Christmas Cookies-How Traditions Might Limit Us

imagesWhen I was growing up, the excited anticipation of Christmas was augmented by the baking of Christmas Cookies.  For some reason, I still don’t understand this chemistry; the flavor of the cookies that were baked for Christmas improved over time.  Several weeks before Christmas, the baking would begin. By alternating the location of the baking, between our house and my aunt’s house each year, more hands could get more cookies baked.

There was the ones shaped into O’s, I’s and S’s, the ends dipped into chocolate (my favorite) the circular shortbread with raspberry jelly sandwich between two cookies, the top having a hole that we kids made with a thimble and then dusted with powdered sugar. The list of delights are too many to describe, but when the baking was completed, which took several days, these cookies were tucked and layered in airtight containers and stored in a cool place until Christmas Eve when our holiday officially began.  As we got older, they were also hidden until then, because we would try to eat those delicious treats and did not want to wait. But wait we did…images

My mother now 85, still makes those Christmas cookies and although we haven’t lived in the same town for many years, she sends me a box every Christmas. Yum!

Once I married and had children, we developed our own tradition for the holidays, combining both our celebrations with an overlay of something new and as a result start our holiday season every year on winter solstice.  So what to do about those Christmas cookies which traditionally I did not start eating until Christmas Eve?

Even though we had started a new way to celebrate during the holidays, I had a difficult time letting go of the idea that the cookies could not be opened until Christmas Eve. My husband on the other hand countered with, “but our celebration starts on solstice”.

I stuck to my guns. But even my mother long ago stopped writing on the outside of the box “Open on Christmas Eve”.  So why did I need to hang onto this idea or tradition?  Letting go would make my husband happy; halt the tense discussion about when to start eating the cookies. Truth be told the cookies taste just as good no mater what day you start eating them. I never felt they were more or less special by keeping them out of bounds until the special day.  (In fact they are so good I’d like to bake them all year round.)

How often do you find yourself hanging on to an idea or tradition that ends up causing stress or conflict?

What is that part of you afraid would happen if you let go?

Conversations for Supporting Sustainable Change

conversationsHow important are conversations? In today’s world having conversations has become somewhat of a lost art. In fact conversations are often avoided at all costs.   An informal exchange of ideas, interactive, spontaneous and an important part of socialization; the conversation tends to take a back seat to the text or an email.

It is very convenient to text or email, it allows for the delivery of your message without having to worry about how the other person might receive or respond to what you have said and does not require you to think on your feet; you can choose when or if you will respond. The immediate impact of your words and thoughts are lost to you. Generally in return you receive a thought-out measured response. This lets you live in your world with little or no thought to the person you are communicating with; in fact it keeps us all nicely cocooned.

When working in a customer based service, or if your business requires you to have employees, it is important to hone your skill in the art of conversation. Although we tend to rely more heavily on electronic forms of communication for the sake of efficiency, it cannot take the place, or deny the importance of a face-to-face conversation.

Without knowing it, we count heavily on what we see, for our interpretation of what the other person is feeling or understanding. Without these clues we can miss much of what might be important clues to building relationships that sustain our businesses and our communities.

This weekend I listened to a podcast of This American Life, “For Your Reconsideration”.  There were some really interesting statistics about door-to-door canvasing; there was one very interesting discovery. They discovered that sustainable change in opinions and attitudes could be attributed to listening and asking questions, instead of “campaigning for a cause”.  It was when the other person could come to a conclusion on their own; with words coming out of their own mouth, that their changed opinion and acceptance of a new concept became believable to them.

The possibility of effecting sustainable change, engaged presence, commonality, and connecting in a conversation vs. an email or text, seems more likely, and for me, although sometimes reluctantly, a practice worth continuing.

7 Easy Steps (the hook)

7 easy steps picThere are so many books and programs out there that are based on “Steps to Success”.  Success for whatever you want to achieve; being a good parent, being happy, having a great relationship, being loved and admired.  Just give me the steps to follow so that I can…you fill in the blank.

What is it in our nature that drives us to look for a list that we can tick off, to find contentment or success in an area of our lives that we think is out of control or unacceptable?

As I pondered this idea, it seemed when there are steps, no matter how many, we have this sense of a beginning and end. Once we have followed these steps we can dust our hands off and say we have arrived; and now things will be as we want them to be, the answer found.

In any popular step plan, the steps seem mostly doable, and there is the hook.

I can recount so many times I have met someone who has done something I admire and have asked “how did you do it”, in the back of my mind hoping it was some simple set of steps that I too could follow and achieve that goal.

Often times, even though the steps look as if they can be achieved, for whatever reason, we get stuck and are unable to complete or stick with the process.  It gets hard; we have to face a stumbling block and just can’t hurdle over it. Change is hard, even in circumstances when we know our lives may depend on it.

Finding happiness or contentment isn’t packed neatly into 7 easy steps, at least not for me.  The steps even if followed to the letter, often reveal more, and the more is what needs the attention. For example; a step to happiness may be to begin a daily gratitude journal, make sense, seems easy to do, right? The more that is revealed; is something that stops you from sustaining the practice day after day or, you come to a day, that for whatever reason, you do not feel grateful, now what? This is the more, and unless we have some tools to respond to ourselves when we have these stumbling blocks, our 7 steps get dropped and we are unable to sustain the results.

I am not saying we shouldn’t follow a plan, make a list, and make some changes to how we do things to achieve a more desirable outcome. What I am pointing to is what we most often don’t want to face, that which holds us back, this is what demands attention.

Our work is not on the surface but at the core.

As managers we are constantly faced with the demands of facilitating, or responding to changes in our businesses. We could begin this with a systematic, formulaic approach, but may find ourselves faced with stumbling blocks. As issues arise, to assure the best results a deeper look and an adjusted approach can be the foundation to success, especially when addressing your customers concerns. In the hospitality industry, as in any customer service business to make sure our guests don’t walk away feeling unheard or unimportant, we coach and encourage our team to listen and respond using the guidelines in place, but also take into account the individual and their specific even unstated request. The more, when responded to, is what makes the difference to us as people and ultimately the success of a business.

What can you do to help yourself, as you take the steps to find your desired success?

Mindfulness

Mindfulness seems to be a current buzzword, and as I experienced in a conversation the other day, comes with it’s own stock “groomed” definition. With its obvious current popularity and acceptance and integration into the business world I am curious if this is an indicator of a more widely spread acceptance or embracement of Buddhism, or a real need for a way to reduce our stress levels.

Gallery Motivation

Recently this idea of motivation reared its ugly head.  It was when someone close to me was completely de-motivated, that made me think about why external and sometimes
internal forces can change the balance of motivation from self propelled, to a halting stop.

Many times we work on the carrot and the stick premise.  If I do “this” then my reward will be “that”, and the “that” may be either positive or negative. This type of motivation works, for the short term, but over time we lose interest and, low and behold, we find ourselves where we started, and maybe even less likely to work toward the goal. This is the basic premise for most jobs, you are hired to work, agree upon a wage, and then off you go to preform your duties.

But what keeps us interested in the work we do, the goals we have set, or the plans that we make? From where does the motivation come and then what sustains our enthusiasm? A recent study showed that if heart doctors tell their seriously at-risk heart patients that they will literally die if they do not make changes to their personal lives-diet, exercise, smoking- still only 1in 7 were able to make those changes. We could assume that the other 6 also wanted to continue to live. One would think that the threat of death would be motivation enough, but change is difficult.
So what would it take, what would motivate the change? Read more in Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laslow Lahey

Creativity and Your Business

How relevant is creativity in today’s business world? Does being creative mean we should all pick up a paintbrush and give it the ol’ Picasso try? For Picasso this meant an exceptional achievement of universal and immense fortune for his revolutionary artistic accomplishments, he became one of the best-known figures in 20th-century art.

So how can being creative in business bring that kind of success to our companies? No matter what kind of business, challenges arise which demand solutions. How we approach these situations can determine the direction or success of our business.

Coming up with new and creative ideas is not uncommon for successful companies; in the Silicon Valley there are companies that have found incredible success, as did Picasso in the art world. One component to their successes was to find new and creative ways to solve problems facing how they did business and what the consumer was demanding. Prime examples are Apple, Google and Facebook, globally recognized for their innovation.

So how can we tap into and harvest our creative ideas and solutions that may have been stored in our inner rooms and left virtually unattended?  How do we develop a capacity to let go of what constrains us and allow our natural creative abilities to immerge?

When there is a lot at stake and pressure to come up with some perfect solution that could propel a company or team forward we sometimes feel frozen and unable to perform on the spot.  That is why it is important, as a great athlete would attest, to practice before the event.

If asked, many people would say they didn’t have a creative bone in their body. So then how can we open up to and begin to discern our creative abilities and strategically apply them to our business?

Let the silence breathe-take some time every day and allow yourself some quiet time to allow for new thoughts to arise.

Acknowledge your creativity– whether you start with a doodle or a dance; recognize these as creative expressions of yourself.

Practice-take up a new creative endeavor and give yourself permission to practice an hour a week.

Beginning in this way, when you want to tap into the creative you, you will have been exercising that muscle and be ready to engage more fully in finding a new creative solution to an opportunity as it presents itself.

Grace

Grace is such a big word, not because of the number of letters but because of its’ many meanings.“Who is going to say grace?” heard at the table before
a meal.“If not for the grace of G-d” heard just after a near miss. “We will give you this grace period to complete your
work” when you just can’t get it done. “She moved with grace”, “She graced us with her presence” And of course there is a goddess, Graces.

What I admire are people who are able to graciously accept what is presented to them. They seem to effortlessly have, on the tip of their tongues, the words that traverse them through, as if gliding without a ripple on a clear still lake.  We watch and listen and marvel at their ability to accept and in return allow others to rest at ease.

I admire this quality because it is always what I hope for in myself. Very often, however, my graciousness makes way for one emotion or another, which clouds my thoughts and projects responses that are not always as I would hope they would be.  This is very often the case with my children. They challenge me to be the best I can, by presenting opportunities for me to look deep inside for the stillness that is necessary to respond gracefully.

Each day when I go to work I am reminded to accept what is presented to me with as much grace as I can muster.  Mostly it is easy. My co-workers love to be at work, and show me daily how much they appreciate my part in their happiness. There isn’t a day that goes by that guests don’t come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed their stay, and how important we are in creating their home away from home; like no other.

However, it is the times when people are unhappy, whether guest or employee, that I measure myself.  It is how I traverse through, and respond that shows me what I am made of. It is also what has helped me grow as a person and hospitality professional.

Gallery Communication 

 

I much prefer to do things via the telephone.  This preference seems to date me, but many times it is the fastest way to get things done.That of course depends on the cooperation of the person at the other end of the line; they too have to be willing to have a conversation versus an email or text.

When I was a kid we had a party line.  This meant that we shared a telephone line with someone else that lived in our town, in our exchange.  Our exchange was HEmlock, and when you told someone your telephone number you said,  “HEmlock 5-6789”, they knew what to dial.

Getting someone on the line back then was not a problem; you could easily have any number of people (your party line) listening to your conversation. Of course that was not desirable and required patience if they were using the phone and you wanted to make your own call.

We have come a long way with communication choices since then but we still need patience when we can’t immediately get the answer to our questions. We are demanding answers immediately, and in response we start thinking about how we will answer before a person is even finished asking the question. It is like being on a game show, ready with our hand posed over the buzzer.

This way of communication tends to leave us feeling empty, and frustrated.  Give yourself the permission to listen to the other person. It is surprising what happens when someone feels heard and understood.  The ability to respond to someone’s inquiry whether it is a complaint, request, or compliment can set the tone for the rest of your experience together. It can foster the building or breaking down of the connection.

I am drawn to those that hear what I am saying, can empathize and respond in kind.  I want to provide that experience for my staff and my customers, because connection and loyalty is part of the brand experience I am trying to create.

Courage

It is courage that I call on
each morning as I face the day. Courage is what the Lion in the Wizard of Oz
was looking for and what he got was a heart.

It is to my heart I defer
each morning as I face the day.  Heart is
my connection to myself and to others that allows me to proceed with empathy.

It is with empathy that I
turn to face the day. Empathy holds out it’s arms and spreads the warmth
required to support me when I am fearful.

And when I forget, it is fear
that greets me when I face the day. Then I search for empathy and connection to
my heart to fill me with courage to face the day.

The way to become a writer is to write

The way to become a writer is to write. Of course that is the sticky wicket. Even though we want to do certain things it is difficult to change our way of being to support what we want.  To become a runner one must run, to become a lover one must love, to become what and who we want to be we must pay attention to the things that will support that way of being.

This is of course is true in business also.  What does your company represent, what is the culture of the business? Who are your clients, what do they need and want?  How do you deliver, and discover those needs? Have the needs of your clients changed or been met? Have your needs changed or
been met?

In a recent interview I was asked, where do you start? And although I did not answer the question in this exact way, my answer is that I start from the inside. The basic needs must be met inside the company and then the business can start to project itself outwardly and listen to what the
client needs.

We have heard this time and again, perhaps the language has changed, build a  good foundation.

In the hotel business, we sell beds and all that accessorize those beds, but what we are really selling is relationship and engagement with others.  This is a large part of the business and very often we are so busy with numbers and reports we forget this fundamental concept, hospitality is defined as the relationship between guest and host, it involves showing respect, providing for their needs and treating them as equals.

So what can we do to support the becoming good hosts?

1.Find out what your clients need? Engage them through conversation, surveys, and read what they are posting about your property.

2. Respond to them? It may not always be easy but take their suggestions and determine if they are valuable, doable, and will positively affect your other guests. Chances are if one person has a specific complaint, others feel the same way they just haven’t bothered to tell you.

3.Provide the best product you can, keep it clean.  There is nothing worse then have to face a client that is standing there with someone else’s underwear that they have found in their room.

4.Ask yourselves “why am I doing this?” once you have the answer and can express it you will attract long term, like minded people who will sustain your business.

If you are looking for ways to support and strengthen your business consider contacting me to explore possibilities.