The Games We Play


We all spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get people to do what we want them to do.  How can I make my boyfriend commit?  How do I get my kids to clean their rooms?  How do I stop that guy at work from coming in late every day?  There are so many different tactics that we attempt to use in order to get what we want.  We try to give someone “a taste of their own medicine” with the hopes that they’ll figure out how we feel.  We try to buy someone off, or punish them by giving them the cold shoulder.  There’s a million games that we play in relationships – and often they backfire.

For example, huge issues quickly arose when a dear friend of mine and I moved in together, but had never discussed what it meant to each of us to be roommates.  Her picture was that we would do everything together, and she was very upset to find that I carried on my life much as I had before we moved in together.  The angrier she got that I was leaving her out, the more frustrated I became that she was trying to control me.  Looking back, I realize that the whole situation could easily have been avoided if we’d actually had a conversation about our picture of what living together would look like, instead of us each lashing out and getting angry with each other.

One of the things that can really help prevent problems from arising in relationships of any kind is to have a clear understanding of the social contract which establishes the “rules” for the relationship.  When we actually make these rules explicit, it ensures that everyone is on the same page.  Often, the problems that arise are simply because there is a difference in expectations. 

I heard a story about the staff a daycare centre that was frustrated with parents who were picking up their children late.  They decided to implement a late fee – a certain amount for each minute the parent was late in picking up their child.  To their surprise, instead of solving their problem, it actually made it worse.  Instead of parents feeling like they needed to be there on time, parents felt that as long as they paid the fee, it was ok to be late now.  Daycare staff and parents had very different pictures of how the relationship was going to work.  How different might this have turned out if instead of implementing the fee, the daycare staff had simply talked to the parents about how important it was to have the children picked up on time so that staff were not working overtime and being forced to miss out on their own family obligations? 

How often do conflicts happen in life because we just haven’t really talked?  Instead of playing games, trying to understand and be understood? 


This IS My Job


I used to get frustrated about how much time got wasted in my workplace.  People would interrupt me when I was working to chat about the weekend, or things going on in their lives.  I welcomed the odd storm day that forced me to work from home, as I could get so much accomplished when I was able to work without all those distractions.

But if you really want to talk about efficiency, email has been an amazing time saver.  I’m part of a diminishing group of people who used to work before there was such a thing as email.  Looking back, it’s mind boggling to think of how much longer it took us to do business when you actually had to catch someone on the phone to talk.  I can fire off a dozen emails in the time it used to take me to make one phone call.  And when things had to be done by phone, you couldn’t just get straight down to business either – that would seem rude.  So you had to do the small talk, chit-chat thing before moving on to your real reason for the call.  What a massive waste of time!

Except that it wasn’t.

I’ve seen good ideas wither on the vine because people could not work together to make them happen.  I’ve seen how simple tasks can become incredibly complex because people are playing games, or don’t want to put in any effort for someone they feel doesn’t respect them.   

I appreciate now that everything about work is really about people.  Without relationships, very little happens efficiently.  Differences of opinion do not turn into battles or become personal attacks when opposing sides know and respect each other.  Good ideas can turn into great ones when people go the extra mile with their contributions to a project. 

So I’ve changed my tune.  Spending time building relationships does not interfere with my work.  It is my work.  Although I still appreciate the time saving that things like email have brought, I’m also aware that I need to attend to the people I work with – not just our tasks.  After all, belonging is a basic human need, and without it, things go off kilter. 

I heard a great line recently that I think sums this idea up very well:  We need to loiter with intent.  We need to hang out with people, get to know them, build relationships.  Sure – it can be a break from work, but remember – it’s not a waste of time. 

Comparing Pain


It was a really long day at work. There was a million people all demanding my attention at once. There were deadlines looming that I couldn’t envision possibly reaching. The computer wasn’t cooperating, and I couldn’t figure out why nothing would load properly. Couldn’t anything just go right?

And to top it off, I had an hour long commute after this crummy work day was complete. By the time I got home, I had a pounding headache and I still had to deal with a disaster of a kitchen before I could even start thinking about preparing some kind of sustenance for supper. By the time the family was fed and watered, I was thoroughly exhausted. What a day! My poor husband got an earful that night about all the stress that I was feeling!

Ever have one of those days?

Don’t we all?

Now, I know that I have a lot to be grateful for. I live in an amazing country, with amazing freedoms, and amazing opportunities. I am blessed with a fantastic family and a group of incredible friends. I love my job. I have a beautiful home. I have a wonderful life.

I am not fighting cancer. I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. I don’t have to live in fear for my life because of political unrest in my country. There are a million things that I take for granted every day.

But that doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t just feel overwhelmed and tired.

This week, our Prime Minister’s wife expressed that she is overwhelmed and feels that she needs some additional help. And a whole firestorm of public outrage ensued about how someone who leads such a privileged life has no right to complain.

And then I thought about my day. Did I not have a right to feel the way I did?

I often have students come into my office that share the burdens they are living with, who feel they have no right to their pain because there are people much worse off in the world. I always tell them – it’s not fair to compare pain. Pain is pain. It hurts. If you break your arm, does it mean that you have no right to feel that pain because there are people in the world who have no arms?

Of course, it’s good to keep things in perspective. It does help keep me grounded to remember that I have much to give thanks for. I don’t want to turn into a person who chooses to be unhappy and wastes their life with constant complaining.

But at the end of the day, when it’s been a challenging one, it does ease my load to share my thoughts with someone who cares, and have them wrap their arms around me and tell me they understand, and that it will be ok.

When someone shares their load with you, do you validate their feelings, or tell them they have no right to feel that way?

Abe Was A Wise Man…


I had this one teacher that drove me crazy.  He would give us the stupidest assignments.  They were always half-thought out, and never clear.  We struggled like crazy to know what the heck he wanted from us.  I was a very driven student and wanted to do well, but I never knew what I had to do to please him.  It was probably one of the most frustrating classes I ever was in.

Looking back, I think he was brilliant.

It was the first time that I ever was forced to create a project that I set the standards for myself.  I had to self-evaluate, and create something that I thought was quality work.  I wasn’t simply vomiting up what I thought the teacher wanted to hear; I was thinking for myself, and it was probably one of the classes in which I learned the most.

 It also taught me an important lesson:  Whenever you think someone is a complete idiot or a terrible person, if you really take the time to get to know them, you will usually find something that explains their behaviour in a way that changes how you feel about them.  He knew exactly what he was doing.  He knew that we were a group of dedicated students, and he wanted to give us the opportunity to be the best we could be.

Anyone else out there have a story of how someone they thought was evil turned out to have motivations that you just didn’t understand at the time?  Please share!

The Irony of Validation


You are in a situation where you feel strongly that someone is about to make a huge mistake.  You don’t want to see disaster strike, so you have to change their mind quickly.  You put together the best argument you can to pursuade them that they are wrong and to convince them to see things your way.  And often, what you get is push back.  They tell you that you don’t understand.  They give you all the reasons why their course of action is the right one.  They respond by putting together the best argument they can to defend their decision.

The problem is that things in these kinds of situations are rarely black and white.  They are complicated and messy.  And there is always some valid reasons for people choosing to act in a particular way – otherwise they wouldn’t have decided to do it!

The irony is, when we validate those reasons, people often will consider other alternatives.  Often, they even point them out themselves.

Take the woman who was planning an aggressive approach to dealing with an injustice she’d witnessed.  I was concerned that this tactic was going to backfire on her and that her actions would only result in her being written off as emotional and crazy.  If someone had expressed this concern, she likely would have argued that no one would listen to her if she didn’t force them.  But when I commented that this was obviously an issue that she felt incredibly passionate about, and that it was something that she was really invested in making sure a positive outcome was achieved, she started to talk about her worries that no one would listen.  She started to share her fears about how things might go wrong, and we ended up having a great conversation about the pros and cons of different strategies.

It’s funny how we tend to characterize these kinds of situations as being people being on opposite sides.  She wanted to do things one way, I thought another was a better way.  And we could have likely argued both sides indefinitely.

But we weren’t on opposite sides.  We both would like to see the issue resolved.  I didn’t want to see her put down and ignored by others; she didn’t want that either.

When we demonstrate to another person that we are on the same side, and that we understand what they want and what’s important to them, they don’t have to argue with us anymore.  It frees us up to discuss the messy, complicated realities of life.  Instead of two brains working against each other, constructing arguments to try to “win”, two brains can work together to come up with the best possible solution.

We worry that if we validate someone’s actions that it will reinforce their point of view.  The irony is that, more often than not, validation is what opens up new possibilities.


Why are We So Afraid?

I had an interesting conversation this week with a friend about making mistakes.  We were both frustrated because of recent interactions we’d had with people who had screwed up, and instead of taking responsibility, tried to defend themselves and maintain that they were correct in their actions.  Everyone involved knew otherwise, and these people ended up looking really foolish.

Makes you wonder – why do people do this?  It’s obvious that the reason for the defensiveness is that they don’t want to lose face.  How ironic that their actions actually make them lose more respect than if they had just owned up to making an error in the first place.

But I know when it’s me whose in the wrong, I feel that urge too.  It’s hard when you want to be a good person, and you care about being competent and you do your very best – and then things don’t come out as you planned.

As luck would have it, I then stumbled across this quote:

im not who i was before

It reminded me that every experience we have shapes us.  When things don’t go as we planned, it’s a opportunity for growth, and we can become a better person than we were before.

So, the next time you feel defensive, or ashamed of something you’ve done, remember that you don’t need to make excuses or try to justify your actions.  Embrace the fact that the experience gave you the opportunity to become the new and improved you that you are today!


Making the Tough Decisions


For many years, I watched from a distance as principals struggled over creating next year’s timetable.  I always counted my blessings that this wasn’t part of my job, because it looked like such an overwhelming task to try to think of every possible variable you need to consider.

And, of course, the universe is now laughing at me.  It’s part of my job now.

In our school, we have a team who sets the timetable, so I do count my blessings that I’m not alone.  And I’ve been surprised to find that this task is like doing a puzzle, and I actually like trying to work it all out.  However, there are certainly times that it’s beyond painful.

This teacher wants this course…. That teacher wants their prep at this time… These courses should be in the morning…. Those courses should be in the second semester… Some students are going to need to be able to have their compulsory courses done by January… some are needing a combination of grade 11 and 12 courses so we have to make sure it’s possible for them to get what they need…


Fortunately, we have an awesome leader.  At the point that it felt like we were sinking into the bog, she stopped us.  She asked a simple question.  “What is our purpose?”

And it all became clear.  Our purpose is to provide the best possible education for our students.  While there were some variables that we would have liked to accommodate, there were some that were clearly important in providing a quality learning experience.  Those had to come first.

It reminded me again of how important it is to keep in touch with our basic values and beliefs, and to use those as touchstones when struggling to make important decisions.

Even though the ultimate decision I make may not be perfect, at the end of the day, I know that I can stand behind it because it was made on solid principles.

What is guiding your decision-making?