Archive for the ‘Mindfulness’ Category

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.

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.

Journaling for Better Emotional Health

Article submitted by guest author Kelly Simmerman

When I was a teenager, I kept a diary hidden under my mattress. It was a place to confess my struggles and fears without judgment or punishment. It felt good to get all those thoughts and feelings out of my head and down on paper. The world seemed clearer.

Photo Credit Jeff James

I stopped using a diary when I got older. But the concept and its benefits still apply. Now, it’s called journaling. It’s simply writing down your thoughts and feelings to understand them more clearly. And if you struggle with stress, depression, or anxiety, keeping a journal can be a great idea. It can help you gain control of your emotions and improve your emotional health.

One of the ways to deal with any overwhelming emotion is to find a healthy way to express yourself. This makes a journal a breakthrough tool in managing issues such as:

–Anxiety

–Stress

–Depression

–Moodiness

–Problems, fears, and concerns

–Inner critique

Tracking feelings day-to-day is essential. That way, we can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them. Also, identifying and calling out negative thoughts and behaviors offers clarity.

Photo Credit Ben White

Once you’ve identified your stressors, you can work on a plan to resolve the problems and reduce your stress, providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and better outcomes.

Researchers found that writing three to five times for 15 minutes a session was effective to help participants deal with emotional and even traumatic events. “Those who do so generally have significantly better physical and psychological outcomes compared with those who write about neutral topics,” said Karen Baikie and Kay Wilhelm, the authors of the article published by the Cambridge University Press.

I’m sure, as coaches and therapists, you know the basics of how to journal, so I won’t bore you with too many details about the how. I will say this… Journaling is most effective when you do it every day. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or sentence structure. The only rule is that once you begin writing, you continue until the time is up.

Photo Credit Hanna Olinger

Also, notice your body as you write. Be aware of the experience of writing. Notice words that made your shoulders hunch as you wrote them, observe where you gripped the pen tighter, or your breathing eased. This is putting you in relationship with your writing and allowing you to witness your brain’s processes.

Putting a pen to paper is a cathartic and private way for you to deal with the stress of your daily life, whatever that stress might be. When you keep a journal, you’re able to approach and release the anxiety you have. Using a journal allows you to process your emotions in a place that is safe and secure like sharing secrets with a best friend who never judges.

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”       

— Natalie Goldberg

Long Term Outcomes

• Improved mood/affect
• Helps prioritize problems, fears, and concerns
• Feeling of greater psychological well-being
• Reduced depressive symptoms
• Reduced absenteeism from work
• Quicker re-employment after job loss
• Improved working memory
• Track progress in coaching or therapy work

Why Does This Happen

Writing heals, empowers and transforms. Whether in a journal, a travel log, writing lyrics or poetry, to composing a love letter, writing allows us to clear our mind. And this uncluttering offers mind space so that we can get real with ourselves.

Rather than pushing parts of us away, we are instead creating an environment that allows us to simply loosen our grip. We don’t have to fix anything. All we’re doing is bringing tender, nonjudgmental attention to our thoughts and feelings and making room for whatever is living there. Journaling allows for this. So instead of trying to let things go, I invite the concept of– let things be.

“Journal writing gives us insights into who we are, who we were, and who we can become.” 

— Sandra Marinella

Something else is happening when we take pen to paper. Writing stimulates the Reticular Activating System, which filters through the many topics that your brain processes and determines which points to bring to the forefront. There is a connection between our hands, our arms, our eyes, our brains, and our emotions. We are all integrated beings. At times, it doesn’t feel like it, but all this is happening within one body. Journaling brings all those parts of us together to impact our emotional well-being and mental health.

Baikie, K., & Wilhelm, K. (2005). Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 11(5), 338-346. doi:10.1192/apt.11.5.338

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

Why Can’t We Get Along?

Article submitted by Amy Sargent

Disagreements are a normal part of everyday life. Gather more than one person in any room, even a virtual room, and given enough time, there will be variances of opinions. And this can be a powerful thing. Many of our innovative ideas come when we are exposed to fresh perspectives.

The Blame Game

The problem arises when we let our differences erupt into conflict, and start playing the blame game. At this point, it’s no longer a matter of disagreement, but a struggle for power. And suddenly, we’re just not getting along.

Learning how to resolve conflicts can lead to more cohesive work teams and healthier relationships at home.

But getting along, especially with those we don’t particularly like, and definitely those we don’t agree with, is easier said than done. Many of us are conflict-avoiders, so when disputes erupt, we shy away from resolve. A common tactic to avoid conflict is to place blame on the other person.

We learn at an early age that blaming can sometimes get us out of trouble…at least temporarily. As a child, pointing the finger at one of my ornery brothers “saved” me, countless times, from getting grounded, which made it appear to be a lucrative strategy! As we move into adulthood, many of us do not learn conflict resolution skills, and carry this childish behavior into our grown-up relationships, both at work and at home. It doesn’t take long to realize that assigning blame becomes a hindrance to healthy, happy connections with others. Sure, the technique may seem to protect our self-esteem, but it does nothing to move us toward resolve.

In her article, Workplace Blame is Contagious and Detrimental, Susan Krauss Whitbourne shares this: “Unlike other games, the more often you play the blame game, the more you lose.” Other studies show that casting blame is contagious, and negatively effects creativity and productivity [https://www.livescience.com/8018-workplace-blame-contagious-detrimental.html]. Nancy Colier, in a Psychology Today article, says this: “[Blame] blocks your personal growth, damages your relationships, and gets in the way of your own well-being.” [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201601/4-steps-stop-blaming]

Avoiding Action

Blaming allows us to avoid action. Yet action is the very thing needed to heal rifts.

Pat Ladouceur, in an article entitled, Who’s Fault Is It?, says, insightfully, “Blame separates people from your values, beliefs, and commitment. If the problem belongs to someone else, then you have a reason to dig in your heels. You miss an opportunity to grow, to stretch, to challenge yourself. You might miss a chance to change the way you think or act, or a chance to be deeply honest: by sharing your fear, or disappointment, or sadness in a heartfelt way.” [https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/whose-fault-is-it-how-blame-sabotages-relationships/]

Ladouceur goes on to say, “Blame creates inaction. When someone blames, it’s as if they’re handing over control of the situation. “I can’t change until you do,” is the implicit message. The solution is in their partner’s hands.”

Self-Awareness

We all blame others from time to time. It is a learned behavior, a very human behavior. But it is something we can learn to do less of. Self-awareness, the first competency of emotional intelligence, can pave the way toward growth. But sometimes we have blind spots, and may not recognize how often we’re making someone else carry the responsibility for our own actions.

“People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.

— J. Michael Straczynski

How do you know if you’re a finger pointer? Try the following test, developed by Nancy Colier. Ask yourself these questions, and answer with either yes or no:

  1. Would it be normal for you to respond to someone with a problem by telling him why he is to blame for his problem?
  2. In relationships with friends and family, do you often find yourself pointing the finger? Do you tell others how and why they are wrong, using phrases such as You did it, or, It’s your fault?
  3. When you confront difficulties or inconveniences, is it common for you to identify and ruminate over who or what is to blame? 
  4. When you are upset or in a difficult situation, do you frequently blame someone for making you feel the way you do? 

Colier states, “If you answered yes to any one of these questions, you are a blamer. If you answered yes to multiple questions, then your blaming behavior may very well be compromising your relationships, your well-being, and your personal evolution.”  [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201601/4-steps-stop-blaming]

How did you do?

If you’re a blamer, no shame. You are not alone. But if you are interested in growth, development, and relationship health, both at home and at work, at some point the blame has to stop. Whitbourne goes on to say this, “Learning to tell when you need to own up to your role in a bad situation will help you grow from your experiences, and ultimately help you achieve more fulfilling relationships.” [https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201509/5-reasons-we-play-the-blame-game]

Making Shifts

No matter how long you’ve been playing the blame game, you can start today to make a shift. Here are ten ways to get along with others better (and lay down the blame):

1-Set an intention to stop blaming. As with any goal, it’s helpful to be clear about your intentions. Say it aloud, share it with a trusted friend, write it down. It could be as simple as, “I intend to own my own role in my conflicts” or “I intend to stop blaming others.”

2-Tune in. Notice when you shift blame and take note. Is it when you are around a certain person? Is it only at work, or only at home? Is it when you know you’ve done something in opposition to your values? Is it when you are hungry, or tired, or emotionally spent? A great first step to stop playing the blame game is to simply notice when you blame, and why.

3-Develop your empathetic skills. It’s hard to show empathy toward someone when you’re angry with them…and it’s the last thing you’ll feel like doing! But try, difficult as it may be, to put yourself in their shoes. Ask open-ended questions as you seek to understand their perspective. Listen without judgement and ask clarifying questions. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying — you just want to validate their feelings. The emotions they are feeling — anger, frustration, irritation, injustice — most likely are very similar to what you’re experiencing. The feelings are legit — as are yours. Express clearly, emphatically, and often, that you understand how they’re feeling.

4-Seek a fresh perspective. Have you noticed that when you’re in conflict, it’s all you can think about? It’s the first thing which pops into your head in the morning, and the last thing you ruminate on when you lie down to sleep. Sometimes it can even prevent a good, restful sleep! This consumption can be detrimental to conflict resolve, because the longer you obsess on a particular topic, the bigger and more difficult it seems to become. You need a breath of fresh air. Get outside, engage in some exercise, talk to others (about anything but the conflict), watch a movie, read a book…anything to help you get your brain off the topic for a reprieve. Taking a ‘break’ enables you to step back and put your conflict into a larger-world perspective.

5-Name it to Tame it. Often when we shift blame, it’s to avoid uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, shame, hurt, disappointment, anger, etc. I get it. Negative feelings are no fun! Which emotion(s) are you attempting to avoid by pointing your finger? Be specific. Try to think of these emotions, as much as they may make you squirm, as dear friends, willing to tell you the truth. Emotions provide valuable insights into what’s really going on. Instead of stuffing them inside or pretending they’re nonexistent, allow yourself to name them, feel them, and note why they are there. Journal or talk to someone about these emotions.

6-Learn to say “I’m sorry”. Yes, they’re two of the hardest words to say when you feel wronged, yet so very powerful. Obviously, conflict is rarely one person’s fault. The Latin root of the word speaks for itself. Conflict comes from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see con-) + fligere “to strike”[https://www.etymonline.com/word/conflict#:~:text=conflict]. Remember, it takes two to tango. Own your contribution to the problem –even if you didn’t ‘start it’ — and apologize for the hurtful things you’ve said and done. Don’t wait for the other person to apologize first, because you may be waiting a long, long time. You can’t control their actions, but you can control yours.

7-Take Constructive Action. Instead of ruminating ’round and ’round on who’s fault it is, instead, shift your focus on what you can do to turn things around. Read a book on conflict resolve. Enroll in a class. Take on a new project. Help them out. Offer a kind word. Treat them to lunch. Not only will constructive actions help you focus on something other than the conflict, your energy will be repurposed elsewhere, pointing the way to personal and professional growth.

8-Decide to forgive. There is a phrase, “Hurt people hurt people.” Each of us have been hurt at some point or another, and each of us (whether wittingly or unwittingly) have hurt others. Recognize that conflict happens, and, even if someone is not owning their role in it, you can still choose to let go of trying to bring some sort of punishment or penalty upon them. It doesn’t mean you need to become best friends. But you can free yourself by forgiving yourself, and the other person, for the poor behavior.

9-Seek out the help of others. Don’t feel like you have to go it alone. Behavior change is much more palatable — and effective — when you have others walking alongside you. Enlist the help of a coach or counselor. Find a trusted friend or colleague who will speak the truth, and spur you along your new path. Choose a mentor and spend time learning from them.

10-Celebrate your wins. Congratulate yourself when you are able to own your role in conflict, and stop assigning blame. Big changes consist of small, day-to-day steps in the right direction. Try reflecting on your improvements at the end of each week, and keep a journal detailing your growth. Share your successes with a trusted friend, family member, or mentor and find ways to celebrate your growth.

Shifting habits such as blaming others can be difficult to do, and does not happen overnight. Offer yourself grace as you move in a new direction. You may never reach ‘perfection’ (does it even exist?), but keep moving, step by step, toward a new way of behaving. In doing so, you’ll begin to experience new levels of health in your relationships — and find that you actually can get along with others…even if you don’t agree with them!

“Everybody is responsible for their own actions. It’s easy to point the finger at somebody else, but a real man, a real woman, a real person knows when it’s time to take the blame and when to take responsibility for their own actions.”

— Marcus Smart

Catalyzing Change and the Brain

Article contributed by guest author Sandra Marin

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Since the beginning of time, people have liked routine. We like the known. It makes us feel in control. Safe and comfortable. Boy does this ever resonant now during these Covid times. So, it is no surprise that many of us resist change. Even if we are not 100% satisfied with status quo, we will hold onto it. Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t. But maybe not….

Our resistance to change is not because we are stubborn or want to be difficult (at least not you or me). It is a reflection of our brains. The brain loves to make sense of the world and helps us control our lives. This is an excellent thing. It keeps us safe.  And, like so many things, if overdone, can be harmful. The inability to change or grow can result in stagnation. No progress. Not good for an individual, a society or a country. 

February’s “coffee chat” topic, hosted by The Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence was Catalyzing Change. This is one of the 26 competencies that make up their social and emotional intelligence model. 

During our chat we talked about many things and what I want to focus on today is the benefit of becoming more of a change catalyzer and less of a change resistor. In particular focusing on one critical benefit that may not be the first one that comes to mind: the positive impact of change on brain health. Yup, change can help our brains remain agile throughout our lives. 

Neuroscience: 1 second intro

Our brains grow and change naturally. Often quite dramatically until around our mid to late 20’s. Historical thinking about the brain was that once we became adults our brains were “hard -wired” and stopped changing. The die was cast. Or so we thought. Recent neuroscience research shows that our brains are much more flexible than we first thought, hence the term neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the term that describes the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways and ignore or lose those that are no longer used. We can change our habits, biases and behaviours. Not easy, but possible.

The main benefit of becoming a change catalyzer is that change can help keep our brains agile throughout our life. We can lead richer, happier and healthier lives. In fact, according to neuroscientist and author David Eagleman the single most important thing we can do for our brains is to cognitively challenge them. And that means embracing change. 

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Embracing Change: So what can you do to become more of a change catalyzer and improve the health of your brain? Start small to build your comfort level with change.

For example:

  • Take different routes to and from frequent destinations.
  • Try new restaurants and new types of cuisine.
  • Switch hands for common tasks such as brushing your teeth.
  • Expand your horizons in general. This can be listening to music, reading books, watching movies from styles and genres that you normally wouldn’t.

Of course the small things are not enough. Move on to more challenging activities and behaviours. Such as:

  •  Learn a new language or instrument. 
  • Embrace mistakes. We learn through trial and error. Think less about failing and more about exposing yourself to new activities and experiences. 
  • Practice, and more practice. Simply doing something once is not enough to create a new pathway in the brain. Try, try, and try again. If not perfect, practice does make better. 
  • Be open to new ideas and practices.  Maybe you have heard someone (not you of course) say “ if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or “ we’ve always done it this way.” Resist the urge to stop there.  Go further and ask “ so what if it did change?What then?” 
  • Focus. Be present. Breathe. Deeply. Forget multi-tasking. Our brains are not wired for that. In fact the more we take on, the more our bodies are flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. Take up yoga, meditation or simply go for a walk in nature. 
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“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.” Robin Sharma

I hope I have whetted your appetite for more on neuroscience, change and emotional intelligence. Please feel free to share your comments, questions, tips.

Resources 

There are many excellent resources on neuroscience. Here are three that relate to this article. 

 “The Nun Study”. This study showed that multilingualism and linguistic ability may reduce the risk of developing dementia. Science Daily September 12, 2019 University of Waterloo.

 “The Four Underling Principles of Changing your Brain “Tara Swart, neuroscientist and author, Forbes March 27, 2018.

 “Livewired” by David Eagleman 2020

Ending the Year with Celebration

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

It’s been quite the year. The thought of looking back on 2020 with a celebratory outlook may seem like a joke. A bad joke. If I asked you to name for me all the negative things which have happened this past year, I’m guessing you could rattle off a dozen or two without effort. Me too. It makes sense that we may not find reason to celebrate this past year, in any shape or form.

But it’s no joke. Though the heartaches and disappointments we’ve experienced are very real–not to mention the powerful, negative emotions which accompanied them–they don’t encompass everything we’ve experienced. Sprinkled throughout the bad have been very good things, though they may take a little more work to remember. And learning to reflect on the positives alongside the negatives of this past year can have a great impact on how well we launch the coming year.

If you’ve been a human on this earth for very long, you are well aware that life is a jumble of joys and pains, happys and sads, positives and negatives. And without the lows we can’t fully experience the highs.

But be aware of this: our brains have a negative bias. Think about the last time you felt really, really discouraged or down. Maybe it was this morning. Did you notice how easy it was to ruminate on the negative, and how those thoughts affected other thoughts and actions you entertained during the negativity? It’s like we get tunnel vision and nothing seems to go well. It’s normal because our brains are wired to function this way. Kendra Cherry, in her article, “What is the Negativity Bias?”, notes, “It is the “bad things” that grab our attention, stick to our memories, and, in many cases, influence the decisions that we make.” In one study, researchers found that the cerebral cortex, the part of our brain which plays a key role in perception, awareness, thought, memory, and consciousness, registered a much strong response to negative images than positive ones. Originally, this leaning toward the negative was probably a survival adaption, in times when danger was ever-present. Those who were attuned to potential danger had a greater chance of survival. But for many of us, we no longer in constant physical harm. Yet the negative bias remains. If we’re not careful, this slant can have a harmful effect on our relationships and decision-making. [https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-bias-4589618]. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill, Founding Co-Chair of the Association of Positive Emotion Laboratories, and President of the International Positive Psychology Association, has done extensive research on the power of positive and negative emotions. Her work shows that negative emotions narrow our minds, to the point of seeing fewer options, diminishing our creativity and problem-solving skills, assets we most need when times are tough. [https://www.huffpost.com/entry/positive-thinking_b_351220].

“This bias toward the negative leads you to pay much more attention to the bad things that happen, making them seem much more important than they really are.” — Kendra Cherry

We also have the ability to choose a positive mindset, and make a choice to celebrate our wins, no matter how small or few and far between. And in doing so, we can begin to see our way through the tough times. I’ll never forget the example of this I experienced when I was in Africa, on a mission trip. Our small team paid a visit to a home (a one-room structure made of mud bricks with a dirt floor, which housed a family of seven), where one woman offered up the most heartfelt prayer of thanks I had ever heard. As she enthusiastically expressed her gratitude for their “overflowing and abundant blessings”, I looked around me and saw nothing but poverty…a rusted bicycle with a flat tire, the dilapidated house, children in ragged clothing with flies crawling on their dirt-encrusted skin, broken, cracked cooking pots, and an array of old, yellow gas cans scattered across the hard-packed ground, to be used for gathering water…yet she exhibited more joy than I had ever witnessed. This amazing woman chose to see the good aspects of her life and celebrate her wins despite her tough circumstances. She made a lasting impact upon me.

James Clear, in an article entitled, “The Science of Positive Thinking: How Positive Thoughts Build Your Skills, Boost Your Health, and Improve Your Work”, says this: “When you are experiencing positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love, you will see more possibilities in your life.” In turn, positive emotions allow us to build new skills and resources vital to navigating tough circumstances. [https://jamesclear.com/positive-thinking]

So, choosing to ruminate losses or celebrate wins is a choice. We get to decide which mindset we’ll make a part of our everyday routine, and no one can make the choice for us. If we decide to focus on what’s gone wrong, we’ll be walking in step with most humans who are bent on negativity. However, if developing a celebratory mindset is appealing, here are a few ways to get started:

Reflect on what went wrong. What went wrong? Yes, it’s a surprising one, but ignoring negativities won’t help. Acknowledging your struggles and allowing yourself to experience grief from losses can actually help you move forward. Write these down and/or find a close friend or counselor to talk through them with if needed.

Note the emotions you felt during the tough times. Try to name them, specifically, and connect each to the why. For example, you could say, “I felt disappointed, and angry, because my company let me go and I had live off of unemployment. This resulted in me feeling downhearted and cynical.”

With each wrong, list one good thing which came along with it. This may be a stretch to discover, but they are there. For example, if you lost your job, maybe you were able to get more sleep due to the extra time off work, which improved your physical health. Maybe the process sent you on a job search to find a career you actually enjoy. Possibly you were able to encourage others who were in the same shoes as you. Find the positive side effects of the negative events and write them down.

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” – Og Mandino

Express gratitude for the things that went south because of the joys which came along with them. There are many ways to express gratitude, but simply saying “Thank you” aloud is a good place to start. You could write an “I’m thankful for ____” list, or have a conversation with a friend and share your appreciation for the good and the bad with them.

Now remember all the things that went well. These may be as trivial as finding a mask in your coat pocket when you thought you’d forgotten to bring one to the grocery, or as grand as business successes or relationship wins. Write these down, tell them to a friend, add them to your journal. Be sure to acknowledge the people who contributed to your successes, and personally thank them.

Don’t underestimate the impact you are having on others. Even if you think others aren’t watching, you may be surprised how the simplest of actions affect others. Try this one on for size: Post a negative comment on your social media page and sit back and watch how many people chime in with negativity. On the flip side, phone a friend simply to let them know how much you appreciate them, and be specific with your words. Watch and see whether this causes them to feel discouraged or encouraged. Just as negativity breeds negativity, positivity breeds positivity. If not for yourself, embrace a positive mindset to encourage others.

“Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.” – Elie Weisel

Remember that adversity builds resilience. There’s the old fable of the donkey whose master no longer wanted him, so he threw the poor animal into a deep, dark pit and began scooping shovelfuls of dirt to bury him. Instead of letting this terrible act of unkindness defeat him, the ingenious donkey instead tamped the dirt down with his small hooves and built a staircase, upon which he used to ascend out of the dark pit. How can you repurpose the troubles of 2020 to construct solutions and climb out of your pit?

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” – Nelson Mandela

Know that you are stronger than you think. Robert Schuller, pastor, motivational speaker, and author, once said, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” Just as the positive emotions of joyful events eventually fades, so does the pain from losses. In other words, emotions come and go, but we are able to keep on keepin’ on. A 2002 study of widow and widowers proved this point, in which, barring those who experienced chronic grief, the data showed that most participants returned to their baseline of functioning after a year and a half. [https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1525/ctx.2006.5.4.22]. As my kids and I used to remind ourselves when times were challenging, “We can do hard things.”

Incorporating these practices into our day-to-day mindset won’t necessarily come naturally or easily. Embracing positivity takes effort, especially when the popular mindset is to focus on what’s gone wrong. But this shift can provide the fuel necessary to start the new year off on a good foot. Instead of looking back on 2020 as the worst year ever, consider reflecting on the past year in a new light. Find those positives — the new skills developed, the deeper connections built, the lessons learned, the insights incurred — and celebrate 2020 as the year you ________! (fill in the blank)

This positive-but-realistic mindset of celebration can frame the coming year with the fresh, innovative outlook needed to navigate what’s to come.

“It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves that can never, ever, be dimmed.” – Doe Zantamata

Giving Thanks When You’re Not Thankful

“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.”– Amy Collette

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

I’m guessing you understand the value of gratitude. You’ve been told how a thankful heart can change your perspective, open up possibilities, and produce positive emotions. You’ve learned that expressing thanks can lift your spirits and make others feel appreciated. You probably know that gratitude can help develop resilience as you go through difficult times. And as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, you’re reminded it is a time to be thankful.

But what if you’re not feeling thankful?

Times are tough. The fear, uncertainty, and sense of a loss of control over life as you once knew it can feel overwhelming. Just watch the news or scan your social media feed and you’ll see a plethora of negative stories and posts, with an ample supply of “2020: Worst Year Ever!” memes. The loss that people are experiencing seems to be present at every turn. You may have lost your job. You may have lost a loved one. You may have lost your social life. You may have lost your confidence in leadership. You may have lost your ability to get out and exercise at your favorite gym or enjoy a meal at your favorite restaurant. You may have lost your [you fill in the blank]. All of this loss can leave you feeling discontent and discouraged, and a far cry from feeling thankful. So how are you supposed to feel thankful when everything’s going wrong?

“Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present-oriented.”– Sonja Lyubomirsky

Waiting around for the feeling of gratitude to come along may prove to be a long, long wait. Instead, try taking a few steps in a grateful direction and see if the feelings follow.

1-Keep a thankful jar. Find a notepad and an old, colorful jar and place it somewhere you can see it and reach it conveniently. Each time something positive happens, no matter how great or how small, write it down on a small scrap of paper, fold it, and place it in the jar. Try to write at least one thing a day (or more). You may have to search for positives at first, but look closely. They’re there.

2-Use the words, “thank you” often in your daily vocabulary. Who can you thank? Maybe a friend shared a kind word, or someone opened a door for you. Maybe someone liked your post, or someone gave you that choice parking spot. Even if you feel something was owed you (like a client finally sending that payment!), make it a habit to say thanks.

3-Reflect back on past successes, and think about who helped you reach those milestones. Maybe your parents served as a source of encouragement, or you had a mentor who took time out of their busy schedule for you. Take a moment to send them a text to let them know how much you appreciate them. Be specific with your praise.

4-Notice the little things and savor. From where you’re sitting as you read this, look up and look around. Allow your eyes to fall on something beautiful, something cherished, something you value. It may be an expensive item or a small trinket — cost doesn’t matter. Take a moment to note why this item brings you joy. Try doing this when you take a walk outside or on your commute to work.

5-Share a positive story with a friend. Research shows that retelling a positive event you experienced enables you feel the positive emotions associated with that event again and again — as often as you tell it — and allows the listener to feel them as well! Think back on something which brought you a host of positive emotions and find a friend to share the joy.

6-Be kind to yourself. Many are feeling isolated these days, and have very little interaction with others. So who better to get in the habit of showing kindnesses to than yourself? Take good care of your body (sleep, eating, exercise) and celebrate your successes. Forgive yourself of past wrongs and appreciate yourself for the person you are and are becoming. Thank yourself for the efforts you are putting into growth and change.

“We don’t need to see things differently to be grateful, rather be grateful to see things differently.” — Niki Hardy

Gratitude may be a new skill for you. But as with any new skill set, practice makes perfect. The more you are able to incorporate exercises such as these into your daily life, the more gratitude you’ll begin to feel. Don’t wait for the perfect set of circumstances to begin down the path of thankfulness. Circumstances are not in our control, but our gratitude is. So get started today. Even if you don’t feel like it…yet.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melodie Beattie

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
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