So Many Things Left Unsaid

There is much on my mind. So many topics to talk about, so many things to say but lately my blog outlines and drafts are piling up on the shelf.

Perhaps I have my first case of writer’s blog. Maybe I’m just too busy to finish and publish. Maybe I’m caught up in the intense tone of the nation when it comes to Freedom of Expression.

I’m not sure of the reason and I’m not big on making excuses so I thought I’d share with you some of the ideas and topics I’ve been tossing around for the last 6 months but haven’t finalized in an article, speech or blog.

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I’ll let you decide what you think is important, relevant or interesting.

Please send me your comments and feedback on one or more of the following topics:

  1. Letting Go – I learned a new word today while in Yoga class. It is Vairagya…
  2. REI’s Force of Nature marketing campaign.
    • Do we need a retail company to “help make outside the largest level playing field on earth”?
  3. Life is Spiritual Warfare. Words of wisdom from Tariji Henson.
  4. You have a seat at the table- Now what? Speaking with confidence and humility to land your message and make an impact.

Sadly, the communication climate in the United States has taken an extremely negative turn since the election of Donald Trump in Nov 2016. Many people do not feel safe or comfortable with sharing their thoughts and opinions outside of their circle of like-minded “friends” and those that are voicing their ideas and concerns are doing so with such anger and intensity that the point of the message is not being received by those who need to hear it.

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Is this the reason why I’m not carrying through with my ideas on my WordPress blog ?

Is Fear stopping me?

I don’t know but I’m afraid to ask.

What do you think?

Should some things be left unsaid?

A View on Balance: Yoga, Minds and Eyes

I went to yoga class the other day and after holding a difficult pose for a minute the yoga instructor asked us to switch sides. She calmed stated, “You may notice that this side feels different than the first one and that is okay. Just observe it, take note and let it go. Don’t judge the difference between the two sides.”

After hearing some groans and comments from the group about recent events, marches and demonstrations, the instructor gently reminded us that there are no politics in Yoga rather it is about centering and focusing. Yoga helps us balance and is about opening your body and clearing your mind.

Wouldn’t this be nice if we did this in our everyday life?

Being aware of the differences from all the different sides and viewing them with both eyes wide open and not filtering so strongly through our own biased lens.

I view my life as a continuous effort to remain in balance. Opposing forces are always around us and we are often asked to pick or support one side or the other. But why? Why is there always a binary choice? Why is one side viewed as always right and the other as wrong?

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After my yoga class experience, an interesting and apropos book was brought to my attention by Steve Smull, a thoughtful and insightful writer, with his clever commentary and posts on Facebook.

The book by Jonathan Haidt titled “The Righteous Mind” was published in 2012 and has an important and relevant message in the polarized and hyper-partisan world in 2017.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“It’s Yin and Yang. Both sides see different threats; both sides are wise to different virtues”

My husband Steve created another insightful thread online this morning that ties into this theme and I’ll leave you with his words.

“I view the world through both eyes. I have a right eye and a left eye. People who pick one to look through and close the other are missing depth perception. I suppose it’s simpler that way.

I do close one eye when I look through a viewfinder to capture an image. But not before surveying the scene with both eyes open first.

I don’t know why people are so incredibly defensive about how great it is to see through only their preferred eye. OK, one of your eyes may be dominant, but that’s no reason to cover your other eye with duct tape.”

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A Tower of Change

This week’s featured Tarot card is The Tower– tall and ominous with lighting bolts, fire and falling bodies. It is an unsettling card that matches the mood of the nation in this incredibly tumultuous and divisive US election cycle. It is card number 16 of the major Arcana and reflects a dramatic jolt and shift in direction.

The Tower is a card of Change- the ultimate “ending the status quo” statement.

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Not everyone is a change junkie like me and many people find it disconcerting when a tsunami wave comes and wipes out carefully constructed sand castles (even if they were built on false premises). These sudden change experiences shake the very foundation of our current sense of security and force us to question our strongly-held beliefs, perceptions, attitudes and behaviors.

Some overall meanings and themes of the Tower card include:

  • Experiencing sudden change and upheaval
  • Realizing the truth after a major revelation
  • Breaking down false structures/ beliefs/ institutions
  • Falling down or being humbled

In America today, a tower of change looms ahead of us and change is a good thing, right?

But what if the change is a major disruption or crisis and is likely to bring chaos in its wake?

In the words of Charles Kettering, “The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.” 

Progress is sorely needed and dramatic change is required, even if it is unsettling.

According to Joan Bunning in her book “Learning the Tarot”, “How you respond to the Tower’s change makes all the difference in how uncomfortable the experience will be. Recognize that the disruption occurred because it was needed. Perhaps embracing the change is too much to ask, but try to find the positive in it. In fact, you may feel tremendous release that you have finally been forced in a new direction”.

Note the symbolism in the Tower card below  (from a traditional Universal-Waite deck).

Two people are falling head first from a tower that has been struck by a bolt of lighting (truth). The man in red has crazy light colored hair and the  woman in blue is wearing a crown.  I can’t help but feel that these two characters represent Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in all their falling-from-grace glory.

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It is clear to me that change is desperately needed in our country but did we really need to go to such destructive extremes?

This quote from President Bill Clinton helps to justify and explain the situation the US is in, namely,

“The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.”

And so the menacing Tower looms, reminding us that a wave of change is coming.

We have a choice in how we response to the inevitable alterations of life.  We can:

  1. Embrace the change.
  2. Resist the change and risk being snapped like a twig in the strong currents of a river.
  3. Accept the change we may not want or like and look for the positive aspects of it.

I leave you with a final quote from Sydney J. Harris.

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”

Objective Evaluations in a Polarized World

A vast amount of ink has been devoted to analyzing and evaluating Hillary Clinton’s speaking style. I will not be adding to the heap of hypothesis and judgment (although I do feel that I have some relevant qualifications and experience to do so) and will instead take a different angle and discuss another important topic of late, namely the ability to provide effective evaluations of speeches or debates when you disagree with or dislike the content or topic. Giving credit where credit is due is a rare occurrence these days.

During my 22 years as an active Toastmaster member, I have given over 200 formal speech evaluations and presented numerous educational sessions on how to provide encouraging yet constructive feedback on another’s presentation. I have created and shared an easy way (I call it the DSI Model) to structure a cogent 2-3 minute Toastmaster Evaluation. For you acronym buffs, DSI stands for Delivery, Structure and Impact.

The Speech Evaluation is a cornerstone of the Toastmasters program and is critical for the growth and development of the members’ communication and leadership skills.  It is also one of the most difficult things to do well.  Providing verbal feedback in front of the entire group is challenging and often a scary proposition for new club members who are asked to evaluate fellow speakers who may be more advanced and experienced.

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The ability to give objective and neutral feedback on another person’s speech is hard enough without all the many external and internal factors influencing us.  Pesky things like human nature, emotions, personal biases, insecurities, political correctness, extreme political views, polarization of opinions and what I call the “siloed, echo chambers” of social media and cyberspace  (for more on this check out “A Matter of Perspective”).

So now to the crux of the matter at hand, are we humans capable of lifting our personal filters and actively listening to the words and opinions of others with whom we disagree or dislike? Can we set aside our own beliefs, thoughts and values on the content/topic and focus on the Delivery, Structure and Impact of the speech? Without some guidelines and a controlled, unemotional approach, this may prove challenging for many people today, especially since large portions of the American public rarely see or listen to opinions which differ dramatically from their own.  Open, honest discussion and debate is too often discouraged and sadly suppressed on college campuses today.

Here are my thoughts and advice on this feedback challenge:

  1. Remember that as a speech evaluator, you are there to observe and provide neutral and constructive feedback, recommendations and suggestions on the basic tenants and techniques of effective communication and public speaking.  There are manuals and speech objectives to guide you.
  2. Focus on the Delivery and Structure of the presentation with specific examples.
  3. When commenting on the Impact of a speech (especially if you disagree with the content), try to set aside your personal emotions and biases and look at and assess the overall audience response to the speech.
  4. Honestly ask yourself if the topic/point of the speech is clouding your ability to provide positive and objective feedback on the Delivery and Impact. If it is, then:
    1. Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who supports the topic and reflect on how they would respond to the speech.
    2. Run a “What if” scenario in your mind by replacing the content of the speech with something that you agree with and see how you would view and analyze it.
  5. Open your mind, take off your biased filters and focus on how the speaker is connecting, delivering and making their point.
  6. Was the speaker able to motivate, educate, influence or inspire?
  7. The purpose of your evaluation is to encourage and help club member improve and develop strong communication skills, not to impose your views, values and opinions about the subject matter.

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Hopefully this advice will prove useful to my fellow Toastmasters around the world and may even help open up the dialogue among Americans who are embroiled in the highly contentious and negatively charged Presidential election season of 2016.

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I will be presenting the contents of this article in the form of an eight minute Toastmasters speech on the morning of November 8, 2016.  As part of the presentation, I will be giving a sample Evaluation of Hillary Clinton’s most recent debate performance.

This speech will be the last one I give at the Denver Techmasters club in Lone Tree, CO prior to our move to Austin, TX.

 

Walking with Service Legs

I have always been fascinated with leg tattoos. When I saw the word Selfless” on the calf of a fellow veteran, I had to inquire. What did it mean? Ronie, a contract employee at Project Sanctuary, then proudly showed me his other leg which read Service”.   Wow, this takes “walking the walk” to a whole new level!

Selfless Service– that’s what volunteering is all about and my brief exchange with Ronie hit this home for me when he explained that his service to veterans and their families at retreats with Project Sanctuary is just a natural extension of his duty when he served in the US Army. ProjectSanct_Sign2 This past weekend I was happy to serve others as a volunteer at a powerful retreat which helps military families reconnect. Project Sanctuary is a special organization with a spirited and dedicated staff and hundreds of volunteers.

I put on my Platoon Leader/Project Manager hat for this event and coordinated the attendance of nine coworkers who assisted over the six day retreat at the YMCA Snow Mountain in Granby, CO.   Most of us are part of a Denver Military Veterans Network group at work and are focusing our efforts on increasing awareness of veteran issues and being of service to others.  Selfless service without the leg tattoos.

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My coworkers who volunteered at the retreat

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The volunteer experience was positive and uplifting and provided us with greater insight and appreciate for the “invisible” wounds that many returning veterans suffer with PTS ( Post Traumatic Stress) and TBI ( Traumatic Brain Injury).

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Witnessing the power of peer mentoring, counseling and plain old fun and games in the healing of strained relationships and broken family connections was most impressive.   A large majority of the staff and volunteers at Project Sanctuary are prior service/military members which reinforces Ronie’s idea of continued Selfless Service.  He and many others like him are Walking the Walk with Service Legs.

The need is great for the programs and benefits that Project Sanctuary provides and there are more than 1,800 families on the waiting list to attend a Retreat. In 2014, 19 retreats were held and 164 new families were served.  This year 21 retreats are scheduled at no cost to the veterans and their families.

So let’s step up and help support more military members and their families heal and reconnect with this innovative and powerful program.

To make a donation to Project Sanctuary click here.   LegTatoo_Freedom

Confessions of a Scrum Master

Every thing I needed to know about being a good Scrum Master I learned from my high school soccer coach, Miss Lonegan.

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Here’s what was instilled in me on a muddy soccer field in the early 1980s.

Great coaches and leaders:

  1. Motivate and help the team to be successful.
  2.  Walk with the team, on the field, everyday.
  3.  Teach others the process by sharing fundamental tasks and techniques.
  4.  Guide the team without being overly controlling.
  5.  Communicate positively.

These successful actions and traits recently dawned on me when I realized how important Personality and Temperament are to being an effective Scrum Master.

Over the past 5 years, I have been observing team dynamics as a Scrum Master (SM) on multiple teams in 3 different companies and have witnessed a number of SMs crash and burn due to not leading like good coaches. Lack of communication and soft skills were also a common theme with the ineffective Scrum Masters.

The most successful SMs are true team players and are comfortable surrendering control to the Product Owner and team. Adept Scrum Masters truly view their role as being in service to the team, removing obstacles for the team and helping them to be successful.

Facilitation is another important role of the Scrum Master and requires a high level collaboration and strong, tactful communication skills.   The authoritative, directive, ” my way or the highway ” approach does not work well with Scrum teams.

Project Managers can sometimes get away with a lack of soft skills but Scrum Masters, who are facilitators and coaches, cannot.

In the Retrospectives with our team, I ask them to think about the Results, the Experience and the Process of Agile and the sprint. I view my Scrum Master role as critical to helping the team to not only achieve great results (velocity) but to enjoy the experience and the process- just like my high school soccer coach did all those years ago!