When You Make Someone Mad

Accountability Collaboration Kindness


Key Point: Ever make someone mad? Do you know the difference and benefit between explaining the intention of your behavior versus acknowledging the consequences? I wish I would have understood this principle earlier in my life. It would have helped me immensely with my relationships.

When I do something to upset someone else, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to explain and justify my intention. Of course from my perspective, my behavior is usually totally understandable. Any reasonable person could see that, right? Wrong! The following is the BEST and most PRACTICAL advice from Peter Bregman’s HBR blog, What to Do When You’ve Made Someone Angry. Read it in its entirety if you want to. Here’s an excerpt:

“When you’ve done something that upsets someone — no matter who’s right — always start the conversation by acknowledging how your actions impacted the other person. Save the discussion about your intentions for later. Much later. Maybe never. Because, in the end, your intentions don’t matter much.

What if you don’t think the other person is right — or justified — in feeling the way they do? It doesn’t matter. Because you’re not striving for agreement. You’re going for understanding…

Your job is to acknowledge their reality — which is critical to maintaining the relationship… If someone’s reality, as they see it, is negated, what motivation do they have to stay in the relationship?

The hardest part is our emotional resistance. We’re so focused on our own challenges that it’s often hard to acknowledge the challenges of others. Especially if we are their challenge and they are ours. Especially when they lash out at us in anger. Especially when we feel misunderstood. In that moment, when we empathize with them and their criticism of our behavior, it almost feels like we’re betraying ourselves. But we’re not. We’re just empathizing.

Here’s a trick to make it easier. While they’re getting angry at you, imagine, instead, that they’re angry at someone else. Then react as you would in that situation. Probably you’d listen and let them know you see how angry they are. And if you never get to explain your intentions? What I have found in practice — and this surprised me — is that once I’ve expressed my understanding of the consequences, my need to justify my intentions dissipates.

That’s because the reason I’m explaining my intentions in the first place is to repair the relationship. But I’ve already accomplished that by empathizing with their experience. At that point, we’re both usually ready to move on. And if you do still feel the need? You’ll still have the opportunity, once the other person feels seen, heard, and understood.

If we succeed in doing all this well, we’ll often find that, along with our relationships, something else gets better: Our behavior.”

Character Moves:

  1. Remember that when you make someone angry, constructively moving forward means striving for understanding, not agreement.
  2. The most important thing is to sincerely understand the consequences of your behavior and empathize with the other regarding the impact on them. Then shut up and just listen. 
  3. The next time you make someone mad, practice Bregman’s recommendations. They really work.

Acknowledging consequences in The Triangle,

– Lorne


Trigger Words That Can Screw Things Up!

Communication Empathy Respect


Key Point: We make decisions about others very quickly. We have to be cautious about doing that because the meaning of respect, one of the tenants of The Character Triangle, is to “look again.” It is a powerful definition that encourages us to really observe and listen without judging hastily. However when I meet with others, I must admit that I do listen very carefully to the words and phrases used. Their language gives me a glimpse into what I think they really believe. Let me share a few of what I call “trigger words.”

“I.” People who define their success exclusively in the context of “I” make me wary. Most highly evolved and effective leaders describe their accomplishments in sincerely humble ways. They know that success is most often a result of many hands. Sharing that view does not diminish their contribution. It does however highlight the self-awareness required to understand that many people and fortunate conditions are necessary for great results. (The one time using “I” is appropriate is when leaders take the heat for something gone wrong). 

“They.” Frankly, I detest the use of this pronoun in the context of blame. When I’m interviewing someone and they tell me the reason they want to work for me/us is because they are running away from “they,” I almost always conclude the discussion with a “no thank you.” This usually tells me that self-accountability is not fully resident in that person. I do not want to invest in teaching people to become self-accountable. I want them arriving demonstratively with self-accountability.

“Yeah, but…” When people use this phrase they might as well stop the conversation with me. My experience is that most often the word “yeah” is a big second fiddle to the word “but.” Resistance to exploring options with “ yes but-ers” is normally very high. People who lead with “yeah, but…” often have a closed versus growth mind-set. They spend their time thinking about why something won’t work versus finding ways to make things work.

“Should” and “Never”… Really? Why would I associate myself with “should” and “never?”

Character Moves:

  1. Learn how to use precise words. Sometimes I think we have lost the importance of having an extensive vocabulary that provides us with the repertoire of using the most effective word to describe the feeling we want to accurately convey. I believe one has to READ great literature to expand our language catalogue. It’s not about huffiness it’s about the significance of clarity. Cable TV and abbreviated social media terms just don’t help very much.
  2. Watch words that tell you what people really believe in. Look for trigger words that determine whether the “feet and mouth” are really in sync. What are your trigger words?
  3. Be aware of the words you use that define and reinforce your beliefs. Language is powerful. You may want to believe you think a certain way but you give yourself “away” by what you say (and do, of course).

Say it and mean it in The Triangle,

– Lorne 

Can You Answer a ‘Beautiful, Haunting’ Question?

Accountability Contribution Purpose


Key Point: The poet Mary Oliver asks this beautifully haunting question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I have written much about the importance of being purposeful, proactive and strategic about one’s (work) life. Too often the immediacy of our daily job consumes us. Before long one “looks up,” years zoom by and in a reflective moment we ask: What happened? How much have I created? How have I brought value to the world? Many people have asked for guidance about how to practically go about being more definitive in determining a strategic approach to work. The following process provided by Greg McKeown is one of best approaches I have found. Try it and/or pass it on to someone who might appreciate the insight.

Step 1: Sketch Your Career. Use this simple tool to get a broader perspective. You start on the left at the beginning of your career and end on the right hand side (today). You draw a single line up if you were enjoying the experience and down if it was unfulfilling for you. Write down where you were working, what you were working on, and any other factors that shaped your experience.

It ends up looking something like this:

Step 2: Connect the Dots. Use the sketch from Step One as a launch pad into being an anthropologist of your own life. Go somewhere quiet. You might think of it like a strategic offsite for your own life and career.

Ask: When was I truly happy and why? What activity or theme do I keep coming back to? What is my gravitational pull? When was work effortless for me? What isn’t working for me? When do I seem most like myself? When was it meaningless and why? When was work meaningful and why? Don’t rush the process. Pause long enough to listen. Write the answers down as they come so you can reflect on them later.

Step 3: Ask, “What Will I Create that Will Make the World Awesome?” That may sound like a bit of a wild question but an essential element of strategy is, to state the obvious, thinking about what we want to create in the future. (If “awesome” is too out there for you… Substitute “better”).

Ask: What would I do if I could do anything? What would I do if all jobs paid the same? If I could only achieve one thing in my career, what would it be? What do I really want? Again, these are big questions. But my experience is that people spend far more time worried about their job than in creating a vision for their career and how they can uniquely contribute to the world.

Character Moves:

  1. Go on a personal off-site meeting “retreat” with yourself. Regardless where you are in your career, this is worth doing. The literature is filled with stories about people who made their most significant contributions at every age, time and place. It is never too early or too late. Do not be fearful and choose inertia over addressing these questions. Set the date and time for your personal offsite today
  2. Treat yourself to something great after you do the hard work outlining the above. YOU ARE WORTH IT! Celebrate the fact that you learned something more about yourself.
  3. Commit to taking small steps in the direction you’ve established or reset. Sometime a retreat like this can result in a BIG change but often the most successful outcome is taking many incremental steps that collectively lead us to a more desirable and purposeful outcome. Before you know it those same years pass by but you are much closer to the vision you have set for yourself.

Note: PURPOSE is usually a combination between what you’re good at, like to do, and others find value in. VISION is usually a desired future state, often defined by some visible, measurable evidence of achieving a set of intentional outcomes. VALUES are a given set of principles that guide the way you act and think. The Character Triangle represents the values I try to live by. My purpose and vision are related but different.

One wild and precious life in The Triangle!



‘Sweet Caroline…’ Oh How We Need You

Kindness Organizational culture Respect


Key Point: It is vital to keep daily perspective on what is really important at work, home and play. The New York Yankees evoked Neil Diamond’s iconic hit, “Sweet Caroline” to pay tribute to the victims of Monday’s terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon. Diamond’s 1969 hit has been a staple at Boston Red Sox home games for at least 15 years, and is played during the bottom of the eighth inning. Bean Town supporters boisterously join in on the chorus especially if the Sox are winning.

The Yankees played Sweet Caroline at the end of the third inning during their Tuesday, April 16 game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, respectfully borrowing the Fenway Park sing-a-long for just that one night. The tune followed a moment of silence for the victims of the two deadly explosions.

Check it out here.

Those who are sports fans and certainly baseball junkies are well aware that the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox is as intense as any in sports. So the Tuesday night, “Da-DAH-dah’s!” echoing throughout the Bronx is a ringing statement of what we value most… Supporting each other as human beings. More than siding with baseball or cities, people celebrated each other and the human spirit at this game. So how do we translate any of these senseless, horrific tragedies into anything we can possibly control? My humble two-cents includes the following:

Character Moves:

  1. What you and I control is how we choose to think and act at work, home and play. Nothing is worth being intentionally hurtful to anyone else for any reason, under any circumstance. This includes the subtlest act… Like a poorly stated email intended “to put someone in their place.” As mean spirited behavior scales at work, it becomes about “payback” or revenge. That becomes fertile ground for justifying even worse behavior. You and I can choose not to act in any way that supports or condones action that is aimed at harming others.
  2. It is also vital for people to understand that getting ahead does not have to involve taking something from someone else. In its evil extreme, this scarcity thinking becomes a rallying cry for justifying the worst atrocities we inflict on each other. Self-accountable people always start with what they can do to make things better without having to focus on diminishing someone else. Expanding the pie to create more for all is different than taking from others.
  3. Explaining geopolitical complexity, terrorism and violence is way beyond the scope of this blog or competence of this author. However the more we insist on accountability, respect and abundance as minimum acceptable values guiding our behavior, the better the world is. The world we control is in our immediate sphere. If we do that together there is less room for the unacceptable other.
  4. Remember that in the spirit of the Yankee fans singing Sweet Caroline, I believe it is more important to become personally and organizationally excellent than to beat and/or hate a rival. Some of you may think this is naive but there is much research to reinforce the validity of this thinking. However small, that is a victory against violence and by extension a defiant act against the fear intended by terrorists.

Sweet Caroline in The Triangle,



Being Self-Compassionate is for Wimps! Suck it Up?

Accountability Kindness Well-being


Key Point: My last blog about falling out of the Character Triangle sparked more thought. It helped me better understand how much courage it takes to be self-compassionate. It requires us to release control, acknowledge our imperfections, admit that we make mistakes and always will. Rather than struggling with the unreachable goal of perfection, self-compassion requires us to let go of our resistance and go with it instead. Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel, wrote 5 Easy Ways to Be Nicer to Yourself on PicktheBrain.com, and did a wonderful job outlining myths and realities about self-compassion. I would like to share her views with you:

The Myths of Self-Compassion

Myth 1: Self-compassion is selfish.

Self-compassion can be seen as selfish, that taking care of yourself means you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing: Taking care of someone else.

Reality: Caring for others requires loving-kindness and authenticity. If you haven’t created those traits for yourself, how can you give them to others?

Myth 2: Self-compassion is indulgent.

You might be concerned that being nice to yourself just lets you off the hook and encourages you to be self-indulgent.

Reality: Self-compassion is about your health and well being while self-indulgence is about getting anything you want when you want it without thoughts of well being. Self-compassion is about noticing and being with your pain. Self-indulgence is about numbing and denying your pain.

Myth 3: Self-criticism is what motivates you.

Self-criticism does provide basic motivation, like keeping us safe.

Reality: We have many ways to keep ourselves safe, so we really don’t need a critical voice in our heads to do so. Similarly, we don’t need to be internally nagged and disparaged to accomplish things. Being self-compassionate gives you the confidence you need to motivate yourself.

Myth 4: Self-compassion is wimpy.

In our individualistic society, you are supposed to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and tough things out. Be kind to yourself? Quit being such a wimp!

Reality: Actually, self-compassion serves to heal and strengthen you. It is, in fact, the strongest and most resilient among us who have the courage to be kind to ourselves.

Character Moves:

Continue to learn from Emel, and embrace the following:

  1. Acknowledge your suffering and pain. You have likely been conditioned to ignore, deny, or suppress your pain but this will only result in more suffering down the road. Practice noticing your pain, tender spots and gently give yourself validation that they are real and deserve compassion.
  2. Treat yourself as you would a friend. Think for a moment of how you talk to yourself when you are going through a rough time. Now think about if your friend was experiencing the same thing. How would you talk to her? Him? Talk to and treat yourself as you would your friend. Speak gently to yourself. Be understanding.
  3. Remember the idea of common humanity. Even if you are going through a tough time of your own doing, does that mean you shouldn’t be kind to yourself? No. It means you’re human.
  4. Practice mindfulness without judgment. Mindfulness is about paying attention to your current experience without judgment. Rather than running away from or suppressing pain, mindfulness allows us just to be with these feelings as they are.

Be self-compassionate… No wimps in the Triangle,



We Will Step Out of the Character Triangle

Authenticity Kindness Respect


Key Point: Sometimes we seem to regress before we can move forward. I’ve always said that living the Character Triangle with consistency and integrity is the absolute goal. I have also noted that in our humanity, perfection is the intent but it is also a lot to ask for. We are so flawed as people. So what happens if we step out of the Triangle?

Human fragility is NOT a license to apply the values of self-accountability, respect and abundance at our convenience. However most of us will likely and occasionally stumble out of character bounds. If it is a slight step out of character, it is reasonably easy to snap back in. But sometimes and hopefully rarely (if ever), we take a big step out. For some reason, often inexplicably, we do or say something to hurt someone. If we deeply believe in our value set, acting out of character involves a searing and lasting pain that makes us nauseous and takes our breath away. It sends us reeling into sadness and disappointment. First because we have upset another. Secondly, because we have hurt ourselves and taken a step backwards. If we do not feel that pain of deep personal disappointment then I’m not sure how much we really believe in the values in the first place. So what do we do when we really fall out of character and want to find a lasting path forward?

Character Moves:

  1. The first and most important thing is to take it on the chin and recognize that you have stepped out of character.
  2. The second is to reach out and recognize the hurt you have caused someone. You must sincerely and humbly apologize to those you have transgressed. No excuses. This involves deep self-reflection as to why you acted the way you did. Remember that cause and effect are not closely related in space and time. So some serious, personal anthropological self “dig” is often necessary. This is hard work and might require the help of a wise counselor. It is also an opportunity for incredible self-learning, hopefully launching us to even greater self-awareness.
  3. If you are fortunate the person(s) you hurt will genuinely forgive you. That’s the greatest gift you can receive. Be grateful that someone cares enough about you to push you forward through forgiveness.
  4. You owe it to the person(s) you hurt to learn and then forgive yourself. This is does not mean forget. It does mean go forward with that scar you can touch to remind you that the pain of stepping out of character involves the fall into a deep dark disappointing hole; one you will avoid in the future. 

Finding your character again in the Triangle,