Keep the negative away by Broadcasting Happiness

Ugh. Who watches the news anymore? If you do, you’re going to get a solid dose of everything that’s wrong with the world. News thrives on eyeballs and tragedy draws the eyeballs.

Yet in the midst of all of this gloom and doom, we encounter Broadcasting Happiness by Michelle Gielan, a former top newscaster turned happiness researcher.

I didn’t stop being a broadcaster when I left CBS. I learned that we are all broadcasters, and by changing the stories we transmit, we can create positive change.
We do it by broadcasting happiness.

Broadcasting Happiness opens with Gielan’s story of seeing the negative portrayed in the news and her realization that it was pulling her down. This book is here to show us that we can change what we broadcast from negative to positive. We can be happiness broadcasters, and by the end of this book we’ll have the tools we need to help turn that corner to Broadcasting Happiness.

It is about you. it is about the power we all have to ignite and create positive change. By changing the way we all communicate, we can make the people around us at work, at home, and in our communities believe that their behavior matters and therefore see a path forward. This book is about how you can be the person who consciously influences others for the better.

In the midst of the recession in 2008 she says:

Our choice to continually broadcast stories of unhappiness is why viewers stopped watching—or at least many of them did. When I ask in my talks at companies and schools how many people have decreased the amount of news they watch because of the negative effect it has on mood—theirs or their family’s—often more than 50 percent of the audience members raise their hands.

This broadcasting of unhappiness is exactly why I rarely follow the news, and if you listen to the 48Days podcast for more than a week you’ll be sure to hear Dan Miller espouse the same sentiment. Stay away from the negative pull and work to build a happier, more successful life.

Broadcasting Happiness is structured around three core principles.

  1. Work Optimism
  2. Positive Engagement
  3. Support Provision

Inside these three core sections are the seven practical strategies you can put into action to become the happiness broadcaster that Gielan wants you to become.

Part I will teach you how to build and use a positive mindset in yourself so you can have success. Part II is about overcoming stress and negativity. Having these things under control will mean that you can boost positive engagement with others. Part III is about creating a positive ripple effect, which means you’ll be able to build an environment infused with high levels of support from everyone. That allows positive behaviours and habits to spread like wildfire throughout your organization.

If you’re looking to save time then each chapter has a round-up of the main idea in a series of bullet points. This will get you the summary of the chapter, but you’ll miss so many good stories that are going to pull you in and help you remember how effective happiness can be.

Gielman also ends each chapter with an experiment for you to put into action–training to become a happiness broadcaster. If you’re looking for a place to start and put these principles into practice, then do the experiment.

Thoughts on Broadcasting Happiness

Before we dive into the content of the book in more detail I’ve got a few thoughts for you to consider as you read this book.

First, within the first few chapters I was getting a feeling of deja vu and I wasn’t sure why. Then I noticed a mention that Shawn Achor was the researcher she works with, and he also happens to be her husband. This let me know why the studies sounded so familiar. I’ve read Achor’s The Happiness Advantage (read my review) and there is overlap in the studies used.

Second, if you’re going to read this then you’re going to have to take some serious responsibility for your actions.

While we may complain about news—its negativity and story selection—in truth we are all broadcasters, and our family, friends, coworkers, and even the strangers we meet are our viewers. We have the same power as journalists. Our brains are constantly selecting stories and transmitting them to others. The things we choose to talk about during the course of our day to our colleagues, friends, and family have a direct influence not only on their mood but also on how they respond to stress, change, and challenges. Everything about our broadcast can paralyze or activate another person’s ability to create and sustain positive change.

Are you speaking of the positive events in your life or the negative? I’ve got a daughter who always focused on the negative and it was driving my wife and me bonkers. Instead of complaining about her attitude, we started a daily ‘thankful’ practice. Every night at dinner we all say what we’re thankful for from the day.

Within a short window of a few weeks we had a great attitude change, because we decided to take responsibility for the broadcasting that goes on in our house.

Are you ready to take that responsibility?

Finally, the Success Scale Survey in the book sounded amazing so I took it and I found that…you get results. The problem is that it’s hard to have any real idea of what the results mean.

I was left wondering what it all meant, and when I went to click through the provided link for more information, it was the same information that wasn’t clear in the first place. Skip the survey.

With those thoughts out of the way, let’s dig into the meat of Broadcasting Happiness.

Part I: Capitalize on Positivity

This section starts off with a bold claim which goes like this:

Positivity is the world’s most underutilized, naturally occurring resource available to fuel success and forward progress.

The goal of Section One is to teach us the first steps we need to be able to unlock this powerful natural resource. Gielan is going to show us the three things we need to do to frame our interactions and life in a positive light.

It starts by telling us about Power Leads. A Power Lead is a way to begin a conversation in a positive way so that we set the expectations of the conversation moving forward. An example would be saying, “It’s a great day, how are you?” We started by saying that the day is awesome and thus started the conversation on a positive note. That’s going to mean the person we’re talking to is more likely to be positive instead of negative.

Being a positive broadcaster starts with refocusing people’s attention on the positive before the social script is written.

The second tool to use is our Flash Memories.

A flash memory is the first thought you have in response to a particular stimulus in your environment, and changing it from negative or neutral to positive can dramatically increase motivation and achievement.

A negative flash memory would be walking through a neighbourhood, and thinking of it as ‘run down’ will cause you to instantly ramp up your concern, and thus your stress. Maybe frame the neighbourhood as ‘classic’ instead. You’re going to decrease your stress with that simple change.

Flash memories directly influence the way we process the world and operate within it. When our flash memories of a person or thing are negative, we steer clear of it. We might feel rushes of panic or anxiety or disgust. Or we might simply feel frozen in place and very pessimistic about someone’s or something’s potential.

Years ago I went kayaking in Mexico, and we had tostados, which is really just a taco with a different shape. After that meal I got super sick. The type of sick where you think a toilet facing a toilet is a great idea. Needless to say, for the next two years, the thought of a tostado made me feel sick.

I had developed a flash memory where tostados meant getting sick.

During retrieval, the brain revisits the same pattern of neural activity that originally occurred in response to an event. When we review that retrieved information, we experience an echo of our brain’s perception of the original event. In fact, according to neuroscientists, there is no real distinction between the act of remembering and the act of thinking. Both acts retrieve what was previously stored inside the mind.

The way to combat these negative flash memories is to start training your brain that the thing you think is bad, really isn’t that bad.

Exposure to new information can modify an original memory. In the realm of potential, this means we can rewrite what the people around us think of their own potential by showing them new information regarding why there is more possibility for them than they currently think.

Luckily, Gielan doesn’t leave us without the tools we’ll likely need to rewrite our flash memories. In fact she provides us with three strategies to use in our work to take negative flash memories and turn them into positive ones.

Rewriting Flash Memories to the positive

If your aim is to motivate your team, spotlighting current successes puts them in the right mindset for future achievement.

So don’t just go around giving ‘constructive’ feedback to your team. Far too often that feedback is not constructive. It’s destructive, yet we simply call it ‘constructive’ to try and make it sound nice. You’re not fooling anyone though, you’re just making your team associate you with negative flash memories.

The meaning behind the work we do drives our motivation to do more of it and do it well, and hearing from those impacted by our work is an ideal way to share stories of success. Figure out the best way to get someone else involved in sharing success stories with the people you are trying to influence.

In my upcoming book Finding and Marketing to Your Niche, I talk about how important a case study can be to your marketing efforts. One of the key questions I tell you to ask is “How did the project help your business?” This question is what connects me to my clients and creates a positive flash memory with doing great work for my clients.

If you’re on a larger team and your people don’t get a regular check-in with clients to see the awesome work they do, then show them how they make a difference.

Repetition is important to make it part of a culture, so even if you have told others your positive message, the message here is to tell them again…and again. Oversaturation is rarely the problem. Too often we say something once, maybe twice, and we think the job is done.

It’s often said that if you hear one negative thing you need 10 positive things to forget about the negative. That means if you’re trying to create a new positive flash memory you need to repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat the positive message. Telling someone they did a good job once isn’t enough — tell them over and over. Tell them in front of people. Send them a card and an email and tell them in person.

The final tool to capitalize on positivity is to ask leading questions. Just like we can use a power lead to frame the conversation, we can use our questions to lead someone towards a more joyous outlook.

The best salespeople, reporters, therapists, repairpersons (sic), nearly every other type of profession, and even stay-at-home parents benefit from asking questions.

If you want to make more sales then you need to ask questions, but not just any questions. You need to start asking the right questions. Having the right set of questions to ask is just as crucial when we want to lead our team towards positivity.

According to Gielan there are four crucial questions you need to ask to improve the happiness of your team.

1. Digging for Gold

So often parents ask the wrong questions as they “interview” their children about their day: What did you get on your spelling test? Did you get your homework done? What time do you have to be at practice? They often miss out on goals with their children. Think about the incredible value you could gain by asking: Why did you get an A on that spelling test? Why did you get your homework done early?

My daughter’s teacher has done this well. On a recent project she wasn’t concerned about the end result so much as how my daughter arrived at the information on San Francisco. So often, when we see a mistake in our organization we don’t have all the information. Once we know why the decisions were made, it’s no longer a mistake, it was the right decision given the information at hand.

Don’t judge the outcome until you know why the project ended that way.

2. Shifting the Focus

Another of the most powerful types of questions you can use is what I call “shifting the focus.” The concept is simple: By crafting a question the right way, you ensure the answer goes in the direction you want.

These types of questions are the bread and butter of marketing. When I work to sell a book and ask you “Would you like to get more leads with less work?” the clear answer is yes. I’ve shifted the focus from the cost of the book to the pain I’m solving for you.

In a struggling company you should use questions like “What’s working now that we should do more of?” Now you’re not focusing on the struggles of the company, but what is going right that we can capitalize on? Your team is now focused on that right thing.

3. Next Best

In Broadcasting Happiness, Gielan references Dr. Chris Feudtner who takes care of terminally ill children. Gielan writes:

When it’s time to speak to the patient, Dr. Feudtner would ask the child and the parents a very specific question: “Given what your family is up against, what are you hoping for?” Since a cure is unfortunately not an option, this question forces families to look beyond that, to stop wasting mental resources lamenting the lack of a cure, and to begin formulating how to make the best of a bad situation.

In The Coaching Habit (see my review), question 4 is all about finding out what your team member wants in a given situation. Just like in Broadcasting Happiness, the answer does not always have to be yes. It can be no, but how about your second option.

If you want to be out of client work and selling plugins for WordPress but you’re not there, then what is your second best? Would having a day a week to focus on building a new plugin to sell be okay? Remember not to dwell just on the ideal which may not happen, figure out other options that will work.

4. What Else?

The question “What did I miss?” is perfect because it helps you learn more about things you didn’t even know to look for or may not have asked about.

This is another key question in The Coaching Habit. In fact it almost seems as if the authors are writing out of the same playbook. The ‘what else’ question is all about digging even deeper. Often the first problem presented is not the real problem, it’s just what they feel comfortable talking about to start.

Once you’ve shown you can listen to the first problem, people can start to open up more.

To ask what else can give your colleagues or kids an open forum to talk about something important to them that you might have missed and can give you surprising information that helps you become more successful.

Make sure you ask “What else is on your mind?” regularly if you really want to get to the root of issues with your prospects and team.

Part 2: Overcome Stress and Negativity

Our second section is all about acknowledging that stress happens, negative things happen. We have to accept that and work through them.

To ignore the negative is irrational. To face it head-on — and help others do the same — with an activated and rationally optimistic mindset creates growth and progress.

In The Obstacle is the Way (see my review), Ryan Holiday has a similar sentiment.

No one is saying you can’t take a minute to think, Dammit, this sucks. By all means, vent. Exhale. Take stock. Just don’t take too long. Because you have to get back to work. Because each obstacle we overcome makes us stronger for the next one. But … No. No excuses. No exceptions. No way around it: It’s on you. – The Obstacle is the Way

Part II is about the fact that we all can see negative and have negative times and deal with negative people. This is going to show us how to deal with the negative times better.

Fact Check: Move from Paralysis to Activation

If you are working from the wrong set of facts, most times your outcomes will be undesirable.

Have you ever worried that at any moment someone will find out that you’re a fraud? Your next client will tell everyone in the world to stay away from working with you? If that’s you (and it has been me) then you’re working from an incorrect set of facts. The way to remember that you are Gandalf is to check those erroneous beliefs against reality with these three fact-checking steps.

Fact Checking Step 1: Isolate the stressful thought

The key is to identify the simplest thought that is causing problems.

Start by breaking down the worry to the smallest bit you can identify. If it’s that your next client will realize you’re a fraud then maybe the real issue is that you don’t feel you deserve the success you have.

Fact Checking Step 2: List the facts you know

Find the facts from your environment that support the worrisome thought.

Now it’s time to list the facts you know about the worry. Don’t list the emotions–just the facts. This is your chance to get it all out on paper. You’re not done until you’ve sat in silence for a bit writing nothing because you can’t think of anything else to write.

Fact Checking Step 3: List Fueling Facts that illuminate a new story

This part of the exercise is harder because you are scanning your environment for fueling facts that support a completely different story.

One of the facts you should have written down was that you’ve done 10 successful projects. You’ve been in business for 5 years (or 10 or…). Neither of those facts is compatible with the belief that you’re a fraud.

Another fact may be that your family always chalked success at anything up to luck, never hard work. So you’ve been left feeling that at any moment your luck will run out and you’ll no longer be successful.

Remember fact-checking is not about proving yourself wrong; it is about consciously looking for facts that help change or deepen your perspective and move you forward.

Strategic Retreats: Deal with Negative People

It’s sad to say, but one of the big reasons I don’t talk to some of my family members more is because they fall directly into the negative people stereo type. Someone always owes them something and the world is often out to get them. Since I want to cultivate a positive life, I use the strategic retreat strategy and simply limit my time with them drastically.

This chapter is one of the most important in this entire book. It is about how you can momentarily shield or separate yourself from negative people without isolating yourself, without cutting negative people off from the world, and without harming your ability to work.

While I may use the strategic retreat often to stay away from some of the negative people in my life, it doesn’t have to be a mostly permanent solution. In fact, if you’re retreating from your boss, it can’t be an all-the-time thing.

In that case the strategic retreat is all about backing away in the moment and coming back to the situation with more resources for happiness at your disposal.

In this chapter you’ll learn how to identify when to make a strategic retreat from a negative person or conversation, how to regroup and refortify your resources, and how to best plan a reentry that fuels positive communication and deeper connection (or at least doesn’t have you wishing you could hurl yourself off of a building).

Gielan reminds us that retreating is not a sign of weakness–not that I think we should be really worried about what appears weak, but it’s a move used well to make sure that we can have the advantage we need later.

A retreat is a powerful move, even though the word is often thought of negatively in relation to battles. If you back down from the enemy you could be considered weak or uncommitted. History, though, tells another story. Wars have been won thanks to the use of strategic retreats. George Washington commanded his army to strategically retreat a number of times during the American Revolutionary War, which helped to guarantee the survival of the Continental Army.

A great example of this is when you’re on the phone with technical support and you’re simply getting nowhere at all. The person on the other end doesn’t seem to have any idea what you’re talking about. Clearly they’ve barely been trained to use the phone system. Instead of continuing to hammer away with this person, call back. Use the hang up as a strategic retreat and it’s likely that the next person you get will be helpful.

Broadcasting Happiness gives us three criteria to run a conversation through. If any of these are met, then pull out your strategic retreat card and come back with better resources.

  1. Your defenses are down
    • you’re stressed, tired, foggy brain…
    • hampers your ability to respond well to a negative person
    • you can easily get sucked in
  2. They are deeply entrenched
    • they’re ‘hot’ emotionally–you’re never going to have a good conversation then
  3. You’re outnumbered or surrounded
    • like giving a negative employee their review at the end of the day so they can go home and infect their negativity there, not in the office
    • they have other negative people that will just agree with them so it’s an all against you scene

Once you’ve identified any of those three items it’s time to move to the regroup and reenter strategy. Regrouping means you get yourself into the positive mindset you need to have the conversation. Re-enter is when you give that negative person in your business a poor review at the end of the day so they can take the negativity home instead of pumping it into your business.

By using those two strategies you can help limit the exposure of negative things to yourself and your business.

The Four Cs: Deliver Bad News Better

Bad news has to happen sometimes. Maybe you’re starting in a new management position and clearly there are 3 out of the 10 staff you have under you that need to go. How do you let them go without crushing the team morale?

You start by creating social capital.

Create Social Capital

Social capital refers to the resources that are available to us based upon the trust and willingness of our social networks to support our actions. Social capital built during good times is invaluable during challenges. The reason is that when hard times strike, the people you have built social capital with do not have to first ask themselves if they trust you or if you’re a good person. To them, it is a given. Therefore their brains can focus on what is most important – processing the challenge, brainstorming solutions, and taking positive action to move forward.

If you’re that new manager, you tell the team about the vision you have for them. The dream they can aspire to. You tell them that some changes are going to happen and that not everyone will like them right away. You’re always open to respectful suggestions and what you want is for them to be in love with the work they do.

With that meeting in hand, letting those three people go will still have an impact on the team, but they won’t figure you’re simply out to get them.

Social capital is all about creating connection with those around you. Stop in the hall and have a five-minute conversation about Lego with someone. Listen to their stories about kids (even if you hate kids) and then later ask them about their kids.

Taking these actions will build your social capital.

Give Context

Knowing why actions take place is one of the keys to having empathy for them. Do you have one person that never shares in a team brainstorming meeting? Maybe the first two times they shared, their ideas were tossed aside right away so they shut down. Once you know the context, you can start to understand the behaviour and help mold it to the place you want.

Provide details that indicate understanding of a situation from the perspective of the recipient of the bad news. Provide full rationale for how the negative news came about and why it’s occurring. Clearly provide proof through specifics that you understand the ramifications of the negative news. And, finally, set up a context in which the current status quo context can be recast more positively.

I heard a story once about a man and his three kids on the subway. These three kids were going crazy. Like seriously jumping off the walls, annoying other passengers and being crazy loud. Dad is sitting sort of slumped in the chair clearly not noticing at all that the kids are being a menace.

Finally the man next to him mentions to the father that maybe the kids are getting a bit crazy.

Like being triggered out of a daze the man says: “Oh yeah, you’re probably right. I’m sorry I’m just totally dazed right now. Their mom just died from cancer and we’re on the way home.”

While you started thinking the parent was bad, you ended wondering if there was anything you could do to help. That’s the power of context.

Express Compassion

The best and most important thing you can express to someone in the wake of bad news is compassion. Compassion is feeling concern for another person’s stress, suffering, or misfortune.

Did you know that the best predicting factor in regards to a doctor being sued is their bedside manner? People simply don’t want to sue a doctor they like, even if that doctor is at fault. Doctors could cut their legal dealings if they simply said “I’m sorry” in the face of an error.

If they took an extra 10 minutes to answer any extra questions at the end of an appointment, they’d see fewer lawyers.

When someone feels listened to and understood, they feel you have compassion for them. Having that compassion goes a long way to building your social capital.

Stay Committed

When you deliver bad news, you spend some of your social capital in order to keep the effect positive, just like how you spend money from your bank account. In order to make that capital back, commit to doing the right thing. When you express commitment to someone’s well-being and to the continued success of a team or family, and you follow through, you may get a HUGE social-capital bonus check. Words are great, but actions build social capital ten times faster.

I once worked a job where they said that they valued people spending time with their family. They didn’t want you to work all the time. I loved that they felt so strongly about this, and then one month in, the shoe dropped.

They totally loved us hanging out with family as long as we still billed 40 hours a week to clients, outside of any non-billable work we did. As is said often in Game of Thrones, “words are wind”. When you don’t back up what you say with action, you spend huge amounts of social capital.

Part 3: Create a Positive Ripple Effect

No matter how positive your messages may be, without people in your network to rebroadcast them, your reach is limited. Transformational positive broadcasters cultivate and leverage their network so that when they wish to share a positive idea or behavior, they have an engaged network to help spread the word.

I recently read Master Content Marketing. In that the author says:

Great content — well-planned, masterfully written, easy-to-read content — always rises to the top. – Master Content Marketing

I don’t think that this is true. Lots of mediocre content that has great marketing behind it will rise to the top. If you want your ideas to rise to the top then you need a great set of people that love you who will share your ideas, just like Gielan says in Broadcasting Happiness.

So how do you create that network that will help you spread happiness?

Go Viral: Generate Contagious Optimism

A bond is created when we open up about our greatest struggles, but to stop sharing there is to cheat ourselves and others out of the even deeper connection that can be formed — one that is built on the fueling part of our reality. It is imperative we also share stories of how we triumphed over those challenges and experienced personal growth as a result.

The key to a great case study for your business is to talk about the issues that came up during the project. Problems happen, and your prospects know it, so own up to it. By owning up to it and then telling prospects how you dealt with it, you build more…social capital.

What feels like an aside, or maybe a 7th point to the 6 we’re about to talk about, we dive into the 6 things you can do to build that contagious optimism.

1. Activate your 31.

The most important step in building an army of positive broadcasters is finding out who is in your personal “31” and activating them.

Have you heard of your 1,000 true fans? The idea is that really you only need 1,000 people that love everything you do and will buy it and then you’ll have a solid business. That’s really what activating your 31 is about–finding those people that are your fans but aren’t currently shouting about you from the rooftops. Help them shout.

Here I wish Gielan gave us a formula or process so we know how to find these people and turn them into the shouters. That’s the hard part, and it was totally skipped as far as I can tell.

2. Raise the broadcasters status.

It’s a natural human disposition to want to be “in the know.” As you learned earlier in this book, the more intelligent, knowledgeable, or socially connected someone is perceived to be, often the more valuable the person is within his or her network.

One of my coaching clients recently was having issues with his boss. His boss was not quite up to par and my client felt like that was holding him back in his job. Instead of complaining about that boss I asked a simply question: “What would you do tomorrow if you were trying to make your boss look awesome?”

Taking that to heart my client went in to work and tried to make their boss look awesome. Within two weeks they were saying that their boss did have their stuff together, and that their boss was putting them up for a raise because of how much he had covered and helped out.

[Tweet “What if you asked, how can I make others look awesome today?”]

If you want to improve your broadcaster status then always ask: “How can I make people look awesome?”

3. Communicate high emotion.

…if we want our stories to go viral, we should choose ones that evoke high and positive emotion.

We’re drawn to stories, a fact click-baity sites know. They tell us some outrageous story that starts out terrible and then gets super sweet and of course has a cat with super cute eyes in it at the end to really pull on the heart strings.

No, you shouldn’t be going for click bait, but you should be taking a queue from them. Tell stories as you try to rally people.

One of my recent stories is helping a client who was offered a $150k/year job and ‘no contracting’ and turning it into a $10k/month contract where the client knows that he’s doing other work. My client figured that the business opportunity would be gone right away if they said no to it. He was scared, but with some coaching he more than doubled his income.

No, I guess my story doesn’t include cute cats, but it starts out with a client that figured the job was lost who then signed a great long-term contract and was off to the races as they started their new business.

4. Make it practical.

Stories are more likely to be shared if they are solutions-focused and create a change in your behavior.

Funny enough I think that Gielan suffers from not doing this in her section on Activating Your 31. She tells us what we need to do and then fails to take it to the practical level so we know how to do it.

Many business gurus tell you to talk about the why and then sell the how, but if you don’t make it practical out of the gate then you’re not showing that you can achieve results and thus you’re not building social capital.

5. Lower the activation energy.

When it comes to spreading your positive story around, making it easier for other people to share the information with their networks, both online and offline, helps increase how viral your story ultimately becomes.

[Tweet “We’re so lazy we need a clickable tweet or we won’t do it.]

By nature we’re pretty lazy. One of the best things I’ve done to create more social engagement with people is to add these clickable tweets in my blog posts. Instantly people started sharing content more, because I lowered the barrier to entry.

If you want people to engage in more positive behaviours, make it the easiest thing to do. If the barrier to entry is high then don’t be surprised when the behaviour doesn’t happen.

6. Operationalize the message.

Effective positive stories don’t come along every day, so once you find one, use it for all it’s worth. If you’re just telling it once or twice, you’ll never realize the full potential it has to help ignite and sustain positive behavior.

When you have a great story of someone you’ve helped, tell the story. Then tell it again. Then reword it a bit and tell it again. Adjust the context slightly and use it in a book, then a video. Make that story of the people you helped part of your brand.

By doing this you’re going to pull that story throughout your organization and your team is going to know the story of the people they’ve helped like the back of their hand.

Recommendation

By far my favourite section of Broadcasting Happiness was Part 2 as we talked about overcoming stress and negativity. If you can simply learn to accept that stress happens and have a better set of tools to deal with it, you’re going to go so much further in life.

Based on that section alone, I say that Broadcasting Happiness is worth your time.

Get Broadcasting Happiness on Amazon

photo credit: martym cc

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