Posted by: Kristen Ridley | December 17, 2012

Surviving the Holidays AND Communications!

Grumpy SantaThe holidays can be a very challenging time of year. Although many of us look forward to them all year, we nevertheless can experience significant stress as a result of the demands, the extra things we need to do, and the tremendously high expectations everyone has of them.

As I was ruminating on that in the shower  [WHAT?! Don’t YOU get most of your good ideas in the shower, too!? No? Huh. Well, moving on] it occurred to me that surviving the holidays has a  number of similarities to surviving daily life as a communicator. I know – I was surprised too, but there they were right in front of my eyes, and it just seemed wasteful not to share . . . especially this time of year, when, you know who is watching for his list!

So, in the spirit of holiday giving, and, of course, communicator solidarity, I thought I would offer my tips on surviving BOTH the holidays and being a communicator.

Remember what it’s REALLY about!

If we allowed the retailers and advertisers to convince us, we would all swear that the holidays are mainly about “stuff”. You know giving stuff, getting stuff, choosing the right stuff, and, most of all BUYING lots and lots of STUFF! But we know better. The holidays are about taking some time away from the regular chores, responsibilities and work of the day-to-day. Depending on your religious affiliation, they are about making the appropriate observances. They’re very much about spending quality time with family – the immediate, and, if we’re lucky the extended members [and it’s also about earning points on the “nice list” for enduring whatever angst and drama being with the extended family often involves ;-)]. Most of all it’s about slowing down, reflecting on our blessings and enjoying the time with those we love, no matter what Victoria’s Secret, Old Navy or Apple try to tell you!

Being a communications person has a similar challenge. Because of the unique position we’re in vis-a-vis our organizations, we need people from across the business to work with us, and do things for us, but we rarely have any authority over those folks. We also still suffer from the perennial “Can’t ANYONE do communications?! What do we need an actual DEPARTMENT for??” Those and so many other little irksome features of our jobs can combine to make us crazy [okay, granted, I was already a little crazy before I started as a communicator, but it definitely got exacerbated by the job!]. But we need to keep things in perspective as much against infuriating colleagues and clients, as in retaliation against those crazed advertisers. When we can step back from the crazy-making stuff that goes on, and remember who the real recipients of our work are – usually our own employees, or our company’s customers/stakeholders – and remember that in many situations WE are the only ones who can do what needs to be done so those people get what they need, we suddenly realize how minor most of the challenges we face truly are. At least, I usually do, and it makes navigating the treacherous, drama-laden waters more manageable.

You can choose

When it comes to the holidays, those TV commercials, and newspaper ads, and billboards and online pop-ups ads, it’s easy to get sucked in if you allow yourself to be, and get swept away by the culture of “I want” and “Gimme”. But the truth is, we are grown-ups so we can choose what to let into our lives and what we’ll just say “thanks, but I’ll pass” to. We really CAN! It just takes a conscious decision to do so and then a little bit of intestinal fortitude to stand firm. I myself make it easier by staying the hell out of the malls after December first every year. If I don’t have it by then and it can’t be got somewhere other than a mall, well then tough nuts! I admit it takes practice . . . and maybe some yoga breathing or a big glass of wine to talk myself off the ledge of clicking my way to oblivion on some website or other, but I’m here to tell you it CAN BE DONE! You just have to choose to do it.

Same deal with being a communicator. We can often become the office dogsbody, asked to do all kinds of things that have nothing to do with what we are SUPPOSED to be doing, and treated dismissively by people who just don’t “get” us or our roles. We also deal with being the end of the line on most things we do, and being asked to make up for delays and inefficiencies all along the line ahead of us. Sometimes we can and must make it work, but there are also times to stand our ground and say we can’t accommodate something unreasonable, or explain why doing it the way it’s been requested will mean sub-standard or otherwise not acceptable levels of delivery. Educating our clients and teammates is just as important as delivering our work, especially if we ever hope to help them understand the true value of the work we do, not to mention helping our clients to deliver properly on THEIR requirements. So choosing how to proceed is just a critical as a communicator as it is for a holiday-overdosed shopper.

Giving feels as good as getting [sometimes better!]

Although the holidays for many people are filled with enjoyable positive experiences, for others it can be the most difficult time of the year. If you are alone, or struggling with illness, low-income, or homelessness, this time of year only makes the feelings of isolation throughout the rest of the year that much more pronounced. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have the good health, stable incomes, and strong circles of family and friends doing something to help those less fortunate can be not only an opportunity to do something that helps others, but also makes us feel good about giving back. If you have children, it’s also an excellent reminder of just how lucky and blessed they are in the life they have, whether they get that new iPad or not! So going as a family to serve at a soup kitchen in your city, or sort food at a food bank can be a very positive way to spend time as a family remembering what this season is REALLY all about [see item one, above].

Similarly, as a communicator, we usually work extremely cross-functionally in our organizations. We have to know people in most of the departments, and we also need to know how they work and how all the different areas in the company interconnect, because when we communicate to our audiences, we first have to understand what we’re saying, make sure it’s accurate and that it takes into consideration what our audiences know, and how they feel about our messages if we hope to make the desired results a reality. All that cross-functional knowledge makes us uniquely positioned to be helpful to people we don’t necessarily work with directly. We know who does what, who the influencers are in key departments, and how to work around challenges in various people are teams [We ought to! We have to do that enough ourselves]. So if, in the course of our busy lives, the opportunity arises to be helpful to someone who can’t do anything necessarily for us, why wouldn’t we do so? Aside from it just feeling good to help someone, you never know what longer-term dividends that kindness may pay down the road. I have often found that being as collaborative and helpful as I can, to everyone I come into contact with at work, makes the daily challenges I deal with just a little less drama-soaked. Either that, or the rosy glow of being kind just blurs the edges. Either way, it works for me, so I’m recommending it to you!

Take a breath!

That sounds obvious, but when we are – as we always are at this time of year – constantly surrounded by lights, sounds, images and words, all of which are laser focused on overwhelming and distracting us and convincing us to do things we’d probably never do at other times of the year. As I mentioned earlier in this post, there are some pretty heavy-duty expectations placed on us during the holidays. And for the most part the intentions are good! We love our families and friends, and we want to do things for those people we love that makes them happy, so it’s natural to go a little overboard with gifts and food and events. But in the long run, we need to manage that balance because there ARE so many things that we all need to deal with all the time, and letting the holidays take us over isn’t really good for anyone, least of all us. So here’s my advice: STOP! Just stop everything you’re going when it feels like everything is out of control and you’re about to lose it if one more kid says: “I want . . .” or one more perfume-attack comes at you in the mall. Close your eyes, stand still and JUST BREATHE!! Take four or five long, slow deep breaths. You will be amazed at how much that will help you keep going with more calmness – and the bonus is it won’t cost you anything, nor will it take more than a few minutes out of your day. If you have to, set reminders in your phone for a “Breathing Break” a few times each day.

Being a communicator has the same kind of manic energy as the holidays, except that for a communicator, it isn’t just for a couple of months of the year – it’s ALL THE TIME!! So we, too, can allow ourselves to be run over by the freight train that is our beloved job. Everybody ALWAYS need something from us, be it a new blog post review for the CEO, advice on the survey HR is preparing for all staff, the intranet re-vamp that somehow, despite all our best efforts and patient, gentle reminders, is several weeks behind schedule and coming up on deadline, and . . . well, I don’t need to go on – you KNOW how it is, don’t you?! And when everything everyone wants from us is an urgent rush [as it almost always is!] we can allow ourselves to lose perspective and run on overdrive indefinitely to try to accommodate all our clients’ requests. While that is a laudable demonstration of our dedication to our work and our partners, when we stop and think about it, we know that running at redline levels all the time just isn’t sustainable. We know what happens to a car if we run it’s engine at redline for an extended period, and it’s the exact same result when a human never takes a break. So, right here, right now, I’m giving you permission, okay? STOP! Go find a quiet place where they can’t find you. Close your eyes and take those same four to five long, slow, deep breaths. Don’t think about anything except bringing the air in through your  nose and out through your mouth. I promise that doing this a few times during a crazy day will give you enough serenity to go back to all those demands much better equipped to handle them without feeling like your head’s about to explode.

Well, that’s it. Those are my – surprisingly equally valid – tips to survive crazy times, whether it’s the holiday madness or your daily demands as a communicator, with aplomb and even, dare I say it? some enjoyment of the process. I wish you a joyful holiday season, filled with time with those you love, not too much drama, and, hopefully, a few moments everyday to just breathe!


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