Sunday, October 25, 2009

Who are you meant to be?

A few years ago, a gal I know participated in a local beauty contest. During the pageant’s question and answer segment, she was asked if she could be anyone living or dead who would she be? She replied, “I would be myself. I’ve lived with myself my whole life and know myself better than anyone else. I wouldn’t want to be anyone other than myself.”

At the time I thought what an odd answer; I would have gone with Madame Curie or Eleanor Roosevelt, but I couldn't help admiring her self-knowledge; I had no idea who I was.

Perhaps I am not the only one lacking self-knowledge, George Thompson author of Verbal Judo writes:

"We know the least about our real selves. That's why we must deal with how we see ourselves. Our real selves may consist of where we came from, our beliefs and values, and the way we’re raised. But our selves as we see them will be bogus unless we make an effort to really be honest and introspective. If we don't we will always have an area that can be exploited and can make us less effective than we could be."

As my “"Getting my ducks in a row project," continues to evolve, I’ve come to realize the first step is to know myself. Everyone from Aristotle to Rilke to Drucker tout the advantages of self-knowledge. Here is my latest find from life coach Tracey Houston:

The whole idea of knowing yourself more deeply is to provide a competitive advantage. The most successful companies are ones in which the leaders have a greater understanding of themselves. When you don’t know yourself, you don’t know your limitations or your strengths. And today, the key economic resource is people.

This brings me to this month’s issue of Oprah's Magazine themed “Who are you meant to be?” The magazine includes a quiz developed by Anne Dranitsaris designed to help you figure out what really defines you. It is based on seven categories called “striving styles.” The premise is everyone is wired with all seven styles, but most people have one that dominates. When you are engaged in your particular style, you have the greatest chance to fulfill your potential. The best part is you don’t have to buy the magazine; you can take here for free.

Here are my results:

Dominant style:
You are striving to be secure

A strong 2nd:
You are striving to be knowledgeable.

There were no surprises here. What I found most informative were the tips on what to watch out for: For the security style, rapidly changing environments (like a shaky economy) are very hard for you. As a result of such instability, you can spiral into a state where everything seems catastrophic and you're sure life will only get worse. (I'm thinking Slump).

"Until you know who you are, you cannot know what you can become" - Neils Lindhard

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Verbal Judo Communication

Anonymous asked the following question in the comments section of my blog post "A Personal Attack at Work":

I need feedback on being coached and counseled on someone's perception of me being rude by giving short responses to her questions. I was totally taken aback. Her questions were answered appropriately and honestly; I didn't know any other way to respond and I conveyed this to her. I've worked on this job for 5 years and have never had a manager speak to my character as this manager did today. I was so upset that I wanted to cry but I stated that I needed to seek advice on how to respond to third party false accusations. I don't know what to do; I feel that this is a personal attack against my character. How can I defend myself against someone's perceptions? Please advice.

To answer your question, I turned to George Thompson's book Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion for a better understanding of what went wrong and how to assist you with future verbal encounters. First, it is important to note you are not alone; most people do not communicate skillfully under pressure, yet our entire careers depend on it.

What makes communication so difficult?
According to Thompson, when 2 people are talking there are actually 6 different identities involved - each person’s real self, each person as he is seen by himself and finally each person as seen by the other doubled.

So, what went wrong in your encounter?
I found some interesting statistics in the book’s elements of communication section –
The truth (which would be the honest answers you gave your manager) carries a weight of only 7 to 10 % of the total impact of a message. The message, which you see as the most important part of the process, is the least considered factor.

Voice carries a weight of 33 to 40%

Other non-verbals (body language) make up 50 to 60% of your impact.

Your voice’s tone conveys your real attitude towards people. If there is any conflict between your role and your voice people will always believe your voice.

What is needed for more effective communication?
Thompson feels empathy is the key to effective communication. Empathy absorbs tension. He says it works every time. Empathy is the quality of standing in another’s shoes and understanding where he is coming from. That’s right; you need to try to understand what your manager is thinking. Focus on her and her predicament. You may see the situation as you haven’t seen it before.

Empathizing doesn’t mean you have to agree; just try to understand where that person is coming from. Too many people confuse empathy with sympathy. You don’t have to sympathize with or approve of another’s actions or words. Just empathize and see how powerful it makes you. Don’t do it to be nice; do it because it’s the only way to hit upon a proper appeal.

I must point out, the more I read, the more I became convinced your manager may be the one who needs a lesson in Verbal Judo. Take this quote:

“When dealing with somebody in a business situation, you may be thinking I’m, handling this well. I’m firm, fair and professional, but if the other person sees you as pushy and aggressive, as ineffective, biased and intemperate, where does the truth lie? Unfortunately, it lies with how you’re seen and not with how you see yourself – even if you are right.”

Since unfortunately, we can’t send our managers to communication training, I came up with these suggestions to help you work through this situation:

Have a trusted friend, mentor or co-worker practice role-playing with you. Start by reversing roles. Try to think like your manager; define the problem from her point of view first, then practice your response. Try to keep a concerned and caring face while practicing and pay attention to your voice’s tone, pace, pitch and modulation.

For professional assistance contact your local Toastmasters Organization:
Ask if they can recommend a career or communication coach. Also, attend one of their meetings. The mission of the Toastmasters Club is to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every member has the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, which in turn foster self-confidence and personal growth.

Write it down:
Putting it on paper helps me organize my thoughts. Your communication’s delivery may carry more weight, but content is also important. You do have to know what you are talking about. Decide precisely what it is you want and need to communicate then shape your thoughts by writing them down.

Request the assistance of a mediator:
Mediators can help both parties see the situation from a different angle. Do you have an HR department; if so, ask them to help you communicate with this manager. You didn’t specify if this particular manager is your manager, if not, is there another manager you report to? Ask them to intervene or assist on your behalf.

Enroll in a communication class
See what communication classes are available at your community college or local university. Prior to reading Verbal Judo, I would have recommended an assertiveness class, but Thompson feels assertiveness training is the wrong approach; in his opinion most assertiveness training teaches you to be aggressive.

Read Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion.
Thompson offers many helpful communication techniques to help take control of a situation while maintaining a non-confrontational atmosphere. I particularly like his paraphrasing technique (putting another person’s words into your words and delivering them back to him). He includes so much information in this book it is hard to absorb it all in one sitting; I plan on revisiting the book for further study.

Talk to other trusted managers and co-workers
Your confidence needs a boast; you have been with this company for five years and have never been in a situation like this before. Surely, there are others who have positive things to say about your performance and communication skills. Ask them for feedback on your strengths. Then concentrate on these strengths rather than your manager's hurtful words.

My own “personal attack episode” occurred last January and I can honestly say it took me months before I was completely over it. Only a couple of weeks ago, I realized I’ve stopped hating this manager. I ended up discussing my episode with a manager in a different department who gave me positive feedback on my own management skills; he pointed out positive aspects of my management skills that had never occurred to me. He also complained to our President about this manager on my behalf. Whether the President ever followed up with this manager or not I will never know; the manager does continue to cause problems in our department and throughout the company on a weekly basis. I have learned to be more empathetic towards this manager, but am still careful in my dealings with her and watch for signs she is having a bad day.

Does anyone else have advice for anonymous, if so please chime in?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A follow-up to: "How to break out of a slump"

Last week, I wrote about my recent slump and discussed how to break out of one. Throughout the week, I came across a couple of inspirational posts which provided further thought and introspection:

Trent at The Simple Dollar posted a question from Mark who wonders, "Is this all there is?" Mark is a 37 year old CPA in the midst of a mini mid-life crisis. Over the years he has had various goals, such as graduate college, earn his CPA license, get a great job etc. Most of them were achievable within just a few short years. His next goal is to become debt free and he’s come to the realization that it will take some time for that to happen. Beyond that, the only real goal he has for himself is retirement and that is pretty far down the road. He asks Trent "Is this all there is?"

Trent responds with:
If all of the things we’re looking forward to in life are shrouded in the far-off future, we’re left with little to look forward to in the short term. This, unsurprisingly, leads to unhappiness. We feel aimless. We wonder if this is all there is in life. And sometimes we can become depressed. (This pretty much sums up what I've been going through)

The solution, I’ve found, is to keep busy in the short term, both with short term things and with smaller projects that fit in as part of the bigger goals I have in life.

He offers these suggestions:
Develop – and accomplish – month-long projects.
Seek out smaller projects (one to three months) that fit in the context of your larger goals.
Find a personal passion or hobby to channel yourself into.

Here are some additional awesome suggestions I found in the post's comments:

Every morning, take time to review the day and see what you have to look forward to. Try to schedule something every day.

New goals are the answer.

So, this is an occasion to revisit your values and convictions first, and then move forward with your goals armed with a sense of who you are.

I think Matthew needs to define what his life is all about. I recommend writing his obituary as it would read today if he passed. Then write it again. Only the second time, write the one that he would want written. He may find something that he can focus his life on or some goals that haven’t been fulfilled.

This has nothing to do with having a far off goal. It means his goals are not satisfying his internal needs. Even if he retires wealthy, he will still have this same emptiness unless he is focused on something that drives him – his true passion.

I also think you missed the real need of the writer, Trent. He doesn’t need to break down his empty, existentially unsatisfying goals into even smaller ones. He needs a goal broad and deep enough to satisfy him. He’s not going to find it in personal finance.

So what did I learn from all of this?
I spent time thinking about my own goals, values and convictions. I liked the recommendation to write your own obituary the way you would like it to be written. My first thought was I'd like to be remembered for helping others.  I am reminded of one of my favorite blog posts of all time, Tom McMahon wrote, "Everybody wants to help Save The Earth, but nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes." I know I don't have to accomplish huge undertakings like winning the Nobel Peace Prize, but I would like my endeavors to be more helpful than encouraging my company's vendors to fill our orders despite our inability to pay for them on a timely basis.

I may not be a successful CFO or work for a major Fortune 500 company, but I am helping one little company survive this economic downturn. And I do help people every day; just by being approachable I help many of my co-workers by answering their questions, offering advice or just listening to their problems and ideas.

I have a dream of some day working for a not for profit, teaching financial literacy or possibly assisting women entrepreneurs manage their company's finances. I've never pursued these goals, thinking I don't have enough time; I need more experience or maybe even more education. What I can do to incorporate these goals into my life on a weekly or monthly basis? I could write posts pertaining to these topics each week on my blog, volunteer at agencies providing these services; attend community events, lectures and classes all with my long term goals in mind. As far as helping others, if I really look I am sure I could find numerous opportunities to help others in some small way every day.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

How to pull yourself out of a slump

Several years ago, I fell into a slump immediately upon receiving the results of my CPA exam; I had passed only one section, meaning I had to take the entire exam over again. Fortunately soon afterwards, I came across an Ask E. Jean advice column in Elle Magazine that went something like this:

Dear E. Jean,
I am miserable. I don’t have a boyfriend. The apartment I live in is a dump; I have a lousy job and rarely go out. I spend all of my free time reading romance novels and dreaming of the life I will someday have. A life where my "night in shining armor" will swoop down and rescue me from my miserable life. He will be a romantic who enjoys eating dinner by candlelight and sending me flowers. Eventually we will marry and live happily ever after with our two kids in a house with a big yard and a white picket fence. What can I do to make this life happen?

Dear Miserable,
Take a lesson from single men. How many of them sit home reading romance novels? Instead they, along with their single buddies, spend their free time participating in competitive sports. Get moving. Join a softball or volleyball league. And read difficult books. Men don’t read romance novels; they read difficult books. Read Jane Austen and Emily Bronte. Instead of pining for a man to buy you flowers buy yourself a plant and put it in your apartment window. Stop dreaming about life and start living it. Your dreams will follow.

Miserable’s circumstances may have been different than mine, but I still found E. Jean’s advice motivating. I had a couple of months before I needed to begin the daunting task of studying for the exam again, to break out of my slump I decided to just do something. I signed up for golf and tennis lessons; I read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudiceand planted a container herb garden that I placed in my apartment window. It worked. When the time came to begin studying I felt refreshed and able to take on the task.

Now once again, I find myself in a slump, the economy has taken a toll on the company where I work; I received a pay cut. Home and auto repair have put a dent in my savings. Dreams of travel, plans of early retirement or pursuing a different line of work have all been placed on hold. Suddenly, finding a new job in a more stable industry has taken precedence over finding the right job and getting my ducks in a row. My not quite right resume continues to go out unnoticed. My favorite recruiter resigned. I used to complain about everything always being the same; now everything is the same only worse than the same. How do I pull myself out of this slump?

Here are a couple of inspirational blog posts I’ve found offering ideas on breaking out of a slump:

John at Pick the Brain wrote an informative post explaining why we lose motivation. He writes:

There are 3 primary reasons we lose motivation.
Lack of confidence – If you don’t believe you can succeed, what’s the point in trying?
Lack of focus – If you don’t know what you want, do you really want anything?
Lack of direction – If you don’t know what to do, how can you be motivated to do it?
(This pretty much sums up how I've been feeling)

When his motivation starts to wane he:
Regains direction by creating a plan that contains two positive actions. The first one should be a small task you’ve been meaning to do, while the second should be a long-term goal. I immediately do the smaller task. This creates positive momentum. After that I take the first step towards achieving the long-term goal. Doing this periodically is great for getting out of a slump, creating positive reinforcement, and getting long-term plans moving.

Gretchen Rubin author of the Happiness Project provides some quick ways to boost happiness in her interview with CBS:

Get enough sleep.
Go for a walk.

Make your bed each day. (This is a great suggestion when you need to just do something)

Morrison at the former blog All Doors Considered believes “The Great Recession” is over. Business at her small company has picked up and her DH's friends are back to work (at lower paying jobs of course, but at least they are working). She has decided to rebuild herself and offers these steps:

#1. Start on yourself. When you look good, you feel good about yourself and life improves.
#2. Put your house in order. When you live well, you feel well and you start to live better.
#3. Rebuild your finances. With banks paying 1.5%, The Feds paying 0% on most bonds and Wall Street still without new regulations, this is going to be most difficult.

Janie at How I got out of $26,000 debt before getting married offers a 100 day challenge. She realized as of September 23rd there are only 100 days left in 2009 and thought it would be amazing to see how much she could accomplish in the last 100 days of the year. Starting on September 23, 2009 she gives everyone a little financial knowledge building challenge to complete each day. A daily challenge for 100 days is guaranteed to offer a couple of inspirational ideas.

It is sometimes easier to see what others need to do than for me to see what I need to do myself. My friend Alyssa has been talking about going back to school forever, but has never enrolled in even one class. When I asked her why, she said she didn’t want to take a class until she knew exactly what area of study she was going to pursue. It is easy for me to see she needs to take a class (any class) and see what happens from there.

For myself, I was telling a peer in my professional organization about my company’s dismal outlook. She recommended I contact every member I talk to regularly; tell them I’ve begun a job search and ask them to keep there eyes open. There, perhaps I have step one.

The message I take from all of this is the first step in breaking out of a slump is to just do something. It may not be the right thing or the perfect thing, but you need to start somewhere.

How do you pull yourself out of a slump?

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Tips for getting motivated