Comparison, tribes, and the right standard

We are born into small tribes. Each tribe has its own rules, and its own standards. These standards shape the tribe, and set expectations of the members. These standards aren’t usually written down, but they shape who we are and who we become.

Tribes like it when we follow the standards. When we don’t follow, we are compared to those standards and found lacking. When we try to follow new, different, or better standards, the tribe reacts harshly by enforcing the old standards. The comparison continues, we feel “less than” and out-of-place.

But our original tribe is not the only tribe we have. We find and join other tribes as we progress through life and we develop relationships along the way. But these new tribes have standards as well.

The tribe comparison continues and there are more and more standards to be measured against.

But many times we are different. We don’t seem to fit exactly within the tribes, both the original one, and the new ones. We used to fit in the tribe, but something happens when we start to grow, make progress or improve. We start to move beyond the standards of the old tribe, and many tribes feel progress as a threat and they enforce the old standard.

Sometimes the standard enforcement comes as questions. But they are not really questions, they are an attempt to enforce the standards of the Tribe.

“Why are you different?”

“Who do you think you are?”

“Do you think you are better than us?”

“Why are you eating (or not eating) that?”

“Why are you not drinking?”

“Why are you considering college?”

“Why are you asking so many questions?”

“Why are you setting those goals?”

“Why aren’t you just happy with what you have?”

“Why would you go back to school?”

Your improvement can be seen a judgement or enforcing a standard on them, and that makes the tribe very insecure.

These tribes and standards also develop in our workplaces. There are standards to meet, and new-comers are expected to keep their head down, and follow along. Any lack of conformity is met with the standard tribe messaging.

“This is the way we have always done it.”

“We have tried that before.”

“Those new ideas won’t go anywhere.”

“Don’t make waves.”

But in our workplaces, we still want to achieve, to grow, and develop so we try new and creative approaches. That is when the tribe may go on the offensive to shut us down. Again our efforts invoke tribe insecurity.

“He is always changing things, it wastes our time.”

“She spends so much time on how it looks, it makes our stuff look bad.”

“He should just focus on his job, and stay in his lane.”

“She is an annoying perfectionist overachiever.”*

*Note: This was actually said yesterday in a meeting. Tribe insecurity and enforcement of standards is real and can be raw in its application and cause ripple effects in our organizations and cause harm to our most talented people. If you listen, you can hear the tribe standards being applied in meetings and conversations designed to shame and quell initiative and achievement.

(Take a minute and let that last one sink in. Imagine that you were in a group meeting in your organization, and just before you shared with the group, those words were used against you. How do you feel? How is your motivation? How is your creativity? How is your connection to the organization?)

It makes sense that the original tribe might act this way, but even these new tribes don’t like rebels. So the tribes begin to compare us to the standard, and we compare ourselves to that standard.

When we compare ourselves or others compare us to some standard that we are not meeting, we may assume there is something wrong with us, and we try harder to fit in.

But what if the tribe standard is wrong?

Tribes do not like it when you question the standard.

So the comparison against the tribe’s standard continues.

We feel like we are wrong-sized, that we don’t fit, and maybe there is something wrong with us.

But maybe the tribe we were born into, or the tribes we find ourselves in as just simply the wrong tribes for us. Maybe we are not the problem.

We need to find the tribes, filled with people who are more consistent with where we are and where we are going.

Too healthy? Not for the healthy tribes.

Too intellectual? Not for the intellectual tribes.

Too strong? Not for the strong tribes.

Too creative? Not for the creative tribes.

Too driven? Not for the driven tribes.

Too emotional? Not for the emotional tribes.

Maybe comparing ourselves to lessor things, lessor tribe standards, is what makes us feel inadequate or wrong-sized.

Maybe we are not wrong.

Maybe when we find the right tribes, we find the right standards and we can just be ourselves.

Putting Your Friends Out

We live near an airport.

When our friends fly, our home transforms into a park-and-ride.

When our friends fly, our home can also transform into a bed-and-breakfast.

We offer this service.

We are trying to be good friends, not bad friends.

Some participate.

Some don’t.

We hear similar reasons from our friends who don’t.

“We don’t want to be a burden.”

“We don’t want to inconvenience you.”

“We don’t want to put you out.”

Putting your friends out.

The intention is noble.

But helping is not Putting Your Friends Out.

(Unless you are that one friend with a pickup truck and everyone expects you to help move, then we are totally tracking with you.)

Is it a little inconvenient to drive to the airport at weird, early, or late hours? Yep.

It it always the best time? Nope.

Then why do friends offer to help?

Because everyone’s lives are so busy, sometimes the only time we get to connect and see folks are on those small drives to and from the airport.

Connecting with those around us that we care about is hard.

Find the small moments to connect.

The trip to the airport.

The errands.

The grocery store.

Waiting in some line.

Dropping off their car for an oil change/repairs.

The ride to and from [soccer, dance, hockey, or whatever] lessons.

Remember you are not Putting Your Friends Out.

Maybe they are just trying to connect.

Some of my fondest memories are small moments doing the most routine things with my closest friends.

 

Conversations and How to Have Them

Together we discussed friendship, which was one of my favorite experiences. But recently I have noticed that friendship (or relationships in general) are built and fueled by conversations.

Over the past few months I have been observing conversations.

But conversations are weird.

Some are like duels.

Some are like speeches.

Some are veiled.

Some are superficial.

Only a few are deep and memorable.

I recently shared some of these conversation observations with a class. Not just any class, but the last class of the year. This particular class has become a yearly tradition and it isn’t lost on me that the final chapter of the year (right before the Holiday Season) is a class on Emotional Intelligence.

Before I shared, I asked.

“What does it take to have a good conversation?”

The answers came.

“Listening. Letting other people speak. Making eye contact. Not being distracted. Not looking at your phone. Asking questions.”

Great answers. Great advice.

It was the last one that really resonated with me. It is what I have been observing.

Asking questions.

You need all of the first things, but it is the last part that may make the real difference.

Asking questions.

Demonstrates that you are interested in others and not just about yourself. (I have a friend who has made extreme strides in this area, and jokes about how they used to be as a reminder. During a conversation they will jump in with “Enough about me, now I want to hear what you think about me.”

Asking questions.

Questions help you to learn about others.

My assignment to this class was to spend the Holiday Season practicing having conversations. This practice starts with asking questions. It may be helpful to try out a few of these questions over your Holiday Season as well.

  1. How are you? (And listen to the reply. Wait for a reply beyond “I’m good” or “Fine” and maybe ask a second time. Really, how are you?
  2. What is going well?
  3. What are you most excited for in 2017?
  4. What are three things that you would most like to accomplish in the next year?
  5. What is the last book you read?
  6. How are you balancing your multiple roles?
  7. Can you tell me a little more about what you do? What most excites you about what you do?

And the list goes on.

Be careful about asking a question, then jumping in with your own answers to each of these questions. Remember my friend’s quote, this is about them, not you.

Asking questions.

Go try it out and let us know how it goes.

P.S. Sometimes conversations drift towards things that are not as important (Politics, Sports, the Weather) and I have a fun trigger phrase with a few friends when we drift off. Whenever one of us dwells too much on the latest game stats or news story, one of us remembers to say, “Are you Sad?” (Because we must be avoiding real conversation out of sadness…) We all chuckle and get back to focusing on things that matter most.

Elliptical Orbits

solar-system-orbit

(Image Courtesy of wiseGEEK)

Apparently I have a lot in common with early astronomers. Both Copernicus and Galileo thought that planets traveled in perfectly round orbits, because the circle was an “ideal shape.” Circular orbits made sense, something is moving around something else, and a circle is a pretty good choice and seems right. Especially if you have an “ideal shape” or expectation in your mind in the first place.

With all the recent friend research we did together, friends and relationships continue to be present in my mind. I found myself using the term “orbit” a lot with friends.

“Hey, I want you back in my orbit.”

“You seem to be drifting out of my orbit.”

“Why can’t we stay in orbit?”

But there is a law of motion in the universe. Johannes Kepler noticed that the “ideal shape” didn’t explain everything. Instead, he discovered something else.

The orbit of a planet follows an ellipse with the sun at one focus. He discovered that the motion and travel was not an “ideal shape” but instead an almost flattened version of the ideal.

This means that at any given time, planets will be further away from the sun, and other times they will be closer, but still in orbit.

When it comes to friends, I fell into the same “ideal shape” trap. Since I assumed that being in orbit with a friend was a perfect circle, any perceived distance was interpreted as getting out of orbit.

But maybe, Kepler’s First Law of Motion can apply here too.

Let’s call it Carl’s First Law of Friendship:

“The orbit of a friend follows AN ELLIPSE with YOU at one focus.”

Realizing that a friendship may follow an Elliptical Orbit helped explain why friends are not always constant or “perfect.” Sometimes they are closer, sometimes they are further away, but that is how orbits work.

Want to know more? Check out this great video on Elliptical Orbits. And just like the astronomers, we will keep trying to understand this whole weird and wonderous universe of friends, and friendships.

 

New Patterns, New Memories

Getting together with people, especially with those who are close, is not always easy.

Logistics. What time, where, who, and what?

Dynamics. The past, the incident, that time, and those words.

Expectations. The food, the venue, the relationships, and the activities.

Patterns. When to eat, what to do, and how you interact.

Memories. Good, bad, stressful, and past.

These various categories cause an interesting dynamic when trying to connect with others. When these categories are associated with past stressful get-togethers, the days before you see these people again can be filled with stress and pressure.

This stress and pressure can hijack the present event by overwhelming you before you even arrive.

But, what if you could shift the pattern?

What if you tried a new approach?

I am lucky to be part of a group that is experimenting with a new pattern. 

Instead of crashing after a meal, we go for a walk (and talk).

Instead of huddling around the TV, we are playing fun and weird games.

Instead of large group discussions, we are making time to connect and catch up individually.

A new pattern is forming.

New memories are replacing the old.

Good Patterns. Good Memories.

It is awkward at first? Oh yeah, but totally worth it.

Eel Gloves

American Eel (USFWS Biologist Steven Smith hollding eel caught while night electrofishing for salmon in Whallon Bay)

(Image Courtesy of adirondackalmanack.com and USFWS)

Sometimes we can be hard to pin down.

Sometimes we wiggle and squirm our way out of accountability, progress, or accomplishment.

Sometimes we say we are going to do something, but try to slip out of it.

A good friend calls it being slippery. Slippery like an eel.

But they make Eel Gloves.

Eel Gloves make it possible to hold onto the slipperiest eel.

Maybe what each of us need is that friend, partner, spouse, coach, or mentor that has OUR pair of Eel Gloves.

The person with the Eel Gloves could hold on to us when we are trying to explain away our lack of progress.

The person with the Eel Gloves could wrestle with us, not let go, and make us face why we are trying to slip out of the accountability.

That sounds like a good name for a coaching option for 2016.

Eel Gloves Coaching: You may be slippery, but we can still hold on.

 

The Forgiveness Receipt

Forgiveness Receipt

We do something wrong. There is a transaction that needs to occur.

We need to apologize. We need to say we are sorry and ask for forgiveness.

A real apology:

Not a

“I am sorry if I [offended, hurt, misunderstood, overreacted…]

But more of a

“I am sorry for [offending, hurting, misunderstanding, overreacting…]

I read recently that how we respond during this transaction is important. Instead of saying “that is okay” which implies that what occurred was acceptable, the article encouraged people to complete the transaction with “I accept your apology” or if you are able “I forgive you.”

A helpful idea ran through my mind: The Forgiveness Receipt.

The Forgiveness Receipt would be proof of the transaction.

The Forgiveness Receipt could serve two purposes.

Purpose One: A reminder for the person that needed to ask for forgiveness. I recently noticed that I tend to apologize more than once, as if the first one didn’t take. The person I kept apologizing to kindly reminded me that we had already transacted this apology, and I didn’t need to keep revisiting the issue. The issue is gone, and The Forgiveness Receipt would be a great reminder, especially when I am feeling a little insecure.

Purpose Two: A reminder for the person that forgave. I also noticed that I tend to revisit old offenses, long after the transaction. The Forgiveness Receipt would serve to remind me that the I forgave, and can no longer hold that offense against the other person.

Until I can find a receipt book worthy of this task, The Forgiveness Receipt will be more of a mental note. Or maybe this T-Shirt would serve as a better reminder.

Be sure to ask about your receipt.

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