Monthly Archives: June 2012

Weeding the Friendship Garden

How often do you stop to assess your relationships? Think about what you want out of them? Think about what you’re giving? Think about how – or if – you’re asking for what you want and need?

I use a four-square model to capture relationships. The categories are comforters, cheerleaders, critics and confronters. I try to have at least two people in each category and no one in more than one role. That’s not to say that these roles define my friendships, merely that these are my go-to people in certain circumstances. Cheerleaders provide unconditional support. Comforters are judgement-free shoulders to cry on. Critics are logical and able to help you develop plans. Confronters are ready to give you a swift kick when you aren’t living up to what you said you would do.

I try to check my relationships at least twice a year. It’s not about keeping score, more about being sure that my friends and I are getting what we need from each other. Like any garden, sometimes my friendship garden needs a bit of weeding.

Some relationships have withered due to inattention. Do I want to revive them or is it time to let them go? Some have become one-sided. Do I need to give more to this person or do I need to ask for what I need? Am I willing to have the frank, difficult conversation that might lead to change? Am I willing to accept that the relationship will never change and perhaps should go?

It’s always sad to lose a friendship. But, then, perhaps there was really nothing there anyhow. Perhaps the effort is – for one or both of us- more than we can handle right now. The core question becomes whether the cost of letting go is greater than the cost of hanging on.

Weeding is good. It leaves space for solid relationships to flourish. It leaves room for something new.

How is your garden growing?

The Kindness of Strangers

Maybe Blanche DuBois had it right. Depending on the kindness of strangers isn’t such a bad thing. I am dealing with a temporary mobility-limiting issue and have been using a cane for the last month or so. This has given me an excellent opportunity to observe the reactions of people I encounter and has left me occasionally needing their help.

There are people who will push past me to get on the bus first and others who motion me to go ahead of them. There are people who expect me to open the door for them and others who not only hold the door but wait patiently until I get there. There are people who regale me with tales of their own hip/knee surgery or the successful surgery and recovery of their friends/parents/colleagues.

A few incidents really stand out. Last week, I got into a conversation with the driver of my express bus. By the time I got off, she had taken my address so she could send me a get well card and promised that she would pray for a successful operation and send me things to make me know someone was thinking about me and to make me laugh as I recover.

At a music festival last weekend, a man came up to me to tell me that I would be much more comfortable if my cane was adjusted slightly – and proceeded to make the adjustment. He was right, by the way.

So, I once again have evidence of the truth that everything that happens has an effect on everything else. These simple acts of kindness made me feel wonderful, and, judging by the smiles on their faces, made the other person feel pretty good too.

I’ll be looking for more opportunities to do small things that make a difference. What will you do?

Put Down That Phone!

I’m delighted to hear that Volkswagen employees will no longer be subjected to 24/7 messages. I spend countless hours trying to wean clients away from their communication devices. Their thumbs may be twitching from withdrawal, but eventually they’ll thank me for it.

I hope.

We all need a little down time. Time to reconnect with our friends and family. Time to savor a meal. Time to look at something beautiful. Time to meditate and reflect. Time to do nothing at all.

How do you arrange your day? Is there down time?

Try turning your phone off every so often. I learned this the hard way when, after having finally fallen asleep, I was dragged back into full alertness by a tweet about a missing Senior 3,000 miles away. I now turn off all sounds when I need some peaceful time.

Detach every so often. You’ll be glad you did.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

The third cycle of coaching with a big municipal agency is coming to a close slowly, as the May end turned into a flood of last-minute make-up appointments that will run through June.

A few minutes ago I said farewell to another client who, after a slightly slow start turned out to make more and more significant changes than any of the other participants. I will miss her. I’ll miss her bursts of insight and the calls where she coached herself so effectively that all I needed to do was offer the occasional word of encouragement.

I’ll miss the guy who started with off-the-charts blood pressure and cholesterol counts who , in his newly calm state is laughing at situations that used to send him into a fury.

I’ll miss the client I knew from a past career who is becoming a friend and another client who I’ve bonded so strongly with that I can’t imagine not staying connected to.

I’ll miss the ones who kept canceling their appointments. I’ll miss the ones who were always late to call. And the ones who could never think of something to talk about but wanted to keep trying.

Fifteen vibrant, interesting men and women will be leaving my weekly life by the end of June. After six months, how could they not have changed me? I’m a better coach for having conversations with each of them.

In September, there will be a new group, different yet the same. I’m imagining the wave of change that is moving through the organization now that over a hundred men and women go on to create their own coaching cultures. And I smile.

“Good” Customer Service Under Duress?

I bought a highly-rated chair from a company called Coaster. It’s a very nice-looking retro chair – reminds me of something that might have been in a public space in the 50’s. Two allen bolts were missing and I contacted Coaster, not realizing that the vendor was a company called AtHomeMart. Both the Parts department and the Customer Service department were unhelpful and unconcerned about the missing parts and said that they would be available in August. I emailed their customer service department, saying:

I received my chair, model 900335 and discovered that the two medium allen bolts were missing. The parts department informed me that these would not be available until some time in August. Customer service repeated the same thing. I need to sit in this chair post-surgery in July. This is unacceptable customer service.

… and, so far, only got the response below:

From lizyvetteg at Coaster:

This is an automated message confirming that we have received your inquiry.

So, I called Amazon and Axel, who was lovely and sympathetic, asked me to please bear with him and send one more email. This one went through Amazon’s system, so my email and information were protected. They sent it to the supplier, rather than the manufacturer:

Here is a copy of the e-mail that you sent to AtHomeMart.

Order ID 002-6749098-4225869:
1 of Coaster 900335 Vinyl Accent Chair, Red [ASIN: B004T3CPD4]

————- Begin message ————-

I received this item on June 5th and discovered that the two medium-sized allen bolts required to secure the back in place were missing. I called the Parts Dept. and was told that these parts would not be available until mid-August. I called Customer Service and they affirmed this and indicated that they could take no further action. I also emailed customer service and received an automated response. I have received no additional response from the company. As I need to sit in this chair following July 3rd surgery, I find this response unacceptable.

My response from AtHomeMart, received within hours:


I am not sure who you contacted previously, but this is our first correspondence from you. We are shipping out 2 medium size bolts+washer under tracking number xxxxx12345 with UPS. Thanks!

Best regards,
Henry Kung
AtHomeMart Customer Care

Now, it may be that AtHome Mart always maintains this level of customer service and simply was not aware of the issue with Coaster. I was impressed with the outcome and speed of response and will purchase through them again, as long as the supplier is NOT Coaster.

I am consistently impressed with the level of customer service provided by Amazon. They have spent hours on the phone with me, replaced items, and always maintained an attitude that suggests that you are doing THEM a huge favor by asking for help.

I was equally impressed with a recent interaction with over an incorrectly entered name in the delivery field on an order. Even though they couldn’t resolve this in the moment, the woman made several excellent suggestions and assured me that she will continue to track the delivery.

It seems to me, that with so many choices, no company with any sense would remain unresponsive to a customer. I hope that I’m just as responsive as Amazon with my clients.

Family Ties and Celebrations

I’ve just returned from a weekend in the Boston area that was filled with family. We had gathered for Jessica’s Bat Mitzvah – family from up and down the east coast and a contingent from Israel.

There were many wonderful moments of connecting, reconnecting and deepening connections. There were a series of joyous moments watching the Bat Mitzvah girl blossom into womanhood before our eyes as she described her charity project, explained the halftorah and shared the significant moments of her life and the lessons she will carry forward.

There was the fun of watching the two expectant mothers – sisters-in-law, love and spirit – sharing the moment, rejoicing over each others gifts and planning for the arrival of a boy and a girl who are scheduled to appear within a week of each other.

There was my own joy in deepening bonds with my cousins and discovering new members of the expanded family.

My favorite moment, though, was listening to my aunt reflect at the end of the weekend. As she sat in the first row of the temple, she looked around her at her children, grandchildren and extended family and realized that she had created all this. The mother of four, grandmother of five with six and seven on the way, in this moment she, for the first time, experienced herself as the matriarch of our family. She’s now the most senior member and has come into full realization of her accomplishments and pride in her extended family. She’s excited about being a part of the future of her grandchildren. Her glow matched the mothers-to-be.

So, even as I celebrated my cousins over the weekend, today I celebrate my aunt. I remember how all my girlfriends wanted to grow up to be just like her. I am awed by how she managed four children as a single parent. I am amazed at how she maintained an active career until just a few months ago.

And I celebrate my family and our collective and individual futures.