Pause and Reflect With Powerful Questions

Photo credit: Glenn-Carson Peters, unsplash.com

Photo credit: Glenn Carsten-Peters, unsplash.com

Happy New Year, and welcome to a year of possibilities. Regardless of how 2017 ended for you, the benefit of turning that calendar page to a new year is that you have an entire year ahead of you, ready for planning and action. Here are a series of questions to keep you focused and engaged in making 2018 a productive and meaningful year for you.

First, Take a Brief Look Back

While it’s not often healthy to dwell in the past, it is helpful to take stock and summarize how the past year went for you.

What were the high points of the year?

What did you do extremely well?

In what areas did you exceed your own expectations?

Did you meet or exceed your goals?

What were the top three lessons you learned from your experiences? (Include both career and life experiences)

Who provided you with valuable mentoring or coaching expertise and guidance?

If you could use one word to sum up 2017 for you, what word would it be?

Now, Look at This Moment Only

After you have reflected on the year that has just passed, now turn your attention to this moment…right now, today. Don’t even look at or think about tomorrow yet. Answer a few simple questions:

How are you feeling about yourself, your life, right now? (Good? Not so good? Not sure?)

If you could choose to do anything at this very moment, what would it be? (Is it something you usually do or rarely do?)

What are you most grateful for today? (Do you feel this way every day? Sometimes? Never?)

What person(s) are you coming into contact with today, and why? (Are there positive or negative feelings attached to that person/those people?)

In what way are you living your core values today?

What one word best describes your attitude today?

Last, Take a Look Ahead

Good for you. You have summarized the past year. You have taken a moment to value and appreciate how you’re feeling today. Now the fun begins…the future! The thing about life is, even if you have planned out everything in the finest detail, there are going to be unexpected twists, turns and events that can postpone or sidetrack your goals. How resilient or flexible will you be when that happens? How long will it take for you to get back on track?

Looking out across the next 12 months, what is the one big goal that you want to achieve this year?

If you took that big goal and divided it into 12 smaller chunks (by month), what would your plan look like?

Example: If your goal is to write a book (which is a big goal; I speak from experience), then what steps do you need to take between now (no book) to then (finished product in your hands)?

What resources will you need to accomplish your goals?

What mentoring or coaching services would you need to help you meet your goals?

Looking at December, 2018, if you were to look back on the year that has just passed, what would you like to say about your accomplishments?

I hope these questions have helped you to put into perspective the year that just passed, where you are today, and where you would like to be in 2018. May it be one of your best years ever.

Responsibility Needs an Overhaul

responsibilityWho are you responsible for or to? Well, first of all, you are responsible for yourself…specifically your actions and behavior. You also may be responsible for your family, for your work team, and you may even take responsibility for your community and beyond.
 
Just how responsible do you feel to others? You may think “It depends.”
 
The news recently of yet another case of sexual harassment – this time with movie mogul Harvey Weinstein – got me thinking. Do we as employers, leaders, bosses, or co-workers have any responsibility for shedding light on sexual harassment when it doesn’t “involve” or “impact” us? Unfortunately, people don’t want to get involved because they figure it’s not “their” problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every one of us is responsible to get actively involved in stopping this pervasive societal problem.
 
Most company employee manuals contain a section on inappropriate behavior in the workplace and even more specific retribution for sexual harassment. As we have learned through some national media examples, even for some companies who do have it in writing, those rules can still be violated, and the perpetrator’s actions are often quietly tolerated and ignored.
 
Specific language, whether verbal or nonverbal, provides context and meaning when it comes to sexual harassment. For example, there is a difference between a man telling a female co-worker, “You look great” and “Wow, that dress really shows off all of your curves, and in just the right places too.” And if the latter statement is accompanied by any physical contact, that’s sexual harassment.
 
If you see it, if you hear it, or if you experience it, then take responsibility and give voice to it. Don’t be silent. Nothing is more painful than hearing someone say “We all knew how he was.” Sorry. That answer just isn’t good enough. If inappropriate behavior is happening, people need to say or do something. Perpetrators may think their comments are innocent or no big deal. They may believe there is nothing wrong with making lewd comments. It’s time to educate people.
 
Some of my colleagues and friends have shared their personal experiences with sexual harassment by joining the #MeToo and #MeToo Men movements on Twitter and Facebook. The volumes of posted comments demonstrate that this remains a problem in our society, and it can no longer be tolerated. It’s not just women who are harassed; men are sexually harassed too. An excellent article from United Nations Women (UN Women) calls for men getting involved in speaking out in sexual crimes against women.
 
So the next time you pause, hesitate, or question if you should address the issue or have a confidential talk with another person, remind youreself that you have the power to shut down sexual harassment. Your stepping forward could save innocent people from becoming victims.

Celebrating International Day of Peace Raises Our Collective Conscience

International_Peace_Day_logo

United Nations symbol for International Day of Peace

September 21 marks the International Day of Peace, a recognition that promotes  peace around the world in countries, cities, and communities. The 2017 theme  is Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All. An event map indicates where events are being held around the world, including meditation, music, marches, and other events.

Put into action in 1981 by a United Nations Resolution, and celebrated for the first time a year later, the International Day of Peace reminds us all to bring peace into our lives, whether here at home or abroad. The International Day of Peace uses education as a means to encourage peaceful co-existence and safe, open dialogue as a means of understanding.

Some of us are more removed from speaking out for peace because our lives seem rather “peaceful” as they are. Yet for millions of people of all cultures, genders, ages, and economic classes around the world, they have only known war; they have not experienced peace.

When we consider war, we may think that battles are only fought with destructive weapons and artillery force. Yet, some people experience a war of a different kind as they try to simply live their lives as best they can. A war of words can be a form of abuse. A war-torn body can show signs of a domestic dispute and physical abuse. Belittling another human being can leave scars of emotional abuse.

Within families, wars are fought too, with relatives often choosing sides, deciding whom they will defend. Within companies, wars among departments or staff can occur when judgment and ego get in the way of collaboration and cooperation.

How are you making peace within your world? Are you encouraging those around you to share their thoughts and opinions through open dialogue? Are you trying to look at challenges and disputes, then identifying potential solutions? To make the world a better place begins with one person: You.

The United Nations has created 17 Sustainable Development Goals to improve the lives of every person on the planet, which include:

1.   No poverty.

2.   Zero hunger.

3.   Good health and well-being.

4.   Quality education.

5.   Gender equality.

6.   Clean water and sanitation.

7.   Affordable and clean energy.

8.   Decent work and economic growth.

9.   Industry, innovation and infrastructure.

10. Reduced inequalities.

11. Sustainable cities and communities.

12. Responsible consumption and production.

13. Climate action.

14. Life below water.

15. Life on land.

16. Peace, justice and strong institutions.

17. Partnerships for the goals.

As you consider your contributions to your community and the world, what goals are you working on every day to create a better life for all? Peruse The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World, compiled by the United Nations, and you will find many simple tasks that you can complete easily. Share it with co-workers. Create a conversation. Take action.

Nature Reminds Us To Be Fully Present

eclipse-lunarOn Monday, August 21, 2017, millions of people travelled to the path of the total solar eclipse to view the entire cycle, and particularly that moment when the moon travels in front of the sun, leaving a spectacular ring. Millions more viewed the eclipse on television or a mobile device. The rest of us viewed a partial eclipse from our back yards or office parking lots. Even Alaska Airlines maneuvered a flight into the path of the total solar eclipse for invited astronomers and special guests.

The sheer beauty of nature is best revealed in these moments of awe-inspiring wonder. When you sit back, become fully aware, and let nature unfold, you realize that that moment will never again be repeated. Ever. Sure, there will be other sunrises, sunsets, eclipses, but not that same one. It’s a powerful thought.

When you are fully present in a moment, any moment, you derive the greatest pleasure from it, because your mind is nowhere else. It’s not cluttered with thoughts of your To Do List or what you could make for dinner. Your mind is completely focused on that moment.

The benefit of present moment awareness is that it allows you to take in what is happening in that moment. You can set aside other feelings or hidden agendas, anger or angst, and simply be.

We witnessed that on August 21, when we experienced the solar eclipse in person. It took our breath away. It left no room for anything else except our focus and attention. We were suspended in that moment of pure exhilaration.

We came from different cities, countries, socio-economic backgrounds, races, religions, genders, and education levels, and somehow it worked beautifully. We collectively shared that moment together.

Let’s take what we learned in that moment and apply it to our workplaces, our communities, and our country. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tweeted “Enjoyed watching #Eclipse2017. A great reminder that all darkness is temporary.” Let’s listen and learn from each other. From awareness comes change, true change. It begins with open dialogue. Let the conversation begin.

Stop Apologizing!

sad-dogI love language, especially listening to the words that people choose to speak. Lately, I have noticed something quite peculiar. Call it a trend, or a bad habit. I have become acutely aware of people who repeatedly apologize. The key word here is repeatedly.

Their comment automatically begins with “I’m sorry.”

What would you think of someone who you met for the first time who, within several minutes, apologized to you several times? The confident professional would not apologize. It’s the person with the lack of self-confidence who would.

Whether it’s you or a member of your team, listen to the language being used. Whenever there is repetitive language, listen more intently to the impression that is being made. Is it a positive or negative impression?

Here are a few examples of “I’m sorry” that I recently experienced:

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know if you preferred coffee or tea.” Revised: “Do you prefer coffee or tea?”

“I’m sorry, but could you end the program at 3:45 instead of 4:00?” Revised: “Could you please end the program at 3:45 instead of 4:00?”

“I’m sorry. Could you please wait until everyone arrives before you start your presentation?” Revised: “Could you please wait until everyone arrives before you start your presentation?

It’s a small change with great impact. By removing the habitual “I’m sorry” from your language, you position yourself with greater certainty and confidence.

Here are a few ways to help you stop over-apologizing:

Become more aware of your language. Do you say “I’m sorry” too often? If so, ask yourself why.

Pause. Take the time to choose your words more carefully. Instead of automatically saying “I’m sorry,” take a few seconds to compose your thoughts and begin the sentence with your core message.

Become more aware of the impact your language has on others. Have several people suggested that you stop apologizing, or asked you why you’re apologizing? That’s a signal that you are over-apologizing. Simply drop the phrase as your default.

Snap out of the deficit thinking. People who over-apologize may have issues with self-worth. Replace the deficit thinking with abundance and gratitude.

The flip side: Of course there will be times when you will need to use the phrase “I’m sorry.” Save it for those occasions when you really need to use it, and it means something important rather than just a sentence starter.

Communicate With Credibility

Young-Professional.490f209379970f055c2ee7e62629b438219Credibility is one of those intangibles in life that can change dramatically from moment to moment. Throughout your life – and your career – you will have many opportunities to compromise your credibility. Never compromise your credibility. The credibility that you enjoy today has taken years to build. Why risk throwing it all away? Protect your credibility. It is one of your greatest assets. Your credibility is built on the foundation of your personal and professional character, and your competence as a professional.

In their seminal book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their longitudinal research on leaders asked professionals how they felt when they were in the presence of truly great leaders. The top ten replies were: Capable. Challenged. Enthusiastic. Inspired. Motivated. Powerful. Proud. Repeated. Supported. Valued.

How do you communicate with credibility? These tips will help you to consistently position yourself as a professional.

Align verbal and nonverbal language. Listen to your words and intonation. Be aware of your nonverbal language.

Lead by listening. Practice active listening. Deliver an “SOS” to your brain – Silently Observe, Then Speak.

Make realistic promises and keep them. Think before you speak. Do what you say you will do.

Speak from the heart. Create a mindset of inclusion. Use compassionate, caring language.

Be yourself. Align your values and behavior. Don’t try to mimic someone else’s behavior. Be your most authentic self.

Be an expert. Enhance your knowledge base continuously. Be a resource. Share your knowledge with others.

Be honest. Frame what you’re sharing so it benefits the other person. Know the difference between using kid gloves (being gentle) and boxing gloves (being more assertive).

Be proactive. Ask people their preferred form of communication. Ask clarifying questions to gain understanding. Seek challenging assignments at work, then follow through to get the job done.

Be consistent. Don’t flip-flop. Don’t exhibit unpredictable behavior.

To gain – and maintain – your credibility requires a great deal of behind the scenes strategic thinking. Begin with a simple self-assessment. It’s worth the time and your constant attention.

United We Stand, United We Fall: A Lesson in Brand Ambassadorship

united.com

united.com

As a professional, your actions represent not only you…they also represent your company. You are a brand ambassador when you work with customers, speak at a national conference, or volunteer in the community. You are the brand, and all it stands for. You are the face of the company. One false move, like bad behavior, can stunt or end career success.

The recent United Airlines debacle demonstrated that actions speak volumes about who you are and what you value.

The United Airlines Flight 3711 incident, which occurred on Sunday, April 2, has been reported, analyzed and picked apart by the media, bloggers and regular folks like you and me. Here’s what happened: The flight was fully booked, and passengers were already seated. One passenger, Dr. David Dao, had been asked to relinquish his seat (which he had paid for) to make room for a United employee. He refused. As a result, Chicago Department of Aviation officers swooped in with brut force, handcuffed and carted Dr. Dao off the plane. In the process, his nose and a few teeth were broken. A video captured by another passenger immediately went viral. The rest, as they say, is history. In fact, it was an historic event.

It didn’t have to be this way. A moment of thought before taking an action would have resulted in an entirely different outcome…a more positive one…for everyone involved.

Days later, top headlines are still trending:

Newsweek: Why United Was Legally Wrong to Deplane David Dao

NBC News: United CEO: Doctor being dragged off plane was ‘watershed moment’

What would a good brand ambassador do? Here are a few thoughts:

Know what your brand stands for. Your brand is that one thing that represents who you are and what you stand for. First, United’s brand begins with its name, United. That one word creates a larger-than-life image of the company. What does United stand for? Second, you may or may not remember United Airlines’ famous tagline, “Fly the friendly skies.” Because of the brut force that was used to remove Dr. Dao from his seat, one might question, “Is United really friendly?” If United’s thought leaders had really, well, thought about this, they may have come to the conclusion that the action that was being considered didn’t fit with the United brand. But things didn’t play out that way. Every employee of United is a brand ambassador for the airline. And every employee of the Chicago Department of Aviation serves as a brand ambassador for the organization.

Do the right thing. Consider the public’s reaction once the video went viral. It was clear that everyone agreed that the situation was not handled properly. We have all been in situations where our gut screamed out to us “Don’t do it!!!!!” Yet, we ended up not listening to our intuition and lived to regret our poor choice. When your conscience speaks, listen.

If protocol is flawed, pitch it. “I was just following protocol” is not a good enough reason. Sure, United Airlines had a policy. All airlines have policies, procedures and protocol. Sometimes you need to look at protocol, look at the situation, consider the outcome, and ask if the protocol fits the situation and if the outcome is one you desire. If things don’t add up, it’s time to re-examine the protocol or throw it out completely in that situation. The incident has resulted in United Airlines changing its policy.

Take quick, responsible action. The leadership at United Airlines first offered a boilerplate response to the media, saying they were examining what had happened before commenting. A few days later, United CEO Oscar Munoz apologized and took full responsibility. This was too little too late. Two days after the incident, United’s stock had fallen by 4%, roughly $1.5 billion. Although the stock has regained some of its strength, United will carry this ding on its record forever.

Be strategic. In my workshops, I remind people how important it is to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the marketplace. Technology makes it so easy to do. If you want to get ahead in your career, you have to stay ahead of the competition. A change in the airline industry began shortly after the United Airlines incident. A CBS News headline says it all: “Three airlines change policies in wake of United’s passenger dragging incident.”

Build a culture of respect and compassion. You will never find yourself in an awkward situation or have to apologize for bad behavior if you treat every person that you meet with respect and compassion. More people recognize  that this is the best way to move forward together.

The United Airlines incident is already becoming an important case study for business schools, communication scholars, human resource professionals and enforcement officers. Hopefully this is one case where we will learn from mistakes and bring about positive change as brand ambassadors.

A Quick Click Confirmation Keeps Lines of Communication Open

iPhoneuserProfessionals often complain about the lack of communication with co-workers, bosses or clients that could be remedied easily with a simple “quick click” solution: a confirmation. Technology allows you to quickly respond via text, email, or instant messaging.

All it requires is the addition of one sentence to your communication: Please confirm that you received this (fill in the blank…information/proposal).

Of course your computer or mobile device will let you know when a message is delivered. That’s a good start. It’s not enough. Just because it was delivered doesn’t mean it was opened or even read. Instead of hoping that the recipient will let you know, ask for confirmation instead.

Here’s an example: You receive an inquiry from a prospective client who is interested in doing business with you. This prospect requests additional information and a proposal with pricing. When you send the proposal, don’t assume that the prospect will let you know that it’s been received. At the end of the message, make a request: “Please let me know that you received this proposal, and if you need any clarification.”

Now let’s turn things around. Let’s say that you’re the person doing the requesting. Let the sender know – with a simple electronic confirmation – that you have received the information. “Thanks for your quick response to my request. The proposal looks good. I will contact you after our committee reviews it and makes a decision.”

Then…and here comes the hard part…do what you said you would do. Get back in touch with the sender. Provide an update. Don’t play phone tag or – worse – avoid the sender. There is nothing more frustrating or than submitting information and being avoided by the person who requested it.

According to the summary of an email statistics report conducted by The Radicati Group, Inc., the number of emails received daily, worldwide, in 2015 was 2.6 billion, which is anticipated to increase by 2019 to 2.9 billion.

Worldwide daily texting totals about 20 billion today. Less than half come from the United States. The Pew Research Center, in 2015, issued results of a study, the American Trends Panel, analyzing U.S. smartphone use. In every age group, from 18 to over 50, 92%+ use their smartphones for texting, compared to a lower percentage, 87-91%, who use their smartphones for emails. These numbers are continuing to grow, and so will the number of electronic messages that fall between the cracks. That means you must work harder to ensure that communication remains active and open.

Use technology to remain connected, whether you are the person requesting information or the person responding to a request. It only takes a second or two to request or give a simple confirmation that will keep the lines of communication open.

Clear and Concise is the Language of Leaders

meeting3Your success as a business professional and a leader is linked with your ability to communicate well.

More and more, people today are lazy listeners. If they don’t understand what you’re talking about, they won’t ask you to clarify anything. They will simply nod their heads and lead you to believe that they heard and understood exactly what you said. Unaware, everyone goes about their business, making mistakes and misinterpreting instructions…and it’s all avoidable.

It’s up to you to communicate clearly and concisely. Here are a few tips to help you become a better communicator:

Use specific language. Rather than vague, ambiguous, generic words, use words that specifically convey your message. For example, you could say, “The real issue here is change. Our customer base has changed. That means it’s time for us to change.” What does that mean? Just by repeating the word “change” three times does not mean that you have a point (or that your message contains any real content). The statement is vapid and meaningless. Guaranteed, people will scratch their heads, wondering what you are saying. A better approach would be a laser-sharp, focused message like this: “The needs of our customers have changed, so we must adapt to their needs. They value time and demand savings. Let’s shorten our turnaround time and include free shipping on every order.” The message is much clearer. There is no gray area.

Hold attention. Of the three primary ways people learn – visual, auditory and kinesthetic – about three-quarters of people have to see it to remember it. Our highly visual culture reminds us of this, as messages appear on rapidly-changing electronic billboards, websites that contain shifting images, and fast-paced, image-driven commercials that last 15 seconds or less. How are you getting and holding attention?

Paint a visual picture. Some words help to paint a visual picture when you have no PowerPoint to share, like “Remember,” “Visualize,” and “Imagine.” If you say, “Remember when you were a teenager and sat behind the wheel of a car for the first time?” your audience is right back in the seat of that car, remembering the experience. Visual words tap into the visual cortex and give the mind permission to create an image or recall one.

Use action verbs. The opposite of action verbs is passive language. Passive words include Maybe, Guess, Probably, Possibly, Pretty, Kind of, Sort of. This is tentative language. There is no clear commitment that’s put forth. If you say, “I think I could probably have that report on your desk, maybe, by Friday afternoon,” your boss will not have the faith or confidence that you will deliver. If, instead, you say, “I will have that report on your desk by end of business on Friday,” your boss will know that she will receive your report on Friday. People in leadership positions use more direct, active language. Immediately after covering the topic of active language in one of my workshops, a participant said to me on the break, “We had a pretty successful meeting with one of our top clients.” I turned to him, smiling, and asked, “Pretty? You had a pretty successful meeting? Or…a successful meeting?” Realizing what he had done, and with a wide grin he corrected himself and said, “Yes. We had a successful meeting with one of our top clients.” And yes, his revised statement was much more powerful.

Listen to your language. Are you sabotaging your own success by using vague, ambiguous, weak, tentative or passive language? Or are you thinking before you speak, and making your messages more powerful, using specific, direct action language? Be aware of your language, decide what messages you want to share, and focus on desired results. You will quickly gain a reputation among your team and senior leadership that you are a clear, concise communicator.

Step Away From the Circus

not-my-circusYou may think that drama plays out only on the movie screen or theatre stage. Not so. Look around you, in your work environment or personal life, and it’s there, disguised yet still visible to the keen eye. People “performing” as stellar showstoppers, pulling everyone in their path into their dramatic vortex. If you’re not careful, you may disappear into the darkness never to be seen again.

I came across a graphic phrase that – to me – puts things into great perspective. The sentiment is spot on.

Not my circus. Not my monkeys. Brilliant! Little did I know that this is a Polish phrase (I am a Polish American). I have shared this saying with colleagues and friends who are overwhelmed by the emotional clutter in their lives. Here are a few tips on controlling your involvement in someone else’s drama:

Listen without judgment. Simply hear what the other person is saying. Ask questions for clarification if you need to.

Separate the drama from the content. What is the person’s emotional connection to the content? Anger? Frustration? Pain? Hurt? Anguish? What is the primary message being shared?

Determine your role. What is it exactly that the other person wants from you? Is it simply to hear her voice/opinion? Is there an expectation that you will guide, offer advice or suggest a solution?

Remain objective. Drama divas love to get you worked up to their same emotional level. Remain clear-headed and objective, asking, What does this person want from me? What is the point? How (if at all) can I help?

It’s not your circus. You are not the ringmaster. You are simply an observer. If you find yourself being sucked into the circus, consider the price of admission. There are no free circuses.

If it’s gossip, step away. Nothing breaks down fruitful relationships faster than gossip. Especially in the workplace, do not get pulled into the drama of gossip. It serves no purpose and is a waste of your valuable time.

Make a referral. If you are not the person to offer guidance or assistance, refer the person to a better qualified professional. On-staff psychologist or counselor? Human resource professional who knows company policies? A religious leader to offer spiritual guidance?

Be proactive and create parameters if you’re stuck in the circus. I know what you’re thinking. What if it’s my boss’s circus? How can I escape? Be proactive and create parameters so that you can remain sane in your work environment. Develop a system of handling the drama that works for you. The other option, of course, is exiting the tent.

Imagine putting on your invisible armor every morning, a T-shirt with the words “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.” With laser sharp focus and determination, walk into every situation “mentally” wearing your T-shirt. Let it protect you from the drama divas. Remain objective and nonjudgmental as you enjoy your day that is fabulous, trouble-free and drama-less.

 © Christine Zust 

This article first appeared in my monthly newsletter, Q Tips. If you would like to subscribe to this free e-newsletter, click here.