Category Archives: Reality Bites

Energy Awareness Month

Never confuse motion with action. – Benjamin Franklin

October is Energy Awareness Month. The suggestion is that we should all take the time to contemplate conservation, renewable energy sources, and responsible energy use. We should be aware of our own energy consumption and should find opportunities to get involved in spreading the word about green energy solutions.

For our purposes let’s focus on the energy it takes to live life and do our jobs. We see people around us who range from being full of energy to those who may need to have their pulse checked. There are work-a-holics, and there are those who are probably allergic to work. From frantic to lazy, active to comatose, engaged to out-to-lunch, every one of us needs to learn to conserve, renew, and responsibly use our energy.

Our energy is the most quickly sapped when we fail to deal properly with stress. We overextend ourselves, we work harder than we have to due to inefficiency, and we take longer to recharge. The real trouble is that if we do not learn to be aware of our energy expenditures in the stress department, we may not realize how worked up and worn out we have become and we will eventually burn out if we do not correct our course.

Burnout is preceded by feelings of being out of control, emotional exhaustion, inability to focus, and poor performance. All of these factors drag us down and compound the problem. One leads to another until we feel trapped and can’t seem to find a way out. Vacation doesn’t help, because we know what is waiting for us when we get back. Straining our mental and physical reserves opens us up to being more prone to sickness, which also adds to the stress.

Unmanaged stress quickly spirals out of control. It affects every area of our life. It influences how we respond to the people around us, sets our mood, manipulates our attitude, and takes away our hope for improvement. Often when we try to deal with stress we end up doing things that are destructive, even though we think on the surface that what we are doing helps.

Then we look to one of two extremes. We either relax to the point that we begin to believe that we would feel better if we didn’t care so much and apathy sets in. Or we seek relief in excitement, be it sports, hobbies, or anything that gets the adrenaline flowing. The danger here is that if we do not deal with the root of the stress appropriately then we will need more and more excitement to cope. And that also accelerates burnout.

At times we do need to take a break and step back for a moment so that we can better see what is stressing us. Sometimes there is not much we can do about stress beyond correcting our attitude and deciding to do our best given the situation. But if we know what stresses us, that will help us find ways to deal with it instead of just letting it build up until we can’t handle it any longer.

When looking for the sources of stress, what we miss is that often it is not the work itself that stresses us. The single biggest stressor for most people is people. It is the people we live and work with! Work-a-holics are stressed out by those who work hard at hardly working. The more laid back among us are stressed out by those who need to lighten up and take a break. Managers are stressed by the mistakes of unreliable underlings, and employees would all do a better job if they had better managers. And we all know how to do the job better than the guy next to us. If people would just do it “my way” then everything would be fine.

Here we see the true root of stress. When we focus on ourselves, especially at the expense of others, we set ourselves up to fail. Instead of working as a team, we become a Lone Ranger. While this sounds very American, it actually undermines our attitude and performance. A selfish focus leads us to duplicate effort, complicate procedures, and limits our ability for positive growth. Successful leaders have learned that it is not all up to them. As leaders, they delegate. They surround themselves with a team of people who are good at what they do, and as a cohesive unit, they succeed due in large part to offering proper motivation and encouragement.

For Energy Awareness Month, let’s take the time to examine what it is that saps our energy, stresses us out, and affects our ability to succeed. Then let’s look for positive and constructive ways to correct course and guard against burnout. The truth is, if we burn out, we are not the only person affected. Even if we are a Lone Ranger, someone, somewhere is depending on us to do our job. Let’s not let them down. Let’s not let ourselves down. Let’s conserve, renew, and responsibly use the gifts, talents, and energy we have been given so that together we might all experience success.

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Dealing with Drought: What to Do When Business Dries Up

(As with most of the articles appearing here, this was originally written for a company newsletter.)

Never miss a good chance to shut up. – Will Rogers

For some reason we are uncomfortable with silence. If we are in a room full of people and no one is talking you can feel the tension rise. When other people are around we don’t like quiet. In fact, even when we are on the phone, if the person on the other end stops talking we will either blame the slow computer we are working with, shuffle papers noisily, or make that irritating stuttering sound to fill the void and let that other person know that we are still on the line.

Who knows how many times a day we resort to small talk to prevent the looming silence? And the number one topic to discuss when engaging in the conversational art of small talk is the weather. We talk about the weather more each day than perhaps any other subject outside of work related discussions.

In these parts they have a saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it will change.” Now we know that’s a lie. It hasn’t changed for months. It is hot and dry, on the verge of being hotter and drier than it has ever been before. Small talk now has become serious! We are reminiscing about the Great Seven Year Drought of the 1950s, having to go further back in time to find times that were worse than they are now. Before long we will be remembering the Dust Bowl (and no, that isn’t a football game).

I heard one story recently about a little boy who was born in West Texas in the early 1950s. A little while after his fifth birthday he was outside playing one day. He suddenly came running into the house screaming as if he was being chased by a swarm of bees. What was it that frightened him so badly? It had started to rain on him and he had not seen rain ever before in his life. As the big wet drops began to hit him he had no idea what was after him, he just knew they were everywhere!

This month we will break records, we will be hot, we will pray for rain, storms, even hurricanes if that means some relief from the drought. The weather, once small talk, now dominates our thoughts and fuels our worries.

So what do we do when things start to dry up at work? When we have a different kind of drought? When our customers are going out of business, letting people go, or underbidding jobs just to have work? What can we do to help?

The first thought that we have in hard times is a natural instinct to push harder, work harder, and try to find new business, new customers, new ways to do business. The good news is that can mean we become more efficient, reform policies, and get creative about how we do what we do.

The bad news is that when times get lean we tend to start to panic. What we see as driving to earn more business can come across as us being pushy, demanding, and a downright busybody. What we see as making calls to customers to check on things can be perceived as pestering. What is even worse, when we stress, we stop using the good business principles we all know and we begin to over react and think that the war will be won and relief will be found if we just sell it cheaper, lower our prices, and, in the words of the George Strait song, “Just give it away.”

If we fall to the level of believing that success in business is all about having the lowest price then we should quit and go work for Wal-Mart. Giving things away does not earn business, it just tells our customers that we had too much mark up. It also tells them that they can expect these new lower prices all the time, even when times get better – and they always will get better, that is the cycle of business.

When we experience a drought, we can talk all we want about the weather, but sometimes we need a little silence. Our customers do not need to hear us talking all the time. They need to know that even in tough times we are here for them, will work with them to find solutions to their problems, and that they can count on us to be fair and do what is right. And no matter what anybody says, it isn’t ever about lowering prices; it is about building up relationships.

Yes, it is hot and dry. Yes, times are tough. Yes, we should all be praying for rain. And in the midst of the small talk, we need to remember that we are not here to take orders, we are not even here to sell things; we are here to make ourselves an invaluable resource for our customers. That means we whether the weather with them, and that’s not just small talk. When the drought ends, if we have been there with them and for them the whole time, they will stick with us. We will understand it better by and by when we finally see those showers of blessing.

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Remember the Alamo!

Texas is the finest portion of the globe that has blessed my vision. – Sam Houston

Beginning at the Battle of Gonzales in October 1835 and ending swiftly in the 18 minute Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, the Texas Revolution birthed a new nation and saw one-third of the land mass of America change ownership. In between these two engagements we learn from history about the Battle of Coleto Creek, the massacre at Goliad, and the thirteen days of glory (Feb 23-Mar 6, 1836) wherein the defenders of the Alamo in San Antonio de Bexar bought time for General Sam Houston and his army to escape to the east during the Runaway Scrape.

All in all, Texian and Tejano forces were defeated, massacred, and chased from one end of the state to the other. But in the end, one of the swiftest and most decisive battles in history proved the resolve of the men who proclaimed as they charged the field, “Remember Goliad! Remember the Alamo!”

What drove these men in the fight? What motivated those who knew that in battle they would most surely die? When the odds were so stacked against them, what kept them going?

The political climate in Mexico was one of upheaval. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had helped overthrow the sitting government and had in time been declared the sole ruler, a military dictator. The 1824 Constitution of Mexico which had guaranteed freedoms and rights to the citizens of Mexico and the settlers in Texas was rescinded and the army was used to force subjects into submission to the new government.

With their loss of rights, land, and privileges, the settlers appealed for a return to freedom and lost. They took up arms to defend themselves and win their freedom. The flag that flew over the Alamo was a Mexican flag with the year 1824 written in the middle, signifying defiance for the current regime and a desire to return to the rule of law under the previous Constitution.

As Col. Travis and Col. Bowie led the forces at the Alamo, joined by volunteers from Tennessee commanded by former Congressman David Crockett, this band of 180 or so men were determined to hold the fort and delay the advancing Mexican army. Travis appealed to the newly formed government of Texas asking for reinforcements but none ever came.

As Travis fought off a much larger force for 13 days the Constitutional Congress of the Republic of Texas met at Washington-on-the-Brazos and drafted the Texas Declaration of Independence. Signed on March 2, 1836 (Texas Independence Day), this document saw the birth of a new nation.

The battle at San Antonio ended on the morning of March 6 when Santa Anna’s troops finally breached the walls and put every remaining Alamo defender to the sword. No prisoners were taken. Women, children, and a few slaves were allowed to leave. Otherwise there were no survivors.

Later that month, Col. Fannin’s troops were overwhelmed and surrendered. On Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, some 350 Texian prisoners were ordered to march to a new location. While on the road, marching single file, they were executed in Goliad.

The remaining Texian and Tejano forces were not demoralized, but instead were motivated by these atrocities. It steeled their courage and drove them to success at the final battle of the revolution. There was not only a desire for liberty and freedom – there was also a desire to ensure that these men at the Alamo and Goliad had not died in vain.

The Texians lost right up until the end. Houston’s strategy to hold out, to deliberately pick the field of battle for the final engagement, and to lead the Mexican army further and further away from its supply lines meant that in that final battle only 9 out of 900 Texian soldiers were killed while over 600 Mexican troops were killed and another 700, including Gen. Santa Anna, were captured.

The Republic of Texas existed as a sovereign nation from March 2, 1836 until its annexation as the 28th state by the United States on December 29, 1845. In order to pay off debt from the war Texas ceded to the United States land that stretches from Oklahoma and New Mexico, up through Kansas and Colorado into Wyoming.

From this brief history review we can learn valuable lessons for today. A small group of people committed to a task can overcome overwhelming odds and succeed in meeting their goals. This determination must be joined with endurance. To achieve our goals at work or at home we must be willing to work through the hardships that will arise, keeping in mind where we want to be, not where we are at the moment. We must learn to be diligent and deliberate in our actions, planning for success, and working with ambition and adaptability to stay the course.

The lessons of war teach us that in life we need to know the difference between strategy and tactics. Strategy refers to the overall goal, the big picture, the end game. Tactics are the means to implement the strategy, to make it happen one step at a time. That is why losing one or two battles does not settle the outcome of a war. Likewise, failure should only drive us to try again, to never give up, to press on, and to keep in mind the overall goals we have set. As we remember the Alamo this month, remember that out of defeat can come the motivation for history making victory.

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Ground Hog Day – Again

The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine. – Mike Murdock

Today is February 2, 2011. It’s Ground Hog Day. According to superstition and tradition if a large rodent climbs out of his den and sees his shadow he will be frightened and run back into the den to hide – then we have six more weeks of winter. However, “Puxatony Phil”, one of the more famous official weather predicting ground hogs, did not see his shadow today. So spring is right around the corner. We can only hope!

Today is the coldest day on record in decades. And it will be colder tomorrow. The State of Texas is experiencing rolling blackouts. The power grid cannot keep up with demand for keeping things warm. Temperatures are in the teens and the wind chill is at or below zero.

Since it is Ground Hog Day we must mention the famous (or infamous) movie starring Bill Murray in which he gets caught in a time loop and lives Ground Hog Day over and over and over. Some people love the movie and watch it every year, others can’t stand it, and some have never even seen it! I’ll spare you quotes from the movie, but there are some lessons to be learned from the sci-fi concept of living the same day over and over.

Many of us do just that, only the date on the calendar does change. Our lives seem to fall into a routine. Day in and day out people get asked, “How are you?”, and they reply, “Same stuff, different day.” At times the days of the week blur together. At other times the time seems to drag.

It is always better to be busy; at least then the time seems to pass more quickly than if we have nothing to do. Then again, boredom is usually just a lack of creativity, motivation, or incentive. But whether times are busy or slow, and whether we will readily admit it or not, we tend to seek out routine. Routines are easy. Change is difficult, requires thought and deliberation, and means that we have to step out of our comfort zone.

The truth is that routines are not bad in and of themselves. When we face daily routines we have an opportunity to make sure that we are being as efficient and effective as possible. What we forget sometimes is that just because something is routine doesn’t mean that we cannot explore the possibilities of change, or improvement. We should always be looking for ways to do things better. That means we should never allow the current “policy” to work as a barrier to progress.

Policies form a valuable framework when built on past experience, but to see policy as a road block that prevents exploration, experimentation, and expansion misses the whole point behind a policy! Policies police the way we do things to ensure efficiency – at least they should anyway. And policy makers should always be ready to change as new and better ideas are shared from those who know the routines best.

The real danger to watch out for with routines though is that we tend to allow our routine to devolve into a rut. What’s the difference between a routine and a rut? A rut has been described as a grave with the ends kicked out. A rut goes nowhere. To be stuck in a rut means that there is no progress, no hope, no improvement, just resignation, surrender, and then despair.

How we deal with routine says a lot about our character. Pushing on, striving to improve, to do better, to become more efficient – this kind of response means that while we know that our days may be routine our outlook isn’t.

If we find ourselves getting bored we may need to vary things a bit. The first thing we need to change though is our attitude. If we see routine as a negative then we will miss the lessons we need to learn and the hidden challenges that remain below the surface, indiscernible to the uninterested.

A day to day routine should mean that we meet each day as a challenge. It is an opportunity to think about why we do what we do and to ask questions about how we can do it better. Workers need to feel free to think through the policies we rely on and offer suggestions for improvements. And management needs to be open to those suggestions, understanding that those workers who are on the frontlines facing these routines on a daily basis are our best resource for making improvements, increasing productivity, and expanding business.

So, while it is Ground Hog Day, again, let’s not dread daily routine. Instead, let’s decide to learn from the past, look to the future, and leave the possibilities open for change. Then, shadow or not, winter or spring, hot or cold, each day is a new opportunity with the potential to be better than the day before.

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Trick or Treat

If carrots got you drunk, we wouldn’t need the stick.

Are We Motivated by the Carrot or the Stick?

There is an old parable about a farmer whose donkey refused to pull a cart of vegetables to the market. Known for their stubbornness, the donkey was true to form and sat down in the middle of the road. No matter what the farmer did the donkey would not budge. He could not be pulled, pushed, prodded, poked, or persuaded to pull the cart.

Finally the farmer sat down in the shade to think about his dilemma. Obviously he was not doing the right things to motivate this dumb donkey. He certainly was not stronger than the beast and could not muster the force necessary to make him move. How could he get his vegetables to the market before they wilted in the sun?

Looking over his cart he noticed the carrots, and then he remembered that the donkey loved carrots. They were his favorite treat. He had even caught the donkey in the field pulling carrots up out of the ground to munch on them. So he took a stick, tied a nice plump carrot to a string on the end, and as he sat on his cart, he dangled the carrot just above the donkey’s head.

The donkey immediately stood up to try and reach the carrot. Then each time he would take a step forward to get the carrot, the cart would move, and thus the carrot continued to dangle just out of reach. The donkey was motivated by what he wanted, not by what the farmer wanted. And in the end, the farmer got his wares to the market and the donkey got his carrot.

Later the story was revised. As it had been told over and over, someone changed the moral. They said that the farmer used the carrot and when the carrot stopped being effective, then the farmer beat the donkey with the stick, and the donkey pulled the cart to market.

Interesting, isn’t it, that it is never good enough to think that positive reinforcement will work? There are those who have a pessimistic (or as they claim, realistic) point of view and they make the claim that while positive reinforcement will work for a while, eventually donkeys, or people, will stop responding and will need to have some negative reinforcement applied to motivate them to accomplish needed tasks.

It is a rare individual who can live in the real world and deny the need for negative reinforcement from time to time. Whether it is stubborn animals, or simple human nature, at times we can be persuaded by positive desire, and other times by fear of negative consequences.

The trouble arises when our managers, family members, or others get things out of balance and only use one or the other, positive reinforcement or negative consequences to try and keep us motivated at home or at work. Too much positivity can be sickening! However, I have yet to hear stories about anyone who is always positive to the point that it drives people crazy. What we usually hear reflects the truth that at heart, most of us are cynics and none of us really likes our boss. Beside that, we like to take the easy way out. Honestly, it is usually easier to make people do things out of fear than it is to persuade them with positive methods. Yelling and threats are easier than having to think of something nice to say!

So as people begin to use the stick to beat others, they forget there ever was a carrot tied to the other end. They lose sight of the power of positive praise, and they become completely negative. If they are positive, too often they have been so negative that people cringe when they hear something nice because they know that the bad news is coming next. And really, a compliment used only to soften the blow of a follow up criticism is nothing more than a poor attempt at flattery before we deflate someone.

This time of year, many will take their kids to go trick-or-treating. In days gone by, and even still today, the tricks and pranks are more fun than the treats. At an early age we learn to laugh at others’ misfortune and the positive act of getting treats and candy wears off for the thrill of inflicting torment on others, all in good fun of course.

Let’s take a look at how we relate to others, especially those we manage or motivate. Are we like the prankster who prefers tricks to treats? We need to find a balance. If we use the stick, it needs to be to hold out a carrot – and there is the real trick.

How can we use fear of negative consequences in order to hold out a positive reinforcement? When we see the big picture, we can see that if we do not do a good job then there will be negative consequences. If we do not get motivated we will fail to do a proper and timely job. The good news, the carrot, is that when we are positive for the right reasons we will reap the benefits. The bad news is that if we are only negative, and only motivated by the fear of the stick, then we will be too distracted to do a really good job and our efforts will suffer as a result.

Consent is always better than coercion. So next time we are trying to get something done, listen and learn. Look at the situation and ask whether we are using the carrot or the stick. And remember – while we all need multiple servings of veggies daily, only dogs really have fun playing with sticks.

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The Village Idiot

“Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.” – Cicero
“There is nothing more dangerous than a resourceful idiot.” – Scott Adams

Management consultant, author, and speaker Karl Albrecht specializes in developing new concepts for the management of service industry businesses. He has emphasized in recent years the need for companies to realize their “organizational intelligence”, that is, “the capacity of an enterprise to mobilize all of its brainpower, and to focus that brainpower on accomplishing its mission.”

According to Albrecht, the single biggest deterrent to a company reaching its potential when it comes to utilizing its organizational intelligence is “collective stupidity” which he defines by saying:

Intelligent people, when assembled into an organization, will tend toward collective stupidity. I’ve seen many more organizations defeat themselves than get beaten fair and square by worthy competitors. Executive incompetence, palace wars, political battles at all levels, lack of direction, mal-organization, nonsensical rules and procedures – all conspire to prevent a business from deploying all of the brainpower it’s paying for. I call that collective stupidity – the people may be very intelligent, and highly capable of doing great things, but their collective brainpower gets squandered.

In the strategy he gives for combating collective stupidity he focuses on doing things according to common sense. Question why we do what we do, and the way we do it. Evaluate policies, procedures, and practices so as to continually be making the business more and more intelligent. We could say more, and Albrecht has, but for now let’s ask what we can do to combat collective stupidity. We might think that we are exempt from this culture of stupidity, suspecting everyone else of being the real morons. Everyone, after all, is a critic. But rather than facing the world with a negative and pessimistic attitude we need to learn to recognize collective stupidity when we see it, especially when we are contributing to the idiocy.

Idiocy is in fact a key word for our brief study. It is the idiot who most often throws caution and common sense to the wind and pursues his goals with reckless abandon. The word “idiot” originates from a Greek term that refers to an individual who is separated from society and as a result is unaware of the things going on around him. He is without a clue. Interestingly, the term first was used to describe a person in a village who was the most irritating and bothersome. Once a year, a Greek town would hold a vote. The person who was named the most annoying was literally voted out of village for a year. He was sent away to be in private, banished. He was the “village idiot.”

Now let’s admit it. We all deal with idiots everyday. No names, please. But we do, don’t we? On both sides of the counter/phone/email/desk it seems that idiots abound. In fact, it has been said that as soon as someone develops an idiot proof product, someone else develops a new and improved idiot. Maybe someone needs to write one of those “how to” books about it. You know, like The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dealing with Complete Idiots.

So how do we deal with people who are annoying or simply do not have a clue? First we must learn how to communicate with an idiot. And no, I do not mean that we need to speak slowly and use mono-syllabic words. But one thing is for sure, if we suspect that we are dealing with an idiot then we must understand that it will not help at all to say the same thing the same way, only louder. Neither is it a good idea to tell the suspected idiot that he is an idiot.

Idiots frustrate us. They make things unnecessarily complicated. They don’t think. And sadly, at one time or another, we have all been a complete idiot. So what is an idiot to do? Well, I can tell you how an idiot makes things more difficult than they need to be. Idiots don’t listen. They don’t care. They are lazy. They take short cuts. They abandon common sense. They never ask questions. They settle. They scrimp by, giving or doing the least they can. They have no pride in their work and do not care about others. All they care about is themselves. You see, idiots are self-absorbed. They are disconnected from reality. They, through their attitudes, words, and actions cut themselves off from the people around them. They have gotten themselves voted out of the village but then forgot to leave.

The trouble is that if we just leave them there, cut off and separated, we will be weaker for it. They will continue to wreak havoc. In short, they will continue to be a complete idiot. Somebody with the patience and skill needs to help them. But how? There are 2 old proverbs that seem at first to be contradictory, but upon closer examination we see the wisdom in these words. The first tells us, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him.” The second that follows immediately says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Well, which is it? Do not answer him, or answer him?

If we make a fool of ourselves answering the fool, then we should have just left it alone, otherwise by the time we are done we are all idiots. On the other hand, if we can genuinely help the fool see his folly, then we should speak up, for then we both end up that much more wise. Shut up or speak up, how do we know the difference? Experience. We need to think. We need to remember. We need to pay attention, and care, and make a positive investment in the people around us. We can start by refusing to be an idiot ourselves. We’re smarter than that, right?

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How to Learn from Our Mistakes

As difficult as it is to admit the truth, let’s face it, we all make mistakes. Our mistakes are sometimes silly and sometimes serious, but always an opportunity to learn. People tell us that we should “learn from our mistakes” and if you’re like me you wish that just once the people saying that would practice what they preach! However, now there is scientific evidence that shows that we learn more when we make a mistake than we do if we do something right the first time . (Don’t get ahead of me – that does not mean we should try to make mistakes.)

There is actually a sense of surprise when we mess up because the outcome was not expected. That surprise motivates a desire for discovery. We want to know what went wrong. And we need to figure out what to do differently next time in order to avoid the mistake. As a result, we learn more from our mistakes than we might think.

As we age we tend to lose that sense of surprise and wonder and we learn new behavioral responses to mistakes. We learn to hide our mistakes or we become defensive when questioned about them. We would rather just move on and get over it. Instead we need to un-learn some of those responses so that we might take advantage of our mistakes and actually benefit from them.

What are the benefits of learning from our mistakes? We learn not to repeat them. We learn how to be more productive, efficient, and more effective. We might also be able to teach others and spare them the mistake and its consequences if we are willing to swallow our hurt pride and share from our experiences. If we have the right attitude we can expect to learn valuable lessons from our mistakes. But how do we do that? There are 5 simple things that we can do that will help us learn from our mistakes. In fact, we can use the word L-E-A-R-N to make the points.

Listen. The first step to learning from our mistakes involves listening. We need to listen to those who correct us as well as to those who have been affected by our mistake. Rarely do we make a mistake that affects only us. Co-workers, friends, and family members can often get caught up in the consequences of our missteps. Those same people are usually there to tell us what we did wrong. When they do we go on the defensive by trying to deflect blame or denying it altogether. Instead we need to listen to them. Even though they may over-react, they may also have some constructive things to say that can help us avoid making the same mistake twice. We messed up, and as a result we should be willing to listen and learn.

Empathize. The second step we need to take is a step of empathy. While we listen we must empathize. Think about it. How do we feel when others make mistakes, especially when those mistakes directly affect us? With that feeling in mind we need to put ourselves in their shoes. More than just listening, we must hear and understand what they are saying. As a result we can avert personal conflict and use the mistake as an opportunity for learning. Once we think about how others feel, realizing that they feel that way because of something we did, then we can think through how we need to respond. An empathetic response will go much further than an emotional reaction any day.

Admit It. The third step is as simple as accepting responsibility and admitting our mistake. How many conflicts could have been avoided if we just told the truth? Confession is good for the soul, and taking responsibility for our actions goes a long way toward smoothing things over with others. There are times that we would not be nearly so angry or disappointed with someone if they would just admit what they did. We do this with our kids, do we not? We tell them that if they tell us the truth then we will not get angry and they will not be in trouble. Then they tell us the truth and we hit the fan! Let’s learn to act our age and tell the truth. If we mess up, just admit it.

Right the Wrong. The fourth step necessary to learning from our mistakes is to make the effort, as best we are able, to right the wrong. Not only does this give us a chance to learn what went wrong and how to avoid the same mistake in the future, but it also gives us an opportunity to make things right with the people affected by what we did, or did not do. If we do try to shift the blame or avoid the consequences of our mistake we may, at heart, be trying to make things right but we are going about it the wrong way. There is a lot of truth in that old saying, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” Two wrongs may not make a right, but three lefts will. In others words, we need to be willing to go all the way, through all the twists and turns in order to take responsibility and right the wrong.

Notice. The fifth step is a mental step as we notice what has happened. Pay attention and make a mental note of the mistake, its consequences, and what we have learned as a result. It is not a guarantee, but it does give us a better chance in avoiding a repeat. It helps us truly take something valuable away from a mistake. We learn a lesson. We grow. And we can use that lesson to help others avoid the mistakes we have made.

If we want to L.E.A.R.N. from our mistakes we need to take these steps. We need to think more and react less, all the while giving others the room they need to vent their frustration. Having a right attitude about mistakes and taking the time to be responsible will allow us to turn our mistakes around into something profitable for us and for others. When we make a mistake, how will we respond? What will our attitude be? If a sense of surprise leads to a desire for discovery then our right response will likely surprise others and lead us all to discover new and valuable lessons waiting to be learned.

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