Well! It's not every day that I get a mention on a 7th dan sensei's blog :D
My motto for 2012 was enryo (遠慮): "restraint".
The motto has served me well and I will continue to be inspired by it. It still adorns my desk and it is on the inside of my dou. At the office I have become better at communicating and at sticking to boundaries and in kendo I have become less apt to rush in foolishly.
For 2013 I will be adding a new motto, katsubou (渇望): "hunger, craving".
This motto comes through inspiration by four people whom I've come to respect very much. Donatella-sensei and Vitalis-sensei, after their instructions at the last Centrale Training. And Kris and Hillen-fukushou, based on their feedback to our recent kyu exams. Summarizing it: without stupidly rushing in (see above), I need to crave achieving yuko datotsu on my opponent. I need to hunger for "kills" and to show eagerness in all my undertakings. Only then will I be properly training and will I be able to show my current skill level in a shinsa.
Interestingly, this motto is also applicable professionaly insofar that I'm working to retain my CISSP certification. I'd slacked off over the past two years, but now I'm working hard to make up for that. In order to achieve this plan fully, I need to be "hungry". I need to keep at it, working on each successive goal in order to reach the final destination.
It'll be an interesting year :)
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Quite a while ago my dear friend Menno started a career in personal coaching. He's still a civil engineer, but as a side business he runs Rockover Coaching which is based on the co-active coaching formula. It took a lot of hard work, but he's now ready to start working with clients. As part of his startup year, he asked me whether I'd like to be a 'victim' and I gladly accepted. I may have an ingrained mistrust of coaches, but I know I can trust the guy who's been my best friend for 27 years ;)
Over the past few weeks we've used a lot of different techniques to explore various topics, such as:
So... After almost three months of weekly coaching I have to say it's a lot more fun and interesting than I thought before starting with Menno. I had a few other touch-feely courses (through work) before this, but none of those were as comfortable as this.
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Recently I started a coaching process with Rockover Coaching (about which I'll write more later). In our third fruitful session I was assigned a bit of homework: make a structure for use in the office, to remind me of some of my personal DOs and DONTs.
In this case the DONT is my at-times hyperactive approach in communicating: too fast, not letting people come to their conclusions, sticking my nose in and generally forcing an opinion. The DO is the polar opposite of this, which I have already set as goal for 2012: enryo, self-restraint, calmness and respect. The intention of the structure is to put something in place that inherently reminds me of these DOs and DONTs at any given time, so I chose to hang up a poster at my desk.
Looking for graphics that trigger the DO and DONT in my mind, the DO is obviously represented by the kanji for the word "enryo" (as discussed before). When it came to the DONT one thing immediately popped into my head: Dexter's Laboratory's talking dog. The overly excited, busybusy, shouty dog who yelps for attention exclaiming that "I FOUND THE THING! THE THING! I GOT THE THING!" Or that's how it went in dutch, in english apparently it's "found you", but hey.
So... The above poster is what I whipped up in a few minutes and as per this blogpost it's delivered to my coach. There you go sir! ;)
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What a great week! </sarcasm>
Wednesday saw a number of 'escalations' at the office, one of which I was involved with. I tried to deal with it to the best of my abilities, including the enryo rules I'd set for myself. I was polite, I enforced standard procedures and when management became involved I defered to my acting teamlead. The latter however did not prevent at least four different people from contacting me personally, trying to force the issue. While I believe that my team acted exactly as we should have, I feared that we would (once again) be portrayed towards higher management as the inflexible power-trippers who were blocking progress.
The fact that the highest managers had gotten involved and because people kept addressing me personally, I feared that another managerial talk would soon follow. Along the lines of "again you blundered out there and got people pissed", or "you should have been less visible and defered to your colleagues". Now, so far all of that is simply in my head as I haven't even spoken to my teamlead yet, but that's the way anxiety works: it fills in blanks with worst-case scenarios. What this effectively means is that I can't even break wind at the office, without fearing that somehow management repercussions will follow.
On wednesday night this led to a big panic attack, which had me in cramps and aches most of the night. I'm proud of how Marli handled the situation, as she calmly and quickly did everything to help. "What do you mean? I was a grouchy bitch!" she retorted my pride, but nonetheless she did exactly what I needed :)
Come thursday morning, I'm a wreck so I don't go to the office. I found it odd that my physique had been affected by the panic attack this much (muscle aches, nausea, headache, dizziness), until we concluded later that day that I have the flu :) So there we go: a messed up night due to anxiety and messed up days because of the flu.
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The past month I've been paying more attention to my methods of communicating and of working, all under the motto of enryo: "restraint". Overall I see improvement, but with the help of colleagues I've also recognized a number of slipups.
A while back I stated a number of targets for myself, after a big kerfuffle at the office. Here's how things have gone so far.
This is by far the easiest target. I've simply refrained from contacting R or any of his colleagues in any way or form. Any work that needs to be done together with them was defered to my colleagues. However, there was also a bit of misunderstanding on my part: this target was not only targeted at R and his team, but also at the other team. So, no less than two weeks after the troubles I made the mistake of contacting E from the other team, which blew up in my face. So, the target's been extended to: "I will refrain from contacting R, E and their teams in any way".
I almost stuck my foot in a hornets' nest yesterday!
Almost a year ago I helped out one of the big projects going down at $CLIENT to achieve their über-important deadline. It involved some changes to one of our BoKS environments and also involved some programming to change the infrastructure. At the time I was in the lead, but I frequently discussed the matter with R to make sure things would work properly. The project met its deadline "and there was much rejoicing".
Now, there's a follow-up to the project which requires more programming to change the infrastructure. The project team defaulted to contacting me about it, as I'd been in the lead last time. Falling back into my old project-mode I quickly joined up and started discussing the matter. It was only when one of my colleagues remarked that R was also working on the programming that I remembered that this programming officially falls under R's team's responsibilities. And thus I came this -><- close to breaking this target! So many thanks to my colleague Rishi for jogging my memory! ( ^_^)
This has gone well! We've had a few problems and incidents that require cross-department cooperation in order to troubleshoot and solve the issue. In each of these cases I've drawn up complete reports of my findings and methods, which I then transfered to one of my team members. I urged them to go over my work, to make sure I didn't make any mistakes and to add to it, so they could then continue working on the project with R's and E's teams.
One of the biggest things I did to achieve this goal was to build a filter into my Outlook mailbox: all of my email will be delayed by an hour, for re-reading and adjustment, to prevent foot-in-mouth situations. That is, unless I go out of my way to tick a certain box that says "send this email right now" (which is, in three minutes).
This has gone reasonably well, although I find that it's too easy to make the six clicks required for the "send immediately" option. I need to use this frequently when I'm on a specific shift, but I've also found myself using it with normal emails. That's not good and in one case it led to an illworded email making it to a customer. I discussed the matter with my colleague Tommy, who pointed out a few things to remind me of my own goals: it's better to phone than to email and never send emails when you're agitated.
And that's the key in this case: it happened when a customer had crossed a number of security guidelines in a rather blatant manner, which I felt needed to be dealt with quickly. My bad: I should've sat on my email a bit, reread it and then phoned the customer to call a meeting. Live and learn.
I've not confered with my colleagues often enough in this regard. Sure I've asked them a few times, when I was in doubt... but I'm not in doubt often enough! (;^_^)
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Last week I made a few resolutions for myself regarding communicating at work. These resolutions were reaffirmed today, in a meeting with my manager and are now stated thusly:
In order to help myself stick to these resolutions I've made a few configuration changes to my Outlook email client. These are by no means guarantees that I will improve, but they serve as stern reminders that my mindset needs changing.
Every email I start writing, whether it's a reply or a new message, is filled with a big warning template asking me "Are you really using email? Wouldn't it be better to phone?". It also reminds me to "Watch your phrasing! Are you CCing people?". I couldn't find a way in Outlook to set up a template or standard email to do this, so I've adjusted my email signature to serve the purpose.
I have also set up two filtering rules to delay my outgoing messages. With many things to How-to Geek's 'Preventing OhNo! after sending emails'.
The second rule determines that every single email i send will be delayed for an hour. This will prevent many foot-in-mouth situations and will also force me to review my message. Each of these messages gets classified as "NEED TO CHECK", unless I specifically go out of my way to set the message to "CHECKED". All messages marked as "CHECKED" will be delayed for only two minutes, after which they'll go on their way to the addressee.
I will also add an hourly reminder to my agenda to prompt myself to review all pending emails.
My manager indicated upfront that these changes will drastically lower my throughput at the office. Part of the reason why I'm so damn fast with our ticket queue is because my over-reliance on email: fix an issue, inform client through email, BOOM! next ticket! I have to admit that I felt a few pangs of OCD at this realization, because I always worry about our ticket queue. We're already behind on our work, so if I'm going to get slower we'll only get behind further. Luckily my manager takes this for granted, as she feels that fixing my communications issues is more important than our current workload. Wow!
I'm quite hopeful that these measures will aid me in improving my communications at work. Right now I still need external stimuli to practice enryo.
Sadly there is no way of implementing the second set of precautions in Apple's Mail.app. The software does not support rules on outgoing email without the support of Mail ActOn and even then it only allows such things as filing the sent message. It will not allow delays or forcing messages to be saved as drafts.
Because of this I tried to give Thunderbird a shot, but I still hate that piece of software. I can't help it. Alternatively I think Sparrow looks great, but I don't think it has the options I'm looking for. Even Entourage 2008 doesn't appear to support the kind of rules I'm using in Outlook 2003 at the office ;_;
In the end I implemented my 'helpers' in Mail.app by:
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EDIT: There has been an update to this blog post.
Today was a heavy day. One that signals, hopefully for the last time, a need to make a big change in my personality.
In my written communication I often come across as highly arrogant and as if I have a god complex. I also tend to make decissions without confering with colleagues who may also be involved with the area involved. This has gotten me a few professional successes, but it's also gotten me a few reprimands, because people feel I was overstepping my bounds. This attitude also gives off the notion of a lack of confidence in others.
Today this climaxed in a meeting with my boss, two colleagues from other teams (teams A and B, us being C) and their respective bosses. Over the past year the relationships between our teams had been pretty difficult, so my boss and I went into the meeting thinking this was about clearing the air between our teams and on forging the way onward. However, it turns out that it was a meeting solely intended to discuss my attitude and my influence on our three teams. That was rather unexpected.
What was even more unexpected is that colleague R (team B), whom I've known and worked with for at least six years, now refuses to work with me. One of my emails apparently drove him into a red haze state, for which he visited his GP. I mean, seriously! That's not good! All the while I'd thought that me and R were just being the way we'd always been: sometimes friendly, sometimes sparring rather angrily. But I never expected this! It was slightly reassuring to hear from colleagues that I'm not the first one to trigger this condition in R, but it still makes me feel awful! Of course I don't want to be responsible for such an event!
The roles of two of the teams were clear in the meeting. Obviously R and his manager (team B) were very displeased and most of the hour was spent determining my failings and asking how I was going to change them. And obviously I was there to answer for myself and to hear them out (team C). I'm very thankful that my own manager backed me up fully, agreeing that things were bad, but also indicating that all of this is not a lost cause and that she saw more good than bad in me. In all this team A were rather passive. Our two departments have had a strained relationship, but we've ascertained that those troubles are not actually tied to my person.
I readily admit that I have a large ego and that in some situations I exude (over)confidence. But I also posit that a lot of the problems discussed today were due to bad communication. Specifically: due to a poor choice of words. My language is often crass and "street". I also speak in absolutes, even if I'm not actually trying to convey that. For example:
I think we can all agree that my choice of words does not match the message I'm trying to convey.
I have also re-read the email message that sent my colleage R into his bad state. And I can see where it went wrong: because of a bad choice of words and because I didn't convey the full message, assuming that the left-out parts were clear. My boss also read through the email and agrees that that's how it went. Where my email was supposed to add to an already large email discussion, suggesting that R's suggestion was sub-optimal for my team and that we would prefer another one and that we would need to discuss it further, he read the message as me putting him down in front of at least four high-placed managers.
So. Where do we go from here? Most of the points were discussed with my manager.
This will be part of my study goal of enryo (遠慮): reservation in communications and in decissions.
After all the negativity, R gave me one parting message, which stood out in its positivity: "You need to learn to open up and to trust others. Rely on them to do their thing. You cannot deal with everything yourself and you will find yourself needing their help". The reason why this message touched me so much, was because it perfectly matches the thing I need to learn to cope with my anxiety: the wellbeing of others does not depend on my effort alone.
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Starting this week, my desk at the office has been rearranged somewhat. All of my gear's been moved to the right, thus providing unihibited view of the divider board. This board is now adorned with a piece of A5 paper, bearing the kanji shown left: enryo, 遠慮(picture source).
Enryo is the Japanese concept of (and word for) restraint. The kanji consists of the words for distant and prudence.
I've chosen this word as my mental goal for this year, next to my physical education goal of fumikomi. Why? Because restraint will help me both at work, in kendo and in my anxieties. At work, because I've repeatedly gotten in trouble for being too hasty. In kendo, because I show way too much of what goes on in my head. In my anxieties, because control over mind and body will aid in preventing and fighting panic attacks.
Here are two excellent articles about the concept of enryo in Japanese culture:
Speaking of my anxiety disorder. I visited my therapist again yesterday and he's quite happy about my progress. He was disappointed that I had not continued with the progressive relaxation exercises, but was glad that I'd replaced them with concepts from kendo and tai chi. From here on I will be setting exposure goals for myself, where I simply go out and expose myself to situations I loathe, of ever-increasing difficulty. We will meet up only once more after this, after which my therapist is confident that I can continue the training on my own.
Finally, just to keep track of stuff: in the middle of the night I had a mild bout of hyperventilation.
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All content, with exception of "borrowed" blogpost images, or unless otherwise indicated, is copyright of Thomas Sluyter. The character Kilala the cat-demon is copyright of Rumiko Takahashi and used here without permission.