AS a child, I believed in the magical power of certain words. I read with awe as Alladin’s “Open sesame!” disclosed a cave full of treasures. I often pretended to be a magician who with an “Abracadabra” and a wave of the hand could magically pull out a rabbit from a hat.

Today, I still believe in the magical power of certain words. While I know that “Open, sesame” and “Abracadabra” will not yield me treasures and magic, I know that there are four words that can certainly work magic in our career, relationships and life. Using (or not using) these powerful words can be life changing, either positively or negatively.

What are these words? These words are quite ordinary really. They are: “I’m sorry” and “Thank you.” You think, so what’s the big deal? Isn’t this what we learn in good manners and right conduct in elementary? While these words are simple enough and taught early in life, it is amazing how many people (myself included long ago) do not appreciate the extraordinary power of these ordinary words. And while these had been taught to us since we were children, how many people really say these words meaningfully?

Let me illustrate. Several years ago, I committed a really big mistake that angered a friend and colleague. My first reaction was to explain why it wasn’t my mistake, that it was a mistake of my subordinate and that I did all that I could to prevent such a mistake from happening. In short, I was being defensive and trying to escape responsibility for the disaster. I was met with an anger so palpable it felt like a heat wave. It seared to death our friendship and our professional relationship.

But one comment that I still remember over the years from the aggrieved party was: “And you didn’t even say you were sorry!”

Recently, I committed another mistake (yes, I am human and commit many mistakes!). The other party had every right to be angry and I prepared myself for the onslaught. As I listened to their reactions, I remembered my lesson. I said I was sorry it happened, that if they could please accept my apologies. The fact was, I was really sorry for the trouble I caused them. And I said it over and over again. Magically, the parties accepted my sincere apologies.

Saying “I’m sorry” showed that I recognized that I made a mistake and would like to make amends. Saying “I’m sorry” makes forgiveness and healing possible. Can you imagine what a difference these words can make at work where so much conflict and intrigue abound or in our own lives where so many wounded relationships remain unhealed?

The other two words that are very powerful are “Thank you.” At work and in life, we ask for so many things from our friends and colleagues. Many of us bombard the saints and God with our requests. And often, these requests are granted.

I ask my colleague, “Could you please cover for me on Wednesday at my radio program because I have to go to the doctor?” And he willingly takes over. I ask my staff, “Could you please pay the tuition fees of my daughter, I have to finish closing my page?” And she gracefully does. I pray to God, “Could you please keep my daughter and husband safe from harm?” And He does. Sometimes I forget to say “thank you” when these two words would have been the only payment required for the favor. Now, I know I cannot say “thank you” often enough because a favor once given in times of need can never be repaid.

I have also been on the other side of requests. I often answer e-mail and text messages requesting for career advice or job opportunities. While I do this personally with no sophisticated technology or staff to help me, I am compelled to do so.

My conscience bothers me when I don’t since I could easily give them the information they request. But I notice that out of a hundred messages I answer, only five or so would reply with a thank you. But you know what, the few who do reply make me feel that I have been useful in some way to some one. It is a good feeling to be on the receiving end of a “thank you.”

I wrote this column not only to share the power of these words with readers but also to take this opportunity to say “I’m sorry” to all those I offended and “Thank you” to all those who have helped and supported me in my endeavors. Well, I need not mention names—you know who you are!

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. Published in Metro Working Mom April 2005.

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PEOPLE AT WORK COLUMN: Start Your Dream Today

THE FAMOUS shoe advertising line “Just do it” is not good advice. Because really, the line should read, “Just do it now!” Doesn’t seem catchy? Well what about its Latin counterpart, made famous by the movie Dead Poets Society: Carpe diem or “seize the day!” But it doesn’t matter how you say it. What matters (you guessed it!) is what you do after you hear it! Life’s too precious not to go after your dreams. Yes, go after. That’s a verb. Dreams on their own are not enough to change the world. Dreams acted on–that’s what’s real.

How can working moms do this? Each day, we get trapped in the numerous little things that need our attention. Memos, meetings, dentist appointments, PTA conferences, family reunions, long lines at the bank, traffic… We barely find time to sleep, much less chase after a dream. So we keep putting it off, and the years pass, and finally, we’re 90 years old, bedridden, and talking to anyone who’ll listen about all of the could’ve beens.

Is that what you want to be? An old woman full of regrets? If not, then make time for your dream. If you can find time to watch a stupid television show, or complain to your friend about the 10 pounds you gained, surely you can find time to start your dream. How?

Place the big rocks in first

There’s this exercise that we do in our training programs as part of our goal-setting module. An empty fish bowl, a pile of big rocks and a pail of small rocks are placed on a table. You are challenged to fit all rocks in the fish bowl, which at first glance seem too many to fit in. You may be tempted to put in the small rocks first and then the big ones. But you’ll find out that many pieces can’t be placed in the bowl. Then, when you place the big rocks first and then the small ones, you’ll discover that everything just fits in smugly.

So what’s the lesson here? If you do the numerous small tasks first, you may find out that you may not have “space” or time for the big tasks needed to achieve your dreams. However, once you do your big tasks first, you’ll find time to fit in all the little tasks you need to do in your life.

Do the important, not urgent matters first

Another method is Stephen Covey’s time management quadrant. On one side of the quadrant are the important things you have to do—these are the things you need to do to achieve your dreams. On the lower side of the quadrant are the urgent things you have to do. Combining the important and the urgent, you get four categories: the important and not urgent; the important and urgent; the unimportant and urgent; and the unimportant and not urgent.

Obviously, the last category (unimportant and not urgent) are the tasks that you should not waste time on. However, you are torn between the second and third categories, which are urgent in nature.

Between the two, you must give priority to the second—the important and the urgent, since they relate to your Big Dream. Just because they aren’t due by the end of the week doesn’t mean they’re not worth setting aside time for. Those weeks add up, and whatever happens, remember that your dream is due at the end of your life (and death is one deadline you can’t put off).

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. However, credit must be given to the editor who revised the better part of the beginning and end of this column. Published in Metro Working Mom May 2003.

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A CARTOON by renowned New Yorker cartoonist Robert Mankoff shows two businessmen with knives stuck in their backs talking to each other. One says, “Oh, fine. And you?” The other says, “Never better.” “Backstabbing,” which is literally interpreted by this cartoon, is the practice of putting down or creating malicious intrigues about other people in a covert manner. “Backbiting” is a milder form of this corporate crime. While this cartoon may amuse us, it does bring home the fact that we all have come to accept and, at the same time, deny the reality of this practice at work.

Backstabbing or backbiting is a symptom of unresolved conflict at work. Some people engage in this practice when they do not have the will nor the ways to resolve interpersonal conflicts. When there is conflict, the natural, spontaneous reaction of people is  “fight” or “flight.” If you have the strength equal to or more than your opponent, you take the “fight” option. But if you think you are weaker than your opponent, you go with the “flight” alternative.

In the workplace, this translates into “confrontation” and “denial.” When people choose confrontation, they usually approach the person they are in conflict with and have it out. This may be done in a negative way, like in a shouting match or argument, or this may be done in a positive way in open and honest communication, using effective communication skills. When people choose denial, they do nothing, shrug off the problem and wish it away to non-existence. In the workplace, there is a third option, usually taken by the weaker opponent, and that is backstabbing or backbiting.

Deservedly or undeservedly, women are often accused of engaging in this unsavory practice, a perception that has its roots in the concept (or misconcept) that women are the weaker sex. And when men do this, some people comment, “You are just like a woman!” This perception has hindered the advancement of many women in business.

What can women do to combat this perception and practice at work? One way is to master effective conflict resolution skills. Effective conflict resolution is based on the concept of “win-win” in interpersonal relations. It is only when both parties win that the conflict can be effectively resolved. When one party feels the loser, there can never be a resolution of conflict. More so, when both parties feel like losers.

How is the “win-win” approach translated into actual practice? The dictum to follow here is Stephen Covey’s principle of “Seek first to understand, then, to be understood.”

When you are in conflict with another person—perhaps you have different views on an issue or you think that the other party is saying something bad about you—request for a meeting with that person to discuss your concerns.

At that meeting, bring out your concerns in a positive and gentle manner like, “I have heard that you do not approve of my project which I presented to the committee yesterday. I want to find out what is your view on this and why.”

Then, seek first to understand by listening. Listen with intent to really understand. Listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Apart from what is verbally said, observe the person’s body language and find out the message behind his words. Allow the other person to finish what he is saying before taking your turn talking. Keep an open mind. Do not prejudge what he is saying.

Afterwards, seek to be understood. Share your ideas, thoughts and feelings from the heart. Use the “I” word. For example, instead of saying, “You know when other people receive negative feedback, they also react negatively,” say, “When I receive negative feedback, I react negatively.” Communicate in a way that supports the other person. Be conscious of how you are being understood.

Then, if after a trustful exchange of ideas, both of you cannot agree, then both of you can agree to disagree without being disagreeable.

The ability to resolve conflicts productively is an indicator of high emotional intelligence which research has shown to be a characteristic of highly successful individuals. Learn and practice this skill to remove one more obstacle to the successful achievement of your goals as a working mom.

 Author: Regina Galang Reyes. Published in Metro Working Mom September 2002

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