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Raising Self Esteem for Better Health & Fulfillment

Posted By Karmen L. Bickel, Monday, March 9, 2020



Most of us would agree that there are cultural and socioeconomic barriers in life. Some people have grown up in environments where as children they were told they would succeed, contribute to society, and live an abundant life. This is a wonderful formula when moving from childhood into adulthood. However, many people have grown up in environments with indifference and abuse, and struggle to find a positive sense of self. Their homes may have lacked in support, security, and love. These environments can create a foundation for low self-esteem, and can suppress true potential. Low self-esteem can derail relationships, career ambitions, and a personal sense of purpose. However, negative behavioral patterns and a mindset which perpetuates “lack of” or “less than” can be modified. It is absolutely possible to build self-esteem through awareness, patience, and forgiveness.


Many people who suffer from low self-esteem have experienced, or been exposed to trauma. Children of abuse and trauma are more likely to suffer physical and mental maladies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been studying trauma and its effect on health and wellness. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) have been linked to anxiety, depression, suicide, self-harm, and substance abuse. If assistance is not introduced early in life children of abuse and neglect may grow into adults whom continue to suffer. The inability to change circumstances may result in negative choices and behaviors, leading to a vicious cycle of victimization.


If you are suffering from low self-esteem, understand it will take time to rebuild this part of yourself. Consistently evaluate self-perceptions and belief systems. Do you spend a lot of time with negative people? Do you ruminate over past experiences as a defense? Do you use your pain as an excuse not to experience fulfilling relationships with people, or yourself?


Positive changes will require honesty about the relationship you have with yourself, and the people around you. There’s no one way to move through this without some uncomfortable revelations, but there are people who can support you through the process. Releasing past beliefs and changing your inner dialogue takes time, so allow yourself lots of patience and kindness. Like a snake shedding its skin, you’ve outgrown the layer of low self-esteem, but what’s underneath will be vibrant and strong. 


When building self-esteem, remember to reach out for professional assistance when necessary. If you have a faith, seek support from it. If you have friends or family you trust, tell them you’re moving through change, and you would like their support. People around you may object to your newfound interest in self-improvement, as many people are adverse to change. However, make your emotional growth a priority. Are you willing to put your growth on hold for other people? If the answer is no, go and grow!


As you begin building your self-esteem, take a moment to address the following aspects of your life, and where you can begin to make improvements.


Quiet time

Self-reflection is key when building your self-esteem. This requires a lot of honesty about your past but also hope for building your future. Notice if you’re unable to sit with yourself without distraction, or if you’re constantly attempting to stay “busy.” These behaviors can keep you from working on creating the best version of yourself. When we are balanced and comfortable in our own space and skin, we seek less from outside influences, and rely more on our own sourced resilience. Seek out guidance from healthcare professionals when needed, and incorporate self-care tools such as massage, forest bathing, and reading to expand your knowledge.  


Cultivate your personal foundation

Integrity, humility, gratitude, and authenticity (IHGA) are characteristics of high self-esteem, and the foundation for building the best version of yourself. Building IHGA better prepares you for difficulties so you are able to better manage future difficulties. Assess how important each of these traits have been in your life, and look to see how you can improve upon each slowly and individually.



Forgiveness is essential in building self-esteem, and key to its success. You may never receive an apology from those whom have harmed you. However, now that you’ve decided to cultivate your best self you can move to a place of forgiveness. Remember, this is a forgiveness of others and self and will take time and patience.


There will always be difficult moments in life, but as you gain more self-esteem you will understand these difficult moments are opportunities for you to learn and grow. Life circumstances may still trigger insecurities and fear. However, with higher self-esteem you will be able to pull from your new foundation, and understand what you’re experiencing is part of the mystery of life unfolding.


As you begin to believe in yourself you will notice you’re able to move through difficulty easier. When you experience roadblocks, you will find ways to get around those blocks. There will be more flow of positivity, and you’ll find more opportunities to feel thankful for what you have and who you are. You will discover a new sense of pride in who you’ve become… forgoing the defense of ego for authenticity. Stay courageous and kind while moving into the next phase of your personal journey, and don’t forget to celebrate your newfound confidence! 


If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact your local mental health crisis center for immediate assistance. 

Tags:  health  wellbeing 

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Food for Whole Body Health

Posted By Karmen L. Bickel, Monday, March 9, 2020

Our minds and bodies rely on a balance of nutrient-dense food for optimal health. However, the average American diet is made up of sixty percent processed food, and dreadfully lacking in nutrients. To help us better understand how the body uses the food we consume, we need to understand the connection between nutrients and human physiology.


The human body has an internal communication system, which is facilitated through neurons and neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers neurons release to transfer information within the brain and from the nervous system to other parts of the body. They process sensory information and control behavior, including when and what to eat, and how to react physically and emotionally.


Why does healthy food matter? Healthy food provides our bodies nutrients, and nutrients are essential to manufacture neurotransmitters. Without key nutrients our neurotransmitters suffer and our mental and physical health are negatively affected. There are a number of food and mood factors to stay mindful of as you consider nutrient-dense food for a healthier lifestyle.


Fat is Fabulous

Healthy fat is incredibly important to your health. It is especially important for brain health, as the brain is composed of a minimum sixty percent fat cells. Healthy fat also slows digestion so the body can absorb nutrients. You can find healthy fat in both animal and plant proteins like meat, fish, dairy, nuts, beans, olives and avocados. Get to know your food sources and attempt to purchase organic, non-GMO, grass-fed, free-range, and hormone-free options.


Sugar Blues

An imbalance of sugar intake creates an imbalance of serotonin, which regulates blood sugar concentration. Next thing you know you are on the "food-mood roller coaster." Choose low-glycemic sugar sources when you want something a little sweet. Dark chocolate (seventy percent cacao or more is best) is a good substitute. Dark chocolate stimulates the nervous system to produce endorphins similar to those you feel when you're in love. For fruit lovers, berries with a clean protein such as nuts and seeds (to curb glucose spike) can be especially satisfying.


Water Wellness

Our bodies are composed of sixty percent water. Keeping hydrated helps your body release toxins and keeps the gastrointestinal tract moving smoothly. The brain requires a delicate balance of water and other elements to function properly (which might explain that mid-day headache). Avoid soda, energy drinks, and juice, as they are full of sugar and chemicals. How much water you should drink depends on your level of activity. Plan on a minimum of sixty-four ounces a day (more if you are exercising). Water is the most essential element to our life, so drink up!


Gut Health

Food and mood have a direct connection with gut health. Many people do not understand how important a healthy gastrointestinal environment is. The gut has over one hundred million nerve cells, and is considered our bodies "second brain." Gut illness has been linked to anxiety and depression, along with nutrient deficiencies which can lead to chronic disease. For gut health pay attention to what foods create gas, bloating, or constipation. If you are regularly experiencing these types of issues you may want to consider seeking professional assistance through a qualified health care professional like a naturopath. You can support gut health with quality probiotics, food enzymes and by incorporating fermented foods such as pickled vegetables, kombucha, and keifer into your diet.


Eat the Rainbow

Green: Asparagus, Swiss chard boost mood, contain anti-aging properties and nitric oxide for heart health. Any dark leafy greens will provide the body with an amazing amount of nutrients.


Red: Cherries act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Tomatoes have lycopene which protects against depression causing inflammation. Beets provide heart health support through vasodilation properties.


Blue/Purple: Blueberries, purple grapes, and eggplant neutralize free radicals that cause damage to our DNA. Blue and purple produce contain properties which act as anti-carcinogen, which can help battle against growth of cancer cells.


White: Cauliflower contains sulfur compounds associated with fighting cancer, strengthening bone tissue, and maintaining healthy blood vessels. Coconut has been shown to boost mood.


Yellow and Orange: The vitamin C in yellow produce creates collagen, which is essential for blood vessels, skin, and organ health. Potatoes, winter squash and apricots are foods high in potassium and assist with vasodilation for increased blood circulation.


Make nutrient dense food readily available in your home and office. Choose real and clean foods which build brain power, long-lasting energy, and make you feel super-charged! You may never fully understand how your health is changing for the better, but your mind and body will thank you with the gift of wellness.

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Tags:  health  wellbeing  wellness 

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Digital Detachment- How unplugging is essential for your health and well-being

Posted By Karmen L. Bickel, Monday, March 9, 2020

We live in an age of unrestrained technological growth. As a result, our digital consumption has left many of us feeling isolated and unfulfilled. In March many people will pause to acknowledge National Day of Unplugging, which is a 24-hour global respite from technology (sundown to sundown. This respite is to remind us to reconnect with each other, nature and ourselves.


On average, Americans spend more than half of their waking lives staring at a screen. This type of technology fixation has been linked to a number of negative health effects, both physical and emotional. Technology may have “connected” us through social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, but studies reflect loneliness and anxiety are actually growing…at a staggering rate.


The facts around our digital use are shocking. Our digital over-consumption has been shown to negatively affect our relationships, work performance, and personal identity. Child development studies have revealed social media promotes narcissism, anxiety, reduced empathy and insomnia in young adults. Other statistics around online use reflect the same dim forecast for working adults.

·         One out of ten Americans report depression; heavy Internet users are 2.5 times more likely to be depressed

·         61% admit to being addicted to the Internet and their smart devices

·         The average employee checks 40 websites a day, switching activities 37 times an hour, changing tasks every two minutes. However, only 2% of people can actually multi-task without a decline in performance.


Human beings have an incredible talent for adapting to their environments. Along with the increase in technology use, we also have voracious appetites for knowledge, adventure, creativity, and community. There’s no time like the present to reconnect with family, friends, nature, and yourself. But how do we disconnect to reconnect? Take a moment to address how the following practices may assist you during a digital detox, and start paving a path to a more balanced and healthy lifestyle.

·         Practice gratitude and mindfulness

·         Get outdoors and play

·         Find your community and cultivate social connections

·         Discover your purpose

·         Create a smart device alarm to reduce screen time

·         Practice JoMo – Joy of Missing Out


Be prepared for some aspect of digital withdraw, but know the symptoms are temporary. Start with one goal you can achieve. Perhaps it’s a specific reduction in hours spent on the Internet. Maybe you delete one social media App. Consider turning your Smart phone off during certain hours of the day, and set your phone to Do Not Disturb between the hours of 10:00 pm and 7:00 am. Each of these goals are specific and attainable, and allow for time and consideration for deeper connections with those you love, along with your own personal enrichment.



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Tags:  health  stress  well bring 

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Floods, Tornados, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Posted By Karmen L. Bickel, Thursday, March 8, 2018

Floods, Tornados, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

By Cindy Ferguson MA, LPC 


Have you wondered if Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could be affecting you or a loved one? Trauma symptoms may very well be affecting you, even if you have not experienced a life-threatening event, and even if you do not qualify for the diagnosis of PTSD.

First responders and survivors of catastrophic events are faced with the crisis of immediate survival and safety, and then coping with the aftermath on many levels. But there are also many people bearing emotional wounds who have been exposed to traumatic events on a smaller scale, but a diagnosis of PTSD doesn’t fit what happened to them. How would you know if treatment might helpful?

Mental health counselors will tell you that trauma events come in many forms –more than the monstrous or life-threatening ones. What kinds of symptoms or problems would we be looking for diagnosis and treatment of trauma-related symptoms?

As a counselor who often works with trauma-impacted individuals, there are various symptoms that might be noticeable:

- Overreaction is one common red flag. Do you find that in certain situations, your reaction is much more extreme than the situation called for? This overreaction might be in the form of avoidance, startle, anger, panic attack, or irrational fear. It will be associated with something associated with the troubling event.

- Onset of heightened arousal such as being verbally or physically aggressive, irritable, easily startled, or angry. This might also appear as anxiety.

- The onset of sleeping problems. This can be difficult to notice for a person suffering from pre-existing insomnia, but you may notice new problems with intrusive memories or thinking obsessively about that adverse event when trying to fall asleep or upon awakening during the night. Distressing nightmares associated with the event may also happen.

- Exaggerated negative beliefs about yourself and others can take over even though you might also recognize the thought is irrational. For example, “I’m a bad person” “I can’t be safe” “I’m not good enough” are beliefs that can affect other areas of living.

- The persistence of a negative mood that blocks out happiness, satisfaction, or loving feelings.

Here’s an example:

An employee at a care home for people with Alzheimer’s is knocked down by a patient who is angry about a change in routine. The worker, Jan, knows this is a symptom of the disease, and it was not a personal attack. Jan was caught off guard by the situation, but admits it wasn’t a big deal and was not injured beyond slight reddening of the skin. Jan was instructed to take a couple of days off work before returning. However, she finds that at the thought of returning, she becomes overwhelmed with strong, negative feelings and decides to call-in sick. On the day she plans to return to work, she become noticeably anxious, her heart is racing and she feels nervous just driving towards work. She feels embarrassed to talk about it with her co-workers because this was not an unusual situation in her field. After her shifts, she continues to think about what happened, especially at bed time, making it hard to fall asleep. Jan is affected by this assault even though it was not a serious threat to her life. If the problem persists, it could impact her employment.

What NOT to do after trauma

- If you are having troubling symptoms associated with bad things that have happened, be careful on coping with your distress:

- Substance abuse. Using alcohol or other drugs to help you sleep, or to decrease your level of distress can cause serious long-term problems.

- Avoidance of people or social activities. Recognize that part of the healing process is receiving support and connection to other people. When you isolate yourself too much to decrease your stress, you may have even more negative thoughts and feelings like sadness and fear.

- Working too much. This type of avoidance leads to poor self-care and social isolation.

Self-help and Coping

- Talk to others to give and receive support

- Relaxation methods such as yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, prayer, singing

- You can talk to your doctor about your symptoms, or see a counselor

For more information, here is an excellent self-help guide through the
Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration.


About the Author:

Cindy is a licensed mental health therapist on the counseling team at Cascade Centers EAP. Her experience and training has focused on adults with mental health problems, especially related to trauma, as well as dealing with transitions and life stresses.



Tags:  Anxiety  PTSD  Stress 

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Negotiating among Workplace Dictators

Posted By Chris Sheesley, Thursday, November 30, 2017

By Chris Sheesley, MA


“You wouldn’t negotiate with Hitler, would you?” was Michelle’s response to my invitation to help her address some long brewing workplace disagreements with her supervisor, Kaylie. Michelle was equating her colleague-a woman with management responsibilities, a loving family and friends-with Adolf Hitler. I’ll give you a moment to marvel at Michelle’s talent for hyperbole.


Then I’ll invite you to reflect. Think about employees experiencing conflict within organizations you’re familiar with and how they tend to vilify each other. This demonizing arises naturally from the fact that people in conflict seldom treat each other well. The typical pattern of action and reaction often leads to a belief that each side is intending to harm the other. It’s not much of a leap to believe that the “harmer” is a thoroughly malicious human being.


An In-Accord resolution case adds some dimension to these tendencies. Following a costly and ultimately failed organizational change effort Dan, the CEO, and a senior manager named Kevin were left with deep rifts in their working relationship. Kevin was also married to an employee in a different department which compounded the negative dynamics because they inevitably riled each other up during off hour conversations. By the time they entered the resolution effort with me, they’d convinced themselves that the CEO was a “lying, incompetent phony” who set out to intentionally humiliate Kevin. For his part Dan believed that Kevin was actively sabotaging both his leadership and even the entire organization. As in many similar cases, both sides perceived the other not as they were, but though filtered images they’d created of each other.


As illustrated above, this narrow view of the other side is exacerbated by the way feuding employees seek affirmation for their opinions. Rather than talking to people who might disabuse them of their negative impressions (e.g. Kaylie’s close associates and friends or someone other than Kevin’s spouse) they grumble to people most likely to agree with them. As a result, their complaints become amplified in an echo chamber of sympathy and agreement. The echo they hear most is, “Wow she must really be awful to treat you that way.” The complainer’s blamelessness ascends while the image of the adversary devolves further in to someone really unsavory… perhaps even a little Joseph Stalin. As an organizational leader, here’s where you come in.


Let’s assume these employee conflicts are like 95% of the ones people in organizational life experience. There are different perspectives held by basically good, sensible people (no Pol Pots here). In cases like this your responsibility is to interrupt the negative echoes. Here are five measures you can use to restore perspective.


Understand vilification: A key reason people demonize the other side is to justify their own attitudes and actions. It’s permissible to be nasty if we believe our opponent is Benito Mussolini.


Don’t amplify the echo: Consciously stay above the fray by listening in an empathetic, but neutral, manner. Refuse to add your voice to the negative critique of the other side.


Defang it by normalizing it: Highlight the simple truth that people treat each other poorly when they’re in fierce conflict. It’s more a statement about the

nature of conflict than an indictment of the character of the other person.


Highlight the personal cost: Help each side see the corrosive effect of demonizing the other person. As a client recently shared with me, “Over the course of this fight I’ve become a person I never intended to be.” It’s been said that anger does more harm to the vessel in which it’s stored than the object on which it’s poured.


Advocate direct dialogue: Encourage discussion and negotiation between the opponents. There’s no better way to change the script from “he’s evil” to “he has a legitimate point of view” than through skillfully facilitated, face to face conversation. It was through a constructive dialogue and negotiation process like this that Dan and Kevin reconsidered their skewed perceptions of each other. Among their 12-point final agreement were commitments such as:


·         To discuss controversial topics (e.g. personnel issues, fundamental organizational changes) face-to-face.

·         To engage in conversation about controversial issues… until both are confident we understand the other’s perspective.

·         To debrief any negative exchanges within 24 hours.




Leaders like you can't add your weight to either side of a workplace conflict and expect your partisanship to foster resolution. It’s healthier and more productive to help people see each other, as well as their own role, more objectively.


So, the next time an employee compares a coworker to a despotic megalomaniac, you’ll know it’s time to encourage some perspective. 


About the author


Chris Sheesley, MA, puts derailed workplace relationships back on track. Senior leaders and HR professionals rely on his 26 years of full time experience to transform seemingly impossible internal disputes into cooperation and productivity. His track record of over 1,750 cases, places him among the most seasoned conflict management professionals on the West Coast. Contact: (503) 723-9982 or

Tags:  communication  conflict resolution  disputes  mediation 

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On Being Human in HR: The Power of "I'll Figure it Out"

Posted By Megan Leatherman, Monday, November 6, 2017

I was talking with a coaching client recently who made a major shift from the land of “I have to know everything” to “I will figure it out.”

“I will figure it out.” What an empowering mantra.

In an increasingly complex world, taking an “I will figure it out” stance is much more impactful (and realistic). Besides, since when did we all decide that to be an expert meant knowing how to do everything, and perfectly?

What if the definition of expertise included curiosity, creating the right environment in which to learn, or building a network that we can lean on when we’re not sure?

Claiming expertise in our careers is an important step along the way to becoming an influential leader. When we belittle the knowledge we do have or over-emphasize our doubts, two things usually happen:

  1. We repeat unhelpful stories in our minds that say we can’t do anything, don’t know anything, and will never amount to anything, and;

  2. We burden those around us with the task of figuring it out alone or puffing up our self-confidence enough in order to make sure the work can continue.

Owning and offering the skills we do have while staying open to the fact that we’ll always need to learn seems to be the magic formula, at least according to Kate Montgomery, my guest for this month’s column.

From audits to acquisitions and everywhere in-between, Kate has embodied the “I will figure it out” stance, and in a lot of ways she has figured it out.

Kate has worked in Human Resources since she was a fresh-faced 19-year-old placed in an assistant role by a staffing agency. While she didn’t initially intend to make it her career, she likes the problem-solving facet of the work so much that she’s stayed in it. Currently, Kate works for Impark and oversees the HR functions in their Western US region.

All of Kate’s training has been on the job, and she’s advanced in her career thanks in large part to her willingness to figure things out on the fly.

Claiming her expertise in HR and learning the ropes on her own wasn’t much of a choice, according to Kate. “I’ve often been the only person in HR, especially in manufacturing. In my early days, I’d be looking on the Internet for answers because I had no idea what the hell I was doing.” In a particularly tough role, she was asked to build up an HR department from scratch while increasing the company’s headcount from 50 to 200 and managing other departments like IT and Facilities.

Without pulling in helpful resources and continuing to move forward even if the path is unclear, a challenge that big could push someone to bury their head in the sand.

“It’s easy to be passive [in HR] or to solely be an administrator. A lot of times people don’t think very highly of us, so we have to prove our worth.”

It’s hard to prove your worth when you’re waiting for someone to offer you a seat at the table. Instead of waiting around, it’s possible to start influencing those around us in positive ways.

Kate’s been focused on strengthening her influence-muscle for a while now, and she’s done that by focusing on building relationships with peers in Operations, building rapport with managers over lunch, and asking them to put their decisions in writing if they’re set on implementing a strategy that she sees as risky.

In addition to her focus on influence, Kate claims her expertise by absorbing information from all sorts of helpful resources, and she suggests other HR professionals do the same. “Read a lot, get on a few employment law firms’ email lists, keep talking to people, and learn the critical thinking behind their decisions,” she says.

When I asked Kate what she thinks other HR professionals need the most right now, she says, “to commit to being honest and having integrity,” not just with co-workers, but especially with ourselves.

We can be really good at what we do and at the same time, need help or more information. Just because there are skills we know we need to build out or areas we’re uncomfortable in doesn’t mean that we can’t claim our status as an expert in our field.

And when we fail, which of course we will, it’s important to find solace in the arms of our peers who have also tried new things unsuccessfully. Kate emphasizes that it’s okay to be honest about our failings with people we trust and continue to get out of our comfort zones by taking risks. Like she says, “We all have dirty laundry; it’s only stinky if it stays in the closet.”

Tags:  career advancement  leadership  management 

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On Being Human in HR: When Things Fall Apart

Posted By Megan Leatherman, Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How would you handle getting the news that your organization was no longer financially solvent and would be handed over to a third party in two weeks?

This third party, a “receiver,” won’t allow you to communicate directly with your customers, it isn’t clear whether or not your employees would get paid on time, and overnight your company culture would go from a friendly, team-oriented atmosphere to a bureaucratic hierarchy.

This is what Cheryl Wunder had to manage as the Director of People & Culture at Oregon’s Health CO-OP.

Cheryl is now the Employee Engagement Manager at Ecova, but I wanted to learn more about her previous experience leading people through a dissolution, because it’s a unique and often treacherous place to be in, especially for folks in Human Resources.

Oregon’s Health CO-OP (OHC) was a new member and mission-driven health plan that endeavored to reshape how people interacted with their health insurance. Unfortunately, with its razor-thin margins and high costs, the healthcare industry was unfriendly to co-ops like OHC, and in July 2016, the leadership team abruptly found out that it couldn’t stay liquid and would immediately be taken over by the State of Oregon.

“There were tears...we all cried,” Cheryl said, and while it wasn’t a huge shock to their employees, the finality of it was still hard to swallow.

Before OHC went into voluntary receivership, it was a nimble, flat organization of about 50 employees. “We were basically like a startup,” Cheryl says. Once they went into receivership, however, the State’s contractor in charge of the receivership took control of the website, the books, social media accounts, and every other critical piece of the organization. Almost overnight, “the executive team no longer had any power, and we had to be incredibly careful with any communications externally or internally.”

When I asked Cheryl why she decided to stay on, she said that her primary focus was “on getting the employees through it. I wanted to make sure that during the layoffs, [employees] had a good, positive exit...I wanted them to feel my presence.”

To help support employees through this challenging time, Cheryl and the team focused on things like potlucks, brown bag lunches where everyone could sit and talk, and going on walks. Being able to focus on supporting the employees “actually helped get me through,” she says, but she acknowledges that it still took a toll on her physically and emotionally.

What struck me most about listening to Cheryl talk about the heaviness associated with OHC’s abrupt end was how many resources she drew upon personally and professionally in the midst of it.

By the end of our conversation, the message became clear: it’s imperative that we all prioritize and shore up the things that support us in our daily lives, because we’ll need them when we inevitably encounter major change and loss.

Cheryl is very clear about what got her through this experience, and they aren’t things we can just go get off the shelf. They’re things like: a job that was in alignment with her values, an organization with a mission she believed in, a functional leadership team, a robust network, regular self-care practices, and a firm grasp on who she is.

Without investing in these things ahead of time, her response to the receivership would probably have been a lot different. Connecting deeply to her values and to her team “helped me know that I would do it over again and like it wasn’t a mistake.”

If you found out that your organization would almost immediately dissolve, would you have the practices in place and the support you needed to lean on? Many of us take things like meaningful professional relationships and regular self-care for granted until we realize we don’t have them.

This doesn’t mean we can’t respond to crisis effectively, but when other members of the organization are looking to us for help navigating a scary and unpredictable time, it’s extra important for us to be well-equipped.

When I asked Cheryl what she’d recommend to someone facing the end of an organization, there were a few clear themes:

  1. “Reach out to your network quickly. Find others who’ve been through this.” Get their checklists, make your own, and wrap your head around all of the functional to-dos ahead of you.

  2. “Show yourself grace.” There will be grief, confusion, and many other emotions that come up for you too, so give yourself lots of room to process. “You’re gonna pick up the heaviness,” she says. So get out of the office, cut back your hours, take walks, and just breathe. Also: “it’s okay to make mistakes.”

  3. It’s also okay to jump ship! According to Cheryl, it’s “okay not to stay the distance and leave right away.” If you don’t feel like you can stay and be a positive presence, give yourself permission to move on.

  4. Recognize that people are going to react “in weird ways,” but continue to show understanding. Cheryl advocated hard for the continuance of the organization’s EAP services, which she and many others tapped into during the transition.

Finally and most importantly, Cheryl recommends that all of us, even if we don’t foresee facing something like this in the future, “know what you want out of this whole thing called ‘career.’” Cheryl knew upfront that she values things like the ability to take risks, create meaning, and have an impact on the people she works with, so staying on during OHC’s receivership was aligned for her. For someone else with different values, it may not make sense.The more self-awareness we can cultivate ahead of time, the better off we’ll be when crisis inevitably comes, whether it’s in our personal lives or in the organizations we serve.

Tags:  acquisitions  advice  leadership  mergers 

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Tools to Use When Peace Comes to Shove

Posted By Chris Sheesley, Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tools to Use When Peace Comes to Shove

Chris Sheesley, In-Accord, Inc. 


The infamous meeting all those months ago teetered on the brink of actual violence. First there was the vigorous policy discussion, then the increasingly virulent disagreement that contributed to the misinterpretation of a raised clipboard and, finally, the blocking motion with an arm… or was that a shove? Regardless of what happened, there was the icy aftermath affecting both relationships and productivity.


While few workplace conflicts get physical, the question of how to find a way back to civility after a flare-up is always there. Here are four techniques I use in workplace resolution sessions to bring employees to an accord. You can try them sequentially until one succeeds, as I did in the case I’m referencing, or use them interchangeably.


1. Small insight, larger con-sequences: “What other explanations might there be for why he raised his clipboard?” Perspective questions such as these can help someone imagine alternatives to their current, preferred theory – that’s the small insight. The larger consequence is that once someone begins to imagine how a single misperception might have led him astray, he can begin to consider that perhaps he has made other erroneous assumptions. A little light… then full sunshine.


2. So many trees, so little forest: “To start with, you were wrong about the new purchasing policy.” “Was not.” “Was too.” We know arguments about minutiae can rapidly get mired in conflicting versions of each person’s truth. Ask a mob of witnesses after the highway pile-up what color the speeding car was and you’ll hear answers across the spectrum. When trying to fix workplace conflict, it’s often more productive to shift away from details and focus on broader themes. A more philosophical conversation such as a shared aspiration for a civil working relationship, or mutual embarrassment that it nearly came to blows, can stimulate great strides. Suddenly the forest pops into view among all those tree trunks.


3. Go for the heart: “You obviously don’t agree with his version of the facts, but what can you say about the impact this has had on him?” This strategy encourages a person to by-pass the details and connect with the human being behind the facts. If he’s expressed an unprecedented dread of coming to work, or having workplace stress affect his home life, then encourage an acknowledgement, and even sympathy, regarding this angle. I’ve seen the words “I’m sorry you’re suffering” change everything.


4. Take a leap: Sometimes when you meet an immovable object (like a stance someone’s taken on an issue) the wise action is to jump over it. So, when it’s evident that resolution efforts – such as numbers 1 to 3 above – have failed, you can shift attention to another point or perhaps the future of the relationship. When everything else is resolved, that original sticking point may not seem so insurmountable after all. As a last resort, agreeing to disagree (often shorthand for never really trying to agree in the first place) is an option. Problems don’t seem as gigantic when we’re flying over them. 


By the way, you might like to know that they never fully agreed on what happened during The Great Clipboard Shove. However, what’s more important is that through facilitated discussions they reached key understandings, tangible agreements and even empathy – which mattered much more to their working relationship and the organization’s ability to get things done. 


About the author: Chris Sheesley, MA, puts derailed workplace relationships back on track. Senior leaders and HR professionals rely on his 25 years of full time experience to transform seemingly impossible internal disputes into cooperation and productivity. His track record of over 1,750 cases, places him among the most seasoned conflict management professionals on the West Coast. Contact: (503) 723-9982 or


Tags:  conflict  dispute  Mediation  resolution 

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On Being Human in HR: Putting on a Face

Posted By Megan Leatherman, Tuesday, September 5, 2017

When I was an HR Generalist at a residential energy efficiency company in Boston, I was asked at the last minute to talk to our cadre of new hires about the various things their friendly HR department could do for them.

I was asked to talk about basic things like how they could access information about their benefits, where to park, when to come to us with concerns, etc.

I remember being in a particularly frazzled and testy mood that day, but I agreed, because the other woman who was supposed to do it called  sick. I quickly reviewed the Powerpoint slides, willed myself to get up from my desk, and walked in front of that group of fresh new employees.

I did the presentation, didn’t think much of it, and was just grateful that it was over so I could get back to the huge stack of work on my desk.

Later that afternoon, my boss came by and said that he’d been in the presentation and wanted to give me some feedback. He went on to tell me how the next time I present to a group, I should go into the bathroom stall and do some Amy Cuddy-style power poses and really AMP MYSELF UP. Apparently I hadn’t come across as AMPED as I should have when talking to these people about where to park their cars.

Now, I’ll admit that I lean more toward the grumpy end of the attitudinal scale, but I think I’m perfectly friendly in my mild grumpiness, and one of the most annoying things someone can say to people like me is “perk up!”

Maybe that’s why I didn’t last in internal HR for very long. My friend Claire Malmstrom, on the other hand, has found a way to more elegantly be herself in the workplace. She’s the Director of People Operations at Cafe Yumm!, and she is my guest for this month’s column.

I wanted to talk to Claire about how HR professionals can be genuinely authentic with their employees, especially when they don’t always feel excited about the subject matter of their job, because she’s one of the most authentic people I know.

When I asked her how she would describe the typical HR-employee relationship today, she said “it’s changing from one that’s predominantly policy and procedure focused to one that’s more about a strong sense of partnership and visibility across the organization.”

Creating partnerships and visibility requires that you connect with real, in-the-flesh people, and it’s hard to do that when you feel pressured to put on a face or be more excited about parking spaces than you really are. Claire summarized what I think many HR professionals feel when she said, “Sometimes I feel like I can’t have a bad day.”

Isn’t that the truth?!

“You want to be the positive energy force of the organization,” she says, but not many people feel completely positive and motivated all day, every day - especially when they’re carrying the weight of the organization on their shoulders.

Claire’s finding more and better ways to be her authentic self in her role, but in the past, she’s felt as though she’s had to constantly “follow the rules, follow the dress code, always say nondescript, bland things that would never offend anyone, positive all the time.”

So what do you do when you feel pressured to put on a happy face all the time but you know this is getting in the way of connecting with your employees in a meaningful way?

Neither of us could really figure it out.

“To be honest, I still haven’t reconciled this,” said Claire.

And maybe the fact that we don’t have the answers for you is a good place to start, because the authenticity issue gets even murkier when we feel pressured to demonstrate our value by having answers for everyone.

But we won’t leave you hanging here, I promise.

There are four things we discussed that have helped Claire foster more meaningful and authentic relationships with the employees that she supports:

Be helpful in the way that they need.

We all know the stereotype of HR as a barrier, and Claire is circumventing this in her organization in two ways. First, she’s focused on connecting in a real way with her Restaurant Operations leader, most recently through in-the-trenches collaboration during two new store openings. She’s also symbolically made the operations and HR partnership more concrete by changing her department from “Human Resources” to “People Operations.”

Secondly, she has been intentional about offering short and informal trainings to her managers when they need them. Creating synergy with her operations team and offering real-time support make her an obvious source of accessible and relevant help.

Aspire to be the beacon of light. If you can’t, leave.

Claire and other heart-centered HR professionals really want to be, in her words, “the positive energy force of an organization.” Anytime we get into roles that conflict with our values, we can’t actually be that, and employees sense it.

It can also be easy to lose the sense of empathy we once felt for employees. In a former life, Claire processed nonjudicial foreclosure paperwork, and she found herself starting to believe that “all these people were deadbeats.” It wasn’t until she started looking more closely and seeing that many of the applicants had experienced issues like medical bankruptcy that she felt that sense of compassion again.

If we’re not able to celebrate what our organization is doing or we find our hearts hardened toward employees, it may be time to either reconnect with what inspired us about the work originally or take our gifts elsewhere.

It’s important to be fair. That might not mean treating everyone equally.

Claire comes from the legal field, and she’s developed the ability to apply the law with flexibility so that it supports people in the way that it’s designed to without being applied impersonally, which can end up harming employees and the business. How does she know what “fair” looks like to each employee? “By getting to know them as people and resisting the one-size-fits-all approach.”

Connect how you want to.

“I’ve met a lot of HR people who are introverts,” says Claire. “There’s this stereotypical image that they’re the party planner, the extrovert always out and about, but that’s like the worst part of my job.” Claire hit on the importance of connecting with people in whatever way works for us - whether it’s at the holiday party, one on one over lunch, or even over the phone.

Feeling like we have to put on a face or “perform” at work is exhausting, and it limits how effectively we can connect with others at work.

In talking about this issue with Claire, I was able to see how the spoken and unspoken rules of conduct for HR professionals can muddy the waters so much that we end up floating lost in a sea of isolation and pressure to be something that we’re not. When we let go of that pressure and focus more on building connections that feel authentic to us, we can create the partnerships and visibility that are so pivotal to the HR role.

Tags:  authenticity  friendship  professional development 

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Introducing "On Being Human in HR"

Posted By Megan Leatherman, Thursday, August 3, 2017
Updated: Thursday, August 3, 2017

When I think back to my stint as an internal HR professional, one of the first words I’d use to describe the experience is lonely.


I was new to the city, new to the company, and new to HR. One of the first unspoken rules that I picked up on from others in the department was: “make sure it looks like you know what you’re doing.”


Except that I didn’t know what I was doing. My boss gave me instructions, and she was very kind and supportive, but I put a lot of pressure on myself to give off an air of total competence and expertise - especially in front of our employees.


It’s exhausting and isolating to maintain a facade like this, and it becomes even more so when you can’t talk to anyone about it.


I work with a lot of HR professionals in my coaching practice, and I hear things from them that many of us aren’t comfortable sharing with our peers. Things like:

  • “I don’t believe in what my company does, but I feel like I have to put on my “rah rah” face so people stay motivated.”
  • “I’m the only one in my department who knows our doors won’t be open in six months and the weight of it is killing me.”
  • “My CEO is verbally abusive, but there’s no one I can talk to about it.”
  • “I’m crumbling under the volume of work in front of me. I don’t think I can do this anymore.”


Those are heavy burdens to carry on our own, and they get extra heavy when we have to lug them around to networking events or workshops and pretend like they don’t exist. We smoothly pull out our business cards while wincing under the weight of the overstuffed pack on our backs.


I’ve witnessed how incredibly moving it can be to have someone in a professional setting tell us, “I get it,” or “Me too.” Suddenly those heavy packs full of imposter syndrome, pretending, or fear become a little lighter and we can move forward in the way that we always intended: as helpful, competent, and empowered human beings.


This monthly column, On Being Human in HR, aims to address the loneliness that can become rampant in a field like ours where we’re expected to maintain a high level of confidentiality and professionalism.


Each month, I’ll focus on how each of us can dig deeper into our own humanity and connectedness in order to do work that’s even better and more impactful to our organizations.


I’ll leave the technical topics to the experts in the PHRMA community and interview brave HR professionals who are willing to talk to me about what it’s really like to be a whole, complex person in this evolving field.


My hope is that in their stories, you’ll hear a “me too” and start to feel less isolated in your own experience. It will take a group effort to dismantle the walls of pretending and loneliness that can creep up in our profession. If you or someone you know might be willing to have coffee with me and share your story for this column, please email me at megan(at) I’d love to meet you.


Coming up in September: I’ll be sharing insights from myself and another HR professional about how awkward it can be to show up authentically with employees and discuss some ways they’ve pushed through the “HR Lady” stereotype to create an atmosphere of trust and connection.

Tags:  burnout  HR  imposter syndrome  isolation 

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