Archive for the ‘Communication Skills’ Category

Can you trust someone who’s been dishonest?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

“A single lie discovered is enough to create doubt in every truth expressed.” — Unknown

When trust is broken

There’s not much worse than catching someone you thought you trusted in a lie. Or several of them. You find you instantly go from believing in them to wondering if anything about your relationship is true. The damage seems irreversible and ending the friendship seems like the logical ‘next-step’–because how can you have a good relationship without trust?

The thing is, you can’t. As Stephen R. Covey said, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

How do you know when someone can’t be trusted? Often, you’ll notice one or more of these symptoms:

  • They are unable to establish open, candid, trusting relationships.
  • They have developed a reputation for lacking integrity.
  • They get that ‘deer in the headlights’ look when you ask them what values they stand for.
  • They behave erratically, in ways that ‘don’t make sense’.
  • They treat people differently based upon the situation (they may be nice to you, but make fun of others, for example.)
  • They’re willing to undermine others for their own personal gain.
  • They withhold information if they think it may get them in trouble.

Once trust is broken, the safe nature of the relationship unfortunately shifts, and you’ll find yourself second-guessing everything that comes out of their mouth. It’s extremely hard to believe in someone who has looked you in the eyes and told you an untruth. As one anonymous quote about trust says, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”  Lady Gaga says it with a little more poignancy:  “Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that m…f…’s reflection” (pardon her French).

That being said, and this may come as a surprise–broken trust doesn’t mean the relationship has to end. Yes, there are times when someone has defiled your trust to the point you know you need to call it quits. This article is not designed for those of you who have been hurt over and over and over again by the same person, who obviously is not working to live in integrity and is bent on a life of cheating and deceit. And this is not about staying in a relationship with someone who is abusive or putting you or others in danger. This is written for the one-time offenders, or even the two and three timers (you get to determine the number), with whom you still see the value of continuing the relationship. In this case, healing the friendship will take some hard work–but it can be done. Taking the time to feel your feelings, lay aside judgments, understanding the whys, releasing the ‘all or nothing’ mentality, then meeting each other’s needs can help with the repairs.

Feel your feelings

Being lied to by someone you care about is a slap in the face. It stings. Your world that seemed safe just moments before now feels unstable and shaky. Depending on the depth of the lie, the sudden lack of trust can take the wind out of your sails and crush your dreams. Questions like, “How could she…?” and “How could he be so selfish?!” haunt us as we replay the situation over and over in our heads. Then we start to wonder if this was the first lie, and how long has this been going on? “Has anything she’s told me been real?” We begin to doubt the legitimacy of the entire relationship.

These feelings in response to dishonesty are normal. Anger-sadness-betrayal-pain-disbelief-chagrin-embarrassment-disappointment-discouragement– are normal responses. Find a safe place to sit with the emotions which are welling up inside you. Stuffing them inside, or, in a more passive-aggressive way, pretending you’re fine while making snarky comments will just prolong the agony. If you need to vent, grab a pen and write in your journal (not on your social media page!). Talk to a counselor. Seek out a close friend and ask them if you can unload for a bit. Cry. Scream. Yell. (Obviously, screaming and yelling in the office isn’t the ‘safest’ place to vent. Or, in the moment, screaming and yelling at the person who’s caused the hurt. Conversations done in anger never seem to work out very well).  Be emotionally-aware of your surroundings by finding an appropriate setting but do let yourself feel. I find writing down the emotions I’m feeling, being very specific as to how I name them, and noting why I’m feeling them, helps validate that what I am feeling is legit.

Good guys vs. bad guys

It’s tempting, in the moment, to write the person off as one of the ‘bad guys’. I wish it was that cut and dry. If people were only that black and white, being able to point your finger and labeling them ‘bad’ would seem to make the heartache a little lighter. But the truth is, all of us are dishonest at some point in our lives. If you’re really honest–no pun intended–you’ve most likely been dishonest in some shape or form in the last week–or even today! Stretching the truth, withholding vital information, or feigning agreement are all forms of dishonesty. Have you ever checked your social media pages on company time? Have you used the company printer for personal use? Have you allowed someone to give you credit for something that others may have had a greater hand in? A study done in 2010 found that the average person lies 1.65 time per day. That’s 11 and a half lies a week, or 46.2 lies per month! (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/homo-consumericus/201111/how-often-do-people-lie-in-their-daily-lives).

So, my point is we all exhibit some form of dishonesty from time to time, but just because you have been deceitful here and there doesn’t make you a bad person. Avoid the temptation to label the other person as one of the bad guys, unless you’re willing to include yourself in that category. People — all types — are at times honest and at other times dishonest. Does this justify lying as good and beneficial to relationships? Of course not. But it does humanize it and takes away the victim/villain mentality.

Rather than immediately adding the person to your list of evil people, instead, try to be open to discovering what value or unmet need was behind their dishonesty.

Discovering the why

Everything we do stems from a value or need. People say and act in harmony with things they deem as important. If we want to repair a broken relationship after dishonesty, it’s our role to attempt to quit focusing on the lie and take a deep dive into learning more about the other person’s values and needs. Again, this isn’t about justifying dishonesty. We are simply exploring the why behind it for greater understanding. This is a difficult step because we tend to be quick to assign motives (to match the story we’ve created in our heads) instead of seeking understanding. It takes good listening skills and requires us to suspend our own judgments–easier said than done.

For example, if someone has always been told they’re wrong, from a young age, a core value they may have developed as a result is a need to be right. Since they obviously can’t always be right, they may find themselves telling lies to make it look that way. Or, if someone’s core value is being loved, and they fear the other person may no longer love them if they fess up to a discretion, a lie may seem the best way to supply that need of being loved. Does this make the lie OK? No. But it can help you understand the why, and develop a little empathy. You don’t have to agree with their value–it may be different from yours–but you do want to offer respect. The goal here is to suspend our negative character judgment of them and see them with more empathetic eyes.

When you’re ready to find out the whys, wait until you are in a calm place, and you’ve processed your emotions. You’re going to need to be brave and ask open-ended questions to discover what the other person valued or needed so much in the moment that they chose to be dishonest. Sometimes the answers you hear may be a reflection of your own past behavior. For example, if you freaked out on your friend the last time she shared that spent a weekend with other friends (not including you), she may be a little more hesitant to tell you openly about the next time she does. As you ask, then listen, see if you can uncover the value which was most important to them in the moment. For example, maybe she valued your peace of mind more than being honest, knowing you’d be deeply hurt if you found out. Or, her need was to spend time nurturing other friendships, even if that meant excluding you — so she chose to lie.  You may be surprised that all lies don’t stem from a place of selfishness. Again, you don’t have to agree with the other person’s values/needs — but understanding and acknowledging them can go a long way with the repair.

It’s not all or nothing

We have a tendency to think because one act of dishonesty has taken place that the entire relationship has gone down the drain. While it may feel like that, the truth is that this person most likely still possesses all the wonderful qualities you saw in him/her before the lie. Take a moment to write down all the positive qualities you value about this person, to help put the untruth in perspective. One lie doesn’t negate all the truths they’ve told you in the past. Instead of allowing the dishonesty to taint your entire view of the relationship, relegate it to its proper place: it’s a lie that happened in that moment around a specific event. Magnifying it to include all interaction you’ve ever had together won’t help things.

And don’t let yourself become a fortune teller.  Just because they lied today doesn’t mean they’ll lie to you tomorrow. You’ve heard the phrase, “Once a liar, always a liar”.  But is that true for you?  Have you ever told a lie about something once that you vowed to never lie about again — and haven’t? People can grow and change. If the relationship is important to you, give them a chance to redeem themselves and move forward in honesty.

Meeting each other’s needs

Now comes the hard part. It’s one thing to understand the other person’s values and unmet needs, but making adjustments to meet those needs is another story. Their needs may trigger your insecurities. But if you value the relationship, and want to restore it, you’ll want to try not to take it personally, and attempt to create a safe space for open communication.

Once both parties’ needs are on the table, you then get to decide if 1-you want to meet their needs, and 2-if you are willing to meet their needs and 3-if you can meet their needs. If you don’t want to, then own it. Your friend say she needs time with other friends which doesn’t include you. Your need is to be included in everything she does. You may come to realize you don’t want to, aren’t willing, and can’t meet her needs, and she may decide the same for yours. Fair enough. Express this as kindly as you can, and decide if the friendship can continue despite these unmet needs. If not, this may be where you decide to part.

However, maybe there are partial needs that can be met, and visa-versa. How could you adjust your needs and she adjust hers to find a compromise for the sake of the relationship? What can you give and what can she give, and which needs can be modified, and how, without sacrificing who you are and what you value? If your friendship is worth it, there’ll be a lot of give and take as you come to a place of agreement. You’ll likely to have to give in and bend a little, and she’ll need to do the same. If the two of you are having troubles negotiating, enlisting the help of a coach or counselor may be productive in coming to workable terms.

“You must trust and believe in people, or life becomes impossible.” — Anton Chekhov

It’s your choice

Choosing to trust again is just that — your choice. English author Sophie Kinsella said, “In the end, you have to choose whether or not to trust someone.” I know, it’s not easy. It’s hard to know when to protect your heart from future hurt or forgive and allow them back in. Betrayal by someone close to you is one of the most painful things to endure, and for good reason, you may decide it’s best to be done. If that’s the case, put it to rest as kindly as possible, then begin to take steps to move forward as you craft a new life without them. But if you write off every single person who is dishonest with you, you’ll end up very alone.

Healthy relationships are vital to our wellbeing. If it’s a relationship worth salvaging, choosing to trust again may be the very thing needed to renew and restore the friendship. Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” It will take time and repetition of good behavior on their part to rebuild your trust. Giving others the opportunity to do that, by choosing to trust, is the only way to create the space for them to be trustworthy again.

“The chief lesson I have learned in a long life that is the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.” –Henry L. Stimson

When Disappointment Hits

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”  — Ancient Proverb

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

If you’re human, you’ve most likely experienced the feeling of let-down when something you hoped for didn’t work out. Maybe it was that perfect job you wanted but didn’t get, or that relationship that finally seemed like the right one yet fell apart, or an offer you made on your dream house which wasn’t accepted. Maybe it was the chagrin of watching your teammate get promoted instead of you. Whatever the reason for your disappointment, the feelings of despair that accompany it can wreak havoc on your soul.

Unfortunately, when disappointment hits, we tend to turn inward and allow our self-doubt to be triggered.  “What’s wrong with me? Why does this always happen to me? It’s because I am ____ (fill in the blank with your go-to negative quality)!” are just a few of the responses that may be going round and round in your head.

“There are some things in this world you rely on, like a sure bet. And when they let you down, shifting from where you’ve carefully placed them, it shakes your faith, right where you stand.” ― Sarah Dessen

Though disappointment can be difficult, there’s no reason to let it leave you disillusioned. If you’re in the middle of a heart-sick event, here are some things you can do to help with the healing process:

  • Feel what you’re feeling.  Instead of trying to stuff your emotions inside, or pretend you’re not hurt, allow yourself to feel. Name the emotions you are feeling and accept them as part of the process. It’s OK to let the tears flow. “Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system and restores the body to a state of balance.” (https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/is-crying-good-for-you#1). So grab the box of tissues and open the floodgates!
  • Write it out. Grab your journal and write about what went down. Include as many details as possible, and as you describe what happened, use “I” statements, telling the story from your perspective. Describe the feelings it evoked. Can you make a connection to what you felt and why you felt it? Write about that, too. Sometimes just getting it all down on paper can help you make sense of the event.
  • Talk it out.  If appropriate (and safe!), and your feelings are in control, you may want to have a conversation with those involved in the offense. Lay your judgments aside and try to have an open mind to their viewpoint. Try to use “I” statements when talking about the event (“When you said this, I felt…”, etc.) and ask them questions for clarity. Avoid name calling, yelling, and finger-pointing. Remember the purpose of this conversation is to come to an understanding of both sides of the story.
  • Find a friend. Often it’s helpful to have someone outside of the situation to talk to about the upset. Find a trusted friend, counselor or coach, to discuss your feelings. If you can, try not to defame the other person(s) involved, instead, focusing on the role you played in the situation. Having someone else listen, nod, and say “I see why you’re feeling that way”, can bring much comfort and assurance that you’re OK.
  • But be careful with whom you talk to. It’s one thing to find a trusted friend or counselor for support, but be wary of sharing the story over and over with everyone you meet, opening up the opportunity to trample upon those involved. There’s no need to make the situation worse by spreading it around. You may think it makes the other person involved look bad, but it’s really a negative reflection on yourself. Posting about it on social media, especially before your heart is healed, is probably not a good idea, either.
  • Try not to ruminate. It’s easy to replay the scenario of disappointment over and over in your mind, which only will reproduce the negative feelings you’re working through. It happened. Once. No need to keep reliving the event if it’s not serving you well to go through it again and again. When you find yourself ‘going there’ in your mind, try moving your thoughts to something more uplifting.
  • Avoid always and never. When disappointment hits, it’s easy to think “this always happens to me”, or “this will never get resolved.” If you can, eliminate these two words from your vocabulary and recognize that this particular instance is a one-time event. Instead, focus on possible positive outcomes.
  • Don’t play the blame game. When we feel bad, blaming someone else for the incident can seem like an effective pain reliever. However, research says differently:  “Unlike other games, the more often you play the blame game, the more you lose.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201509/5-reasons-we-play-the-blame-game). This goes for yourself, too. Yes, own the role you played, but don’t go down the road of letting blame turn into shame.
  • Accept that it happened.  What’s done is done. Though you may wish you could roll back time and make it go away, accepting that it happened–and putting it in your past– will help you move forward. We all make mistakes — you do, others do, and we all are capable of hurting each other with our words and actions. Accepting that disappointment is a normal part of interacting with others can help relive the anger and resentment you may be feeling.
  • Choose your ending. Ask yourself, “How can this help me grow? What is one thing I can now do that I couldn’t before the incident? What did I learn and what will I not repeat? How can this have a positive effect on my empathy? In a perfect world, what would my next steps look like?” Though the event is probably not one you would’ve picked out for yourself, you can choose how the story ends.  Brainstorm all possible positive outcomes, and if you’re struggling to come up with any, ask a trusted friend for help. Sometimes those on the ‘outside’ can see the bigger picture and remind you of reasons why this may be a good thing in disguise.
  • Forgive — yourself and others. Easier said than done, I know, but deciding to move on will bring you the peace of mind you need and deserve. Forgiveness isn’t about pretending it didn’t happen, but letting go of the need to punish yourself or others for the wrongdoing. “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” ― Alexander Pope

I get it. It’s tough to experience disappointment. But we can do hard things. And the rewards of working hard to move through and on past your disappointment will be well-received.

“Disappointment will come when your effort does not give you the expected return. Failure is extremely difficult to handle, but those that do come out stronger.”―Chetan Bhagat

Managing Work-Related Stress with EQ

Article contributed by guest author Deb Westcott.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is critical to being able to manage stress. Out of all the major EQ competencies, the most powerful tool at your disposal is self-awareness. It allows you to know what your body is telling you, as well as be mindful of how you are adapting internally to outside stressors such as headaches, muscle tension, unsupportive self-talk, worry, and fatigue.

Here are 8 simple things you can do from the comfort of your own desk to combat stress every day:

1. Deep Breathing
The no. 1 most important and most successful stress reducer— resets your body and produces a physiological response.

2. Engage Your Senses
Listening to music, using scented lotion or candles, looking at vacation pictures, playing with stress balls – all of these actions reduce cortisol and increase oxytocin, which disrupts the stress reaction in your body.

3. Visualize a Happy Place
Seriously! It changes your mindset and hits the “restart” button in your body.

4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
A long phrase for listening to where your body is hurting and actively working on relaxing those muscles, one by one. Roll your shoulders, stretch your arms above your head, touch your toes.

5. Laugh
Laughing not only releases endorphins and fosters brain connectivity— it tends to be contagious!

6. Take a Break
(Okay, so there’s one of these that you shouldn’t do at your desk.) Stand up, walk outside, and let your eyes focus on something in the distance. A change of perspective can do you good!

7. Self-Awareness
Stop, listen to what you are saying to yourself, and make sure it’s supportive and positive.

8. Change How You Communicate With Others
Say no, set boundaries, be assertive, and ask for help.

Unless we are present, our bodies and minds react to stress. Knowing ourselves and creating a pro-active plan to reduce stress is our best tool.

Five Ways The Most Effective Leaders Manage Their Emotions

The best managers know how to keep their emotions in check and focus on building a healthy team.

Article submitted by guest author Harvey Deutschendorf

Five Ways The Most Effective Leaders Manage Their Emotions
[PHOTO: H. ARMSTRONG ROBERTS/CLASSICSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES]

Soft skills have garnered increasing attention in the workplace over the last 20 years. In fact, emotional intelligence is one of the fastest growing job skills, according to a report by the World Economic Forum.

Ironically, those are the very skills hiring managers say the latest crop of college graduates lacks as they’ve focused on honing their technological prowess. Yet managing our emotions effectively in the workplace is a major component of success for all of us.

Emotions running amok can damage those who work directly with us. Although employees may get away with an occasional lapse in emotional control, leaders are not afforded that leeway. A leader who is not managing his or her emotions well can wreak severe havoc on an organization, seriously damaging employee morale, retention, and ultimately the bottom line. Every reaction–positive or negative–will have consequences for all those who are under them and effect the overall success of the company.

Here are five ways effective leaders manage their emotions.

1. THEY KNOW WHEN AND HOW TO SHARE

It isn’t necessary or healthy for leaders to be unemotional robots and keep all their feelings inside. Effective leaders are able to use their emotions to connect with others through their ability to share the feelings that enhance relationships with their direct reports.

Whether an employee is feeling joy over a successful sales week or sadness over a family member passing, an effective leader is able to express emotions to let that person know they are connecting with them on a heart level.

While their emotions are under control, they know what to express and how much to let out in the circumstance. For example, if someone just lost a family member, the manager could express how they felt when they lost someone close to them and how good it felt to be supported. Then, they could ask the grieving person if they needed anything. Depending on the closeness of the relationship, they could put a hand on the person’s back or shoulder, or offer a hug.

2. THEY DO WHAT’S RIGHT INSTEAD OF WHAT’S POPULAR

There are many instances when leaders are tempted to make popular decisions as these will bring them instant feelings of relief from a pressing and difficult situation. However, effective managers overcome the urge to give in to what is popular and opt for what is right. This requires a great deal of self-confidence and courage.

If a particular unpopular employee was being subjected to ridicule and being ostracized, the manager could support that employee and confront his or her coworkers in order to stop the behavior. This may cause resentment from the offender, but it enforces the idea that bullying isn’t tolerated, and that’s more important for effective managers than being popular.

3. THEY TRUST THEIR INTUITION

When struggling with a decision, effective managers are able to tune into and use their gut instincts to make decisions, even though there may be compelling reasons for not doing so. That’s because they’ve relied on intuition in the past and trust it will be the best guide when there isn’t an obvious answer.

For example, they might make a decision to hire someone outside of the company who they feel would be a great fit instead of promoting someone from the inside who is popular, but doesn’t have the vision or initiative to take on the new role.

4. THEY ROUTINELY FIGHT APATHY, INERTIA, AND PROCRASTINATION

Ever have a day when you felt like doing very little, leaving things undone until later, or the next day? Perhaps you’re feeling tired, or just having a bad day or week. We’ve all had those days.

Leaders share this struggle but don’t have the luxury of giving in. Others depend on them to take action and get things done–even when they don’t they feel like it. They’ve disciplined themselves to do whatever it takes, regardless of how they feel. If they need to have a difficult conversation with an employee or customer, they’ll go through with it even if they’re tempted to put it off for another day.

5. THEY LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS, NOT SOMEONE TO BLAME

One of the easiest traps to fall into is to avoid responsibility when things aren’t going well. Poor leaders look for ways to shift the blame to others when things go wrong. It’s easier to avoid responsibility by pinning it on others or on outside circumstances–but that isn’t leadership.

Effective leaders immediately begin to look for solutions. They find out what went wrong to avoid the same problem in the future. They’re more interested in using the failure as a learning opportunity and moving on from it, rather than spending time and energy looking for scapegoats.

Often the reason for the problem is a breakdown in communication between leaders and those assisting them. Effective leaders find out where that happened and readily admit that their instructions may not have been clear enough.

This also creates an opportunity to reassure employees who are reluctant to admit they didn’t understand for fear of appearing stupid, and let them know their boss won’t think less of them for asking for clarification. It’s crucial for good managers not to show any signs of frustration if what they thought was a straightforward request wasn’t understood at first.

Effective leaders are acutely aware of their feelings and know their responsibilities toward staff, customers, and the organization. This isn’t easy–it takes effort. But they’ve worked on themselves to develop their abilities to keep their emotions in check when necessary and show them when the situation calls for it.

Is your communication obsolete?

“Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.” –Robert Frost

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Do you know your communication style?

The DISC assessment, based upon the theory of psychologist William Marston, and developed into a behavioral management tool by Walter Clarke, measures our style of relating to others, which directly effects how we communicate.  Of the four styles, which do you lean toward as you communicate with others?

1-DOMINANCE.  These communicators provide direct answers and tend to be brief, and to the point.  They ask “what” questions instead of “why” or “how” and stress logical benefits using factual information. They can tend to be blunt and demanding at times, and may seem to lack empathy or basic social skills. You won’t find these folks spending too much time with chit chat.

2-INFLUENCE. Those who communicate with this interactive style are relaxed and sociable, and enjoy verbalizing their ideas, thoughts, and feelings.  They enjoy social activities and will bore quickly if you dive into the details. Their communication is inclusive and motivational.  They like the limelight, and will quickly shut down if others attempt to persuade or influence them.

3-STEADINESS. Those who communicate in this style are agreeable, cooperative, and value knowing their individual role within a team setting.  They show appreciation with their words and focus on the “how” and “why”.  They tend to enjoy sincerity and a friendly, approachable manner of speaking. They may have difficulty prioritizing their ideas as they can be people-pleasers, but respond well to clearly defined goals and objectives, and thrive when assured follow-up and support.

4-COMPLIANCE. These communicators value accuracy and like to skip the socializing piece. They thrive on the specifics: precise expectations and uniform standards.  They’ll provide you with the straight-up pros and cons, support their ideas with accurate data, and communicate in a systematic and focused manner. They may resist vague or general information and you may find them double-checking everything you say or do.

Knowing yourself and your inclinations are a good first step in improving your communication. And understanding the communication style of others can help you better work as a team player and support them in becoming their best self as you learn to communicate in a way that enables their natural tendencies. But though each of these four styles can be effective, they also can become obsolete — depending on your behaviors.

The question to ask is not which style do I utilize, but “How well does my style enable me to listen deeply and send clear, convincing messages to those I’m communicating with?”

Here are some indicators that your way of communicating may need some updating:

  • You talk more than you listen in conversations with colleagues or loved ones
  • You fail to hear what others say, even though you thought you were listening
  • You catch yourself interrupting often
  • You don’t connect well with others and struggle to establish rapport
  • You judge the ‘why’ behind what others say before finding out their true motivations
  • You rarely ask for others’ opinions or insights
  • You fail to make eye contact or give non-verbal feedback when someone else is talking
  • Threats and emotional outbursts are a mainstay of communicating for you
  • You sometimes lack tact and diplomacy
  • You can come across dogmatic when expressing your own ideas
  • You refuse to let others change your opinion — even if you realize they may be right
  • You ask very few questions in conversations

No matter your style of relating and communicating with others, these negative attributes are behaviors — and behaviors can be changed.

“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” — Brian Tracy

If you find you’re at a place where your way of communicating needs some updating, try some of these on for size:

  • Learn what an open-ended question is, and start using them in every conversation
  • Become a good listener. Make eye contact, tune in to what is being said, and ask questions for clarification.
  • Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next so you can focus on the person who is talking
  • Use positive body language like smiling, uncrossed arms, and nodding where appropriate to welcome others’ ideas and input
  • Hold back your judgments if you don’t agree and seek to understand the why behind what they are saying
  • Practice speaking your words with clear enunciation and well-thought-out ideas if needed to ensure accurate delivery
  • Express gratitude and appreciation often; validate what the other person is saying
  • Match your emotions to the situation  and refrain from outbursts of negative expressions of feelings
  • Be patient when others speak and give them the time they need to express their thoughts.  Try not to finish their sentences or sum up their words before they are done speaking.
  • Fill in the blank: What is one additional behavior you can try this week to improve your communication skills?  ___________________________________________

Now get out there and practice, practice, practice!

“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people.” –Jim Rohn

 

 

 

 

When Conflicts Arise

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Is there someone with whom you’re harboring an unresolved conflict?

Pause for a moment and think about this someone.  Maybe they’ve recently wronged you, or hurled hurtful words, or showed you disdain or disrespect. Possibly they simply don’t agree with you and have been adamant about letting you know.  OK–got this person in mind? Focus on his/her face, and the last expression you saw in their eyes. Does your heart begin to race? Do you feel your anger rising as you begin to ruminate about that last conversation you had with them? Do sarcastic, hurtful words come to mind which you would like to say to them if ever you got the nerve? If you were to describe this person to me, what adjectives would you use?

Now, stop thinking about them and get back to what you were doing. Easier said than done?

If you experience strong, negative emotions when thinking about an unresolved conflict with someone, whether friend or perceived foe, there may be more at stake than just the two of you’s relationship. Though it’s definitely easier to side step differences, sweep issues under the rug or just avoid the person altogether, running from conflict resolve may not be the healthiest choice. Barring unsafe people who you must protect yourself from, learning and practicing conflict resolution is a brave thing to do — and can help you lead a healthier, happier life.

“Bravery is the choice to show up and listen to another person, be it a loved one or perceived foe, even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or the last thing you want to do.”  ― Alaric Hutchinson

We all are pretty good at making a connection between eating healthy foods, sleeping well, and exercising and our physical and mental well being. But how many recognize the value of positive social connections and their impact on our health?

Those experiencing unresolved conflict often become frustrated because there seems to be no workable solution, which can result in stress, sleep issues, loss of appetite, or overeating. Headaches, stomach aches, shoulder and neck pain, and a general down-in-the-mouth demeanor can deem you unavailable and unapproachable to others, thus negatively affecting relationships, both at work and at home.  And how about that ruminating piece?  Ever find yourself talking and talking (and talking) about the unresolved issue with anyone who’ll lend an ear? I daresay after a few sessions of this, friends, family, and coworkers may tire of having to hear about the same ole’ issues making their rounds in your conversations, and one by one will become less and less available as your sounding board.

It matters whether or not we get along with others.  Dr. Dana Avey is a Marriage & Family Therapist and explains how this works.  “Overall, having a social network of friends with whom one can spend time is noted to have significant mental health benefits, particularly as evidenced by experiencing an improved mood, both when in the company of others but also in the aftermath of the time spent socializing.  It can become very easy to become isolated with one’s own thoughts and feelings and connecting with others can offer objective feedback and support.” A study done by Deborah Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez showed that poor social relationships present serious ill-effects on our health. One of their findings showed that both the quantity and quality of social relationships affect our mental health, health behavior, physical health, and our risk of mortality. A striking sub-study by Berkman and Syme in 1997 revealed that the risk of death among men and women with the fewest social connections was more than twice as high as the risk for adults with the most relationships.  They also found that solid social ties reduce mortality risk among adults — even those with poor health. (research.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/).

In an interesting study done by House, Landis, and Umberson, the researchers uncovered that a lack of social connection has a greater negative impact on our health than smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure!  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/241/4865/540

On the contrary, healthy social connections can lead to a 50% chance of living longer, strengthen our immune systems, and help us recover more quickly from disease (https://emmaseppala.com/connect-thrive-infographic/).

As if this isn’t enough evidence to encourage us to work out our conflicts and strengthen relationships, consider this:  One of the negative, lasting effects of being in an unhealthy  relationship is a steady erosion of your self-worth. Says Claire Arene, MSW, LCSW, staff writer for healthyplace.com, “It is not unusual to find individuals with serious personality disorders as a result of the insidious effect of unhealthy long-term associations.”(https://www.healthyplace.com/relationships/unhealthy-relationships/the-impact-of-being-in-an-unhealthy-relationship)

If you have unresolved conflict with someone, it’s time to take action. Your physical and mental health is at stake. Even if the other party is not willing to make amends, the path toward healing can begin with you.

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” — William James

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Become self-aware of your own emotions and where they are stemming from. List out how you are feeling, using as much detail as possible, and attempt to determine if what you are feeling is a direct result of the conflict — or are there other factors at hand? Understanding what you’re feeling and why will lead to greater insight into why this conflict arose.
  • If your emotions are running on high, consider stepping back for a moment to let yourself cool down. When we lash out in anger or a negative emotional state, it’s very likely we’ll say something we’ll regret.  Take a walk, journal, talk to a counselor–whatever it is you do to get your emotions in check — before you attempt to reconcile.

“Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret. –Laurence J. Peter

  • Tune in to what the other person may be feeling. Understanding where they are coming from and where their emotions are stemming from can help you develop empathy for their point of view. How to do this? Ask open-ended questions to discover the whys behind their words. Try to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their viewpoint.
  • Improve your listening skills. Stop thinking about how you will respond and really listen to what they are saying–and what they are not saying. Watch their body language and ask question for clarity when needed. When they finish, ask them if there’s anything else they’d like to add before you pipe up.
  • Withhold character judgments. When someone opposes you in a combative manner, it’s easy to self-protect and convince yourself that they are a bad person. Try to focus on the issues at hand rather than trying to become a judge of their morality by focusing on the problem not the person.
  • Speak without finger pointing. When it’s time for you to speak up, take care to avoid blatant insults, nicely-hidden put-downs, or assigning blame. You are there to express your viewpoint, not make assumptions as to what they are feeling or thinking.
  • Keep calm and cool. Agitated body language and words laced with negative emotion can put the other person on the defensive before you even get started.  Slow down, lower your volume, and choose your words carefully. Check your facial expression. Even something as simple as softening your expression by raising your eyebrows and removing that frown can ease the tension.

“A soft answer turns away wrath.” — Ancient proverb

  • Try to find common ground. Though there is obvious disagreement, is there anything you agree upon? Finding issues you both connect and agree upon can form a bond and build trust. A “me too” attitude provides a sense that you’re on the same team…partners in collaboration vs. opponents in battle.
  • A little laughter goes a long way.  Unfortunately, our sense of humor is one of the first things to go into hiding when we’re agitated. When you laugh with another, a positive bond is formed which provides a buffer against negativity (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/managing-conflicts-with-humor.htm  ). However, avoid sarcastic humor at all costs.
  • Remember, you can’t control the other person.  Despite your best efforts, the person you’re clashing with may not respond in the way you hope. Your role is not to control their reactions, but to manage your own behavior in a way that lends a hand toward resolution. Sometimes, you may have to do the right thing and let go of the outcome.

It’s not easy to solve conflicts, but making attempts toward peace and understanding is worth the effort. Who will you start with today?

“Every conflict we face in life is rich with positive and negative potential. It can be a source of inspiration, enlightenment, learning, transformation, and growth-or rage, fear, shame, entrapment, and resistance. The choice is not up to our opponents, but to us, and our willingness to face and work through them.” — Kenneth Cloke

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It’s Lonely Near the Top: Challenges for Chiefs of Staff

Article submitted by guest author Ted Riter.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The role of Chief of Staff continues to grow in corporate and nonprofit America. While the responsibilities for this role vary from organization to organization, within organizations, and even between predecessors and successors, there are common challenges across the board for chiefs of staff. This paper presents both challenges for those in this field and recommendations for success as a Chief of Staff.

THIS STUDY

The background information for this study was gathered through interviews conducted November 2018-February 2019 with over three dozen current and former Chiefs of Staff. These Chiefs of Staff were in long-established corporations, startups, nonprofits, government agencies, and family offices[1]. They were in diverse fields, including high tech, pharmaceuticals, philanthropies, and higher education. Most Chiefs of Staff had served in their position for 12-18 months. Some had transitioned to other roles within the same organization or started their own ventures. A small number of Chiefs of Staff saw themselves as “career” Chiefs of Staff. Most Chiefs of Staff filled this role for a Chief Executive Officer. Some filled this role for other Executives or an entire C-Suite.

THE CHIEF OF STAFF ROLE

Chiefs of Staff are inspired and inspiring professionals, dedicated to the success of their Executives and their organizations They are eager learners, selfless with their time and energy, and masters of navigating sensitive situations. And, they are often placed in this role with great hopes, but little guidance or support for self-development.

Though a universal job description for Chiefs of Staff does not exist, Prime Chief of Staff, a leader in this field, breaks down the role of Chief of Staff into the following six functions: [2]

  • The Goalkeeper – Manage and triage workflow of the executive. Prioritize, delegate, and complete work on behalf of the executive.
  • The Operator – Add structure and process for better communication within the office of the executive as well as across teams. Ensure activities are running efficiently.
  • The Implementer – Drive business priorities from start to finish. Execute special projects or initiatives on behalf of the executive or the organization.
  • The Integrator – Create cohesion among teams and departments. Connect the dots across the organization for improved alignment and engagement.
  • The Proxy – Act on behalf of the executive for greater visibility and accessibility. Prevent bottle-necking and promote decision-making when the executive cannot be present.
  • The Advisor – Serve as a strategic thought partner, sounding board, and confidante. Inform organization strategy and decision-making.

These six functions are helpful when conceptualizing the role of a new Chief of Staff. Those interviewed in the field had a less nuanced view and responded:

  • I manage the staff – the CEO included.
  • My goal each day is to help connect people to people, people to ideas, and people to purpose. I spend 90% of my time helping people understand the “why.
  • I do a lot of listening and “pealing back the onion.” I’m the internal consultant/versatilist – I help every department scale.
  • I represent my CEO with special projects and make their life easier.
  • I am not chief of the staff, I am a chief connector

Chiefs of Staff routinely reported that their functions relied heavily upon both the needs of the Executive and their work and life experience. Mark Organ, Influitive CEO and thought-leader in the field of Chiefs of Staff, offers the following guidelines for hiring a Chief of Staff:[3]

  • A manager-level hire – This person would be responsible for typical administrative tasks like calendar management and booking travel, but he would also make important judgment calls on how the CEO should best spend her time and what meetings would be most valuable for her to attend.
  • A mid-career, director-level hire – This person may have 6-12 years of experience. He would be in charge of tasks like running town halls, preparing speeches and prepping the CEO for leadership meetings. He’s unlikely to take on any strategic responsibilities, however.
  • An experienced VP-level executive – This person is already an experienced executive who’s looking to become a CEO one day. She may meet with department heads to talk through goals and targets, and work on developing tactics for various parts of the business.

THE CHALLENGES

The Chief of Staff role is filled with challenges, some of which are unique to this position

Job Descriptions & Loneliness

Loneliness is not an uncommon experience for leaders. It often comes from a perception that they must “carry the burden” on their own. Chiefs of Staff report an added layer to this experience, often feeling that no one quite understands what they do in their organization.

In dozens of interviews, it was clear that day-to-day, no two Chiefs of Staff serve in the same role. Job descriptions vary greatly, and often do not even exist until long after the role is filled.

According to former Chief of Staff and author Tyler Parris, “…a chief of staff is a catch-all role, filled by someone with exceptional organizational and people skills, who handles all manner of tasks not covered by an existing member of an executive’s leadership team or administrative staff.”[4]

This difficult to define “catch-all role” can create confusion for executives, directors, and staff, especially when the role is filled for the first time.

Confusion around this role may result in pushback from those in the C-suite who see the Chief of Staff as a possible barrier to communication with the CEO. Staff might fear losing influence with the CEO and have uncertainty about their standing in the organization. This fear can easily be projected upon the Chief of Staff and lead to a creation of walls that hamper communication. Some staff members even outright express to the Chief of Staff, “I didn’t think we needed you.”

A consistent message from Chiefs of Staff, is that the most positive working relationships are based upon mutual agreements rather than expectations. One former Chief of Staff knew it was time to leave the role when it became clear that the CEO’s expectation was an 80/20 split between directly supporting the CEO and project management, while the Chief of Staff envisioned it as a 50/50 split.

Chiefs of Staff recognize that they have no real peers in their organization, unless they are in a larger setting with multiple Chiefs of Staff. The comradery that is often experienced in other positions may therefore be absent for Chiefs of Staff. A Chief of Staff for a Family Office shared that it “often feels like I’m on an island – it’s unlike any other job.” And, because of this isolation, one admitted, “I’m very frustrated. I don’t know how long I will be able to stay here.”

Even those Chiefs of Staff who excel in their position might feel unseen. One reported: “It’s very lonely. Because I’m so good at what I do, they don’t even see what I’m doing.” Another said, “I feel not seen and not appreciated.”

Many Chiefs of Staff spoke of the tremendous amount of privileged information they hold. This responsibility often makes it difficult to find colleagues and loved ones to confide in and count on for full support without breaking confidentiality. And, in fact, some Chiefs of Staff reported that their partners “know too much that is probably confidential.”

One Chief of Staff confided, “My CEO might be doing things that are unethical and I’m not sure what I can do about it.”

Social and Emotional Intelligence & Overwhelm

While the Executive might be a passionate leader with a big vision, the Chief of Staff often serves as a counter balance.

One Chief of Staff reported, “My job is to be an observer with my emotions removed, and then show what I see to the CEO, who cannot remove their emotions.”

This facility for social and emotional intelligence is critical for the success of a Chief of Staff, and yet not a skill that comes naturally to all in this role. As defined by the Institute for Social + Emotional Intelligence, “Social and emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of our own and others’ feelings – in the moment – and use that information to lead yourself and others” [5]

Some Chiefs of Staff, lacking these skills, commented:

  • I internalized all my frustrations and then I changed the way I did things. For instance, I stopped bringing many things to the CEO.
  • I’m a people pleaser, so difficult conversations are a big challenge.
  • I have a hard time initiating the conversations and then letting them go.
  • I get frustrated because I see the change but am not able to do anything about it.
  • I’m often the least experienced person in the room and this kills my confidence.

Many of the Chiefs of Staff who struggled with social and emotional intelligence, reported feelings of overwhelm and burnout:

  • I sometimes work 90-hour weeks and rejoice when it’s down to 60.
  • I recently took my first vacation in 4 years.
  • I don’t know how long I can continue here.
  • A Chief of Staff has to thrive in chaos, and I don’t know if I can anymore.
  • I have no time for my own health and relationships, let alone personal development.

This toll of overwhelm might be a surprise for some in an organization. Some Chiefs of Staff report that others see their travel schedule with an Executive or a fancy restaurant reservation and imagine glamorous and exciting opportunities not afforded to everyone. While travel can be to exciting places and access to the Executive enviable, this is by no means vacation, and most Chiefs of Staff express a desire to curtail their travel and spend more time at home.

One Chief of Staff offered, “I am envied by many because it looks fun. At the end of the day, it’s not a glamorous thing. I’m one of the hardest working people in the organization.”

Chiefs of Staff leave their position for many reasons, including acceptance of a predetermined tenure end-date, and following bigger dreams. However, many are burned out with no more to give in this position and gratefully move on to other positions in the current or different organizations.

SOLUTIONS

Most of the Chiefs of Staff interviewed self-identified as “successful” in their roles:

  • They are fully supportive of their Executive.
  • They feel supported by their Executive.
  • And, they believe they are helping the overall success of their organization.

And yet, even many of the successful Chiefs of Staff expressed a need for more support. With this added support, the role of Chiefs of Staff will continue to grow and benefit organizations across the globe.

Fuzzy Job Descriptions

Creating a job description for a Chief of Staff, especially for the first person to fill this role, is both challenging and worth the effort.

In addition to the measurable responsibilities for a Chief of Staff, the hallmark of a good Chief of Staff-Executive relationship is one built on trust. A high level of trust enables the Chief of Staff to predict the Executive’s behavior, understand the decision-making process, and allow the Executive to focus on the biggest priorities.

Recommendations to Build Trust:

Create measurable outcomes and goals from the beginning: One Chief of Staff suggested making a list of the top 5 tasks for the week and delegating everything else.

Schedule private time for direct communication: One Chief of Staff recommended undisturbed meeting time one to two times per week to give the Executive peace of mind so they can focus on what is most important for them to be doing.

Practice vulnerability: Vulnerability is not typically welcomed in the workplace because it is associated with weakness. However, vulnerability is an extraordinarily powerful tool for building trust in any relationship, including between an Executive and Chief of Staff.

There are many exercises for safely expressing vulnerability. The simplest practice is to admit and own mistakes without assigning blame to others.

Loneliness

Since there is unlikely to be peer support for Chiefs of Staff within an organization, find those who “get it.”

Recommendations to Alleviate or Prevent Loneliness

Join an established Chief of Staff network: New opportunities for connection are being created through the efforts of Prime Chief of Staff and a current Chief of Staff herself, Caroline Pugh. Together, they are hosting events around the country and have created an online community of practice[6]

Create a Chief of Staff network: As the role increases in the business world, there are more and more opportunities to find or create a local network with Chiefs of Staff from all sectors of the workplace. Formality is not necessary.

Find a mentor: Chiefs of Staff are generous with their time and energy even when they have moved on to other roles, and they are often open to mentoring others.

Social and Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman, a pioneer in the field of social and emotional intelligence, teaches that leadership is based primarily (85%) on emotional intelligence and (15%) on IQ. Fortunately, emotional and social intelligence are also skills that can be honed through training.

There are four areas of concentration that can be trained for Chiefs of Staff to excel in their positions:[7]

  • Self-awareness – knowing your internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions.
  • Self-management – managing one’s internal states, impulses and resources.
  • Social awareness – awareness of others’ feelings, needs and concerns.
  • Social skills / relationship management – ability to create desirable responses in others.

Many Chiefs of Staff have a very high level of social and emotional intelligence. They report:

  • I’m good at learning new skills.
  • I’m fearless when it comes to failure – I hop into the ringer.
  • I’m not afraid to put out a shitty first draft; zero to one is easy for me.
  • I am very often the youngest person in the room and try to make age irrelevant in a meeting.
  • I like to sit in the back of the room and take it all in.

Recommendations to Build Social and Emotional Intelligence

Hire a coach: The coaching industry is growing even faster than the Chiefs of Staff field. Good coaches might have good answers to a Chief of Staff’s questions. The best coaches will have good questions to a Chief of Staff’s answers.

Budget time and funding for professional development: Training pays dividends. The best professional development has a component geared for Executives as well as Chiefs of Staff.

Overwhelm

Overwhelm can be a result of fuzzy job descriptions, loneliness, and poor social and emotional intelligence skills. And, there are practices to prevent overwhelm on and off the job.

Recommendations to Alleviate or Prevent Overwhelm:

Practice self-care: Physical exercise, meditation, healthy eating, and time off might sound trite. However, they are recommended by every successful Chief of Staff interviewed for this report.

Practice embodied leadership: Our bodies are excellent teachers if we are attuned to them. However, we spend most of our day in our heads. Through training in embodied practices that stretch our nervous system, Chiefs of Staff can better hold the disruption and stress of the day.

Train for clear communication: Difficult conversations are inevitable in any leadership position. Learning clear communication skills is an art form that will be of benefit both inside and outside the organization.

RESOURCES

 Books Recommended by Chiefs of Staff (with some surprises in the mix):

  • Being You, Changing the World by Dain Heer
  • Chief of Staff: The Strategic Partner Who Will Revolutionize Your Organizationby Tyler Parris
  • Daring Greatly and Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
  • Difficult Conversations by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, and Sheila Heen
  • Discover Your True North by Bill George
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message by Tara Mohr
  • Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord
  • Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
  • Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott
  • Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happinessby Forrest Hanson and Rick Hanson
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Factsby Annie Duke
  • Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
  • The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
  • Your Oxygen Mask First: 17 Habits to Help High Achievers Survive & Thrive by Kevin N. Lawrence

Books Not Yet In Print

In addition to recommending books, some Chiefs of Staff envision writing the following:

  • How To Do It All – Including taking care of yourself
  • I’m A Chief of Staff…Now What?
  • Paving the Way for Process
  • The Story of Creating This Place: Things that seemed so big, but in the end are pretty small
  • Things That Make Sense But Don’t Make Sense

 

FOR FUTURE CONSIDERATION

An Unexpected Finding

One of the unexpected findings of this study is that many Chiefs of Staff experienced difficult childhoods or other challenges in their formative years. Though this paper cannot make a direct link between a difficult childhood and success as a Chief of Staff, it is an interesting area for further exploration. When questioned about specifics, these Chiefs of Staff confided they were often the ones who mediated family disruption: Arguments, divorce, death, illness, crisis. Perhaps, the experience navigating these challenging situations made it easier to step into the Chief of Staff role and mediate the high stakes, big egos, and charged energy of the workspace.

Transitioning Into and Out of the Chief of Staff Role

As the role of Chief of Staff grows outside of government, it is becoming seen as a stepping stone to higher leadership positions.[8] Though a great proving ground for numerous C-Suite and VP positions, the transition is often not seamless. There is a training opportunity both in the time before stepping into the Chief of Staff role and upon exiting. There is also an opportunity for addressing the emotional impact of transitions felt by Executives and Chiefs of Staff as the relationships come to an end.

CONCLUSION

Chiefs of Staff are proving to be invaluable assets for Executives in business and nonprofit organizations, just as they have been for many years in the government and military. Those who participated in this study were smart, talented, energetic, and motivated for success. They were great ambassadors for their Executives, their organizations, and their roles as Chiefs of Staff.

As this position becomes more common, it is important to address the challenges unique to Chiefs of Staff and offer appropriate training and coaching to ensure continued success for both the role and for those who serve in these positions.

 

What is an open heart?

Article contributed by guest author Rick Hanson.

The Practice:

Put No One Out Of Your Heart.

Why?

We all know people who are, ah, . . . challenging. It could be a critical parent, a bossy supervisor, a relative who has you walking on eggshells, a nice but flaky friend, a co-worker who just doesn’t like you, a partner who won’t keep his or her agreements, or a politician you dislike. Right now I’m thinking of a neighbor who refused to pay his share of a fence between us.As Jean-Paul Sartre put it: “Hell is other people.”

Sure, that’s overstated. But still, most of a person’s hurts, disappointments, and irritations typically arise in reactions to other people.

Ironically, in order for good relationships to be so nurturing to us as human beings – who have evolved to be the most intimately relational animals on the planet – you must be so linked to others that some of them can really rattle you!

So what can you do?

Let’s suppose you’ve tried to make things better – such as taking the high road yourself and perhaps also trying to talk things out, pin down reasonable agreements, set boundaries, etc. – but the results have been partial or nonexistent.

At this point, it’s natural to close off to the other person, often accompanied by feelings of apprehension, resentment, or disdain. While the brain definitely evolved to care about “us,” it also evolved to separate from, fear, exploit, and attack “them” – and those ancient, neural mechanisms can quickly grab hold of you.

But what are the results? Closing off doesn’t feel good. It makes your heart heavy and contracted. And it primes your brain to be more tense and reactive, which could get you into trouble, plus trigger the other person to act worse than ever.

Sometimes you do have to hang up the phone, block someone on Facebook, turn the channel on TV, or stay at a motel when visiting relatives. Sometimes you have to put someone out of your business, work group, holiday party list –or bed.

In painful or extreme situations, it may feel necessary to distance yourself utterly from another person for awhile or forever. Take care of yourself, and listen to that inner knowing about what’s best for you. You may need to put them out of your life. And you can see for yourself if you need to put them out of your heart.

How?

When your heart is open, what’s that feel like? Physically, in your chest – like warmth and relaxation – and in your body altogether. Emotionally – such as empathy, compassion, and an even keel. Mentally – like keeping things in perspective, and wishing others well.

Feel the strength being openhearted, wholehearted. Be not afraid and be of good heart. Paradoxically, the most open person in a relationship is usually the strongest one.

Get a sense of your heart being expansive and inclusive, like the sky. The sky stays open to all clouds, and it isn’t harmed by even the stormiest ones. Keeping your heart open makes it harder for others to upset you.

Notice that an open heart still allows for clarity about what works for you and what doesn’t, as well as firmness, boundaries, and straight talk. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama are famous for keeping their hearts open while also being very effective.
Seeing all this, make a commitment to an open heart.

In this light, be mindful of what it feels like – physically, emotionally, mentally – to have your heart closed to a particular person. Be aware of the seemingly good reasons the reactive brain/mind throws up to justify this.

Then ask yourself, given the realities of this challenging person, what would have been a better path for you? For example, maybe you should have gotten more support from others or been more self-nurturing, so you wouldn’t have been as affected. Or spoken up sooner to try to prevent things from getting out of hand. Or managed your internal reactions more skillfully. Maybe you’ve done some things yourself to prompt the other person to be difficult. Whatever these lessons are, there’s no praise or blame here, just good learning for you.

And now, if you’re willing, explore opening your heart again to this person. Life’s been hard to him or her, too. Nothing might change in your behavior or in the nature of the relationship. Nonetheless, you’ll feel different – and better.

Last, do not put yourself out of your heart. If you knew you as another person, wouldn’t you want to hold that person in your heart?

Speaking the truth with love

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

A few years back I met a group of  loved ones honoring a deceased friend at a celebration of life gathering. There were old faces I hadn’t seen in years, and it was great to catch up, rehashing stories from college days, sharing about our kids, families, and travels. I found it delightful to engage in the rich, connecting conversations, and despite our sadness over the loss of our friend, joy abounded — except with one. She was not someone I ever knew well, but we shared many friendships and experiences. Within minutes of a conversation with her, she had turned off everyone unfortunate enough to be standing within earshot. Not only did she share a disapproving comment about our deceased friend’s children, she found fault with the food (lovingly prepared and donated by some kindhearted women in the local church area), and went on to share with us all how her personal eating and exercise regime is what made her look as good as she did.  Huh?! One by one, people made excuses to leave the conversation. I noticed she didn’t look any of us in the eye as she spoke, and didn’t pause to ask many questions. When one friend pointed out she was being a bit rude, she defended herself with, “I’m just being honest.”

Justifying hurtful words

How many times has someone used these four words to explain away their hurtful, negative, and damaging behavior, as if somehow honesty makes it OK?

I am not talking about telling lies to appease people, or about being dishonest to win friends. Being honest, up front, and speaking the truth are vital components of building trust with others, and trust is the foundation of meaningful relationships. Those that make a habit of telling untruths, whether about important or seemingly trivial matters, ruin their dependability and trustworthiness. Speaking with honesty is a very good thing. But how we speak our truth matters.

“The only way to tell the truth is to speak with kindness. Only the words of a loving man can be heard.” –Henry David Thoreau

You can’t have one without the other

Honesty and kindness go hand-in-hand, and those who don’t learn how to speak truth with kindness will most often go unheard. These are the people who come across as a little “rough around the edges”, and have an approach when tends to chill conversations. They may appear to be arrogant and unapproachable, and are often impatient, distant, and insensitive. Without even trying, they’re able to devalue others and are quick to jump to their own conclusions, eager to share their own opinions without consideration of the viewpoints of others. They often appear to be ‘too busy’ to slow down and really connect with others, and often struggle with a strong sense of self-righteousness.

Does this sound like someone you’d want to work for, or hire, or work alongside on a team? Those who haven’t learned the art of  building bonds are not the most enjoyable to be around, and often not someone we even want to connect with. The absence of people skills can leave them isolated and lacking in the friendship department. They may think others respect them where often it’s just that others avoid them. Though they may pride themselves in “speaking the truth”, this inability to connect with others can limit their success.

“Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart.” — Ancient proverb

What is kindness?

On the other hand, kindness can be translated as interpersonal effectiveness. It’s a competency of emotional intelligence that can be developed, and is a strong determinant of the quality of our relationships. It’s the ability to make others feel comfortable and put them at ease. People who are good at this are able to show compassion and empathy to build rapport…while they speak the truth.

How do they do this?

For one thing, they have a good understanding of how the social world works by tuning in to those around them. They’ve taken the time to understand and in turn, respect, differing cultural, religious, political, and socioeconomic belief system, even if it is not how they personally believe. They have learned to listen intently, reading body language as much as the verbal words they’re hearing, reflecting back for understanding, and use their words to build others up rather than tear down. They take a genuine interest in others and strive to understand who the other person is and why they do the things they do. They exercise solid conflict management skills and are able to diffuse high-tension situations with ease by being supportive and encouraging when they encounter strife. They’re not afraid to be vulnerable and share about themselves, because they’re being intentional about living a life that is above-board and honorable.

Developing good people skills

If you find that more often than not your truth lacks kindness, take heart. We’re talking about behavior, and behavior can be changed. Here are 7 tips to improve your interpersonal skills so that your truth spoken can be heard.

  1. Just put on a happy face. Seems simple, but recent studies show that those who express a genuine smile are able to connect better with others. Researcher Kostandin Kushlev says, ““Smiling is a really powerful social lubricant. When somebody smiles at you, that indicates approachability,”((https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563218304643) )  The positive energy a pleasant demeanor creates, not only in yourself, but others, can do a lot in building rapport.
  2. Make eye contact and speak their name. Have you ever left a conversation realizing you never even looked the other person in the eyes? Or have you asked someone their name only to forget it immediately? This is a fairly simple place to start, but looking at others in the eyes and using their name goes a long way in building rapport. Dale Carnegie said, “There is nothing more pleasant to a man than the sound of his own name.” No good at names? Stop making excuses and get good at it, because it is important. Using name associations and/or jotting down someone’s name when you meet them can help.
  3. Say thanks. Robert Emmons, one of the leading scientific experts on gratitude, found that expressing gratitude does several things to improve social relations. It enables us to become more helpful and generous and leads us to forgive others of wrongs. Gratitude can even help us feel less lonely and isolated by prompting us to be more outgoing. (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_gratitude_is_good)
  4. Show you care.  Learning to tune into the whys behind what others think can help you understand what drives their actions. Become other-oriented. How? Ask them questions about the details of their day-to-day lives — inquire about their commute, their kids, and what they did over the weekend. Learn their dog’s name. Discover their hopes and dreams. People love to be asked about themselves (and talk about themselves!) so ask open-ended questions to draw them out. And in doing so, resist the temptation to turn the conversation back to you. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” — Steven R. Covey
  5. Be amiable and affable. People respond to a pleasant, friendly demeanor much better than when they feel criticized or judged. Even if you don’t like what they’re saying, or agree with them, there’s no need to be demeaning or rude.
  6. Learn to fight fairly. No one enjoys conflict, but sweeping it under the rug or becoming combative and/or defensive doesn’t do much to fix the situation. Attempt to listen to the other side of the story and let your goal be a win-win solution vs. getting your own way. There is an old proverb that encourages us not to let the sun go down on our wrath. If there’s someone you are at odds with, do your best to resolve the conflict sooner than later. Ignoring the issues at hand only encourages us to stew, ruminate, and plant a seed of bitterness.
  7. Lend a helping hand. Developing a servant-leader mindset can go a long way in developing strong relationships. If there’s someone you’re not getting along with, try laying your own hurt feelings aside and think of something kind you could do for them. Maybe it’s offering an encouraging word, or a sincere compliment, taking them out for coffee, or extending your help on a project.  As Arthur Ciaramicoli says in his book, The Stress Solution, “Doing good induces others to reciprocate.”

We all want to be heard, and learning to speak our truth with kindness can go a long way in enhancing our connections with others. As with any new habit, it takes hard work, and time, and consistency to  achieve results. But it’s worth the effort, as your success depends upon it.

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” ~ Henry James

 

 

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