view of safety and comfort all in an effort to ensure that we made it to adulthood in one piece so that we could then start to realize their dream that our world would be bigger and brighter than the opportunities that they were offered.

Once upon a time folks had to get permission from the manor house.  (public domain, 1820s Russian art)

Once upon a time folks had to get permission from the manor house. (public domain, 1820s Russian art)


Fast forward to your adult, working life and the cumulative effect of all that naysaying is commonly a reluctance to venture from the familiar to the untried – that vast world outside of safe and comfortable.  The conditioning to keep to a narrow, safe area now has unintended consequences.


Maybe I didn’t learn the right lessons from the experiences of busting my head open, although I did stop breaking my head open because the last one was a doozy; I’m advocating any method you want to use to reprogram the message of no, to give yourself permission to explore the area outside of the perceived safety zone.  Because that sense of curiosity that you used to have is out here, because there is a lot of potential for you out here.


Yes, the world is a confusing, often impersonal, complex place with conflicting expectations – so you think of your own.  Don’t know what the ethics are in a situation, or organization; where is your line for right versus wrong?  Err on the side of conservative propriety and now you have brought something of the familiar into an experience outside your norm.  But you have given yourself permission to step outside that narrow safe zone.  You have told yourself yes.


I’ve written previously about permission as Seeking Permission and comfort zones as Snuggled in Our Comfort Zones.  The sense of security that we derive from these zones is important, especially on a bad day when we can retreat to this safe space, put on old clothes that remind us of past good times and be surrounded by the objects and people that help us with a sense of well-being.


But staying within this narrow band of comfort turns that well-being into something else if we let it prevent us from reaching out to a desired goal.  A goal that we can catch glimpses of as we run through the familiar treads of our routine.  Giving yourself permission to step away from the safe zone, make an attempt at meeting that desire will preserve the well-being and give you the thrill of something new.  Start with a little yes.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Outrage Overload

The Age of Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason developed in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe and America (the fact that history as taught in our schools has a decidedly European and American bent is a topic for a different blog, but a worthy topic.)  We have moved from that age through the Industrial Age and now are in the waning years of the Information Age.  What to call the current age?  Well, outrage, umbrage, discord and conflict/confrontation are so prevalent that this might become known as the Age of Outrage.  People in general seem to be mere moments away from boiling over about any number of touchy subjects – and the list of touchy subjects just grows without resolution on any of the older items.

public domain

public domain


What is an office worker to do?  We have this notion that emotions don’t belong at the office, but we spend many hours toiling a few feet away from a number of other humans.  It would be nice to have a cordial and also meaningful relationship with all of them since we see them a great deal more than we see our own family.  We already know to stay away from the two oldest items on the touchy list – religion and politics.  (And how sad and ironic that something which was meant to be inclusive, religion, is so divisive.)


I have my own list of subjects that get my dander up, certainly.  But the tagline for this blog is Reasonable Expectations.  Hence why I started the count of named Ages with the Age of Reason (besides starting with the Iron Age would have made for a long, boring list) because I think that this could help us before future historians do dub this the Age of Outrage.


public domain - Understandably angry about conditions for women in India

public domain – Understandably angry about conditions for women in India

Outrage is a response of powerlessness, where reason is a considered decision for growth.  Outrage is complaining on steroids and complaining (kvetching, whining) is pointing out something that you think is wrong but waiting for someone else to come along and fix it.  But fix it the way that you think it should be fixed or the complaints just escalate.  Some offices are so full of complaining that you can practically see it in the air, until the big boss walks through and then there isn’t even a hint.


Reason identifies a problem, tracks it to a root or roots and then sets about coming up with potential solutions.  (This isn’t the use of reason as in an alternate word for excuse, rather sound judgment and good sense – thinking, application of knowledge and logic.)  Reason offers a path to a better place, a place where the touchy subject no longer holds any power or sway because we know how to correct, prevent or avoid the cause.


Outrage started out as a reasonable tool to gain the fickle attention of the public – all of us in the general populous who are stretching the hours of our day to fit in all of the necessary components – who might otherwise distractedly nod agreement, yes worthy cause please just catch me later.  But now the outrage is such a kneejerk reaction to every touchy thing, and the list of these must come on a scroll that rivals Santa’s naughty or nice list, that it is harder and harder to even get that little acknowledgement of agreement for a worthy touchy issue.


We need a reset, to solutions – reason.  Starting with common ground, identification of root causes using facts which aren’t filtered through any bias.  We’ve tried more outrage as a means to get attention to the growing list of worthy touchy subjects and it led to overload and dismissal.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Putting a Name to a Face

I’ve read the tricks for association – Dale Carnegie and those much more recent.  I don’t have much difficulty remembering faces – except this time of year when some people’s faces tend to be less pale and their hair is the opposite, both due to sun exposure.  And of course if you see someone out of context; say someone from work out for an evening of fun.  These changes are a bit jarring for anyone’s ability to recognize and identify.


I’m going to admit something here, because I think that I am in the majority on this, my biggest problem is that I’m not quite ready to really hear when I am being introduced to someone (or introducing myself)  and so while my eyes take in their features my ears let their name slip right out the other side.  Oops, yet again even when I long ago figured out this was my main problem with the whole name to face thing.  I mean, like years ago.


I tell myself in the car on the way over, I’m going to take a deep breath and center myself before I walk in.  I tell my ears to be ready to listen and capture the names.  But time after time, a couple of people into it and I realize that my ears aren’t doing their job right.  I can’t practice association if I don’t catch the name from the start.


A person’s name is important – even if they aren’t too fond of it, they want you to remember it.  I know this, but I just can’t seem to convince my ears.  And when it is an event that includes name tags, my ears just completely abdicate to my eyes.  But name tags get crumpled or written in faint ink, or covered by something.  Or go on the jacket which winds up on a chair.


Enough about me, are you with me?  Do your ears try to convince you that the noise level in the venue is too high, or the variety of sounds are just too distracting?  Do you just love events where the planner has stationed a person with kindergarten teacher perfect handwriting at the door to write the name tags?  In bold black marker.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


Filed under Personal Growth, Work Life

Need a Treatment for Mental Sludge?

There is a whole section of shelving in auto parts stores that show gas treatment products to help to clean your engine if your car is acting kind of sluggish.  I’m a little skeptical myself on the validity of these products, because as a woman I think skepticism about car operations is just healthy.  Although I have at rare moments found myself more knowledgeable than some males on the inner workings of some automotive systems.


sludgeAnyway, sludge is the accumulation of the muck (technical term) that seems to be a requisite accompaniment to the product you need – like gas- to operate a machine like your car.  For whatever reason it is not possible to provide you gas for your car that has been completely filtered of impurities (muck) either during processing or transport or storage.  But enough about cars and gas, let’s move to your brain.


Sometimes your thoughts can be humming along and you can really tear through your to-do list.  Your brain gives you the information that you need just as you need it, excellent.  But then there are the times when your brain answers almost every need and request with, ‘huh?’.  When the memory or information that you need seems to be buried under sludge.


Our brains start to learn early on to filter or outright ignore information as it comes in.  But sometimes we need to evaluate the way that we are processing this information – info that we don’t really need gets gathered (sludge) while sometimes useful bits get filtered out.  We need to flush out the sludge and retrain our brains on what to keep, especially during or after changes in our lives like a promotion, new job, move, etc.


For instance, let’s say that for a previous job you memorized a whole series of numbers that you used on a regular basis because it was more helpful than looking them up several times a day.  But you haven’t needed to use them in quite a long while.  These numbers have become sludge.  Unfortunately we can’t delete them and then perform a disk defragmentation on our brains, but with some work you can erase your mental path to these numbers.


Give yourself something else to do for a few minutes and then ask yourself what you remember about this post.  It will help you understand better how your brain currently filters and saves info.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


Filed under Personal Growth, Work Life

Absorb, Assess and Analyze

After keeping pace, firing on all cylinders, digesting information and bringing forth coherent responses my brain has been stuttering along at ‘duh’ the past couple of days.  I’m going to blame the cumulative effect of the heat and humidity.  Or perhaps just a bit of what Herman Melville termed a ‘silent grass growing mood’ necessary to internalize information, which is oh, so necessary for writing.


We are told that the earth is bombarded without let up by all sorts of space debris, which mostly burns up or what have you.  Modern life does the same to our thought capacity, but perhaps not so modern.  I found out over the weekend that Sir Francis Bacon gave us the phrase that knowledge is power back in 1605.  Interesting that this concept goes back so far into history, and yet not really.


But knowledge is much more than exposure to information, we must internalize that information; absorb it and then start to figure out where it fits in with the knowledge that we already hold through assessment and analysis.  Sometimes absorption is quick, sometimes laborious and at others – like for me at this moment, it gets backed up because we expect too much.  Like when you overtax a sponge in the attempt from keeping a spill from expanding past the kitchen counter to the floor.


It starts with knowing what you are trying to learn and why.  If it is for someone else, that hampers absorption right off unless you can figure out an angle that makes learning meaningful for you.  And you are not going to be interested in pursuing the rest – assess and analyze – to make it your own, admit it.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


Filed under Personal Growth, Work Life

Get Their Attention

attentionStop me if I’ve told this one, but I’m pretty sure that I haven’t told it here, at least with this intent.  This is my go-to story about the importance of appropriate email subject lines (and good diplomacy).  Fairly early on in my corporate learning curve I had an email exchange with the principal (read owner, responsible party) of a distribution company regarding a customer account that was my responsibility.  The subject line was a one word job, the main name of the customer in question.


We went back and forth as I clarified and then resolved his question.  At the end he came back and wrote that I should do a better job of naming my emails.  Huh?  Just to be sure, I scrolled to the beginning of the email and sure enough he had originated the string.  Still, he was right – the subject was entirely too generic and didn’t offer any reference points to the specific topic at hand.  I briefly answered back that I agreed that the subject line of this particular email was not very clear and left it at that.


So began my mission to improve my own email subject line protocols.  Which included renaming an email that had a vague heading at my first reply.  (Be careful in renaming an email when there were multiple recipients because that can lead to further misunderstanding.)  When I moved into supervisory and then management roles, I made this a frequent topic within my team.  A big part of our job was clarity in communication – the first step is appropriately naming a thing.


Email volume is high for most people, so your naming protocol should be short and to the point.  Sometimes a little lyrical helps to get noticed, but utilitarian is best.  Get a feel for what is best for you by reviewing the subjects of the emails that land in your inbox – which ones draw your eye and why?  Are the subject lines that are used suitable for the actual email content?  Also consider your recipient – what speaks to them?


I hope I got your attention.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Calor Humano, Human Warmth

It used to be a regular occurrence, my phone would buzz an internal call and the receptionist would ask me if I could take a call from a customer who was distressed.  The caller needed someone else who wasn’t available, or had not been able to explain what was needed so the call was routed to me.


Unless I was due in a meeting, I would always take the call.  Even when I knew that I would not be able to immediately resolve the caller’s direct issue.  I could act in the service of this Spanish phrase, calor humano, and thereby begin to relieve the caller’s distress.

human warmth

First, I could listen and ask gentle probing questions to underscore to the caller that – as recorded voices in corporate voicemail loops like to assure us all – ‘their call was important to me’ in a truly meaningful manner.  Distressed people want to get the sense that their concerns are being listened to, and with these questions I could do so.  Together, the caller and I could clearly define their issue as well as the expectations for resolution – these acts didn’t require specific knowledge of the customer on my part to start on the path to resolution.


All that was really required on my part was an ability to convey empathic listening and identification of distress.  Plus a repetition of my understanding of the issue and enumeration of a follow up plan, or the next steps.


In all these types of calls in the years that I took them, I only had one person who was offended that I was not the right person to immediately resolve her issue.  Every single other person got off the call breathing more calmly and expectant of eventual positive results.  Because I offered human warmth specific to their moment of need.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


Filed under Personal Growth, Work Life