Category Archives: Practical tips

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Are You Being Heard in Work?

You’re in a meeting and you get a great idea. You speak up and share your thoughts but it kind of gets passed over. Later on in the same meeting, a colleague pipes up with your suggestion but this time is does get heard and action is taken to implement your idea.

Sound Familiar? shutterstock_173611466

If this does happen to you, chances are you are female and it’s likely that the colleague, who gets heard with your idea, is a man. He may or may not claim the idea to be his own and you may or may not remind the group that it was your idea in the first place. Whatever the follow up scenario, you’re likely to be left feeling unheard and wondering why you’re so ineffective in getting your ideas picked up. You may think it’s okay, at least the action is being taken, but in the long term, you run the risk of your value and contribution not being recognised or rewarded.

So what is going on here? Well what’s going on is the effect of the differences in men and women’s linguistic style.

Men and Women’s Linguistic Style

Linguistic style is your characteristic speaking pattern. It’s how direct or conversational you are, your rate of speech and length of pausing; it’s your tone of voice, your loudness. According to Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, Washington and author of 15 books, linguistic style is a set of culturally learned signals that communicate what we mean and how we interpret other people and evaluate one another. Women it seems, learn a different linguistic style from men, which places them at a disadvantage as it can make them seem less confident and self- assured that they really are.

Sheryl Sandberg’s current ‘ban bossy’ campaign touches on these differences between men and women. In childhood, girls focus on building rapport through conversations, they learn how to ‘save face’ for others and for many, they learn not to be too self-promoting as they believe they won’t be liked for it. In contrast, boys learn about asserting their status, about pushing for ‘top dog’ and ensuring they’re always in a ‘one up’ position. Even if you don’t agree this should be the case, think back on how assertive, self-promoting women have made you feel in the past and ask yourself, would you judge them differently if that linguistic style had come from a man?

So for a man, claiming “I do this’ is second nature; Women are far more likely to avoid using ‘I’ and go for a collaborative ‘we’ instead.  Asking questions may be very helpful in building consensus and for many women, is a natural managerial style but for many, especially men, this can be perceived as putting themselves in a ‘one down’ situation and to be avoided at all costs. Say goes for saying sorry. Fortunately the growth in awareness and application of emotional intelligence in managerial and leadership development has helped us see how collaborative and coaching styles have so much more to offer to teams and individuals than old style, dictatorial approaches, but childhood socialisation has a long-lived impact.

Taking Turns to Speak

Another aspect of linguistic style concerns how long a pause we leave or need after someone has stopped talking and we take our turn to speak. Gender differences have a real bearing here, along with culture, where you live and so on. For some, the pause is hardly discernible and they’re straight in, offering their thoughts. For others, the pause needs to be longer, they need to consider what was just said and they’re checking that the speaker has, indeed, finished. You can imagine what happens when, in a group of fast talkers who jump in before someone has really finished, you have someone who needs a longer pause before they feel ready to contribute. They never see the window they need to speak and so don’t or are unable. Women have a tendency to fall into this category of needing longer pauses, so you can see how that could be perceived as a lack of confidence and self-assurance in a situation when everyone else is cutting in.

Being Stroppy

Being a Welsh comprehensive educated girl, when I went up to Oxford University to start my Geography degree, one of the biggest shocks I had in my tutorials was the ‘jumping in’ of my all-male (mainly privately educated) peers. I couldn’t get a word in edgeways and when I did, I was often interrupted and cut short. I found it very upsetting and remember feeling angry and powerless about how to change the situation. I did learn to be more assertive and adjusted my own pacing to match that around me, but it wasn’t my natural style. How this did me some discredit I learned much later when attending the retirement lunch for one of my old tutors. “Ah yes Rhian, I remember you. You were always so stroppy”.  I obviously didn’t get the balance right between being authentic and flexing my style at that stage in my life!

So What To Do?

Nancy Klein in her book ‘A Time to Think’ calls for organisations to adopt principles that promote a proper ‘thinking environment’.  Her ten components to doing that recognise the importance of listening to each other, of asking incisive questions that help people ‘speak and think’.  Creating the right environment where all individuals can be encouraged to contribute is key, with awareness that team meetings tend to bring out the best in men, but not necessarily women.

As women, we should allow ourselves to use “I’ rather than ‘we’ on more occasions. Being aware of the linguistic culture of our organisations and teams may also help work out why we’re not being heard. Cultivating a flexible style of communication to reflect the preferences of who you are speaking with can be very useful.  Facilitating and encouraging better listening is beneficial for both men and women.

You don’t need to shout, push in or get ‘stroppy’ to be heard. The impression and impact we create is not just about the words we use – it’s our tone of voice and our body language. Research has shown that 55% of our impact on others comes from our body language, the ‘dance’, 38% from our tone of voice, ‘the music’ and only 7% from our words. Develop insights on the impact you are having through self-reflection and ask for feedback from a trusted source. Being heard is a question of appreciating your ‘words, music and dance’ and how to get them working for you.

Successful people know where they are going

FIND YOUR OWN WAY TO FLOURISH 

A Flourishing Path

A Flourishing Path

How we define success is very personal. There are many, many books out there that will tell you all about the various strategies, steps and tools. Some will ring true for you and others will leave you wondering if everyone is off on another planet.

Personally, I define success as having a rounded and grounded perspective on a life lived with purpose and meaning; being able to use my strengths to accomplish things of value and importance to me, combined with a capacity to feel and give joy and gratitude. Well, that is what it feels like to me right now – I’ll probably come up with slightly different words tomorrow – but the essence will be the same.

In a nutshell, it’s about fully knowing the ‘why’s’ behind your decisions on what to focus on, and being sufficiently self aware and tuned in to others, to both self manage, and to manage with compassion, your impact on others.

To expand on that a little.

Successful people know where they are going. In all likelihood they;

* creatively use their strengths to thrive at work, at home;

* are open to new possibilities;

* enjoy excellent relationships with others;

* have learnt how to manage daily stresses;

* are self aware and know how to be authentically themselves; and

* invest time to reflect and grow.

HOW CAN YOU DO THE SAME?

I think age helps! A life lived through it’s natural transitions and stages brings wisdom for many. Whilst we’ve a long way to go before we venerate the ‘Third Age’ as much as the Chinese or Hindu culture’s, perhaps we are seeing a shift in attitude as the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation in this country heads out into their Third (and Fourth?) Age. There’s nothing quite like sharing your thoughts with an ‘elder’ to help put your current concerns into perspective.

However, if you’ve not quite got to that point of ‘wise old sage’ yet yourself, starting to prioritise a bit of ‘me-time’ to reflect, read and question is, I think, essential. Often that can get shoved to one side as our various roles make their multiple demands of us. There is a very good reason though, why the life jackets get put on the adults first and not the infants. You’ve got to sort yourself out before you can be of any use to others. Spending time alone can be really helpful in this regard, but so can meeting up with others who use a similar definition to ‘success’ as yourself.

Which is why I am delighted to be running a short course of ‘Choose 2 Flourish’ workshops in Bristol starting on 23rd May. We’re going to be using some great tools and models to broaden our thinking, develop our awareness and self management, and work on the stuff that matters to us. If you’re in Bristol, and this post has rung your bell, then click on the link below to get the full details.

http://choose2flourishworkshops.eventbrite.co.uk

Focus on your strengths – It will make you happier and more effective: Part 2

SO, WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS? shutterstock_81178216

How do you know what your strengths are? You are probably aware of some, but identifying your strengths can be tricky. This is due partly to our innate ‘tuning into’ the negative about ourselves or situation, and the difficulty we all have in recognising what we are truly good at!

One way is to ask yourself what strengths you have just used when you have done something you feel good about.  You could also try asking a friend or trusted colleague who you feel can give you honest feedback (itself a real skill).

Research shows there are 24 character strengths recognised across cultures as being inherently desirable human traits.  Martin Seligman has used these as the basis for his ‘VIA Character Strengths Tests’ questionnaire which is available, for free, on his website http://www.authentichappiness.org You need to register and the questionnaire will take about 40 minutes to fill in. That time is well spent however, as the results can be truly illuminating.

“OH, THAT WAS NOTHING!”

If you do ask for feedback on your strengths, it’s worth noting how hard it can sometimes be to actually hear a strength being identified in you, or indeed for others to hear it said of themselves.  How many times have you heard, or said yourself, “Oh it was nothing” or “the others did it, I did very little” when being praised for something done well, whether it be at work or in your personal life. Giving and receiving positive feedback is a skill, and given that it can be so powerful in shaping many things, not just our ability to identify strengths, it’s good to know that we can all learn to give and receive it.

TOP TIP: USE EVIDENCE BASED, POSITIVE FEEDBACK

Here’s where providing evidence for the strength is so valuable. Next time you listen to a friend or colleague talk about something that went well, identify a strength they used in order to achieve what they did. Identify specifically what they did so when you then feed their use of that strength back to them, you can provide the evidence.  See and feel how different things appear by trying it out when you don’t use the evidence.  For me, it carries far more impact when my husband tells me I’m good with people when he also refers back to the specifics of the situation he has perhaps just seen me in, letting me see the strengths of kindness, patience and empathy, for example.  Collecting your evidence of where and when you have used your strengths is a great activity for building up your self-confidence and self-belief in your abilities.

RE-CRAFT YOUR WORK / LIFE AROUND USING YOUR STRENGTHS

The next, essential step, is to actively use your strengths in different ways across your day. Remember, using your strengths builds positive emotion, opening you up to new ideas and alternative ways of thinking. You’ll feel good and will be more likely to ‘get into flow’ at work or whatever activity you need to focus on, when you are applying your strengths. (Go back to Part 1 of this blog series if you’ve forgotten why it matters).

As a mum, I’m aware how powerful this all is for my children. I help them recognise the things they have done well and encourage them to reflect back on things they feel good about. Being a coach I find it fairly natural to bring into use all those great empowering questions with them, such as “How did that make you feel?”, “What did you learn from that?” And “How could you use (insert strength) with (new challenge or difficulty)? I actively help them identify their strengths, celebrate their use and encourage them to think of where they can apply their ‘good skills’ to tackle their problems.

I’m still not brilliant at doing it for myself though. So, time to apply a bit more positive psychology on me I think, and here’s an immediate opportunity: how can I use my ‘optimism, zest and energy for life’ to work out an approach to cooking dinner for the children when much of it is likely to be immediately scraped back into the compost bin…

Still optimistic that the next day's dinner will be eaten...

Still optimistic that the next day’s dinner will be eaten…

Focus on your strengths – It will make you happier and more effective

WHY ARE WE BAD AT BEING GOOD? 

When did you last tell yourself this?

When did you last tell yourself this?

What makes it so hard for us to acknowledge what we are good at?

Why is it that at the end of the day, we remember the stuff we didn’t do so well whilst experiencing amnesia over the great things we actually achieved?

Apparently it’s all to do with our evolutionary make-up. Focusing on where we need to improve helped us to evolve as a species, prevented us from being eaten and enabled us to adapt to the many challenges that were faced.

Today, an awareness of our strengths can be hugely beneficial. On an individual level, how we were parented has a considerable influence on how easily we can tune into what we are good at. Regardless of our ‘starting point’, the good news is that we can all learn to cultivate more awareness of our strengths, and use that information to ‘float our boat’ and navigate it through turbulent times, at work or at home.

HOW DOES KNOWING YOUR STRENGTHS MATTER?

It matters for several, important reasons.

  1. If you know and consciously use aspects of yourself you are good at, you’ll feel more positive and that in itself brings about huge benefits. For example, this includes being able to think more expansively and more creatively, as explored by Barbara Fredrickson in her ‘broaden and build theory of positive emotions’ (Positivity, 2009). This now well accepted theory states that positivity opens our minds, making us more receptive and more creative, whilst enabling us to build new skills, new knowledge, new ways of being.
      Going back to our ancestry, Fredrickson states “positive emotions were consequential to our human ancestors because over time those good feelings broadened our ancestor’s mindsets and built their resources for the future”  (2009). Working from our strengths, designing ways in which we can use more of them, more often, can be a highly successful way of bringing in more positive emotions into our daily lives.
  2. Knowing what our strengths are gives us a way of dealing with challenges. When you work from a place of strength, you are far more likely to be successful. As you accomplish more, you build more and more evidence of your abilities. Success breeds success, so applying your strengths to help you tackle difficult situations or conversations, for example, helps you build the self-belief and self-confidence to do more. It’s a virtuous circle, which when consciously acknowledged can be very powerful.
      Recently a coaching client of mine was having difficulty seeing their strengths, and keeping an evidence log in the form of a ‘what went well and why’ exercise made all the difference in building that awareness and insight.
  3. Knowing what your strengths are can also help you be aware of your ‘shadow’ side. This is the opposite, unhelpful aspect of having that strength. For example, ‘a love of excellence’ has a shadow of being a perfectionist; ‘optimism, zest and energy for life’ (one of mine) can also lead you to overcommitting and needing to take a few reality checks. Transactional Analysis (a theory of communication) frames someone’s character traits you may find annoying as a ‘strength overdone’. Developing insights to where you (and others) are perhaps overdoing some strengths can lead to better relationships, at work, at home, with friends, family and colleagues.
  4. Acting from our strengths makes it easier for us to go into ‘flow’ at work and find what we do more satisfying (Johnstone, 2013).  ‘Flow’ has been the subject of considerable research in the field of positive psychology. One leading researcher, Mikaly Csikszentmihalyi states that flow is “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter” (Flow, 1991). Researchers Clifton and Harter who reviewed work across this field concluded that workers who “have the opportunity to do what they do best every day” show less staff turnover, better customer loyalty and higher productivity (2003).

In Part 2, we examine how to identify your strengths and use them creatively across your daily life.

References:

Clifton, D. & Harter, J. K. (2003). Investing in strengths. In K. S., Cameron, J.E. Dutton, & R. E. Quinn, (Eds), Positive organizational scholarship: Foundations of a new discipline (pp. 111-121). San Francisco, CA: Berrett- Koehler

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002), Flow: The Psychology of Happiness: The Classic Work on How To Achieve Happiness. Rider

Fredrickson, B. (2009), Positivity: Groundbreaking Research to Release Your Inner Optimist and Thrive. Oneworld Publications

Johnstone, C. (2013), Positive Psychology for Coaches and Health Professionals, online course materials, FindYourPower.com

Three Facts About Emotions

Emotions signal to us to pay attention. They are quite literally “energy in 256px-Drill_instructor_at_the_Officer_Candidate_Schoolmotion”, as the chemicals in our brains let us know about risks or opportunities facing us. Learning to recognise what our emotions are telling us has been a tremendous benefit to human development.

Marquis De Vauvenargues, a french philosopher stated “Emotions have taught mankind to reason“. Seeing how our emotions actually give us important data helps us work out what is going on, how we need to react and subsequently how we can get the best outcome from a situation. Fundamental to all of this is understanding that ‘you’ are not ‘your thought’.

The folks at 6 Seconds, the Emotional Intelligence network, are brilliant at explaining this and provide some amazing and helpful tools to help us develop our emotional literacy – increasing seen as essential skills at work, play and rest. Working out what your emotions are telling you, and then what to do about it, is a key part to developing your sense of well being and life satisfaction. Check out their latest 2 minute YouTube video that explains …

Three Essential Facts about Feelings 

‘5 Ways to Wellbeing’ by NEF – still useful 5 years on

5 Ways to Well Being” – Brilliant postcards – grab a free one here!5 ways to well being part 1

In 2008 Foresight’s Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project examined state-of-the-art research from across the world to consider how to improve everyone’s mental capital and mental well being through life.

The evidence suggests that a small improvement in wellbeing can help decrease some mental health problems and also help people to flourish ..

The weighty report was condensed into a series of postcards of fabulous, bite-sized information by the New Economics Foundation called ‘5 ways to wellbeing'; a set of evidence-based actions to improve personal wellbeing.

Despite being 5 years old, with significant advances being made in how we view flourishing, I still love these cards and have stuck them up in office kitchens, posted to friends and regularly re-read mine where I’ve popped it above my computer. You can purchase a set directly from NEF here

or if you drop me an email, claiming your freebie ones until my supplies run dry –  rhian@choose2flourish.co.uk