Remember When? Help Now from Then

Then. When the world as we knew it came to an alarming stop in March 2020, there were so many unknowns. In lockdown limbo, we learned how much we took for granted: meeting with friends; exchanging handshakes and hugs; going to an office or workplace; in-person grocery shopping; attending family, school, sports, and other social activities; etc.

We managed to get through it as medical and mental health providers helped us cope with our all-consuming stress back then. For example, here’s a set of “quarantine questions” I found online when we were struggling with anxiety at the pandemic’s outset.

Now. The same questions are worth sharing today because they’re timeless, regardless of what individual and collective difficulties we face.

I’d add a 7th question to this list, however:
What lightness in the form of good-natured humor am I sharing to generate smiles and laughter today?

[Original source of quarantine questions unknown]

Engagement Musings

Time for a Play Date with Your Inner Child

The arrival of spring combined with advent of mass COVID vaccinations is the perfect time to refresh ourselves as we emerge from our winter cocoons and quarantines. This year in particular, it’s also the perfect opportunity to safely indulge in a little fun with a re-visit to one’s inner child. Here’s why:

“We’re living in a world that’s more conducive to anxiety than playfulness … Play offers a reprieve from the chaos, and it challenges us to connect with a key part of ourselves that gets lost in the responsibilities of adulthood, especially during a crisis.” Kristin Wong

Here are several play date ideas for you to safely engage your inner child:

  • read a favorite story book or book of poems from childhood
  • weather permitting, roll down a grassy hill … look for four-leaf clovers in a green field … play hopscotch …
  • share favorite childhood memories with friends (and they don’t even have to be the ones you made the memories with)
  • dance to the music of a favorite band or recording artist from your youth
  • bake a family favorite cake or batch of cookies
  • draw pictures with crayons or color in a coloring book [Remember the scent of opening a fresh box of Crayola crayons?]
  • build with clay, LEGO® bricks, or other building materials
  • read comic books or race Hot Wheels® or Matchbox cars
  • watch your favorite childhood cartoons or movies [I love that I can now watch an hour of Bugs Bunny & Friends on Saturday mornings!]

Whatever your inner child decides to do, be playful … whimsical … let your imagination take you wherever it leads … Just let go and enjoy.

“What all play has in common is that it offers a sense of engagement and pleasure, takes the player out of a sense of time and place, and the experience of doing it is more important than the outcome.” Stuart Brown

[Image by Gustavo Rezende from Pixabay]


Engagement Training & Development

“Hands down, face-to-face is the best” (pun intentional)

Confession: I have as much fun talking about LEGO® bricks as I do working with them.

I actually use these colorful plastic building blocks in team development as a Certified Facilitator in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) – a novel approach that enables participants to “think with their hands and listen with their eyes.”

I had a special opportunity to share why I find this hands-on method so powerful with fellow LSP facilitator, Peter Tonge, host of “LSP – Face-to-Face,” a podcast produced primarily for the global LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitator community. Peter is a member of the Brickstorming team whose founder, the brilliant Kristen Klassen, trained me in LSP.

In our conversation we discuss some of my favorite early participant LSP models (shown here in this post) to illustrate the power of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® in people’s hands. I’m amazed how deeply participants engage in individual and collective discovery as they create and share their models with each other. That’s why this hands-on approach must be held in-person — LSP’s potent immersive experience cannot be duplicated in a virtual setting.

One of my takeaways from our discussion was this insightful quote from Peter, “The [LSP] Method doesn’t require it to be complicated. The Method requires it to be thoughtful.” This quote ties in with why I cite the single grey brick as one of my favorites. Take a listen to learn more, including what the models included in this post mean.

A special thank you to Peter for allowing me to post our conversation here.



What to Ask When You Want to Feel Grateful

[Note: Not just in the spirit of Thanksgiving, but all year long we can be thankful. That’s why I love this post from Curt Rosengren, “Passion Catalyst” dedicated to helping others “love their work and change their world in a way that feels personally meaningful to them.”

Special thanks to Curt for allowing me to share this on my blog. For more great content, check out his Aliveness & Impact Blog.]

35 Gratitude-Prompting Questions That Can Change Your Life
by Curt Rosengren

How much is there in your life to be grateful for? How frequently do you notice it? If you’re like most of us, you’re probably leaving a lot of opportunity for gratitude on the table. And that’s unfortunate, because it can have a powerfully positive impact on your life.

I often call gratitude the well-being wonder-drug. Extensive research has shown a wide range of benefits, including increased happiness, improved relationships, better physical health, and less depression. It can even help you sleep better.

There are many ways to incorporate a gratitude practice into your life, from gratitude journaling, to writing a daily thank you letter, to making it a goal to find 10 things to say thank you for each day.

However you decide to bring gratitude into your day, it all starts with one thing – noticing!

Until you start to build that automatic gratitude muscle, that can sometimes feel easier said than done. Most of our lives are awash in things to be grateful for, but we are so busy with life, its worries and preoccupations, that we don’t always see them.

To help you get started, here are 35 gratitude-prompting questions to explore.

  1. Who do I appreciate?
  2. How am I fortunate?
  3. What material possessions am I thankful for?
  4. What abilities do I have that I’m grateful for?
  5. What about my surroundings (home/neighborhood/city/etc.) am I thankful for?
  6. What experiences have I had that I am grateful for?
  7. What happened today/yesterday/this week/this month/this year that I am grateful for?
  8. What opportunities do I have that I am thankful for?
  9. What have others in my life done that I am thankful for?
  10. What have others done that I am benefiting from in my life (even if I don’t know who those people are)?
  11. What relationships am I thankful for?
  12. What am I taking for granted that, if I stop to think about it, I am grateful for?
  13. What is there about the challenges/difficulties I have experienced (or am currently experiencing) that I can be thankful for? (e.g., What have I learned? How have I grown?)
  14. What is different today than it was a year ago that I’m thankful for?
  15. What insights have I gained that I am grateful for?
  16. What am I able to offer others that I am grateful for?
  17. What opportunities to help others am I thankful for?
  18. What can I find to be grateful for in this very moment? (Challenge yourself. Make it a game.)
  19. What do I see right now (with your eyes) that I can be grateful for?
  20. What is associated with something I’m grateful for that I can be grateful for? (For example, if you’re grateful for the cup of coffee you’re enjoying, there’s the potential to be grateful for everything that went into it – the farmer who grew it, the earth it grew in, the sunshine and rain, the people who picked it, the business and people who involved in getting it from there to where you are, the roasters, etc.).
  21. What can I enjoy right now that I can be grateful for? (For example, looking out my window I’m enjoying the color contrast of a branch of a juniper tree that has both live green and dead brown tips – when I really stop and notice it, it’s quite pretty.)
  22. What do I hear that I am grateful for (birds? music? the sound of children giggling?)
  23. What do I normally take for granted that I am grateful for (clean and readily available drinking water? flush toilets? an abundance of food?)
  24. What interaction(s) have I had lately that I’m grateful for? (the funny barista? the gentle smile from the person you walked past in the grocery store? the compliment from a co-worker?)
  25. What have I learned lately that I’m grateful for?
  26. Who am I grateful to for teaching me something lately?
  27. What do I get to do that I’m grateful for? (hobbies? work you enjoy? helping someone? going to a good movie?)
  28. How have other people helped me that I’m grateful for?
  29. What opportunities to help others have I had that I can be grateful for?
  30. What do I find fascinating? Can I be grateful for that fascination?
  31. What emotional feelings am I grateful for right now?
  32. What physical sensations am I grateful for right now?
  33. What is the subtlest thing I can notice that I can be grateful for? (a gentle breeze? the lingering smell of a delicious meal?)
  34. What have I seen others do that I can feel grateful for seeing (chasing somebody down to return money they dropped? giving up a seat on a crowded bus? giving a stranger a genuine compliment?)
  35. How is my life made easier? Who contributes to that?

My own gratitude practice ebbs and flows. When it flows – when I prime the pump and really start noticing what’s there – it never fails to blow me away how much there is to be grateful for. And the more I notice to be grateful for, the better it feels.

And my life isn’t particularly unusual or special. As you go deeper into gratitude, I have no doubt that you will find the same to be true for you.

Try making it a 30-day experiment. You could write a daily gratitude journal. Or keep a notebook with you and jot down things to be grateful for as you notice them. Maybe you can do a daily gratitude exchange with a friend or family member, sharing something you’re thankful for that day (perfect for the family dinner table). I particularly like the idea of taking one question a day and doing a deep dive using that question as a lens.

However you do it, gratitude is a gift you can give yourself that can pay big dividends.

[Image credit: photo by Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash]

Engagement Musings

Not So Different – Helping Children Understand

He’s a writer of a popular blog, a book author, and sports freak.

He’s cofounder of a growing nonprofit that helps others live better.

He’s an in-demand speaker for audiences that range from elementary schools to universities to pharmaceutical companies.

He loves to travel with his girlfriend and his family.

He’s Shane Burcaw, and his new children’s book about what it’s like living with a disability was just released. 

This book is so Shane

Based on the questions he’s typically asked (Why is your head so much bigger than the rest of your body? …  How do you play with your friends? … Do people ever make fun of you?), Shane explains how he lives with spinal muscular atrophy. He describes why and how he relies on his family and friends to help him get dressed, shower, eat, and go to the bathroom — written in his inimitable style — with humor, directness, and a positive attitude.

Shane advocates the “power of positivity” in his writing and his nonprofit, Laughing At My Nightmare, to help others better cope with stress and adversity. Shane wrote his new book to help children understand that people who look different aren’t so different after all.

So many of the social stigmas that people with disabilities face could be squashed if we were able to instill in young people the idea that we are all different; we have different strengths, weaknesses, and abilities, and that’s not just okay, it’s beautiful.” 

I highly recommend Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability and have already bought several copies: one for my personal library and the others to share.

It’s a great gift idea for children, schools, and libraries.

Engagement Training & Development

Engaging Workplace Wisdom — Tips on What Works to Engage Others

While I typically speak about employee/volunteer engagement with people currently active in the workforce, the prospect of being with an audience of retirees was too good to pass up.

My recent session for Penn State Lehigh Valley’s SAGE Lecture Series was designed with a dual purpose: 1) share the current state of workplace engagement and 2) tap into the rich reservoir of the audience’s job experiences to be shared with students. Twenty-six students also participated as part of their Intercultural Community-Building class – a first-year experience course that introduces students “to the concepts of identity and multiculturalism, and encourage them to engage in interactive discussions with others,” according to Kristy Weidner Hove, instructor and Institutional Planning Coordinator at Lehigh Valley Penn State.

After discussing the importance of engagement and what leads people to engage or disengage on the job, the audience broke into small groups of retirees and students to share their experiences in the workplace. Each breakout group then identified and shared their top three tips on engaging employees, volunteers, and co-workers.

Here are the resulting tips, compiled and organized by Kristy Hove, that reflect a variety of leadership, management, and collaborative practices based on actual experience.

Penn State Lehigh Valley SAGE Workshop


  • Don’t just hear what others have to say but listen to them and retain what they say.
  • At all levels, the person must be able to listen as a sign of respect.


  • Respond to others in a way that indicates you understand them.
  • Communicate among each other and comment whenever the person did well.
  • Find a way that works to communicate with the group; i.e., face-to-face or online.


  • Acknowledge people at all levels, both intrinsically and concrete incentives.
  • Give credit to the person who comes up with the idea; mention his or her name in front of the group or boss.
  • Create an environment for recognizing and rewarding achievement.


  • Learn people’s names.
  • For new employees or volunteers, ask the people they’ll be working with to introduce themselves and what they do.


  • Ask volunteers what they’d like to do. Explain you’ll try to accommodate if you can. Leaders need to be prepared for alternative, unexpected requests.


  • Team work makes the dream work.
  • Group activities and communication help with teamwork.


  • Create an environment where employees enjoy what they are doing.
  • Attitude – people will mirror what they see.


  • Recognize the value of socialization. Some groups value the “journey” and inclusion as much as achievement.
  • Provide opportunities for social introductions.
  • Social gatherings can help with comfortability/familiarity .
  • Encourage openness among employees.
  • Find a friend at work.


  • Show sincere respect and interest in people.
  • Management should maintain distance and yet be open to employees and their ideas.
  • Recognize abilities and limitations of the employees.
  • Act responsibly.
  • Treat everyone equally (Golden Rule).

Special thanks to Diane McAloon, Community & Alumni Outreach, and Kristy Hove for helping with this special workshop, and to all retirees and students for their active participation.

Customer service Engagement Marketing

How to (Gently) End a Customer Relationship

good-bye blue-1477872_960_720When I asked other business professionals when it’s best to lose a customer or client, the reasons boiled down to the customer’s lack of respect and not being fully committed to the working relationship. Examples cited included:

  • difficult interactions with or mistreating customer-contact employees
  • being unresponsive and uncooperative
  • paying late or not at all.

The question then is how do you actually end such a business relationship in these situations? The best advice on “how to fire a customer” comes from customer-loyalty consultant and best-selling author, Chip R. Bell:

“Firing a customer is a bit like disarming a bomb; ‘very carefully’ is the operative term. The goals is to subdue animosity without scattering aftermath. Sometimes customers are so incensed at losing a favorite punching bag — even though it’s actually you who’s ‘lost’ them — they can move quickly from anger to vindictiveness, seeking opportunities to punish, not just put down. You can limit your chance of such backlash by handling firings in cool-headed but still sensitive ways.”

When terminating a business relationship based on the first two examples — when the customer has become abusive or difficult to deal with — Bell cautions against taking an angry, defensive, or otherwise emotional approach to avoid fueling the customer’s anger at ending the relationship.

” … a rational explanation for why a continued relationship will harm your business—how harsh treatment of service reps impairs productivity, or how a difficult relationship steals time from other deserving customers—should be your modus operandi here. The goal is to give the customer a signal that he or she is unwelcome if the unwanted behavior persists.  ‘Ms. Jones, I must ask you to leave. The morale of our associates is critically important to their well-being and to the well-being of our organization. While we are by no means perfect, our employees must not be repeatedly subjected to actions that demean them as people.’

Bell also advises a rational approach when the issue is based on the bottom line, such as the client not paying.

“[Emphasize] how a continued relationship will negatively affect the business, not on how a parting of ways will make your long-suffering staff feel like it’s just won the lottery.  ‘Mr. Jones, we’ve greatly appreciated your business for the last year. We have elected to apply our limited resources in a new direction and will not be soliciting your business in the near future. Should you want to continue our relationship it will likely need to be at a (higher price, greater volume, faster cycle time, lower cost, etc.).’

Granted, none of this is easy in a competitive and challenging marketplace. But it is essential to stand up for your employees and organizational principles. As Bell explains:

” … courageously ending relationships with customers who continually turn the blowtorch on the front line, or who over time siphon more funds from the bottom line than they return, sends a message about what you stand for as an organization.”

[Note: above excerpts cited with permission from Chip Bell’s book, “Wired and Dangerous,” co-authored with John R. Patterson.]

Customer service Training & Development

When It’s Best to Lose a Customer or Client

Despite the best intentions, there are times when it’s necessary to give up a customer or client. The reasons vary, as I learned when I asked colleagues why they stopped working with customers.

In their own words (and in no particular order), here’s what they said about terminating customer/client relationships.

It’s time to cut a customer/client loose when …

  • “Every time we did work for this one company, the marketing director would go out of her way to find 40 things wrong with the project to try to get it for free.” Ad agency executive
  • “1) The client/customer becomes abusive to you or your staff, 2) lies to you, and 3) doesn’t pay his or her bills. Not always in that order.” Marketing researcher
  • “You’ve lost enthusiasm for them.” Ron Strauss, Founder and CEO, Brandzone
  • “1) Project after project, year after year the business isn’t profitable. 2) They don’t respect your team — meaning they take advantage of the client/vendor relationship and always are mean, disrespectful and basically just not nice! This leads to a heavy toll on your team and usually means more turnover.” CEO research supplier

It’s time to cut a customer/client loose when …

  • “Your work together is no longer fun or engaging for both of you, lacks mutual respect or when there is a mismatch of values.” Jane Wells Schooley, Executive Leadership Coach and Educator
  • “The relationship has deteriorated to the point that it is affecting staff morale.” Marketing Consultant
  • “They are asking you to do something that goes against your ethics or your professional judgment.” Dennis Fischman, Chief Communicator, Communicate! Consulting
  • “They are not ‘all in.’ Meaning they are not doing the work, engaged in conversation, or showing progress.” Meridith Elliott Powell, Business Growth Expert & Keynote Speaker
  • “The thrill is gone; i.e., when I’ve lost enthusiasm for the project due to any number of circumstances including (a) the client is never satisfied; (b) the client is unresponsive and/or uncooperative; (c) the client hasn’t paid for work I’ve already done; etc.” Writer/editor

It’s time to cut a customer/client loose when …

  • You find you can no longer serve their interests in good faith and are on the border of losing your professionalism.” Senior Communications Consultant with a 20+ year history in consulting
  • They’re yanking your chain. When a client does not provide the necessary information for you to be able to complete their work in a timely manner. I understand ‘what can happen will happen’when it comes to business. However, I also know when they’re procrastinating with the tasks at hand. Client satisfaction travels on a two-way street.” Chuck Holder  LLC, Business Consulting
  • “They say ‘your competition is saying they can do it for $X.’  The reason that is a ‘move on’ statement is two-fold:
    1. They’ve already been talking to my competition to get a price which means they don’t see me as a partner anymore but simply another ‘vendor.’ Normally, if you’re a partner, they would address pricing way before they get a quote from a competitor and may even tell you they will be checking to see what the market is showing for your services. That is normal. Doing it behind your back shows a lack of respect for the relationship.
    2. They’ve decided what you are providing is a commodity and can be bought on the open market. Somehow your ‘unique’ value-add that got you the business (assuming you didn’t buy it in the first place with the lowest bid) is no longer unique nor value-add. You’re just another line item.
      These two things combined typically mean you’ve moved past a collaborative, supportive, reciprocal business relationship and have entered the dreaded ‘vendor zone.'” Paul Hebert, Senior Director, Solutions Architecture, Creative Group, Inc.

Respect and trust matter in professional business relationships — among service providers and their customers/clients.

Special thanks to the business professionals who shared their responses here. (Names or general titles listed by respondent preference.)



Revisiting the Old “New Different” for Marketers

It’s been nearly seven years since I featured excerpts from Chris Bonney‘s white paper, The View from the Front, about adapting to the recession in my post, Help For Marketers Dealing with the “New Different.”

Back then …

What’s amazing to me is how little conditions have actually changed since Chris described them in 2009:

  • “Consumers have become dangerously polarized over even the most innocuous of subjects. Political feelings have become so polarized among some people that this anxiety has spilled over into the consumer marketplace.”
  • “Trust in institutions isn’t what it used to be. Whether in religion, commerce, sports, government, science or technology, individual and institutional models of propriety and high ethical standards are, well, fewer.”
  • “There are not just new words in our vocabulary, but entire new ways of interacting with other people. [Social media] has its own patois and a different level of engagement and expectation than traditional verbal and written communications. Navigating this new way of communicating is more than just plugging your old communications techniques into ‘social media.'”
  • “We are undeniably part of a complex global economy. One of the biggest battles raging in the United States … is between the nationalists and the internationalists. The former thinks it’s as easy as throwing up a wall. The latter embrace the variety and connectedness of a wider world life.”
  • “We don’t use information like we used to … We’ve evolved from a nation that had fewer, but more reliable sources of news and information into a nation of self-selecting information consumers … News and information [also] has a much briefer half-life.

And now …

Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup CEO, reflects on the reality of today’s business environment in a more recent article, Human Age 2.0: Future Forces at Work:

“Many expected that as the recession subsided the world would return to business as usual. That hasn’t happened. The recovery is unlike any other and so is the business environment. Both are less stable and harder to predict, yielding new challenges and opportunities. Businesses will need to plan for uncertainty and be built for change. What is certain is the uncertainty that lies ahead and that we will see the effects of this acceleration of structural and cyclical forces.”

What’s a marketer to do?

How do you effectively compete in a continuing uncertain market? I agree with Chris, who advocates going back to the fundamentals in recognizing that consumers STILL:

  • “need reasons and confidence to spend.”
  • “need to know how products and services will enhance and integrate into their lives.”
  • “want something to get excited about.”

And we, as marketers, still “need to understand how to communicate with consumers in ways that are relevant and timely.”


How to Keep Your Employees Engaged During the Holidays

The last few weeks of the calendar year are stressful in the workplace as people become distracted preparing for the holidays. Employees can be overwhelmed with year-end reporting and planning deadlines just as everyone else seems to be using up the last of their vacation days. And those at work may be so into the holiday frenzy that they’ve mentally checked out.

Here are five ways managers can help employees stay on-task and engaged during the holiday season.

  • Keep employees mission-focused, customer-focused, and connected.
    Respectfully remind employees how year-end projects and planning are critical to your company’s mission and goals. Make time to recognize employees’ individual and collective efforts in taking care of customers and each other as the year winds down.
  • Acknowledge and alleviate seasonal stresses.
    Consider what you can do ahead of time to minimize year-end pressures such as starting your business planning cycle earlier (if feasible) to avoid a planning crunch when fewer people are at work. Or schedule the employee holiday lunch or dinner party in January when there are fewer social activities; this also gives employees something to look forward to after the holidays.
  • Ask employees to share their ideas.
    Go to the source and solicit suggestions from your employees as to what might be done to improve productivity during this time of year — whether in a special discussion at staff meetings or as a project for a designated employee task force.
  • Inspire and de-stress.
    • Invite employees to share with each other how they cope with seasonal work stress … the funniest holiday situation they’ve encountered at work … how they successfully defused a difficult situation with a customer, etc.
    • Give-back to the community by volunteering time as a group to work in a food bank or collect gifts for needy families. To keep such an activity from creating more stress, however, employee involvement must be voluntary with no management or peer pressure regarding time and financial contributions.
    • While bringing holiday sweets to the office is welcome by many, also consider healthy ways to reduce stress. For example, a licensed massage therapist can be hired on-site to provide 10-15 minute back massages for employees or a yoga instructor can lead mini-meditation sessions.
  • Patience, patience, patience.
    Keep in mind the end of the year can be a challenging time for everyone: you, your customers, employees, colleagues, and business partners.

Try one or more of these ideas to help get through the season. When you find what works, you can apply it next year when you go through this all over again. Happy Holidays!