The Halloween Principle

Are there life principles that you used to live by, but now you don’t? Have you ever allowed someone to spook you to such an extent that you change your behavior? It’s natural to let someone’s bad reaction derail us from doing what we know needs to be done. I encounter this reality so often as I speak with people across the country about communication issues that I have a name for it: The Halloween Principle – because people get spooked, and then they start living according to fear rather than the life principles they believe in.

The sad part is we often do this subconsciously, meaning that we’re unaware of how much a past situation is affecting our present. If left unnoticed and unchecked, our changed behavior could even alter our future.

It often takes someone to point it out before we can say to ourselves, “That is so true. I know what needs to be done and I know certain life principles work, but I’m not living that way.”

To help you see whether you’ve been spooked, let’s look at a few life principles that most people believe in but have trouble living by because the Halloween Principle has taken over.

1. Honesty Is The Best Policy

Most people I meet believe that honesty is the best policy. They may even believe they live by it. But on further examination, they don’t. When they are upset, they stuff what they are thinking and feeling and tell others that things are okay. Or when people ask them for feedback, they spin their answers to sound nice and pleasant out of fear that if they say what they really think, that person will get defensive and react badly.

The result is that people don’t get their issues handled. In our personal lives this can lead to all kinds of trouble. Spouses fall out of love and get divorced. Kids fear telling their parents the truth or just don’t feel comfortable talking, so they stop talking with their parents and get advice and support from peers instead. Good friends get annoyed or angry, drop out of communication, and friendships slip away. When issues aren’t handled in our professional lives, program and project problems can escalate into bigger problems; good employees get fed up and leave, and clients and customers stop hiring us.

Considering all these negative ramifications, why do people continue to withhold, spin, and alter the truth when they know that honesty is integral to fixing problems? After all, someone can’t fix a problem if they don’t know about the problem.

When I ask people why they withhold or spin the truth, they often say, “I used to be more honest and straightforward. But awhile back, I was in a situation and …” And then they proceed to tell me how a boss, a spouse, a co-worker, or a friend got upset when they spoke the truth and took it out on them in one way or another. No wonder people get spooked.

2. The Law of Reflection

The Law of Reflection says that whatever we give out in life, we tend to get back. You may say if another way: what goes around comes around, you reap what you sow, do unto others, but it’s all the Law of Reflection.

Most people know this is a sound principle to live by, but few implement it to its fullest capability. For example, sometimes a person chooses not to give as much as they could because in the past they encountered someone who took and took – and kept on taking until they drained that person dry. So that person allowed someone’s selfishness to stop them from giving their heart and soul to others. In other words, they allowed the person to spook them and started to live by the Halloween Principle.

On further reflection, this person may realize that we all run into selfish people from time to time, even people so selfish that they’ll take advantage of others. But that is no reason to stop living the Law of Reflection – because there are always exceptions to the rule. In general, however, the more we give and help out others – whether that’s our boss, our co-workers, our employees, our spouse, or our friends – the better our life will work.

Choose to Overcome the Spook

No principle will always work out just right. But as a whole, these life principles do work and provide benefits to us and to others. For that reason, we have to stop letting people spook us. We need to make our choices and live by our principles rather than allowing others to derail us and dictate how we’re living.

When we become aware of the Halloween Principle, it gives us the power to choose a different course of action – the one we know is right for us.

Here are a few practical recommendations for disarming the Halloween Principle:

  1. Separate:  When you feel an internal disconnect between the way you want to live and the way you currently are living, try to remember when that disconnect started. Then ask yourself why you’re allowing that situation to continue to affect you. Maybe it is time to separate from the situation by forgiving and letting go. If you can’t let it go yet, implement some practices to work on it. If you are not sure of one, contact us and we can give you some simple recommendations that produce a profound effect.
  2. Counteract:  There are several ways to counteract the Halloween Principle. First, surround yourself with people who have the attributes you want to live by. If you believe that honesty is the best policy, make sure the people around you are willing to tell you the truth. If you want to live by the Law of Reflection, then choose to be around people who try to help out and give value to others. Another important key to counteracting the Halloween Principle is to read books and articles, listen to podcasts and radio broadcasts, and watch DVDs that provide information, advice, and encouragement to live by the principles that are important to you. Remember this: insights can happen in an instant, but sustained change takes effort, reinforcement, and reminders.
  3. Model:  In the future when you encounter someone who spooks you from being yourself, ask yourself whether this is an exception or the new rule. Remind yourself that every life principle has exceptions, but overall, they do work. Choose to live your life principles – modeling them for yourself and others – rather than being controlled by your reaction to an exception. Think about the situation as a valuable reminder of the importance of standing up for what you know is right and taking responsibility for your life.

Who have you allowed to spook you? Have you stopped living by any of your life principles? Now that you are aware of the Halloween Principle, what are you going to do about it?

If you need help or would like more information, please call us or send an e-mail to info@stevengaffney.com


Dan Rivers Radio Show

In recent weeks, I have been invited to do a number of radio interviews. In my latest interview, which is embedded below, I discuss a variety of topics; from the government shutdown, to how to facilitate more honest communication in the workplace, and what leaders can do to move their organizations forward. Enjoy the interview below:

Keep me posted of your feedback.


Five Essential Keys to Rebuilding Trust in Today’s Political Environment

The foundation of all relationships is trust. When trust is lost, it functions like a sinkhole – it takes down everything else with it! In today’s environment, it seems that many of our typical ways of doing business and ways things have been done in the past have been lost. Trust is hard to build and easy to lose. Unfortunately, in today’s political environment, it seems that trust has crumbled and almost been lost entirely.

Congress is at a 5% approval rating which begs the question, “Who are those five percent?” I think that when you ask most Americans, we have lost trust in many of our elected officials and their ability to do the jobs we elected them to do. The good news is that there is a path forward that is applicable not only to our politicians, but to all of us in our everyday lives to help us rebuild trust. The following are five essential keys to rebuilding broken trust:

  1.  We need to constantly be talking to one another. You can’t just have one conversation with someone and expect to have trust; trust is built through multiple conversations. You can’t go to the gym once and expect to be healthy; you need to go multiple times. You also build trust through transparency and by taking with each other, not at each other.
  2. We need to have honest, open communication. The biggest problem when it comes to honesty is not what people do say to each other, but what they don’t say. For example, politicians need to share the actual truth that they are afraid to alienate certain parts of their party. They are scared they will not be re-elected and if they compromise, it will show weakness.  However in reality, the ability to compromise shows strength.
  3. We need to hit “reboot” and begin to discuss what we have in common as the building block to move forward.
  4. We need to create a plan that actually shows we will not find ourselves in our current situation in the future.
  5. We need to make sure that there are consequences to prove our commitment to rebuilding trust. We need to reward the right behaviors, not the wrong ones.

With these five keys, we can take the very difficult situation that our country is currently in and make it a better tomorrow. Hopefully this is a wake-up call for us all to make sure we have elected officials who understand that trust is critical, are willing to do what it takes to keep that trust trust, and have the courage and strength of character to do what’s best for our country. Having worked with many corporations, associations, and government agencies, I have come to realize that no matter how dire certain situations may be, with the right leadership anything can be overcome. The key question is “What are we willing to do about it?”


The DC Follies: Can a Nation Divided be Mended?

It was Abraham Lincoln who famously said “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” during the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. Fast forward 155 years to today only to find that our Congress is once again divided against itself and the American people’s minds are flooded with questions.

Join me on Tuesday, October 15 at 1 PM EST as I participate on a panel of experts brought together by the folks at CommPRO.biz to discuss the division of Congress and the government shutdown.

 

Discussion Areas:

  • The current environment:
    • Confidence in our institutions has been shaken
    • Business world also suffers from a crisis in confidence
    • Have the promises / calls for greater transparency – for both the government and business world – been met?
    • Americans sharply divided / national apathy
    • Where do we go from here?
  • What does the government have to do to restore the faith of the American public?
  • How should companies position themselves in the current environment?
    • Business as usual? Something else?
  • What is the role of communications pros?

Click here to register today!


The Sandcastle Principle

I was jogging back and forth on the hotel’s beach one afternoon in Ixtapa, Mexico, when one of those life insights—an “aha moment”—hit me. Oh, what insights a vacation can bring! As I was running, I noticed some children diligently building an enormous sandcastle with a bit of help from their parents. The children were clearly having great fun. I surmised the whole project had taken hours. Later that day, I returned to the beach to watch the sunset and I realized that the grand sandcastle was gone. No sign of it remained. The tide had washed away all the children’s hard work.

The next day, I went for another run. Again I saw the same children playing in the sand. They were laughing and seemed to be having just as much fun as the day before. There was no mention that their great sandcastle was gone. No tears of sorrow that all their hard work was washed away. No complaining about how life could treat them this way. No moping around or bellyaching about how great yesterday was. Then it dawned on me how these children could teach us all something — a very important life principle. I call it the Sandcastle Principle.

As adults, we work so hard each day, investing our time, effort, and creativity in many projects and priorities — some of which remain and some of which get washed away. But the truth is that what lingers long after the priorities and goals are or are not achieved are the memories we have of our interactions with others. Hence the Sandcastle Principle.

Think about it. In today’s work world, we are seeing that money and employment can come and go. Fortunes may be lost, businesses may be shuttered, but what will never be lost is our legacy and the impressions we leave with others. I’m sure if you thought about it, you could tell me who your best teacher, boss, or mentor was. I am sure you might even be able to tell me who saw things in you that you did not even see in yourself; or you could name someone who gave you a break when no one else would.

For that reason, I have two questions for you: Who are you building sandcastles with? What memories are you creating and what impressions are you leaving behind?

The Shocking Reality

Unfortunately, if we look at our lives and the way we spend our time, most of us would discover that we spend too much of our time with people who waste our time. These people come in many forms. Some are self-righteous and not open to accepting other points of view. Some are pessimists, some are complainers, and some are bellyachers. Some are the people who love to point out why something can’t be done but don’t offer any solutions of what could be done. Some are the ones who ask us for advice but don’t use it. All are Time Wasters.

It is easy to fall prey to these Time Wasters, especially when we enjoy helping people and want to make a difference. But in the end it is always a frustrating and draining experience.

Oddly enough, we often expend a lot of effort on Time Wasters, even to the detriment of the time we spend with people who really nurture, replenish, and enhance our lives—the Life Enhancers. In fact, we often are willing to make withdrawals from the bank of time that we spend with these Life Enhancers and deposit it in the Time Wasters.

To make matters worse, the Time Wasters may leave us so emotionally exhausted that we have less to give of ourselves—less patience, less guidance, less support, and less happiness – to our Life Enhancers. Our exhaustion and frustration with our Time Wasters may even lead us to be short tempered or rude to our friends and loved ones. It’s a trap most of us have fallen into at one time or another.

What an interesting reward system! We reward our time to those who don’t deserve it and take away our time from the people who are worth it. What a shocking reality!

The Great Switch Multiplier

What if we reversed this tendency and took time from the Time Wasters and invested it in the Life Enhancers?

What if we invested that time by focusing on mentoring, coaching, and advising people who want and will do something with our wisdom, advice, and counsel? Besides feeling more gratified and satisfied, we would probably produce more results. Why? Because as the most effective leaders and managers know, if we invest in the Life Enhancers, they will pay it forward.

What we give to them is multiplied because as they grow, they reach out and invest in the lives of other Life Enhancers. An investment in a Life Enhancer is like dropping a pebble in a pond — the ripple expands ever outward. I call this the Great Switch Multiplier.

I consult with numerous organizations, and everywhere I go, effective employees tell me they wish they had more face time with their boss and members of upper management. What is even more striking is how often leaders allow their time to get swallowed up by the Time Wasters. If they would only refocus their time on the Life Enhancers — those who would appreciate and make use of more guidance, coaching, and mentoring — the impact to the organization would be profound.

The Most Important Investment

In these economic times, when investments in the financial markets seem risky and uncertain, there are some surefire investments we can make. We can invest in the Life Enhancers. These are the people you want to build your sandcastles with.

Some things may be lost during this economic downturn, but much of that can be regained. Time, however, is not one of those commodities. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. So invest your time wisely. Here are four immediate actions you can take for profound, long-term impact:

  1. Distance yourself from the Time Wasters.
  2. Share this article with your Life Enhancers.
  3. Thank them for all that they have contributed to you and to your organization.
  4. Let them know that this year they will be your priority.

This is how you can multiply your effect and make a difference in the quality of your life and the lives of others. Implement the Sandcastle Principle and reward your time to the people who are worth your time. Then watch the results multiply in the lives of the people around you.


7 Ingredients for Career Success

When it comes to our career success, we are often not honest with ourselves about reality and what needs to be done to take our career to the next level. After all, we are responsible for our own careers — not our boss, not our co-workers, not the human resources department, and not our significant other. If we are responsible, then we are the ones who are going to have to do something about it. Examine the following seven essential ingredients to career success and honestly rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the worst and 10 being the best) to see what area you really need to focus on.

1. Know where you want to go.

If you are not sure where you are going, you may drift in a direction that wastes your time and does not bring you the joy and fulfillment you desire.

2. Know where you are.

You must know where you are in order to plan how to get where you want to be. In your assessment, be honest about what you currently think about yourself, the people around you, and your situation.

3. Let the past go.

Stop dragging your failures around every day. Learn from the lessons of the past that will be helpful and move on. Don’t get stuck in the memories of how you were wronged. Give it up and move on. Life has never been fair and will never be fair. Let go of the past and enjoy your life.

4. Focus on what you can control.

Since you can’t control other people, concentrate on what you can control — yourself and your responses. When confronted with a problem, one of the most important questions you can ask yourself is: “What am I willing and going to do about it?” Answering this question will help you focus on what you can do to resolve issues and reach your goals.

5. Be coachable.

Be willing to listen and learn from everyone. For example, when you receive negative feedback, be careful not to shoot the messenger. Resist the temptation to dismiss advice from someone you may not like. Instead, try on the feedback like you would try on a hat and see if it fits. Consider whether there is anything you can take away from the feedback that will be helpful. Often the feedback we get defensive about is the feedback we really need to be listening to.

6. Be committed.

Commitment is about taking action based on what you said you would do, despite how you feel about it at the moment. Be committed to doing whatever you must do to accomplish your goal. What if failing is not an option? If you really want to be committed, tell people you are going to do something and ask them to hold you accountable for doing it.

7. Take action.

Planning is good, but action is the key. This is where the doers separate themselves from the talkers. We’ve all spent time talking about an idea but not acting on it, only to find out later that someone had a similar idea, implemented it, and reaped the rewards. Taking action is essential to accomplishing our goals. Remember, some action is better than no action. If need be, you can change, reverse, or alter your course later. The key is to take at least some action now.

Now that you have rated yourself, pick the lowest score. Share those scores with five people and ask them for their advice. Then choose three specific actions that you will do based on this advice. Ask someone to hold you accountable and then do the things you need to do. For extra motivation (and for accountability reasons) set up a consequence for not following through.

The only person you can control is you. Take full responsibility for your career success. Make things happen and enjoy the ride to the next level of your career. It will take commitment and hard work, but if you are ready, you can climb the ladder of success — however you define it!


Jim Blasingame Radio Interview

Two weeks ago, I published this blog post highlighting four steps one can use to restore broken trust in any relationship. A week later,  Jim Blasingame of The Small Business Advocate invited me on his radio show to discuss broken trust. In the two segments embedded at the bottom of this post you can listen to the show. The first segment includes three steps that can restore trust, and the second reveals what would cause someone to break their trust with you and help you establish an environment where they feel safe to tell the truth. Enjoy! 

Rebuild Broken Trust

The fundamental building block of any relationship — business or personal — is trust. What do you do if someone has broken your trust or you have broken theirs? You can make a significant difference with some simple steps.

If someone has broken your trust, there is usually a fear that the trust will be broken again. Unfortunately, that is often the case unless these four key steps are taken.

1. Make sure they feel safe to tell you the truth.

Consider how you might have conditioned someone to break your trust. Did you punish someone for telling the truth in the past by becoming defensive or upset? Did you penalize them in some way? Many people would prefer to lie than to deal with that kind of reaction again. If you have conditioned someone to not tell you the truth, it is possible to recondition them. The best initial step is to apologize for your behavior and for creating an environment where they don’t feel safe to tell you the truth. Apologies go a long way to re-building trust. Then ask, “What can I do in the future to make you feel safe, so I can be assured that you will tell me the truth?” Based on their response, decide on an agreeable plan with specific actions you will perform to establish an environment in which they will feel safe to tell you the truth.

2. Ask the person, “What is going to be different from this point forward so that I know I will be able to trust you?”

If they answer the question by using vague language about unspecific actions, chances are good the trust is going to be broken and the undesired behavior will occur again. Lines such as, “Well, I have learned my lesson” or “I am going to try harder” or “I am going to be more disciplined” or “I won’t do that again” mean it is probably going to happen again. People often have good intentions, but after time has passed and emotions have died down, we tend to revert to our old ways. The past predicts the future, unless we take action to do something specifically different. If you are a manager, it is perfectly appropriate and actually responsible
to ask specifically what is going to be different — how they will achieve their goals. If they can’t come up with any specifics, you can bank on nothing changing.

3. Create a consequence ahead of time for what will happen if trust is broken again and things don’t change.

Let’s consider the previous example. When someone is not achieving their goals, you can say, “In the spirit of honesty, I just want you to know that I am going to start documenting any future failures. I have to hold you accountable, just like I do everyone else, to achieving the established goals.” This may sound harsh, but by taking this step, the person knows you mean business. If things don’t change, it sets in motion (without any surprises) what you are going to do next. Make sure you are ready to implement the consequence. Otherwise, you will be conditioning that person that you don’t mean what you say and that the old behavior is okay.

On the personal front, a friend of mine kept making promises that he was going to make a decision about moving in with his girlfriend. After a while, people around him lost trust that he would ever follow through and make a decision. After making another proclamation, someone suggested that if he did not follow through with his latest deadline, he should dress up like a woman and walk around a department store. When he balked, some people challenged him. They said if he really was going to follow through, he would agree to the consequence. The reason for his resistance was that he knew he probably wouldn’t follow through. After consideration, he realized they were right and things weren’t going to change. He agreed to the consequence, fulfilled the commitment, and they are now happily married.

Sometimes a challenge allows us to see the real issues more clearly. One quick and easy way to gauge how committed someone is to change is to use the $100 test. The $100 test is where you ask the person, “If you do not do what you said, will you be willing to give me $100?” The answer often reveals whether they are serious about changing. You may even want to ask for $1000 and watch their response.

Another way to implement a consequence is to ask the person what they think should be done if they don’t fulfill their promise. I like this strategy, because it gets the other person involved in making sure things change. It also reveals how serious a person really is about changing. You could say, “In the spirit of honesty, I need to know that I can trust that this is really going to change. If you are committed to changing, what will you be willing to do as a consequence if things don’t change?” Then allow the person some time to think and respond. If the person gives an easy consequence, you can push and challenge them about it, but you should understand that they are probably not committed to change. If someone really is going to change, they will have no problem making a major commitment with a severe consequence. Why? Because they know the consequence is not going to happen, because they know they are going to keep their promise.

4. Acknowledge the person if and when things do change.

Appreciation lets the other person know that you are aware of their efforts. It also goes a long way to encouraging someone to build their momentum and continue to change.

HAVE YOU BROKEN TRUST?

If you have broken someone’s trust, flip the advice around. First, sincerely and immediately apologize. Then tell them specifically what you are going to do differently. To give them confidence that you are really going to change, establish a severe consequence that you will self-impose if things do not change.

One piece of advice — if you do change and the person keeps bringing up the past, it is fair to ask of them, “What needs to happen so that you stop bringing up the past?” Often people are unaware of how frequently they bring up the past, and until you point it out, they do not recognize that things really have changed. Make sure you have really changed before you do this. 

Trust is the foundation of any great relationship, at work and at home. Without trust, a relationship is like a car on blocks. It isn’t going anywhere… and after a while, it will rust and deteriorate. You can make a difference by taking a few simple steps to put your relationship back on track. You hold the keys.