That’s SO Not Okay

photo by Heather Clarke via Flickr.

“Civility costs nothing and buys everything”, wrote Lady Mary Wortley Montagu hundreds of years ago in recording her world travel experiences.

“Mind your manners”, our parents reminded us in an effort to teach us to be respectful of others and garner respect for ourselves. 

Despite this time-tested wisdom and first-hand guidance, however, we still see 21st century adults with respected professional titles exhibit behaviour in the workplace that throws etiquette out the window. I’m talking about outbursts that more resemble a child’s temper tantrum than a leader’s authoritative stance. Often, targeted blaming and outright contempt are not-so-subtly layered in.

After a couple of quite unbelievable reports lately from clients exposed to behaviour that I would describe as “SO not okay”, I turned to seasoned psychologist Barry Pokroy of Circle and Square Inc., to try to make sense of such extreme unprofessional conduct.

Why do we see this kind of …. I’ll just say it: ‘freaking out’ …on a regular basis from some people under pressure?

In the overall population this actually isn’t so common. But among people who do exhibit such behaviour, it may happen frequently for them.

These individuals aren’t very good at containing their emotions and responses to situations in which they feel threatened. Everyone’s brain has evolved to detect threats. Those who have had strong negatives emotions tied to adverse events in their past are particularly susceptible to a strong reaction, because the part of the brain that processes emotion is also largely responsible for memory.

It’s safe to say that the inner world of people who ‘freak out’ at others regularly isn’t a very comfortable or calm one. People tend to either internalize or project insecurity (that sense of being threatened), and the ones who project it outwardly can be quite difficult to deal with. Their explosiveness causes others to react to their frustration and that can escalate the situation.

I challenge my coaching clients to re-design professional relationships that aren’t working. Why does some such relationship-building hit a wall?

Around 85% of people think of themselves as very self-aware, but only 10-15% of people actually are. Relationships usually hit a wall when people aren’t fully aware of their own or others’ needs, or aren’t able to effectively deal with other people’s expressions of those needs.

Two of the most crucial questions to be asking yourself on a consistent basis are “what do I need?” and “what does this other person need?”.  A child doesn’t bother putting up a façade when tired or angry, and adults are still driven by the same basic emotional and physical needs. However, we’re a bit more sophisticated in our approach. So, for example, someone who craves validation may show up as arrogant if they are not self-aware enough to understand their underlying needs and their impact.

So there are some people who simply have limitations in their ability to relate to others effectively?

Yes. 5% of people don’t have the capacity for healthy handling of their emotions or building effective relationships. This small piece of the population must be managed through ‘consequences’ instead of ‘relationship’.

That means, of course, that vast majority of people (95%) don’t have any limitations to building mutually respectful and beneficial relationships given the right circumstances. That is, we can lead and collaborate effectively other people through the strength of our relationship with them. So it’s very much worth putting in every effort to creating strong relationships.

How can we identify a behaviour that’s not fixable?

There are three ‘tells’ that let us know if someone belongs to the 5% of people who really cannot build healthy relationships and communicate accordingly:

  1. An inability to “walk in someone else’s shoes.”

The technical term for this is ‘Mentalization’. Most of us have this capacity. We understand that our own knowledge, feelings and thoughts aren’t necessarily known by other people. In a high-pressure and fast-paced corporate environment, it’s easy to forget or dismiss this.

  2. An inability to express emotions maturely and effectively.

The term for this is ‘Affect regulation’. Most people can regulate their emotions by paying attention to them and not being overwhelmed by them. Some people consistently over-regulate, where they actually won’t show or experience emotion at all, while others under-regulate (this is your ‘freaking out’).

  3. Unbalanced relationships.

‘Reciprocity’ is the ability to give and take in a relationship; we read cues and tend to act in ways to keep things balanced. You may notice that some people are compulsive givers or extreme takers, and both are damaging behaviours.

What’s the best way to manage a “5% person” if you’re stuck working with them?

Communication with these folks is very different than under normal circumstances. They need to be worked with in using the language of ‘consequences’, as in, “if x happens/doesn’t happen, then the result will be y.”

Disengage emotionally. Set this boundary to protect yourself, and to contain the damage so that it doesn’t poison the team. It is very easy to take on the emotional toxicity of someone like this, but particularly in a leadership role, you must model what you want from others. Exemplify firm kindness and debrief issues objectively. Be vigilant about avoiding gossip, or trying to gain more people on ‘your side’ under the guise of problem solving.

Any overall words of wisdom?

Communication and relationship norms vary greatly across company cultures. Your office might look like a circus or a library from the outside, and if it’s getting the job done, that’s what counts, as long as there is an underlying respect for ensuring a healthy work environment. In that vein, are some behaviours that are objectively unacceptable, including:

  • Managing through threats or intimidation
  • Humiliating or ridiculing someone for their mistakes
  • Stealing credit and taking unfair advantage
  • Lying, or spreading malicious rumours
  • Manipulating information to set up a subordinate for failure
  • Belittling a person’s opinions

Ask a trusted peer or a mentor if you need help judging the situation impartially. If the situation demands it, take action to put your wellbeing first.

Your Network is a Universe of Possibilities

It’s important for us to recognize, assess and nurture key business relationships. Why? Because getting what you want with others’ help is way easier than going at things alone! Allow me to help you map out a strategy.

But first, let’s back up and make sure you believe that you are an important person who knows important people.

How do I know that’s the case? Because you were plucked from a large pool as the very best person to perform your job function. If the pool was a small one, it makes you all the more invaluable! The important people you know? Those include the person who hired you, the individual to whom they’re accountable, people who have seen your name on great work, anyone who taught you the skills you have today, bosses you’ve impressed in the past, and friends from school who have earned coveted roles. They’re all surely influential people in your profession to some extent, and they’re in your direct network.
Think of it as a solar system –  in the elementary school sense –  in which you’re the sun at the centre. Go on, actually draw it! Put several increasingly bigger rings surrounding you to indicate the orbit of planets around the sun. (Fortunately this has nothing to do with the actual order of the planets, because I only remember that Pluto is last…and that’s not even a planet anymore. Go figure.)
Now you’re ready to plot on those orbit lines “planets” that are those closer and farther from the sun, indicating various people in your professional network. Those closer to the centre are your strongest relationships: individuals you could call up any day and it wouldn’t be too awkward.  More distant relationships are farther from the sun; contacts that might require a catch-up e-mail with an update on your life or perhaps a reminder of who you are. Surely, there are a whole bunch in between.
Your solar system will always be evolving. For example, when assigned to work more directly with a senior leader in your organization for a few months, she would naturally move from an outer ring to an inner one as you build rapport.
What you do with this visual reminder is up to you. I would suggest that first, you look at it and feel great about the power of relationship at your fingertips. Then, consider your immediate goals.  Want a promotion? More insight on career options or working arrangements? Mentorship? Target which people are the “important” people in that particular context and reach out to ask for advice, guidance or support from the people who know you. Pull some of those planets in closer to the sun.
“Good idea!” say some of you. And off you go to pick up the phone. For the rest, I know it’s a panic-inducing suggestion, to whom I offer this advice from the movie We Bought a Zoo:
“You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you something great will come of it.”
And you’re hardly buying a zoo here. You’re just manipulating your universe! 😉

Warning: Don’t Retire

Photo by Margie Johnston via Flickr

According to research done by Britain’s Institute of Economic Affairs, retirement increases the probability of suffering from clinical depression by about 40% and it increases the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by about 60%.

Sounds horrible, no? So why do people retire? We’ve convinced ourselves it’s because the pool-side relaxation at the end of 4+ decades of work is our birthright. Frankly, it’s only because in the 1880s, the Chancellor of Germany put into place the novel idea of contributing state funds to support people over 70 who could no longer work. Life expectancy was then about 65, so really, not many people actually retired.

Shortly thereafter, however, North Americans adopted the idea, dialled back retirement age to 65 and never adjusted it. Financial planners who want your business tempt you with visuals of a perfect life on the horizon; a time with no cares in the world. The thing is, today we can expect to live to 80, so we have a precarious 15 years – some will surely have 30– to try to avoid the real hazards of retirement.

Retirees can lose their footing in society, and start to question their purpose, even if they’re doing deep reflection from a beach in Hawaii.

According to psychologists, connecting to one’s purpose is a trait we all share, regardless of level of wealth. Whether you’re a bus driver or a CEO, the right perspective can inspire a feeling of doing meaningful work. Take that work away, and aligning with daily purposeful activities becomes a lot less clear. And it’s making us sick.

Here’s what we can do about it: Stop aiming for retirement, and rather, aim for being “selfishly employed”. If you really want out of the rat race, save your pennies for the goal of working at something you love and that’s aligned with your physical capacity. Consult, teach yoga, write, sell cookies, fundraise, whatever. As long as you insert yourself into something that forces you to think, be relied upon, socialize and get up in the morning to give your gifts to the world.

For retirees reading this whom I’ve frightened, I have something for you. I started an initiative last year called More to Give. Until now, I’ve kept this free coaching offer off my public profile, sharing it only with my personal network. I’m putting it out here now because I’d like to meet more amazing retirees and help them to feel great about this chapter of their lives.

(If you read about More to Give as a younger person, I hope it attunes you to encouraging our seniors to identify and act on their true relevance and importance in our society.)

Here goes! 


MORE TO GIVE: A FREE coaching program for retirees in the Greater Toronto Area
with Certified Coach Rachel Weinstein

“Tell me more…”
The intention of this program is for you to feel an increased sense of purpose and pride every day through giving more.
Of course, you already touch people’s lives through the giving of your time and talents. This is a way to expand from there if you have a desire to do so.
If you are a sharp-minded 65-105-year-old living in Toronto who’s not working and feel that you have more to give (even if you’re in a situation where you’re required to receive assistance of some type from others) then you qualify for this FREE program.

“What will I get?”
The program includes an in-person conversation with me, a Certified Coach. As a Coach, I support people to define, pursue and meet their goals.
Working together, you’ll design a plan as to how you will contribute something more – however big or small – that feels meaningful to you. You might have started to think about this, but it’s often easier to get clarity through speaking to someone.

“Where and when would we meet?”
I am taking on a limited number of new participants a month, and when you get in touch, you’ll be booked in the first available slot.
Our meeting will be about an hour. We can meet at your local coffee shop or community centre, anywhere in Toronto. If you’re in a retirement residence, we can meet in the public space there. (I apologize, but for safety reasons, I can’t come to private homes.)

“Why are you doing this?”
Because I believe that your longevity is a gift to the world. You have a lifetime of accumulated skills and wisdom that others can benefit from, and I know you have a sense of that, too.

“I’m actually thinking about getting back into the workforce in some capacity. Can we talk about that in our sessions?”
Not as a part of the MORE TO GIVE program, however, this is certainly a topic well suited for my standard coaching programs. Contact me at and we can chat more about job/career coaching engagements. Or visit my website at

“MORE TO GIVE sounds amazing! How do I sign up?”
Please contact me by e-mail to set up our first session!

 “I’m a little hesitant, not sure what more I have to give, and haven’t heard of this type of ‘coaching’, but I’m intrigued. Can I ask you some questions?”
Anytime. Contact me at 

“I’m a Coach and would love to do this type of work, too.”
Amazing! If you would like to work with me to expand this initiative, let me know! I think meeting retirees in person is most effective, so I’d love to expand into other geographic regions.








Are you a Mensch or a Mouse?

Photo by jaarenwicklund via Flickr

Last week a girlfriend was recapping a TV interview with a Hollywood big-wig. “He actually seems like a real mensch”, she remarked.  (‘Mensch’ is a Yiddish word that literally means ‘human being’, but connotes a particularly fine, upstanding individual.) The surprise in her tone struck me – as if it was a novel concept that someone with such a profile can be a good person.

Lately, with so many leaders and (former) idols being called out on abusing their power and status, we’re getting used to breaking stories about their disgusting behaviour, offensive comments, deflected mistakes and exposed lies. That said, I coach many industry leaders – not quite Hollywood moguls, but significantly influential nonetheless – who are real mensches.

I took an informal poll among my network. I asked, “What makes a mensch of a leader?” Here’s what stood out:

They’re Humble. Everything this person asks of others, they do too, even if only on occasion. Sometimes they get the group coffee or make the photocopies. There’s never even a hint that they’re more important than the next person. They apologize easily and admit when they’re unsure.

They’re Thoughtful. They ask people about what matters to them. It’s clear they truly care about others’ experiences and feelings; they’re all in when they speak to you. They check in about their impact, and are particularly concerned about embarrassing anyone.

They’re Generous. mensch graciously gives time to their work team and colleagues, friends and family. They help out. They put their money and name behind causes they deem important.

They’re Respectful. They’re polite to everyone, regardless of position or gender: wait staff, receptionists, the intern, their peers. Even in a hurry or in a conflict, they’re fully present and their language is constructive. (And when they slip up, they own it.)

They Share the Credit. With awareness that their success is dependent on so many contributors, they graciously thank even the most peripheral ones when there’s a big win.

They’re Consistent. True mensches are the way they are, in both public and private situations. (These types are no good at faking it, anyway.)

So, a special shout out to the good people who are successful at the top because they’ve risen to the occasion, and inspired others to want to follow them.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Is Entrepreneurship for you?

photo by Manuel de Tillesse via Flickr

I do think some people are born entrepreneurs. I’ve met them, and am fascinated by them. These are the people who, as kids, were using their allowance to buy stickers in bulk to sell at a premium to friends in the playground, when the rest of us were merely trading “smellies” for “shinies”. (Forgive me if the girly ‘80’s reference leaves you scratching your head.)
Different from the business brain always on the lookout for the money-making opportunity, many of today’s entrepreneurs are simply people who find themselves drawn to customizing their career in a way that can’t be satisfied by any employer. A desire for the freedom to design their own path. Which brings me to my need to clarify what’s really required- and what’s not- when it comes to hanging out a shingle of your own.

To do your own thing…..


  • An understanding of the difference between a “lifestyle business” and a true “start up”. In this world of a-new-app-a-minute, some think that entrepreneurship means being the next Twitter. That’s one way to go. These businesses are true “start ups”, complete with a vision to scale it to the moon and a willingness to put in virtually unlimited effort to do so. A “lifestyle business”, on the other hand, is one in which you of course make money – hopefully a whole bunch of money – but your aim is to hit a healthy target, pay off your mortgage (or buy your boat) and enjoy life. At some point you won’t want to work more for more dollars. Both types of business can be extremely satisfying.
  • A willingness to meet new people. When on your own, no matter what kind of business you’re in, you’ll have to be a people person (or be good at faking it!) Whether your targets are investors, clients or strategic partners, I don’t know any successful entrepreneurs who hide out at their desk. That said, you don’t have to be a bubbly extrovert; it’s more about getting comfortable with your own style of relating to others. If this part makes you nervous, you might benefit from this from these tips for entrepreneurial introverts from Entrepreneur magazine.
  • A healthy target market. Someone’s gotta buy your goods or services. Make sure what you’re offering brings a benefit to a good chunk of people, and that it’s something they can’t – or don’t want to – do themselves.
  • A willingness to ask for help. Be prepared to reach out to your network and industry experts. Starting a business can be invigorating, but it can also be a slog at times. Learning from others can keep you from making those times harder on yourself than they have to be. Hiring a coach can also keep you focused, accountable and positive.
  • Personal support. Emotional backing is so important. Make sure you have one (or many) people who can encourage you and be a listening ear. If you live with a partner and/or have a family, it’s also important to understand what financial implication is tied to your venture and come to agreements about how money will be managed as you ramp up, and where the limits are. Literally, talk real dollars and timelines.
  • Resilience. Do you believe in the mantras “you get out of it what you put into it” and “failure is rich with learning”? If so, you probably have the natural resilience you need. And if you’re running low, check out the initiative, F***Up Nights (FUN): presentations from brave entrepreneurs who share failure stories and the associated learning for which they’re grateful. Or, just Google “failure stories”! You’ve had the right dose of inspiration when you can say to yourself (in the words of my coaching client on the cusp of taking the leap), “the worst that can happen is I’ll earn a badge of courage for trying.”


  • A never-been-done-before idea, invention, or something “disruptive”. The world needs innovation, that’s for sure. But it’s not the only way to think about going out on your own. You can take something that works and make it better (which is, frankly, also innovation), you can jump into a market that has space for another player, or you can piggyback on something awesome that someone else has already started. (Also referred to as the first follower, described amusingly by Derek Sivers in his TED talk, How to start a movement.)
  • A huge appetite for risk. “Go big or go home” is not the only way. You can start something while still at your current job, or launch a service business with very little overhead. Michael Katchen, the 20-something founder of the wildly successful online financial robo-advisor Wealthsimple, started with only an Excel-based investment template for a few people in his personal network. From there, the seeds took root, and proved something worthwhile to put more in to.
  • A desire to work alone. Working alone doesn’t have to be lonely. You’ll be networking, perhaps collaborating on projects, taking courses, etc. You may opt to build a team around you. And if it’s not enough, create more opportunities to surround yourself with people. Recently, two entrepreneurial friends and I took our laptops to the lake, to enjoy a productive and social workday at the cottage. (Shout out to brilliant founders Amy Laski of Felicity PR and Nadia Sapiro of Throughline Strategy!)
  • A 20-page strategy. Sure, you need some sort of plan. And the more money you’re investing, the more detailed it should be. That said, you can get off the ground by identifying a “best case scenario”, what you think that would take, and where to start. Then you go from there. The bulk of the planning can be done once you’ve worked in the business for a few months and you can see how it might really play out. Don’t get stuck in solidifying every detail before you take action.

Got what you need? What’s stopping you?
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
– Chinese Proverb