Archive for the ‘Other Awareness’ 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.

Words Matter

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

How careful are you when choosing your words?

A friend recently complained, with annoyance in her voice, that she felt like she really had to watch what she said around certain friends. My immediate thought was, “Um, yeah…!” It’s a pleasant reverie to think our words don’t matter, and hold on to the belief that we shouldn’t have to make effort with those we’re close to. And I agree — it would be easier to never have to exercise self-awareness and other awareness in conversations — easier, and more comfortable — especially if we don’t care about damaging relationships!

Words matter.

Are you someone who speaks from your stream of consciousness, or do you slow down to think before you talk? Do you say whatever pops into your head or choose your words before uttering them?

“Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don’t mean much to you may stick with someone else for a lifetime.”

Rachel Wochin

If you long for healthier relationships, it may be time to give attention to effective communication–knowing how to speak clearly and listen actively, promoting open conversation, where everyone feels safe and heard. It may be to your benefit to notice what’s coming out of your mouth — or fingertips — and carefully choose your words, no matter whom you’re communicating with. And I’ll dare to venture, especially with your closest friends and loved ones.

So, let’s start here: Do you consider yourself a good communicator? If yes, how do you know? Would others say the same about you?

In a time when emotions are running high, it seems people these days are quick to state their opinions, but slow to hear the viewpoints of others. We’ve become a society who is easily offended. We take things personally, hear only what we want to hear, and get good at shouting about our beliefs while closing our ears to other points of view. Misunderstandings abound. And the fact that so many of us have moved from face-to-face conversations to exchanges on our screens hasn’t helped. Instead of building relationships and creating bonds, more often than not our words tear down and destroy bridges. Why is this?

“Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed.”

Abraham Joshua Herschel

Words can make a lasting impression and stay with us for an entire lifetime. In the blog Words Have the Power to Make Relationships or Break Relationships, the author Joi writes this: “Words have the power to heal broken hearts and make dreams come true. They have the power to make people better about themselves. They also have the power to break hearts and  keep dreams from coming true. And of course they have the power to tear someone down completely and cause them to feel completely worthless.” [https://www.selfhelpdaily.com/words-have-the-power-to-make-relationships-or-break-relationships/]

Think of a time when someone’s words hurt you. Do you still remember what they said — and how you felt? Now think about a time when someone gave you a sincere compliment, which lifted your spirits for days. Do you still remember those words, and how it felt?

And it doesn’t make sense to let down when with loved ones. In her article entitled, Control Your Anger: How Hurtful Words Can Damage Your Relationship, author Rachel Moheban-Wachtel notes, “It’s not uncommon for someone to say cruel words to their partner during a heated argument. Often, they may not mean it but it’s hard to control anger when you are feeling hurt. Even so, painful statements can have lingering damage to the trust, commitment, and intimacy in a relationship.” [https://www.relationshipsuite.com/control-your-anger-how-hurtful-words-can-damage-your-relationship/

Words matter.

The makings of a good communicator

You may think if you clearly and succinctly share your perspectives, you’ve earned the title of a good communicator. Maybe you have a lot of followers on your social media pages which give you the illusion that your opinions are popular. Social media platforms have made it very easy to speak your mind, often to a large audience. But effective communication is so much more than stating your views. 

While a component of effective communication is being able to communicate your opinions in a logical, organized manner, it’s also about listening to feedback without becoming defensive (and how can you hear feedback if you never ask for it?) It’s about creating an atmosphere where everyone feels supported, ‘scooting over’ to provide ample room for others to share their outlooks. It’s about being an excellent listener, with the purpose of seeking mutual understanding. It’s about noticing emotional cues which the other person may be trying to communicate, verbally or non verbally. It’s about asking open-ended questions, and allowing the other person to speak until they’ve fully communicated what they’re trying to say, suspending your judgments and withholding advice unless asked. It’s about being someone who is easy for others to connect with, being approachable and open to soliciting differing opinions, and staying open to having your mind changed at times. 

It sounds like a superhero ability, doesn’t it?

When communication breaks down

Becoming an effective communicator requires an awareness of your strengths and areas of growth…and we all have room to improve! Below are a few indicators of poor communication. Which one best describes you?

  • You ridicule others for their opinions
  • People avoid talking to you about the ‘real’ stuff and keep things shallow
  • Everyone in the room with agrees with you
  • People wander off and/or make excuses to exit conversations with you
  • You’ve been told you lack tact or are “a little rough around the edges”
  • In 1:1 conversations, or in groups, you do most of the talking
  • You miss non-verbal signals such as body language and gestures
  • You fail to notice when your listeners are uninterested or bored
  • You often say, “I’m not good with names”
  • It’s difficult to hear the meaning behind others’ words; instead, you take everything you hear literally
  • You pride yourself in speaking the truth even if it hurts…and you’ve hurt a lot of people
  • You know very few personal details about the people you’re talking with
  • Your words sting and often cause others to appear upset, agitated, or angry
  • You find yourself often thinking, “I don’t care if they like me as long as they respect me”
  • Your opinion is usually ‘right’
  • You only hang out with people who think and believe the same as you
  • It’s your way or the highway

Can you relate to a few of these? If so, no shame. We’re human and sometimes we miss. But if any of these have become a pattern, it’s time to recognize your communication skills could use some improvement. What is excellent about emotional intelligence competencies like effective communication is that they can be developed. You don’t have to keep repeating behaviors which aren’t working for you (and others).

Steps Toward Growth

Self-awareness is the first key to developing better communication skills. If any of the above resonate with you, simply own that your communication needs some work. Spend some time thinking about and/or journaling about the points above. Which one shows up for you most? When does it show up? With whom? Why? How do you feel when it shows up? How do others feel when it shows up?

“A word is a bridge. It is a wave of light and sound that spans the perceived distance between one thing and another.”

Thomas Lloyd Qualls

Even if there are several areas needing attention, decide upon one which you’d first like to begin to work on. Not sure where to start? Ask yourself this, “Which one of these is tripping me up the most?”, or, “Which one of these is causing me (and others) the most angst?” Still not sure? Ask a trusted friend or colleague, or enlist the help of an emotional intelligence coach.

Exercising New Communication Muscles

Becoming aware that your communication needs improvement is a great first step, but awareness is not going to fix anything. You’ll next have to take a step in an new direction. It’s like when you want to build up a muscle in your body. It’s one thing to be aware that you need to exercise, but it’s the action of exercising which brings about muscle development. In the same sense, emotional intelligence needs to be exercised and practiced.

Here are some exercises to try:

Approach others with positivity. A smile can go a long way, and starting conversations on a positive note can set the tone for acceptance and connection. Humor is a terrific way to set the tone for a conversation, as long as it’s not the kind which comes from making fun of/putting down someone else. Relax, and be aware of your facial expressions and if possible, remove that frown at the start of a conversation.

Find the commonalities. Before spouting off how your beliefs differ, first seek common ground. What do you agree on? If you can’t find anything, know that there is one thing we all experience: emotions. Everyone has been afraid, or sad, or excited, or nervous. There’s not one emotion that someone else hasn’t also experienced. The circumstances (or beliefs) causing the emotions may be different, but those feelings are the same. Listen for the emotions the other person is expressing and acknowledge them with a “me, too.”

Gratitude goes a long way. It’s easy to label someone who disagrees with you as the enemy. Try having a political discussion with someone who is in the other camp as you, and watch the walls go up. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Offering up gratitude is one way to bridge the differences. When a conversation begins to get heated, try to think of the things you like about this person, what you appreciate about them. Verbally express your gratitude, and let them know what you value about them, even if you don’t agree with what they’re saying.

“It’s good to shut up sometimes.”

Marcel Marceau

Seek to first understand. Instead of starting every conversation with your views, make it a habit to spend time exploring the other person’s perspective first. Ask open-ended questions to learn not only what they think, but why. Try to refrain from passing judgements as they speak. Giving verbal feedback such as “I see”, or “I can understand how you feel that way”, can go far in making someone feel safe. It’s OK to offer this kind of verbal support, even if you don’t agree with them. You’re not agreeing — you’re simply validating their freedom to believe what they believe. One of my favorite questions these days is, “What else?”

Hone your listening skills. It’s tough, but try to stop thinking about what you’re going to say next while the other person is speaking. Instead, tune in. Ask questions to clarify your understanding, and repeat back what you’re hearing to check your understanding. Stop multi-tasking (put down those phones!). Maintain appropriate eye contact to discern what they’re saying, in between their words, looking for body language and other non-verbal signals. Nod often to let them know you’re tracking with them. A nod doesn’t mean you agree — it just means you hear them.

“Genuine listening means suspending memory, desire and judgement — and, for a moment at least, existing for the other person.”

Michael P. Nichols

Validate emotions. Often, when people are expressing their outlook and options, strong emotions arise. This is normal — and the emotions they’re feeling are probably very similar to your own. Validate them for feeling this way. More often than not, others need to know that it’s OK for them to feel the way they are feeling. You don’t have to agree with their statements to validate their feelings. Phrases like, “I see why you’d feel that way”, or “that sounds really tough” are ways to show empathy, in efforts to validate what they’re experiencing, emotionally.

Maintain composure when you talk. Irrational outbursts of negative emotions can prevent the other person hearing you…instead, they’ll just be thinking, “She’s really angry” and notice how quickly your face is turning beet red. If you truly want to be heard, maintain a calm demeanor. If you sense your emotions ramping up, which is normal, notice how they’re affecting your body (rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, for example), and breathe deeply. Take a break if needed to allow your emotions to move through the amygdala (emotion control center of your brain) to the cortex, so your words can come out more rational and reasonable.

Express appreciation often with genuine sincerity. OK, that’s hard to do, especially the genuine sincerity part. This is one of those fake it ’til you make it actions. Get in the habit of saying, “Thanks for sharing your opinions”, “I value what you have to say”, or “thank you for taking the time to explain that to me”, even if you don’t agree. It’s a good practice to express appreciation and often does wonders in changing your outlook toward the other person.

 “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”

Mother Teresa

Add some filters

You may be quick to add a filter to a photo to enhance its impact. What about adding a filter to your words? Here are three filters to pass your words through before you say them, either verbally or in written form:

1-Does this need to be said?

2-Does this need to be said by me?

3-Does this need to be said by me, right now?

[https://www.inc.com/justin-bariso/these-3-questions-will-immediately-increase-your-emotional-intelligence.html]

So pay attention to the words you use. And while you’re at it, hone your listening skills so you can begin to understand what those around you are trying to communicate as well.

“Words are seeds that do more than blow around. They land in our hearts and not the ground. Be careful what you plant and careful what you say. You might have to eat what you planted one day.”

Unknown

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

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.

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

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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