Activating the best of you!

Dear Readers,

Getting back to work after the devastating fire is not easy. It’s most difficult for those who lost their homes and those that are still displaced.

But all of us in the NorCal fire region are experiencing collective grief and weariness.  Given that stress, how do we strive to get along? We are different and react differently to stress. The more conscious we are of our own behaviors and tendencies, and the more aware we are of contrasting styles, the better we can adjust and make the work environment more pleasant and productive.

One theory of work styles puts us in 4 different categories. Each style brings strengths and weaknesses. It’s helpful to know your style so you can adjust accordingly to make the team work better.  Try to identity yourself and how you might be more sensitive to working with others who have a different style. We are often combination of the styles but we tend to have a primary one, and that style tends to be even stronger when under stress.


  1. DRIVERS – Drivers like to be in charge. They like to take control of a situation, plan and move to action, fast! They are task focused, not people focused. They tend to be leaders; quickly developing goals, strategies and tactics and then looking to delegate and make things happen. Positive: The upside is that they are quick to get back to work; ready to solve problems and move forward, now! Negative: The downside of drivers can be moving too fast and not tuning into the needs of others. If you recognize yourself in this style, please read about how the other three groups are feeling and behaving, then adjust accordingly. A clear example of  a driver’s inpatience and insensitivity was told to me today: The manager of a local business that had been severely burned, pulled together his team of workers after being away from work for two weeks.  He welcomed them back and then handed out a long list of to-dos for each person and said Let’s go!” He turned on loud rock n’ roll music and started dancing, happy to be back in action. But most of his employees just stood there in disbelief. They needed time to share their experiences with one another, absorb the devastation around them, before focusing on the work. Needless to say, this manager has some very unhappy employees.
  2. EXPRESSIVES – Just as the word says, expressives like to talk. They like to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas as they are occurring, and they want everyone to listen to all they have to say. They are often very bright and alert and come up with ways to solve problems. They are typically sharing and caring and want to engage in dialogue and problem solving, talking their way through to solutions. Positive: They are alert and engaging,  people oriented and looking to solve problems. They are often friendly and  open and  want to share their stories and listen to yours, too. Negative: They can talk too much, be seen as too intense, and people can get tired of their banter. And they often are thinking out loud so it’s difficult to cull through to determine which of their ideas are valuable and which are just passing thoughts.
  3. AMIABLES – Amiables like to please. They like a peaceful and caring work environment. They want to make sure feelings are considered and people are getting along. They will compromise and acquiesce to get to a team solution. They are sensitive to the nuances and feelings of others in the group. Amiables are excellent listeners.They are often the social lubricants; acknowledging the good works of others and celebrating things like birthday. Positive: Yes, they are social lubricants and they will be the first to suggest that everyone have the chance to tell their personal fire experience story and they will listen well and respond with sensitivity and caring. A local non-profit leader is an amiable and she spent the first morning back to work with team sharing. Most of the team loved it but those Drivers were getting impatient! Negative: Sometimes they put feelings and the need for sharing before the big picture of getting the work done.. Amiables have been known to go along with a situation even when the work solution is incorrect, for the sake of keeping the peace.
  4. ANALYTICALS: Analyticals like data and the more data, the better. They are comprehensive in looking at all angles and considerations before making a decision. They are thorough and often intelligent, deep thinkers. They want the data points to lead them to a solution and they do not want to act quickly on feel or intuition. They are often relied on to do research and provide factual indicators. Positive: We need analyticals to hold us accountable to good, fact based decision making and we need them to provide us with the facts and hold us to logical decisions. We want strong analyticals involved in deciding whether our workplaces are toxic or not! Negative: Sometimes we need to make decisions before all the data is available. Sometimes a half baked decision on-time is better than no decision. Sometimes we need to move forward with a combination of incomplete data coupled with strong intuition.

Going back to work after a disaster is not easy. Some of us will bounce back more quickly than others. But if we are more aware of our own tendencies, especially our work style under stress, we can help to be a better team member and adjust better to the work styles of others.

Onward to working together with both sensitivity and productivity.

Coach Joan

Dear Readers,

How the heck do we get back to work after the devastating fires that hit our community?

Some of us had our houses burn to the ground. Most of us have friends, family and community members who have suffered great losses. Businesses, parks and lands have gone up in flames. Some neighborhoods and schools are completely gone. Our external landscape has changed. And our internal landscape has changed as well.Things have changed mightily. We are charred. And all of us, in our own way, are experiencing trauma.

Nonetheless, we need to get back to work! We need our paychecks, our companies need our work, our clients need our products and services, and the wheels of commerce must continue!

How do we operate when the world as we know it has changed and we have changed?

1. BE KIND: Be kind to yourself and others. Give yourself and give others the benefit of the doubt. You might find that your mind wanders and you get easily distracted. You might find yourself periodically needing to cry or feeling angry and upset, confused. Recognize that many of us are experiencing a whole host of emotions and those emotions might change quickly, like the winds of the fire. They might come and go quickly, sometimes from moment to moment. It is so important to allow yourself and  your co-workers the space to express and share feelings without being judged. Give yourself and others room to be more emotional and sensitive. Take the time to ask your colleagues how they’re doing. They might want to share. They might not. But offer the care and interest.
2. BE PATIENT: You might not feel ‘in the groove’ right away. That is natural. You might be distracted and confused. You might need to call home to check in on your loved ones periodically. You might need to work more slowly to really concentrate and avoid errors. Slow down. Take breaks. And if you are the manager or supervisor, try to be patient with your employees. Offer them an opportunity to share what they have experienced. This might prove to be an excellent way to build team and camaraderie by showing deep care and understanding for one another. Research shows that after a trauma it is vital to express oneself. To push feelings down can lead to long term depression and anxiety. Allow your employees and co-workers to talk if they want to. Don’t press anyone, but offer them the time and space. Managers: Gather your team at the start of the day and give everyone a chance to share as much as they’d like to. Listening is caring.

3.FIND YOUR FOCUS: Before getting to your workplace, take a few minutes to tune in to yourself. See what you’re feeling and what you might need to prepare yourself for the work day. One colleague told me it helped her to take a long walk before driving to work to settle herself. Another person told me he needs to play his guitar to relax and ‘center’ himself before going to work. Someone else needs a long shower or bath to calm down. Some people after trauma require more sleep. Make sure you eat something before work, a healthy breakfast to give you energy. If you notice your mood is really sinking over time or you have ongoing anxiety, you might want to talk to a counselor. Some companies offer counseling, see if yours provides that service.

Readers, friends and colleagues, this has been a difficult time for me as well. My husband and I were evacuated on that fateful night with powerful knock at the door and a loud voice telling us to EVACUATE NOW! That voice still plays in my head and when I walk pass my front door I re-live those words.

It took me days to figure out what to write to you in today’s career column.

I hope it’s been helpful. This is not an easy time for any of us.

But I have seen a tremendous community spirit in our community, and I know the love is stronger than the smoke!

(I saw that posted on Facebook)

Let’s continue to bring the best of you to work – – And perhaps for a while, a bit more slowly, more kindly and more gently.


Coach Joan

Dear Readers,

Do you ever find yourself rambling on when a question has been posed? Have you ever been in an interview, answering a question

and as you’re talking you realize you have no idea where you’re going? If you’ve had this problem, you are not alone!

Many clients in job seeking mode admit that one of their problems is getting nervous and not staying focused and getting off-topic

during an interview. This can also also happen during a presentation where a question is asked. You start answering and realize you

have no idea where you’re going with your answer. This is sometimes due to nerves and sometimes due to talking before you have

fully thought through your answer.

Here’s a key way to stay focused and on topic, while giving the impression of being a highly organized thinker!

Actually, it’s a TRICK. Here goes:

I call it the old 1-2-3 strategy. And it can work wonders.

Someone asks you a question. Say it’s during and interview and they ask you why you believe you are qualified for the job. Not a tough question

but one that can lead to rambling.

But here’s what you do:

You put up three fingers and you say: There are three key reasons I am well qualified for this position.

And as you formulate your answer the interviewer is now looking at your three fingers and awaiting the answer.

You have set the expectation that you are a structured thinker and you have three decisive answers to provide.

So you say the first one and as you say it you push the three fingers forward for emphasis and take  one down. And now you have two fingers

standing and you and your listeners know you are going to give two more points. They are watching, waiting and listening.  And you interviewer also knows you have two more points to make as

you have kept those two fingers up, letting everyone know where you are with your answer. You are a very well organized and structured communicator.

So you then say the second reason and lower that second finger. Now you move to the third point and lower the last finger! Nice concise answer. No rambling.

And if you feel you still have more to say you can always add that there are additional qualifications you bring that you’d like to add OR you might want to expound on the

three that you provided. But the point is that the 1-2-3 strategy has done two key things: It has set you up as an organized and structured communicator and it has actually made

you a structured and organized communicator.

Additionally, you can use the three point structure as a way to prepare effective presentations, too. It is a way to focus your preparation and a way for your audience to anticipate your content. Three is a nice number in business communications. And it is a clear, nice physical stance you make with three fingers up.

Yes, the old 1-2-3 with the complementary body language is a winning tool for your career toolbox.

One client actually attributes the end of his full year of failing interviews to the 1-2-3 structure. He was notorious for getting nervous and forgetting what he was talking about and rambling on. He feels that the three fingers up strategy mostly benefitted him as it kept him structured and feeling confident. After he learned and practiced it he got his first job offer!

Yes readers, try the 1-2-3 communication trick and let me know how it goes for you!

Onward to clear, concise and focused communications.

Coach Joan