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Putting joy to work…on difficult conversations


In their wonderful book, Difficult Conversations, the authors (Stone, Patton and Heen) point out that difficult conversations (anything you find it hard to talk about) are difficult because they are important. Something needs to be addressed.

They also say that, generally, people are not good at difficult conversations—whether at work or in a relationship.

But here’s the silver lining to that cloud: anyone who develops skills in dealing with difficult conversations has a real advantage—in career as well as in personal life.

 So how do we become more skillful at dealing with difficult conversations?

True, deep listening can help, of course. But this is also a place where we can put joy to work.

Joy—with its favorite tools, humor and playfulness—eases tensions and helps us speak honestly but gently and respectfully.

Robert Townsend, former CEO of Avis Rent-A-Car tells about an associate who had a unique way of expressing his disagreement.

When Townsend was pressing a new idea that the associate didn’t think would work, the associate sent Townsend a memo that read:

“Dear Jefe do Oro [an Inca form of address that means Chief of Gold]: If you say so, it will be my hourly concern to make it so. But before I sally forth in service of this, your latest cause, I must tell you with deep affection and respect that you’re full of it again.”



The vow to find and create joy


Gerry Sikorsky, the inventor of the helicopter said:

“Be absolutely determined to enjoy what you do.”

But given the stresses, tragedies, failures and disappointments of life…is that realistic? How can we do that?

There is a thing little children know (and they don’t even know they know it): They know that the point is joy.

Put a small child down anywhere for one minute and they’ll find some fun (their word for joy).

Joy, to small children, is like water to a fish. It is their default mode.

Could we make joy our default mode…again?

I used to think joy was the icing on the cake of life. Now I believe it is the cake.

I believe joy is the point of work, the point of relationships, the point of life—despite all the problems.

In fact, the more problems we have, the more we need joy. Not as an end, but as the energy with which we live and fight our battles and take on challenges.

Joy is not about faking it. It doesn’t mean we pretend problems aren’t there or plaster a fake smile on our face. It’s deeper than that.

With its favorite tools—stories, laughter, humor and playfulness—joy makes life feel meaningful. It helps to rescue us from unlived life. It is a stress-reliever. It limits damage in relationships. It helps us connect on a human level.

Joy is not about someday when we get somewhere “better”. It is about this day.

Here’s a way to follow Sikorsky’s advice: take a vow to find and create joy in your life…to bring joy and playfulness to your work…to your relationships…to your communities…even to your alone time.

The world needs it. You need it.

And the people who live and work around you will probably be glad you did.


Grace under pressure


Here’s a word for this week: Courage.

I like that the word “courage” is related to the French word “coeur” which means “heart.”

Courage is about bringing heart to our daily challenges and battles, whether large or small.

As World Middleweight Boxing champ Mickey Walker put it:

“A lot of my philosophy comes from the ring. You learn in life there are always the ups and downs. We must have enough sense to enjoy our ups and enough heart to get through our downs.”

Moving from the boxing ring to the bull ring, I like Hemingway’s definition:

“Courage is grace under pressure.”

He was describing the way a skilled matador stands calmly with a 1,000-pound angry bull charging at him; at the last moment, he swirls his cape and steps gracefully to the side.

The crowd shouts, “Ole! Ole!”

Courage. Heart. Grace under pressure.

They can help us deal with whatever “bull” comes charging at us this week.

The people around you probably won’t shout, “Ole!” But they might be quietly amazed at your poise and grace—the way you stay so calm in the storms.



Cheerfulness is daylight in the mind


Got the blues? Scrub the floor.

That strategy for dealing with the blues comes from author, D.H. Lawrence who said:

“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.”

When we find ourselves singing the blues, it’s good to be reminded that we can punch the “pause” button, take a break from life’s troubles, and practice the therapy of manual work.

“When life doesn’t make sense, make yourself useful.”

Adding to this, philosopher Bertrand Russell reminds us that we all have two powerful resources for dealing with the blues: mirth and cheerfulness.

“Mirth is like a flash of lightning that breaks through a gloom of clouds and glitters for a moment; cheerfulness keeps up a kind of daylight in the mind and fills it with a steady and perpetual serenity.”

In other words, after punching the “pause” button, we can punch the “play” button: we can watch for moments when flashes of playfulness, humor and mirth can light up a gloomy day.

Then, we can open the windows of the mind…and let in the daylight of cheerfulness.

We can’t eliminate the blues, of course. They are part of life.

But a strategy for dealing with them can help keep us singing.



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