Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Becoming Trustworthy

Article submitted by Amy Sargent

“Do you trust me?”

It’s a familiar line from romcoms. The protagonist is getting ready to do something crazy and wants the heroine to go along with him. He reaches toward her with an open hand, hoping she’ll abandon all logic and jump.

And don’t we love it when she jumps?!

It’s fun to watch on the big screen, but in real life, trusting others can be tough. If you’ve ever been lied to (and, who hasn’t?), or betrayed, or deceived in any way, there’s a good chance you say, “No thanks, I’ll stay here and play it safe.”

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

Stephen Covey

Trust–or a Lack of–in the Workplace

In the workplace, trust can be especially difficult to navigate. First of all, there’s a professional persona we all put on when we head to the office. Much of professionalism lends to a healthy workplace, by setting appropriate boundaries, offering mutual respect, and using polished, effective communication skills. However the downside is that sometimes our professional self looks nothing like our real self, and can leave us (and others) feeling, well, nothing. And that cold, hard shell of inauthenticity can be both exhausting to maintain, and empty.

Secondly, there’s fear. Fear of all shapes and sizes can prevent us from trusting in professional relationships, and instead, choose to stay closed off, hiding behind our masks of inauthenticity. Fear of not getting that promotion. Fear of being fired. Fear of management disapproval. Fear of employees not liking you. Fear of looking silly. Fear of looking too confident. Fear of … you fill in the blank!

However, without trust, the workplace becomes nothing but a hollow movie set of actresses and actors, pretending, resulting in shallow, unengaged teams.  Imagine, instead, if we could build authentic, value-driven teams working together with integrity to achieve success.

Wondering why your key players are quitting? Maybe it’s a lack of trust. Shelley Smith, in an article she wrote for Forbes entitled Lack of Trust Can Make Workplaces Sick and Dysfunctional, notes, “Team members who don’t trust their leaders are likely working the bare minimum and planning to get out.” She goes on to say, “If you don’t trust your team, you’re likely either micromanaging or withholding information and working on initiatives on your own or with a select group of people. This can create a vicious cycle, as your team may respond by pulling back even further, so you’ve created a perfect storm in this self-fulfilling prophecy of distrust.”[https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2019/10/24/lack-of-trust-can-make-workplaces-sick-and-dysfunctional/]

On the contrary, a workplace embedded with trust enables team members to feel safe — safe to be innovative, safe to achieve, safe to take risks, safe to fail. Paul Towers, Founder at Task Pigeon, shares this wisdom in his blog: “Successful businesses are built on relationships. Relationships between employers and employees, staff and customers, internal stakeholders and external stakeholders. At the foundation of all relationships is trust.” [https://blog.taskpigeon.co/workplace-trust-trust-important-workplace/]

What is trust?

What does it mean to be trustworthy?

It’s a way of behaving which creates a bond, or connection, with others which is appropriate, empowering, and safe. A trustworthy person is reliable and dependable and others feel enabled to speak their truth(s) and be themselves. Those with this competence of emotional intelligence encourage and participate in appropriate self-disclosure. In other words, they’re not afraid to share information — about themselves, about the project, about the company, when appropriate.

Trustworthy individuals are willing to be influenced by others, and are open to changing their minds in conversations with others. They are known to maintain high standards of personal integrity (doing the “right” thing, even when no one is looking), and their public behaviors match up with their personal behaviors. They treat others fairly and with respect. They genuinely care about others. They make good on their promises.

Would you want to work for/with professionals like this?

And if we asked them, would your colleagues, clients, and customers use these descriptors when talking about you?

Tell-tale Signs that Trust is Lacking

When trust is absent from relationships, it rears its dubious head in several ways. Do you notice any of these behaviors in your day-to-day interactions?

  • You’re not that great at establishing open, candid, relationships
  • You’ve developed a reputation for lacking integrity
  • You tell lies, often
  • You blame others for your mistakes
  • You say one thing and do another
  • You make promises which you can’t — or don’t intend to — keep
  • Your behavior is erratic, and inconsistent
  • You treat some people poorly
  • You’ve undermined others for your own gain
  • Others never come to you as a source of guidance or wisdom

If you can relate to any of the above, it may be time to do some work on developing the skills which build trust.

Trust Makers

Building trust, as in all emotional intelligence competencies, can be developed. Here are some ways you can begin your journey toward becoming more trustworthy:

  • Develop personal relationships with others by working on your listening skills. Ask open-ended questions, and tune in, carefully, to what’s on their minds and in their hearts.
  • Be accessible. Do others feel safe popping in your office to say hi, or talk about something which is important to them? We’re not talking about having no boundaries. But within your office hours, be sure to schedule time when you can be available to others.
  • Develop integrity. Check to make sure you’re doing the right things, even when others are not looking. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a counselor or a social and emotional intelligence coach to help build new behaviors where needed.
  • Always deliver on your commitments. If you say you’ll be somewhere, be there. If you say you’ll do something, do it. Let cancellations be a rare event, not something others expect with you.
  • Never knowingly mislead others or lie.
  • Know your personal values, and consciously articulate and demonstrate them in your day-to-day activities. It should be obvious to those who work closely with you and/or have a close relationship with you as to what you esteem and believe in.
  • Admit your mistakes. Own your missteps, and refrain from pointing the finger at others. Learn to express a quick and heartfelt, “I’m sorry” when you miss.
  • Don’t badmouth others. Let your words edify and lift up, both in person and when, on the rare occasion, you are talking about someone when they’re not in the room. It’s possible to openly discuss areas of growth without shaming or belittling.
  • Treat others with respect, no matter their title or ‘status’ within the organization.
  • And finally, be consistent with all of the above. Being trustworthy is not a one-time event. It’s a recurring and iterative way of behaving.

Rebuilding Trust

“Trust is the easiest thing in the world to lose, and the hardest thing in the world to get back.”

R.M. Williams

If you’ve broken someone’s trust — which we all have at some point in our lives — know that it can be rebuilt. It won’t happen overnight, and it takes work to establish a trusting relationship again. A formula which seems to work is consistency + time. The person who lost faith in you must be willing to trust you again, and if they’re not, you may need to let that relationship go. But if they are, they will need to see consistent, trust-building behaviors over a long period of time in order to trust again.

These developmental tips must be practiced regularly to turn them into habits. This can take time. But becoming more trustworthy is the only way to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships, both at work and at home.

“Trust is like love. It can’t be seen, but its value is immeasurable.”

― Frank Sonnenberg

Managing Conflict with Emotional Intelligence

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

It takes two to tango. It’s an old, overused phrase, yet one which still accurately illustrates the fact that conflict doesn’t happen in isolation. Think of the last conflict you experienced. Was it about you, with you, against you — or was another person involved?

Conflict is defined as a serious disagreement or argument. It can also be defined as an incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests, or, a word to describe when two people are at a variance. In more simpler terms, conflict means to clash. [https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/]

Do you clash with anyone these days?

A common way of dealing with conflict is to point the finger at the other person’s misses, flaws, and faults. It’s most likely the most preferred way of ‘handling’ conflict. However, you’ve probably discovered that finger pointing doesn’t make the conflict go away, and sometimes, exacerbates it. Another way we deal with conflict is through control — trying to control the other person. But try as you may, you probably realize it’s nearly impossible to make someone else do/be what you want them to do/be. There’s only one part of conflict you can control: you. Margaret Paul adds, “When it comes to control, it’s important to remember that the only thing we actually have control over is ourselves, our attitudes, our beliefs, our behavior – our intent.”

This should come as good news. It is tiring to attempt to control others. If you’ve tried it, you know what I mean.

“Attempting to constantly control everyone and everything around you is not only exhausting…it is also futile. The only real power you can achieve in this life is being in control of yourself.”

― Anthon St. Maarten

So, let’s talk about the emotional intelligence competency of behavioral self-control as it relates to conflict. What is it, and how do you know if you’re doing well with it, or struggling?

Behavioral self-control simply means keeping disruptive emotions and impulses in check. It’s not about not feeling certain emotions…or pretending they are not there…or stuffing them inside. It’s actually about fully feeling emotions — but not letting them have the driver’s seat. Instead, we feel them then choose how we want to behave.

A controlling nature

Trying to control others is a primary hurdle to developing behavioral self-control. If it’s always someone else’s fault, and if only you could make the _____ (fill in the blank), where is the space for you to look at your own areas of improvement to make a shift. You may be thinking, that’s not me — I don’t try to control others. What does a controlling personality look like? If you can answer yes to any of the following, you may be a bit of a controller:

  • I usually think I am right in most disagreements
  • It’s important for me to be right
  • I criticize others, either to their face or behind their back — or in my mind
  • I always have a better solution and offer it freely, even when not asked
  • I clearly see others’ faults, but don’t notice my own
  • I think things will be better if we do them my way
  • I’m often telling others what they should be doing vs. what they are doing
  • I have a hard time saying sorry (because I’m rarely wrong!)

[https://www.innerbonding.com/show-article/553/self-control-vs-controlling-self-and-others.html]

Sometimes having a controlling nature is a form of self-protection. Maybe you’ve experienced trauma where someone robbed you of your freedom or safety at one point in your life, and now, the only way to maintain any control is to control others. Controlling others may simply be a way to cope. If that’s the case, no shame. Seek the help of a professional therapist or counsellor if this resonates with you to further explore what’s going on.

“You always seek to control others when you are not in full ownership of yourself.”

― Cicely Tyson

Controlling rarely brings the relationship results we’re looking for. Instead, focus on something(one) you can control…yourself.

People who shine in behavioral self-control

People who are strong in behavioral self-control are good at managing their impulsive feelings and distressing emotions well. They stay composed, positive, and unflappable even in trying moments. They restrain negative reactions and stay focused under pressure. They are self-aware enough to maintain their stamina and performance in emotionally-charged situations. Instead of being a victim to tough circumstances, they choose not to escalate a problem when attacked, provoked, or aggressively confronted by another.

While there are some people who have mastered this, most of us struggle with one or more of the above. Which one of those would you like to improve upon? What benefits might you experience if you were to grow in that area? Which of your relationships would it positively effect?

Raven Ishak says, “While you may believe that you can control a lot in your life, the reality is that you really only have control over one thing: your emotions.”[https://www.bustle.com/articles/147204-6-ways-to-let-go-of-control-enjoy-life-more]

Think back on your last conflict. Which one of the above could have helped with the disagreement if you or the other person could have exercised more of it?

People lacking this competency

How can you tell if you struggle with behavioral self-control? You probably won’t be surprised, but those who could grow in this competency tend to:

  • React impulsively
  • Get involved in inappropriate situations because they can’t resist the temptation
  • Respond to problems in a non-constructive way (yelling, hurling insults, etc.)
  • Are quick to anger
  • Tend to be defensive
  • May become angry, depressed or agitated when faced with conflicts and stress on the job (may even think of quitting)

Again, no shame here. We all have areas in which we can grow. If you could choose one to work on first, which one would you choose and why?

Development tips

Self-awareness is the first step to developing stronger behavior self-control. Once you’ve identified an area (from the list above) you’d like to work on, make a list of things that cause you to “lose it” – your triggers or “hot buttons”. Note who pushes those buttons most. When is the next time you will be in contact with them? Then, write out a strategy to deal with each of these issues the next time they arise. If you’re struggling with ideas, consider enlisting the help of a social and emotional intelligence coach.

Having a plan of attack will help you to choose a more constructive response when issues come up in the future.

And while you do this, watch your self talk. That little voice in our head is really great at doing everything it can to justify poor behavior. Instead, tell yourself what it looks like to stay composed and calm. Describe to yourself what an optimal outcome would look like, and what you could do to achieve that. Then tell yourself you can do this.

That way, the next time you hear the phrase, “It takes two to tango”, you can make it about dancing, and not about conflict.

Accurate Self-Assessment

Article submitted by Amy Sargent

When you look into the mirror, who do you see? If someone was looking at your reflection with you, would they see the same thing(s) in you?

I’d like to think I have an accurate view of myself. I mean, I’m old, and I’ve lived with me for 50 some years now. You would think I would know myself well…and I do…in some aspects.

But, as we all do, I have a few blind spots. Blind spots are simply areas of life where others see us differently than we see ourselves. They often are aspects where we view ourselves stronger, higher, more adept, more suave, more competent — you fill in the blank — than what those around us see.

Know Thyself

Accurate self-assessment. What is it, and how can we know if we have it? It’s a competency of emotional intelligence, and one which is vital to building a healthy self-image and healthy relationships.

“What do you mean, Phib?” asked Miss Squeers, looking in her own little glass, where, like most of us, she saw – not herself, but the reflection of some pleasant image in her own brain.”

― Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

Accurate self-assessment is an inner awareness of your strengths and limitations, without ill-placed pride, and without shame. It’s also knowing how to utilize your strengths and improve in your areas of growth.

Are you self-aware about your self-awareness?

Ironically, many think they are self-aware when they are not. Organizational psychologist and researcher Tasha Eurich notes, “With thousands of people from all around the world, 95 percent of people believe that they’re self-aware, but only about 10 to 15 percent really are.” [https://trainingmag.com/why-most-people-lack-self-awareness-and-what-to-do-about-it]. Do you think you fall in the 95% or the 15%?

Eurich goes on to note, “At the office, we don’t have to look far to find unaware colleagues — people who, despite past successes, solid qualifications, or irrefutable intelligence, display a complete lack of insight into how they are coming across.”

You’re probably thinking of someone (or somemany!) right now.

A question to ask — if they were reading this, would they be thinking of you?

Healthy self-esteem

Research shows that accurate self-awareness builds healthy self-esteem by making us more proactive and encouraging positive self-development (Sutton, 2016). It allows us to experience pride in ourselves and our accomplishments (Silvia & O’Brien, 2004). It lends itself toward better decision making (Ridley, Schutz, Glanz, & Weinstein, 1992), and can make us better at our jobs, better communicators in the workplace, and enhance our self-confidence and job-related wellbeing (Sutton, Williams, & Allinson, 2015). [https://positivepsychology.com/self-awareness-matters-how-you-can-be-more-self-aware/]

Qualities of a self-aware individual

People who are strong in this competency tend to do a lot of the following. Which one of these is your strength?

  • Reflective and learn from past experiences
  • Understand your potential
  • Recognize your strengths and capabilities
  • Welcome candid feedback
  • Are continually learning
  • See clearly your areas of growth
  • Admit you have blind spots
  • Are quick to ask for help from others
  • Have the ability to identify and target areas for improvement and change
  • Demonstrate a desire to improve

“Butterflies can’t see their wings. They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. People are like that as well.”

― Naya Rivera

Healthy relationships

It’s also important we develop an acute self-awareness to experience successful relationships. In her thesis at Pepperdine University, Camille Fung concludes that “Self-awareness is positively correlated with self-acceptance and quality of interpersonal relationships. This means that self-acceptance and self-awareness tend to increase and decrease together and self-awareness and quality of relationships do the same.”
[https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/288853605.pdf]

Blind spots (those areas where your mirror doesn’t show you what you need to see)

If you’re not sure if you have a blind spot in accurate self-awareness, ask yourself, “How many of these behaviors show up for me on a daily or weekly basis?”

  • Tend to want to appear “right” in front of others
  • Fail to ask for help
  • Compete with others instead of cooperating
  • Exaggerate their own value and contribution
  • Set unrealistic, overly ambitious and unattainable goals for themselves and others
  • Push themselves hard, often at the expense of other parts of their lives
  • Push others hard
  • Tend to micromanage and take over instead of delegating (“if you want it done right. . . “)
  • Take credit for others’ efforts
  • Blame others for mistakes, even if they made them
  • Cannot admit mistakes or personal weaknesses
  • Can’t accept feedback or criticism

It’s normal to have blind spots, and it’s normal to have areas of accurate self-awareness which need improvement. Recognizing the area you want to do some work on is a great first step toward improvement. A brave next step would be to ask those closest to you, whether at work or at home, which of the above qualities do they notice showing up in you?

“It is good to see ourselves as others see us.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

Again, it’s OK to have areas around accurate self-assessment which need some work. No shame. Welcome to the human race. However, once you’ve raised your self-awareness around areas of growth, there’s no need to keep repeating patterns which aren’t working for you, or others. The good news about emotional intelligence is that it can be developed and improved.

Take a moment to brainstorm ways you could do LESS of one of the above behaviors. Then give it a try with the next person you interact with. Then try it again…and again…and again, until it become a new habit.

Development tips

In Nick Wignall’s article, “5 Habits of Highly Self-Aware People”, he outlines five ways you can tell someone IS self-aware. These can serve as ideals or goals to work toward. Which of these would you like to develop in your own life?

  • They listen more than they talk.
  • They’re curious about their own minds.
  • They look for emotional blind spots.
  • They ask for feedback (and take it well).
  • They reflect on their values. [https://nickwignall.com/self-aware-people/

Choose one and focus on doing more of that for a few weeks. As with building any new habit, it will take time and repetition. Celebrate your successes along the way. Then keep going. After a few months, take some time to journal what you’ve learned, where you’ve improved and where you still need work. You can continue to focus on that one aspect, or pick a new one to work on. Then do it. And give yourself a little grace in the process. Not to burst your bubble, but you’ll never be perfect at this. The goal is to express more accurate self-assessment more of the time.

It helps to have someone helping you along the way. Consider enlisting the services of a social and emotional intelligence coach to walk alongside you as you shift in a new direction.

Accurate self-assessment and our world view

And accurate self-assessment not only applies to our view of ourselves, but our view of the world in which we live. I’m continually surprised when sharing my perspective on something, which is absolutely clear — and right! — in my mind, only to discover it’s completely different than what the next person is thinking. Same events, different perspectives.  How could that be? Which is right? Which is wrong? Could I possibly be missing?

Yes, I could. And also, I could also be right. Possibly a better question to ask is, “Can opposing views coexist in reality, each containing aspects of accuracy?” If yes, then it may be a combination of our accurate self-view and the perspective of others which bring us closer to awareness and truth.

Evolved EQ

Article and graphic submitted by guest author Joni Roylance

The journey to “achieving” Emotional Intelligence is a long one, and I have yet to meet anyone who says they have finished that journey. In other words, it’s an ever-evolving set of skills and qualities that are a direct response to the current culture, needs, and expectations of the American workforce.

The past almost two years in the workplace have been life changing for all of us, culture shaping for many companies, and have resulted in different expectations that talent has of their formal and informal leadership going forward. This infographic highlights some of the key shifts of what used to be acceptable EQ versus the elevated expectations of 2021 and beyond.

Please let us know your thoughts! 

12 Strategies for Conflict Management

Article submitted by guest author Rosalie Chamberlain

At some point when working with others, conflict arises. What do you do? Avoid it, jump in thoughtfully or jump in reactively?

To start, we must identify the real nature of the conflict. This is not always easy. Whether solving a problem or working toward a specific outcome, when there is a conflict that needs managing it is because of variations of perspectives and desired outcomes.

These tips can help you achieve an effective, mutual outcome.

  1. Be clear about your intention. Are you in it to win or to discover a win-win for all?
  2. Identify the issue or problem. In most conflicts, not all parties will see the issue from the same perspective.
  3. Separate the people involved from the problem. Personalities, history, emotional projection, and biases about others and circumstances often get in the way of staying focused on the issue.
  4. Invite perspectives with an open mind and empathy. Realizing that someone else’s experiences and/or fears play into the situation.
  5. Identify your own fears and concern. Is there data to back them up, or are they based on opinion instead of facts?
  6. What specific facts need to be addressed? Here is another opportunity to gather others’ perspectives.
  7. Come to a consensus. What is the ultimate goal that all parties want to achieve?
  8. Brainstorm actions. Think about the next steps to achieve the mutual goal.
  9. Explore the impact of any actions on the individuals and the organization (or family or community if utilizing the process on a personal basis).
  10. Identify what resources you have to achieve the goals and what resources will be needed.
  11. Set out tasks for parties to own and be accountable for.
  12. Have regular check-ins and discussions in the process, honoring the steps all have taken.

Handling conflict gives us an opportunity to recognize judgment and assumptions and suspend them. It allows us to step in with positive intention rather than avoidance or reactive emotion. It provides the groundwork to be the best we can be and assist others in being their best.

5 Ways to Put Stress in its Place

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Stress is your body’s reaction to anything which requires attention or action. It often arises when that thing which requires attention or action is not something we want to do, or feel like we’re able to do. Fear of failure, and fear of being seen as a failure can spur our feelings of stress, and prevent us from taking positive steps toward resolving the issues.

Not all stress is bad

Stress in and of itself is not negative. Stress is a normal, human response and actually has many positive benefits. For example, research shows that stress can lead to improved cognitive function and build resilience, to name a few. [https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-stress-you-didnt-know-about] It can increase short-term immunities, and motivate you to get it in gear and succeed. [https://www.health.com/condition/stress/5-weird-ways-stress-can-actually-be-good-for-you]

It’s the prolonged, day-in-day-out stress which tears us down. Research show that this unmanaged, prolonged stress can cause ill effects such as headaches, digestive issues, insomnia, elevated blood pressure, and chest pain, diabetes, skin conditions, depression, anxiety, and other emotional disorders. And if you already suffer from a disease, unmanaged stress can make your symptoms worsen. [https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/effects-of-stress-on-your-body]

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

– Sydney J. Harris

It may surprise you to learn what the real culprit of this unmanaged stress is. It’s not the negative circumstance — or the frustrating people involved — or the long list of to-dos which are surmounting. It’s how you respond to this prolonged stress which get you in trouble.

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”

— Hans Selye

Notice what your body is saying

A precursor to putting stress in its place is to learn to tune into your physical responses to stressful situations. How does your body alert you to stress? Some people experience a rapid heartbeat, while others get a sick pit in their stomach. Some report a dry mouth, clammy hands, or unusual sweating. Some get a headache, can’t eat, or eat too much. Some feel excessively tired, discouraged, and disheartened. Some get the cry feeling. Others feel something nigh to terror. What about you?

Next time you sense stress, pause to notice these physical “symptoms”. Not only do you want to note what are you feeling in your body, but where are you feeling it? Is it in your neck? Or maybe your shoulders? Tuning into these physical responses will put you on alert for when they come again…and they will visit again. These signals act as an early warning system enabling us to choose to act instead of react to the triggers.

Another facet to notice is how you treat others when you are stressed. You may go quiet, and become non-communicative, or you may resort to finger-pointing and yelling. You may throw yourself into work while avoiding important people in your life. You may act out in behaviors which damage relationships. You may hide your stress and pretend nothing is wrong, stuffing it inside (only for it to reappear later), or you may attack anyone and anything which comes within ten feet of you. If you can relate to any of these anti-social responses to stress, or are able to add your own, it may be time to try something new.

“The truth is that there is no actual stress or anxiety in the world; it’s your thoughts that create these false beliefs. You can’t package stress, touch it, or see it. There are only people engaged in stressful thinking.”

— Wayne Dyer

Learning a new way of responding to stress — putting stress in its place — can help us work calmly under pressure, push through tough times, and be able to use stressful events to improve our circumstances.

Stress Management Traits

Those with strong stress management skills accept that stress is inevitable and a part of everyday life. They are aware of how they feel when stress arises, and have adopted calming techniques in response. They can maintain their composure and make a choice to control aggressive, hostile, and irresponsible behaviors. They tap in to their vitality and strength to push back when needed, or let go. They take appropriate actions to alleviate the stress. They do not procrastinate. They choose not to sweat the small stuff and are able to keep things in perspective.

Those who struggle view stress as external and don’t realize that what they are feeling is their reaction to stress. They can feel unable to concentrate, become forgetful, and experience brain fog. They worry and tend to act impulsively, engaging in unpredictable, sometimes explosive or abusive behavior. Does this describe you?

If so, it may be time to make some shifts.

“Training your brain to manage stress won’t just affect the quality of your life, but perhaps even the length of it.”

— Amy Morin

5 Ways to Put Stress In Its Place

1-Just do it. Choose one thing you can do to tackle that stressful situation — and take one step. You most likely won’t fix it in one fell swoop, and at this stage, you’re not even trying to. Just elicit movement in a new direction. You know how good it feels to check something off of your to-do list? So…check something off of that to-do list! Breaking overwhelming tasks into bite-sized chunks make it easier to achieve a motivating sense of accomplishment, even if it’s something small.

“Doing something that is productive is a great way to alleviate emotional stress. Get your mind doing something that is productive.”

– Ziggy Marley

2-Flood yourself with positivity. Research shows that the more we exercise our signature strength(s), the more positive emotions we will feel. Do you know what provides you with positive emotions, such as joy, excitement, peace, hope, and contentment? Take the VIA Character Strengths assessment to discover your signature strengths. The report will list out your strengths. Take a look at your top three and brainstorms ways you can incorporate more of these things into your daily life – then do them, as often as possible. Not only will you feel better, this positivity will rewire your brain to be more creative and innovative as you search for ways to resolve stressful situations.

“In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.”

Lee Iacocca

3-Try to relax. I know, it’s the last thing you’d think of doing when you’re stressed, especially when there’s already too much on your plate. But finding a way to relax your body and your mind can refuel you with the energy needed to tackle what’s next. Take a walk, do something you enjoy, talk to a supportive friend. If nothing else, breathe. Breathe in deeply, and slowly, then exhale. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

“It’s a good idea always to do something relaxing prior to making an important decision in your life.”

– Paulo Coelho

4-Reflect on your past achievements–and failures! Yes, what you are facing is tough. It may even seem insurmountable. But you’ve done hard things before. Think back on times of success, times you worked hard and made it through. What skills did you lean into to get through the stress? You’ve done it before so you can do it again. Also remind yourself of times you failed, and made it out the other side. If you are still here today it is a testimony that the failure didn’t break you. You are resilient and wired to handle changes which lead to stress. You got this.

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”

– Michael Jordan

5-Don’t quit. Prolonged stress can be exhausting, but giving up will not solve anything. The only way to get there is to keep on keepin’ on. If you’re struggling to hang on, reach out to a trusted loved one or confidant. Find a counselor, coach, or therapist to talk to, and if you find you’re entertaining thoughts of hurting yourself or others, seek professional help immediately. In order to persevere, you need to keep yourself refreshed. What provides refreshment for you? Maybe it’s getting more sleep, or reading a book, or hanging out with friends. Maybe it’s listening to your favorite music, or exercising, or taking a mini-vacation to somewhere warm. Do these things as often as necessary to keep your perspective and energy fresh.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

– Winston Churchill

Handling stress is tough, but it can be done. Which of these will you do more of today?

“You can’t choose what life throws at you, but you can choose how you respond.”

― Maya Angelou

Managing Your Emotional Intelligence — Amygdala Hijack

Article contributed by guest author Awaz Ahmed

Different parts of the brain perform different functions. However, to take control of your emotions, it’s important to understand the amygdala’s function. To put it simple, the amygdala is the emotional part of the brain. The amygdala plays an important role in emotions and behaviors.

The amygdala is best known for the fight or flight response — the heart rate is increased and prepares for action. Oftentimes, it’s an automatic response, and individuals react quickly without any thought. So, when you feel threatened, the amygdala automatically activates the fight or flight response. This is triggered by emotions such as fear, anger, stress, and anxiety.

So what’s an amygdala hijack? Well, the prefrontal cortex receives input from different parts of the brain and helps process the information to adapt accordingly.

The way I like to describe the prefrontal cortex is “the CEO” of the brain. Amygdala hijack occurs when the amygdala is disabled from the prefrontal cortex. Without the prefrontal cortex, you’re unable to think clearly, make rational decisions and take control of your responses. Amygdala hijack triggers a much significant emotional threat with symptoms like crying, stomach ties, sweaty palms, and heart race. Managing your emotional intelligence helps you recognize, understand, and manage your emotions.

Tips On Preventing An Amygdala Hijack

  1. Engage your prefrontal cortex. You want to disengage the amygdala (the emotional part of your brain). This area is deep within the brain that sets off the fight or flight response.
  2. Count backward from 10 to take control before the amygdala takes control.
  3. Count to 10 and then respond.
  4. Try to pause and breathe to refocus yourself.
  5. Change scenery.
  6. Do any exercise for a rapid heart rate.
  7. Go for a walk.

Leadership in the Time of a Pandemic

Article submitted by guest author Kay P. Whitmore

Supporting your employees in a time when we are significantly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak requires different leadership skills.  As a leader, you are in unique position to provide support and offer resources to help manage stress and foster resilience.  You have an important role in providing guidance and direction to support team members and positive outcomes. As our national and organizational response unfolds, your own sense of calm, focus, and self-assurance will play a significant role in easing the stress of your team members.  Your role in helping employees to address their questions and needs and support them in understanding new policies and protocols cannot be underestimated.  In many ways, our managers are a critically important point of contact in these difficult times.  At the same time, it is especially important for managers to take care of themselves and seek support when needed so they are available to their teams and others. 

The workplace is often a place where people turn to others for help when they are dealing with problems. Unfortunately, our current circumstances have impacted so much of what we value at work.  Below are some of the many work-related factors that can add to stress during a pandemic, including:

  • Concern about the risk of being exposed to the virus at work
  • Taking care of personal and family needs while working
  • Managing a different workload
  • Lack of access to the tools and equipment needed to perform one’s job
  • Feeling guilty about not contributing enough to work or not being on the frontline
  • Uncertainty about the future of the workplace and/or employment
  • Learning new communication tools
  • Dealing with technical difficulties
  • Adapting to a different workspace and/or work schedule

Knowing so many factors may impact an employee’s ability to cope with their circumstances, it is important that you recognize what stress looks like.  Some of the signs may include the following, but know that anything that seems out of the ordinary be a sign your employee is experiencing difficulty. 

  • Irritation or anger
  • Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious
  • Lacking motivation
  • Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Change in appearance
  • Missing work, meetings

Stress reactions can fluctuate quite significantly.  An employee may have good days and days that are more difficult.  It’s helpful for you to share that these reactions are to be expected and that you can work together to move forward.

Experiencing an extended health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic can have positive as well as negative effects. For instance, it can lead to deeper connections with others. It can inspire greater authenticity, a shift in values, the realizations that one is stronger by enduring through complex, threatening circumstances. You can support employees through this process by demonstrating your interest in what they might be discovering about their changes in life and work.

As a manager in these and other challenging times there are many ways you can support your employees, build resilience and manage job stress.

  • Communicate with your coworkers, supervisors, and employees about job stress
  • Identify things that cause stress and work together to identify solutions
  • Encourage time off including breaks and vacation days
  • Encourage use of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if your company has one, and/or other mental health resources
  • Help employees to identify things they do not have control over and ways to manage the circumstances they are in with available resources.  Help employees to avoid spending too much time trying to predict the future and worry about what might happen
  • Promote consistent daily routines when possible — ideally one that is similar to their schedule before the pandemic
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule
  • Take breaks from work to stretch, exercise, or check in with colleagues, coworkers, family, and friends
  • Spend time outdoors, either being physically active or relaxing
  • Set a regular time to end your work for the day, if possible
  • Practice mindfulness.  Use or enroll in Headspace, Calm or other mindfulness programs. 
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting and mentally exhausting
  • Find ways to connect your people to others on your team and in the organization to talk with people they trust about their concerns
  • Encourage volunteering and acts of service.  Helping others improves one’s sense of control, belonging, and self-esteem
  • Remind employees that there are no set rules for working through something like this. Promote patience and an openness to exploring new ways to work and manage daily life.
  • Check in regularly. Increase positive encouragement, reinforcement, and gratitude for employees’ contributions.

An unpopular way to inspire

In a world where everyone appears to be shouting loudly (whether verbally or through the written word in their social media posts) to push others to think differently and act differently, it can seem as if forcing one’s hand is the only way to bring about change.

How did this become the norm, and when did the art of inspirational leadership lose its foothold?

It was the 14th century when the word inspire first came into use, carrying much of the same meaning then which it does today: to influence, move, or guide, not by force, but by a divine power, empowering followers to action. It was a metaphorical use of its Latin root inspirare which means to breathe or blow into to create something new. We figuratively refer to this when we say things like, “that vacation was a much-needed breath of fresh air”, or when a particular confrontation is stifling, “I need to get some air”.

I can’t help but think of a blow-up life raft, which, when uninflated, is rather useless, but when filled with air, is capable of fulfilling its intended purpose of floating upon turbulent waters to carry its passengers where they need to be. Inspirational leadership is like that. It’s the act of breathing life into others so they are then capable of being their best self, not only fulfilling their intended purpose, but motivated to rise above to create and achieve great things.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, and do more, you are a leader.”

— John Quincy Adams

Back to the yelling. When you hear inflamed insults, name-calling, and outbursts of verbal venom spewing forth, do you feel inspired to dream more, learn more, and do more? Do you experience inspirare, your heart and soul filled and brimming over with the oxygen-rich motivation to become your best self and accomplish bigger, better things? Or instead, do the angry affronts leave you feeling rather deflated?

Inspirational leadership is the ability to mobilize individuals and groups by articulating a clear, compelling and motivational vision for the future. Those who possess this superpower (I jest, we all are capable of it, with some superpower effort!) are able to bring people together in unified efforts to reach an intelligible, enthralling objective. And one very effective way to do this is to be a servant leader.

Servant leader. It’s a phrase first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 in his essay The Servant as Leader. It’s not the most provocative phrase, is it? Where’s the passion, the persuasiveness, the power that we so often associate with leadership? For many, the word servant evokes images of weakness and ineffectiveness. If this is you, I challenge you to allow for a paradigm shift, for this humble, quieter style of leadership may very well be the most powerful breath of fresh air needed to inspire others.

Leaders who practice servant leadership focus on others’ needs and objectives, and seek to understand the why behind those needs and objectives. They are able to see and appreciate others’ perspectives. They actively look for ways to increase others’ satisfaction and make themselves available, with gladness, to offer assistance.

Think of someone you know who truly understands you, who ‘gets’ your hopes and dreams, and actively does as much as they can to help make them happen. They listen to you. They validate your viewpoints. They take time out to be with you, show an interest in your life, and truly care. When asked, they are happy to offer support to help you be successful. They celebrate your achievements and mourn your losses, by your side.

If you are so fortunate to have someone like this in your life, a servant leader, you understand the positive impact of the inspirare they provide. Imagine if all of us had these life-breathers encircling and lifting us up. In his article in the Small Business Chronical, Fraser Sherman outlines how servant leadership, in the workplace, can boost morale. He notes “Employees feel valued and they know you are looking out for them. That inspires them to work with more enthusiasm and [better] serve the customers, which benefits your bottom line.” Servant leaders also encourage a collaborative workplace, and provide a model of authenticity where employees, in turn, feel safe enough to be authentic, deepening levels of trust within the organization.

Palena Neale, Ph.D., writes in her Forbes article, “Why Servant Leadership is More Important Than Ever“, that our current “new normal” with different ways of operating, sickness, layoffs, furloughs, and at-home employees make this novel style of leadership vital. She writes, “Wider societal impacts include adverse effects on the global economy. This calls for a more comprehensive, communal leadership approach: leadership that is focused on serving others.”

In contrast, think of leaders you know who are not on the lookout for the needs of their teams. They focus on their own objectives and often diminish the needs of others. They don’t make time for those ‘beneath’ them, and when they do interact, they are distracted, quick to give quick, “off the shelf” advice or solutions, hurrying the conversation along. They fail to go above and beyond, and team members find themselves saying things like, “I hate to bother you…” or “I’m sorry to take your time but…” at the start of any ask. These individuals tend to speak poorly of others (leaving you to wonder what they say about you when you’re not there), point blame away from themselves, and rarely stand up for the underdog.

Sadly, leaders such as this leave their teams feeling deflated and discouraged.

“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

It’s easy to point the finger at those in leadership. “If only leaders would figure this stuff out!”, we say in exasperation. However, we’re talking about emotional intelligence here — that ability to exhibit self-awareness and self-management, and tune into others’ emotions and manage our relationships with them appropriately. If you’re ever tried to control someone else’s behavior, you probably know how well that turns out. We can only change ourselves. So instead of waiting on those who bear the title, let’s instead take the brave task of looking inward as to how we can improve our own inspirational leadership skills. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Get to know people. Ask others how they are doing and really stop to listen. Use open-ended questions to understand the why behind their needs, hopes, dreams. One of my favorite coaching questions, after someone has shared, is,”What else?”
  • Keep an eye out for small ways you can be of service to others. Open the door for someone, offer up the best parking space, spend an extra 5 minutes listening. Offer to buy a colleague’s coffee. Give a sincere compliment. These little gives can help build a new habit of service.
  • Schedule time for others. I know you’re busy. We all are. If it helps, set aside a small amount of time each week on your calendar as ‘Others’ time, so doing something for others actually DOES fit into your schedule.
  • Adopt a yes attitude for a while. When others make requests, think how you CAN help them instead of all the reasons you can’t. If it’s a no, it’s a no, but before you commit to the no, consider alternate ways you could turn it into a yes.
  • Keep your promises. Nothing sucks the air out of someone like a broken promise. Be realistic in what you can do and if you do agree to help someone, make that the priority. You will always have ‘better’ things come up…other opportunities and demands which compete for your time and attention. Though those things may be more attractive — stick to your word.
  • Become an over-deliverer. It’s one thing to meet someone’s needs, but going above and beyond can inspire others to new heights. Again, start small. If someone needs five minutes of your time, offer them ten. If they ask to have coffee, take them out to lunch. If they need an hour off work to tend to stressful events at home, if possible, tell them to take the day.
  • Develop the habit of follow-up. We all appreciate it when someone gives us the time of day, but if it’s a one-off incident, the value of that connection begins to fade with time. Follow up with them. Check in with them, and ask about details you discussed last time. If you’re one of those people who says, “I’m not good with names — let alone details!”, write down the things they share with you and review before your next encounter.

Servant leaders have a desire to be the change someone else needs. These days, it’s not the most popular way of leading, and surely won’t get you a lot of attention. And for most of us, it doesn’t come naturally, and it doesn’t come easily. But it is a skill set worth developing. Not only will your efforts breathe life into those around you to be their best, they just may inspire you to discover your own purpose and direction as well.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

On a positive note

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Times such as these can feel overwhelming, far too trying and tiresome to attempt to maintain a positive outlook. With ever-changing restrictions, guidelines, and perspectives which continue to constrict their grip on life as we once knew it, many report feeling utterly exhausted. Mix in fear, uncertainty, and grief, and it’s a recipe for negativity. Add in a little financial struggle and a heaping lack of in-real-time social interaction, you may find yourself completely spent at the end of each day. Who can muster up the effort for a positive mindset with all of this going on? Choosing optimism can feel like just one more thing on your to-do list. It’s much easier to allow dejection and depression to curl their dark tendrils around what’s left of the light inside of you and choke out any positivity you have left.

But realistic optimism during tough circumstances is the very salve needed to soothe our wearied souls.

What does it mean to be realistically optimistic? To better understand, let’s take a quick exploration into the field of positive psychology. Jeana Magyar-Moe, Ph.D., defines positive psychology as the scientific study of optimal human functioning. Optimal human functioning. Let those words sink in. Would you describe your life right now as optimal human functioning? Most likely not! Martin Seligman, Ph.D., defines it as the scientific and applied approach to uncovering people’s strengths and promoting their positive functioning. Do you feel your strengths these days are being revealed in a way which promote positive functioning? If you’re anything like me, quarantines and stay-at-home orders have instead revealed how weak my character is when it comes to things like eating well and exercising. Oh, why is that fridge door so easy to open, and why is Netflix is so much easier to choose than a yoga workout? Similarily, Chris Peterson, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, says positive psychology is the scientific study of what goes right in life, happiness and joy, what makes life worth living, and the good life. Nice. For him. All it takes is one glance on social media to see most everyone around us telling us what is NOT going right in their lives.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not seeing a lot of people who are living out positive psychology these days.

Whichever definition you most connect to, there’s no need to argue which is best. We have plenty of other newsworthy items to argue about. I think we can all agree that an increase of positive emotions is something we all could use more of. But how to find that in a world swarmed with negativity?

Realistic optimism is not about pretending nothing bad is going on. It’s not hiding our heads in the sand, or looking the other way when negative events occur. Life is tough right now, no need to pretend that it’s not. But would you believe that a positive spirit is not so much about what’s going on around us?

Researchers have found that our circumstances only make up 10% of our happiness levels! I find that shocking. What do you mean, my ability to experience positive emotions is not based upon what is or is not happening to me? Oddly, studies show that 85% of the stuff we worry about ends up having a positive or neutral outcome? Think back on the last thing you were really worried about — did it actually come to pass to the degree you expected?

And while 50% of our happiness results from our genetics, the remaining 40% is up to us, through our choices and actions!

You’ve probably heard of emotional intelligence — that ability to perceive the emotions you an others are feeling, in the moment, and manage your behaviors and relationships appropriately. The competencies which make up emotional intelligence are really about behaviors — behaviors based upon the emotions we feel. Two of these competencies, realistic optimism and resilience, are closely connected to positive psychology. Realistic optimism is expecting success instead of failure, seeing opportunities instead of threats, expecting the future will bring positive change. Resilience is perseverance and diligence in the face of setbacks. I sure like the sound of each of those. But easier said than done.

Why have a positive outlook? Through her work around the science of positivity, researcher and author Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues discovered that positive emotions have superpowers. They can broaden our awareness, attention and cognitive abilities. They can build our creativity and resiliency. They allows us to see a wider range of possibilities, unlike negativity, which tamps down our innovative ideas. Positivity helps us be more socially connected and build stronger relationships, and has actually been proven to undo the psysiological damage that persistent negative emotions can cause. [https://positivepsychology.com/broaden-build-theory/].

And all of that can happen despite the negative circumstances which surround us!

I know, it’s hard. Honestly, I think it’s easier to allow negativity to take rein, allowing our emotions to run amok, without any awareness or management. Think back on a time when someone recently made you very mad. Remember the physical symptoms you felt? Maybe your heart was racing, your mouth became dry, and you felt a sick pit in your stomach. Maybe your face flushed, your jaw clenched, and you found your hands became fists. And the thoughts which result from that hard-hit of negative emotions! It’s probably not a good idea to mention them here.

These emotions which lead to thoughts are what lead to our actions. Actions which, often, later, when we lie down in bed and think back on our day, make us cringe. It’s much easier to let negativity rule than take hold and choose positivity. Consider this, for example. When you read a post on social media that makes your blood boil — which is easier, in the moment: to type something smart aleck or cutting, or to choose to tell them something you appreciate about them?! Negativity is a much easier choice. However, if we continue to let negative emotions take the lead, we’ll quickly and easily end up in Debby Downer’s neighborhood. But who wants to live there?

How do you know if you could grow in realistic optimism? See if any of these ring true for you. People who struggle with an positive outlook tend to see failure as permanent and that difficulties, when they arise, will last a long time. They demonstrate inflexible thinking, and, as a result, can feel powerless and helpless. They expect the worst and often dwell in the past, engaging in negative self-talk. They operate from a fixed mindset and often believe that every misfortune is their own fault and attribute their success to luck rather than their own capabilities. They blame their circumstances for their misfortune and love to tell you about everything that has gone wrong over the days, months, and years. Does this sound like you?

On the other hand, those who possess a positive spirit see unfortunate events as temporary, and use each struggle to develop better coping skills. Their self-talk speaks to them of success because they believe they will succeed. These individuals operate from a growth mindset, believing negative events are temporary and happen to everyone. They are unfazed by defeat and bounce back after disappointments. They’re flexible, adaptable, and look for ways to allow failures to teach them resiliency. Do you know anyone like this?

Carol Dweck speaks of these two mindsets in her book, Mindset (2015). She describes a fixed mindset as one which assumes our character and intelligence are static, and our success is based upon of inherent intelligence, one that’s set at a fixed standard. In other words, there’s no room to improve or grow. Those with this mindset avoid failure at all cost to maintain their sense of worth. In contrast, Dweck notes that a growth mindset “thrives on challenges and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence, but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.” Do you see the difference?

She also goes on to say, “Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.” [Mindset, 2015]

In other words, most of the goals we think will make us happy, often don’t. In contrast, it’s our mindset which determines our level of happiness.

The beautiful thing about a positive spirit is that it can be developed, no matter how negative you’re feeling today, and no matter the ugly circumstances swirling around you. A model to follow is PERMA, developed by psychologist, educator, and author Martin Seligman. Each letter of PERMA represents things we need in our lives to experience more positive emotions. Seligman coined the phrase, “Learned Optimism”, because a positive outlook for many of us does not come naturally. We have to choose PERMA, to learn it, and not wait for it to just happen by some act of fate.

Which one of these could you use more of?

Positive Emotion. In order to have a positive outlook, we need to feel positive emotions. Experiencing emotions like joy, hope, contentment, excitement, and giddiness, on a regular basis, can increase our levels of positivity immensely. Take note of the emotions you feel most strongly each day. If the negatives outweigh the positives, take some time to do the things which create positive emotions for you.

Engagement. Do you absorb yourself in your activities fully or are you a multi-tasker? If the latter, your ability to engage may be limited. Research shows that it really is difficult to multi-task — though you may be doing two things at once, one of them is getting more focus and attention which means the other is put on the back burner. Learning to focus on one thing at a time and relish the experience with all of your senses — engaging — is vital to building positivity.

Relationships. Experiencing deep, meaningful relationships, and taking the time to connect with those we care about, is probably the foremost way to build positivity. Make a list of those you love being around, and note why. Figure out ways to reach out and connect with them on a regular basis. Need more friends? Seek out ways to make new connections and build relationships, whether it’s joining a social group or expanding your friendship circles to include new faces.

Meaning. What is your life purpose, and how does that show up in your day-to-day activities? Can you connect that purpose to the work you do? Does it show up in your personal relationships? Knowing why you do the things you do and aligning them with your values can add meaning to everything you do. Try writing down your values, the things which are most important to you, and see what shifts you need to make to better align your life with those values. Seek the help of a coach or counselor if needed.

Accomplishment. If you’re a to do list-maker, you know how good it feels to check off a box when you complete a task. Accomplishments, both great and small, make us feel good. And they increase our motivation to continue to be successful. Looking back on past accomplishments can spur us toward greater goals. Try it. What did you accomplish today? Write them down, and circle the items you are most proud of. Share an accomplishment with a friend. Celebrate your wins. Try this for a week, or a month, and watch your positivity grow.

From a 20,000 feet view, here are a few ways to cultivate PERMA:

Challenge your negative thoughts about past events and why they happened.
-View negative experiences as neither personal nor permanent (“this too shall pass”)
-Consider the worst-case scenario and come up with actionable strategies to avoid it
-Remember bad things happen to everyone (the grass isn’t always greener)

And on a more down-to-earth level, here are some practices to incorporate PERMA into your day, week, month, and year, proven to increase your positive emotions:

Connect with friends/family/new people

Change your setting

Get outside and spend time in nature

–Find something that makes you laugh — and laugh!

Exercise (aerobic and cardio work best)

Do something kind for someone else– giving back, community engagement, volunteering, etc.

Activate your curiosity and learn something new

–Begin a gratitude jar/journal/letter

Reflect on a past achievements and celebrate them

Set a new goal and jot down how you’ll get there

Count your blessings and small kindnesses which happen every day

Savor moments, big and small

–Find flow (get lost doing something you love)

By choosing just one of these to start doing each day, with repeated practice, you will increase your positive emotions. Don’t believe me? Give it a try and find out. It can’t hurt to try. Your weary soul deserves a little positivity. And what an amazing example you could set for others who think they have to sink into the downward spiral of negativity. Who knows, your positive emotions may inspire them to do the same.

You and this world need your positivity.

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