Condolences… What Does One Say?

Empathy Growth mindset Respect


Key Point: What does one say to grieving loved ones when someone they cherish has died? This question is very relevant in the workplace too. My last blog referred to the tragic and unexpected loss of a co-worker. Upon reflection, I realize that no one really teaches us what to say in those circumstances. We certainly don’t learn it in a college class. If we’re “fortunate” (sort of), someone along the way, has showed us the way to navigate the loss everyone eventually experiences. However, none of us wants to experience so much death that we ever get practiced at it.

I remember when my childhood best friend died. I was visiting my son Garrett (yup, the millennial view guy below) in college, when my mom called to let me know. We were having dinner, and I immediately called Dwayne’s mom to offer my condolences. I can still see the somewhat uncomfortable look on Garrett’s face, yet I wanted to model how I think one might best respond in that situation. Hopefully that’s stuck with him in a difficult but good way.

To help us all with the challenge of “what to say,” I was struck by a “timely” article in this Sundays NYT. I’d like to share an edited version of it. Hopefully it will be a helpful reference should you be in the unfortunate situation of having to use it. The foundation of the article is a seasoned quote from someone most of you likely have little or no connection to – the mother of modern etiquette, Emily Post“Grace of expression counts for nothing; sincerity alone is of value.”

For those who are inexperienced or out of practice in comforting someone in grief, the following are tips regarding the lost art of condolence:

“1. BEING TONGUE-TIED IS O.K.: When I solicited advice from friends on social media, the one overwhelming thing I heard was it’s perfectly acceptable to admit you don’t know what to say. One rabbi said, ‘Admitting you’re at a loss for words is far more caring and helpful than writing pithy statements like ‘he’s in a better place’ or ‘your child was so perfect, God wanted her to sit beside him.’’

2. SHARE A POSITIVE MEMORY: Instead of falling back on a shopworn phrase, savvy condolers often share a warm or uplifting memory of the deceased… The condolence notes that moved him most, he said, were from strangers who shared a recollection of his father. ‘That was important for me because I realized his place in the world,” he said. ‘At the time, you’re only thinking of your own relation to the loved one. You realize this person had impact beyond you. That was comforting.’

3. NO COMPARISONS: One bit of quicksand worth avoiding is the temptation to say you know what the other person is going through. Everyone experiences grief differently. While you may have felt angry or overwhelmed when your loved one died, the person you’re writing to may have channeled her grief into work or hyper-efficient house purging. The temptation is to bring it back to yourself, but this is not about you.’ A better approach… is to be neutral. ‘You can absolutely express your sadness and sorrow,’… ‘But remove yourself from the conversation.’

4. DON’T DODGE THE ‘D’ WORDS: Death in our culture has become so sanitized; we have become afraid to mention it by name. While this instinct may come from a good place, it often lands in a bad one, the treacly territory of euphemism and happy talk. Loved ones don’t ‘die’ anymore; they’re ‘carried away’ or ‘resting peacefully.’… ‘Don’t’ be afraid to use the ‘D’ words — dead, died or death. Terms such as ‘expired,’ ‘passed on’ or ‘lost’ are words of denial. ‘Expired’ can be used on a driver’s license but not in person — it’s not respectful.’

5. GET REAL: A little bluntness goes a long way… ‘I think my favorite note upon the death of my brother was from one of my closest friends. ‘My dear Jane,’ he wrote. ‘IT STINKS.’

6. FACEBOOK IS NOT ENOUGH: These days many people first learn of the death of a friend’s loved one via social media. The instinct to post a comment or dash off an email is understandable. But everyone I spoke with agreed on one point: Even heartfelt gestures like these do not replace a condolence note… ‘A letter of condolence to a friend is one of the obligations of friendship.’

7. THERE’S NO TIME LIMIT ON SYMPATHY: While writing immediately is comforting, it’s not necessary. Many mourners are overwhelmed in the immediate aftermath, and a number told me they especially appreciated cards that arrived weeks or even months after the death.”

Character Moves:

  1. Save the condolence guidelines in your device and/or in the cloud. When the time comes (and it will eventually) you have a quick reference guide.

Condolences in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: Wow, that memory had escaped me, but now that you mention it I certainly remember that phone call. I think the overall theme of this guideline seems to be: Offer your condolences however and whenever you feel comfortable, but make sure to do it – you’ve already signed up for that duty, and the company you keep is worth it.

– Garrett Rubis

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Why Charisma Matters

Abundance Empathy Growth mindset


Key Point: Charisma is absolute presence and it’s a learnable skill you and I can master. If we want to be successful at work or elsewhere, we have to continuously practice to get better at it. While charisma is not discussed that often in a business sense, it is very important in a world that is very hungry for authentic personal connections. 

Think about an experience meeting with anyone who fidgets incessantly, their eyes are downward or darting elsewhere, their face mostly frowning, asking few listening questions, showing little understanding of your views, appearing distracted by worry. Well, there isn’t much of a personal or meaningful connection. 

However, if we meet someone who is completely attentive and actively engaged in the conversation, we are much more likely to find them likable and interesting. When they are confidently calm, with their smartphone off to the side, relaxed, looking at us directly, listening with attention, then they make us feel like we’re the only person that matters in the moment. Often, this sincere presence is very much the path to a very meaningful personal connection. 

According to Stanford Ph.D., Emma Seppala, a charismatic person is able to exert significant influence because he or she connects with others in meaningful ways. In her recent book, The Happiness Track, she introduces Six Ways To Increase Your Charisma: 

  1. Empathy—the ability to see things from another person’s perspective and to understand how that person is feeling. You can only be empathic and place yourself in another person’s shoes if you are fully attentive to them.
  1. Good listening skills—the ability to truly hear what someone is trying to communicate to you, both verbally and nonverbally. If you are distracted or thinking about what to say next—not truly present—you are not truly listening.
  1. Eye contact—the ability to meet and maintain someone’s gaze. Eye contact is one of the most powerful forms of human connection. We intuitively feel that when someone’s gaze shifts away from us, their attention has also shifted away. This intuition is backed by neuroscience research, which has found that you use the same brain regions when your gaze wanders as when your mind wanders. 
  1. Enthusiasm—the ability to uplift another person through praise of their actions or ideas. Enthusiasm is difficult to fake because it is such an authentic emotion. It can only occur when you sincerely engage with what someone else is doing or saying.
  1. Self-confidence—the ability to act authentically and with assurance, without worrying about what other people think. Many people are so busy worrying about how they appear that they end up coming across as nervous or inauthentic. Their focus is on themselves rather than on the other person. When you are fully present, you are focused on others rather than yourself. 
  1. Skillful speaking—the ability to profoundly connect with others. It is essential to know your audience if you want to make an impact. The only way to do so, however, is to tune in to them. When you are 100 percent present with your audience, you are able to understand where they are coming from and how they are interpreting your words. Only then can your words be sensitive and appropriate. When you speak skillfully, you will be truly heard.

Character Moves:

  1. Self-confidence is so important. Work from the belief that people want your presence. Find out by giving your absolute, total in the moment attention. It is both respectful and abundant. Stop worrying about what they think of you. A wandering mind gets you lost.
  1. Become great at charisma by consciously practicing all six. Take Emma’s research and put it to work. It’s a lifetime skill. Charisma is learned and practiced. It’s magnetic when authentically applied. And what’s more important than to make sincere, deep connections with people we really care about (that includes the people you work with)?

Charisma in the Triangle,


One Millennial View: All Millennials should be aware of the significance of self-confidence and charisma. Especially with the distraction of technology and social media, we need to be reminded of the importance of personal presence. Whether you’re making a sale or trying to become the next YouTube star, it takes charisma, and if you don’t have it, then why should anyone else buy or click on your product?

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Workplace Narcissism Versus Compassion

Empathy Respect


Key Point: Compassion is good for the bottom line. There is a battle taking place between narcissism and compassion and it is very evident in the workplace. I view narcissism and compassion as the opposite ends of a continuum. Research clearly shows that compassion should be the obvious winner but narcissism is no slouch and seems to be gaining ground. Where are you on the continuum? Do you really know how to observe the difference?

Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote an interesting article on what may be a narcissism epidemic in the Feb. 14, New York Times:

“In their book ‘Narcissism Epidemic,’ psychology professors Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell show that narcissism has increased as quickly as obesity since the 1980s. Even our egos are getting fat…This is a costly problem. While full-blown narcissists often report high levels of personal satisfaction, they create havoc and misery around them. There is overwhelming evidence linking narcissism with lower honesty and raised aggression…

The 18th-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote about ‘amour-propre,’ a kind of self-love based on the opinions of others. He considered it unnatural and unhealthy, and believed that arbitrary social comparison led to people wasting their lives trying to look and sound attractive to others.

This would seem to describe our current epidemic. Indeed, in the Greek myth, Narcissus falls in love not with himself, but with his reflection. In the modern version, Narcissus would fall in love with his own Instagram feed, and starve himself to death while compulsively counting his followers…”

Hmm… And fighting in the other corner…

In her wonderful new book, The Happiness Track, author Emma Seppala describes compassion as being profoundly “other focused” rather than “self-focused.” Compassion is defined as the emotional response when perceiving suffering and involves an authentic desire to help. It includes empathy AND a compelling sense of wanting to alleviate the suffering of others. As a business concept, it is somewhat foreign but exceptionally relevant and meaningful in the workplace.

Kim Cameron and his colleagues at the University of Michigan have studied the effect of compassionate practices in the workplace. Cameron defines these compassionate practices as:

A. Caring for, being interested in, and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends.

B. Providing support for one another, including offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling.

C. Inspiring one another at work.

D. Emphasizing the meaningfulness of the work.

E. Avoiding blame and forgiving mistakes.

F. Treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust and integrity.

In a research article published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Cameron explains that when organizations institute these practices, their performance levels dramatically improve: “’They achieve significantly higher levels of organizational effectiveness — including financial performance, customer satisfaction, and productivity.’ He adds that the more compassionate the workplace, ‘the higher the performance in profitability, productivity, customer satisfaction and employee engagement.’”

Character Moves:

  1. Take the Narcissistic Personality Inventory and pause to reflect a little. Ask, “Is this the person I want to be?” Do I want to score higher on the narcissistic continuum? Or?
  1. Read (at minimum) the last chapter of The Happiness Track, and note the latest science and research on compassion. Take the time to reflect. Do I want to score higher on the compassion continuum? Will you consciously strengthen your compassion muscle? Do you know how to? 

Compassion KO’s Narcissism in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: It would be a flat out lie if I said I didn’t both understand and appreciate the importance of “likes” on an Instagram or Facebook post. It’s social currency these days, and us Millennials are obsessed with it, right? Well… That shouldn’t automatically make someone narcissistic; it’s just 2016 being 2016. What happened to the value of compartmentalization? I can enjoy a “like” on social media AND be compassionate at work/in life. Here’s something interesting: “Narcissism Epidemic” author Jean M. Twenge has no easily Google-able social media presence, while her co-writer W. Keith Campbell has a measly 117 Twitter followers (not great for an author referenced in the Sunday New York Times)… Compassion author Emma Seppala has 58,300 Twitter followers and nearly 9,000 likes on Facebook. So who’s spreading their message further? Good thing compassion KO’s that one too.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Working on the Right Problem

Accountability Books Empathy


Key Point: Learning how to frame the real problem is very difficult. Dr. Bernard Roth is a prominent Stanford engineering professor, co-founder of its famous, and believes the process of design thinking can help everyone form the kind of lifelong habits that solve problems, achieve goals and help make our lives better. It is also an important tool to help us frame up and focus on the REAL issue. If we don’t have that skill, we often keep working on the wrong “problem” and wonder why we’re not getting desired results.  

“We are all capable of reinvention,” says Dr. Roth, who is also the author of the book, “The Achievement Habit.” And design thinking is the premise behind developing reinvention in the form of personal achievement.  

It focuses on five steps, and Roth suggests the first two are most important.

Step 1: “Empathize” — Learn what the real issues are that need to be solved.

Step 2: “Define the actual problem” — A very challenging task to be sure we’re working on the right issue.

Step 3: “Ideate” — Brainstorm, make lists, write down ideas and generate possible solutions.

Step 4: “Build” — A prototype or create a plan.

Step 5: “Test” — The idea and seek feedback from others…

One example Dr. Roth uses to make his point is a person who wants to find a life partner. As part of the empathy step, ask yourself, ‘What would finding a partner or spouse do for me?’ One answer might be that it would bring you companionship. The next step is to reframe the problem: ‘How can I find companionship?’ There are more and easier answers to the new question — you can meet friends online, take classes, join a club, take a group trip, join a running group, get a pet and spend time at the dog park.’ Finding a spouse now becomes simply one of many possible ways to find companionship,’ Dr. Roth says. ‘By changing the question, I have altered my point of view and dramatically expanded the number of possible solutions.’

‘Design thinking on the highest level is a way of reframing the way you look at the world and deal with issues, and the main thing is this idea of empathy,’ Dr. Roth says. ‘If you have tried something and it hasn’t worked, then you’re working on the wrong problem.’”

Character Moves

  1. Learn more about the process of design thinking and how to apply it at work and in your personal life. I strongly suggest reading Roth’s book “The Achievement Habit.
  2. Understanding and learning how to better empathize continues to be an important gateway for progress in both our business and personal lives. Asking the right questions, driven by exploring empathy helps us frame up the right problem. Let’s work on those skills. Do you really know if you’re empathetic with yourself? What questions to you ask yourself? How do you know you’re framing up the right “problem?”

Design Thinking in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I’m all for thinking things through, but these days, the word “empathy” is also a big red flag for me. Sadly, some people can fake being empathetic (usually for their own personal benefit), so you just have to be mindful. Many times, you can overthink things too. When it comes to the real stuff, like Dr. Roth refers to (finding partners and other serious life and work issues), design thinking sounds awesome. But, if a co-worker tries to design-think where to go get lunch, I don’t believe that’s a person I’d enjoy having lunch with anymore. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis.

Flat Tire in Paradise

Abundance Empathy Well-being




Key Point: Psychologists point out that there is a difference on the continuum between people who are clinically depressed and those that seem to choose misery as a way of life. Sometimes, feelings of depression arrive in complete mystery. Everything in life seems to be “great” by external standards.  A person might have supportive friends, an excellent job, financial security, a loving family and yet still feels unhappy. When people find themselves depressed we know it’s important they get the right kind of professional help. It’s also vital that “judgment” is not in play. If I’ve learned anything about mental health recently, it’s that depression is certainly not a personal choice and it is very inclusive. No demographic is “immune.” However, this blog focuses on the latter issue; the idea of self imposed misery. 

Ok… So, I’m vacationing in Maui, Hawaii. I rent a road bike and am cycling literally right next the Pacific Ocean in perfect weather. Can you hear the waves, smell the ocean, and feel the warm trade winds? I get a flat tire, put in a new tube  start riding and get another one. Darn! Someone comes by me and exclaims with good intention: “You must be having a bad day.” And I cannot help but think, “how could I be having a bad day in paradise?” In fact I start chuckling to myself thinking, “while I would like to avoid flat tires at any time, I would be so fortunate to have future flat tires riding a road bike again sometime in Maui.” It would be so easy to determine how the flat tires ruined my ride, my day, my trip, and… I became curious about things people think and do to help them be intentionally miserable. So if anyone is inclined, I have found 14 habits that will help put us in misery overdrive according to psychotherapist Cloe Madanes:

  1. Be afraid, very afraid, of economic loss.
  2. Practice sustained boredom.
  3. Give yourself a negative identity. 
  4. Pick fights.
  5. Attribute bad intentions.
  6. Whatever you do, do it only for personal gain.
  7. Avoid gratitude.
  8. Always be alert and in a state of anxiety. 
  9. Blame your parents.
  10. Don’t enjoy life’s pleasures. 
  11. Ruminate about problems and always make them about you. 
  12. Glorify or vilify the past.
  13. Find a romantic partner to reform.
  14. Be critical.

Character Moves: 

  1. If you want to advance your skills at being intentionally miserable please read Cloe’s article and practice the misery exercises she suggests under each of the 14 areas. She also notes that if we’re only good at four or five, make sure we berate ourselves for not enacting the entire 14!!
  1. Of course depression is to be taken very seriously and we need to be self-empathetic and courageous enough to get help if we ever find ourselves in that state. On the other hand, we can occasionally get into behavioral habits that are more mindset choices than clinical depression (whatever reason). And in those cases a little self-reflection, awareness, humor and intentional positive reframing can help us actually enjoy a “flat tire in paradise.”

Loving flat tires in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: Avoiding a cynical mindset has become a pretty big focus of mine. I’m just generally uninterested in dwelling on misery, but you seem to encounter folks who argue the idea that perpetual happiness is more annoying than realistic. I’ve even been in trouble for being “too positive,” because I’ll come across as dismissive, ignorant, or whatever else a (generally unhappy) person dreams up to rationalize my perky point of view. But, as one as of my favorite podcast hosts said one time, “If you’re unhappy more than 15 percent of the time, then homie, you need to get some help.” And I truly believe that. Maybe that help is simply a bike ride in paradise.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Compassionate Leadership is the Most Effective

Authenticity Empathy Respect


Key Point: Understand what it means to be a compassionate leader. Do you want to be an effective leader? Do you want to be a truly happy and gratified leader? I want to filter through all the leadership fog and noise and give you a few scientific leadership “facts” as we best understand them today.

  1. According to research by two of the worlds most eminent leadership scholars, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, only one factor scientifically differentiated top quarter performing managers from bottom ones: AFFECTION! Both wanted, and expressed affection. They show more warmth, fondness, and get closer to people. They are more open. WE LIKE THEM in PROPORTION to HOW THEY MAKE US FEEL and RESPOND WITH OUR WORK ACCORDINGLY!
  1. The happiness state can be scientifically measured through sophisticated brain scans. I won’t get into the anatomy and research details, but scientists can literally see the part of the brain that indicates levels of happiness. The highest happiness states ever scientifically recorded belong primarily to Tibetan monks who are mediation masters. However, meditation practice is not sufficient to get one to the highest happiness state. That end state, scientifically endorsed, can only be achieved through focusing on COMPASSION.

The renowned Tibetan scholar, Thupten Jimpa, describes compassion as, “The mental state endowed with a sense of concern for the suffering of others and the aspiration to see that suffering relieved.” It has the following components:

Cognitive: “I understand you.”

Affective: “I feel for you.”

Motivational: “I want to help you.”

One leading indication of a compassionate leader is an authentic transformation from “I” to “We.” Only when leaders are self aware enough to stop focusing on and being driven by their own egos, can they fully develop themselves and others. In Jim Collins‘ iconic book, Good to Great, he describes Level 5 leaders as paradoxically humble and ambitious about achieving results (ideally for the greater good). This Level 5 behavior is congruent with compassionate leadership.

Character Moves:

  1. Compassionate leadership is not fluffy behavior. On the contrary, “tough” leadership is compassionate leadership. One has to be open, caring and willing to fully invest in the aspirational well being of others. This leadership style is rewarding and even fun with people we like to work with. Try applying the three intentions stated above to those who you might be in conflict with… Those you perceive to be driven by their ego, sense of wanting to win at your perceived expense. How are you and I doing in those circumstances? Compassionate leaders approach ALL with the same intent; to understand, feel and help.
  1. Learn more about the value of practicing mindfulness. In order to be compassionate as a leader, one has to be present, centered and fully aware. Flying through the day with an emotion filled seat of the pants reaction will make compassionate leadership inconsistent at best, unattainable at worst.
  1. Remember this is tough minded leadership. Why? Because compassionate leaders know how to have direct, difficult and even fierce conversations in the most effective ways. They do not weakly rely on organization authority or power to “lead.” They are powered by compassion.

Compassionate leadership in the Triangle,


One Millennial View: Those dealing with adversity sometimes bare an impenetrable shield when leaders try to help and relate. Some millennials may disregard a good leader’s attempt to be empathetic by reverting to a state of mind that concludes that no leader could possibly understand, feel, or want to help, because they’re too removed from their struggle. This victim mentality can take over and completely overlook the main point: The intention is good. Unfortunately for some, that “intention” isn’t enough because they think leaders will never really take a literal walk in their shoes. Well, no kidding! Sorry, why the heck would they? Be smarter than that. If you’re fortunate enough to have a leader willing to put on an imaginary pair of your ugly, cheap, worn out shoes, then be grateful that they’re even willing to try. Look at the big picture enough to accept and receive guidance when you can. They’re not going to just give you nicer shoes, you still have to walk your own crappy path, but thank your lucky stars if someone is willing to show you the trail to acquire some polish. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis