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.
Ah, Spring, the beloved season of Northeasterners when we end our hibernation and seize opportunities to feel bright sun and tepid air on uncovered skin. Many of us find ourselves motivated to walk pathways, rake mulch beds, and open windows. Suddenly, we feel energized and driven to achieve.
Of course we all know that our professional success requires us to strive for achievement of some sort across all seasons. So, when the sunshine gives way to clouds, how do we stay motivated?
Focus on self awareness
By understanding our own behavior and how it effects others, we gain valuable information that aids our continued growth. Try this: Reflect on the connection between your emotions and behavior. Identify the triggers likely to lead to positive or negative reactions.
Manage your emotions
Mastering control of our emotional responses brings us interpersonal and intrapersonal rewards. We can improve our interactions with allies (and obstacles), and save our energy for driving our own success. Try this: When stalled by fear, seek a more objective view of reality by considering what’s really at stake.
Plan your goals
Staying motivated means maintaining clarity on what you want to achieve and how to achieve it. Try this: Define qualities that may hold you back from attaining your goals and brainstorm ways to overcome them.
Sometimes others serve as powerful reminders of the benefits our hard work can bring. Try this: Invite someone you admire to lunch, attend a professional event, ask for feedback from a colleague.
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.
This is the time of year that some of us love and some of dread. Whether you’re scrambling to define or refine goals or are happily progressing on plans already well established, I hope you are keeping your focus where it belongs: on YOU. Ironically, sometimes our best efforts at self-improvement end up depleting our energy and hindering our growth.
Here are four tips to remain focused and positive as you wrap up your first month of 2015:
PUT MYSELF FIRST
You already know that as women we often struggle with this. After a season of giving to others, what better time could there be to tend to number one? If you are a pathological giver, remember the airline safety tip: you have to administer the oxygen mask to yourself in order to help those around you. But our goal isn’t just to survive; it’s to thrive. If you can fully surrender to a little self-indulgence, nothing feels better.
The way I’ve been doing it in 2015: Taking lavender baths, attending professional events, and reading—a lot!
IDENTIFY THE BENEFITS
Ever get caught up in doing something, stress out, and then pause to wonder why you’re even doing it? I have a few overachieving bones in my body (okay, maybe more than a few) and as a business owner I rarely have people pushing me to be strategic or efficient. But like you (I hope!) I want to be smart with how I spend my life. Being mindful and evaluating our behavior helps us invest our resources beneficially. Asking, “What ideal outcome do I want to achieve?” can help you keep your goals clear and make your actions meaningful.
The way I’ve been doing it in 2015: Reversing my no-New-Years-Eve-hosting stance because supporting friends in need became more rewarding than not entertaining, revising my social media approach to support my 2015 goals, investing time in my own development so I can be a effective coach and leader.
Oh, if only we could do it all. Alas, the only way to feel truly accomplished is to make sure we accomplish the right things at the right time. Making this a fluid process is key; life is unpredictable. In my case, a spinal problem followed by neck surgery and a long recovery has derailed my past three months of “priorities”. (Now napping is actually one of the most important things I can do.) An often forgotten aspect of setting priorities is resetting them when conditions change. We have to remember that strength is not as important as flexibility in many situations.
The way I’ve been doing it in 2015: Reserving my energy for client meetings, saying “no”, accepting that there will always be tasks undone and messes uncleaned.
CONNECT WITH OTHERS
One of the worst things we can do is isolate ourselves. Sure, we need time alone to produce results and recharge. But one of the most important characteristics of happy people is that they connect with other people. Of course we have to connect with the right people. Find groups and individuals that make more emotional deposits than withdrawals, and carve out time to be with them. If you find it hard to say, “I’ll be out tonight”, refer to the above three points.
The way I’ve been doing it in 2015: Joining a book club, launching a professional group, hosting girls’ night.
Best wishes for a year of thriving!
Giving to others makes them feel good. We know that. Many of us recognize that giving is fulfilling for ourselves too–whether it’s the act of helping another or the resulting recognition, we often receive an intrinsic or extrinsic reward.
But what about giving as a business strategy? Not disingenuous giveaways or quid pro quo offers, but good ole fashion, no-strings-attached helpfulness. Being a giver focused on others doesn’t make you a chump, it makes you savvy. And now there’s a compilation of research to prove it, thanks to Adam Grant’s Give and Take (see my review on the right sidebar).
Grant asserts—and backs up with data—that “when giving starts to occur, it becomes the norm, and people carry it forward in their interactions with other people.” Givers succeed and create a ripple effect that enhances the success of people around them.
I see so many of my clients struggle with how much to give. They worry about sacrificing their success with generosity. But imagine if more of us started to give freely. Everyone benefits when we take care of each other.
Personally I am drawn to giving. And I believe that has helped connect me with other givers. As I write this I am three weeks post-op from major neck surgery, so I have been much more of a taker in these past weeks. To the dozens of friends, family members and acquaintances who have reached out with food, support, visits and flowers, I want to give back. I look forward to returning the gift (though hopefully under less painful circumstances)
With the approach of Thanksgiving, we are encouraged—almost trained—to reflect in thankfulness. We may help give food or shelter to those in need, but our focus tends to accentuate the “thanks” part of Thanksgiving. I submit to you that focusing on the giving will yield that much more for which to be thankful.
You’d be surprised how much you can learn from a young woman guzzling beer from a muddy cleat. . . .
From the start, the post-game rugby social was remarkable. Co-eds filtered into a downtown bar carrying homemade dishes of pasta, beans, pulled pork and macaroni salad, creating a buffet that covered two pool tables. Hungry athletes and guests casually formed a line and chatted as they patiently waited for food.
The scene didn’t contradict the hard-playing, hard-partying image of rugby. Rather, it rendered the stereotype disingenuous. What I saw was a powerful set of shared values that can benefit us all:
Inextricably linked to energy, humor yields results—stuff gets done and people feel good. From songs, to games, to group announcements, humor kept everyone entertained and engaged.
Even in a crowded bar steaming with adrenaline and alcohol, respect prevailed. Requesting attention by raising party cup to forehead, or singing “me, me, me, meeeee” (to which others replied, “you, you, you, youuuuuu”), anyone who wanted the group’s attention could get it.
With women and men equally represented as both athletes and guests, gender (and other differentiators) seemed invisible. A rugby-guys-versus-rugby-gals game of “flip cup” quickly integrated because it was easier and didn’t seem to matter anyway.
All teammates contributed time and/or treasure to create an environment with enough food and drink for all. When the beer ran out, someone stepped forward to initiate a collection effort that quickly yielded enough contributions to tap another keg. When someone started a silly song, members took turns improvising verses. And when ideas ran out, a new tune was introduced.
I’m a latecomer to rugby, too breakable now to subject myself to the sport. But I may just pursue groupie status. Because this is the kind of team I want to be part of.
Thank you to Jill Bates and Robin Flannigan for simultaneously inviting me to participate in this blog hop about “why I write”. Part of my eager acceptance to join was the personal appeal of this topic.
Throughout my life, writing has served many purposes: creative outlet in my first grade construction paper projects, essential refuge from the insecurity of high school, professional growth as a young magazine editor, a sounding page for major milestones like marriage, parenthood and divorce. Now, as a coach who works with women to help them realize—and thrive in—their potential, writing has become exponentially valuable. I use writing not just to express or develop myself, I use it as a tool to help others do the same.
In my blog at http://thrivepotential.com/blog/ I strive to share ideas that will inspire others. As @ThrivePotential I share succinct points and ideas about women, positive thinking and leadership. As an introvert (albeit, a slight one), I appreciate the opportunity to process my thoughts on screen or paper, so I incorporate writing into my workshops as a technique for self-reflection and empowerment.
Recently my own coach encouraged me to write more. My thoughts were getting muddy and clogged in mind. She knew that once the words started flowing, they would become clearer. And she was right.
A daily practice of writing requires more discipline than I have been willing to commit lately. I am busy building my business, parenting, enjoying life. But, like exercise, when I find the time to write, I feel more energized, focused and fulfilled. This written reflection has been a serendipitous reinforcement of my recent reminder about the healthiness of writing. (Does that mean I can skip the gym today?)
Be sure to check out next week’s bloggers:
Laura Erdman-Luntz (http://www.LauraErdmanLuntz.com)
Experienced Yoga Educator, Author, inspiring Life Coach and Business Entrepreneur, Laura Erdman-Luntz has over 20 years experience in the fitness and wellness industries. She uniquely blends her Life Coaching knowledge and vast experience with Yoga to create programs, classes and workshops that truly do bring mind and body together for positive change, inspiring people to live their most authentic life. She incorporates New Thought ideas into classes and programs on positive living, manifesting and changing subconscious beliefs.
Vicki M. James (http://www.stand-out-results.com/blog)
Small Business Marketing Strategist and Branding Expert of Stand Out Results, Vicki M. James is an expert in internal and external branding, marketing and culture, working with local and national companies from family owned to corporations for over 20 years. As the founder of Stand Out Results, her mission is to share her knowledge and help entrepreneurs become successful by exceeding their expectations by becoming the go to resource for marketing strategy, branding and customer experience.
What’s the key to happiness? Is it possible that it could be something as uncomfortable as vulnerability? Vulnerability. Thinking of it tends to wipe rather than paint a smile on most faces. But let’s think of some opposites to being vulnerable: being guarded, hiding, masking our true feelings, avoiding realities that often need to be addressed. Those don’t sound so great either, do they?
Before I go any further and risk sounding like I have this whole vulnerability thing figured out, let me share a recent experience.
After a typical professional group meeting tinged with tension and tough talk, I left the business world to attend a “circle” event. This intimate gathering is based on openness, trust and letting go. In other words, vulnerability. It’s a beautiful thing to be part of. And I enjoyed every minute of listening to others’ challenges and offering my perspective and encouragement. But I skipped my turn to share my own challenge. And afterward one of my circle mates (and friends) called me on it. “Were you afraid to be vulnerable?” Ha! Not me! I’m a coach. And then I thought about it some more on the way home. And then I asked my husband if he thought I held back sometimes. We agreed I had some room for improvement.
Of course, vulnerability is relative and depends on the context, which makes it that much trickier. How much of ourselves we expose in a job interview is very different than what we show to a romantic partner (I hope!). But what about all of those in-between moments? Often we are influenced by those around us. We may protect ourselves if we sense that’s the norm. Or we may demonstrate our vulnerability with pride among more guarded companions, only to find ourselves needing to recalibrate when we change environments. What happened in the circle was that I was surrounded by extremely courageous women who have worked for years to get to the point of being able to surrender their “protective” layers and trust that good comes from letting go. Being surrounded by that much vulnerability helped me see that I still have some more barriers to remove.
So, now back to my point about vulnerability and happiness. The documentary Happy offers a 75-minute dose of profound joy and these universal keys to happiness:
- Connecting with others
- Caring about things bigger than ourselves
- Having new experiences
- Doing things that are meaningful
Think about the stuff that holds us back from each of these. When we are guarded, we limit our ability to connect with another person. When we try to protect our own happiness, we find it difficult to embrace spiritual ideas like gratitude. When we don’t give ourselves the permission to fail, we avoid trying new experiences. And if we are tangled up in our own mess, it’s hard to direct positive energy toward others.
These are the links between vulnerability and happiness. Of course knowing this intellectually is a lot easier than actually doing something about it, right? So how do you get started?
Here are some ideas:
Pro the Cons
Make a list of everything that gets in the way of your happiness. Next to each item write something positive about it.
Get Informed and Inspired
Watch Happy (it’s streaming on Netflix). Or read Stumbling Onto Happiness (see review below). Notice the parts that resonate with you and give yourself a happiness assignment.
Go For It
Choose a skill you’ve wanted to learn or improve. Set a goal for your first steps—and find a process or person to hold you accountable.
Identify a cause or area that interests you and find an upcoming opportunity to volunteer.
Feed your spiritual self. Whether it’s through meditation, yoga, prayer, or a stroll in the woods, make time to connect with something more powerful than yourself.
For myself, I have committed to writing regularly. And I doubled up on my coaching sessions so I can break through those lingering barriers. I’m ready to let it all out and become even happier!
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!
Some of the best moments in life come as unplanned surprises. Others arrive on schedule, carefully orchestrated in their every detail. The September 25 Summit Business Conference hosted by Rochester Women’s Network was one of the latter. With an eager and collegial audience, thoughtfully selected presenters, a motivational emcee, an array of exhibitors and a captivating keynote speaker, the event was designed to be robust and enriching.
As chair of the event I felt some pride. But mostly I felt fortunate to be interacting with such amazing people: women committed to each other’s success, men who attended the award ceremony to celebrate a daughter, a co-worker, a mom, a girlfriend; top-notch presenters from the worlds of academia, not-for-profit, technology, financial services, wellness, and performing arts.
It takes significant effort to plan, or even attend, such an event. It’s easy to use time and money as excuses to cut corners or opt out completely. The people at yesterday’s Summit gushed with positive feedback, buzzed as they made new connections, and hugged as they parted ways. Everyone who participated seemed happy to have made the event a priority.
Sometimes commitment and follow through will lead you right to some of life’s most meaningful moments.