Give Yourself the Gift of Presence This Holiday Season



By Denise Hellekson, Clinical Associate, The Village Business Institute

Well, Thanksgiving is over, Black Friday has come and gone, and the beginning of the holiday season is upon us. I love the holiday season. Bing, Andy and Nat serenading me with the Christmas songs that shape my memories. Christmas decorations adding a warm glow to the cold, dark December nights. Holiday movies like old friends reminding me of the magic and miracles and goodness of the season. Gathering with friends and family to bake cookies, decorate the tree, and celebrate with those I love. What’s not to love?

But I can become overwhelmed with the lists of things to be done before December 24. I have been known to become a servant to the almighty “To Do” list in an effort to buy the perfect gifts, and fulfill the commitments that come with the season. At the height of trying to do all things/be all places/for all those I care about, I can remember flopping onto the couch one Christmas Day to catch my breath. I finally had time to sit down and take in the moment, only to discover 90% of it had already passed. The presents had been opened, the feast eaten, boxes and paper strewn everywhere. By the time I was fully present to Christmas, it was almost gone. In my quest to conquer my many lists, I’d lost sight of the reason behind all the activity. I was so caught up in getting to the finish line that I missed out on the experiences that make the season so special.

Since that time, I’ve been working on giving myself the gift of being more present to the season. It’s a work in progress, but here are some simple, quick, low demand tips to help set the stage for a happier, more present holiday experience.

  1. Before you start making your “To Do” list, which is all about the “what” of the holiday season, define for yourself the purpose and overall goal, which gets to the “why.” Set your intention for the Holiday season. How do you want to feel? What do you want to experience? What do you want to remember? Identifying your “why” not only helps you determine what you really need to include on your list, but it also takes it from an obligation to a choice. Your list becomes a tool to help you get to your overall goal, rather than a task master that controls your days and eats away at your peace of mind.Some other questions to ask yourself as you’re planning your day—What kind of a day do you want to have? How can you bring a sense of fun and enjoyment to the day? What do you need to NOT DO in order to have a good day?
  2. When you wake up in the morning, instead of flying out of bed playing “beat the clock,” set your alarm for 5-10 minutes earlier and start the day with “Thank you.” Make a mental list of the things you are grateful for and the things you are looking forward to. Set your intention to have a good day–“I have all the time I need to do the things I need to today,” “I am calm and relaxed and looking forward to a great day,” “I am present and open to the goodness of the season.”) “Thank you” can be a great way to end the day as well, and helps you to fall asleep remembering the successes and unexpected joys of the day.
  3. Be selective. What do you need to cut back on in order to appreciate and enjoy the engagements that matter to you? Is it really about doing it all, or doing what matters most to you and your family? Give yourself permission to be selective, to slow it down a little and to choose. Maybe taking an evening to slip into your pj’s, read the Christmas Carol, and enjoy your tree will be the perfect gift to yourself instead of rushing out to another engagement when you are tired and worn and your nerves are wearing thin. You get to decide; choose wisely!
  4. As you go about your day, take time to stop, breathe, and take in the sights, smells, and sounds around you. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now? What do I need to do to take care of myself?”
  5. Recharge your battery! Eat food that gives you the nutrition you need to stay energized. Pack healthy snacks to graze on throughout the day. Get adequate sleep.
  6. Spread a little cheer throughout the day. A lot of stressed people are running around this time of year. You can either be the catalyst that snaps their last nerve, or the balm that offers kindness and connection in a busy world. It doesn’t take much; a friendly smile, a little patience, common courtesies like holding a door open, or saying thank you; simple gestures that can extend the hand of friendship to those around us.

By being more present, we not only have the opportunity to embrace the season more fully for ourselves, but we are also more available to share the gift of our presence with others.

Wishing you simple pleasures, happy moments with those you love, and a heart filled with the goodness of the season.

About the blogger
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.

Practicing mindfulness

Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

Remember the days when summer seemed to stretch ahead of you like a blank canvass waiting to be filled with adventures and magical moments? Childhood summers were a time to slow down, relax, and enjoy being in the moment.

Then we grew up.

Now most people’s summers are just as busy as the rest of their lives. Daily planners are overflowing with projects and activities vying for our attention like an endless treadmill without an “off” switch.

Is this how you want your life to be? If not, there is a simple approach that can help you bring balance back and reclaim some of the joy of childhood. Children are experts at being in the moment. Whether it’s splashing through a summer shower or watching fireflies flashing their mysterious signals, they aren’t thinking of what is ahead but reveling in what is here now. They are masters of mindfulness.

As adults, we can recapture that feeling and it can begin with only a minute a day. One of the most quoted books on mindfulness is “The Miracle of Mindfulness,” by Thich Nhat Hanh. This noted Zen Master’s book is just over 100 pages (paperback version) yet packed with wisdom on how to savor the special moments in your life and let them fill you up with happiness. His approach is the opposite to the frenzied multitasking that is prevalent in today’s workplace where responding to endless e-mails, phone calls, and deadlines often finds people trying to do multiple things simultaneously.

Recent research has shown that focused attention can actually increase efficiency and decrease stress. Mindfulness is the opposite of multitasking. Mindfulness is deeply focusing on one person or task at a time. Quieting our mind and focusing on the present moment can help us to find a sense of balance. As Joel and Michelle Levey state in their book, “Living a Balanced Life,” “Developing mindfulness gives you an internal guidance system that helps you know when you’re heading off the course of balance, so you can self-correct and find your way back on track. It’s like having an inner compass or radar, advising you of your present reality and the direction you’re heading in, then lighting your way home.”

Practicing mindfulness for just a few minutes a day can make a big difference, especially if you do it at the beginning of the day. Focus on your breathing; with your inward breath, say “Return”, and with your outward breath say “Home”, repeat this for 2-3 minutes. This short meditation is both calming and centering, and can help you face the day feeling more centered; helping you to respond to the day rather than react to it. As Amit Ray stated in his book “Om, Chanting and Meditation,” “If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”

When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or lost in thoughts of the past or future, take a few moments to pull your attention back to your current surroundings and just be present. The website Wisdom Commons describes it this way, “Mindfulness lets us absorb the richness of the moment instead of going through life with half of our attention on the past or future or our own mental chatter. The self-knowledge that comes from mindfulness lets us be more intentional in choosing priorities and actions that fit our life mission.”

Every day and every moment is a chance to practice mindfulness. When sending an email, focus your attention on the person receiving it and what they are needing to hear. When listening to a colleague or a friend, give them your full attention. Listen to the words and the feelings between the words and see what a difference it makes. Turn your awareness to yourself as well, what are you feeling? What are you experiencing?

Making time for mindfulness is practicing being in the moment, and the moment is where the magic is. If you don’t believe me, just ask a kid on summer vacation.


About the blogger
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.

Four Tips for Planning a Meaningful Retirement

Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

By Denise Hellekson
The Village Business Institute

A commercial on television the other day caught my attention. It was from AARP, and it showed different people who looked to be in their early 60’s in different aspects of daily life. When the camera focused on them they would say things like, “When I grow up, I want to own a bookstore,” or “When I grow up, I want to join a jazz band.” The commercial was about retirement, and it reminded me of how our view of this stage of our lives is changing.

Not so long ago, retirement was seen as an event marking the withdrawal from active involvement in the world of work; a time of endless days of leisure and idle busyness. The new view of retirement sees it as a process, not an event; a time of exploration, life enrichment, creative change, and personal growth. Many people who “retire” find a new career path, and rejoin the workforce in a different capacity. The new view of retirement has been called a time of renewal, and there are a couple of reasons for this change in perspective;

  • With increased health and longevity, people are living longer and remaining active well into their senior years.
  • Baby boomers, as with all developmental stages they have passed through, have not been willing to fade gracefully into the sunset. They have redefined retirement as a more active, meaningful time of life.

Although the attitude about retirement is changing, the focus for preparing for this stage of life still focuses primarily on financial considerations. Very little is offered on how to plan emotionally or socially for this major life transition. In fact, it has been said that most people spend more time planning a two- week vacation than they do their retirement; which could last for the next 30 or 40 years.

Whether you plan to retire in six years or six months, you can start preparing and planning now for this next phase of your life. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Take Stock of Your Retirement Situation. At what age do you plan to retire? Will you be helping to care for aging parents? Helping to raise grandchildren? Are there any special health concerns you will need to consider? Do you plan to work part-time? Do you have social interests and friends outside of work, or has your main focus been your career? What are your dreams and interests? What gives you a sense of purpose and meaning?

2. Gather information on what to expect. Talk to friends and family members who have retired and ask them what they found to be the hardest part? What one piece of advice would they give? If they had to do it again, what would they do differently and why? What do they enjoy most about retirement?

Check out resources such as “What Color is Your Parachute for Retirement,” by Richard Boles and John E. Nelson, or “Your Retirement Quest,” by Alan Spector and Keith Lawrence. Books like this can be very helpful in explaining the stages of retirement, and providing self-assessments and helpful tips on how to create a retirement that is meaningful and unique to you.

3. Communicate with Those Closest to You. Share your plans for retirement with family and friends. If you are in a relationship, make sure you and your partner communicate openly and honestly about your dreams and your concerns regarding retirement. Do you both have the same expectations? How much time do you plan to spend together? Do you plan to retire at the same time? (Research indicates it can be helpful to retire at separate times, in order to help each person adjust individually)

4. Practice Retirement Now. This is especially helpful for people who have made their career their main priority. Pick one retirement dream and start cultivating it in your life now. It can help you develop interests, relationships, and an identity outside of work; set healthy limits and find balance; and make work more productive and fulfilling.

One last thing to keep in mind; although financial security is indeed a factor in creating a satisfying retirement, there has been a great deal of research that indicates that the size of one’s nest egg is not what drives happiness. As Alan Spector says, “The greatest issue is not running out of money, but of running out of meaning.”

Begin planning today to create a retirement that is fulfilling, meaningful, and uniquely your own!


About the blogger
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.

Lead by personal accountability


By Denise Hellekson
The Village Business Institute

We all hear a lot about the importance of accountability in our organizations. Accountability is a form of trustworthiness; being responsible for one’s decisions and behaviors.

Employees from all positions can be frustrated when there is a lack of accountability in the workplace. Unfortunately, while most people are concerned about accountability, it is usually perceived as someone else’s problem. Have you ever heard comments such as “I don’t know why we identified the action items, no one ever follows through.” “People around here are just so negative, no one helps anyone out anymore.” “Why do I always have to remind people to do their job?” “They need to improve.” “They aren’t accountable.” The focus is on fixing the behaviors of others.

Effects of low accountability can have an enormous impact on a company as a whole, and on supervisors in particular. As a supervisor, you are generally responsible for the day-to-day performance of a group. Your job is to guide the group toward its goals, see that all members are productive, and resolve problems as they arise. Therefore, accountability is critical to your job.

So what can a supervisor do to instill accountability in employees? While it is true that other people’s actions aren’t in your control, and many events aren’t either, your response to these situations is in your control, and sends a message about who you are, and what you expect from others. Therefore instead of focusing on what you cannot control, (making others be accountable), focus on what you can control (You; your attitude, thoughts, actions, and choices) to influence appropriate workplace behaviors.

In other words; in order to instill a sense of accountability in others, supervisors must lead by example—be personally accountable.

Supervisors who lead by personal accountability keep these questions in mind:

Are your words and your actions in alignment?
Once you become responsible for a group of people and their performance, what you say and do has more impact because people pay more attention to it. People look to you to set the example and provide direction. Be mindful of the messages you are sending by your actions as well as your words. What you do says volumes more about what’s important to you and to your organization than all the words, speeches, and mottos plastered on company walls. Make your expectations clear, and then live by them.

Remember, the small things do indeed matter. The small choices and decisions you make 100 times a day add up to determining your workplace environment. What type of environment do you want to work in; Respectful? Happy? Productive? How do your actions promote and encourage the desired outcomes?

How do you spend your time?
What you spend your time on tells people what you value. For example, while you say that quality is important, the amount of time you spend on quality issues is the truest test of your commitment to quality. What are the goals and standards for your department? How much time do you spend attending to them? Invest your time in what you say you value…walk the talk.

What questions do you ask? Pay attention to the questions you ask, they also send messages about your focus and what you value. Do your questions promote a solution-focused, or blame-focused environment? In his book “The Question Behind The Question,” John G. Miller explains how negative, inappropriate questions, (such as “Who dropped the ball?” or “When is that department going to do its job?”) represent and encourage a lack of personal accountability. When we ask better questions, (such as “How can I communicate better?” “What can I do to understand the employee’s frustrations?” “How can I adapt to a changing environment?”) you can solve problems, and eliminate blame and procrastination.

What do you recognize and reward?
Rewards are tangible messages to people about what to pay attention to. If you say you value innovation and risk-taking, for example, you must be willing to reward those who are innovative. Be attentive to how people are made to feel when they take risks. Are people rewarded or punished when they fail? Your actions in such situations greatly determine whether or not future innovation and risk-taking will occur.

Also keep in mind supervisors can at times unknowingly reward employees for performing badly, or inappropriate behavior. Again, performance that is rewarded will increase in nature. This rule applies whether or not the behavior is desirable. This means if you are repeatedly rewarding your employee’s complaining behavior with attention, complaining behavior will increase in frequency.

Leading by personal accountability takes courage. It’s about setting the right example and making a difference in people’s lives. However, when you choose to lead by personal accountability, you empower yourself to be the best you can be, and in so doing, positively influence and empower others.


Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

About the blogger
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.

“Don’t Worry, I Got You:” A lesson in sticking by your teammates

By Denise Hellekson
The Village Business Institute

I enjoyed watching the Summer Olympics more this year than I have in the past. Maybe it was because I had a greater need to see the positivity, passion, and sportsmanship displayed throughout the games this year. There were so many examples of courage, teamwork and personal integrity that I turned off the television at night feeling inspired; remembering how much good ripples out to the world when we step into our bigness and encourage others to do the same.

One of the moments that struck me the most this year occurred while watching the U.S. Men’s Gymnastics team. After qualifying in first place at the team finals, they were hoping for a bronze medal or better, however it was not meant to be, and the team struggled during the team performances. It was difficult to watch the slips and falls that occurred that night, but I was struck by their support and encouragement of one another, and the sense of team they continued to display throughout each performance mishap.

At one point, when John Orozco’s performance on the pommel horse ended with a very disappointing score of 12.733, he returned to the sidelines, head hung low, trying to maintain his composure. His teammates walked up to him and patted him on the back reassuringly. One team member could be heard saying, “Don’t worry John, I got you. I got you.” Then he was off to do his best to carry the team forward.

The words stayed with me, perhaps because I was so not expecting them. How easy it would be–when all you have been practicing and sacrificing for is within reach, and your teammates are not performing up to their usual standard–to be annoyed, to blame or let them know they let you down. “Don’t worry, I got you.” Five little words with the power to do so much good; to take someone from isolation and despair back to a team of support and respect.

The U.S. Men’s Gymnastics team came in 5th place that night; no medals, no excuses. Danell Leyva later stated, “It would be easy to mope and be depressed but what we’re about is getting back up and fighting harder. We had an off day, but we never lost our spirit.” They never lost sight of each other either. They had each other’s backs throughout the team event, and cheered each other on in the individual events to come. When Leyva won the bronze medal in the Men’s All-Around competition, John Orozco was heard saying, “I’m so proud of him.”

I am always in awe of the physical strength and skill the Olympic athletes bring to their respective sports, but their actions outside of the events can be even more inspiring. Words are powerful. How we respond to one another during the challenging times and life’s disappointments can make or break our success as a team; whether in our personal or professional lives.

The U. S. Men’s Gymnastics team did not have their best day at the Olympics this year, but I think their commitment to one another and personal integrity was golden.


Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

About the blogger
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.

Make growing older an adventure!

By Denise Hellekson, MS, LISW
The Village Business Institute

While waiting for a friend to join me for lunch, I overheard two women in the booth behind me catching up on the news and events in their life. I looked out the window and distracted myself with the activities beyond the glass in order to avoid eavesdropping as much as possible. But bits and pieces of their conversation wafted into my awareness as I drank my coffee and waited for my friend.

I could hear them talking about their lack of energy, their physical aches, pains, and weight gain, and their never-ending “To Do” list that kept them from “having a life.” At one point one of them sighed and said, “I guess we’re just getting old.”

This definitely caught my attention because they did not appear to be much older than me! It made me sad to think these beautiful women were already talking like they were resigned to a diminished life. I began to wonder; which came first; the attitude that getting older is a series of disappointments and declined physical health, or the physical aches, pains, and weight gain they discussed? And is it really due to getting older? Or have we gotten ourselves into such a habit of being governed by “To Do” lists, operating at high stress, and caretaking that we have lost sight of ourselves, our needs, and our dreams? Do we fall back into the safety and comfort of the “getting older” excuse to avoid putting the effort into ourselves?

After a lovely lunch with my friend, my thoughts returned to the issue of getting older; how much is out of our control, and how much is about the choices and attitude we take with us into the next chapter? Is life an adventure as we mature, or a long shuffle to the recliner as we watch our world become smaller and our dreams fade?

I thought of my wonderful, youthful, senior role-models like Helen; a 90-year-old co-worker who is smart as a whip and an absolute day-brightener. She began her career with us after her “retirement” (25 years ago) because she wanted to stay active and contribute to the community. Her sense of humor and vitality is an inspiration, and it’s always a good day when I can converse with her in the lunchroom. My friend Davis, who is in his mid-60’s, is exploring his options for retirement as well. Last I talked to him, he was considering either joining the Peace Corp, or working at an airbase on an island in the pacific. Whatever he decides, I know he will find a way to give back to the community and make a difference, because that is his passion, which hasn’t waned with age.

Back at the office, I went to my bookshelf for more inspiration and dusted off my copies of “Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, “The 100 Simple Secrets of The Best Half of Your Life” by David Niven, and “Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Well Being” by Dr. Andrew Weil . Not surprising, all three books noted the importance of a positive, optimistic attitude toward your life and the future, exercise, and staying involved in activities that give you a sense of fulfillment and purpose as key factors to embracing the rest of your life.

In “Healthy Aging,” Weil cited research that found that the effects of aging was 30% genetics, and 70% life choices.

In “Younger Next Year,” Dr. Henry Lodge said that 70% of premature death and aging is lifestyle-related, and if we had the will to do it, we could eliminate more than half of all disease in men and women over the age of 50. Dr. Lodge went on to say normal aging isn’t normal—“You may well live into your nineties, whether you like it or not, but how you live those years, on the other hand is largely under your control. Which is a good reason to make the Last Third of your life terrific—and not a dreary panoply of obesity, sore joints, and apathy. “Normal Aging” is intolerable and avoidable. You can skip most of it and grow old not just gracefully but with real joy.”

I think it’s time to break out the sneakers and start my next adventure. Thank you ladies from the booth behind me; whoever you are. Although I didn’t mean to listen, your honest conversation made me challenge my own thoughts about aging, and wake up to the wonderful possibilities of the next half of my life. I wish the same for you!


Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

About the blogger
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.

Is our society too fixated on romantic love?

By Denise Hellekson, MS, LISW
The Village Business Institute

I’ve been seeing lots of “The Bachelorette” television ads–it must be time for another round of. I have to admit I have sat transfixed by the antics of past contestants who will “do whatever it takes in the name of love.” I have been appalled and amazed at how they will put themselves on parade, jump through whatever hoops are required of them, backstab, undermine and manipulate one another. The most amazing part to me is that when their behaviors are finally called into question, their explanation generally revolves around some notion that they “came to find true love,” and somehow this justifies their actions as acceptable…courageous…even heroic.

I can’t help but wonder; what about love of self? If you truly honored and valued yourself, would you act this way? Is it ever necessary to backstab and disrespect others if love is really your goal? Why do we not value and celebrate all types of love? I’m not naïve–I realize drama sells, but at what cost?

To be fair, “The Bachelor/Bachelorette” is not the only show that promotes this “take no prisoners, anything for love” approach. There are numerous shows with a very similar theme.

As a society, at least through the lens of the media, I sometimes think we are stuck in an adolescent fixation with “true love” to the exclusion of all the other forms of love available to us. Disagree? Look at how we try to fit all relationships into the “true love/romantic love” box, whether they fit or not. Remember all the questions and media speculation surrounding Oprah Winfrey and her best friend Gail? They have been very open about how important their friendship is to one another, and how much they value each other. I personally think those strong bonds of friendship are as beautiful and inspiring as romantic love, but instead of celebrating it for what it is, speculation and rumors fly. If they love each other, surely they must be “in love.” It sometimes feels to me that outside the parent-child bond, the only other form of love we recognize or value is romantic love.

What if we awakened to and celebrated the other types of love available to us? How might our lives open up and change? What if the love of our friends and fellow human beings was celebrated in the media the way romance is? How might issues such as bullying and hazing be affected? If we, as a society, could mature beyond the adolescent fixation with romance and embrace the many types of love relationships available to us, how would that look and feel? How might that affect the mudslinging and hit-below-the-belt antics we see so often in the media?

I don’t know for sure if it would have much of an affect, but I would like us all to step up to the challenge. I, for one, am willing to try–in the name of love.


Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

About the blogger
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.

Attitudes are contagious: Dealing with negativity

By Denise Hellekson
The Village Business Institute

I was talking to a friend the other day who said she wasn’t enjoying work as much as she used to; she didn’t look forward to going to work anymore, and the days seemed long and difficult. This came as a surprise to me, because she has always loved her work and the people she works with. When I asked her what had changed, she said one of her co-workers with whom she shares an office has become increasingly negative; complaining about the workload, talking badly about people behind their back, angry with the customers that call, etc. I could tell from the way she was talking that the negativity had taken a toll on her, and she was starting to feel discouraged and drained. Ironically, although I did not point this out to her at the time, she was starting to take on the same negative outlook as her co-worker.

I was again struck by the notion that attitudes are indeed contagious. It made me start thinking about what we can do to deal with negative attitudes before they seep into our mindset and steal our energy and enthusiasm. In my search for answers, I came across a newsletter article I wrote for The Village Business Institute in 2005. I think the tips still hold up today:

When dealing with a negative co-worker, first ask yourself whether the poor attitude is situational, or an ongoing pattern they have developed throughout the years. Determining this can help you decide what approach to take.

When dealing with situational or occasional negativity, it’s important to keep in mind that sometimes people repeat negative sentiments over and over because they do not feel they have really been heard, or they may not know how to resolve the situation. Some tips that might help are:

  • Listen to the person until you are certain that he or she feels heard. Ask questions. Clarify statements. Reflect back feelings as well as content.
  • Once the person feels heard, ask questions that help them move toward a solution. “What needs to happen in order for this to get resolved?” “Have you talked to the person you are upset with?” “What are you willing to do to resolve this issue?” Questions and suggestions that point the person in the right direction can help them explore their options.
  • If the complaining continues, set limits so the coworker does not overstay or over-talk his/her welcome. While it is helpful for people to feel heard, continuing to attend to them if the complaining continues can simply reinforce the complaining. Don’t allow that to happen. Tactfully set limits; walk away, and tell the coworker you’d prefer to move on to more positive topics
  • If you decide the concerns are not legitimate, practice personal courage and tell them what you think. Tell the person you care about their concern and their happiness at work, but you disagree with their assessment of the situation.
  • Reinforce the behaviors you’d like to see more of by paying attention to your co-worker when they are not complaining. Let them know how much you appreciate their efforts when they are cooperative or helpful.

When Dealing with Chronic Negativity:

  • Deal with genuinely negative people by spending as little time with them as possible. Just as you set limits with the coworkers whose negativity in your mind seems unwarranted, you need to set limits with genuinely negative people.
  • If you need to interact with a negative coworker due to your job responsibilities, set limits. Do not allow yourself to be drawn into negative discussions. Tell the negative person you prefer to think about your job positively. Avoid becoming a sympathetic audience for the negativity, for this just encourages the very behavior you want to see diminish.
  • Suggest the negative person seek assistance from human resources, their supervisor, or EAP. Encourage them to get support in addressing the issues they continue to complain about.
  • If all else fails, seek support for yourself. Talk to human resources, your supervisor, or EAP about the challenges you are experiencing in dealing with the negative coworker. Reach out to get the tools and support you need to maintain a positive, productive outlook.

Keep in mind, one of the best ways for you to deal with a negative co-worker is to stay happy, busy, and preoccupied with your own work. Focusing on someone else’s attitude can leave you feeling powerless. When you focus on what you have control over; your attitude, thoughts and actions, you are empowered to positively affect your day.

So, put time and energy into keeping your own spirits up. Remind yourself that you only get this day once, and find ways to make it a good one. Seek out positive people to spend breaks with, treat and affirm yourself. Continue to look for the good in yourself and others. When you protect and nurture your own positive attitude, you will find you are less susceptible to other’s negativity, and a positive role-model for the behaviors you would like to see more of.

For more information about how you can deal with negativity in your workplace, contact The Village Business Institute at 1-800-627-8220 or www.TheVBI.com.


Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

About the blogger
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.

4 tips for the initial stages of major life changes

By Denise Hellekson
The Village Business Institute

How many of us dream of having a “Do-Over” at some point in our lives? How many of us have had several of them already? They are the significant changes we make that set our life in a new direction. They take us out of the familiar and help us to redefine who we are, what we want, and what is fulfilling in our lives. They help us to keep growing, stretching and leaning into possibility.

While I believe new beginnings can be a grand adventure, as with all good adventures, I also think there are moments of absolute confusion, grief and panic. If we can anticipate some of the more challenging terrain on the journey, it might help us to better prepare and navigate the challenges.

I suspect for most of us the initial stirrings of major change do not come with fanfare and joyful anticipation. I think the initial stages of a “Do-Over” can be quiet and unsettling and uncomfortable. The process can start out slow and subtle; not feeling the connection or the fit you used to have in your life, whether in your relationships, or personal interests, or your career; feeling like something is different, but not knowing what it is or how to change it.

When a woman is pregnant, the transitions can be challenging, but she has something tangible to explain the internal changes and emotions. When you are pregnant with possibility, and a new chapter has taken seed within you, it can be much more confusing and distressing without anything tangible to point to that explains these significant internal changes.

At times like this, you can chastise yourself, “What is wrong with me?” “I’m just getting lazy,” “I’m being ungrateful for all the good in my life,” etc. You can try to force yourself to ”snap out of it;” distract yourself with more things to keep you busy; or escape into food, chemicals, activity, or other people’s drama so that you don’t notice the changes (those subtle empty spaces that are starting to occur where fulfillment used to be). Unfortunately these choices come with consequences, one of which is missing or postponing your opportunity to step to a new beginning.

If you think you might be seriously depressed or in need of medical attention, it is always best to consult with professionals. However, I would strongly suggest that you entertain the idea that maybe you are on the verge of significant changes in your life, that maybe you are stepping away from the familiar in order to discover a new chapter/beginning in your life.

Here are a few brief tips to help you through the initial stages of transformation:

1. Pay attention to the changes. Be mindful of the things that no longer fit. Allow yourself time to grieve and release that which no longer fits. Realize that every new chapter starts with releasing the old.

2. Let yourself live in the questions…(but ask good questions)

  • What am I stepping away from? What no longer fits or brings me a sense of fulfillment?
  • What remains? What still has value and importance for me?
  • With all that is changing in my life, who am I? When we begin stepping away from things that used to bring us a sense of connection and fulfillment, we can feel very confused about our sense of self. Yet, out authentic self is always there to keep us grounded, if we take the time to pay attention.
  • What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?

Don’t expect to have immediate answers, give yourself time to explore the questions and live into the answers. They will be worth the wait.

3. Let fear have its say, but do not let it have the last word. It can be unpopular to allow yourself to pay attention to the “less-than-stellar” emotions you are experiencing. However I believe all our emotions give us important information that can help us ride the tides of change. By looking at our fears, we can uncover the issues we are wrestling with, give voice to the messages and let go of the old baggage we might be lugging along on this journey to new life. By letting them have their say, we can diffuse the intensity and power they have over us and unlock the keys to moving forward. It is okay to say that in this new landscape of change, I am afraid! By facing the fears, we can let them go, set down the old messages and baggage that we do not have the energy or desire to carry with us into our new beginning. We can look at the warning signs our fears are giving us, and make choices based on their cautionary reminders.

4. Do not let fear have the last word…sorry but this bears repeating. Do not let fear direct your self-talk or your choices, but trust in yourself and the process. Remember other times in your life when you have successfully stepped from the known/dependable/predictable into a new landscape. Be gentle with yourself and honor the process and the changes that are signaling a transition in your life.

Do-overs, new beginnings, transformations—throughout our life they whisper to us to step out of our comfort zone and into the adventure of possibility. Although they may be challenging, they are an opportunity worth embracing.


Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

Denise Hellekson, The Village Business Institute

About the blogger
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.

Keep a journal, understand yourself

By John E. Trombley, MMgt,
The Village Business Institute

I recently read an article in the August 2011 issue of HR Magazine titled “The Care and Feeding of High-Potential Employees.” (Editor’s note: This article was originally published in February 2012)  According to author and contributing editor, Robert J. Grossman, the Corporate Leadership Council conducted a survey in 2010 revealing that “More than 25 percent [of high-performance employees] said they planned to change jobs within the next 12 months.” The article goes on to state that employee engagement continues to decline, hence the reason for the anticipated job migration.

That led to me thinking about the connection between an individual’s purpose and passion in life and the work they perform. I believe that the people who are able to make that connection, while meeting the needs of others, experience the greatest job satisfaction. I also believe that employee engagement has two components: The first component of engagement is job satisfaction and the second component is commitment. I define commitment as the determination to see a thing through to its conclusion while being loyal to the organization’s mission, coworkers, direct reports, organizational leadership and customers. Okay; that’s a tall order I admit, but I’ll stand by my definition. I’m an idealist at heart.

Grossman writes about the need for organizations and companies to employ certain steps to engage employees—as a means of preventing turnover. They are all good ideas, but what I find lacking is a discussion about the employee’s responsibility to choose engagement. What I mean is this: I believe one of the greatest challenges for Man is to search out that purpose for which he was created. Central to that search is the struggle to answer the questions, “Who am I?” and “What am I doing here?” Understanding your life purpose is absolutely critical if you want to truly enjoy all that life has to offer.

With that understanding, you begin to make choices about how to live your life; including what career to pursue and who to work for, which relationships to pursue and which relationships to avoid, where to invest your resources of time, talent and treasure, and so forth.

I encourage my coaching clients to keep a journal in which they can pursue their quest of understanding themselves. A journal gives you an opportunity to process the events of the day, to explore your true motivations, to examine your emotions {even stoics have them), and to search under the big and little rocks in your life to see what is hiding underneath. In the end, this self-reflection can lead to a much clearer picture of who you are and why you are here, and that knowledge and understanding can serve to motivate and inspire you to make proactive choices that lead to satisfaction and commitment.

The journey is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage, boldness, conviction, perseverance, humility and time. In the end, the rewards are more than worth the efforts.


About the blogger:
John E. Trombley, organization development consultant and training with The Village Business Institute has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and a Master of Management degree from the University of Mary, Fargo. Prior to founding his own organization development company, John served as a Command Pilot, Squadron Commander, and senior staff officer in the USAF and Air National Guard—he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel with over 6,200 flying hours.

With over 16 years of experience in providing consulting services and training programs, Trombley has a passion for group process facilitation and corporate training in areas including leadership development, change management, leadership transition processes, managerial coaching, and personality assessment workshops. He is registered with the Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota as a Qualified Neutral mediator, is trained in Critical Incident Stress Management Group Crisis Intervention, and is certified in Internal Investigations by the Council on Education in Management.

For more information, contact The Village Business Institute at 1-800-627-8220 or www.thevbi.com.