Seeds of Wisdom

If the purpose of communication is to share ideas and negotiate relationships, we can likely all agree that many an idea and relationship have suffered as a result of our limited abilities to communicate effectively. At work in particular, we struggle to create a perception of ourselves that is neither domineering nor doormat-like, sometimes toggling between the two in our attempt.

 

The interpersonal and gender communications expert Deborah Tannen cleverly warns that, “Smashing heads does not open minds.” Yet sometimes in our efforts to communicate with power we resort to aggressive communication tactics: attacking, labeling or attempting to control the other person. The resulting alienation extinguishes our message and tarnishes our reputation.

 

At the other extreme of our interpersonal exchanges lies passive communication. While women who aggressively communicate tend to prompt backlash, passive communicators reinforce a “good girl” stereotype in which women avoid, mask or withdraw from the issue at hand. Flipping the I-win-you-lose approach of aggressive communication, passive communicators yield to the other party by being silent or vague, while still (futilely) hoping or (falsely) assuming their message is received.

 

Between these two extremes lies an approach for building engagement and understanding: assertive communication. Assertive communicators garner immediate respect because they are direct, honest, thought-driven and respectful of others without sacrificing themselves. Here’s how to adopt an assertive communication style:

 

Own your words and feelings: be proactive, speak up, and manage your stories.

Stick to the facts: speak thoughtfully rather than emotionally.

Think of end goal: avoid distractions that will not yield productive discussion.

Create mutual purpose: balance what’s best for yourself, others and the relationship.

 

In the words of Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, “Communication works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity, finding that sweet spot where opinions are not brutally honest but delicately honest.” The result for both parties is win-win.

 

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Of the many traits that separate those who are thriving from those who aren’t, passion is perhaps the most significant. Think about people whose commitment to work or clarity in purpose propels them. They are motivated, productive, fulfilled. They love what they are doing.

 

Of course we can’t always do what we love, but we can maximize our happiness by paying attention to and thoughtfully pursuing what we are most passionate about. When we do what we love, we can achieve our full potential.

 

Here are some ways to integrate passion into your career and beyond:

 

Determine what you are passionate about. If it helps, use the Passion Test approach and complete this phrase: When my life is ideal, I am _______________. If needed, use self-awareness to monitor when you feel energized (i.e., fulfilled) and when you feel drained (i.e., not fulfilled).

 

Name the things you love. Get comfortable with them. Confidently say, “I love _______”! Validate your passions and they will become a stronger force in your life.

 

Make time to do what you love. Some of us have been able to turn our passions into careers. Others may supplement work with what they truly love. In either case, we can enhance our happiness by making passion a priority. Setting specific goals for pursuing our passions can help us hold ourselves accountable.

 

Living a passionate life is a continuous process of identifying and seizing opportunities. It’s our chance to do what matters most to us, be great at it, and achieve happiness.

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You know about the jungle gym career metaphor, right? The one that twists a career ladder into a less predictable, non-linear series of steps (and swings, crawls, etc.). Jungle gyms are indisputably more fun than ladders. They offer us choices and adventures. According to Pattie Sellers, the Forbes editor credited with creating the jungle gym metaphor for professional women, we should, “Forget the ladder; climb the jungle gym.” Sellers challenges, “What good is a ladder when the world is changing so fast and unpredictably–and who knows what tomorrow’s ideal job will be? Think of your career as a jungle gym, sharpen your peripheral vision, and look for opportunities all around.”

 

Sounds like good advice. And, with creativity and risk taking having long been heralded as essential leadership skills, the jungle gym image fits well with executive storytelling. Perhaps someday soon, we will even see Brookstone launch a line of “jungle gym” accessories.

 

But let’s be honest, the jungle gym icon can also conjure up childhood vulnerabilities like fear of failure, being different, and the desire to be liked—fears that are nearly as relevant in our careers as they were at recess.

 

So how do we as leaders jump on the jungle gym and never look back? Consider these reassurances:

 

Any direction can be good. In contrast to a ladder, which offers upward progression or downward regression, jungle gyms are comprised of multiple paths from various perspectives. Choosing may be daunting, but there’s always a chance to change direction.

 

You don’t need a complete plan to achieve your long-term vision.

While decision-making is key to maneuvering on a jungle gym, your path can emerge as you progress. The lessons you learn will help you make decisions that are best for you. Exploring will reveal what areas you want to pursue and those you want to avoid.

 

Trust your gut but push yourself beyond what is comfortable

Remember that nauseating tickle that would seize your stomach as your swing hit its maximum height and then stopped before dropping down? Wasn’t that when you knew you were swinging as well as possible? Wasn’t that feeling of soaring the goal you were striving for? Challenging ourselves (without being reckless) pays off.

 

Options make recess (i.e., life) more fun.

Even for those who prefer minimal change, keeping your options open can be beneficial for professional success. According to Sheryl Sandberg, “The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours, and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment”.

 

I’ll see you on the playground!

 

I recently observed a conversation in which a woman was admitting her frustration with a colleague. She vented that she “just can’t stand” the person, who she described as self important and overly talkative. I couldn’t help but wonder if he would interpret her quiet style as self important and non-participative.
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Ah, summer. If you are like most working women, you spent part of this season not working. Often the highlight of summer, vacation gives us a break from impending deadlines, urgent e-mails, and sluggish meetings. We flip off the work switch, go away, come back, and flip it back on. But there’s a better way: incorporating some vacation into our daily lives.
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