Archive for the ‘Other Awareness’ Category

4 Ways to Increase your Integrity

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

I tried to lie once.

It was winter in Colorado, when outdoor fun is a way of life as the snow envelopes the mountains. Funds were tight but I’d determined to take my three small children skiing. I’d collected ski gear at various thrift stores and concluded I could offer them this amazing experience on a frugal budget. Bundled up in their mix-and-match ski wear, they could hardly contain their excitement as we headed out of the city on our adventure.

I waited in line at the ticket window to purchase our lift tickets and noticed a sign that read “Children under the age of 5 ski free”.  Free–that word caught my attention like the burst of icy wind that hit our faces at 9,000 feet elevation. My older two were well over that age — but my youngest had just turned six years old a couple of weeks ago.  Immediately my brain went into scheming mode.  “I could tell them she’s five.  She just turned six, so it won’t matter. She’s small for her age anyway…I could get away with this — and save $55!”  So, when my turn came up, I asked for our three tickets and, patting my little one on the head, said “This one’s free.”  The attendant smugly looked at me and asked, “What’s her birth date?”  I flushed and panicked.  Do I add a year or take away one to her actual birth year? Subtract, yes. I quickly blurted out an answer and he grinned smugly, and said, “Yeah…that would make her seven.”

I was caught red-handed.  I paid the full price for her and walked away in embarrassment, not wanting to make eye contact with my three children looking at me with their innocent eyes wondering why mom had flat-out lied. How do you explain to kids that I was trying to get around the system? That I wanted to bend the rules for my benefit? That I wanted to pay less that others needed to pay by not telling the truth?  I avoided the situation and distracted them by heading to the ski lift lines.  Later that day, caught up in my guilt, I decided that lying about her age just wasn’t worth it.

It’s a silly story, I know, but one that made an impact on me.  It is so easy to be dishonest in the little things.  It’s not a big deal, right?  Or is it?

Integrity is the ability to maintain high standards of honesty and ethics at all times, even when no one else is watching. Those who have high integrity do what is right, even if it’s not personally rewarding.  They build trust in others through their reliability.  They are authentic.  They’re not afraid to admit their mistakes and confront unethical actions of others. They can take the ethical stance despite its unpopularity. They keep their word, give accurate reports, and treat all people with the same level of respect.

Think of the people in your life — how many of them can you say live in integrity in their personal lives? It’s a tall order to fill and not many are able to pull it off. Far too often, their own self-interests take precedence over doing what is right…especially if they think no one is watching.

The workplace is susceptible to a lack of integrity as well.  How many coworkers have you heard make it sound like they did most of the work on a project when you know you did?  Or fudge just a bit on recording work hours? Or spend a little too much time on social media during work time? How does that make you feel when you are working hard?  And we all love those who brag to a coworker about their depth of connection with the boss, when we know it’s just not true, right? Those who are dishonest in the little things can be annoying.  But are there greater consequences?

A study done in 2000 titled Human Communication Research (Kim B. Serota, Timothy R. Levine, Franklin J. Boster), showed that:

1-The average person tells 1.65 lies a day. Sounds low? It’s possible some participants lied about the extent of their lies!

2-40.1% admitted to telling a lie in the past 24 hours

3-22.7% of the lies told were committed by one percent of participants

Do these figures surprise you? If you asked yourself how many times you stretch the truth in a day, and in the last 24 hours, how would you answer?

Those who are low in integrity tend to be impulsive, thinking only of the ‘now’ vs. long-term outcomes.  Most often they haven’t taken the time to sort out what their belief systems are and what values they hold as important. Those with low integrity tend to show little independent thought and are easily influenced by others, often caving to peer pressure.

“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

If we continually act with our own interests in mind, especially if our choices are wrong, others will not be able to trust us.  And trust is key to effective leadership.  In an article by Michael Ray Hopkin in 2012, he says:  To succeed as a manager you must live with integrity. It’s crucial for managers to build trust with the teams they work with and depend on. Trust grows through meaningful interaction with your teams and consistent application of proven principles. Developing trust and leading with integrity will increase the confidence others have in your work. When engineers, salespeople, marketers and others have confidence in their product managers, they will do amazing work. (https://leadonpurposeblog.com/2012/01/21/leadership-and-integrity/)

But living without integrity can also harm ourselves. You know how it works.  You lie, then need to cover up the lie, then need to make sure you tell the story the same way if it ever resurfaces, all the time worrying if you will be found out.  The stress and angst that comes from covering up the truth can be agonizing, and keep you up at night, eroding self-confidence and assurance.

“The truly scary thing about undiscovered lies is that they have a greater capacity to diminish us than exposed ones. They erode our strength, our self-esteem, our very foundation.” –Cheryl Hughes

Those who aren’t able to act with integrity need not be stereotyped as a “bad”. Integrity is a competency of emotional intelligence and is a behavior which can be learned. Consider completing an integrity inventory, to see how you’re doing (Contact us for a free inventory). If you would like to grow in integrity, consider engaging a social + emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you to help you  begin to make behavior shifts.   In the meantime, try  these developmental tips:

  • Establish a clear picture of what your values are.  Know what you stand for — what you believe, what you’d fight for, what will stand the test of time.  Jot down fifteen values that are most important to you and prioritize them. Post these somewhere where you’ll see them often.
  • Ask yourself this question: Is my behavior consistent with these values?  Going back to your list, circle the ones that you’ve lived out this week. Journal about the circumstances in which you acted according to your values- and notice the situations where you tend to shy away from your values.  Is there a pattern?
  • Consider the consequences of living in dishonesty. What effects does your lack of integrity have on your mental well-being?  on your physical well-being?  on others?
  • Envision what your life would look like if you incorporated more integrity. What specific circumstances would be affected and how?

“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.” –Barbara De Angelis

That thing called integrity

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

Integrity is an essential aspect of emotional intelligence. Yet, “studies have found that we are quite willing to cheat for monetary gain when we can get away with it. We also tend to lie to about 30 percent of the people we see in a given day.”

Do you maintain high standards of honesty and ethics? Are there times when you choose not to and are you aware of those triggers that ‘allow’ you to choose a ‘lower road’?

Read more in this terrific article by Christian B. Miller: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_can_we_become_better_humans?utm_source=Greater+Good+Science+Center&utm_campaign=d4dd3fb1e5-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_GG_Newsletter_May+23+2018&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5ae73e326e-d4dd3fb1e5-70747947

 

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How can I help?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

They bought me a car.

It happened a number of years ago, as I was putting myself through grad school, going to classes at night and on the weekends, working two jobs during the day, and somehow trying to find time to spend with my three kids as a single mom. Times were a little tough financially though we always found ways to make ends meet and have fun while we were at it. We’d driven our tired, old red Subaru, “Bessie”, into the ground. She was limping along, radiator problems and engine troubles, and was held together by duct tape in several places on the bumper. Some dear friends of mine found out — friends I had known in college and hadn’t seen for 15+ years — and called me up one night and said, “We’re buying you a new car.  Go out and figure out what you want, then let us know. We’ll cover everything.”

Who buys someone a car?!

The simplest way to explain it would be to say that servant leaders focus on identifying and meeting the needs of others rather than trying to acquire power, wealth and fame for themselves.” — Kent Keith, former CEO of Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership

Have you ever met those people who just seem to think of others first? Those that want to make a difference in others’ lives and pursue opportunities to impact others for the better? Having a service orientation is a competency of those with strong emotional intelligence. People who possess this amazing quality anticipate, recognize, and meet others’ needs. Not only do they notice when someone is in need — they respond. Those who are strong in having a heart to serve others seem to understand what others are lacking before the need arises and have an uncanny ability to grasp the perspective of others, quickly, and readily take action to help. They creatively look for ways to make others’ lives more comfortable — and do so with a willing attitude.

I want to be like this.

Many of us, on the other hand, tend to focus on our own objectives most of the time. We don’t exactly want to go out of our way to help someone and often think, “This isn’t my problem”, or, “They should’ve made better choices so they wouldn’t be in this predicament”. If someone needs our help, we may offer “easy-way-out help” — solutions that don’t require a great deal of time, effort, or money on our part. We tend to not want to go above and beyond for others, unless there’s something in it for us.

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” –Charles Dickens

Why would we want to develop an attitude of service? One reason is that it simply brightens the other person’s day…and not just theirs but of those around them! For example, if someone at the bus station doesn’t have enough money for a ticket, and you step in and buy them one — most likely they’ll tell their friends/family later that day about the awesome thing that happened to them today, spreading the cheer. Give the check-out lady a compliment on how you appreciate your positive attitude and most likely she’ll exhibit that positive attitude with the next customer — and the next. Helping your coworker on a task which feels overwhelming to them will relieve them of the stress they’re carrying and result in less stress they bring home to their loved ones. Doing kind things for others can be the very thing that turns someone’s bad day into a good one. And knowing we’ve turned someone’s day around can only lift our own spirits.

When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” — Maya Angelou

Another outcome of having a heart of service is that it transforms us. Servant leadership helps us switch from an outlook of lack to an outlook of abundance. In Nipun Mehta’s article Five Reasons to Serve Others, published in YES magazine in 2012, we learn that when we begin to serve others, we discover the “full range of resources” at our disposal — not only financial gifts but our time, presence, and attention — and can begin to discover  opportunities to serve – everywhere — enabling us to operate from a place of abundance instead of scarcity. Abundant-thinking helps us build trust more easily, welcome competition, embrace risks, and stay optimistic about the future…all great qualities for a leader to possess.

In Robert Greenleaf’s book, Servant Leadership, he outlines ten principles of servant leadership.  Which of these could you stand to improve in?

  1. Listening
  2. Empathy
  3. Healing
  4. Awareness
  5. Persuasion
  6. Conceptualization
  7. Foresight
  8. Stewardship
  9. Commitment to the growth of others
  10. Building community

You may not feel you are wired for service oriented-leadership, but there are simple steps you can take to enhance your relationships with an attitude of service.

  • Become a better listener.  Listen for meaning and suspend your judgments and opinions unless asked. Most people are longing to be heard and understand — just tuning into others when they speak can help with that.
  • Be available. Carve out time in your schedule to “be” with others, simply enjoying the time with them. And put down that phone while you’re at it!
  • Offer compliments. Kind words are such a gift! A proverb says, “Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” Be on the lookout for sincere compliments you can offer another.
  • Make a giving list.  Think of the people who you regularly interact with — and ask yourself, “How can I help?” Jot down their names, and beside their name, write down one thing you could do for them to satisfy one of their needs, hopes, or dreams. It could be buying them their favorite coffee or inviting them to lunch.  Then go do it!
  • Keep your promises. You might not think of this as a way to give to others, but being true to your word, reliable, and someone others can count on is an act of service in and of itself.

I felt like the luckiest and most-loved girl in the world the day my friends bought us the car. Their kindness had a powerful, positive impact on our family, and ever since we have looked for ways to give back to others, so they too can experience the joy we did. You may not ever have the financial means to buy someone a car…most of us don’t…but we can find small and simple ways to serve others in our everyday lives.

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”  — Albert Schweitzer

5 Habits That Let Emotionally Intelligent People Adapt To Anything

Article submitted by guest author Harvey Deutschendorf.

The ability to stay flexible and open-minded in uncertain times isn’t just a personality thing. It also depends on what you do.
5 Habits That Let Emotionally Intelligent People Adapt To Anything

[Photo: Jurica Koletić/Unsplash]

Adaptability has always mattered in the workplace, but with automation on the march and many industries experiencing major upheavals, it may be a more crucial skill now than ever. Whether you’re an entry-level employee or the CEO of a company, knowing how to cope with change and uncertainty is pretty much nonnegotiable.

By now it’s hardly news that emotional intelligence is key to thriving in the future of work, thanks to the habits and behaviors it encourages. Here are five that highly emotionally intelligent people tend to practice–which anyone can tap into in order to adapt to change.

 

 

1. THEY RECOGNIZE WHEN THEY’RE GETTING TOO COMFORTABLE

When confronted with change, most people decamp back to their proverbial comfort zones. It’s a natural first instinct–staying with what you know–not to mention the easiest. But over the mid- to long-term, it can make you rigid and inflexible.

Emotionally intelligent people aren’t immune to this knee-jerk reaction. They simply tend to more aware when it’s happening. That’s the crucial first step toward overcoming the urge to stay with the tried-and-true and move instead into uncharted territory. After all, awareness precedes any possibility of action. Simply knowing your typical behavioral patterns and emotional drivers gives you an advantage in dealing with sudden new variables.

Brené Brown put this aptly in her 2015 book Daring Greatly: “Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement,” she writes. “Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”

If you can’t first recognize when you’re clinging to cozy habits–and, in Brown’s words, “engage with” your discomfort at the idea of changing them up–you’ll never find a way to break with the old.

2. THEY ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR NEGATIVE EMOTIONS

Change brings up feelings from both ends of the emotional spectrum: excitement and anxiety. In their just-published book The Power of Vulnerability, authors Barry Kaplan and Jeffrey Manchester point out the obvious perils of the latter: “The fear will tug at your sleeves and attempt to pull you back into a spiral of second guessing.” Their advice? Don’t try to suppress that anxiety. “Acknowledge it, be thankful that the presence of the emotion keeps you grounded, and then move through it.”

No one adapts to change and uncertainty by trying to ignore how it makes them feel. Recognizing your negative emotions is the prerequisite to managing and moving through them successfully. Not sure just how to do that? Here are a few ways to start.

3. THEY SOLICIT AND CONSIDER MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES

Instead of insisting on their way or looking for just one right way, emotionally intelligent people understand that their own point of view is merely that–and they aren’t discouraged by the knowledge that their beliefs have inevitable biases and limitations.

Grasping this reality is essential for considering new ideas, including those that may be totally contrary to whatever you’ve believed in the past. Needless to say, adapting to change requires approaching new and untried initiatives with an open mind, and a willingness to take risks on them. (It’s one reason why recruiting expert Yewande Ige recently shared with Fast Company that she asks every job candidate, “Are you willing to be wrong about your opinion on the world?”) Instead of increasing friction in the workplace, emotionally intelligent people serve as the lubricant for ingenuity to flow more freely in fast-changing times.

4. THEY READ NONVERBAL CUES

Amid any change, there’s likely to be resistance that can sabotage the process if it isn’t dealt with. Some may want to be seen as being open to new things and yet feel very differently inside. Emotionally intelligent people intuitively understand how group pressure might compel others not to voice their misgivings. So they try to predict wherever unspoken reservations might be lying dormant, then draw them out productively.

This takes an awareness of verbal nuances as well as nonverbal cues. It might sound like an odd habit for cultivating adaptability, but making a conscious effort to practice reading others’ body language can help you home in on and address what what your coworkers are feeling. This won’t just sharpen your own emotional intelligence, it will also help you win your colleagues’ support so you can all adapt to new circumstances together.

5. THEY DON’T REACT HASTILY TO SETBACKS

Anyone trying to succeed in a fast-changing environment will encounter surprises, setbacks, and failures. They key isn’t avoiding those obstacles, it’s handling them effectively. Emotionally intelligent people don’t automatically revert to the old way of doing things as soon as a new approach falls short. Instead, they typically avoid reacting until they’ve had a chance to think things through and decide how to move forward. Often doing nothing (for now) is better–and more difficult–than doing the wrong thing too quickly.

The key is being able to sit with a problem long enough to think through the best way forward. It takes patience, composure, and listening skills to bring everyone together and come up with a solid group consensus. Instead of looking to lay blame for setbacks, they’ll be focused on solutions.

 

Why show empathy, anyway?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

We hear a lot about the need for empathy. Empathy is that ability to sense others’ feelings and to take an active interest in their perspective and concerns. People who are good at this listen for the unspoken emotions in a conversation. They are attentive to a wide range of emotional signals which clue them in to being sensitive to understanding what the other person really wants and needs.

“If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view — as well as your own.” — Henry Ford

Those who struggle with empathy — and this may be you — have a hard time reading people and picking up on what they are thinking and feeling. They tend to be literal in hearing only the words which someone says and don’t know how to decipher the other communication that is going on through facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, etc. People with low empathy tend to stereotype others based upon outward appearances and show little deference to others’ opinions and ways of thinking. An unempathetic person can come across indifferent and uncaring.

Why does this matter in the workplace? A Gallup study done in 2015 reported that about 50% of the 7,200 adults surveyed left a job “to get away from their manager.” The study also found that employees whose bosses communicated with them directly and regularly (up to 3 times per week) — not just about work issues but who took an interest in their personal lives — felt more enthusiastic and dedicated to their work. But a lack of empathy — a boss that doesn’t show that he/she cares — can result in company money down the drain. In an article by Suzanne Lucas in CBS News’ Moneywatch (November 21, 2012), she wrote, “For all jobs earning less than $50,000 per year, or more than 40 percent of U.S. jobs, the average cost of replacing an employee amounts to fully 20 percent of the person’s annual salary.” She also shared that in lower-paying jobs (under $30k), the cost to lose an employee is only 16% of their salary — but still. Those dollars add up.

And what about outside of the workplace? “Empathy is truly the heart of the relationship,” said Carin Goldstein, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Without it, the relationship will struggle to survive.” In his book Social Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman writes: “Our experience of oneness – a sense of merging or sharing identities – increases whenever we take someone else’s perspective and strengths the more we see things from their point of view. The moment when empathy becomes mutual has an especially rich resonance.” (Social Intelligence, Goleman, p. 110)

“Relationships often suffer because people get so caught up in their own experience that they simply can’t relate to what someone else is going through. They assert their opinions and hand out advice – all the while not truly appreciating the other person’s struggles.” – Leslie Becker -Phelps, Ph.D.

People with empathy are able to show a sensitivity to what the other person is going through and take action to help make the situation more tolerable for that person. Empathy truly is one of the ways we can begin to connect deeply with others.

I know it all sounds good. We should be more empathetic. But showing empathy is easier for some than others. If you come up on the short stick of empathy, do you just shrug and say, “Oh well. I’m no good at that.”? Empathy is a competency of emotional intelligence, specifically, social intelligence, the ability to discern others’ emotions in the moment and respond accordingly. Empathy is a behavior, and the good news for those of us who struggle with it, behavior can be changed. If you are self-aware enough to realize you may not be the most empathetic person, here are some developmental tips you can try to begin to make a shift in a new direction:

  • Listen. Becoming a good listener is the foundation. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and really tune in to what the other person is saying — and not saying.
  • Ask questions to clarify meaning. Sure, you heard what you think you heard, but asking a few questions not only shows the other person you are interested in learning more but provides clarity to truly understanding what they are trying to express.
  • Put down that phone. When someone’s talking, it’s easy to be distracted by other things going on around you. Let’s be honest, people don’t always pick the most opportune times to walk into your office to talk. Show them respect by putting away distractions while they’re speaking — put down your cell phone (and turn it over so you’re not tempted by the screen or even better, turn it off), close your laptop, and make eye contact as they speak.
  • Tune into the emotions behind the words. Sometimes what the person across from you is really looking for in a conversation is masked behind their words. Listen deeply to find the real meaning behind what is coming out of their mouths.
  • Suspend judgement. You may possess the gift of keen discernment and have that ability to pick up on the subtle nuances of what someone is trying to communicate, but with that can come the ability to pass judgement too quickly. Catch yourself if you are quick to criticize or dismiss the opinions of others. Often the other perspective can offer you fresh insights which you may not have been able to come up with yourself.

Though growing in empathy can take some work, your efforts can lead you down the path of healthier, happier relationships, both at home and at the office. If you feel you need some help, consider employing a social + emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you on the journey.

“Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself.” — John MacNaughton

Do you play well with others?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

“This job would be easier if people weren’t involved.”

It’s one of my favorite tongue-in-cheek sayings.  While true, as most of our conflict comes from interactions with others (though we all do struggle with self-conflict from time to time), most of us wouldn’t have a job if it weren’t for those around us — peers, colleagues, supervisors, employees, customers, clients are a vital part of any business. But working collaboratively with others can be difficult, frustrating, and downright annoying at times.

At some point in most relationships, conflict is going to happen whenever there is more than one person in the room. And our conflict management skills, which are a competency of strong emotional intelligence, are what can make the difference between frustrating, unresolved disagreements or enabling conversations where all parties can pursue the best possible solutions.

We all have a role when it comes to conflict, whether we are the vocal one who loses our temper or the quiet doormat that stays silent.

“Conflict cannot survive without your participation.”  — Wayne Dyer

It’s no monkey business:  learning how to navigate conflict can increase our sense of well-being and job satisfaction and contributes greatly to the quality of relationships both at work and at home.

How well do you play with others?

Ask yourself the following questions and see how many you can answer yes to:

  • I can see potential conflict before it arises and help de-escalate the situation.
  • I can handle difficult people with tact.
  • I can lay down my own expectations and be open to hearing the perspectives of others.
  • I can manage tense situations with diplomacy.
  • I can create a safe space for all parties to share their perspectives.
  • I can help all parties involved understand the other perspectives in the room.
  • I can hear diverse opinions and find a common ideal.
  • I can orchestrate win-win solutions.

Five Conflict Styles and when to use them

We all have our own ‘style’ when it comes to conflict resolve, but that doesn’t mean we can’t grow and learn other approaches that may better serve us and the situation at hand. In 1974, Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilman created the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument, which identifies five styles of conflict. There are situations that arise when some styles work better than others. Here is a quick guide:

1-Competitive/Controlling – A quick and decisive action is needed (vital in emergency situations), or the other party would take advantage of cooperation on your part.

2-Collaborating – The issues (and/or relationship) are too important to be compromised and the objective is to integrate differing viewpoints.

3-Avoiding – There are more important things to tackle, there is no chance of achieving your objectives, the parties need time to “cool down” or take time to gather more data.

4-Accommodating – You realize you are wrong, or understand that the issues at hand are more important to the other person and/or you need to build ‘credits’ with that person.

5-Compromising – It’s too risky to be too controlling, both parties are committed to mutually exclusive goals, you need a quick or temporary solution under time constraints.

Time for a Shift

How do you know when it’s time to shift your approach to conflict resolve? Simply put, when your approach is not working.  Losing friends left and right? Colleagues can’t stand you? Coworkers shut down and won’t share their perspective with you? Feel agitated and stressed when conflict is discussed? People walk all over you in meetings?  You are the only one talking in meetings? You get what you want but no one is alongside you to enjoy it?  If you find yourself in a confusing or disturbing conflict, try asking yourself these honest questions:

  • How was my behavior received by others?
  • How did I feel during the conflict?
  • How much do I care about the outcome?
  • What were my expectations of the situation and did they match up with reality?
  • What judgments did I make about the others during the conflict and were they accurate?
  • What did I want to see happen? What did they want to see happen?
  • What is my investment into this situation? What is theirs?
  • Am I acting in an old pattern of behavior that no longer serves me?
  • What can I say/do going forward to optimize the outcome?

Which of the five conflict resolve styles is your primary ‘go-to’ when faced with conflict?  Does it serve you well in all situations or could you stand to develop a new approach? If you struggle in the area of conflict resolve, good news! Behaviors in conflict resolve are learned and can be changed. Finding a social + emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you to make behavior shifts can be a great place to start.

“When team members trust each other and know that everyone is capable of admitting when they’re wrong, then conflict becomes nothing more than the pursuit of truth or the best possible answer.” —  Patrick Lencioni

L-O-V-E: How to make it last

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

L, is for the way you look, at me
O, is for the only one, I see
V, is very very, extraordinary, and
E, is even more than anyone that you adore…

Most likely you’re familiar with the jaunty 1965 Nat King Cole song. It’s been the theme music in romantic comedies and played on radio stations for generations. It so very well describes the giddy, elevated feeling we experience when falling in love. Whether it be in a romantic relationship, a business partnership, a friendship, a new work team, or a new job — the sparkling freshness at the beginning of a relationship can send you down the hallways dancing and humming. But it’s not long after the wear and tear of life sets in that those feelings can quickly turn to disillusion and discouragement.  We’ve all experienced it. What starts out as the opportunity of a lifetime turns into the ball and chain around our necks, similar to how that new car smell is so quickly replaced by the odorous aroma of abandoned fast food wrappers left lying on the floor. Falling in love doesn’t seem to be the issue. Staying in love is another story.

How do we prevent the adversities of life from ruining our relationships? Jack Canfield, an American author and motivational speaker, says this:

“Successful people maintain a positive focus in life no matter what is going on around them. They stay focused on their past successes rather than their past failures, and on the next action steps they need to take to get them closer to the fulfillment of their goals rather than all the other distractions that life presents to them.” 

Research shows that people who are able to maintain a positive mindset have better relationships. Robert Ackerman, researcher at the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (University of Texas), worked with middle school students to assess how well they resolved conflict with their parents, and videotaped the subjects for over 17 years. With nearly 20 years of data at his fingertips, he discovered that kids who grew up with loving, supporting parents, exercising positive communication and warmth, were more likely to experience adult romantic relationships that were positive.* To quote Ackerman:

“I think that studying more positive behaviors is important because it may shed more insight on how to better enhance romantic relationships.” 

How is your positivity–or lack of–affecting your relationships?  If you struggle with letting negativity get a hold of you when life gets tough, here are a few things you could being to look at:

  • What are your core beliefs about adversity?  Do you see it as fate or something you can control?  Do you see suffering as part of being human or a result of particular actions?  Do you see setbacks as having long-term effects or are they short-lived?
  • Start listening to your self-talk when adversity strikes. Do you tend to go to an “I can do this” place or a “I’m doomed” place?
  • Ask an honest question:  is there anything about the drama that accompanies adversity that you enjoy?
  • Can you look back on past adversity and see that you overcame the obstacle and moved on, or are you still experiencing negative effects from that event to this day?

We all know it’s not about having a happy, trouble-free life that brings joy. It’s more about our ability to roll with the punches (resiliency) and allow the event(s) to shape us into better human beings. Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American artist and poet, put it this way:

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see in truth that you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Finding a life coach to work with you to combat negative tendencies can be a good first step of heading down the road of positivity, which can lead to healthier, happier relationships.  Though it doesn’t happen overnight, behavior can be changed, and with some help you can begin to shift your focus from the negative to the positive.

Two in love can make it
Take my heart and please don’t break it
Love was made for me and you
Love was made for me and you
Love was made for me and you.

  • (2013. Study finds good marriages more likely for teens of happy homes. University of Texas at Dallas News Center (n.d.): n. pag. Web. http://www.utdallas.edu/news/2013/3/21-22501_Study-Finds-Good-Marriages-More-Likely-for-Teens-o_article-wide.html?WT.mc_id=NewsHomePage).

How does empathy (or a lack of) affect your love life?

Have you been in a relationship where your partner, in a particular moment, lacked empathy? Unfortunately, many of us know the scenario all too well.  You tell him about something you are struggling with, that thing that is frustrating you, and you just want him to hear you out and acknowledge that what you’re going through is hard. Instead, he puts on his Mister Fixit hat and gives you solutions and advice on how to change the situation, which leaves you feeling not understood. I think one of the funniest videos I’ve ever seen on this subject is the one where the girlfriend literally has a nail sticking out of her forehead, and she’s trying to talk to her boyfriend about how painful her head feels, and how it aches, and throbs, and how some days it causes her great consternation, and he’s looking at her in disbelief – with this nail sticking out of her head – and is so wanting to point out to her that what she is feeling may be because of this nail —  but she just wants him to show her some empathy.  (Have a watch – and a laugh — CLICK HERE).

As difficult as it may be for some of us, empathy is one of the most influential factors in building a healthy relationship. And empathy is a key competence of emotional intelligence.

Merriam-Webster defines empathy as the capacity for understanding, being aware of, sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another –and reacting appropriately. (www.merriam-webster.com) Empathy is the capacity to know – emotionally – the feelings and experience of others, and being able to express or communicate our feelings of understanding. Empathy is an integral component of a healthy relationship. When people feel listened to and understood at a deep emotional level, and when that understanding is acknowledged or communicated, they feel affirmed and validated.

“Relationships often suffer because people get so caught up in their own experience that they simply can’t relate to what someone else is going through. They assert their opinions and hand out advice – all the while not truly appreciating the other person’s struggles.” – Leslie Becker -Phelps, Ph.D.

People who are empathetic:

  • are tuned-in to a wide range of emotional signals
  • listen for and sense the felt, but unspoken emotions of others
  • show sensitivity to others’ perspectives
  • will take appropriate actions based upon their understanding of others’ needs

In his book Social Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman outlines, “…the word “empathy” is used in three distinct senses:  knowing another person’s feelings; feeling what that person feels; and responding compassionately to another’s distress.” (Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, 2006, p. 58).

In other words, we notice others, feel what they are feeling, then act in a manner that helps them.

“Empathy is truly the heart of the relationship,” said Carin Goldstein, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Without it, the relationship will struggle to survive.”

Also from Social Intelligence (p. 110), Goleman writes: “Our experience of oneness – a sense of merging or sharing identities – increases whenever we take someone else’s perspective and strengths the more we see things from their point of view.  The moment when empathy becomes mutual has an especially rich resonance. Two tightly looped people mesh minds, even smoothly finishing sentences for each other – a sign of a vibrant relationship that marital researchers call ‘high-intensity validation’.”

Maybe empathy is not one of your strongest qualities – you tend to problem-solve for others when really what they need is to be heard. But empathy, like many behaviors, can be learned and developed.

Here are a few things you can try:

  • Learn to listen. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next, and truly focus on what the other person is saying, both verbally and non-verbally. “Tell me more” is a great response when someone is trying to express their feelings to you.
  • Ask clarifying questions (without advice) so you truly understand what they are trying to tell you.
  • Develop sensitivity. Do you know the difference between behaviors that validate others and those that invalidate others? Diminishing, belittling, judging, or dismissing others and their feelings make others feel demoralized. Begin replacing invalidating, insensitive behaviors with sensitive behaviors.
  • Tune into hidden meanings. What is it he/she is really wanting, despite what they’re saying? (to be respected, to be included, to be acknowledged, etc.)
  • Learn to pick up on the emotions that accompany the other person’s statements.  Don’t just listen to the words, listen to the feelings that are being expressed.
  • Acknowledge what you think you’ve heard. Paraphrase, repeat back, and clarify the emotions you think you are hearing (i.e., “That must be really frustrating,” or ”Sounds like you’re pretty excited about this…”)
  • Withhold your judgments; when tempted to criticize or dismiss the opinions of another, stop. Step back and consider, on an emotional level as well as a cognitive level, what the other person may be experiencing and what merits another’s point of view may have.

“If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view – as well as your own.” – Henry Ford

 

How to experience holiday cheer when you’re single and alone

Article Contributed by Amy Sargent

The telltale signs of the holiday season are here – colorful, twinkling lights, shoppers bustling, melodic music in every store, people smiling, and laughing, holding hands and kissing, joy and peace everywhere you look. It sure is lovely. But is this your reality?

As much as we may long for the picture-perfect scene from a Currier and Ives painting, honestly, it can be a tough time of the year. More accurate may be a slowdown in business causing financial strain, which can lead to frustration, worry, and depression, and boy do these have an impact on our relationships. Arguments over petty issues, impatience, and ugly words we can’t take back are so easy to fall prey to when we’re stressed. Before we know it, the merry Christmas season can become a time of fights, loss of love, breakups, and marital strain. Which doesn’t exactly make for a holly jolly Christmas.

In an article printed in the Healthline newsletter, the author writes:

Depression may occur at any time of the year, but the stress and anxiety during the months of November and December may cause even those who are usually content to experience loneliness and a lack of fulfillment.” (Holiday Depression, https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/holidays#1). And what is the biggest predictor of holiday depression? Social isolation.

Maybe you’re one of those people who is blessed to be in a healthy, happy relationship, surrounded by positive friends and family. If that’s the case, I’m so glad. Really. It’s the ideal, without doubt. Enjoy it, relish it, and continue to be thankful for the riches that abound around you.

But if you’re one of those who finds yourself alone, the holiday season can be difficult. Feelings of isolation, loneliness, uselessness, lack of purpose, and just plain sadness can envelope you and before you know it, you find yourself on Team Grinch. Personally, this season I’m experiencing the delightful duo of empty nest syndrome and a painful breakup, and I’ll just say that decorating the tree this year wasn’t exactly what we see on the Hallmark channel movies. Replace the perfect, smiling couples in lovely Christmas sweaters, falling in love as they hand each other ornaments, with this picture-perfect scenario: a weary, single mom struggling with the tree base, (the tree only tipped over twice before I got it up!), lights in tangled knots and missing bulbs, throat tightening over each ornament that reminded me of earlier days with the kids, a glass of wine in hand with tears streaming down my face. I wonder if Mr. Currier and Mr. Ives would’ve like to paint a picture of that?!

I don’t tell you this to evoke pity. I have a blessed life. I have three lovely children who adore me and try to get home on the holidays. I have an extended family that supports me and a daddy that holds me as the apple of his eye. I have an engaging profession, brilliant colleagues, dear friends who love me, a safe place to live, all the necessities of life, and a whole lot of positive thinking. As alone as I feel at times, I know that it is temporary. The pain of loss will eventually move along and be replaced with joy soon enough. I’m not negating the hurt – it’s tough and I’ve let my share of tears flow. But I know this won’t last. However, not everyone can see the light at the end of the dark, Polar Express tunnel.

If you’re one of the charmed ones this season, surrounded by loved ones, please take a moment – or two or three or ten – to be on the lookout for your friends who may be struggling. Please, especially check in on your single friends. Invite them over for dinner, take them out for drinks, buy them a cute pair of snowman socks and drop a surprise gift at their doorstep. Think of things you can do to make sure they feel loved, included, and cared for. It’s easy to take it for granted when you’re not alone, but remember many single people don’t have that special someone who is thinking of them this time of year, and if you don’t look out for them, no one will.

 “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” – Mark Twain

And if you’re one of those of us who are alone, you’ve got some homework, too. Sorry, but you don’t get to wait around for someone else to reach out to you. First, be sure to tune into how you’re feeling. Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of how you’re feeling, in the moment, and to use that information to manage behaviors. Don’t hide from those feelings of sadness, desperation, anger, or disappointment. Don’t bottle them up – instead, let them serve you. Our emotions are terrific indicators of what’s going on inside, so listen up. This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you’re grieving, grieve. If you’re hurting, hurt. If you’re worried, worry. Pretending we don’t feel the way we feel won’t get us anywhere. Experience your emotions– cry it out, punch your pillow, journal, write that email then delete it, whatever you need to do that’s safe and non-damaging to express how you’re feeling – then get up, wipe your tears, and get out. Spending too much time alone in social isolation will increase feelings of depression and increase your awareness of being alone.

Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.” – Daniel Goleman

I know you don’t feel like it (the pulls of Netflix are strong), but you’ve got to make yourself get out, with the purpose of getting the focus off yourself and onto others. Slip into a fun holiday dress or tie. Stop in the coffee shop and buy a stranger a drink. Sign up for a social event with groups like Meetup to meet new friends. Volunteer at the food bank. Take a walk along the brightly-decorated downtown streets. Press $10 in someone’s hand and wish them happy holidays. Buy gifts for your friends and take the time to wrap them in beautiful paper with ribbons and string. Invite a friend to a movie. Host a holiday gathering at your house…and if you’re short on funds, ask everyone to bring an appetizer or drink to share. Wear a silly Santa hat and make people smile. Build a snowman. Leave an extra-large tip for the waitress. Go to the Christmas parade. Invite some friends to go sledding. Find an outdoor ice skating rink and wobble around on blades. Attend the local tuba concert (yes, these exist!). There are so many fun events around town this time of year just waiting for you to enjoy! I know, it’s not what your dreaming of, being cuddled up by the fire with that special someone as Bing croons Silver Bells, exchanging gifts from Jared’s. I get it. But getting out and around others and doing fun activities will do wonders to lift your spirits and get your focus off yourself. Sure, you’ll cry again when you get home, but at least you’ll get a reprieve from the self-pity and enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season with others for a few moments.

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.Charles Dickens

I can only recommend the above activities because it’s what I’m doing this holiday season. I’m still sad, and alone, but am having bits and pieces of fun in between the tears. And my outlook for the future is getting brighter with each strain of Baby It’s Cold Outside I hear.

Of course, if you are feeling depressed and/or are experiencing overwhelming negativity, thoughts of inflicting harm to others or yourself – or suicidal thoughts – seek professional help immediately. Don’t mess around with that one. Sometimes we can’t pull ourselves up out of the slump alone and we need the help of others. No shame there – but don’t hesitate if your pain has taken a turn down a dark path. Get help.

Whether this is turning out to be the best holiday season ever, or looking a little bleak – we can all experience the joy of the season with a little extra effort in looking out for one another, reaching out to others, and living outside of ourselves. Whether you’re alone or with that special someone, you can practice kindness, a giving heart, and selfless love this season. Why not give it a try?

 

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