Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Importance of Feedback: Why feedback is essential to a thriving workplace?

We all want feedback.  I want feedback from my bosses, those I supervise, and my peers so that I can improve.  Peers and friends seek me out for my feedback so they can improve.  And my children need feedback so they know how to behave.  In short, we all need frequent feedback.  Feedback from others is the fastest way to improve, it is how we learn and excel.  Feedback motivates us and helps us to make appropriate course corrections and leverage our strengths.  Admittedly, sometimes feedback is not what we expect and can push us outside of our comfort zones and even sting a little, but ultimately it is what helps us grow and improve.

At the State Department we have the 360 review process that provides feedback, but that is generally reserved for use during bidding season or when you take a leadership training course at the Foreign Service Institute.  We have the obligatory “counseling sessions” which usually occur in support of the Employee Evaluation Report process.  Though I am sure it exists in pockets, there does not seem to be any uniform application of a regular feedback process, there is even anecdotal evidence to suggest there exists a feedback vacuum. defines a feedback vacuum as “a vacuum that occurs when people do not receive enough information about their performance.”  This does not refer to the formal performance feedback process I mention above, but is rather an ongoing, regular and informal feedback loop that addresses:

·         Whether or not employees are achieving their goals
·         What they are supposed to be achieving in their role i.e. why their role exists
·         What they are currently doing well and what areas require improvement
·         How they are impacting others in the workplace

Keep in mind that feedback does not always have to be supervisor to subordinate, it can be peer to peer, subordinate to supervisor, and should be actively solicited by colleagues from colleagues at all levels.

The Partnership for Public Service outlines “Ten Good Guidelines for Giving Feedback”:

1.  Make it relevant.  Your feedback should relate to how the person is meeting their performance standards and objectives, and helping to serve the office goals.
2.  Focus on the future.  The past is over.  Use it only to provide sufficient data so the person understands your concern.  Focus on how things could be different in the future.
3.  Be honest and straightforward.  Don’t avoid difficult issues.  Try to be truthful and tactful at the same time.
4.  Make it timely.  Give it as close to the event as possible.  The exception being, wait until any feelings of anger have subsided.
5.  Be specific.  Do not use vague and general statements such as “lacks professionalism.”  Give people tangible examples of what you want them to change.
6. Focus on behavior, not personality.  People can’t change their personality; they can only change their behaviors.  Describe observed behaviors, not your interpretation, or personality characteristics.  Ask yourself:  What could a camera or tape recorder have picked up that is, observable behavior?
7.  Keep it limited.  If you have a lot of negative things to say, consider focusing just on the most important concerns.  Address other issues later.
8.  Be sure it’s actionable.  Only give feedback if the person can do something about it.  Aim at skills, attitudes, and behaviors that can be developed or repeated.  Be sure the person has access to learning opportunities and resources needed.
9.  Explain the impact.  Tell the person why the behavior is important.  Explain who and what it impacts and how.
10.  End on a positive note.  Be encouraging and help motivate the person to develop him/herself.  Remind him/her of their strengths and value to the office.

How feedback helps
Feedback helps employees find answers to important questions such as:

·         How is my performance tracking with the needs of the office?
·         What is the best use of my time? 
·         How do I prioritize tasks?
·         How do I influence others?
·         How does my position fit into the larger mission?
·         What is the quality of my relationships with managers, team members, and colleagues?

Feedback provides the type of information we need to be successful in the workplace.  The most prolific leaders actively seek feedback to enhance their performance.

Why feedback is important
Feedback is one of the easiest, effective, and most underutilized tools available to help people get on track.  Feedback serves as a guide or roadmap to make people aware of their performance and how others perceive their performance.

Building a culture that values feedback is essential to creating and maintaining an environment that motivates employees to always bring their “A game” and to promote sustained high levels of performance.  Feedback is directly correlated with employee satisfaction and productivity.  People like to feel engaged in their organization and understand how their work contributes to the overall vision and mission.  Ongoing and regular feedback is a powerful way to achieve that result.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Practicing Positivity: Happiness is a Choice (A Short Tale)

Okay so I feel like I must be living under a cloud.  Within the last 24 hours I lost my wedding band, been treated like a secretary because of my gender, and now when I am headed to my first ever blogging conference (Blogalicious), it seems like the fates are against me.  The Story:  So I leave the house this morning still some what demoralized because I can't find my ring, (thank god my husband has such a positive attitude about it), realized the gas tank was only half full, and that I need to get cash.  So I decide to go to a gas station near to the place where I have to get on the highway.  I get there and as I am filling up the tank I realize one of my back taillights is literally hanging out and needs to be taped, at a minimum.  I go inside to get cash and to inquire if they have any  tape.  They don't, so now I am in front of the ATM and the attendant tells me the ATM doesn't work.  Mind you, I am trying to do all of this really quickly so I can get ahead of traffic, like that is even possible on a work day in the DMV, but nonetheless I tried.  Thankfully across the street is another gas station, so I decide to try my luck at gas station #2 in terms of getting cash and seeking tape.  Again no tape but at least I got some cash and I am off again, taillight still hanging out.   A little more behind schedule than I want to be, but I will try to make time up on the road.  I head down the road to the place where you begin to merge onto the highway, and my GPS says "moderate traffic up ahead" This moderate traffic added another 10 minutes to my trip, but I am undeterred.  I've already called the hubby a few times at this point to check in, vent, and to keep him apprised of the situation, mostly just to tell him about the taillight and my fear that it will fly off when I am en-route to the conference.  I am finally out of VA and heading around DC via the beltway and am into Maryland at this point when the car starts sputtering, surging, racing and all of the lights on the dashboard are flashing on and off, I know this isn't good.  I'm thinking it might be battery related, so I pull out the car charger, I have my phone plugged into, thinking it might be doing something to the battery.  When I do, the car's functionality seems to improve.  I then keep going saying in my head "I just want to get there, I just want to get there" and I am on the verge of tears due to frustration.  I drive another five minutes with everything turned off, no radio, no car charger, no ac, and the sputtering, surging and racing starts happening again.  I decided to get off the road at that point and that is where I end up, pulled over at a random gas station in Silver Springs, MD, still 40ish miles from the conference, waiting for my hubby to get there to help me out.  Now there is a range of emotions I could justifiably be feeling at this point including anger, frustration and disappointment but oddly and incredibly, I feel blessed and grateful.
I strongly believe you are responsible for your own happiness, and that being happy is a choice.  This doesn't mean things can't be stressful, irritating, frustrating and overwhelming at times.  Negative emotions are easier to get sucked into than positive ones, at least that is the case for me.  I believe you have more control over how these external influences can affect you than you may initially be aware of.  For instance when I hit traffic the first time I used it as an opportunity to call my husband to vent about how despite my best laid plans, s*it was going sideways.  He heard me out, listened to me, and I felt better.  We hung up.  Five minutes later I called him back to apologize for being so negative and told him that I was going to choose to look at things differently.  

Instead of feeling upset about circumstances beyond my control that unfortunately impacted me negatively, I chose to feel blessed to be in a position to even have this type of problem, as in I have a car, I have a cell phone to call for help, I have someone who cares on the other end of the phone.  Everyone throws around the term "first world problems"  all the time, a missing wedding band and a messed up taillight certainly qualify as such.  In that moment I decided to choose happiness and acknowledge the good amidst the bad and not let the setbacks "steal my joy".

In that situation, thinking in a positive way was contagious, once I shook off the stresses of the morning's ordeal, I began to realize even more positives that I was unaware of until I shifted my mindset, like the fact that I was not at work that day, had gotten into a pair of skinny jeans I haven't been able to fit for some time, was going to see some old friends I hadn't seen in a while, the fact that my gel manicure looked really good.  These little positive things are blessings and my ability to turn around the negative thoughts and emotions I was feeling into positive ones was something I hope to make a practice.  As soon as I stopped thinking negatively and shifted my mindset I felt an immediate change in my body as well.  My shoulders went down, I stopped frowning and started smiling, that pent-up frustrated feeling I had inside went away and I just felt better, more relaxed, clear, open and ready.

I am going to pledge to myself that I will "practice positivity" and conscious gratitude for 30 days from this point so that it becomes my new habit, will you join me?  Let's be happy, life is too short to live in any other way.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Don't Miss Out on Your Child's Childhood!

So we live in the digital age and more relationships than ever are started in the virtual medium.  Nothing wrong there, that's life today.  However, there is one area in life where a virtual relationship won't work and where in fact living virtually is actually the biggest impediment to a real relationship - the one with your children.  Technology is a tool that you can use to engage and interact with your child, but it isn't a substitute.  We are all too quick to turn on the TV, park the kids in front of a video game or IPad/tablet or other gaming system, while we remain equally engrossed in our cell phones, computers, laptops, kindles, etc. Where is the real connection, that in person face-to-face bond?  Where is the interaction? Where is the love?  Our children grow up so quickly and it is a fact that their childhood will end too soon, in the "blink of an eye", so don't squander it or you will regret it and your life-long relationship with your children will be impaired as a result.

You might say this doesn't apply to your situation and you are fully engaged with your child, and I hope you're right.  Here are some scenarios (culminated from other excellent parent blogs on the same subject that inspired this post), that if you find yourself relating to them, you're definitely missing it:
  1. You go to your child’s sporting event and look up periodically from your phone thinking she won’t notice that you are not paying attention to her game.
  2. You keep your phone turned on at all times of the day and allow the rings, beeps, and buzzes to interrupt your child mid-sentence; always letting the caller take priority.
  3. You check your phone first thing in the morning … even before you kiss, hug, or greet the people in your family.
  4. You neglect daily rituals like tucking your child into bed or nightly dinner conversation because you are too busy with your online activity.
  5. You don’t look up from your phone when your child speaks to you or just reply with an “uh huh” to give the impression you were listening.
  6. You get frustrated with your child when he “bothers” you while you are interacting with an electronic device.
  7. You sigh or roll your eyes when your child asks you to push her on the swing because you are busy on your phone.
  8. You use drive time to call other people instead of talking to your kids.
If you are engaging in some or all of these activities, you are missing out on your child's childhood because you aren't present with them, you aren't paying attention, and you are prioritizing the wrong things.  If you continue to engage in these types of activities, it is a recipe for disaster.  It is a fact that we live in the 21st century, a fact that we are globally wired at all times, a fact that your job is important and of course you must be responsive to the office.  However, despite all those factors, at some point you must realize that you don't have to sacrifice your child’s childhood, your sanity, or your life.  

There is a better way.

Portrait of a Smiling Afro-american family on the sofa

How to "Hold On" to your child's childhood!

Be intentional with your children.

Meaningfully connect with them.

Make them the priority when you spend time with them and be fully present.

Set distraction-free daily routines with them that are just for you and them and stick to them, i.e. reading before bedtime, or playing board games or puzzles during a family games night.

Look into their eyes when they speak to you and really listen to them.

Love on them, give them affection.  Give a hug, a kiss, a pat on the head, hold hands, and/or a rub on the back.  Loving affection speaks volumes to them at any age.

Let them laugh at and with you.

Tell them you love them for who they are, this is especially important as they become older and start finding themselves.

Ride bikes with them, throw a ball with them in the yard or park, and actively play with them.

Be grateful for them every day remembering they are a gift.

These are only a few examples of ways you can meaningfully and intentionally connect with your children and there are a zillion more.  However, the real "key to the kingdom" is to remove the electronic devices/distractions when interacting with your children.  Bottom line:  Make the time with your kids count, especially since there is precious little of it, and stay focused on what matters most, them!!!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

8 Ways to Find Happiness in Your Everyday Life

Happiness is a choice.  It is not just a way of being but rather it is a conscious choice and something you must commit to seeking every day.   Happiness is what life is all about; it is what makes the challenges, failures, stresses, and losses, bearable.  Happiness fills you up with goodness, inspires you to greatness, and heals all things.  Happiness is worthy of pursuing every day.  I am not saying you have to walk around all bubbles and sunshine but you can choose to see things from a more positive perspective, a more "glass half full" perspective and you will be amazed at the way the world opens up to you and you to it.

The following list is eight ways, some cheesier than others, that I have discovered to access happiness on a daily basis.  See if they work for you:

1.) Be Grateful -  Instead of always thinking about what you don't or seemingly can't have, focus on what you do have: a job, a home, clothes on your back, food in your belly, health, family and friends, and so much more.  I've seen many people taking part in the gratitude challenges on Facebook and elsewhere and I think that is good practice for reminding oneself about the abundance of good things we have in our lives.  It doesn't mean you can't seek out things you don't have or to stop desiring things you want, it just means be sure to recognize and appreciate the many blessings you already have.

2.) Connect authentically in your relationships - Check-in with good friends often and not just via text message, IMing, or social media, actually call and speak, or even better meet up and see one another in person.  Celebrate the good things in their lives, and listen to them, don't just talk about yourself.  People love to be heard and for friends who are struggling sometimes the best thing you can do is lend a compassionate listening ear.  This doesn't mean you shouldn't talk about yourself, it just means listen (don't just hear, there is a difference), more than you talk.

3.) Learn Something New - Cook a new dish, play a new game, try a new sport, take a class, go for walk on a street in your neighborhood that you have never ventured down before, go into that store you've been curious about but never checked out.  Bottom line:  Get up and get out there.

4.) Pamper Yourself - You've been meaning to get to the salon to get your "hair did" for the longest, or your nails are looking so raggedy that no amount of DIY work is going to help.  Go on and book that appointment, I always feel better when I step out the door of the salon.  Looking better always makes me happy, because it makes me feel good about me.

5.) Dance - No matter how rough my day has been, or how down I feel, when I put on my dancing music and just let myself go, I immediately feel better.  It doesn't solve any problems of course but for that moment I am able to set aside whatever I have going on and it takes the edge off.  It is especially fun to dance with my kids.

6. Get lost in a great book - I am an avid reader and so rarely get to read that it is a real treat to just read for pleasure.  One way I get this in is to read when I am in transit.  I always carry a book or my kindle with me just in case.  Reading helps transport me from "reality" into the "imaginary" which is always fun.

7.) Be Generous - Connecting with other people and feeling part of something larger than ourselves takes us a long way toward happiness.

8.) Meditate - Meditation is an important habit/tool for improving focus, clarity, and attention span.  Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down, and has been proven in several health and wellness studies to be an effective way to live a happier life.

Monday, August 10, 2015

3 Ways Women Hold Themselves Back: How to Get Ahead in the Workplace

Why aren't I progressing in my career as quickly as my male counterparts?  Why did the person I brought in already get promoted before me?  I could have done that job, why didn't I go for it?  Have you ever asked yourself these questions and if so, what have you done to change your circumstances?  According to, "Women are 57% of college graduates and 63% of masters degree holders, but that majority fades as careers progress."  The question is why?  We know the glass ceiling is a real thing that women in the 21st century unfortunately still grapple with, but we can no longer point the finger of blame at male status quo anymore.  In numerous conversations with female friends, colleagues, and mentees and reading some of the many books on the market on the topic including but not limited to "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg, "The Confidence Code" by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, and "Strategize to Win" by Carla Harris, the same themes kept coming up over and over again and I realized there are three main things women do to hold ourselves back from success in the workplace (and in general).

1.)  The belief that "I'm not good enough or I'm not ready yet"
Believing that you aren't good enough or you aren't ready yet because you either don't have 100% of the credentials, enough experience, or because you don't feel completely "ready" for the next step is the thought/belief pattern that holds women back from taking leaps in their careers.  This includes applying for positions in a new/different field, asking for more money or a raise, taking a more visible/leadership role on an important project, or seeking a promotion.  

2.) Too much modesty and no self-advocacy
Numerous studies suggest that when it comes to evaluating their own work performance, men consistently rate themselves more positively than women. Some of the reasons theorized to be behind this result are that women are socialized to be more modest about their work and subsequent work achievements.  The same research also indicates that men are more motivated by the "visibility of their work", while women are more motivated by the "security of their work relationships".  Men are more inclined to take firm positions on key issues and confidently advocate for their chosen initiatives; even when there is a degree of self-doubt, men are more likely to "fake it ’till they make it".  Women in contrast are more prone to hang back and often don't or won't speak up because they are worried about being considered too tough, aggressive, or worse.

3.) Fear of Success
To be clear, the "fear of success" does not mean women are afraid of achieving a particular career goal but rather it refers to the fears about what the consequences or ramifications of the achievement will mean.  For example some typical concerns are can I withstand the stress that this may cause?  How much more time will this require me to spend in the office?  Is this worth the effort, the long hours, and the headaches?  Some concerns relate to the fear of failure such as, can I cope with the additional demands of a bigger role? What if I make a mistake? What if I can’t do it and if I fail what will that mean for my reputation?  A third area of concern is those that relate to the implications of career success on our home life, such as how will my husband/partner react to my success?  What impact will this have on my children?  Will I be faced with jealousy or criticism by my friends/acquaintances? Can I deal with being the one that’s different or set apart?

So how do we begin to change this?
As a start, women must pay attention to and reflect on the behaviors that have been demonstrated to help people move up the career ladder in their organizations.  Women also need to communicate their accomplishments on a wide scale beyond first-line managers, and take on assignments that broaden their exposure and contributions to the larger organization (i.e. move beyond your comfort zone).

Usually, we engage in the above behaviors unconsciously, so becoming more aware of when we are indulging them is getting you halfway there, then choosing to do or think something different moves you closer to the success you deserve and have worked so hard for.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Morning Runs vs. Evening Runs: Which is Better?

After grad school, when life became more predictable and routine driven and the metabolism began to slow down, of course after the babies started coming, I started trying to run on my own in an effort to "stay in shape".  I had always been physically active, played team sports, was a lifeguard, regularly rode my bike, loved taking classes at the gym, running however was never something I did for pleasure it was just a necessary means to participating in the sports that I loved, especially soccer.  However, I was no longer a part of any team, no longer a lifeguard, hadn't ridden my bike in ages, my gym membership had long expired, and I was starting to see and feel the difference and it wasn't good.
Running seemed a simple fix to my situation, but all the runners I knew were "serious" runners and they all trained in the morning.  I am a classic night owl and have always felt more energized at night.  As a non-coffee drinker it takes me awhile to wake up in the mornings and really feel like myself.  However, some of my runner friends claimed to be natural night-owls too and made some good points about why morning running worked for them.
Pros for Morning Runs:
  • You get it done and have the rest of your day to focus on all the other things you have to do, feeling good about the fact that you already got your exercise in.
  • Mornings might be the only time in your day when you can realistically squeeze a run in.
  • The endorphins and adrenalin that flow through your body post-run, can wake you up, put you in a good mood, and set the tone for the rest of day. It never hurts to start your day on the good foot, literally!
Cons for Morning Runs:
  • You may be less productive for the rest of your day because you are tired and not wired to be up and active at that time of day and your body goes into a recuperative mode, making you feel sluggish and sleepy.
  • You may have to get up earlier than you really want to (this is a big one for me, really any time I have to get up before 7 am is a struggle), because you will have to run and then still go through your morning routine after the run and as a night owl despite being tired you may not be able to get to sleep early at night.
  • It might be so early that you aren’t hungry (I know I’m not) and therefore unable to “fuel” properly before your workout which will affect the intensity of your workout.
Pros for Afternoon/Evening Runs:
  • You can work out when you want, and don’t have to miss any critical sleep time.
  • You will have eaten at least 2-3 meals and 1-2 snacks and consumed enough water to be adequately “fueled” giving you the energy you need to do a complete or more intense workout.
  • You’ve been on the move all day, so your body is warm, active, and limber from the day reducing your risk for injury, cramping, and/or susceptibility to aches and pains.
Cons for Afternoon/Evening Runs:
  • Your work and/or family schedule may not accommodate this. You might have to stay late in the office putting in that overtime, or you are on the hook to pick the kids up from daycare and then you want to spend quality time with them and by the time they go down you are pooped and running is the last thing on your mind.
  • Depending upon your profession, you may be exhausted by the end of the day and do not feel physically up for running at that point.
  • If you can’t tolerate tread mill running (I hate it and won’t do more than 3 miles on a treadmill) it’s dark and not all paths are lighted, which makes night time running more challenging.
Think carefully about the times of day when you feel the most energized and when you feel tired.  Are you a natural night owl or an early-bird?  Do you feel lucid, and raring to go in the morning, or does the night life give you that extra spark of energy you need to power through?  Once you can ascertain these things you will soon be able to deduce the time of day that might naturally work best for you.  Then you have to make it work with your schedule.
Whatever you decide if your goal is exercise, weight loss, maintenance, general health or some combination of all of these things, consistency is the key.  Pick the timing and training schedule that works best for you, plan accordingly, and STICK to it!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

When the Kids are Away, the Parents can Play!!!

It's summertime, the weather is amazing, and there is so much to see and do.  The good news is, you've just dropped the kids off at summer camp, or with relatives and you are FREE.  Now what do you do?  If you're like me your first reaction is to feel a combination of remorse, guilt, exhilaration, excitement, and temporary paralysis since you are overwhelmed with options.  Here are some great ideas of things you should do to make the most of your kid free respite.
1.) Take a vacation!  If the kids are away for at least a week, go somewhere.  Make it a couples thing or grab some friends for a group outing.  You don't have to spend tons of money on it, you could go camping, or to a B&B on the beach, hit an all-inclusive resort or take a cruise to a new destination.  Bottom line: Get up and get out there and enjoy your kid free status!
2.) Even better have a "staycation"!  Not in the mood to plan a trip, feel like finally completing some of the long-term projects that always seem to allude you, or you just feel like doing nothing, well home is the perfect place for that.  Sleep-in, take LONG showers, binge watch and catch up on all the shows and movies you've been wanting to see.  Time at home can be just as relaxing, rejuvenating, and fun as a planned vacation.  Bottom line:  Whatever you do, enjoy the time, and keep other commitments to a minimum.
3.)  Pamper yourself!  While you are enjoying your down-time, you can catch up on some much need grooming and being-your-best self activities.  Get a haircut/go to the salon, get a massage, facial, mani/pedi or all of the above.  You've got the time, might as well let yourself unwind, recharge, and feel good.
4.) Go on a date night or many!  Take your spouse or significant other out on a date or several.  You don't need a babysitter and you have no time constraints.  Trust me when I say you will enjoy your nights out even more without having to worry about what the kids are doing at home or being hyper aware of your cellphone in case the baby-sitter might be trying to call.  See a movie in a movie-theater but make sure it is not a cartoon or in any way geared toward a child audience.
5.) Do what you want to do NOT what you must do! If you've been waiting to read the book you downloaded or picked up a few months ago and haven't started reading, now is your chance.  If you want to try a new class at the gym, go for it.  If you actually want to hit a happy hour after work with your colleagues, do it.  This is your chance to let your hair down and be "you" again, not the parent version of you, but the kid-free or pre-kid version of you.
6.) Don’t go grocery shopping for at least a week.  Order in, eat out, and/or heat up something you already have in the fridge and take a moment to enjoy it.  Eat what you want, when you want it, without having to hear "ew vegetables" or "this is gross, I want pizza"!
Many parents feel guilty spending time away from their kids, but it is absolutely essential to your well-being and peace of mind. Parents need to devote attention to themselves and not lose focus on the importance of their adult lives, in order to be patient, supportive, nurturing, and present to their children. If it is hard to shake off the guilt, keep in mind that your children are away having a great time and learning/doing new things without you, so there is no reason why you can’t do the same without them!