embrace change
Careers, Communication, Resilience

EMBRACE THE SUCK (part 1 of 2)

There are 3 phrases that I want to have tattooed on my body or my brain as armor in 2022: Let it go (or “Flow off your back like a duck” as my husband says) is the first one. “Lean into the Suck” or more nicely stated, Embrace Change (already on my calf). And the big one, Take Care of Each Other.

My husband typically spirits me away between Xmas and New Year, for a celebration that is part birthday weekend, and part reward for surviving another Christmas season. Truthfully, December birthdays can suck but I reclaimed mine by picking out fun jaunts every year. But I found it difficult to get motivated for our “Birthday Escape” weekend this year.

A new location for each new year. One year we headed to Asheville for several days of hiking, eating, and craft beer. Another year, I chose historic Ellicott City for the quaint shops and local gastronomy scene. Our last “escape” before COVID shut down the fun was to Nashville to hear John Prine play. This year we decided to reclaim the fun in our lives too and booked a trip to historic Cambridge, Maryland. 

WORDS TO LIVE BY

All three of these came in handy when I woke up excited for the beginning of my birthday week. I busied myself preparing for our 2-hour road trip. Checking on our plans, my excitement dampened when I found that our theater plans (Rent!) were canceled because someone in the cast came down with COVID.  We are still in the middle of a pandemic and leery of other disappointments possible on my birthday escape, I held my breath.  

I checked websites and voicemails for the rest of our road trip to Cambridge, Maryland. As far as I could tell, everything was a go – including the massages I had booked at the Hilton. In celebration of turning 58, I skipped the low-sugar yogurt in favor of leftovers from Monday: tasty dumplings and dipping sauce. I semi-steamed them in the microwave and nibbled with my hubby as we packed and cleaned before our departure. My celebratory breakfast turned out to be a mistake and within 15 minutes I was on the porcelain throne! Three times in all, between walking the dog and a final reassurance that I could endure a car trip without soiling myself. I grabbed a medical-grade ice pack on the way out the door, just in case, my back didn’t recover from whatever sleeping position had seized it up.

At almost 60 years old, I pride myself on staying active. I do yoga 3 times a week and traded soccer cleats for the stationary bike and daily walks with the dog. After months of working with a chiropractor to rid me of the hip (left) and shoulder (right) pain, my back was now on the list of aches too. This is when I applied the second phrase that helps me through life: Embrace the suck. I tapped my tattooed leg to remind me always to expect bumps at regular intervals along this road of life.  

LET IT GO

We made good time with minimal traffic and the ice pack was successful. Arriving in Cambridge where lots of cute streets gave me the perfect excuse to walk out aches growing in my back. Remember the admonishment let it go because shit always happens. A delightful walk about town and we decided on day drinking at RAR Brewing. They have a wonderful list of IPAs and a great sour that was thirst-quenching without sucking the moisture out of me. Some mini bar shuffleboard competition, sliding heavy metal discs down the sand-sprinkled board was followed by onion rings and a double burger dipped in the famous RAR sauce. It was a perfect moment, and I wanted to bottle the sauce. It would have been fun to stay but I had already sent an email confirming our massages. We paid the check and headed out to grab my Mini Cooper.

Driving through the commercial area of the town, we passed a local Olive Garden, Dollar store, and strip malls, arriving at the immensity of the Hilton Hotel. Parking was an adventure; the gate entrance was apparently broken and hubby decided to jump the curve into the parking lot. Interesting start. We proceeded to the spa entrance, noting the circular staircase that spiraled elegantly upward. My glasses fogged up behind my mask as we started to climb, and I was out of breath by the time we reached the staircase summit.

EMBRACE CHANGE & TAKE CARE …

Three young women were seated behind a large reception desk with masks on. In the low lighting, they welcomed us and asked what name our reservation was under. Providing mine, I waited expectantly, preparing for an afternoon of rejuvenation. Then it happened, they couldn’t find our reservation! As panic started to rise in my chest, they managed to retrieve the booking … but it was for the next day!

My heart went south, my euphoric mood disappeared, my skin was getting hot and the mask didn’t help.  When you turn 58 your hearing starts slipping and asking her to repeat the information wasn’t much fun either.  Rather than burst into inexplicable tears, I told her we’d let them know if we couldn’t make it back tomorrow.  

 

Careers, Communication, Work Strategies

CONVERSATIONS THAT MATTER

Talking about “the tough stuff” is something everyone avoids. I’m often asked why can’t I be “lighter”? Talk about less serious stuff? I’ve gotten better at small talk, but I find that, with the right approach and use of language, people are actually willing to have conversations about topics that aren’t always so light. Receiving opinions without judgment and listening are key; admittedly, these things are much easier to do in a professional setting. I find I still struggle in difficult conversations with my adult children. 

“Start with honest words.” This was the advice from last month’s guest on Bytes on Thursday, Maria Seddio. An expert in organizational coaching, Maria has used her background in clinical psychology to guide executives and companies to engage in conversations that start with the truth. As a coach and recruiter, I understand the influence that language has on communication. Speaking with Maria, a professional in guiding conversations, I realized that there are many components involved in building a conversation that matter. 

MEET PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE 

My work brings me into contact with people across the spectrum of identity, so my sensitivity to word choice is acute.  Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and think about how you are approaching the conversation. Different generations will expect different protocols.  My father will get angry if no one calls on his birthday. I prefer a card in the mail or a call can work too.  My adult kids are more the texters, but will still use Facebook or email on occasion. The teenagers of today are resistant to email but might learn to adapt as they enter university and the workforce (adulting, oh no!)

WORD CHOICES MATTER

Conversations that matter require word choices that are intentional when responding to a discussion.  I’ve been inculcated by my children that it’s better to use genderless terms, e.g. “kids” or “children” in place of “girls and boys”.  Gender is an important topic for the youth of today, and non-gendered language signals empathy and respect for their communication style.  If you work in the U.S. South, a region known for its cordial informality, the phrase “you all” might be better received than saying “guys” or by using “team” to refer to a group. We must be sensitive to all the places where personal or geographic bias can enter and influence a conversation.

BIAS IN JOB DESCRIPTIONS

The terminology used in writing HR documents can have a long-lasting impact. Job descriptions, performance reviews, and the minutes from meetings where decisions are made all influence company culture and the context in which that company is perceived. Just as writers have editors, it’s not a bad idea to use the buddy system to prepare important communications. A strong leader, like an astute writer, will know that it’s difficult to edit oneself. Intergenerational mentoring at work can uplift colleagues, junior and senior alike.  I heard a very senior leader mention that they have a Millennial “mentee” who also shares terms, viewpoints, and changing “styles”.  My daughter took me shopping for some new jeans because she said my “mom jeans weren’t cutting it anymore.”  The communication de mode changes as generations evolve, and we can learn new skills from young new hires and their bosses.  

CONTINUOUS LEARNING

Try this activity: apply the principles of continuous learning to your conversation skills. From word choices, to format, and subject matter, observe your interactions and reflect on how they flowed (or didn’t) and what was the outcome(s). What can you learn that can strengthen your ability to have successful conversations? By continuously learning and improving upon our personal communication mode, maybe we can even encourage better civil conversations too.  

Continuous learning is a critical factor for a successful career and helps create resilience through transitions and growth. I created a resilience toolkit for professionals, with tips for continuous learning, adapting to change, and more.

Resilience toolkit & tips here!

SET THE STAGE

One of my favorite tools for successful conversations is stage setting using context.

Before I make a statement, I often describe my thought process or perspective, and this helps me to be better understood overall. I also had an experience over the break with a very difficult conversation that I didn’t think was repairable. Ultimately, I hung in there and was able to move past the name-calling and recriminations to the hurt, anger, and fear. It brought us to a new level. We agreed to use conversations or voice mail, no texting, so there would be less misinterpretation. I realized the person needed to hear from me more and receive positive reinforcement more to feel valued and a greater connection with me. It was eye-opening and painful.

Some people may think it’s a waste of time to share stories or talk about where you come from. But if we don’t spend the time getting to know each other, how can we be more empathic when we listen and discuss topics that matter (to each other) with each other? Tolerating is not empathy.  Sympathizing is different from empathy too. If we can be patient and take time to really hear, and reflect on, what someone is saying, we may have better conversations. We may feel less defensive, we may have better solutions to the challenges we face.  

TRUST

In our Bytes interview, Maria spoke about the importance of building relationships, trust, and a safe place. I’ve read ideas about this from relationship experts like the Gottmans, or Brené Brown, who talk about the strength of trust to help get us through tough times. A relationship bond, be it professional or personal, can be tested in different situations. Invest time into building trust-based relationships now; and reduce the risk that tough moments, later on, will derail them. 

The past couple of years uprooted what most people expected for their lives daily, and beyond. The transition to a “new normal” is ongoing and will continue to evolve as well also (hopefully) learn.

How can we nurture relationships and communicate on important issues in a way that helps more people thrive?

I resolve to dig deeper this year and to keep learning new ways to build conversations that matter. 

Onward & Upward! 

Melissa 

Careers, Communication, Networking, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Informational Interviews in Action – August 2021

INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS & NETWORKS

Informational interviews are a wonderful opportunity to learn about companies and get to know the people that you might like to work with. Pre-job interview conversations can have a huge impact on your journey, and you’ll want to make a first impression that counts! These seemly in-formal chats are strategic too, and in the blog below I share an example of how effective informational interviews can be. 

OK! I know you’re asking what an “informational interview” is – so first, a little background, and then get ready to jump right in.

WHAT IS AN INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW? 

This is not a job interview because you are not asking for a job. This is an opportunity to learn more about a person, the organization that they work in, and a field or industry of interest. Do your homework before you reach out, and be prepared to share your “Elevator Pitch” on what you bring to the table.

Note: An informational interview is a tool to build and nurture your network.


WHAT IS A NETWORK? 

A network is a circle of people you know, starting with your family and friends, expanding to colleagues/alumni. The (key) people you are referred to or locate through research, are included in your outer circle of network contacts. For more details, here’s an earlier blog on how to build networks.

Note: Track your network and manage it as a living document that continues to expand with each new connection you make.

WHY DO I NEED A NETWORK? 

It’s a great idea to nurture a professional network from the very beginning of your career. In this way, you will have guidance, insights, and opportunities that will organically come your way. Networks are meant to be built and sustained for a lifetime, it’s never too early to start identifying and nurturing those meaningful relationships.

Strong network connections enable a broader worldview. A diverse group(s) of connections can expose you to new ideas and trends across fields of study or industry. Take time to develop new contacts into meaningful relationships and create space for opportunities that align with your interests to come your way.

Even daily business tasks, like responding to a proposal for work or building a PPT presentation, add depth and breadth to your professional expertise and build your visibility/brand. Every interaction you have is a chance to show your value, build your reputation, and bolster your network.

Note: It’s never too late to start building a network and as with all good things, relationships take effort.

READY, SET, RESEARCH! 

Coaching clients over the years, I’ve noticed that some are very resistant to informational interviews. Some have expressed that they feel they are bothering people or not interviewing for real jobs. Don’t believe me? Well, my clients have shared their results, and based on their experiences (meeting people and finding a great professional opportunity) networking does work!

Building a professional network is a numbers game – and informational interviews are a great critical success factor. Through a consistent effort to engage new contacts, you get a lot of interview practice. The more practice you get, the better you get at pitching your value, and eventually, the odds are in your favor. It’s not luck so much as the dedicated effort that will reward you with an offer (or a few). Use the job tracking sheet here or create your own. Remember you are building something that you will come back to and add to regularly.

On average, it takes 3-6 months of networking to connect with the right people and be hired.

JUST THE FACTS

The real-world data points below are an example of how numbers work to get results on your job hunt. Depending on how you design your job search, the results will vary, but the ratios are accurate. 

• 90 renewed (or new contacts) through LinkedIn, email, and other social channels
• 40 informational interviews
• 8 formal job interviews
• 4 positions tailor-made
• 5 offers received
• Evaluation of roles, alignment with priorities, and negotiation of the compensation package

Remember: the more senior the role the longer a job search can take. And the more activities generated, the faster the process develops. How many people can you speak with per week? 1 or more? Set clear GOALS and take the actions to make them happen.

Job and network research should be balanced to suit your work style – and keep track of information so you can see results! Continue to nurture your network after you build it. Keep in touch with new connections and assist if you are asked to, and always be genuine to individuals that helped you along the way.

And there you have it …. Informational interviews in action!

Careers, Communication, Jobs, Uncategorized, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Let’s Talk About Resilience —

Years ago, a client told me that if companies don’t evolve they will go extinct just like the dinosaurs. At the time I thought it was a much better way to explain restructuring within organizations or what is now called intrapreneurship when a company is responsive to the market . I understand that all species must adapt or, through evolution, will disappear.

Fast forward to a couple years ago when I was speaking on a panel at Georgetown Biomedical Graduate School with a panel of deans and administrators. The topic was geared to make educators think about their role in the economic ecosystem. We were asked to discuss how to better prepare students for the workplace. It brought the conversation around to what is often called career pathways, highlighting adaptation to changing economies as critical in the quest to stay relevant. Relevance, as it turns out, goes hand in hand with becoming resilient.

One of my favorite researchers and authors, Brené Brown shared in her book “Rising Leaders” that a key trait of people who are resilient is emotional intelligence (EQ). Yup! It’s worth repeating, emotional intelligence.  In her interview with Abby Wambach, US Women’s National Soccer Player star, she shared insights from her book, “Wolfpack” that stress the importance of change, “Old ways of thinking will never help us build a new world. Out with the Old. In with the New.”

“It’s all about a tolerance for discomfort”, Brené shares and sums it up:”Resilience is more available to people curious about their own line of thinking and behaving,”

Here I would like to delve into what makes people resilient; and focus-in on actions you can take to fortify resilience in your career journey, continuously and enjoyably.

The Definition of Resilience is: 

re·sil·ience /rəˈzilyəns/ (Oxford) noun

    1. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness; “the often remarkable resilience of … institutions
    2. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity, “nylon is excellent in wearability and resilience.”

SET THE STAGE

There are arguments over nature versus nurture all the time. Is someone born with existing traits or skills, or does the environment shape and influence them? As we have learned from researchers, it’s never just one thing which delivers us to any particular point in our lives: but rather, a conglomeration of characteristics, experiences and our environment.

As a recruiter, career coach and parent/partner, I believe we have the ability to take inventory of who we are and where we are. We can recalibrate to make healthy decisions that have a holistic impact on the outcome of lives.

Let’s focus on traits we have – or tools we can learn – to empower a rewarding life journey.

The Pandemic has pushed the limit of almost every imaginable boundary – for everyone.  We realized that things we thought were important, might not be. Companies that thought remote work or telecommuting would destabilize them, have experienced a smooth transition with a remote workforce and improved productivity – and sometimes happier employees.  Technology tools for collaboration, CRM and workstream management already existed, and others are being created. Zoom is efficient and effective, but also exhausting. Personally, I found boundary setting to be an important tactic to avoid burnout as the days/weeks began to blur into each other. Even without a commute, the workday has grown longer for professionals and parents alike. In the midst of juggling work alongside personal lives, children and homeschooling, a new context for “resilience” has begun to emerge.

We know that emotional IQ allows us to be reflective and more self-aware, and that it is a first step to improve the dexterity we have in adapting to change. EQ is a great trait that helps us drive and become confident decision makers, instead of passengers affected by the course of time and life.

SELF REFLECTION- TAKING INVENTORY

A self-reflective audit of your career roadmap – skills, goals and strategy – is a technique available at any point on the journey. My kids, at different points in their lives, have approached me with this philosophical conversation starter: “what if you don’t know what you want to be or where you want to go?

In creating this feedback loop, you consider the things you are good at doing, what kinds of jobs are available in the world right now, and in the future; and then we make a decision about which skill areas to develop. Occasionally when you try out a new strategy, you learn that your skills don’t match up the way you thought they would for your goals. In that case you can go back to an EQ-based audit of your profession and adapt your toolkit to meet those needs.

Education and professional training are consistently in development – not just for the teachers or medical professionals who need to meet recertification requirements each year. We should all push ourselves (and encourage others) to be continuous learners. In coaching sessions with clients, we take inventory and create a mission statement or pitch to clarify what an individual is good at doing and where they would like to head. We discuss the skillset needed and how to apply a strengths-based strategy for success. Informational Interviews are a great way to test existing capabilities in the professional arena – and get feedback on options that could improve your professional profile.

In times of discomfort, we must lean into the suck, bounce back, regroup and adapt to build a resilient career.

ACCOUNTABILITY-GOAL SETTING

A main source of joy for me in the past year has been cooking.  Cooking goes with eating and this, combined with months of quarantine, has found its way to my hips, belly and bottom. I’m a firm believer in modifying my behavior and I prefer to know why I’m doing something – rather than doing it because I was told so. For this reason, I started the behavior modification program, NOOM,  on Feb 13th. There is science, there is a plan, there is action and accountability. The steps and the process are important to me and should be important to any person or organization wanting to achieve a major objective.

In NOOM, I’m asked to write my goals down and share them with my cohort. This semi-public broadcasting of my objectives is not always comfortable, but as an accountability tool it exponentially boosts my chances of achieving them. The format you use to share doesn’t matter – some members paste pictures into a collage for motivation, others create lists of New Year’s resolutions.  I prefer to journal, so I have something I can look back on, reminding me of where I was and where I wanted to go or what I wanted to change.

Goals that you can form habits around will increase the chance of getting sustainable results. People with a high EQ pause periodically for a mind-body scan of what’s working, what’s not, take accountability and pivot when necessary.

Goals are often malleable – firm but flexible – commitments that adapt to changes in the environment in which they are developed. Becoming resilient is a process of adapting strategies to meet goals informed by a personal and environmental EQ. Nothing like a global pandemic to demonstrate how EQ and adaptation are components of resilience.

HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN – ROADMAP FOR RESILIENCE

I want to be clear about the steps in building a roadmap for resilience – goal setting comes after a personal assessment, information gathering and before you set milestones and goals. I’m not saying that this plan is going to be engraved in stone, but an outline with high-level details is a rough-draft guideline that has led my clients to happy lives and sustainable careers.

I like to travel this way also. I pick a location, do my research and make the reservations for important stuff like where I sleep, hard-to-get tickets and hard to book restaurant reservations. These are the “need to haves”. The “nice to haves” depend on energy levels, impulses and the weather. This flexible-but-firm strategy has led to some great adventures over the years. I apply this outline to coaching too – but with value-added goal setting and accountability tools to provide momentum.

Resilience can save a trip or a career with the ability to lean into the disruption with an attitude of problem-solving in order to salvage it – or cut your losses.

ACHIEVEMENT- GETTING RESULTS

The lifespan of a human being is actually pretty short. We hope for long and healthy lives, but in the grand scheme of the universe, we are only here on earth for a little bit of time. The past year has seen the loss of loved ones for many and been a catalyst for deep reflection in almost everyone I know. I find myself thinking more about each moment with the people I love (and those I miss) and what is actually important in the context of a lifetime.

The way I like to plan and apply myself to personal and career goals paid off as I pivoted toward coaching in the past year. My passion for community and volunteerism came to life as I poured energy into non-profit work to help home-bound kids access sports, or make sure newly unemployed people could still get healthy and respectful food. I wanted to help and in the face of many traumatic changes, I needed to feel like I was doing something.

My business has grown organically this year as the result of being grounded, genuine, and demonstrating a tolerance for discomfort. Through inquiry and continuous improvement, I have built the career I want, I continue to visualize where I want to go and adapt based on what I want to accomplish. With a rough plan and an attitude of agility, I am able to influence my life and contribute more wholly to my community and the world.

Your career, just like your happiness, is an individual journey; and with a loose plan and a few well-refined skills (plus a good coach) we become resilient as we adapt to change. It’s all about the ability to bounce back!

 

 

Abstract art with "regain control of your career" as text
Careers, Communication, Growing up, Working Professionals

Regain Control of Your Career

I attended a talk some time ago by Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson who recently published a book called The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives. The authors, a clinical neuropsychologist and a motivational coach/test-taking company CEO, both agreed that there are ways to reduce anxiety, depression, isolation, and lack of motivation in today’s children. I thought about that tagline, “Giving your kids more control over their lives.” Then I thought, “Doesn’t everyone want more control?”

Throughout our lives, we struggle to be independent and self-directed. When a baby learns those first words, “No!” the baby is looking for autonomy. As we do battle with our teenagers over technology use or homework, they are trying to command their own way of doing things. Later in life, we fight to keep our driver’s license even after it’s unsafe for us or others, but losing that right curtails our freedom. This can be a huge blow that some people don’t recover from, that loss of independence. The ideas about control and being self-directed can also be applied in the workforce and when it comes to managing your career.

There are critical moments in the development of our brain, according to Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson. We as parents can help our children develop into healthy “self-driven” people, by not hovering, rescuing, or solving all our children’s challenges. If we can give them the tools to take “more control over their lives” they can become healthier human beings throughout their lives. If we translate the parent-child role to the workplace, we can also see how this plays out in a manager-subordinate role. We are faced with several challenges in the workplace with multiple generations who have different styles trying to work together. If we teach our children to make healthy choices that give them back their sense of control early on in life, then later on they will be more successful in the workplace. With more confidence, an individual can be more self-directed and this results in greater success throughout the life cycle.

Raising self-motivated children and building a more motivated workforce, are just two aspects of a healthier society or economy. In the arc of our working life, we can learn to be more proactive with managing our careers too. We aren’t all going to be entrepreneurs or the CEO, but we can be proactive or be our own advocates in the workplace. Again, these are skills we need to teach our children while they are young or as they grow up, so they can be healthier members of society. What this looks like in the workplace could take several forms.

When you start your first job, you are often just thrilled to have a paycheck. If you’re more focused, maybe you land a role at your target company or doing exactly what you wanted to do. Regardless, what your title is, what you do on the job is key. Plus, you can influence your career pathway. Here are several important tasks to do as you get oriented to a new job and beyond.

  • Learn the corporate culture and the spoken and unspoken rules of the organization.
  • Build clear communication with your immediate supervisor and don’t forget your peers.
  • Master your tasks and gain new skills that will allow you to progress within your firm.
  • Find a mentor in the firm or outside the firm, someone who can give you sage advice or perspective on any given situation.
  • Identify what you need to do to progress as a professional, and set goals to achieve these skills, experiences, or abilities.
  • Learn how to self advocate for yourself and the organization promoting change, growth, or new ways to do things.
  • Notice a way you can positively impact the organization, pitch your idea!

All of these tasks allow one to take back control and have a say in your own future. It feels better to have control of all ages when we are a kid, a young adult, middle-aged, and aging. How do we retain it in the workplace professionally?

In Teddy Roosevelt’s stirring speech, about the lazy critics in our lives, he said,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat…”

Like Stixrud and Johnson, Roosevelt felt strongly that by acting or participating we are already taking back our control. If we silence the critics who are not in the arena with us and focus on the experience of being there, then we are already ahead of the game. How this plays out for each person can vary, but it is clear that by regaining our control we lessen our anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, or sense of isolation. As we replace these destructive feelings, we now have room for confidence, positive energy, possibilities, connection, and the ability to map our own future. We can’t all be in charge of the company, but we can be in charge of our own lives.

Career Coaching, Careers, Communication, Interviews, Mentoring, Networking, Uncategorized, Working Professionals

Acknowledge the Awkward (Embrace the Suck, pt. 2)

We’ve been spending much more time in Asheville; it’s our happy place. We invited our neighbors, a young couple, out for breakfast recently. The conversation was about how to acknowledge awkward moments, and I shared a story about a debacle that occurred during my first in-person networking event in over two years. After three years of Zoom calls where you can manage your expression on camera, have time to think about your responses, or even choose to “Live text” or chat instead of speaking out loud, we are all rusty. Some people have a better public veneer than others, and I am in the awkward group.

Rebuilding our social muscles will take time, and in the process, we are all getting a lesson in how to embrace the suck.  

My neighbor pointed out that some people need time to construct their responses in a conversation. Some people prefer texting to talking on the phone, which used to really annoy me. However, I’ve learned that my husband and son need time to process, organize, and express themselves in well-thought-out sentences. The talkers (of which I am one) just let thoughts spill out from their mouths as they come to mind. 

I’ve made my living by chatting on the phone for many years, learning about people’s careers and, inevitably, their lives. I used to believe that the distinction between personal and professional was pretty black and white. They were separate realms of life and should stay that way. 

Enter COVID, virtual offices, and video conferencing. The line between personal and professional is dissolved by family pets wandering by, kid/partner photo bombs, and whatever other randomness might be happening in the house that day. This awkwardness has been good for us. It’s a reminder that we are all human and share a lot in common – right down to doing the laundry (literally). 

We adjusted to the remote environment and conquered long-distance calls using Zoom. The definition of “office casual” attire changed too, and sweatshirts abounded. Lately, I see more of a mix of work styles, with some folks back in an office (and pants) and others still at home (pants optional). My style has been adjusted in response to my back injury, and wearing heels more than an inch high is guaranteed to cause me pain later. I much prefer my slippers. 

Is there a right way to do it? Most days, I go to PT, the gym, or a Pilates session before I sit at my desk. Do I need to change out of gym clothes to start my workday? 

The transition from being at home back to in-person events is trickier, and I still need to adjust for travel time between activities. Dealing with heavy traffic has taken my relaxed state down a notch or two. Is it just my imagination, or are people angrier and more aggressive on the road? Am I just having a moment, or is everyone?

As a panel speaker at my first in-person event in a long time, connecting with people felt good. The energy was high, and we shared career growth and management insights. I attended a leadership summit the following week, but that could have gone better. It felt like I was speaking Latin and everyone else was speaking Greek. The noise level in the room made it hard to hear and left me wondering if I was out of practice or just getting older. I didn’t feel as comfortable as I did with the first group. 

I thought about what I needed to adjust to make these current transitions less awkward. I needed to dust off some of the skills I hadn’t been using recently and update my wardrobe too. I always tell people when they are interviewing or doing something important, like making a presentation to put on a favorite tie or outfit. It makes you feel more confident, and your attitude can change the outcome.  

The Serenity Prayer reminds us to try and control the things we can and let the other stuff go. We can acknowledge the awkward moments and let them go. Turn on music that makes you dance, and buy clothes that make you feel good and look good. Get yourself psyched up again! Wrapping up breakfast, I put a question on the table: 

How can we each adapt to become more comfortable in awkward moments?

Being with people (after COVID and virtual) feels uncomfortable because it’s not as controllable as being remote. We have become accustomed to controlling and curating our on-screen personalities. But the awkward moments in real life (IRL) are an essential element of human connection that doesn’t get through a screen, text, or email. 

Acknowledge the Awkward Moments. Get back out and embrace the suck! 

I challenge you to exercise your social muscles until they are strong again. Let’s meet at an event or for coffee and get through the awkwardness together!  

Careers, Communication, Mentoring, Networking, relationships, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Every Touch Point Has Value!

It’s the little things that matter. Critical moments are touch points where the slightest effort can add value. I’ve been giving this much thought and have had several conversations. A friend shared a sermon by Rabbi Angela Buchdahl that drove the point home. She talks about the racism she experienced as the first Asian American female rabbi in the US. Woven in with her well-thought-out points are some ideas I’ve gathered from other professionals on how to treat others, and it’s not just because it’s nice.

Here are a few thoughts. 

  • Choose kindness in every moment because each touch point has value. 
  • We need to recognize that the only thing that matters is time – we have one life to live and how we live it, personally and professionally, are the most critical choices we make. 
  • Visually, as a reminder, I had Maitri in the roots of a lotus tattooed on the back of my neck; it reminds me to practice kindness to myself and others.

I’m suggesting that we need to pause, be more intentional, and notice the small things. Acts of random kindness are not ordinary moments; it’s better to catch them being good than to focus on the negative. 

(Hang onto these thoughts for later, and let’s start with some other ideas and the tools to help you execute them!)

How do we want to be treated?

I had lunch with a leader I coached out of a toxic environment and is now in a much healthier one. It is lovely to see my client’s face relax and tension receding from around their shoulders; now, their actual abilities are seen and recognized. As a senior-level capture leader, this talented professional meets many people, potential partners, and external clients, and they are responsible for hiring staff internally. She experiences critical moments where the slightest effort can add value each day. We shared our beliefs about the rules for how to treat people in all situations. We agreed that taking a moment to do the little things often impacts the people we encounter. 

For example, consciously being compassionate and respecting a candidate through the interview process or sending a client in a direction that meets their needs better are little things that can have a significant ROI. I coach candidates to send a genuine Thank You note because the gesture adds value to the interview and insights into the person. I also like the idea of answering a rejection with a Thank You! It lets a company know that you are mature and plan to leave the door open for a conversation down the road.

Touch Point: Simple common courtesy can go a long way toward building long-lasting and sincere relationships.

These positive behaviors are “a deposit into a social capital account.” When we do kind things for others, it fills up our capital account, so when it’s low, we can reach out to others for support. For this reason, unlike my midwestern husband, I have no problem asking for help. I offer my service without prompting and follow the golden rule: nurture your networks to build strong, trusting relationships. You have to start somewhere.

Reflect: How can we regain value in our communities, lives, and careers?

Practice Random Kindness

There was a bumper sticker I used to have on an old car of mine, “Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty.” Letting a vehicle go first in traffic, giving a neighbor a ride to the grocery, and upcycling old sweaters to share with strangers as wearable art, are small things in my life that can put a smile on someone’s face. Small acts make a big difference; sometimes, it is hard to know who benefits more, the giver or the recipient. Taking time at work to explain a task or collaborate is an example of random kindness.  

Fun Fact! The phrase “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” was written by Anne Herbert on a placemat in Sausalito, California, in 1982. It played on the phrase: “random acts of violence and senseless acts of  cruelty.”

“No Ordinary Moments”

I read the “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” by Dan Millman years ago, and he suggested we consider the idea that there are no ordinary moments in our lives. I often gathered these moments in the years I spent raising my children: a moment in the kitchen with them doing homework at the counter, music playing, and me cooking dinner. While not super unique, these moments become the memories we carry forward in our lives. They are joyful touch points that I can share with others. 

In the workplace, that looks like a well-run morning meeting ending early and recognition that the team accomplished a lot in less time. Or it could be when a business development/capture opportunity comes together into a well-written proposal, and you recognize the team effort matters more than the win, although both would be nice!

Catch Them Being Good

Capturing and recording critical moments is essential, while being present and responsive is also crucial. In the workplace, a critical word at the wrong moment can cause an explosion or destroy a rising leader’s desire to participate. Every working parent can share a story of when they hurt their kid with harsh words after they walked into the house exhausted. A smiling kid proudly presents a messy sandwich, and instead of thanking that kid with a big bite and compliments, the parent shouts, “OMG look at this mess!”

The book Catch them being good is co-authored by USA Women’s Soccer Coach Tony Dicicco, Colleen Hacker, and Charles Salzberg. He wrote that to be a better coach is to catch your team “being good.” This mantra is as relevant in the workplace or home kitchen as it is on the field! Praising someone’s work in a morning stand-up encourages others to seek positive feedback, as does guiding a staff member toward healthy outcomes. 

Positive reinforcement wins over reprimanding every time!

Critical Incident Journal – a tool for reflection and learning

There’s a great tool that I learned in college called a Critical Incident Journal. We used this technique in our internships to capture moments that are not ordinary. We learned more from each of them by reflecting on what made a moment unique. The practice of journaling helps us become better at recognizing critical incidents and their impact and reveals hints to how we can make positive changes in our daily lives and careers.

I have incorporated this collegiate tool into my career and personal life too! They are handy for capturing the moments in our lives when our perception changes. The insights shared over the years have been surprising and insightful. 

Start journaling! Learn more about critical incident journals!

Here’s a recent experience that made me pause and reflect on its critical value:

I mispronounced the name of a young woman I was interviewing, and she gently corrected my pronunciation. She shared that when at school, she pronounced it the “American way,” thinking it was easier for people to understand. But for our interview, she wanted to embrace her bi-cultural identity, so she helped me with the correct pronunciation.

I wasn’t embarrassed and appreciated her transparency and how she communicated with me. It opened the door for other topics and an informed conversation. That touch point had critical value; she felt comfortable sharing experiences and asking questions on other sensitive career topics.

Her gentle feedback also gave me pause to think about ways to be more sensitive to the small things that make a big difference in other situations.

Takeaways

If we all pause before speaking or acting, it might change our response. The basics of consideration that children learn in school are the same rules of etiquette for adults. For example: wait your turn, remember to share, say please and thank you politely, and don’t hit people when you don’t get your way. We learn to communicate and control our responses. Through play and interaction with others, we learn impulse management.

Two colleagues joined me at a leadership breakfast last week and said they feel compelled to make work fun. They enjoy the time more, their teams enjoy being together more, and they stay engaged for more extended periods. A leader has the responsibility to set the tone. Emphasizing joy in work helps engage team members and makes teamwork more effective, delivering better results. 

The results of the world’s largest study on kindness are in. Here’s what we learned

** University of Sussex’s study on the impact of kindness

Call to action 

Take time to notice touchpoints, critical value, and not-so-ordinary moments in your life. It’s easy to look for flaws when you can catch them being good. Small affirmations have a significant impact on those around you! And a little effort can result in strong bonds and more joy for everyone. I think that’s valuable, don’t you?   

And if you fear doing something nice will be taken the wrong way, be sensitive and do it anyway. You can tell if you have made the right choice by a person’s expression.

Uncategorized

Equity is Better Business

 

I was deep in research mode, looking for evidence of how equity can benefit bottom lines and boost performance. I came across a LinkedIn article by Wendy Veloz, What good Does focusing on equity do me anyway?  and a line grabbed my attention. “As professionals, we have to commit to doing everything we can to make sure things are equitable and accessible.”

This got me thinking about my role in DEI as a white woman and a professional. I consider myself an ally of BIPOC and LGBTQ communities and actively participate in change-making. Yet here I was searching for reasons to prove why equity in the workplace reverberates elsewhere. It occurred to me that a lack of cohesiveness could also be the reason it is misunderstood.

“For us to create sustainable social change, we can’t forget that equity has to take place on all levels, especially at the top. Having diverse leadership is only one step, but creating a pipeline of talent is important too.” — Wendy Veloz

The vocabulary of inclusion is becoming commonplace these days. DEI practices, unconscious bias, and embedded systemic racism are discussed at dinner tables across the country. But words alone don’t move the dial toward systemic change. Privilege allows people to believe that social equity is right because it’s fair, and still not grasp why it’s essential.

The burden of change is on organizations and leaders to cultivate buy-in for DEI initiatives within their organizations.

How Can Equity Benefit the Bottom Line? Think About It!  

Have you ever not been hired because you are female? Or interrupted and spoken over in meetings because you are from another country?

Are you Latinx and suspect that your ethnicity might be why you were turned down for a small business loan? Did your background prohibit you from networking your way to acceptance at a competitive university?

Can you relate to the frustration of not qualifying for a mortgage because your credit isn’t quite good enough? Or losing your license because you didn’t have the cash to pay a traffic fine? 

Understanding “Anyway”

There are a lot of firms with personnel dedicated to the work of DEI specifically. HR departments receive training and change hiring practices. But the seriousness with which DEI is embraced is less measurable. Sometimes it gets lip service, and even those who support diversity, equity, and inclusion don’t necessarily understand it. Or why it matters to people who have historically faced discrimination, experienced barriers to access to education and employment, or lacked the resources needed to succeed in their career goals

Measurable improvements and evidence-based practices are important to proving the value of DEI in mainstream society. Arguments should be made for the positive impact of DEI across all levels of an organization, including those who are the primary target audience, and its influence on business ecosystems.

Groupthink happens pretty easily within homogonous teams and organizations. Companies that lack diverse people and perspectives also lack some capability to provide innovative solutions, disruptive business strategies, and essential elements of communication that leads to healthy growth.

Our individual experiences might shape how we think, but the mashup of perspectives can lead to awesome new ideas. In a room where most of the people don’t share some commonality (language, culture) or there an overwhelming gender imbalance (men or women) exists, communication might prove harder and slower at first. As individuals begin to find shared experiences or beliefs, they get excited and foster a dynamic environment that can spark innovative ideas and unheard-of solutions.

An Example of How Bias Works

Why does a pharmaceutical company spend its R&D budget on developing drugs for men? Because most leaders are men who hire men to develop questionnaires for the health consumer market. The surveys end up being biased toward the needs of men, even though the total consumer market is pretty evenly split. Are you surprised?

This bias creates a problem with the availability of health products for women. But the pharmaceutical company is leaving money on the table because they survey half of the consumer market. How can they change that? 

Cosmetic companies figure out that targeting people with white or light complexions neglected a lot of available markets. The global market is made up of hundreds (maybe thousands) of skin tones. Ignoring those consumers is simply bad business! Understanding the needs of the underserved consumers could lead to a lot of new revenue. A more diverse team can create relevant products and prove how equity can benefit the bottom line.  

Your Company

Discrimination stagnates people who want to create wealth and have more purchasing power. The right to a living wage and fair pay is about more than between 29 and 18 cents on the dollar*.

* (If you want to know more about the state of the wage gap in 2022 you can check out this downloadable resource: https://www.payscale.com/research-and-insights/gender-pay-gap)

Better base pay leads to better loan rates on mortgages. With more money and PTO, employees have disposable income and days to spend on outings. They come back to work well rested and happy with ideas to share. 

As purchasing power increases so does the value of consumer markets. This seems like strong evidence for equity as a guiding principle in policies. The company that creates the policy, hires the outsider, promotes the unacknowledged, will stand to see how equity can benefit the bottom line. 

Assessing Why and How

Understanding how equity can benefit the bottom line begins with an assessment. Where are we now and what do we believe.

In ReInventing Diversity by Howard Ross, you can find guidelines to assess current-state mission, policymaking, and cultural values. Ross stresses the importance of DEI being written into organizational DNA, rather than a laser focus on hiring practices.

I believe that education is how organizations can drive engagement and comprehension. Understanding why is more than fairness. It is essential to connect the dots to how and produce innovative solutions that benefit all people.

Build a business case for DEI in order to break down and remove discrimination in our workplaces and world.

Different but the Same

An accurate assessment of how equity can benefit bottom lines begins with asking the right questions. The first question might be what is the difference between equity and equality. 

Instride defines their differences and suggests actions that organizations can take toward forming a plan of how equity can benefit the bottom line. Click here for new ideas from Instride!

“Equality seeks to provide all employees with access to the same resources, regardless of the pre-existing barriers they may face. This can refer to an equal distribution of money, resources, or opportunity between workers at a similar level. 

  • Equality is in many ways a beneficial concept that can push company culture in the right direction. However, it often fails to address problems of underrepresentation or an unfair status quo.

Equity is distinct from equality in that it doesnt provide the same resources and opportunities to everyone. With equity, an organization will recognize that each employee has varying access to resources and privileges. And those with less access may need more support in order to take fair advantage of opportunities within a given company.”

More Examples!

One of my favorite articles by Globoforce talks about the multi-tier impact from new hires to leadership. Click to read! 

This case study from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry is an example of evidence-based practice… get the details 

Of course, Forbes magazine weighed in on the topic. Convening a panel of human resources experts to compile a list of benefits from DEI. Find out what they came up with!

Avoid blind spots with either/or choices
Careers, Mentoring

BLIND SPOTTING

How to avoid blind spots with either/or choices 

When I want to accomplish something, I get to work researching and consulting my gut instinct before I make a choice. Most of the time things work out, sometimes they really don’t. When bright ideas fail, it’s because I overlooked a blind spot in the planning.

Read on for thoughts on avoiding the blind spots in your career path by using either/or choices. 

“Either-Or” Logic

As kids, my siblings and I knew that if we wanted to go to a movie or get Thai food for dinner, we had an “either-or” choice. Either we could ask our father, whose knee-jerk reaction was typical “No”, or we could appeal to our mother who usually responded more positively. 

My father wasn’t always inflexible and stern, but he often wasn’t willing to listen either. My mom on the other hand usually had an ear for her kids, was used to fielding requests, and adapting to change.

Managing Expectations

In high school, I managed my social calendar using either-or logic too. Knowing that if my friends failed to make plans for a weekend outing, I would end up babysitting. So, either I took initiative to suggest using my car and fake IDs to sneak into bars in Georgetown, or I resolved to another Friday night sitting on the couch watching kids, and earning money.

As a teenager, I learned to deal w

ith my less-than-motivated friends by managing expectations. Still, it took a lot of eye-rolling for me to arrive at the question of why they couldn’t just make plans on their own.  

Status Quo or A New Menu

The case of either-or turns to Friday evenings with my husband.

We like to cook: a spicy chili, finger-linking-good fried buttermilk chicken, or grill some mean steaks at home. It can be exhausting catering to all of our kids’ likes and dislikes, so we have regular places to order take-out from. Moby Dick’s Kebabs, Pasa Thai’s Pad Thai, and Pad Won Sen…I like to try new things and if I waited for my husband to think of a place, we would end up at the same few places that have a good beer tap list. Sometimes playing Star Wars trivia or the Dogfish 90 minutes shakes up the evening too. 

Locating my husband in his office, I suggest that either we suffer through a repeat performance of overcooked noodles … or we throw standards out the window for a dinner of beer and Star Wars Trivia. Of course, he couldn’t resist an IPA-sponsored game night.

As much fun as it is to come up with plans and alternatives, I’m often the one taking initiative. Why isn’t anyone else motivated to find solutions that work for all?

It Won’t Work … Nothing Will Change

Most people don’t like to voice suggestions or take leadership because it involves risk. If the plan doesn’t work, if the solution fails, risking embarrassment (or worse) stops most people from ideation. 

It’s safer to wait until someone else speaks up, takes the lead, or hedges the bet. But the cost of playing safe is the chance of having a life-changing experience or even just better food. 

Yes, it takes effort to live the life you want! And yes, it’s risky. Bad things might happen.  Good things might happen too. Either you keep blinders on and accept what is in front of your face, or risk taking a different career path, dating a new type of person, or ordering from a restaurant that isn’t appealing (even though your spouse loves the food!)

The Blind Spot in Your Career 

How does this all relate to careers and jobs? 

The evolution of a great career is governed by your threshold for risk and the manner in that you engage (or don’t) in relationships and networks. Networking proactively and putting effort into relationships with people usually have a positive outcome. 

You can either learn new skills to stay competitive or you can move to a new industry entirely. Upskilling has less risk, but maybe adapting to a new sector will lead to a more exciting benefit.

People sometimes get stuck when faced with a choice like the one above. The possibility of failure in a new industry is too much, but the thought of staying in the same or similar job is not encouraging. They manage expectations by not deciding until they are forced to by a blind spot.

You Don’t Know, What You Don’t Know

No one is all-knowing or (except a mom) has eyes in the back of their head. So how can you learn to avoid blind spots in different areas of life? 

Is it most important to be proactive and to think strategically? Or is having the flexibility to roll with punches more aligned to your risk profile? What if you could be coached into changing your perception of situations and the choices they present? 

Avoid blind spots with either/or choices

Coachable people are open to new information – and to making changes as situations shift around them. Being coachable also requires trust; to be receptive and willing when blind spots are pointed out. 

The only guarantee in life is that it will change, and choices will follow, whether you can see them or not. I believe that making the effort to learn what they are and take a position is at least a better strategy than doing nothing. Transitions are intrinsic to every area of life. Our career journeys are shaped by how we choose to experience life as it shapeshifts around us. 

A successful career, and a great life, are often decided by “either-or” moments. Each time you encounter one, take a breath and call a coach, or someone else you trust to check your blind spots. 

Careers, Hiring

Talkin’ bout a revolution… In Hiring Today

Hiring today: the candidate market and the new normal …

The Beatles sang: “you say you want a revolution”, and the one we are living in is changing the way companies hire. In the new normal, some will adapt and others will not survive the change. 

Historically Speaking

In the bust that followed the .com bubble of the 1990s, people I knew were among those laid off in the fallout. Not wanting to accept a pay cut, they turned down great roles for over a year. As the market stabilized, out-of-whack salaries disappeared and people realized that such high pay was a thing of the past.

My recruiting activities in the financial sector came to a halt after 9/11, and for more than a year I didn’t pick up the phone to call New York. I was one of many professionals who reconsidered their career options following the decimation. As I shifted to recruiting for another sector, I learned to adapt to that industry’s needs. 

In 2007 the housing market crashed and propelled the country into a recession. Professionals were scared for their jobs as companies tightened their belts. The overall number of open roles decreased while demand for jobs grew. Salaries were adjusted for the supply of jobs as rising unemployment became critical.

The Last 2 Years

Hiring activities fell quiet in 2020, one of many impacts of COVID 19.  Unemployment rose as the Pandemic escalated and dragged into 2021. 

By the end of the first quarter, companies were eager to get back to “business as usual” and the hiring frenzy began. The Pandemic catalyzed some lasting changes and ushered in an era where candidates control the market. 

This year (and maybe the next) will be a test for companies, to change policies and processes and adapt to hiring in the candidate market. 

Head over to YouTube for my thoughts on the candidate’s market

Hiring Today

The disruption of the Pandemic took a toll on everyone, but it brought back a sense of balance and humanity to the workplace. We could see into our colleagues’ homes as they juggled kids, dogs, and caring for seniors – continuing to work despite the challenging environment. 

The meaning of work-life balance changed and made the case for remote working; professionals can argue for flexible locations and fair pay. Staggering inflation has changed the meaning of a dollar in post-pandemic norms. Candidates want companies to evaluate compensation packages and adopt policies to guarantee a real living wage. 

I keep hearing from companies that they are aware of these requests. But they continue to use outdated and ineffective practices. This new era is an opportunity for companies to look for intangible value and promise that goes beyond a resume. 

The Candidate Market has choices

Some Things to Consider … 

Business leaders are addressing some of the key areas important to a healthy, happy workplace. Feedback from employees has led to companies considering their responses to the questions below. Look them over and consider the responses that companies or candidates want to hear.  

Companies consider this …

  • What makes your company a good place to work?  
  • Why would someone want to join your team? 

Candidates ask this … 

  • Can you paint a picture of how new hires will contribute to, and grow within, the firm? 
  • What professional development opportunities do you provide for individuals to grow and contribute more within the organization? 
  • Culturally, how do you plan to build inclusive trusting environments, where success is measured by the quality of life as well as performance?  

While business leadership teams work on these questions, I want to shift the focus to a topic even more elementary: the mechanics of getting successful new hires. 

The Hiring Process …

Is long overdue for an update. The steps, and the communication in each step, need to be clarified and held accountable (the company). In my work as a recruiter, I see my clients lose candidates at a dizzying rate, to organizations that move faster and make fewer demands.

Innovative companies are streamlining their processes to include panel interviews and pitch presentations – resulting in a shorter timeline overall. These agile techniques happen faster, review more candidates in each step, and present a dynamic, 360 view of each possible hire. 

Hiring managers want to spend time getting to know people, so they can hire the best resource for their team. Understanding that the post-pandemic landscape includes hybrid and remote roles will lead hiring managers to leverage digital resources like social media and recommendations on LinkedIn. 

Conversations that matter – Get to know candidates through their references and informational interviews too! 

Countless hours are wasted on process minutia while candidates get frustrated and walk away. Keep great talent in your pipeline with faster processes, stronger compensation packages, and innovative formats for interviews. These characteristics show that an organization is open to non-traditional practices to retain great people.

The Comp Package …

Needs to meet market demands. So what if you’ve been paying your entire internal at the same level for 10 years. Change it! 

When my clients have roles that are open for more than 6 months, I advise them to revise job descriptions and compensation packages. Maintaining the traditional ways with rigidity is not impressing anyone in the labor market today. 

When hiring in the candidate market, you must adapt or die! 

Adapting to the New Normal

Moving Forward …

Assess how the pandemic disrupted the way we live and do business. Returning to outdated practices doesn’t make sense when the market demands equitable, innovative, and effective methods for interviewing. 

There are a lot of great people with intangible talents. Companies that want to create new normal business practices, should take note of what those talents are.

I’ll close with a quote from Jim Collins, named one of Forbes 100 living greatest business minds: 

“Look, I don’t really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great.” 

Career Coaching

Language & Listening in the Storytelling Arena

How often do stories become trite or less accurate each time they are retold? Human history began with oral traditions passed down through generations and the nuances of culture. Language and listening skills have always been important in the storytelling arena. The speaker, bard, or storyteller shared their slant on events of the time; and more often than not, that story’s accuracy declined with each telling.

Have you found yourself repeating some “old wives tale” as the truth when it was just a story passed along? Who tells the story, and how we listen to it, helps us to understand events in terms of the story’s language and lens. “History is written by winners” is the saying; and throughout human history, this cliche has been proven true. 

In the words of Lin Manuel, “History has its eyes on us” and we have a responsibility to remember it inclusive of everyone’s versions. I challenge you to pause this month and evaluate your communication style (verbal and non-verbal) in storytelling arenas. What language do you use as the narrator to create space? In the audience, do you listen openly to understand the speaker’s perspective, or with reservation? Do you use tools (even unconscious ones) to become a better listener?

Maybe we can shake things up one at a time, person to person, and rebuild the art of civil conversations. Wouldn’t we all benefit?!

RESOURCES FOR LISTENING

When I lived in Guatemala, (before GPS) we would ask for directions when we traveled to the countryside to visit an in a small when we traveled to the countryside to visit an “Aldea” or small town. I found that if I asked three people then the correct way would be somewhere in the middle of all the suggested routes. It became apparent that the true “way” came through research, but also through my own evaluation and instincts.

In the digital era, there are so many news media resources all vying for your attention. Some may resonate more than others while you evaluate information to understand the whole picture. Exposure to different sides of every story presents an opportunity to collect all the information before you derive the truest “way” forward. 

LANGUAGE IN DEI 

Diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of conversations about workplaces and social environments. I am proud of my passion for culture and living an international lifestyle (at home or abroad!) The more people that I meet, the more I value our differences. While it’s true that all human beings have lots in common, we also have beautiful and meaningful differences. The language(s) a person grows up speaking shapes brain development and ability to reason. Different languages approach communication differently, in their structure and subtexts, and a team that can call on a range of approaches to problem-solving is valuable for an entire organization.* Not to mention, the mashup of problem-solving skills can lead to innovation! Cognitive psychologist, Lera Boroditsky, explains this concept in “How Language Shapes the Way We Think” (2018, TED)

Seek out the stories and voices that are different from our own; because we need to be stronger, smarter, and more resourceful every day. 

THE WAY WE COMMUNICATE AT WORK

Diversity makes sense for the future of business. A spectrum of differences within a company culture can bolster workforce engagement and promote innovation. I discussed the “Future of Work” over lunch with a colleague recently. His firm asked him to participate in a committee determined to gain insights on the topic. We talked about Myers-Briggs and the value of 360 reviews. How leaders should rely on their teams for vital information on trends, and mentors can “pay it forward” by passing on wisdom to junior peers.  If we build respectful places where active listening, reflection, and teamwork grow, then organizations will be stronger, more collaborative, and drive towards better solutions. 

How can we go to work with the objective being to deliver high-quality results from effective listening? What stories do we choose to share and listen to?

Listen to receive, without judgment, stories told from diverse perspectives. Make the effort to truly listen, pause to understand, reflect instead of devising an immediate reply.

IMPROV & REFLECTIVE LISTENING IN STORYTELLING  (TRY IT!)

I took part in a course at Leadership Greater Washington where an improvisation trainer came to host a session on effective listening techniques. As participants, we broke into pairs and with our partners, began to tell a story. It was a storytelling volley with each person contributing the next line in the tale. The catch: each new sentence had to begin with the last word of the previous sentence (hard!!) Forced to listen to our partners all the way through in order to catch their last word, we learned to pause and mull over a response before adding the next line.

That simple but effective exercise proved how often we all can’t wait to jump in and command the story through our own lens. When I get excited I do this all the time! Do you? Lately, I engage people by asking them to expound on their opinions, rather than challenging them (or saying that they’re stupid). No one likes an arrogant conversationalist. 

Without creatives and thinkers, the world would be colorless, quiet, and lacking originality. Without engineers/farmers/scientists we might not eat, survive disease or have a place to live. We all want to do better than being cogs in the proverbial wheel. We want to thrive! The language we choose and how we listen to others will have an impact on how we end the story too.

WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE CHALLENGE

My passion for diverse mindsets is part of why I like to read several books at the same time. Right now, I’m reading 3: Colson Whitehead’s new book, “Harlem Shuffle”(fiction) set in NYC; journalist,  Sandy Tolan’s book “The Lemon Tree”, a 1998 true account about a Jewish and Palestinian family; and just got the new book, from my favorite, Brené Brown, Atlas of the Heart!    Reading different authors, I learn to hear, enjoy and gain insight into the different ways that different people think. 

Join me in a challenge to your use of language and listening in the storytelling arena! Evolve your perspective by entering the storyteller’s arena with an open mind and willingness to pause, reflect on finding solutions in an entirely new “way.” 

Career Coaching

BELIEVE (the Ted Lasso effect)

We watched a lot more TV during COVID. Actually, I watched a lot more TV to be close to my family. My bookworm and cinephile habits aside, I don’t enjoy sitting on the couch at home staring at the “boob tube”, as my parents used to call it. So, I fold laundry while I watch TV and resolve the guilty feeling of laziness with chores.

We watched The Expanse, Lovecraft Country, Ozark, Donovan, sprinkled in with Bridgerton (surprised us both), The Great (historical fiction), and Gentleman Jack (based on a true story). Movies failed to hold my attention these last 18 months… I needed something lighter. Enter Ted Lasso, the too-hapI’m not saying that it was mindless fun, but there was something about Ted Lasso. We’d wait in anticipation for it to drop each Friday.  It made me smile, my heart warm and my soul comes back to life.  It’s interesting, most of the people who I asked about the show either lit up or had no clue. It made me wonder, why did Ted Lasso have such a strong appeal or total lack of interest from people.

I have played, coached, and refereed soccer for 43+ years. Most of my friends and all my family are familiar with my zeal for the sport. I played on the field until 2018, chasing a ball around the pitch, focused on my teammates, and keeping the ball out of my net.  You’ve heard me espouse Title IX (50th anniversary in 2022), the scene my mom made when there were no girls teams, so she said I get to play on a boys team. That led to helping my high school and college women’s teams get off the ground in the 1980s

Ted Lasso is not about soccer; nor is it about football, the sport he initially coached. This quirky comedy, which appears to be more brain candy, drives at some series points on leadership, empathy, and how imperfect human beings can recover from mistakes and losses without losing a positive outlook. I’m not trying to write a review of the show but want to dig deeper and figure out why Ted struck a chord with me.

I relate to Ted as a coach, his optimism and innocuous approach to the game are compelling. I love the subtext in this show, suggesting that a true leader can succeed in any discipline. Knowing how to build teams and inspire people, and how to collaborate with area experts to drive at goals and win the day. The most important lesson Ted teaches is that authentic leaders have the power to inspire people, by caring for and being genuine with their teams. I also love that he struggles with his own demons and that acknowledging them becomes an even better leader.  Maybe, I’d like to be admired the way he is, even when his enthusiasm drives you insane.

The women in Ted Lasso’s life add to refreshing messages of fair play and teamwork in the series. Even more so, it’s truly wonderful to see real female characters that aren’t backstabbing each other.  Rebecca is a middle-aged white woman who just inherited a soccer team from her philandering husband in the divorce. She’s out for revenge when Ted shows up. What could go wrong?!  Enter Keeley, the perky footballer girlfriend, and supermodel who finds her own power as she helps Rebecca to reclaim her own. Rebecca’s childhood friend Bex is exploring her sexuality and makes a few appearances in the series, intermittently connecting with Ted as he tries to get over his divorce. Lastly, Ted Lasso tackles the topic of mental health via Dr. Sharon Fields, the therapist who helps to heal the spirits of players and the team. Diversity abounds in the show, real life is reflected on the screen through these large-as-life characters.

I will close with the word from Ted that motivates me each day.  I made a copy of Ted’s drawing for my son’s high school football team to tape up in their locker room and see before games, BELIEVE! Things that inspire me consistently are hard to come by as normal continues to shift, but I can hold onto the concept of belief, because what else do you have? I believe we can be better, smarter, stronger, and more compassionate human beings, each day.

Careers, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Spin your Story (Determine Your Own Destiny)

I just read the McKinsey article about huge turnover in the labor market, referred to as the “Great Attrition.” Companies are facing a conundrum across industries. The researchers at McKinsey layout a simple challenge to businesses: be part of the continued disenfranchisement of employees or become known as a “Great Attractor”, an organization that is successfully recruiting top talent over the next 12 months.  

The past 18 months of COVID Pandemic panic was tough on a lot of businesses (including mine) but thankfully since January 2021 businesses in several industries came booming back. This is great news for me as a recruiter and for the talented candidates that I place with client companies.  

The McKinsey challenge to organizations forces employers to confront the disconnect between their mindset (transactional) and the mindset of employees (relational). For HR professionals, career coaches, and recruiters, this is not exactly breaking news – but the impacts of worker discontentment are glaring post-pandemic. I’ve been watching a rise in burnout and a shift among employees to being more introspective about what really matters.   It prompted me to ask a follow-on question: 

What type of story will you tell to your employees and the talent you hire in 2021-22?

LISTEN, LEARN, AND UNDERSTAND

The first step in  “romancing a candidate” is a mindset.  I coach my clients to highlight the company’s strengths that matter to candidates (e.g. focus on the relational!) 

The current job market favors the candidates and for companies to attract talent, the costs are high. As a recruiter, for example, the talented people that I identify are sometimes not active job searchers.  This means they were not considering a change until presented with an opportunity. Attracting these candidates requires companies to think more about what makes their organizations wonderful places for people to work. 

The McKinsey authors suggest that companies will continue to lose workers and struggle to attract new talent in the “Great Attrition” until they shift toward a relational mindset; and get focused on understanding the motivations and needs of their people. As companies seek to stabilize following the pandemic, workers are reassessing their lives and thinking even more about the mission/ethics of a company, or about the location and the willingness of their employers to be flexible.

Businesses that want to become “great attractors” would be wise to understand what values are important for people who can make their companies succeed. 

WHAT MATTERS MOST

Some companies measure success by shareholder earnings. Others measure it through innovation, low staff turnover, and career satisfaction. Lowering costs and boosting higher profits is a business priority agreed upon across industries by all.  Determining how to get there, however, differs by company, the attitudes of leaders, and the subsequent culture that emerges. 

Universities and college administrators have begun to realize that by not accounting for job market needs in curriculum planning, they fail to prepare students with employable skills. Businesses can take a similar approach and prepare workers for greater success with professional development opportunities that not only advance their careers internally/externally but provide a better-trained workforce for the organization. 

Educational and business leaders can take the same page from the proverbial book to train individuals and prepare them with in-demand skills that fit market needs.

Information is powerful and knowing what forces motivate workers is key to becoming a successful “attractor.”

3 REASONS WHY EMPLOYEES MOVE ON

Based on the article and other studies in work/labor research that pre-date the pandemic, these factors have been identified as the missing components from corporate cultures. Simply put…

“The top three factors employees cited as reasons for quitting were that they didn’t feel valued by their organizations (54 percent) or their managers (52 percent) or because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work (51 percent).” (McKinsey, 2021) 

The impact of the COVID pandemic was especially hard for working families with young children. The need for flexibility, already a growing priority, became critical for parents as they shifted to home offices and homeschooling, simultaneously. A gaggle of 20+ kids ran around my neighborhood for months, as parents were challenged trying to turn picnic tables into school desks. Now as they resume commutes into the office, many are considering the opportunity cost in a relational way. 

Employers must listen to hear what employees value and remain supportive as needs evolve.  Employees who feel valued stay longer.  Retention not only saves money over time by reducing HR costs but protects institutional knowledge.  As a long-time recruiter, these were facts I often shared with hiring managers when they were resistant to investing in the right hires and the importance of a culture shift to focus on the relational needs of employees. 

Company leadership has the power to create a culture that is responsive to employees and good for business.   

RETROSPECTIVE 

Consultants can provide an evaluation and give feedback to companies about specific strengths and weaknesses. Coaches for executive teams are also great resources for helping to kickstart a shift in an organization’s culture.  

A teacher I had used the phrase: “don’t assume … it makes an ass out of you and me.” Find out from the people on your teams how they feel and what matters. The McKinsey article has a great list of questions to ask!

Discuss with your HR team the best benefits that have an authentic value to employees – find out what’s changed and what hasn’t. My takeaway for you … it was never all about the money!

Here are some of the *relational benefits* that I suggest: