We sentence ourselves in our sentences

I learned many years ago that how we think and speak about ourselves and others determines the space and mood we live in. Speaking, thinking and even feeling are really very similar in nature. They all involve having a conversation. Thinking and feeling are speaking with yourself. We wouldn’t really know how we feel if we didn’t say to our self “I am sad”, “I am scared” or “I am angry.” And speaking is verbalizing our conversations to others in an interaction.

In the world of conversation, there are two types of conversations: empowering and undermining. Engaging in empowering conversations make us bigger, stronger and more energized. Engaging in undermining conversations, obviously, make us more circumstantial, resigned and cynical.

Sometime the distinction between the empowering and undermining is bluntly clear. For example if someone thinks or says: “I am not good enough,” “I am not smart enough,” or “I will never have a really great marriage or career,” that is obviously a disempowering belief. But, if someone thinks or says: “achieving my project is going to be really hard,” or “its going to take me a really long time to realize my dream,” it may not be as apparent that this too is an undermining paradigm.

One of the reasons why we keep engaging in thoughts and conversations that have a negative impact on us is we don’t do a good job telling facts apart from interpretations. We often engage in undermining conversations about past events, present situations and future possibilities as if we are merely innocently reporting on facts, while in reality everything we are thinking and saying is purely our interpretation.

In fact, many times we set ourselves up for invalidation when we take on an aspirational goal. If we fall short in achieving it, we get sucked into self-deprecating thoughts and feelings about the goal and ourselves.

For example, I have seen people who wanted to better themselves set a bold objective of doubling their income, but ended up achieving 70% of their goal. Even though their achievement was still admirable, they said things like: “What was I thinking” or “I shouldn’t have taken on such a big goal.” I have seen this with many types of goals.

The vicious circle of undermining conversations thickens when we add uncomplimentary conclusions and assign subtle negative meaning to these events. Many times I heard people say things like: “I am just unlucky,” or “Someone like me can’t have that type of success.” These comments are often subtle, but they are harmful. We forget that we are the ones who made up the game in the first place. (Many references to the vague “people.” Do you have a specific story that could work here?)

Furthermore, the way we express our conversations is also often disempowering. When people refer to yesterday’s shortfalls, they often say: “I am failing with this result” or “this is not working” rather than “I failed to achieve this result last month” or “it didn’t work last time.” The first implies “I am a failure,” hence most likely I won’t ever succeed. The other implies “I failed in last month’s goal,” which means nothing about my ability to achieve it in the future. In fact, the second allows us to learn from our shortfall and identify what could be changed, corrected and/or improved in order to succeed in the future.

Lastly, any type of conversation in any area of our life with an explicit or implicit reference to “I am not good enough,” “something is wrong with me,” or “I should be different,” is untrue and more important harmful and destructive.

So, how do we get free from these undermining cycles?

  1. Develop your self-awareness around conversations.
  2. Become aware of the self-deprecating mechanism outlined here, by catching yourself in real-time when you entertain undermining conversations.
  3. Start telling the difference between facts and interpretations.
  4. When you feel, think or say things ask yourself – “is this empowering or disempowering me? You will be able to tell by how you feel about the conversation.
  5. Make sure you are clear that your interpretations no matter how valid they may be, are not true or facts.
  6. When you acknowledge an undermining feeling, thought, or conversations, have the courage to say to yourself “thank you for sharing” and don’t buy into that conversation.
  7. Instead, create an equally valid conversation that does empower you.

The more you practice this the better you will become at it.

Enjoy the ride.

Don’t confuse Commitment with Compliance

Many managers and leaders assume their people automatically will commit to a new direction or strategy. They believe they should not have to ask for people’s commitment. They come from a school of thought that employees are obliged to align when a boss askes for it. It’s a belief to the effect of, “We shouldn’t have to beg you to get on board. That’s what you are paid to do. This isn’t a democracy. As soon as you understand the rationale and valid business reasons for this direction or strategy, you should be fully behind it.” This assumption is incorrect and dangerous. We find that this attitude often stems from a view that compliance is the same as commitment. It isn’t.

Let’s be clear, low levels of commitment do not mean that people won’t do their jobs. Fear of being fired for sub-optimal job performance is enough to motivate most people to do what it takes to keep their positions. Plus, from a less cynical viewpoint, most people are proficient enough at their jobs to perform it without applying their full passion, dedication, intelligence and commitment. We can assume the Pyramids were not built by what anyone would call an enthusiastic work force. Therefore, lukewarm organizational commitment to a strategy or initiative will not inherently guarantee its failure.

But true commitment goes far beyond compliance. When people are committed, they behave differently in key ways:

  • They invest their hearts and souls in the cause
  • They perform their roles with passion and energy
  • They take on bold promises and commitments
  • They follow through with extraordinary levels of tenacity and perseverance; they don’t give up
  • They look out for opportunities to improve, fix and perfect things
  • They genuinely care for others who are on the journey with them

A committed organization is one whose employees work harder to accomplish their tasks. It’s a place where people anticipate problems and resolve them early, before they fester. Excuses are not tolerated — only answers and actions to how problems are going to be fixed. People love coming to work. They’re more productive, creative, attentive and aware.

Contrast that with an environment of compliance. People don’t take the new initiatives to heart. They don’t ache for it or want it in their gut. If it fails, they don’t lose sleep over it. In fact, they brush it off as someone else’s fault. Because they don’t view the game as their own, they avoid expressing their views including when they feel things are not working the way they should. And, if things fail they have no problem taking out the “I told you so” card. They detach themselves emotionally from its success or failure, and by making few or no guarantees to deliver specific outcomes, they are less likely to see a personal role in making the initiatives happen.

If you wanted to join a team or bet on a team’s success, which of the two would you want to be a part of, or bet on?

 Photo by: Chris Potter

Do you know how to receive a compliment?

Do you know how to receive a compliment and praise, or do you typically tend to dismiss, deflect or reduce what is being said?

I was having dinner with a long time client and friend for whom I have a great deal of admiration and respect. At some point in the evening, I expressed my heartfelt appreciation, gratitude and acknowledgement for the great person sitting in front of me including everything they have achieved in the previous months. My client listened quietly and then respectfully and graciously said something to the tune of: “Thank you so much for your kind words BUT I don’t deserve the praise and what I did wasn’t really that special.” I really love this person and I know him very well so I didn’t get offended at all. However, I did feel ripped off by his polite and well-intended rejection of my praise.

So, I decided to write a blog about this topic…

When YOU get acknowledged or thanked, do you fully let it in, or do you say things like: “You shouldn’t have”, “I don’t deserve this” or “ It wasn’t really all the great”? If you don’t fully let it in, you are letting yourself and the person giving you the compliment down.

It takes courage and generosity for someone to praise or give a compliment to another. Giving a compliment is in essence a personal gift. So, when the giver doesn’t experience their gift being accepted he also feels his generosity and courage have been ignored, dismissed, discarded and/or invalided. That is not a great feeling.

At the same time, by not fully accepting the compliment or praise, and fully letting it in, the receiver is missing the opportunity to feel empowered, uplifted and inspired by another. If someone tells you how beautiful, talented, powerful and/or special you are and you accepted their view – especially if their view is greater than your own – it will empower you.

So, why is it so hard for people to simply open their ears and heart to compliments and acknowledgements and let them in?

I have written about this in a previous blog “How great are you willing to be?” In essence, if people accept themselves as powerful, great, and magnificent they are admitting that they can create, achieve and have so much more, and that thought could be daunting. So, we tend to avoid anything that could lead to that feeling; like compliments and praise.

So, next time someone gives you a compliment or acknowledgement – try to just listen openly and generously, don’t say anything just let it in. And, at the end just say: Thank you!

Are you part of the problem or the solution?

Blame – or the blame game – is always harmful and destructive. It undermines the team dynamic and creates a stressful work environment. When something goes wrong and there’s a witchhunt for whose fault it is, people react by hiding, covering themselves, misrepresenting and being increasingly cautious. Nobody engages in a productive conversation to learn from the mistake, which only perpetuates the situation and increases the likelihood it will be repeated.

Contrast this with an environment of ownership and commitment, where people are orienting around open, honest discussions that lead to the source of problems and allow for real resolution. In this environment, no one is interested in who’s at fault, but rather in getting to the source of problems. In this environment people are eager to volunteer their insights, observations, and energy to addressing what was missing, what needs to be corrected, and take personal ownership for resolving the issues.

Unfortunately, most workplaces are filled with people spending more time trying to avoid blame for something that did – or might – go wrong, than in anticipating and addressing real problems.

In a healthy environment, people are also much more open to receiving feedback and constructive criticism, as the name game is “how to get better all the time,” rather than a “gotcha” environment where they are consumed by the fear of being caught.

If the environment is one of everyone looking out for themselves, people look for – and compete for – credit as evidence of being better than others. “Look how great I am” is the unspoken theme. In that environment, people also tend to be threatened by others getting credit; the better you are the worse I am. They can’t be happy with the accomplishment and success of others; they are far less inclined to recognize and praise others.

But, in a healthy team environment, where people feel they are working together towards a common aim there is no angst about credit and blame. In this environment, people are much more inclined to view others accomplishments as their own; they are far more generous in providing praise and recognition to colleagues. This produces energy, inspiration, motivation, and a desire to do whatever it takes for the team to be successful.


What to expect if you want to reinvent yourself

As a part of my job, I have the privilege to coach many people at all levels of organizations; people who want to become more powerful and effective professionally and personally.

Most of the people I interact with are already very successful in what they do. But they all want to take their game to the next level; they want to change or improve something about themselves. Or as I refer to it – they want to reinvent themselves.

Reinventing ourselves is not easy. In fact, most people don’t stay the course and succeed. Have you ever heard the cynical view: “You can’t change the leopard’s spots?”

There’s definitely a science and an art to taking yourself to the next level. And while each person and his or her circumstances are different, there are some common elements that everyone could benefit from. So, if you want to reinvent yourself you need to know what to expect and how to deal with it. You need to:

1-    Tolerate things getting worst before they get better – I often tell people, “when you take a stand about reinventing yourself the universe listens and then says: “let’s see if you are serious about this.” To check you out, it throws you some initial challenges. If you overcome the ‘small’ stuff it sends you ‘medium’ level barriers. And if you stay the course and overcome these it sends you even bigger ones. But, if you overcome all three the universe concludes: “Yes, you are for real” and it starts sending you spiritual and material support to fulfill your commitment. The problem is that most people don’t stick around long enough to gain the rewards.

2-    Act and behave in counter-intuitive ways – There is a phase in the caterpillar transformation into a butterfly when it emerges from the cocoon, that life seems up side down. It still thinks as a slow crawling creature and suddenly it has only two legs and two big heavy wings on its back. What a burden! For a high strung, aggressive and driven person, staying calm and not immediately responding to a critical situation could feel quite counter-intuitive. It’s like when you learn to ski; you start falling to one side and intuitively you want to swing away. But, you are supposed to lean into the fall rather than away from it. For a driven person, staying calm feels like “laziness, complacency, dropping the ball or slacking off.” But, in order to reinvent yourself, you have to stay the course and trust the process.

3-    Stay courageous – It’s scary to reinvent your self. You are in new territory. You go through a roller coaster of emotions including fear, hopelessness and resignation. And, your mind constantly tries to persuade you to draw back, saying things like: “It wasn’t a good idea!”, “You were in over your head!”, and “What were you thinking?” So, you need to stay present and “out of your head.” And, keep reminding yourself to focus on making progress, not achieving perfection. Winston Churchill said: “Success is moving from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm”. He meant that courageous leaders stay the course regardless of their emotions or circumstances. This is required in any reinvention process.

4-    ‘Fake it till you make it’ – When I was a junior consultant at the beginning of my career, I had to wear a suit and tie to all my client engagements. I came from a small village where the dress code was extremely casual. In the first year of my career, I kept having this nagging feeling that I was out of my league, out of place and a phony. But, over time the image and role grew on me, or I grew on them. And, I started feeling at home with my new identity and role. I have experienced this cycle many times since. So, in order to succeed, you need to box yourself in, say what you’ll do and do it regardless of how you feel, even if it feels robotic or contrived. And if your mind plays tricks on you, like mine does, just say back: “Thank you for sharing” and keep going.