For the organized among us, this question is a nonstarter. For the rest, we bet lots of reasons come to mind, like: I don’t want to stifle creativity. It will make an easy project harder. Nobody pays attention to the plan anyway. Underneath those reasons lurk the real reasons: What if my plan doesn’t work? I don’t think that way. Planning is hard.
To those real reasons we say: A plan helps you stay on track, and helps you know when you’re not. It doesn’t have to be complicated or follow someone else’s overthought format. And it should never be carved in stone.
You can make a real plan, with dates and everything, in about five minutes using Unstuck’s “Get Your Game On” tool. If you’re on your iPad, click to go directly to the tool. Or download the free Unstuck iPad app here.
Oh dear, it’s 7 am already? The urge to hit the snooze button can be automatic. But consider the wear and tear on your brain that results from being jerked awake, restarting the sleep cycle from stage 1 (the worst time to be woken up, science says) — only to be jerked awake again five minutes later. It’s like a fire drill going off over and over in the delicate inner workings of your system…
Research shows that using your alarm this way makes the transition from sleep mode to wake mode harder. It might take as long as two hours for your brain to go from zombie to fully alert, and you won’t feel sharp or well-rested.
The best advice? Wake to natural light, and be true to the rhythms of your own body (Unstuck has a printable worksheet to help you do this). But, failing that, just stop hitting snooze. Your brain will thank you.
Stuck moment: I’m kind of fed up. My boss takes the credit for my ideas. My coworker goes on and on about her boyfriend drama. My friend never returns anything she borrows… I want to say something, but I just can’t!
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When people behave in ways that bother us — a callous comment, an interruption, a self-appointed license to take what’s ours without giving back — why do so many of us find it easier just to let it go? We make excuses for the other person. Or we pretend to shrug it off, though the behavior continues to niggle us, deep in our thoughts. Worse, we start avoiding the other person. Complaining behind her back, resenting her. But we never speak up.
Those negative feelings don’t go away because we suppress them. Sometimes they poison a once-wonderful relationship. Or, our mind starts to run on a victim script: I’m always putting up with other people’s bad behavior. People are so inconsiderate. I follow the rules, why don’t they?
Here’s the thing: When we’re silent, we can become resentful, and then we don’t live the best life we possibly could. We make our voices tinier, our expectations smaller. And, in those gaps, insecurity sprouts. Our reluctant manner tells others that we care less about our needs and feelings than we actually do.
In short, we’re cheating ourselves.
Yes, confrontation can be scary, but let’s imagine we do speak up. Each time, it enhances our options, our confidence, our comfort in the world. It also demonstrates what we value and how we want to be treated.
In short, we open up our possibilities.
Given the choice of shrinking or expanding your life, logic points to the latter. But our emotions might lean toward the former. (Trust us, we know the feeling!) That’s why we put together this guide, to show us all how confrontation can lead to far better things than a black-eye.
Let’s get started.
WHEN TO CONFRONT AND HOW
“I was the queen of wimps,” says Barbara Pachter, a business communications expert with more than 18 years of experience. “But, when we understand the consequences to our choices — and this particular choice is not speaking up — it moves people to have the courage to try new behavior. When I realized that, I changed my day-to-day approach. And that eliminated a lot of the problems.”
For the rest of us, Pachter wrote the book The Power of Positive Confrontation (a new edition will be released in July) with strategies that work for everyone. The key to handling any confrontation — whether work- or home-related — Pachter says, is to use her WAC’em™ dialogue, which consists of three essential parts:
the What = a specific description of the behavior that bothers you
the Ask = a request to change it
the Check-in = a question to make sure you’ve been heard and understood.
“The first part is about not labeling the other person’s behavior,” she says. “We’re so quick to label each other as jerks, and that can lead to aggression. But, when you choose to confront someone and get your words together in this way — what comes to your mind is going to be polite, calm, direct, and non-accusatory. You know what’s bothering you, you know the other person’s point of view, you know what you want. And you ask for it.”
She adds, “Then you have to turn it over, get the other person’s response. Just because you’re asking for something doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.”
Our printable practice sheet, The Reluctant Person’s Confrontation Playbook, gives examples of how to apply this formula in four common conflict situations, and also what to do when the other person’s response is negative.
The situations include:
The Takers: You’re giving and they’re taking.
Your friend doesn’t pay you back for movie night. Your sister calls you daily to complain your ear off. This is the second time you cooked dinner for your roommate and she hasn’t helped clean up. Your manager gives you all the work and takes all the credit…
The Rule-breakers: They think they’re above the law.
Your coworker is consistently late with deadlines. The girl you’re seeing texts 20 minutes before dinner to say that she can’t make it. Someone jams the printer and doesn’t fix it. He doesn’t remember your anniversary…
The Self-involved: They’re stuck on Planet Clueless.
Your mother insists on a Hawaiian family vacation, even though you can’t afford it. No one’s vegan but she’s making a tofurkey for the “fun” of it. Your friend’s Facebook post about your ex’s fancy holiday shindig makes you feel bad. Your sister knows that you won’t be in town that week, but guess when she schedules the baby shower? It’s your meeting, but he takes it over…
The Insulters: They think rudeness is just being real.
That guy thinks dumb blonde jokes are really funny. She calls you an idiot because you didn’t know how to work the coffee machine. Your dad puts you down at every family gathering. Your friend says you’re too fat to wear a bathing suit. Every time she gets mad, she swears at you…
WHEN TO LET IT GO
Sometimes — not all the time — it’s best not to confront. When you’re faced with any of these four scenarios, Pachter says to walk away:
• The other person is out-of-control (angry, manic, tearful, etc), or at risk of becoming so.
• The other person’s offensive behavior is simply out-of-character. It’s okay to dial up your empathy — everyone has off-days — and let it go.
• You’re in a bad mood. Even the littlest thing (an empty milk carton, a coworker correcting your grammar) feels like a huge deal. Save your words for when you’re more in control.
• This is one of those friendships where you give a little, you take a little. He puts up with your foibles, and you shrug it off when he invites himself over and drinks all your beer.
But in other situations where you’re bothered and beleaguered, speaking up is often the best way to solve the problem.
So let’s practice.
DOWNLOAD THIS: The Reluctant Person’s Confrontation Playbook
Barbara Pachter is president of Pachter & Associates. She is an internationally renowned business etiquette and communications speaker, coach, and author who has delivered more than 2,100 seminars throughout the world. Pachter is the author of 10 books, including The Power of Positive Confrontation. Her client list boasts many of today’s most notable organizations, including Bayer, Campbell Soup, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Chrysler, Cleveland Clinic, Microsoft, Moody’s, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Princeton University and Wawa. Pachter is also on the adjunct faculty in the School of Business at Rutgers University.
For more information, visit pachter.com.
Sometimes we block ourselves by unknowingly adding constraints to a problem we want to solve. To give yourself more solution-finding elbow room, write out what your assumptions are about the problem at hand and the desired solution. Then step back and look for the biases and beliefs that may not apply. (It may help to ask someone else to review your assumptions as well.)
Thanks to Jessica Tillyer of SYPartners for this tip.
Stuck moment: Starting over really sucks sometimes. I was a total pro, with respect and a corner office. Now I have to work my way up again with people who are half my age! How do I get my confidence back?
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Maria Nunes worked more than 20 years in the business and consulting world, rising to the top ranks of a well-reputed strategy firm. As a managing principal, she held authority and seniority. She was comfortable and knowledgeable. But in her heart, her true passion was for education.
“As time goes on, you look at what you have to lose and the stakes get higher,” she says. “Working with people who were very passionate about what they did gave me the courage to ask myself what I really wanted.”
One very deep breath later, she left consulting to start over again in education. She’s currently “paying her dues” as a masters student in education and fourth-grade assistant teacher.
Among other things, this meant letting go of the prestige and authority that came with running an office and hobnobbing with captains of industry. And that led to some prickly transitions at times.
The key to not letting it get the better of you, says Maria, is a small but mighty shift in perspective: “You have to give yourself permission to begin again.” Here’s how she did it.
Swallow your pride
Maria’s first interview for an assistant teaching position was an adventure in humility.
“You have to demonstrate a lesson. I didn’t know that,” she says. The teacher introduced her to a classroom full of second graders — plus the five adults who would be assessing her — and said, “Ms Nunes is going to give you a lesson.”
“I had one of those moments when you wish the earth would swallow you up,” Maria says. “And I had to stop and admit that I didn’t have anything prepared. It really drove home to me that I was starting fresh.”
Rather than run out with her tail between her legs, Maria asked to read a story to the students in place of a prepared lesson.
“They were surprised that I was going to wing it,” she says. “They said, ‘Do you have a book?’ and I didn’t even have a book.” Eventually, one was found and Maria completed the interview.
Her unexpected lesson that day continues to guide her. “I have to remind myself each morning to be modest. And that I’m here because I chose to do this. You can’t have it both ways.”
Don’t think you have all the answers
Maria currently teaches math three days a week under the advisement of a more experienced teacher. “My first adjustment was letting go of my presumptions,” she says. “I bring 20+ years of work experience — and I’m working for people much younger, who have a lot less total experience than I do.”
Being evaluated by teachers who were her seniors career-wise but juniors life-wise was especially jarring. Her first feedback session brought up complicated feelings, and she had to stop herself from getting defensive in the face of criticism.
“You have the one voice that says, What do you mean? The other voice reminds you, I’m learning,” she says. “You don’t want to close yourself off and just apply what you’ve done before in your new setting,” Maria says. “Because you miss the opportunity to see what’s different in your new environment.”
This is what’s called the beginner’s mind, when we put aside what’s known so we can truly learn what’s new. (For tips on how to practice this, see “A strategy to really, truly reach your goal.”) For Maria, it helped to remember that the only person she needs to prove anything to is herself. “Once I did that, I allowed myself the freedom to discover, take risks, make mistakes. That’s how you learn.”
But don’t short-change your life experience, either
At the same time, when you switch from expert to beginner, don’t forget that you already have what Maria calls “an accelerated development.”
“You never really start at zero,” she says. “You bring a lot of what you already know with you. When you think about beginning, you sometimes think back to your first career, and what that was like — but you’re not the same person. You have all the strengths and life experience you earned from your previous career. As I relax and open my mind, there are more and more things that I can tap into that I’ve done before. You repurpose in certain ways.”
For example — that interview she thought she flubbed? She got the job. Her ability to come up with a plan B at a moment’s notice was a skill she’d brought with her.
“They were impressed that I went for it. That I didn’t panic under pressure,” she says. “Because things don’t always go according to plan.”
Keep your motivation front and center
It’s essential to remember what’s really under the surface of a starting-over change. “If it’s what you want to be doing, that will carry you through,” Maria says. “You’ll have a reserve to draw from to help you grow.”
She also found that her sense of purpose serves as an important buffer against lost status or pride. It also acts as a tuning fork for her ambitions — which is getting kids to love math.
“When people say that they’re not good at math, it kills my soul,” she says. “So I made it my personal crusade to help people see math differently. It’s such an important skill in today’s world.”
“And it’s been freeing to follow a dream, to rewind and start a career over again. You can feel yourself growing and developing. I feel alive again.”
PRINTABLE TIP CARD: Maria Nunes on how to start a new career with an open mind
Next week: How to handle confrontation with confidence + printable practice sheet
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