Thursday, August 28, 2008

Camp Ophelia 2008

I have a summertime tradition of camping with girls--my kids can tell you about the year we traveled to Florida and lived in a dorm so they could attend a swim camp and I could work as a combination coach and nurse. This summer I really didn't think I would be doing my own camp, but when the local YWCA contacted me to help out, I couldn't say no.

Camp was in a "rustic" (i.e. no air conditioning) setting that nonetheless had a swimming pool where the girls could cool off. We had a great time together, and on the last day when we finished projects and said good-bye I realized how much I love the energy and creativity of middle school girls. The privilege of being part of their lives for even a short time makes my heat intolerance trivial.

As always, the mentors were incredible, and gave me great faith in the ability of the next generation to continue making the world a better place.

(Note the deficit in my photography skills--I still haven't figured out how to reset the date on my camera!)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My LA Moment

This past Monday I was honored to be part of the YWCA's Beauty at Any Cost launch in Los Angeles, California. They've prepared a great discussion guide and suggested activities that you can access for free at the hyperlink. Did you know the YWCA is the country's oldest organization for women? Not so ironically, as soon as I flew home on the red eye Tuesday night I went to help direct the Camp Ophelia being offered by the Harrisburg YWCA, but more on that later!

At the discussion panel before a tie-in screening of the movie America the Beautiful I met the producer of this thought provoking documentary on the beauty industry. Guess what--he tells me he's turning down an offer to appear on The Tyra Banks Show because she represents everything his movie is against.

You be the judge--here's a summary of one episode: "Super-image-maker-guy (Simon Doonan) commented then on how the girls have to learn to be very critical of themselves, particularly miss super-American-girl (Catie). He saw that she had had a hard time with the critic he had done of her style, she turned red and was irate, in his opinion. Then, she started talking back to him. She said how he said that she was a "ho". He replied that this was not true. He didn't call her a "ho", he said that her style was and it's a big difference. She then complained that if it would have been just him and her talking... He interrupted asking her if she really thought that there was no work involved in becoming a model, if she thought that she would be served tea that she would sip with her pinky in the air. No. It's hard work and she better understand that if she wants to succeed. She started crying. Meanwhile, you could see that Tyra was not at all pleased with super-American-girl. Tyra had this frown on her face and she looked almost ashamed of the conduct of "one of her girls". The other girls commented on how they thought that super-American-girl (Catie) was an actress and was playing the crying card."

If nothing else, Darryl Roberts, the producer, seems like a genuinely humble and committed person, trying to do the right thing by women. I encourage you to see his movie and then watch the daytime talk shows--he'll be on many, but whether Tyra and he meet up is yet to be seen.

Monday, August 18, 2008

America makes a big splash in Beijing

On 8/8/08, at 8:08pm in Beijing, China the 2008 Summer Olympics began. Even before they started there was a buzz in the United States about Michael Phelps being a powerhouse swimmer and that he may even win 8 gold medals in one Olympic games, breaking the previous world record of 7. If he could do this he would be considered the greatest olympian of all time. On Saturday, August 17 around 10:30pm Eastern Time Michael Phelps won his 8th gold medal. I believe just as much as the next person that Michael Phelps deserves all the praise that he is getting, in fact, I was sitting on the couch anxiously clapping and cheering as he approached the finish line in the Medley Relay (an event which the USA Men have never lost). I have no doubt that almost every American knows about this great accomplishment and I bet they are proud. And if you only know about this accomplishment but have seen no coverage on his wins, dont you worry because he is appearing in commercials, mini-interviews, late night interview specials, and I am sure you can even catch a show ALL ABOUT MICHAEL.

I wonder how many people know about Natalie Coughlin's achievements at this years Summer games. Natalie is a member of the 2008 USA Women's Swimming Team. She accomplished two firsts at this Olympics -- she is the first woman to ever win a 100m backstroke gold in two consecutive Olympics, but even more notably she is the first American female athlete to win six medals in one Olympics! The only time I ever heard this mentioned was as she stood with her team after a relay and it was only mentioned in passing by the interviewer. Also, Dara Torres, a 41-yr old swimmer competed in her 5th olympics making her the only swimmer to ever compete in 5 Olympics, and did I mention she was 41?

The point I am trying to bring out here is that woman continue to be underrepresented and overlooked. There has not been one special that I have seen about Natalie or Dara. Sure, the Olympic coverage will mention there accomplishments, but typically only when they are about to race. Michael Phelps plastered every station and website. I want to know more about Natalie and Dara and I want them to get credit where credit is due. Ever since Title IX was passed many people assumed that women were beginning to get the rights they deserved. This is not the case, and many women's sports still get less funding that men's sports in high schools and colleges across the nation. 

So, in the next few weeks when you are having a conversation with someone about Michael Phelps just casually ask them if they have heard of Natalie Coughlin and her accomplishments. You may just be surprised how few people actually do. Until next time....

"We can do no great things. Only small things with great love." -Mother Teresa

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wonderful in Wisconsin

Okay, I admit it--the first time I went to Wisconsin I had my doubts, but they only lasted until I got an airplane overview of the lakes and gorgeous landscape. Last week, I made trip number three and could seriously imagine myself living there. As you can see, the people are uber friendly, and even the air feels clean.
I was there to give a talk to health care professionals about the kind of relational aggression that occurs from nurse to nurse, doctor to nurse, and yes, even doctor to doctor. The problem is so serious one article reports that as of January 2009, the Joint Commission is going to require hospitals to have policies in place to deal with it.
Who suffers most? Of course, everyone! Just as all girls feel the fallout of an ongoing word war, doctors, nurses, and patients are impacted by nastiness in the workplace. According to another report, "A 2004 study of workplace intimidation by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) in Horsham, Pa., found that nearly 40 percent of clinicians have kept quiet or ignored concerns about improper medication rather than talk to an intimidating colleague."
How discouraging--and all the more reason to start lobbying for change before it's forced upon us!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Uncomfortably Nice - Marmie's Girls

Have you ever had a boss who seems uncomfortably nice? Does she think you need to change? Is this a situation unique to women because of their management style?
I am a new manager working for the first time in an all-female office. For years, I have worked in the technical world and have developed a certain way of behaving toward my managers. Now for the first time, I don’t know how to behave. I am constantly getting “in trouble” because of my communication style. I think my style came out of assimilating to the male technical world, and I don’t any other way. Working in a “girly office” has been difficult for me to adapt to because I feel like I am breaking all the rules of professional conduct. It is extremely uncomfortable sometimes.

Emails are returned with excessive thank yous, and you’re welcomes, and Replies To All. Men I have worked with don’t do this. I write short, to the point emails. I am careful about my tone, but don’t hesitate to be direct. In this office, long wordy emails are the norm. When someone has surgery, we make casseroles for the person who is out. In short, we show that we care, often to the detriment of ourselves and our own families. Keeping up the effort to be so extremely nice is exhausting.

Check out the Microsoft link to email etiquette rules. Rule #2 specifically says, “Keep messages brief and to the point. Just because your writing is grammatically correct does not mean that it has to be long. Nothing is more frustrating than wading through an e-mail message that is twice as long as necessary. Concentrate on one subject per message whenever possible.” Ladies, we are not being mean by being short and to the point.

If you have ever read the book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, my boss reminds me of the mother character, Mrs. March (aka Marmie) to her daughters. Marmie lets her daughters be themselves but doesn’t hesitate to give moral advice to her girls to help them correct their moral flaws. What seems like a friendly suggestion is really a command. At my office, compliance with the boss’s polite suggestion is necessary if you want to advance in the organization. The parallel here is that the daughters must correct their flaws in order to achieve their ultimate roles in life: mothers, wives, sisters, and citizens.

We managers in the office must work out our personal flaws in order to become better managers.

A questions that my boss asked me in the initial interview was, "how do I feel about constructive criticism?" I know it’s all in an effort to guide us to being the best work family possible. What if I don’t want to be a family at work? What if I just want to do my work and go home without having to play the role of the boss’s daughter?

The boss seems like mom and we are her daughters. When we have been bad girls, we get the cold shoulder for a short while but she’s always right back with a big smile and a hearty good morning. I am sure this is because of her moral sense of this being the right thing to do. It is nice to have forgiveness, but it is tiring and uncomfortable to not have direct confrontation about what is not going right.

Marmie too was indirect. As Wikipedia describes, she “engages in charitable works and attempts to guide her girls' morals and shape their characters, usually through experiments. She confesses to Jo after her big fight with Amy that she has a temper as bad and volatile as Jo's own, but has learned to control it to avoid hurting herself and her loved ones.”

Am I playing the unfeminine Jo role here? Will I arrive at the higher level of Marmee-type consciousness in my job? What if I like myself the way I am? I would like to just be accepted with all my "flaws."

Thursday, August 7, 2008


If you're ever in Ft. Worth, Texas put the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame at the top of your "to-see" list. It's definitely a place to take any young woman who needs positive role models--you'll be surprised at what you find there (including adorable and functional cowgirl hats for the little ones in your life.)

Despite chronic neck problems, I took a chance and rode the bucking bronc which is also a must-do. I confess the little kids right before me had better technique, but like to think I channeled Annie Oakley in a way they couldn't!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Positive Confrontations

The word "confrontation" can sound inherently negative, but I like one of the definitions offered by "a bringing together of ideas, themes, etc., for comparison." Both girls and women ask me how to approach someone they feel is being relationally aggressive toward them, and while there are no cookie cutter answers, there are a few guidelines I can offer keeping in this spirit:

1. Calm down. Trying to confront someone when emotions are running high can actually make the situation worse, rather than better. Walk away, take a few deep breaths, or wait for another day.

2. Choose a neutral location to meet. Plan to talk things out when you're not in the midst of a crisis and find a place that's private and safe.

3. Focus on the facts. Avoid accusing the other person of not liking you or teating you badly. Instead, share a list of observations that lead you to feel relational aggression is occurring, i.e. "When you invited everyone but me to be part of the planning session, it made me wonder why?" or, "In the team meeting last week, you asked me four times to write down what you said so I would 'get it right.' Have there been times when I haven't met your expectations?"

4. Meet one on one. If you're trying to talk things out with an uber aggressive person who already feels threatened by the world, taking a posse along with you is going to make her even more defensive.

5. Monitor your body language. You'd be surprised how your posture, facial expression, and tone of voice can add to or detract from the message you hope to deliver.

6. Practice. Enlist the help of a friend or your mirror, and rehearse what you plan to say.

7. Use assertive, not aggressive communication techniques. In a nutshell, you want a win-win conversation, not a lose-lose confrontation.

8. Avoid cyberconfrontations. The computer and cell phone have a long memory and a wide reach.

The goal of a positive confrontation (ideally) is to inform and be informed--it can be a powerful conflict resolution tool that will serve you well in many settings!