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Start the Conversation and Unleash the Possibilities

February 22nd, 2017

By: Karen Colligan

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place.”

Most of us are familiar with the techniques that help with effective communication – active listening, not interrupting, clarifying questions, paraphrasing, withholding judgment, etc. These all contribute (when you remember to use them) to effective communication, defined as when the sender and receiver of information interpret that information in the same way.

I think, however, that in today’s environment we’re really struggling with that last part. Too often conversations turn into interpreting information “my way” instead of listening to the other person and trying to find common ground. And some conversations, especially if they’re about current events, can’t even get started. I have a friend who cannot even broach the subject of current events with one of her family members because they are on opposite poles of the political spectrum. He just shuts her down. I’ve heard other similar examples. Some have completely ended relationships.

Is this really the way we want to live? In this Year of Possibilities, how about the possibility that we might learn something from listening and trying to understand someone else’s point of view. Why do they think that? What are their hopes and fears? What are the outcomes they’d like to see? I think we might find that what we want is similar, but the approach may be different. If we can’t listen or if we aren’t allowed to speak, how do we find out what we have in common so we can move forward in a more civilized way?

There was an article in the Huffington Post recently that I think expressed this really well. The author, a professor at Oregon State University, grew up in a conservative, working class family, but became more progressive over the years. She writes directly to people in communities like the one she grew up in and asks, “are you willing to have the conversation? Is it more important to you to win than to do good? Or can we build coalitions? Put the needs and rights of all others above ideologies?”

Just think how much more we will learn from listening and being curious rather than from telling and needing to be right. Just think of the possibilities…

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – Dalai Lama

Till next time,


Communication, conflict resolution, Relationships

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Possibilities Abound as Baby Boomers Retire

February 13th, 2017

By: Karen Colligan

A few years back, when the first baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) began to reach retirement age, there was much written about the impending brain drain as boomers left the workforce. How would we transfer their knowledge? Who would step up to be leaders? Companies were advised to quickly put succession plans in place. And then…the economy tanked and boomers stayed in place and the crisis seemed averted.  Now, however, another wave of boomers has hit the mark and concern is bubbling up again.

A cover story last month in the San Francisco Business Times entitled, “From Boomers to Bust?” suggested that “the pace of retirements among baby boomers is about to explode, and it has big consequences for the Bay Area Economy and its workforce.” The impact will be felt more in the Bay Area, the article says, because in addition to the population being older in the region than the rest of California, “the area is in the process of adding more than 1 million jobs by 2040, with talent shortages already a factor across a range of industries.”

Nationwide, an estimated 10,000 boomers a day celebrate their 65th birthday.  And according to Gallup, by 2029, 20% of the population will be over 65. Clearly, companies have some serious workforce planning to do, especially those with an older employee base.

That being said, if we look at this situation through the lens of possibilities, I see some real opportunities for both boomers and those who would follow in their footsteps.

While many boomers are anxious to leave the pace and politics of corporate life, not all of them dream of replacing that with more leisurely pursuits. In fact, quite a few plan to keep working in some capacity – either for financial reasons or for a sense of purpose.  If this applies to you, then get busy preparing to capture the possibilities. This might be any of the following or none of them (leisure on!). You’re at a place where it’s entirely up to you. Here are some possibilities:

    • Work with your current employer to reduce hours or create a more flexible schedule

    • Become a mentor to help prepare the next line of leaders

    • Turn your hobby into a side business (e.g., become a small space gardener)

    • Leverage the skills you’ve built over the years and consult

    • Volunteer for a cause that’s important to you

For those who are just starting out or are several years into their career, the exodus of baby boomers can open doors (and windows!) of opportunity, especially in leadership. The key is to have a growth mindset (always be learning) and to leverage some tips from the Year of Possibilities framework:

Pay attention to what’s around you. Where are the opportunities? What do you need to do to get there? Take a personal skill /behavior inventory. Get feedback from others. Use it!

Listen…really listen. Think about a team or department leader you admire. Set up an informational interview to gain knowledge and insight on how to lead successfully in the organization. Listen and take notes. Create an action plan. Implement it.

Dream Big. If you don’t dream for yourself, no one else will.  You don’t want a “regret list,” you want a “possibility list.”  Say what you want out loud.  Tell your friends, family and partner.  The more you say it, the more real it becomes.

And whether you’re a boomer or movin’ on up, don’t stop believin’!

Till next time,


Career planning, Possibilities, Professional development

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