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Welcome to the November 2008 issue of Alignment Solutions! This month's theme is "Thriving in challenging times." Lately the news has been dominated by examples of the negative effects of the current economic environment as well as well-intentioned stories of how to "survive" these trying times. Our question is this: why strive for survival when the alternative is to thrive? Given the dramatic quality of life differences between surviving and thriving, why would anyone choose merely to survive? The fact is each one of us - individuals and organizations - has the ability to choose our quality of life regardless of our external circumstances. How? By the choices we make and the questions we ask.

In the Feature Article, "Survive or Thrive: It's Your Choice," we suggest two choices you can make that will improve or maintain the quality of your life in spite of challenging circumstances.

In "Business Questions for Thriving During Challenging Economic Times," the Business Solutions section stresses the importance of the questions we ask and gives examples of how their focus and wording can make a dramatic difference in the quality of our workplace environments.

In the Personal Solutions section, "Thriving Personally in Challenging Times" suggests a number of ways that we can "ground" ourselves so we may optimize the quality of our lives.

I invite you to visit my web site at to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!


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Survive or Thrive: It's Your Choice

The U.S. economy is experiencing a rough patch right now, and organizations in all sectors are faced with the challenges of weathering the storm. While the media focus on stories about how people and organizations are suffering financially and otherwise (which many are), the fact remains that everything is not doom and gloom. There are businesses that are doing just fine, and opportunities abound for those who seek them. Whichever scenario fits your situation, my contention is that you have the ability to optimize your quality of life, and that of your organization, by choosing how you view your circumstances. Though there are things we are unable to control, we can control how we perceive our respective situations. How we view ourselves and the world around us leads us to take actions that shape the quality of our lives. That perception is a choice each of us is free to make at any time.

One way of exercising our option to choose how we view our situation is by paying attention to the questions we ask of ourselves and of others. Have you ever stopped to consider the importance of your questions? In the Appreciative Inquiry framework, questions are described as "fateful" because they point us in the direction of our search for the answers. Consider this example: which of the two following questions is your organization's performance management system structured to answer?

  1. "What did our employees do wrong during the past year?"
  2. "How can we help our employees become fully successful?"
This example illustrates that the questions we ask determine the type of information we seek and the answers we find. In a reactive mode, our questions might focus on weaknesses, obstacles, and subsistence. By way of contrast, in an action mode our questions would seek information about our strengths, our successes, and opportunities.

In times of adversity, many of us react by going into "survival" mode - e.g., cutting back, letting our worst fears run rampant, focusing on problems, feeling overwhelming by the enormity of it all, seeking to eke out an existence until things turn around. What if instead of settling for mere survival, we choose to thrive? Our outlook then changes dramatically - e.g., we see opportunities, we make healthy choices for ourselves and our organizations, we act based on confidence in our ability, and we focus on developing innovative and creative solutions.

The key point is that we can control how we experience every situation, negative and positive, by making affirmative choices that directly affect the quality of our personal lives and our workplace environments. By choosing to focus on the negative and the obstacles before us (real or imagined), our quality of life is dismal. The alternative is to increase the quality of our lives dramatically by exercising our choice to focus on the positive and those things we can control and do.

Knowing that we each can choose to survive or to thrive, and that the questions we ask set us up for the answers we will find, what choice will you make today? Send me an e-mail and let me know.

For examples of questions you might want to ask yourself and others, please see the Business Solutions section of this newsletter.

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Business Questions for Thriving During Challenging Economic Times

Have you ever stopped to consider the importance of the questions we ask ourselves and others? The focus of our questions is critical: it literally shapes how we perceive and experience the world around us. As a result, the questions we ask have everything to do with our quality of life. Even changing the format of our questions slightly can have a transformative effect. For example, instead of asking, "Given our current circumstances, can we do XYZ?" ask "How can we do XYZ?" The first question requires only a yes or no answer, an immediate judgment made without discussion and constrained by perceived boundaries or obstacles. The second question requires us to think about the possibilities, without constraints, before rendering a thoughtful decision. Perhaps the answer to this question is that we cannot do XYZ. However, maybe we can - or maybe we can come close. The important point is that by asking the "how" question we are much more likely to implement good ideas that otherwise would have been cast aside than if we had never given ourselves the opportunity to consider the possibilities.

Here are some examples of how you might choose to ask important questions. Notice that the negative questions keep us mired in the past, stuck in "victim mode," unable to see a way out. In contrast, the positive questions focus on the future, identify things that we can control and influence, and point us toward solutions. Including examples of both options highlights the extent to which the questions we ask really do shape the quality of our lives. And we always have the choice to shape our experiences, no matter how dire or positive the environment around us.

Negative Choices Positive Choices
What are the things we cannot control? What are the things we can control?
What are we lacking? How much abundance do we have?
How do our weaknesses hold us back? How can we leverage our strengths?
What obstacles does this challenge present? What new possibilities does this challenge offer?
What have we failed to do? What have we accomplished?
What can't we do? What can we do?
What resources do we lack? How can we use the resources we have?
How can we cut costs? How shall we invest our resources?
How can we cut our service? What value can we offer our customers?

In what direction will your questions lead you and your organization? The choice is yours - as always.


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Thriving Personally in Challenging Times

Especially during times of adversity it is critical that we pay close attention to our personal well-being. The analogy that comes to mind is the one that air travelers hear every time we fly: "In the event a change in altitude causes the oxygen masks to drop, put your own mask on first before you assist others." Similarly, we must be physically and mentally healthy in order for us to be most useful to ourselves and to others. Here are a few things we can do to ensure we take care of ourselves.

  • Look realistically at what is instead of what might be. Separate fact from fiction or speculation by seeking objective evidence.
  • Look realistically at your talents and strengths. While the environment may have changed, you - the person - have not. How can you leverage your talents and strengths?
  • Create realistic expectations for yourself and others.
  • Surround yourself with people who support you. Drop those who do not.
  • Use "down" time to build on your strengths. Doing so will boost your confidence and you will emerge stronger than before.
  • Look for life's rainbows - literal and figurative. They are there when you least expect them, sometimes even when logic suggests they shouldn't be there at all.
  • Be open to whatever life brings your way. If you are not looking, you will never see the possibilities.
  • Enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Take a walk on the beach or in nature. Watch how the colors in the sky change as the sun rises in the morning or sets in the evening. Go play in the rain and jump in the puddles it forms. Release your inner child!
  • Focus on the abundance in your life. If you seek it, you will find it.
  • Ask questions that lead you in positive directions for the answers. For example, instead of asking whether you can or should do something, ask how you can do it. You will find yourself a lot closer to where you want to go.
  • Remain confident by focusing on those things you can control.
  • Keep the big picture and the long-term in mind when making short-term decisions. You can avoid getting lost in the details and the feelings of being overwhelmed by keeping the big picture in front of you at all times.
  • Make decisions that are consistent with your values.
  • Look for reasons to do things rather than for reasons not to do them.

Remember: while we sometimes are unable to control our situation, we always get to choose how we experience it. By exercising that option, we choose to make healthy choices that will see us through even the most challenging of times.

What quality of life do you choose?


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Date of Publication: November, 2008 | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2008 - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch