Archive for the ‘Emotional Intelligence’ Category

Letting go

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

Over the years, I have struggled with giving up things I loved…my spacious home filled with cherished stuff, financial security, my church, a job that paid well with benefits, someone to provide happiness for me, and all the privileges which came along with that lifestyle…because I had to. Instead, I’ve had to figure out how to live in a very small space, secure remote work, accrue some debt, get rid of most of my stuff, live on a very limited income, learn to enjoy my own company, develop a personal relationship with God, and find joys in the simple things. Now that I’ve let it all go, and choose this lifestyle, it no longer feels like a struggle, though to many I may seem poor.

But it sure makes the transitions called for during a times such as this a lot easier. Other than the need for a mask, and a deep compassion for those who are without food, are scared, and have lost jobs and loved ones, life without many of the typical conveniences feels normal to me, and oddly, I feel thankful for the rough times which led me here.

Crazy-thinking, I know.

I get it, right now it feels really hard. Because it is. But sometimes letting go of parts of life-as-you-know-it can be a breath of much-needed fresh air if you allow yourself to breathe it in and fill your lungs. With a mask, of course, for now. And down the road, without it all, you may just find a place of peace and joy you didn’t know was possible.

I’m not negating the struggle getting there. We’ve never faced something like this and losing beloved things like career, savings, freedoms, security, health, and loved ones is painful–terrifying, even.

But things may just turn out all right. On the other side of this, your life may look a lot different than what you dreamed or planned…and you may even ask yourself, “How did I end up here?!”, like I have, countless times. Yes, it will be a different life…but maybe, just maybe, all right.

Change is so hard for us humans, but it’s not going anywhere. Let today’s struggles give you the strength for the next wave of change which will hit, once this one ends. Keep your chin up. This is hard…but we can do hard things. You got this.

Because you never know, you might just like that place you find yourself on the other side.

We get to choose

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.
We’ve all had to modify our habits and behaviors in the past month, and because of this, it’s become increasingly important we tend to our emotional wellbeing.
 
Giving up routines
It’s hard to let go of our normal routines, especially routines we enjoy. It can be frustrating, annoying, and depressing. This disruption to our normal routines can be confusing and scary and _______ (fill in your own adjective). And many feel downright restricted, for good reason. Some of us can still get outside — some can’t. Some of us have huge houses to roam — some are cooped in very small spaces. Some of us get to work — some are getting paid not to work — and some can’t work at all. Some of us are financially sound — some are struggling to pay rent and feed our families. Some of us are alone — and some feel overwhelmed by all of the family members at home under the same roof. Some of us are sick in hospital beds — and some are still enjoying health. Some of us don’t know anyone personally who has succumbed to the disease — some have lost dear, loved ones.
 
How will you respond?
Noo matter our differing circumstances, we are in this together. We have all had to modify our lifestyles to some degree. And despite what some can do and what some can’t do, we have one thing in common. Choice. Choice as to how we respond to this upheaval of life as we knew it.
 
One choice is to let ourselves be filled with fear, worry, and dread, allow negativity to take hold, and complain, gripe, and blame. Many go down this path, and they can — it’s their choice. However studies show that consistent stress, fear and worry can take a toll on our bodies. If continued, it can wreck our immune systems and mental health — and have a negative affect on everyone we interact with.
 
Another choice is to choose emotional wellbeing. It’s not always the easiest route. It takes considerable effort to fight against the natural tendancy of negativity when times are hard.
 
This month I watched a video of a man who ran a marathon inside his tiny, dark apartment living room. Can you imagine the monotony of running ’round and ’round your kitchen table for 6+ hours? And think about being his neighbors in the flat below! I saw that a neighborhood conducted a socially-distanced dance party. I saw quarantined individuals singing from their balconies. I watched a dad who made his daughters laugh uncontrollably (and drove his wife crazy) by acting like a dinosaur every time his girls said the words, “dinosaur dad”. I’ve seen a boy smiling as he rides his bike outside my window every afternoon. I’ve witnessed moms getting creative with crafts to keep their kids occupied. I’ve participated in video conversations where people shared things they’re grateful for. My neighbors have been gardening. One friend has been riding her horse. Another friend initiated weekly virtual happy hours with her colleagues. My daughter-n-law, who was sick with coronavirus, got a new puppy, and shared the photos of her laughing at his antics, which brought us all joy, despite the extreme discomfort she was in.
These people, as many around the world have done, have chosen to find joy despite their negative circumstances.
 
Yes, times are difficult. We face so much uncertainty and it’s easy to let fear creep in and take hold. But have you ever been one to choose the easy route? Think back on all of your own past success, accomplishments you are really proud of, great and small. Was it easy to get there? Did it really take no effort? You can do hard things. You’ve done it before and you can do it again. We all have and can.
 
Finding Joy
What do you like to do? What makes you laugh? What makes your heart sing? Yes, I know — you most likely can’t do these things, right now, in exactly the same way you did before. But are there ways you can modify a bit and still make them happen? Maybe it’s a video chat with your best friend. Of course that’s not as good as being with them in person — but at least you can see their face and hear their voice. Maybe it’s opening your window and letting in some fresh air — even if you can’t go outside. Maybe it’s practicing yoga in your tiny apartment — not as good as your class at the gym, but better than nothing? Maybe it’s watching a funny movie at home instead of the theater. Maybe it’s getting creative with the limited food staples you have and coming up with a new dish…even if it turns out badly! Maybe it’s grabbing a pencil and sketching what you see from your front porch. Maybe it’s writing encouraging notes to friends to cheer them up. Maybe it’s having family members take turns creating a ‘restaurant night in’ so you feel like you’re still eating out.
 
And maybe it’s learning to find joy in the little things which may have gone unnoticed up until now.
 
The choice is ours
Again, we can choose negativity. We get that choice. But our emotional health is vital during times such as this. So I’d like to encourage you to fight the tendancies toward pessimism. See if you can’t try at least one thing today which will lead to a positive outlook, even if it’s just for a moment. If you can’t muster anything up, simply write down a few things you’re thankful for. Then try it again tomorrow, and maybe extend the time you spend doing it. Each day, increase the number of things you write down, and begin looking in all the nooks and crannies of your life for more. Share these with others so they, too, can benefit from your walk toward improved an improved emotional outlook and possibly be encouraged to do the same.
 Choosing positivity is not being naieve, or silly. Trust me, we still will remain very aware of the trying circumstances which surround us all. Things like this aren’t something we can just block out.  This is tough, maybe one of the toughest things we’ve experienced. But despite what’s going on around us, most of which we have no control over, when we choose to engage in joy-producing activities, we can at least begin to exert energy toward the thing we have control of — our own emotional wellbeing.
We get to choose.

What Services Do Servant Leaders Provide?

Article contributed by guest author Dennis Hooper.

Sometimes leaders ask if I help organizations understand and implement “servant leadership.” Maybe the individual has heard of the concept but can’t imagine how it functions, considering his or her current beliefs about leadership. I love exploring existing perspectives with inquisitive people, helping them see a more effective model and allowing them to adjust their leadership behaviors.

The most common image of leadership involves the traditional pyramidal hierarchy. Developed centuries ago, the corporate organization chart clearly identifies what portion of the empire each leader controls. “These people work for me” is the operative mental outlook. Within this framework, many leaders find it hard to consider “what can I do to serve them?”

So, let’s start thinking about servant leadership by representing the organization through a different model. Imagine how we might use a tree as a more appropriate organizational metaphor.

Visualize that the individuals who do the work on a day-to-day basis are the leaves. They are supported by the branches, which are the organization’s managers and supervisors. Top management is the trunk supporting the branches and leaves and delivering water and nutrients up from the roots.

The trunk and branches provide substantial support for that portion of the organization where the “real work” is accomplished. When the winds of change blow, the trunk and roots provide stability, keeping the tree anchored firmly. The tree’s extensive root system collects revenue from customers, and the trunk delivers the needed capital equipment, raw materials, tools, and supplies to the leaves.

Through this simple paradigm shift, many individuals are immediately able to better understand the concept of servant leadership. The trunk and branches function collaboratively to ensure the health and growth of the twigs and leaves. A tree is a living organism; if any part becomes diseased, the life of the entire tree is in jeopardy.

If the organization remains healthy, the parts that do the “real work” are pushed higher, competing favorably with surrounding trees for sunlight. Growth, through increased production and reliability, is a natural desire among those doing the work. The trunk and branches grow only as much as is required to deliver the resources needed by the growing numbers of leaves.

Pyramids were never intended to grow; they were designed as tombs! Trees, however, are alive and beautiful. With apologies to Joyce Kilmer, “I think that I shall never see a pyramid lovely as a tree.”

Now, let’s consider the real-time services that you provide when you function as a servant leader. Let’s start with you as entrepreneur, gathering resources and sending up the first shoot. Leaves are added as survival seems viable. Growth occurs quickly in those first few years as the tender seedling seeks sunshine and manages to avoid consumption by insects and herbivores.

Once the organization matures, you as leader provide opportunity, resources, a healthy work environment, and clear expectations. Depending on the surroundings, you communicate direction so that everyone is empowered to achieve the inspiring vision of robust growth. When problems arise, you listen and collaborate to eliminate obstructions and obtain needed resources.

You offer coaching, feedback, respect, and expanded responsibilities. You inform everyone of the organization’s results and you invite new ideas. You offer encouragement, hope, balance, and clarity. You tell the truth. You plan so last-minute requests rarely occur. You keep promises that you’ve made. You ask people what they need, and you work to provide it.

Lest we take this model too far, let’s acknowledge that those doing the “real work” are accountable to your authority. However, the leaves rarely need to be reminded why they exist. They realize that their role–processing sunshine, water, and nutrients–is a critical function for the success of “the tree team.”

As a servant leader, you support and empower those who do the “real work” of the organization!

A Spark of Creativity

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

If you’ve ever watched fireworks, whether as a small child or as an adult, it’s likely you’ve experienced moments of awe at the grandiose pyrotechnics illuminating the night. What’s even more amazing is that all it takes is a relatively small, smoldering stick to spark the explosive array of color, sound and light overhead.

When it comes to creativity, it seems some are able to come up with innovative ideas comparable to a dazzling display, where others of us can’t even seem to get the match to light. And it’s true: some people are more creative than others. However, each of us have the ability to improve our creativity, and all it takes is a small spark to light things up.

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” –Peter F. Drucker

We often think of creative people as those who can draw, or paint, or pull off an amazing performance on stage. At the office, the creative gene may seem to be limited to those in leadership. Or maybe you see ingenuity as the role of those on the creative team in the marketing department. At home, it may be assumed that it’s your significant other’s role to keep things new and interesting. I like to think that creativity spans a broader demographic, and is a behavior which can be achieved by anyone who puts their mind (and effort!) to it. Consider creativity in a more comprehensive sense. For example, it could be as simple as being open to and actively pursuing novel ideas. It’s being willing to take on new approaches, and seek out fresh ideas from a variety of sources. It’s being able to consider new solutions to old ways of doing things, and being willing to ask questions which generate new ideas–and encouraging others to do the same.

Creativity can be about taking risks to test out a new idea to see if it’s a worthy one. It’s about being curious. People who are creative tend to be flexible and adaptable, and view ‘failure’ as feedback instead of a setback.

“If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.” –Charles Kettering

Looking at it in this light, how creative are you? Here are some questions to ask yourself.  If you answer yes to any of the below, your creativity could probably use a spark:

  • Do you worry about impending yet necessary change in your personal or professional life?
  • Do you respond negatively to new situations?
  • Are you one to complain when changes occur?
  • Do you take an inflexible stance when new ideas are introduced?
  • Are you hesitant to take on new challenges?
  • Have you ever said, “That’s not the way we do things”?
  • Do you drag your feet toward change even when you recognize the ‘old ways’ aren’t working anymore?

If you have more yes’s than no’s, there’s no need to write yourself off as hopeless. Creativity and innovation are competencies of emotional intelligence, that ability to be aware of our own emotions and those of others, then manage our behaviors accordingly. And the good news about emotional intelligence is that it can be improved, with some effort.

But first, why develop your creativity? Research shows that increased creativity can:

  • lift us out of ruts
  • sparks new ideas
  • provide fresh perspectives
  • open up better ways of doing things
  • give us a positive outlook
  • connect us with others
  • create a sense of accomplishment

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”–Albert Einstein

Most of us who don’t think we’re creative allow ourselves to get stuck behind one or more of the following hurdles. Which one of these is preventing you from sparking something new?

1-Negative self-talk. “I’m just not creative,” you may tell yourself. And based upon what you’re thinking, it may seem as if it’s true. But in all verity, each of us can be creative in some shape or form. In his article, “Challenging Negative Self-Talk”, Ben Martin, Psy.D., suggests we start by testing the accuracy of our negative self-perceptions, by asking one or all of these four questions:

Just because someone has criticized you in the past doesn’t mean you have to wear their stamp of disapproval like a scarlet letter. Allow yourself to see yourself as imaginative despite the negativity of others.

2-I choose distractions. Would you rather mindlessly scroll on your phone or carve out time for innovative thinking? Here’s a quick test:  Yes or no – do you pick up your phone every time you have a free moment? If so, you may be limiting your ability–and time–to think creatively.  In an article entitled, “Why You Should Put Your Phone Down”, author Alexandra Hayes notes that “Allowing your mind to wander is a prerequisite for having a eureka moment, and when your gaze is perpetually glued to your phone, mind-wandering is nearly impossible.” [https://thriveglobal.com/stories/brain-body-benefits-less-screen-time/?]. Next time you pick up your phone, consider setting it back down and allowing your mind a little freedom to wander, and wonder.

3-I’m too busy. When my kids were little, they’d tire of a game or activity and whine, “I’m bored”.  Instead of fixing it for them by providing a new, engaging activity, I’d often respond with, “OK”.  It wasn’t long before they’d find something else to do, on their own. As adults, we tend to stay so busy that we never allow ourselves to feel bored. However, boredom can spark creative ideas. “Bored people feel that their actions are meaningless and so they are motivated to engage in meaningful behaviour,” concludes Wijnand van Tilburg, co-author of the paper, “Bored George Helps Others: A Pragmatic Meaning-Regulation Hypothesis on Boredom and Prosocial Behaviour.” [https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/may/06/boredom-good-for-you-claims-study].

So consider freeing up your schedule for some ‘nothing time’, allow yourself to feel bored, and see what happens next.

4-Innovative ideas are not safe in this environment. Your surroundings may not feel like a safe place to exercise creativity. You may have a boss who disregarded an idea you had, or a significant other who laughed at your last novel suggestion for a fun, family activity. It makes sense why you may choose to shut down your creativity. In an article entitled, “Why A Culture of Innovation Doesn’t Work When People Are Afraid”, author Pere Rosales points out that when our work environment conditions us to keep quiet and do what we’re told, instead of exercising creativity, employees are concerned more with not coming across ignorant or incompetent. The result? “People keep everything—from big ideas to good questions—inside,” severely limiting new and innovative ideas for growth. [https://inusual.com/en/blog/why-a-culture-of-innovation-doesnt-work-when-people-are-afraid].

If you are in a situation such as this, it may be time to have a conversation with your manager or human resources professional, or, at home, with your significant other about how it is important for you to feel you have a say in helping to create new direction when needed. As well, be sure you are doing your part to create a safe environment for creativity, making sure not to criticize or ridicule new ways of doing things.

5-I don’t know where to start. Sometimes getting started is the biggest hurdle in sparking creativity. In Josh Spector’s article, “How to Start a Creative Project When You Don’t Know Where to Begin”, he speaks of the importance of recognizing there are two aspects to every creative project: ideas and execution. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by the actions we’d need to take that we shut down. Spending time on a simple brainstorming exercise can get the ideas flowing, thus helping us launch.

When you’re ready to ignite your creativity, here are a few prompts to journal about or discuss with a close friend or coach:

  • In which areas of your life are things feeling stale or stagnant? How does it make you feel?
  • What is one shift you foresee needs to be made in your workplace? At home?
    • What is your role in preventing necessary changes at work? At home?
  • If you were to make changes, who else would it involve and how would the changes potentially impact them?
  • What conversations do you need to have and with whom to initiate change?
  • What is one thing you can do today to start in a fresh direction?

Making the smallest of effort towards creativity may be just the spark you need to create your own fireworks display!

“There’s a way to do it better – find it.” –Thomas A. Edison

A Fresh Start

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

“When the path ignites a soul, there’s no remaining in place. The foot touches ground, but not for long.”

― Hakim Sanai

Have you ever gone for a walk in freshly-fallen snow?

There’s something magical about taking those first steps onto the pristine white canvas of a serene, snow-covered landscape. A few years back, I had a mile walk between the city transit stop and my office, and often, after a snowstorm, I’d be the first to traipse through the deep snow which had accumulated overnight. The soft crunch under my boots blended with the dazzling sunlight dancing on the frozen terrain brought much delight on cold, wintery days. At the end of the day, I’d notice that many other footsteps had joined my own on the new path I’d blazed that morning.

It’s often like that when we decide to venture out in a new direction of life. With each brave stride, our footprints carve a way for us and others to make a shift toward fresh perspectives and experiences.

What better time to do this than at the start of a new year?

When is the last time you ventured down a new path? If you’re like most of us, change can be disconcerting. Many of us settle into our habits and get so comfortable that any disruption to ‘the way things are’ can throw us for a loop. It’s easy to fall into this routine of not only resenting change, but avoiding it at all costs.

But life seems to be chock-full of continual change, and it’s nearly impossible to tread the same path year after year, without incurring negative outcomes. Unforeseen circumstances — and the emotions which accompany them — can hit with the ferocity of a bitter winter storm, and if we’re not ready to plow through it, we can get ‘snowed in’ to old patterns and ways which don’t serve us well.

Part of being open to change is seeking out opportunities to learn new things. Whether you are a coach, an HR professional, a leader, or an individual looking to grow, I’d like to propose Social + Emotional Intelligence Coaching, a unique niche to add to your coaching skill set. Learning to coach others to improve their self-awareness, self-management, other awareness, and relationship management can bring about more life satisfaction to you and those you lead. Taking this new step can help you forge a passage though the ups and downs of life, making the way a little easier to navigate for both you and those who follow.

So bundle up, don your snow boots, and consider exploring the new path of social + emotional intelligence coaching in the new year. We offer online courses each month to certify you as a Social + Emotional Intelligence Coach and equip you to administer the Social + Emotional Intelligence Profile. Not only will you be giving yourself the gift of a fresh start, you’ll be able to turn around and lay the course for those you work with and lead as they attempt to cross their own barren landscapes.

Learn more in our monthly free one-hour webinars. Click here to learn more or register today!

http://www.the-isei.com/certificationcourses.aspx

How do you sabotage your success?

Article contributed by guest author Brian Baker.

Everyone has had the experience of self-destructing. It’s a strange feeling to know that you ruined the very thing you were trying so hard to accomplish. Most self-sabotage is the result of discomfort. It can be the discomfort of failing, succeeding, or having to perform tasks that are uncomfortable.

You may have heard the saying, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Unfortunately, most of us are well-practiced in the art of avoiding discomfort. This is the most common way we sabotage our success.

Are you sabotaging your success? Consider these points:


1.  Distractions. The tasks that need to be done in order to be successful are typically less appealing than watching TV, surfing the internet, or spending time with friends. We’re experts at distracting ourselves, and the urge to seek out distractions increases with the unpleasantness of the task.

  • Solution: Allow yourself to have distractions, but control when, and how long, you engage in them. You might give yourself 30 minutes of distraction time after three hours of work. Or, you might limit distractions to the evening after your work is done for the day.

2.  Procrastination. Distractions are one way of procrastinating, but there are countless ways to procrastinate. The general theme is that you’re doing something other than what you should be doing.

  • Solution: Be clear on what needs to be done and why.
  • Focus on just getting started, which is often the most challenging part of working.
  • Use a timer and see how much you can accomplish in 30 minutes.

3.  Indecisiveness. Indecisiveness is a success killer. When you can’t make up your mind, progress comes to a stop. If you wait until you have all the wisdom and information necessary to make the perfect choice, you’ll be waiting a long time. You have to pull the trigger and move forward.

  • Solution: Be clear on what needs to be done to accomplish your objective.
  • Give yourself a time limit. You might give yourself 10 minutes or a day to make a decision. Then just decide and do your best.

4.  Negative thoughts. For many people, the closer they get to success, the more negative thoughts they experience.

  • Solution: Take control of your mind and think thoughts that are useful to you. Cheer yourself on rather than criticize your actions.
  • Ignore the random noise of your mind. You don’t have to engage with your random thoughts. You can choose to ignore them.

5.  Focus on low-priority tasks. We like to work on our projects but avoid the most important tasks. The most important tasks are often the least enjoyable, so we avoid them. We tackle the less important tasks because it allows us to feel like we’re still making progress.

  • Solution: Have a list of tasks to do each day ordered from most important to least. Start at the top of your list and work your way down.

6.  Quitting. This is the ultimate way to sabotage your success. You can’t achieve anything if you quit before you’re successful. Many people have a habit of quitting right before achieving success.

  • Solution: Develop the habit of finishing what you start. Avoid caving into the fear that crops up when you’re about to find out if you were successful or not. Remember that you can always try again, regardless of the outcome.

Self-sabotage is a great problem to have because you don’t need to try to change anyone else. In fact, the entire issue is your responsibility! This might sound disheartening, but it’s easier to change yourself than it is to change someone else.

Remember this, the person responsible for your successes and failures is staring at you in the mirror each day.

What Services Do Servant Leaders Provide?

Article contributed by guest author Dennis Hooper.

Sometimes leaders ask if I help organizations understand and implement “servant leadership.” Maybe the individual has heard of the concept but can’t imagine how it functions, considering his or her current beliefs about leadership. I love exploring existing perspectives with inquisitive people, helping them see a more effective model and allowing them to adjust their leadership behaviors.

The most common image of leadership involves the traditional pyramidal hierarchy. Developed centuries ago, the corporate organization chart clearly identifies what portion of the empire each leader controls. “These people work for me” is the operative mental outlook. Within this framework, many leaders find it hard to consider “what can I do to serve them?”

So, let’s start thinking about servant leadership by representing the organization through a different model. Imagine how we might use a tree as a more appropriate organizational metaphor.

Visualize that the individuals who do the work on a day-to-day basis are the leaves. They are supported by the branches, which are the organization’s managers and supervisors. Top management is the trunk supporting the branches and leaves and delivering water and nutrients up from the roots. The trunk and branches provide substantial support for that portion of the organization where the “real work” is accomplished. When the winds of change blow, the trunk and roots provide stability, keeping the tree anchored firmly. The tree’s extensive root system collects revenue from customers, and the trunk delivers the needed capital equipment, raw materials, tools, and supplies to the leaves.

Through this simple paradigm shift, many individuals are immediately able to better understand the concept of servant leadership. The trunk and branches function collaboratively to ensure the health and growth of the twigs and leaves. A tree is a living organism; if any part becomes diseased, the life of the entire tree is in jeopardy.
If the organization remains healthy, the parts that do the “real work” are pushed higher, competing favorably with surrounding trees for sunlight. Growth, through increased production and reliability, is a natural desire among those doing the work. The trunk and branches grow only as much as is required to deliver the resources needed by the growing numbers of leaves.

Pyramids were never intended to grow; they were designed as tombs! Trees, however, are alive and beautiful. With apologies to Joyce Kilmer, “I think that I shall never see a pyramid lovely as a tree.”

Now, let’s consider the real-time services that you provide when you function as a servant leader. Let’s start with you as entrepreneur, gathering resources and sending up the first shoot. Leaves are added as survival seems viable. Growth occurs quickly in those first few years as the tender seedling seeks sunshine and manages to avoid consumption by insects and herbivores.

Once the organization matures, you as leader provide opportunity, resources, a healthy work environment, and clear expectations. Depending on the surroundings, you communicate direction so that everyone is empowered to achieve the inspiring vision of robust growth. When problems arise, you listen and collaborate to eliminate obstructions and obtain needed resources.

You offer coaching, feedback, respect, and expanded responsibilities. You inform everyone of the organization’s results and you invite new ideas. You offer encouragement, hope, balance, and clarity. You tell the truth. You plan so last-minute requests rarely occur. You keep promises that you’ve made. You ask people what they need, and you work to provide it.

Lest we take this model too far, let’s acknowledge that those doing the “real work” are accountable to your authority. However, the leaves rarely need to be reminded why they exist. They realize that their role–processing sunshine, water, and nutrients–is a critical function for the success of “the tree team.”

As a servant leader, you support and empower those who do the “real work” of the organization!

A Heart to Serve

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Had I really heard her correctly?

The cold months had been rough on Bessie, our red Subaru, and piece by piece, with daily driving in the harsh winter weather, my little car seemed to be falling apart. We’d had her for about five years, after buying her already well-used. Day in and day out, she carried the kids and I to and fro on our daily errands, and many a road trip, but though she was still running, was showing a good deal of wear and tear. The sunroof was splintered, the windshield was littered with cracks, and the engine was running a little rough. The brakes had started to squeak, and thanks to the lack of mature driving skills from one of my newly licensed children, she now had a nice big dent in her fender. Our family has always driven old cars, and we tended to drive them into the ground, so this was nothing new. But it was a few days after I posted on my social media page about how I was using duct tape to hold a section of her bumper together, trying to be funny,  when the phone call came.

“We want to buy you a new car.”

It was a dear old friend from college days, a kind, giving soul who always has something encouraging to say. She and her husband had decided they wanted to lay down a large portion of money to buy the kids and I a new vehicle. Being just a few weeks before Christmas, they were determined to share their blessings with our family during the holiday season. After much protesting, I humbly accepted their generous offer and went car shopping.

Who buys a friend a car?!

I’ve known some extremely giving people in my life.  My parents sacrificed much to make sure my brothers and I had a happy, loving home to grow up in. An aunt assisted me in procuring a scholarship to help with college expenses. A university professor paid my way for the college ski outing. A kind lady in our church offered to make our wedding cake. Friends and family babysat our children when we needed some time out, and once the kids were old enough, the acts of kindness they’d offer often brought tears to my eyes. I’d find a hard-earned $20 of allowance money tucked into a homemade Mother’s Day Card, enjoy occasional breakfasts in bed, and welcome their offers to help with chores around the house.

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”― Anne Frank

Having a heart to serve others is a competency of emotional intelligence called service orientation. I like the use of the word, “orientation”. Miriam-Webster defines orientation as “a usually general or lasting direction of thought, inclination, or interest.” [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/orientation] Note the words “usually general” and “lasting direction”. We’re not talking about a one-time do-a-good-deed for someone. Rather than a one-time service project, think of service orientation as a way of life. It’s having a mindset of anticipating, recognizing, and meeting others’ needs.

People who have a service orientation spend time getting to know others so they understand what their needs are. They are on the lookout to find new ways to increase satisfaction levels of those around them, and gladly make themselves available to offer assistance. They enjoy helping others and especially like providing assistance to the underdog. They have a knack for seeing things through the eyes of others and are quick to grasp perspectives different from their own.  People who are behave this way usually have a good deal of empathy.

“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

Those who struggle with service orientation tend to think of themselves first and focus on their own needs before others. They’re not always the best team players and when asked for help, may do what’s required of them, but don’t often go above and beyond. They don’t stand up on the behalf of those around them and often speak poorly of others behind their back. These folks will often ‘pass the buck’ and even go so far as being discourteous and disrespectful.

Robert Greenleaf, author of the book Servant Leadership, observed that there are leaders who are in it for themselves and leaders who are in it for others. He concluded that those who put their focus on others were the most effective. According to Greenleaf, a servant leader must exhibit good listening skills, empathy, a desire to help heal those who are hurting, other-awareness, persuasion, conceptualization (the ability to dream), foresight, stewardship, commitment to helping others grow, and a heart for building community.

As with competencies of emotional intelligence, our ability to be of service to others can be developed and enhanced, no matter how far from having a service orientation we may be. From the ISEI Coaching Toolkit developed by Dr. Laura Belsten, here are some developmental tips to increase your service orientation:

  • Look for opportunities to be helpful, to be of service, to others
  • Anticipate and be aware of the needs of others; plan ahead to meet people’s needs if possible
  • Create a culture of service by modeling the behavior
  • Ask questions to understand another’s needs; act on or agree to a course of action
  • Under-promise and over-deliver; do more than expected
  • Follow through; check to ensure satisfaction

You may not ever have the opportunity to give someone a car, but there are many practical ways you can serve those around you, especially in the workplace. Here are some ideas: Offer a kind word of encouragement to your project manager, pick up a specialty coffee for a colleague, invite a coworker to lunch, thank your boss for her leadership, offer to help a team member on a project, ask your cubicle-mate about their weekend (and really listen). What else? Jot down a few ideas of your own then pick one to start with today. Taking an action to hep another is a great first step toward developing a service orientation.

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

The pursuit of “perfection” can lead to “procrastination”

 

Article contributed by guest author Stephanie Wachman.

Striving to be perfect has its good side, but let’s be honest: perfectionism, paradoxically, can paralyze us and zap productivity. It often leads to missed opportunities, blown deadlines, massive stress, and frustration with ourselves and others. If we can learn to tame the voice in our head that says, “It’s still not good enough,” then we can free up our minds and schedules to conquer other important tasks and initiatives. The net result of “perfection” is usually “procrastination”.

If you have a pattern of blowing deadlines or not starting on a project, ask yourself why you are holding off. From my experience in working with professionals I have heard three consistent answers.

  • I’m not sure what I’m doing
  • I don’t know where to start, and
  • I’m not sure it will be good enough

By holding off on starting a big project or by frequently missing deadlines, you are actually sabotaging yourself and your success. Ask yourself if you have a pattern of behavior that causes you to hold back on delivering work on time.  Some of us are willing to accept the consequences of being slapped on the wrist for a blown deadline then the risk of turning in work we think is “imperfect”.  I refer to this predicament as Perfection Paralyses.

Although you won’t find this syndrome in the official book of psychological disorders, this is a real problem that’s not easy to overcome—unless you are perfect.

The pursuit of “perfection” can be an elusive ideal as “perfection” is hard to define for ourselves but ultimately leads to procrastination.

4 tips to overcome procrastination:

Sometimes good is good enough:  In some cases, doing a good enough job is the right choice, especially when you consider the consequences of not meeting your commitments.

Find a starting point: When you are overwhelmed with the task at hand, start by making a list of all the things you have to do pertaining to the project. Drill down as far as you can go and then pick one item to start with.  Often, we just need to get started somewhere in order to get the work flow going.

Set a timer: Blocking a short period of time on your calendar and setting a time for it will help you with focus. Make it into a challenge, where you play beat the clock.  I often say that if you are really blocked then start with 20 minutes and just begin with brainstorming.  This will warm up the mind and get thoughts flowing.

Ask for help:  If you have taken on a project that is more than you can handle or you are truly not equipped to do it, then find someone who can help you.  It might even be a colleague who isn’t in your office. Asking for help can be a lifeline when you need it most.

Getting past procrastination and the consequences that go along with it will help you improve your work performance as well as decrease stress.  Leaving things undone can increase the amount of frustration and disappointment you have in yourself. The good news is you can overcome it by being deliberate in how you take steps to get beyond it.

Stop, look, and listen

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

I’ll never forget the lesson I learned from little five-year-old Marta. As if her sparkling brown eyes, quick smile, and cheeky, baby-like face weren’t enough to win me over–because they were. But it was a competency of emotional intelligence she possessed, which, without a word, made her one of the brightest kids in the classroom.

Wisdom of a child

In the inner city school where I was teaching, standardized assessment scores were low, graduation rates were astonishingly poor, and for most students, English was the second language. Marta arrived the first day of kindergarten equipped with a backpack, hair neatly braided, wearing clean, pressed clothes, with a smile so bright you couldn’t help but beam back. It was obvious that she was well taken care of at home. However my co-teacher informed me that she didn’t speak a word of English, nor did her grandparents, who were her caretakers.  “Good luck with that!”, she said with a hint of disdain.

I made efforts toward effective communication with Marta, even though at first I could tell she didn’t understand a word I said. I used a lot of gestures and exaggerated facial expressions. However, Marta didn’t miss a beat. She was earnest and intentional. Before she’d take any action, she’d stop, look around her, and listen with riveting concentration. I could see her studying my face when I spoke, was quick to nod though I could tell she didn’t fully understand, and flashed her bright smile whenever I grinned. She constantly watched the kids around her: in the morning as they put their coats away, at her table group as they worked on their papers, and in the afternoons during story time, always following along just a step behind, mimicking their behavior. She seemed tuned-into the difference between the children who behaved well, and those who did not, and readily emulated the actions of those who made good choices. She was a quick learner.

Marta, I came to learn later, demonstrated an incredible amount of situational awareness. Within weeks, her comprehension of English, both verbal and written, progressed at astonishing speeds. By the end of the year, you never would have guessed that it was not her first language, except for some pronunciation variances which she adeptly picked up from her grandmother’s strong, accent-laden diction at home. Her ability to tune into what was going around her had a direct impact on her success as a student.

What is situational awareness?

Situational awareness is a competency of emotional intelligence and one which is effective in determining our ability to influence and lead others well. It’s the ability to read social cues, pick up on political currents, and determine norms in family, social, and business gatherings. Those who are good at it are able to detect crucial social networks and understand the political forces at work. They can accurately pick up on the guiding values and unspoken rules which are in play, and are able to make use of formal and informal dynamics.

Those who struggle with situational awareness can sometimes find it difficult to get things done in various social settings, and can be caught off guard when social and political situations arise, whether it be at home or in the workplace. They can be offensive without realizing it and unwittingly act in ways which are inappropriate. They miss on being aware of the emotions of those around them and can find many social situations (and the people involved) frustrating.

Unaware, unsafe.

Not being aware of what’s going on around us can get us into trouble. For most workplaces, a lack of situational awareness can lead to potentially dangerous situations. In the world of aviation, for example, staying aware of surroundings can be the very thing which helps avoid system failures and crashes.  “One of the greatest risks a pilot has when faced with a problem is that the pilot is simply not aware a problem exists. Loss of situational awareness is like the boogieman sneaking up behind you—danger is imminent, but you are pleasantly unaware of it.”  [http://langleyflyingschool.com/Pages/Human%20Factor–Loss%20of%20Situational%20Awareness.html]  In the construction industry, situational awareness is equally important. In 2013, the Bureau of Labor reported that fatal injury rates among construction workers was almost three times that of all occupations.  In a white paper distributed by workzonesafety.org, it was noted that, “Loss of situational awareness undoubtedly contributed to many of these worker accidents. Situational awareness is a worker’s ability to capture cues and clues from what is happening around them, then being able to put them together to mean something, and predicting future events, especially potential risks/threats.”

Distracted drivers – a lack of situational awareness

Cell phone use is proving to be a large contributor to our inability to remain conscious of our physical surroundings, no matter how good we think we are at multitasking.  It’s known that multitasking impairs performance. Studies have shown that even just listening to words being spoken on a cell phone decreases brain availability for other tasks by 37%. [https://www.workzonesafety.org/files/documents/worker_distraction/fatigue_e-device-use.pdf] At any given point in a day, approximately 660,000 drivers are attempting to use their phones while driving. In 2017, the National Safety Council reported that “cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year. Nearly 390,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving, and one out of every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.”https://www.edgarsnyder.com/car-accident/cause-of-accident/cell-phone/cell-phone-statistics.html]

On the home front

While not honing your situational awareness can prove to be life-threatening, in our home lives, missing on the dynamics of what is going on around you can be detrimental to building strong, healthy relationships. Take the all-too-typical example of an overworked parent who is too busy to notice his kids are showing signs of going down a ‘bad’ path, whether it be skipping classes, lying, stealing, cheating, illegal drug use, etc.  By not being alert and tuning into what is going on in his teenager’s day-to-day, negative habits can quickly form and leave the parent feeling blindsided. “He was such a sweet boy,” the dad will lament, shaking his head sadly remembering when his child was six. But he’s not six anymore — he’s 16 and somewhere, 10 vital years had passed without the parent picking up on the signs of change and being aware — and assertive — enough to respond in a way that encourages the connection kids so long for. In extreme cases, where one or more of the parents is narcissistic (tuning into self and missing on reading and responding to the emotional cues of others), “clinical experience and research show that adult children of narcissists have a difficult time putting their finger on what is wrong…filled with unacknowledged anger, feel like a hollow person, feel inadequate and defective, suffer from periodic anxiety and depression, and have no clue about how he or she got that way.” —Pressman and Pressman, The Narcissistic Family [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-legacy-distorted-love/201105/the-narcissistic-family-tree]

Office politics and situational awareness

At the office, a lack of situational awareness can take on the form of office politics, a word that most consider ‘dirty’. However, engaging in the goings on at the office actually can have an advantage. In a Forbes.com article, Bonnie Marcus writes that a “lack of attention to what’s happening in the workplace can be extremely dangerous.” After being passed over for a promotion she felt she rightly deserved, she noted, “I didn’t pay attention to what was going on in my company. I avoided office politics and was therefore totally ignorant about how the decision for that VP job would be made. And what’s worse, I  failed to nurture important relationships with the people in corporate who had power and influence over my career.” [https://www.forbes.com/sites/bonniemarcus/2017/04/04/what-i-learned-about-office-politics-that-changed-my-career/#393293266168]. In a study done by Jo Miller, founding editor of Women’s Leadership Coaching., Inc., where she asked 169 employees how they handled office politics, she found that “20% said they try to ignore it, and 61% said they play the game reluctantly and only “when necessary.”” In her article, she quotes Nina Simosko, a leader in technology strategy at Nike, Inc., who says, “When it comes to office politics, there is no way around it. Once you start working with a team you are going to experience it. I am not a fan of politics, but I have learned that ignoring them can have negative consequences. It can determine whether you are successful in your career or not.”[https://www.themuse.com/advice/why-avoiding-office-politics-could-hurt-you-more-than-you-know]. In another article, Jo writes, “An author and careers expert, Erin Burt notes, “Avoiding (office) politics altogether can be deadly for your career. Every workplace has an intricate system of power, and you can — and should — work it ethically to your best advantage.”[https://beleaderly.com/cant-afford-ignore-office-politics/]

It begins with self-awareness

So how do we develop this vital competency of emotional intelligence?  Situational awareness begin with self-awareness, as well-stated, here:

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” –Richard Feynman

In order to be aware of what’s going on around us, it’s vital we tune in to our own emotions throughout the day and allow them to provide insightful information into how we’re doing.  Try it right now — how are you feeling? Can you put a word to it? Can you trace its origins (why are you feeling that way)? Can you–in the moment–recognize you are feeling that particular emotion and then, choose to manage your behavior in a way that is mindful of that emotion?  Easier said than done, but it can be done.  If you struggle in this area of self-awareness, consider employing a social + emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you to offer some help.

Tips to improve your situational awareness

Try following these 3 tips to increase your situational awareness.

Stop. Many of us move in a frenzied cacophony of activity, one crisis spawning the next, and rarely take time to slow down, let alone stop and take notice of our surroundings. Set a value of paying attention to what is going on in your social and work settings. If needed, set an alarm to sound throughout your day to remind yourself to stop what you’re doing, for the simple purpose of tuning in to what is going on around you. In that moment, breathe. Notice the details that you may have missed without this much-needed break. How are you feeling?  Why are you feeling that way? How are those around you feeling?  Why are they feeling that way? Attempt to connect the dots — does what you see happening around you make sense? Does it “fit” into the context of the moment and feel “right”? Knowing the history and political currents of your environment can help you answers these questions.

Look. Have you ever talked with someone, only to realize later that you never really looked at them? Maybe you were in a conversation while scrolling on your phone, or answered their questions without looking up from your computer screen. It’s a good practice to develop your ability to see what is going on around you. Make a point to look people in the eyes when they’re speaking. Try to read the emotional cues they may be offering — or hiding.  Now look around, beyond that person. Notice who is in the room and what they’re doing, and how they’re interacting with others. Notice what has changed in the last few hours while you were preoccupied and determine why it has changed.

Listen. We can learn so much from others if we’d just up our listening skills. The people in our lives can clue us in on what’s happening, below the surface. Learn to ask open-ended questions, and try to remember some of the personal details they may share. Not good with names? Jot them down if needed, along with their unique identifiers (she loves cats, he has 3 kids, etc.), so you can refer to them the next time you chat. Questions like, “How are you really doing?”, “How did you feel when that happened?”, “Why do you think that occurred?”, and “What were you most proud of in that moment?” are a few examples of questions which can take your conversations a little deeper. Tune in as they describe people or situations they found to be effective–or ineffective. Invite them to coffee, or lunch, and learn how they operate, what their values are, and what their hopes and dreams may be. By doing so, you’ll be able to identify the characteristic and behaviors of individuals are successful within the organization.

What Marta taught me was that no matter our hurdles, we can choose to learn from those around us to become more situationally aware. In doing so, we’ll not only help protect ourselves from potential pitfalls of being unaware, but enable our ability to learn and grow as we move toward success.

“Every human has four endowments – self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom… The power to choose, to respond, to change.”  — Stephen Covey

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