Tracy's blog

I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Monday, January 30, 2017

"Need a morale boost? Simulate a plane crash"/ "To hug or not to hug at work?"

Jan. 11, 2017 "Need a morale boost? Simulate a plane crash": Today I found this job article by Tyler J. Kelley in the Globe and Mail:

You get to see how people handle stressful situations. This unifies the team.

Greg Drab Owner of Advantage Personal Training

Teaching employees survival skills in a stressful situation can help with teamwork and leadership abilities

Montana Woods, 19, a premed student at the University of Connecticut, had been told what to do. Yet, as the water rose above her head, she was seized by fear and panic. Upside down, water filling her sinuses, it was difficult to remember how to escape.

Ms. Woods and seven others – two university students, four trainers from a personal training company and the owner of a paving company – spent a Saturday in November surviving mock plane crashes at an indoor pool in Groton, Conn. Unlike the 120,000 students who had gone before them, this group had no overt need for aquatic-survival training. They all worked safely on land. What they wanted to learn was how to be leaders and to work as a team.

The class of three women and five men were clients of Survival Systems USA, which has been teaching aquatic survival since 1999 out of a boxy blue building across the street from GrotonNew London Airport. The company has instructed employees of the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., the National Guard, the New York Police Department, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Army, among others.

In teaching survival skills to people who might have occasion to use them, “we’ve seen residual effects along the way: improved morale, self-esteem, capabilities people didn’t know they had,” said Maria C. Hanna, president of Survival Systems USA.

Until recently, she said, “we’ve never stopped long enough to say, ‘You know, this is something that can appeal to a market in a different way, using the tools from aviation to help people develop themselves.’ ”

Ms. Hanna is hoping to market her company’s services as a teambuilding activity. This was the second time Survival Systems had given the new class. Since the curriculum was still being tweaked, it was offered at no cost in return for students’ feedback, but soon, the six-hour, one-day experience will retail for about $950 a person, a price comparable with the company’s other one-day programs.

The building’s crown jewel is a Modular Egress Training Simulator, a plastic and metal craft that can be arranged to resemble the cockpit of almost any helicopter or small plane on the market. A purpose-built crane lifts it up and lowers it into the pool. Other equipment in the cavernous space can replicate the downwash from rescue helicopters and generate rain, darkness, 120-mph winds, smoke and fire.

During a preliminary tour, Ms. Woods saw the simulator for the first time.
“I looked at it and I realized it would start filling up,” she said. “I’m a lifeguard, I surf, so I shouldn’t be scared of this, but personally, water deaths are my least favorite deaths.” In high school, Ms. Woods read Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, about the sinking of a fishing boat and, ever since, she’s retained a visceral image of drowning.

The instructor talked to the class about teamwork, leadership goals and safety procedures for the activities ahead. After a lunch of pizza, the students walked eagerly to the pool deck. Everyone wore flight suits, water shoes and helmets. It was dark and foggy. AC/DC’s Thunderstruck blared and a disco ball lit the room.

“All we need is a roller rink,” one of the personal trainers joked.
The classmates jumped without hesitation from a 14-foot platform into the pool. Life vests inflated, they were given the duration of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On to find a way to stay warm while floating. It turned out to be: Assume a carpet formation, arms linked, legs under the arms of the two people across from you.

Taylor Cintron, 19, an economics major at UConn, was put in charge of the next task, boarding an inflated life raft. Before the last person was on, Singin’ in the Rain started playing. Wind and water blasted the raft. Ms. Cintron yelled orders over the squall. Everyone got aboard and, after some scrambling, the life raft’s tent-like roof was closed against the rain.

The pop music was supposed to ease anxiety. It appeared to be working.
“I’m less scared than I thought I was,” Ms. Cintron said during a break. “I hate touching people,” she said, but “this is okay, I trust everyone that I’m with. It’s not touching for no reason.”

Finally, each person was strapped into the simulator, submerged and flipped. In this exercise, there are three rounds. First, you reach for the window frame, undo your seat belt, pull yourself out and swim to the surface. Second, add a closed window to the puzzle. (You’d do the same in a submerged car, only you might need to break the window.) Third, pretend your window is stuck and, by holding onto the seats and the console, cross to the adjacent window.

An instructor is poised behind the participants the entire time, ready to whisk them to the surface if anything goes wrong. Although no one has drowned during the training, the fear remains.

“Last time I took my staff here, two or three backed out,” said Greg Drab, 40, owner of Advantage Personal Training of Mystic, Conn., which had sent the four trainers to the class. “After the second exercise, a couple people had hit their threshold.”

If Mr. Drab had been paying retail, this would be more expensive than the $50 ropes course he’d done with employees in the past, but even at $950, he said, it would have been worth it.

“You get to see how people handle stressful situations,” Mr. Drab said. “This unifies the team.”

Everyone in that Saturday’s class escaped the simulator successfully, but it took Ms. Woods longer than she would have liked. Standing by the pool, still dripping, she said she felt “a little more at ease with my whole fear. I know as long as you follow the procedures there’s nothing to worry about. In every situation there’s a moment of panic and you have to squash it.”

Within the team-building industry, Survival Systems’ course would fit into the category of extreme experiences, such as driving a race car at 150 mph or flying a fighter jet, said Merrick Rosenberg, chief executive of Team Builders Plus, which is based in Marlton, N.J., and has taught classes to Fortune 500 companies since 1991.

Mr. Rosenberg said he distinguishes “team-bonding” activities from those with “deep learning or cultural transformation” as their goal. In a team-bonding experience, he said, such as the Survival Systems’ class, participants “overcome self-imposed limitations” and learn trust, communication and leadership, but they don’t re-enact and critique workplace dynamics as they would in the more interpersonal “deeplearning” exercises. Team Builders Plus offers both.

Mr. Rosenberg said survivalskills classes appeal to some more than others.
“There are specific types of groups that like high-risk activities,” he said, citing lawyers and people in sales, public relations or marketing.

People in social work, nursing, finance or engineering, he said, might not be as keen to face the fear of drowning.

“I would think this is a very millennial experience,” he said. “It won’t appeal to everyone, but for the people who match that demographic, they’re going to have a blast.”

Jan. 28, 2017 "To hug or not to hug at work?": Today I found this article by Leah Eichler in the Globe and Mail:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently shuffled his cabinet and, say what you will about his choices, there is one thing I couldn’t help noticing: What’s with all the hugging?

While the Prime Minister’s penchant for hugs is no secret – Maclean’s magazine counted 22 hugs and 32 kisses when his first cabinet was sworn in – I can’t help but wonder when, and if, we hug too much in professional settings.

I worry since I am also a hugger. Sure, I shake people’s hands when I meet them, but, after knowing someone for a while and developing a rapport, my instinct is to give most people a hug. In my mind, it breaks the ice professionally and brings authenticity to new relationships.
However, not everyone agrees on hugging, and entering into close contact with individuals we work with can be tricky. The key to navigating hugs at work, according to Mark Bowden, a Toronto-based expert in body language and human behaviour, comes down to being clued into the company’s culture, or “tribe.”

“There are small groups that we fit into, our tribal groups, that follow the same norms even within a broader culture. So, we need to look at the profession and then the sub-tribes in that profession,” he explained. For example, there may be someone in a very specific role at a bank that hugs, but another person, with the same job description, at another bank, may not be open to hugs.

Hugging also means different things to different people. That proximity may be friendly to some, but come across as overly controlling to others.
“Being belly to belly is very vulnerable and faces can get close and that’s very vulnerable. If that hug isn’t welcome, the message is that I’m going to make you vulnerable and I don’t care,” Mr. Bowden said.

While there is no easy way to navigate the decision to hug professionally, he recommends watching “the tribe” and seeing how they perform. If you observe many hugs, then you can decide if that’s right for you. Keep in mind that if you don’t like hugging, entering into that hugging tribe and deciding not to partake turns you into a social pariah who doesn’t conform.

If you are on the other side of the hugging spectrum and aren’t sure if your hugs will be appreciated, Mr. Bowden recommends seeking permission by saying, for example, “I like to hug. Is it okay to hug you?”

While that question remains uncomfortable for many – since it opens up the door for someone to say “no” – asking consent to hug is already being taught in schools.

“My kids, 11 and 7, are told at school that if they want to give someone a hug … what they are being educated around is asking permission before giving that level of physical contact,” he said.

Another option for huggers is keeping an eye open for “gateway gestures” that would lead you to believe that hugging is okay, for example, or just pats on the back or shoulders.

In other words, observe and take things slowly because “if you rush into that hug, it’s difficult to stop when it’s started,” Mr. Bowden observed. While we don’t know the motivation behind Mr. Trudeau’s decision to hug his entire cabinet – it could mean he’s inviting them into a “family” or bringing them under his command – it appears that Canadians, as a tribe, may be more into hugging than other nationalities.

“I’ve been in Canada for 11 years and I’m always surprised by the amount of hugging that goes on. Canada is a very warm, inviting place, so I would generally expect to see plenty of hugging in Canada,” Mr. Bowden said.

It’s a sentiment shared by Richard King, a Vancouver-based recruiter who often visits U.S. workplaces, who likes to hug, but also acknowledges that it can be fraught with human resource issues.

“The past six years of working for U.S.-based companies taught me a lot about being Canadian,” Mr. King, who works from home in Vancouver, said.

“Whenever I visit the studio in the U.S., I gave and received lots and lots of hugs. During one such visit, an HR manager took me aside and said, ‘Richard, no one hugs at work but for some reason when the Canadians come for a visit, it’s a big hug fest,’ ” he said.
However, Mr. King said he’s conscious of how easily hugging can get out of hand and worries how much is too much? His rule of thumb is to hug upon arrival and then again when it’s time to say good-bye.

So unless you are very astute in determining the values of your “tribe,” be cautious with your business hugs. If you get the sense that it was a mistake, you can always follow up with, “Sorry, I’m Canadian. We tend to hug. Just look at our Prime Minister.”


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