Archive for the ‘Communication Skills’ Category

7 ways to make others avoid you at networking events

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

You know the drill. You don your best business attire, turn on your extroverted switch, write your name and company on the name tag with bold letters, then stride in with your head held high offering a firm but not-too-firm handshake, fully expecting the others to notice your confidence and professionalism as you enter the room. Despite your careful preparations, though, be ready: Most won’t. (Find out why in #3 below).

If you’ve ever attended a professional networking event, either by choice or because your company sends you, you can’t deny that though you claim you’re there to ‘just meet new people’, secretly you hope to come away with a few business leads. I mean, that’s the whole point. Establishing new business connections is a tried and true way to promote your business to people that your current marketing strategies may not be reaching. And while some people are great at networking with others, some, well, just aren’t, and those that aren’t are often the reason you find yourself glancing at the clock once too often and looking for the first opportunity to dash out the door to freedom (once you’ve used up your two free drink tickets of course).

The ability to connect with others, demonstrating compassion, sensitivity, and a true interest in their interests, is a rare skill and a valuable component of emotional intelligence. Those that are good at it can put others at ease, build rapport, and seem to attract new friends/contacts/clients without much effort. Truth is, they have most likely put a lot of effort into becoming more self-aware and ‘other-aware’ — tuning into the wants, needs, and desires of the person across from them and responding accordingly. Those that lack interpersonal effectiveness tend to come across as selfish, arrogant, or a little ‘rough on the edges.’ Have you ever met any of the latter at a networking event?

Here are 7 ways you can make others want to avoid you at your next networking venue:

  1. Tell others how great your company/product is before they ask. As soon as the introductions are over, be the first one to start talking about how great your company and products are and how everyone within earshot desperately needs what you sell/do, before you’ve even assessed if those in the conversation are interested or not. Be sure to use the phrase “you should” often.
  2. Don’t look people in the eyes while you’re talking. Be sure to look ‘out there’ as you talk, as if your inspiration is coming from some far-away land of enchantment. If you look people in the eyes, you might notice they aren’t listening and you’d have to adjust…yikes! In fact, just avoid eye contact in all circumstances.
  3. Don’t ask questions. A great way to make people want to avoid you is to only talk about yourself and your company, and never ask them questions about theirs. Remember, what you have to say is far more important than what they possibly could come up with, and this event is all about marketing yourself, right? If you express a genuine interest in them, they might start telling you about what they do, and you don’t want that!
  4. When others begin to share, don’t pay attention. Get out your phone, send a quick text, glance at those around you, check out the attractive person by the food table, and by all means be thinking about what you’re going to say next. Don’t nod as they speak and never, ever ask them for more details so you can better understand what they do. If it seems like they’re going to talk for more than 5 minutes, excuse yourself to go get that second drink.
  5. Bore them with details. It’s best you dive quickly and deeply into the intricate details of how your company was formed, why it was formed, the levels of training you’ve received, how many clients you have and the names of all of your branch office locations. Use a lot of acronyms. Tell them about the day when your wifi crashed and how you had to call the IT team and work with them for hours on the phone to get things resolved, making sure to share the ins and outs of the support call. Don’t check in during your stories to see if people are interested and/or listening. Just keep talking! Remember everyone in your conversation circle came to the event just to hear about you. A good rule of thumb: Talk for 20+ minutes at a time without pausing or allowing others to chime in.
  6. Brag! Tell others about every accomplishment for which you’ve been awarded, how far-reaching your clientele base is, how many times you’ve been published in the newspaper and featured on the local news. Tell them how your product is far better than anything your competitors produce be sure to throw out little masked insults toward other companies so they know that yours is superior
  7. Only talk about your work. Don’t try to get to know people on a personal level first and don’t share any personal details about who you are (vs. what you do). If you ask about their families, or what they do in their spare time, or if they love what they do, or if they are currently struggling through any personal issues, you might start to connect with them on a human level. And don’t try to find things outside of work that you have in common, whether it be a shared interest in a sport, or a musical group, or a favorite vacation destination. Remember that connecting to people on a personal level might require a relationship rather than just being able to hand them your business card and be done with them.

A lack of self-awareness and other awareness can go a long way — at least make people go a long way — away from you! Approaching your next networking event as an opportunity to truly get to know others instead of it being all about you may be a good place to start. Tune in next time to how you’re coming across and if possible, start making some shifts toward a more emotionally-intelligent approach for more successful business connections.

“Treat each event you attend and each person that you meet as if it were an appointment with your one of your best clients — even if you are meeting that person for the very first time.” –Timothy M. Houston

Showcasing Emotional Intelligence on your Resume

Article contributed by guest author Patricia Edwards

Show ’em your Career Smarts…emotional intelligence that is

Show 'em your Emotional Intelligence

Unless you are alone and counting beans in a cave, the ability to understand yourself and others, communicate and influence others are all critical skills and abilities of career success. With increased emphasis on collaboration and diversity, EI is becoming even more important  and companies are hiring with those attributes in mind.

What is EI?

EI is generally defined as a person’s ability to understand and manage his/her own thoughts and emotions as well having insight into others and responding in such a way to influence outcomes.  Generally speaking, the higher levels of EI you have, the more easily you can sell your ideas to others, resolve conflict, inspire and lead teams in complex and ever changing work environments.

How can I present my EI in my resume?

Start with the job posting or job description.  If it requires interpersonal communication skills, ability to work with a team or manage other people, you have a competitive edge if you can showcase those abilities on the resume.  Simply saying “I have high emotional intelligence” is not enough and may, in fact, create question since two dimensions of EI are “reality testing and self regard”.  Rather than list communications as a strength, list examples of how you:

  • overcame objections to influence a decision
  • communicated a controversial message with positive consequences
  • increased sales team effectiveness
  • improved patient satisfaction scores
  • resolved conflict between two opposing business units

Do you control your own emotions well under stress?  Highlighting that much needed ability can be accomplished by describing how you have responded well to emotionally stressful situations:

  • have you been able to manage conflicting priorities and assignments?
  • have you met demanding deadlines?
  • were you able to exceed a difficult sales quota?

Have others told you that you are insightful and read others’ emotions well?  Describe specific circumstances in your career when you used that ability.  For example:

  • if assigned to improve a process, you may have designed questions and facilitated focus groups to solicit ideas from people most impacted
  • if involved in a merger of two business groups, you may have conducted a needs assessment to gain concensus before pursuing any change

When showcasing your EI, be mindful of the position and work environment.  Customer service, sales, human resources, medical delivery, or research all have industry specific responsibilities.  Conflict resolution might look different in different work settings; however, if you have ever managed a team of employees or were responsible for firing someone, you can certainly speak to your emotional intelligence competence.

Remember:  specificity speaks louder than generality.  Your resume can briefly explain the situation and provide the hiring manager with good discussion starters for the interview.  Be sure to be prepared with details to expand upon your top three EI traits.  You will make a very favorable impression during the interview.

Speaking of interviews…

Most companies ask behavioral interview questions to determine how candidates might fit into the organization.  Many organizations also use EI interview questions to hire and promote.  The questions answer:

  • stress – what are your hot buttons
  • how you relate in conflict situations
  • what motivates you to do your best
  • how you define your own work success

Not just for Execs

Lest you think this is only used for manager positions, this type of screening and interviewing is common in healthcare, customer service and sales, financial services and most other professions. Here’s an example.  A leading collection agency uses EI interview questions to determine candidates’ levels of optimism and self esteem.  It turns out that the perfect candidate for this company possess fairly  low optimism and very high self esteem.

How can you measure your high EI?

Options include online EI assessments or working with someone certified to report out detailed findings and work with you toward a customized development plan.

Want to learn more about emotional intelligence and your job search or career success?  I help professionals and executives get hired by designing strategic job searches. Contact me at Patricia@CareerWisdomCoach.com or tweet me @CareerSmartz.

Do you know when you’re getting in your own way?

stuckArticle contributed by guest author Dawn Cook.

Self awareness is a beautiful thing.  However, the challenge to acknowledge you need to increase self awareness is daunting. Most of us go along our merry way without giving thought to how we may be getting in our own way with limiting beliefs, unconscious fears or simply a lack of emotional intelligence.  How do we even begin to check in with ourselves and look for opportunities to grow?

Probably the easiest way is recognize it in others.  It’s much safer and less threatening to observe someone else’s self sabotaging behavior than to look in the mirror.  So let’s take a look at a few examples to sharpen your focus.

Joan is complimented by her client on her performance in completing a project.  Instead of accepting the compliment, she rejects it by saying it was really not a big deal.  The client makes another attempt to praise her work but she passes it off as ‘no biggie.’  The client begins to wonder if the cost of the project is commensurate with the effort required.  As they discuss her next engagement with them, the client negotiates hard for a lower price – much to Joan’s dismay.  She’s appalled that they seem to undervalue her work.

Tony emailed a colleague this morning with a request for information on a critical project.  As of this afternoon, he has still not heard back.  He proceeds to call his colleague and leave a voice mail, insisting he get the information ASAP. As the minutes roll by, Tony begins to wonder if his colleague is intentionally dogging him.  That notion angers him even more and he finds he cannot stay focused on his work because he is so agitated.

Kathryn calls to schedule a company dinner meeting at a restaurant they’ve used many times in the past.  The restaurant manager informs her that, due to the holidays, they need confirmation of the number of guests to secure the reservation for a private room.  Kathryn indicated she would not know the actual number until three days before the dinner.  The manager reiterates their requirement and Kathryn triggers.  In haste, she tells the manager she will find another restaurant.  However, at this late date, she will be hard pressed to do so.

In each of these situations, the individual was unaware how their deficit in emotional intelligence affected their reactions.  Joan lacks the self esteem to accept that she had done great work; Tony lacks empathy to understand his colleague has his own challenging time table, and Kathryn lacks impulse control to reason out a better solution in the moment.  They all got in their own way yet each of them places blame elsewhere.

The common denominator in these scenarios is the need to look within at your contribution when life throws you a curve ball. Certainly you don’t cause every bump in the road of life, but a few may have your hand print in them.  Your next step in the self awareness journey?   Simply ask yourself, “How may I have contributed to this?” and “How would my best version of myself do things differently in the future?”  If you answer honestly, you just might be amazed at how quickly you stop getting in your own way.

Thank you for reading.  Make it an EQ day!

How will you navigate the journey ahead?

2017-new-yearAs you look out at the challenges ahead in 2017, consider equipping yourself with tools to help you navigate the peaks and valleys that life brings.

Social and emotional intelligence (S+EI) is the ability to be aware of how you and others are feeling, in the moment, and to manage your behavior appropriately. Do you know anyone who could use a little help with this? We all have behaviors that may be tripping us up, derailing our careers, and negatively affecting the quality of our relationships.

The good news is, behavior can be changed, and we’d like to help you learn how.

Our critically-acclaimed online Coach Certification Course in S+EI gives you  skills and expertise to create a unique niche in your coaching practice as well as help those you work with increase their S+EI for happier, more productive lives. Whether you are a coach, an HR professional, a leader, or an individual looking to navigate the journey ahead, consider adding the skill of S+EI coaching to your toolkit in the coming year.

Learn more at http://the-isei.com/all_course_list.aspx or contact us at info@the-isei.com. We look forward to walking alongside you!

The gift that everyone needs

holiday4

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

In many countries, this time of the year is marked by the telltale signs of people scurrying around from store to store trying to find the perfect gift for friends, family, and loved ones. And while we may fuss that this holiday season has become too commercialized, most will admit that it feels really good to give, especially when we’ve chosen a gift that is well received! Seeing the delight on someone’s face as they unwrap a present they like can warm our hearts on any cold, winter day.

But there’s a gift that many of us possess, yet, often unbeknown to us, withhold it. We’ll spend our hard-earned paychecks on new toys or colorful housewares or the latest electronic gadget for those we love, and even at times for strangers, but this particular gift is a little more difficult to part with. It doesn’t come wrapped in brown paper packages tied up with bows, and you won’t find it online or at your neighborhood retail store. Yet, it is a gift that each of us wants — and needs.

I don’t like conflict.  Not many of us do.  Whether it be with family at home, or colleagues at the office, or with strangers on our daily commute, conflict with other human beings can leave us feeling used up, empty, and numb–the very opposite of what we’re ‘supposed’ to feel this time of year. The holidays are a time for peace.  But we all know how difficult relations with each other can be at times.  How much peace are you feeling at the moment with those you interact with?  And more importantly, how much peace are you giving at the moment to those in your life?

When my kids’ dad and I divorced years ago, I can’t exactly say we were feeling the love, joy and peace of the season in our household those first few winters. There was arguing. Crying. Yelling. Disenchantment. The ending of family as we knew it left raw wounds, which would at times begin to heal over, until a word or action ripped open the flesh once again with new hurt and pain. I was angry, he was angry–we were angry.  The kids got their presents: princess dresses, Batman masks, bicycles, movies, gifts laced with all the trimmings of the holidays, yet the most vital ingredient was missing:  peace.  I remember one particular night we were dropping off the kids and the interaction between us was so bitter than I was shaking with rage.  Peace?  It just wasn’t an item in Santa’s gift bag for our family that year.

Peace can only come about when we are able to get along well with those around us. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a ‘people person’, it’s almost impossible to avoid interactions with others, and it’s these interactions that greatly affect our ability to experience peace. Believe me, I understand how certain circumstances can cause our relationships to be strained, to say the least, but unless we develop healthy conflict management skills, and interpersonal skills, both key components of emotional intelligence, even when there are valid reasons for the controversy, our ability to experience peace– and give peace — will be stifled.

Is there anyone in your life who’s robbing you of your peace?  Or, more importantly, is there anyone from whom you are stealing it? Maybe it’s a coworker who drives you nuts, or pushes your buttons, or…. you name it … whatever it is they do that’s causing you distress. Maybe it’s a family member that hurt you a long time ago in an angry argument.  Maybe it’s the guy who just pulled out in front of you at the intersection. Whomever it is, how does it feel?  If your reaction is anything like mine, the sick pit in your stomach when you think of the person or interact with them is enough to dampen the brightest of holiday spirits.

Forgiveness is often thought of to be a religious term, but it is helpful in bringing about peace to all, no matter what religion, belief system, or god you serve.  A quick internet search of the word ‘forgive’ leads you to this definition: “To stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.”  But I like the second definition that comes up even more so:  “To cancel a debt.”  Cancel means to cross it out, delete it, to let it go. It is inevitable that when in relationship there will be cause for offense. But it’s our choice to let go of the punishment that we feel they deserve for their bad behavior.  It’s a gift that we all possess and have the ability to give, and it’s our choice whether to give it — or not. And while not offering it is definitely an option, we’ve all heard the famous quote by Marianne Williamson:   “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.”

My years of holding on to resentments tainted my joy, and it was no one’s fault but my own. Sure, I could blame my ex for the unrest, but in actuality it was me who was refusing to offer the olive branch of peace. It took several years, but when I was finally ready to cancel the debt I felt my he owed, it was only then that peace could begin to seep back into my life. Hurtful words became just a little less hurtful. Unrealistic expectations of each other were put to rest, and oddly, a sense of respect for each other began appear, faintly at first, like the first twinkling star at dusk. Although these moments in the beginning were few and far between, it soon became more and normal to treat each other decently. It was as if we were tentatively exchanging little trinkets of peace, like stocking stuffers, and as we rebuilt trust, the gifts became more substantial, valuable, and frequent. I’d compliment him on his parenting skills, he’d thank me for teaching the girls to sing.  He’d offer to pay for something extra, then I’d do the same next time an expense came around. It wasn’t easy, and I struggled with extending kindness when the list of his wrongs always seemed to be much longer than the rights. But I found it hard to maintain a hardened heart when he’d offer a kind word, and visa versa. Sure, we’d often backslide, but for the most part we could tell our relationship was moving to a healthier place. Long story short, just last week, we were attending one of our kids’ choir events, and stopped into local coffee shop beforehand, and all sat together and shared coffee, and actually got along.  No arguing, no hurtful digs, no unkind words. We even laughed a bit and snapped a group photo.  What a different scene than from those early days of conflict. Will he ever be my best friend again?  Most likely not. I don’t think I’d even want that. But we have been able to finally lay down the years of bitterness and begin to again experience the love (well, “like” may be more accurate!), peace, and joy that Christmas carolers croon about.

Forgiveness. It’s gift that we all possess, but one that can be hard to give, especially when we can justify the reasons someone doesn’t deserve it. Offering forgiveness is much easier said than done — but know it can be done and can lead to the peace we all desire, deep down. Who will you offer this gift to this season?

 

The Leap

leap

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

Do you have dreams that are not being realized? And in the day-to-day grind you just can’t see how to make them happen? It’s the story of my life. As a result of my wanderings around the great state of Colorado this summer, I realized that the guilty culprit of dream-stealing is that discouraging and negative acquaintance of ours named Fear. Why we ever decided to make friends with him in the first place I’ll never know! He has an annoying way of stopping by unannounced and knocking on our door until we relent and let him in, usually in the dark and restless hours of the night, when we are wrestling with discouragement and worry. And then he has the gall to stick around like an unwanted house guest until we’re exasperated and completely spent! I know in my life the presence of fear is the very thing that keeps me from exploring new opportunities that are the stepping stones to making my dreams unfold. Fear paralyzes us to the point that not only do we forget our dreams but can’t remember why we even dreamed them, and a life that seems mundane, routine, and purposeless stealthily assumes their place.

Fear can be so crippling that in order to tackle it, drastic measures are needed. Fearing the unknown becomes such a way of life for some of us that the thought of taking any sort of risk or changing up the routine is terrifying, despite realizing we have landed in a life that is so very far from our hearts. Taking a leap of faith, which is a form of exercising our personal power, when an opportunity presents itself becomes the only option to get unstuck and move forward.

I go cliff jumping for this very reason. If you’ve ever tried it, you understand how terrifying it can be.  Just getting to the launch pad is treacherous.  Usually the way up is a narrow, steep footpath with loose rocks, sharp drop-offs, and absolutely no room for error.  As if that doesn’t get your heart racing, there’s often no way down except to jump.  As you carefully peer over the edge to once again assure yourself there are no rocks below (though you already swam around down there a couple hundred of times to make sure), despite seeing those who go before you successfully accomplish the feat, your fears grab your innards like a pair of strong, sinewy vice grips that squeeze so tightly you feel your timid heart may burst with the overload of adrenaline.  Everything in your reasonable, sound mind tells you that there is no earthly reason it would be a good idea to fling yourself off into the oblivion.  But with heart pounding and breath coming in shallow gasps, you leap, a scream escaping your chest that doesn’t quite sound human. At the splash you plunge deep into the cool, cold waters with an instant exuberant affirmation that makes you wonder why you ever hesitated in the first place. It’s a physical way to push back physical fears that so translate over into fears of the heart. The exhilaration of mustering up the bravery to leap, despite sane reasoning, then plummeting downward, barefoot, into the refreshing blue waters below, reminds me that I can do anything if I am bold enough to try.

What cliff is looming ahead for you, that thing you are afraid of that’s holding you back? Or what cliff have you recently leapt from that has moved you one step closer to your dreams? One lie that fear whispers in our ear is that we are alone in our struggles, and alone in our successes.  This misconception can lead to isolation, loneliness, and a false sense of self — three masks that do a good job of clouding our vision and make us feel like we are pursuing our dreams with blinders on. Keep sharing your stories, because it is these tales of love, and hurt, and accomplishment, and setbacks, that could be the very thing someone needs to read today to help them make the leap.

Improve your decisions. Use your emotions.

decisionArticle contributed by guest author John Thalheimer.

It was late on Tuesday; Julie had to make a decision before she left work. It had been a long day of meetings, project reviews, and conversations with her team. As she walked into her office, she sat down in the armchair she usually reserved for guests to her office. The decision she had to make weighed heavily on her. Instinctively she knew however she decided it would impact the performance of her team for the next year at least.

On her desk sat the resumes of the two candidates that would replace her operations manager. Over the last two weeks, she had narrowed down the candidate pool to these two resumes, and now she had to make a decision.

One of the primary responsibilities of executives is to make decisions for the betterment of the organization. In fact, executives make hundreds of decisions each week that impact the direction of their organizations. In my work with leaders, most of them believe that making rational decisions are an important aspect of their leadership. For the important decisions, the leader usually has a very systematic way to make the decision. Ben Franklin introduced us to the pro vs. con list that many executives use today.

My way is to divide half a sheet of paper by a line into two columns; writing over the one Pro and the other Con. Then during three or four days’ consideration, I put down under the different heads short hints of the different motives, which at different time occur to me, for or against the measure. When I have thus got them altogether in one view, I endeavor to estimate their respective weights…” Ben Franklin

If you google decision making, you will get over 133 million different responses. Obviously, we are obsessed with making good decisions. And no wonder with the importance of each decision we make as leaders. And in a way Ben Franklin had it right, the importance of understanding the pros and cons of the variety of choices is still paramount in our decision-making process. Unfortunately, it is not a straightforward as reviewing the facts and making the best rational decision.

As humans, our emotions play a large way in how we make decisions. Our emotions evolved to coordinate our various human operating systems. For instance, the functions of sleep and fear of a predator require different reactions from the brain and body. If the brain was receiving cues from the outside world it was time to sleep while at the same time a lion was stalking us, our species would have been extinct a long time ago.

In today’s society, how we perceive the world impacts our emotions and in turn, influences how we behave including how we make decisions. For instance, when we are deciding between various software providers, we may eliminate one because of a gut reaction that they are not forthright. Maybe the vendor reminds us of time where a vendor let us down. Maybe the vendor triggers an anxious response by shoving the contract in front of you. Maybe the vendor pushes your respect button by calling you, Miss or Son. In any case, this “gut reaction” is an emotional response to an internal trigger that may or may not be accurate.

Our emotional responses are not necessarily rational and may be based on an environmental trigger of which we are unaware. When I was purchasing a new stove for my house, one of the factors I used to make my decision was that it had to be a gas stove. I rationalized this by reminding myself that all of my chef friends said that it is best to cook on gas. It wasn’t until I walked into my grandmother’s house and saw her gas stove that I realized the motive for me to buy a gas stove was a nostalgia for the time spent in my grandmother’s kitchen.

How can we stop having emotions impact our decisions? We don’t. They are a critical part of our decision-making process. In most cases, they provide us a deeper understanding of the decision and how it relates to our internal value system. This connection between our values and the ultimate choice is key to making the best decision possible.

Using the following rules will help us make the best decisions and allow our emotions to properly impact our decision-making process.

  1. Know exactly what you want to achieve. This may seem self-explanatory but in the work environment with its competing and at times conflicting goals, this can be a challenge for even the most experienced leader.
  2. Gather information about the various choices so that you can have a full perspective. You don’t have to get every piece of information possible. Just enough so that you feel comfortable. This is where the pro’s vs. con list can help clarify the different choices.
  3. Get other people involved in the decision-making process. (Not too many, after a certain point too many viewpoints will cause paralysis.) With complex decisions, finding good partners to help you and challenge you help you make the best decisions. It can also offset any biases you may have.
  4. Check your choices against organizational values and standards. Some choices may seem best until they are reviewed with the organizational values in mind.
  5. Finally, make a decision. Yes, your emotions will be involved in the decision-making process, that is not only acceptable and is preferred as it will allow you to react to things that which you are not aware.
  6. Review your decision and its outcomes. Did it meet your expectations? Were there unattended consequences? How did it impact the team? Does anything need to be adjusted? We are never perfect in our decision making, it is how we correct ourselves that truly matter in the long run.

Let’s get back to our heroine, she needs to get home.

Julie stood up and walked towards her desk. She picked up the two resumes. She quickly looked over them, visualizing the two people in her mind. She smiled to herself and picked up the phone and called the Director of HR with her choice. In the end, she realized that it was her decision, and she knew that her intuition would not steer her wrong.

She headed home to her family, wondering what her husband had chosen for dinner.

 

 

Tackling fear with personal power

karaokeArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

I have this terrific fear of karaoke.

It is unfounded, ungrounded, and unreasonable. “No one cares what you sound like”, they tell me. “Have a few drinks and you’ll be fine”, they reason. “No one is listening anyway”, they say in a most convincing tone.  I get it and I hear it and I agree with it – but I’m still scared, to the point of getting sick to my stomach and weak in the knees when I see the red neon “Karaoke” sign on the side of a building my friends are leading me toward.

It’s one thing if I got up on stage, belted out a few notes, and it went really poorly. Picking a song I thought I knew (but didn’t), the entire audience pointing at me and laughing because I looked funny, or choking on the remnants of the hot sauce from that last bite of wings…these would be solid grounds for fear. But I’ve never gotten up there and tried it–in fact, I usually flee the scene before the strains of the first tune begin. My fear is completely and wholeheartedly a fear of the great unknown.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

Karaoke is a silly topic, I know. But I’m finding that fears in one area of life are all too quick to spill over into other areas of life, more important ones like work and personal relationships. Fear is a shape shifter. It can take on many forms which can deceive us into not recognizing it for what it is. And because it doesn’t always show itself blatantly in the telltale sweaty palms and a rapid heartbeat, it can lurk unknowingly in the shadows, causing us to behave in ways we don’t exactly want to.  Procrastination, worry, nagging, complaining, arrogance, using humor at the wrong time, poor treatment of coworkers and/or employees — all can be the damaging results of unchecked fear.

Fear has a direct impact on our personal power, that inner knowing that we can meet life’s challenges head-on, and a vital component of emotional intelligence. And who doesn’t have a few challenges that they could use a little personal power toward these days?!  I can’t name one friend or colleague who isn’t battling something rather difficult at the moment. You? Personal power is so vital because without it, we begin to think that we have no control over our situation. When it’s not present, we lose confidence in our own judgment begin to avoid change, allowing ourselves to feel powerless. We become risk-adverse and do what we can to stay safe instead of stretching into what could be new, positive opportunities.

Part of tackling a fear of the unknown is learning to be present in the moment, which is what’s referred to as mindfulness. Human nature in and of itself has a tendency to either ruminate on the past or worry about the future, but the ability to be in the moment can be arduous. Our fears often revolve around things that could happen, not what actually is happening. I’m afraid I’ll have an all-out coughing fit when I get up to sing in front of everyone. Sure, that could happen, but what are the chances? Think about the times when you had a solid career but worried about getting fired…when you were in a relationship but worried about them leaving…when you had financial security yet worried about losing it. Instead of relishing the present, we tend to fear what is not known.

If you’re one of those people who is unabashedly brave, going boldly where no man has gone before, kudos to you. I admire you. And I ask that you use your gift, not only to promote your own successes, but to reach out to someone beside you who could use a hand. And if you lean more toward being a scaredy-cat, regularly giving your fears permission to dictate your day-to-day affairs…how’s that working for you? Are you ready to make a shift?

Here are some ways you can begin to develop your personal power and push past the fears that may be holding you down:

  • Let the past be past. So you’ve failed at a few things. Sure, the thought of failing again can be terrifying. But you’ve got to let them go and move on. I love the words of Thomas Edison when he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Stop being the controller. There are some situations that you cannot fix, and worrying about them isn’t helping either. Learn which things you can change (your behavior) and which you cannot (others’ behavior).
  • Learn your enemy. Often our fears arise from a lack of knowledge. Take a class, seek out a mentor, study up on that thing you’re avoiding.
  • Revel in your successes. Jot down a list of accomplishments, the things you’ve done well, and remember how good they felt. Isn’t that feeling worth working toward again?
  • Try it, you’ll like it. Pick one unknown thing you’re intimidated by this week and give it the ole’ college try. Start small – little successes lead to bigger successes. For example, if you dread giving that upcoming presentation to a tough client,  practice first with a group of forgiving friends.

A lack of personal power can be crippling and a huge waste of time. When we succumb to our fears, they devour our confidence, bind our wings and blur our vision. Fear is a powerful, controlling force that imprisons us, keeping us behind the bars of doubt and worry, locking us away from living our lives to our fullest potential.

Maybe it’s time to grab the microphone and start to sing.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt

The value of relating to others

PrintArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

I sat down after finding my name inscribed in calligraphy on the place card.  It was a delightful night to be out on the town — the warm, summer breezes and city lights danced well together to create a jovial spirit for this fundraising event. Though I knew no one in attendance–yet–my plan was to turn on my extroverted switch and add some new acquaintances to my social network on this festive evening.

Within moments a good-looking couple sat to my right, holding hands, and a few others filtered in across the way, but the seat to my left remained empty. The table was so large that conversation with guests across the expanse of linens and silk flower arrangements would be in vain, so I decided to hone in on the lovebirds. But despite my open-ended inquiries, it was quickly obvious that they’d rather spend the evening whispering in each other’s ear rather than engage with me, which was fine, but left me sitting alone.

As our salad plates were cleared, she swept in and sat to my left.  Attractive, mid-forties, with short, well-coiffed hair, a smart navy business suit, and power pumps.  She was one of those very-well-put-together business professionals that somehow always left me feeling inadequate. But that was my issue, not hers. Masking my intimidation, I smiled confidently and put out my hand for the firm-enough-but-not-too-firm handshake and welcomed her to our table.  She looked me over with a nonchalant glance, pursed her lips, and began texting someone (obviously more important than me) as she sat down.

Not one to be quickly daunted, as she finished her text I introduced myself and asked her about her work.  As she answered, with a clipped, succinct sentences, I hurriedly formulated my own response in my head. I honestly didn’t hear a word she said, as I was contemplating what I could possibly say when she asked about me that would make her raise her perfectly plucked eyebrows with interest. I never got my chance. She didn’t reciprocate nor showed any interest in conversing.  After several failed attempts to draw her out, I caved and turned to my chicken dijon with rice until the presentation began. So much for connecting that evening. It just wasn’t going to happen.

There is a quality of social and emotional intelligence called interpersonal effectiveness, and it’s the ability to tune into others with compassion and sensitivity. You know the type. They have a contagious, positive enthusiasm that puts you at ease the moment you meet them. They demonstrate a genuine interest in you and you can tell they actually want to know you. These people possess exceptional listening skills, interact smoothly with others, and are able to make even the most uncomfortable situations comfortable.

Not only were my table partners lacking this quality that night, but so was I. Instead of knowing how to navigate the icy situation with my well-dressed companion, I eventually mirrored her coldness and gave up. The once-cheerful evening quickly became a disappointment and I longed for dessert to be served, not so the decadent sweetness could delight my mouth, but because it signaled the welcome end of an uncomfortable evening.

Does it matter if we really connect well with others?  Theodore Roosevelt stated,

“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

I admire people who can build rapport with all types, no matter the situation.  But specifically in the workplace, interpersonal skills are an important value add because it is our relationships, with bosses, managers, coworkers and customers, that — get this — have the greatest impact on our happiness and contentment in our roles, more so than our workload or tasks or responsibilities or opportunities. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/chriscancialosi/2014/09/22/4-reasons-social-capital-trumps-all/#352a5e0e7b24)

“Financial capital is the funding you need to get off the ground, sustain growth, and develop operations. Human capital is the team that brings value to your organization. And while both are essential resources for your business, social capital — the connections and shared values that exist between people and enable cooperation — is the key to entrepreneurial success.” — Chris Cancialosi

If you’ve ever experienced conflict with those you work with, you understand the depth of stress these strained relationships can cause, and we all know the ill-effects of stress, let alone it being downright miserable. Interpersonal relationships also directly affect our productivity. If you’re a leader with disengaged employees, prepare yourself to watch your resources wash right down the drain. Studies show that companies with engaged employees earn twice the net income of those with disengaged employees.  How does the saying go?  “75% of people quit their bosses, not their jobs.”  When you have a chance, check out this surprising infographic of stats: http://www.dailyinfographic.com/10-shocking-statistics-about-employee-engagement-infographic

Max Messmer, who wrote Managing Your Career for Dummies, says this:

“Your career success in the workplace of today – independent of technical expertise – depends on the quality of your people skills.”

How do you know if your interpersonal skills could use some work?  Self-awareness is a key, and if that is lacking, we may miss how we come across, and may need the help of an outside opinion.  If you have a close friend and/or colleague that will be up front with you, and you’re feeling brave, ask them these questions:

  • Is the first impression I give cold or warm/inviting?
  • Do I ever come across arrogant or unapproachable?
  • Am I a good listener or do you feel I’m too quick to share my own stories, opinions, and insights?
  • Do you feel safe to come talk to me about anything?
  • Do you feel like I know you well?  Do I allow you to truly know me?
  • Do I ever come across like I’m judging you or devaluing your viewpoint?

If you don’t have someone who’ll give you honest responses, you may consider working with a social + emotional intelligence coach to do a 360 assessment, where others have an opportunity to evaluate you.  These can be very eye-opening and give you revealing insight as to how you come across as you interact with others. The beauty of a 360 as well is that the raters can remain anonymous which encourages participant authenticity.

In the meantime, in the words of Stephen Covey, “Seek first to understand.” Try focusing on just one of these suggestions this week to see if you can begin to make a shift in your interpersonal effectiveness:

  • Ask open-ended questions. Most people like to talk about themselves, and rarely get asked how they are feeling. Learn to draw people out.
  • Make yourself maintain eye contact if you are one who tends to look “out there” when communicating.  Don’t they say the eyes are the window to the soul?
  • Force yourself to listen and not be thinking about what you’ll say next. I’m terrible at this. This can be tricky, especially if you’re concerned about having the perfect response.  Really tune into what they are trying to communicate by staying present in the moment.
  • Watch for cues that demonstrate not only what they’re saying, but not saying. Is your presence making them uncomfortable? Are they bored because you are talking too much about yourself? Did your last comment make them wince?  Again, watch for reactions in the eyes.
  • Develop an understanding of cultural, religious, socioeconomic, and gender differences.  It’s too easy to offend someone by our ignorance.  Read, read, read to educate yourself about diversity.
  • Withhold judgment.  It’s one thing to have your own opinion.  It’s another to think it’s your way or the highway.  Remain open to new ideas and ways of doing things.
  • Share details about yourself when appropriate. The whys are much more interesting than the whats.  Learn to be a storyteller.
  • Check your own non-verbals.  Are you frowning?  Are your arms crossed?  Are you fidgeting? And by all means don’t check your phone while others are trying to talk with you!
  • Ban complaining. No one wants to hear it, really, and it puts colleagues in an uncomfortable position. (“If I nod, then they think I agree, if I don’t, they think I’m not being supportive…!”).  Find a close friend to share your struggles with — or a counselor or coach — but make an effort to keep complaints and negativity out of relationships, especially at the office.

There will of course be people that we just can’t connect with. It’s normal. But with some brushing up on our interpersonal skills, we can at least make those situations a little more tolerable, if not pleasant.

The ins and outs of integrity

integrityArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

I tried to lie once.

I had decided to take my three kids skiing, and was stressing about spending the money.  As we approached the ticket window, plodding along in ski boots and bundled in winter coats, hats, and gloves, I noticed on the sign that children under the age of five were free.  My youngest had just turned five a few weeks back, and I realized I could save $35 by pawning her off as a four-year old!   She was small for her age, I rationalized, and will hardly ski anyway — it would be fine. However when I got up to the ticket counter, and told the attendant I needed two child tickets (for my older two) and “this one’s free,” pointing to her, he assertively smiled and said, “Great, what’s her birth date?”

I panicked.  Should I add a year to her year of birth to take one away?  Wait–she is five now — so I go down a year — no — up a year — oh, why didn’t I listen better in math?! I blurted out a date and he replied, nodding, with a comical look on his face, “Yeah, that would make her seven!”

He caught me in my lie.  I sheepishly paid the full price for her ticket and walked away in shame.  Worse than my flushed cheeks, my three little kids witnessed “mommy’s temporary memory loss” which obviously wasn’t that at all.  Later they asked me why I’d lied, and I told them I wanted to save money, and my middle child said, “But that wouldn’t be fair to others who have to pay, would it?” She had me there.  Was my attempt to twist the truth really worth the $35?  A few months later, my little one asked me something, and when I answered, she responded, “Is that true or is that like when you tried to tell that man I was four.” Ugh.  What seemed like such a small thing actually turned into a much bigger hurdle for me to overcome in establishing trust with my kids again.  And while living in integrity is much more than not telling a little white lie now and then, what comes out of our mouth is a reflection of who we are. Albert Einstein said it well,

 “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

Our integrity (or lack of) defines whether or not we are someone who can be relied upon, trusted, and believed.  Do you lie often or do you mostly tell the truth?  I say mostly because a research study was published in 2002 by Robert Feldman of the University of Massachusetts, who discovered that most people lie every day. The study showed that 60% of people aren’t able to have a ten minute conversation without telling at least one lie, and those in the Pinocchio category tend to tell two to three lies in the same ten minute period! (http://mentalfloss.com/article/30609/60-people-cant-go-10-minutes-without-lying)

I know, we’d like to think that we are the ones who fall into the 40%, but listen to closely to yourself in your next conversation.  Did you stretch the truth — just a little bit?  Mention a few extra details that didn’t exactly take place to get an extra laugh?  Not tell the whole story leading the listener to believe something about you that just isn’t quite accurate?

Integrity is defined by most as the quality of being honest and possessing strong moral principles. And it’s our integrity — especially when we’re in a leadership role — that establishes a sense of trust and reliability from those we work with. Integrity is a key competency of emotional intelligence and truth-telling is just one of the factors that make up one’s integrity.  Barbara De Angelis, relationship and personal growth advisor, puts it this way:

“Living with integrity means:  Not settling for less than what you know  you deserve in your relationships.  Asking for what you want and need from others.  Speaking your truth, even though it might create conflict or tension.  Behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values.  Making choices based on what you believe, and not what others believe.”

Take this short quiz to see if you are living in integrity.  Ask yourself and answer with a yes or no:

  • Do I always follow through on my commitments?
  • Do I know my values and live by them at all times?
  • Do I accept accountability for my actions, even if they “get me in trouble”?
  • Do I take a stand for what I believe is right, even in the face of opposition?
  • Do I give credit to those who deserve it?
  • Do I treat all people with respect, not only to their face, but behind their back?
  • Do I attempt to obey the ‘spirit of the law’ (the whys behind it) as opposed to just the letter of the law?
  • Do I do the right thing when no one is looking?

If you can answer yes to these questions, then you are well on your way to being a person of high integrity.  Now, turn to a friend or colleague and ask them to answer the same questions about you.  Are their findings the same as yours?

If you came up with “sometimes”, or even a few no’s, then good news!, you’re now seeing the areas of your integrity that could use some work.  The first step in building more integrity is to truly know your own personal values.  What is really important to you? Take some time to write them down, in any order.  Then go back, and circle the ones that are most valuable to you. Prioritize them.

Now, take a good look at your day-to-day life.  Are you living out these values? An easy way to find this out is to look at your calendar app and notice if the things you’re spending your time doing are matching up with the values you circled.  If you’re seeing a miss between your highest values and how you’re spending your time, then it’s time to lay out a personal action plan to remedy this.  Note in which situations are the conflicts most often arising (be specific — in meetings with your boss, or when you are working alone at home, or when you are out making new business connections, or when you feel nervous, etc.).  You may begin to see a trend as to the specific situations that challenge your integrity.  Recognizing these moments as ‘trigger points’ can help you prepare beforehand to make a stronger attempt to live out your values when the situation arises.

Finally, think, “What is one action I could take, today, when in that situation, to make a shift toward living out my values?” Then get out there and give it a try.  As with most things, practice makes perfect.

Since that fateful day at the ski ticket window, I have been much more conscious of speaking the truth, even if I fear the retributions…and even if it costs me a little extra money.  As a side note, I’ve also taken some time to brush up on my math skills, just in case I stumble along my walk towards integrity again in the future.

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity.  Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”  — Dwight D. Eisenhower

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