Saturday, September 28, 2019

Workplace Stress

Over the years I have worked as a consultant, freelancer and actually in corporations and government offices and learned that stress lives everywhere, but it how we handle those situations. Some of my best positions doing work that I loved lived among toxic waste. Great workers usually stay as long as they can because they love the work but eventually they must leave in order to survive physically. Incompetent or inadequate workers never seem to leave but love stirring the pot filled with harassment, bullying, viciousness and lies. I have always had a saying that those who stir the pot should be forced to lick the spoon.

Believe it or not sometimes there is good stress. During these times it's normal and can be helpful. For example, when you need help from a co-worker or team member to complete a project or you have to present in front of a group of people.
You may feel butterflies jumping around in your stomach and your hands are shaking, but once you get going all is great. These type of stressors are short lived, and our body's way of helping us to get through what may have been a challenging situation.

However, dealing with negative stress can have a strong impact on one's health. Regardless how much you may love your work, the negativity can force you out of an organization. There are many causes of stress that may have negative vibes that include:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Bullying or harassment by other staff members
  • Weak or ineffective leadership
  • Being micromanaged
  • Dealing with negative or toxic team members
  • Being overworked while others are doing nothing
  • Attending too many unproductive meetings
  • Racism, Sexism, Ageism and Discrimination
  • Reactions as a result of fear and egos from others
There are also physical symptoms that can have an impact such as:
  • Tension or muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Problems sleeping
  • Lack of Appetite or Digestive issues
  • Overeating
  • High blood pressure
  • Floaters in the eyes
Emotional symptoms may also include:
  • Depression or Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling you can’t get things done
  • Moodiness
  • Irritability
If you love your work and want to stay on the job it's important to try a few techniques that do not include punching someone in the face, although in all honesty, I have been close to doing just that to many who actually deserve it. It took me some time to understand that it's not worth spending time in jail over an idiot. Instead, if you want to stay on your job and search for contentment, you may try the following tips:Be assertive. It will surprise those who are use to bullying. Assert your feelings, opinions and beliefs.
  • Let negative people know without hesitation that you don't have time for bullshit and that you are about business and getting the job done. Simply walk away.
  • Manage your time so that you are not available for distractions.
  • Accept the things that you can't control. Escalate those tough issues or problems up to someone with a higher pay grade who can solve the issue faster.
  • Learn and practice relaxation techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, or emotional intelligence.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Exercise or walk when you can and eat well balanced meals.
  • Spend time with people that bring you joy.
  • And most importantly, laughter is good for the soul.
If you love your work, do give it a try. If the negativity is too much and it's making you sick, it may be time to consider moving to a different place where your skills will be appreciated and rewarded.

Mikael Wagner is a Communications Project Manager with Promotions West. Share your tips on reducing stress at or visit Promotions West

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Reimagined Life

As a young man full of life and energy in 1990, I was forced to give up my dreams and ambitions, because of a new disease that swept the country. At that time, physicians told me that as a gay man my chances of surviving were slim to none and to start making plans and peace with family members. As I looked around, not wanting the fun and parties that I had drawn me to San Francisco to end, I feared that the rumors were true. One by one, two by two, and then 20 by 20, I started to lose my best friends, colleagues, lovers and those that we called “Gay Moms. Being young and rather na├»ve, I was at a loss and turned to my mother. Normally, she was the last person in the world that I would turn to for help, but she actually surprised me. She explained to me that we now had a lot in common with each other. Then, the light bulb started to glow brighter with her next words. In the sweetest voice, she said, “All of your friends are dying and so are mine. So, let’s figure out this together and how we will survive.” At that time, my mom was the age I am today and full of life and encouragement for me.
Thirty years later, I am still here using the skills that I learned from so many wonderful people to help others to survive. Life has taught me that aging does not mean getting old and feeling depressed. Aging means using all of your insightful experience that has been acquired along the way and transforming your life into a magical experience to reach new goals or to expand your life. Reimagining life is making what could be into what is.
The most challenging part of aging for me is living in the present and embracing the moment. It’s not easy. I often drift off and think about all the stuff I should have done yesterday or how am I going to take care of something that seems urgent tomorrow, instead of listening and enjoying what is happening today. There are still days when I feel sad and miss my friends who have moved or transitioned so many years ago. I try to place myself into the old man box, but my happy spirit just will not allow me to do it. With the inclusion of younger friends and colleagues in my life, the one thing they have taught me to do is to be present, not in the past and not in the future. Believe me, it works.
Now when I pass a mirror and look at the person looking back at me, I am flattered instead of thinking, ugh, who is that old man trying to flirt with me. Today, I look into the mirror and smile, thinking about all the good times that old man has had and all the adventures that lie ahead for him. Remember the movie, Catch Me If You Can? That is how I feel today.
As a boomer, I am working as hard as I ever did 30 years ago, but the difference is what I share with others. One of my gifts to those who are 50+ or actually any age is helping them to re-imagine life and ways to get unstuck and remember to have fun while creating a new life. It’s enjoyable to accept people where they are in life and assist them in pushing past the boundaries to revisit their dreams. Dreams can include a great vacation, starting a dream business, getting healthy and being physically fit, dating again, taking a class or just doing something that you have always wanted to do but were always told that you were never good enough to do.
I never thought I would say it, but getting older has helped me to spread my wings, expand my mind, and push beyond the barriers that I created to protect or imprison myself. I am wise enough to know that all sorts of negativity exist in society against those in the LGBT community, against communities of color and against older people in the workforce, but I refuse to be put down because of any of those negative thoughts. The best part about being present and in the moment is to never stop pushing until your goal has been reached.
After living through some amazing times, isn’t it time to expand our horizon and celebrate life with vigor and pride? To quote the late Maya Angelou, my goal is “To be the rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”
Mikael Wagner, a strategic communications project manager, is principal and managing director of Promotions West, a public relations and marketing firm based in San Francisco.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Ways to Keeping Your Work Meetings on Track

When is the last time you were at a fantastic meeting? I would venture to say the majority of internal meetings are painful and expensive time sucks, especially if you consider the collective wages and time your organization is losing for however many people to sit around and talk.
How often do you regret going to your staff or management meetings?  Be honest. I have only worked in a few places where all the staff enjoyed and participated in meetings and worked as a team. 

Lately, I hate attending staff, management or planning meetings because the same people practice and rehearse different ways to derail the meeting and to never stop talking until they are certain that nothing has been accomplished. I keep waiting for the leadership to stop the nonsense, but it hasn't happened yet. 

Have you seen this behavior before? If not prepare yourself for a show of people that give new meaning to being obnoxious. They never stop talking and I keep wondering if they ever pause to ask themselves, why am I talking?

Here is a snapshot of W.A.I.T. - Why am I talking?
There are a few things that can be used to make your meetings better.
1. Stop derailment before it starts.
Results," Roger Schwarz recently wrote a guest blog for Harvard Business Review in which he said there are three things you can do to keep a meeting from going off-track.
First, spell out and get agreement on the purpose of each part of the meeting. If someone believes other issues need to be addressed they'll have the opportunity to say so instead of bringing them forward as rabbit trails once the meeting is rolling along.
"If it's not your meeting and there is no agenda, simply ask, 'Can we take a minute to get clear on the purpose and topics for the meeting to make sure we accomplish what you need?'" Schwarz writes.
Also, don't move to a new subject without properly closing out the prior one. Ask people if there's anything else that needs to be addressed regarding the topic. If someone isn't ready to move on, find out why not. Doing so lessens the chance they'll reintroduce the same subjects down the road.
And if you think someone is derailing a meeting, determine if they're doing it for a legitimate reason. Tactfully ask him or her how what they're talking about relates to the subject in question. Maybe there's a connection you or others hadn't considered.
2. Hold your stand-up meetings at 5 p.m.
Stand-up meetings aren't new, but making people do it at a time of day when they want to go home is an unconventional way to ensure a meeting doesn't stray off-course.
3. Make sure everyone is on the same page.  
LinkedIn has done away with in-meeting presentations because people can read them on their own. But CEO Jeff Weiner has some other strong beliefs about meeting etiquette. He stresses the importance of defining semantics. He writes:
It never ceases to amaze me how often meetings go off the rails by virtue of semantic differences. Picture a United Nations General Assembly gathering without the real-time translation headphones and you'll have the right visual. Words have power, and as such, it's worth investing time upfront to ensure everyone is on the same page in terms of what certain keywords, phrases, and concepts mean to the various constituencies around the table.  
Weiner says it's also important to identify one person to "keep the car on the road" by making sure the conversation remains relevant, no one dominates the discussion, and adjunct discussions are taken offline.
4. Agree on rules and have them enforced by an issue-neutral person.
The worst offenders when it comes to derailing meetings are ramblers, bores, show-offs, latecomers, naysayers, time wasters, and minutia-minders, writes Charlie Hawkins, president of Seahawk Associates, an Albuquerque, New Mexico-based management resource for strategic planning, idea generation, and communications effectiveness.
The first thing to do, he says, to agree on ground rules. For example, your team could agree that meetings will start and end on time, a prioritized agenda will be followed and no side conversations are allowed. You could even make a rule that chronic latecomers will be tasked with facilitating the next meeting.
Then, when ramblers ramble, someone can raise the agenda rule. Use some kind of parking lot--board, paper or another mechanism--for capturing side issues that can be addressed at a later time. And you can appease attention-seekers or derailers by giving them a job, such as a timekeeper.
Hawkins says gentle but assertive facilitation is better than direct confrontation and should be employed by an issue-neutral person who's not the boss or someone otherwise invested in the outcome.
Work with a particularly disruptive person? Don't invite him or her to meetings. If that's not possible, the person's supervisor will have to initiate a frank conversation. This direct approach might not be fun for anyone, but it's worth doing if it results in less time wasted in meetings.
The following tips can help when setting ground rules for your next meeting: 

  • Show up on time and come prepared. Be prompt in arriving at the meeting and in returning from breaks
  • Stay mentally and physically present
  • Contribute to meeting goals
  • Let everyone participate
  • Listen with an open mind
  • Think before speaking
  • Stay on point and on time
  • Attack the problem, not the person
  • Close decisions and identify action items
  • Record outcomes and follow up

It is possible to make the workplace a great place with the right leadership and management stepping forward. Information in this blog is shared from an article in Inc. Magazine by Christina DeMarais called 4 Ways to Keep People from Derailing Meetings.

Mikael Wagner - Promotions West -


Many years ago I entered the field of broadcast media with no skills or any understanding of media. A woman interviewed me for the position of Assistant Public Affairs Director and gave me the assignment to write a news story on a specific topic that could be read in 30 seconds. I wasn't worried because I had been a teacher and knew how to write. Being very proud of my work, she took one look and I thought uh uh I am doomed. She took the time to explain the difference in writing like an educator and writing for the ear like media people do. With her help and guidance, she worked with me until I got the news copy correct.  She left the room and the next thing I heard was my news story being reported. At that moment I was confused and excited. She thanked me for my time because she had other interviews scheduled but would be in touch. Again, I thought I flunked the test. Within 2 weeks, I was the new Assistant Public Affairs Director learning as fast as I could to understand and try new things without being afraid of failing. From the position of Assistant Director, I became the Director of Public Affairs once my boss moved to a more powerful radio station. From there I was able to move into many other exciting positions in radio and television. My training in broadcast media helped me to start my own Public Relations and Marketing agency.
My director, best friend, and the best mentor ever was the late Dr. Julia Hare.

My boss, I later discovered was one of the founders of the Black Think Tank and a great author of many books with her husband, Nathan Hare, Ph.D.  It didn't stop there, she had a doctorate in Psychology, was known on every national talk show and throughout the media. If it wasn't for her playing a major role in my life I would not be the person I am today. She was tough on me but loving, pushed me as hard as she could, but always waiting to catch me if I tripped and she taught me everything about broadcasting, writing, how to dress, how to speak and how to be a true champ. She also taught me major lessons on being proud, about Black history, jazz and all types of music, lessons of racism and hatred that exist all over the world, about prisons and the Black community, about the fake war on drugs, and most importantly to always remember the color of my skin and always greet another brother or sister that looks like you. She also taught me about Blacks that desire more than anything to not be black, she called them Tom and Tomasina. The most important lesson she taught me was to always hire someone smarter than me so that another will have a chance to grow.

Dr. Julia Hare’s work has brought her many awards and honors including Educator of the Year for Washington, D.C. by the Junior Chamber of Commerce and World Book Encyclopedia in coordination with American University; The Abe Lincoln Award for Outstanding Broadcasting, The Carter G. Woodson Education Award, The Association of Black Social Workers’ Harambee Award; the Scholar of the Year Award from the Association of African Historians; and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Black Writers and Artists Union. Hare has been inducted into the Hall of Fame of her high school alma mater, Booker T. Washington High, was given a Presidential Citation from the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education and was named one of the ten most influential African Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Here are some of the books by Nathan and Julia Hare. In fact, I am re-reading the Black Anglo Saxons and the ink is still wet like it was written this morning.

Julia Hare was my lifetime mentor. Even today, she is with me in every political meeting in the Mayor's office or even a staff meeting. She taught me how to enter a room and evaluate it within 5 seconds to know where the hatred is or where the racism sits. To this day, I evaluate every room that I am about to enter.

A good mentor possesses the following qualities: Willingness to share skills, knowledge, and expertise. A good mentor is willing to teach what he/she knows and accept the mentee where they currently are in their professional development. Good mentors can remember what it was like just starting out in the field.

Have you ever had a mentor, someones that genuinely care about your growth? I hope that everyone says YES, but I know that may not be the case.

Here is a video of Dr. Hare speaking out about life. Makes me sad that many of the same issues are being dealt with every day while living, breathing, working, driving or shopping while being Black. 

I wanted to share my feelings on the importance of having a mentor in life. I lost my mentor at the end of February. Most appropriately that it was Black History Month. When you care about someone it's difficult to accept the news. I cried, then I smiled because at that moment I knew that she would always be with me and guiding me on the correct path.

I would love to hear about your mentors that help to guide you. Please share the great qualities that were shared with you.

Mikael Wagner - Promotions West -

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Networking vs Building Relationships

Is there a difference between 
networking and building relationships? Could they basically be the same?  It's a question that many of my professional colleagues continue to discuss when we get together for tea, coffee or a cocktail.

This month I was invited to a business networking luncheon for entrepreneurs and independent consultants.  When I received the invitation, I simply tossed it aside in my Review Later folder on my computer. After several days passed, I decided to review that folder and delete most of the "Not in Your Life" invitations, announcements that arrive daily.  This one was different for some reason, one of the co-organizers was a colleague that I've collaborated with on several projects. It peaked my curiosity as she is someone that I've built a strong relationship with over many years. So, I responded in the affirmative, still feeling a bit hesitant. The question that kept running through my head was is this a networking hello meeting or building relationship activity.

Over the years we have been taught by professionals to always have an elevator speech in our back pocket or tucked away in your brief case to be pulled out at the drop of a hat. They usually say practice makes perfect and you end up delivering a canned speech that has been remembered, often sounding less than sincere. If you have an elevator speech, remember that it should change, depending on the audience or person you are talking to at the time. Giving a 10 to 15 second speech about yourself can inform and peak curiosity but follow up is an important next step. Quite often I hope that the elevator door will open sooner than later.

Communications is one of the key factors in everything that we do at home or at work. Active listening is a key factor of networking and building relationships.
Often, most people are not listening at all but waiting on a chance to jump in and share their story whether it relates to what was discussed or not. Trust me, it's a turn off. Often when I am conducting training sessions I have participants practice this concept and ask pertinent questions to what had been communicated by their partner. Try practicing active listening over the next few days, most people notice when someone is listening or not listening to what is being said or requested. It's key when working with clients.

Not everyone wants to build a relationship, but they are interested in networking if they can see the benefits for themselves. Networking can be a bit like speed dating.  Often you may be asked the same questions whether it's in business or on a date. The usual questions are:
  • So, what do you do? My response is when? Then they probe further asking -- "For a living?" People tend to be impressed by job titles as opposed to who you are as a person. Of course, this varies from region to region. 
  • Where do you work?  If you say Google or Apple people want to know more about you and if discounts come with knowing you. When living in Washington, DC, the question always started with "Do you work on Capitol Hill?"  Give the wrong answer and people walk away. It was always fun to say I work at the White House to see them start to drool and gather around to become a new contact.
  • Where do you live? I sometimes say in my car just to see the look of horror on their faces.
  • Do you drive? When dating often someone will volunteer to walk you to your car as if you need a guard for protection. Do you know why -- to see what type of car you own. Apparently, it provides more information on how successful they think that you should be.
Building a solid relationship is an investment and takes time. It's a bit like fishing, if you reel the fish in too fast you could snatch the lips off, as my dad use to tell us kids on every fishing trip. Here is a networking cheat sheet that may be able to get you started until you feel comfortable. 

Daily, organizations ask me and those in my network, "How do we get into the African American, Latino/Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander community?" Building relationships with communities can take years to create properly. The relationship between individuals must be nurtured and respected before it is used. Developing a genuine relationship creates trust and a strong bond. Creating strong relationships is a process of honesty, commitment, loyalty, and growth that starts with being culturally sensitive, respectful, and wise.  It saddens me that most companies and staff are not interested in putting in the time that it takes to develop a contact or a relationship.

Today, most companies and people expect it to happen immediately through social media, text messages or emails but not in person. One of my interns said to me, "What would anyone talk about over lunch or coffee with a stranger?" Fast and dirty is not always the long-term solution to being successful. So, I took my intern to lunch with a new contact to teach her how to have a delightful conversation.

So, my question to you: Is there really a difference between networking and building a relationship? Please share your ideas and best practices in what works best for you.

For more information or to share your comments: