Acknowledging the Invisible People

When I first started working in corporate America, people I admired and respected gave me these words of wisdom: “Know who has the real power.” “Know who has the information.” “Know who is in front of and behind you.” “Listen.”

Having said that, how many times have you walked past a security guard in a company, store or school, especially if you pass that person every day? Do you speak to/acknowledge the server or cashier in the cafeteria food line? How often do you speak to the maintenance people? Do you speak to the receptionist? I think you get my point.

Every day or quite frequently, we walk past the same person and don’t acknowledge their presence. We see them but we really don’t. They are basically invisible. As I mentioned in the beginning, it’s about knowing who has the information. When people are not “seen,” many times others have conversations in front of the “invisible person.” Invisible people know a lot…they hear and know a lot of information. Please be clear, I am not inferring anything about the people hearing the information. What I am pointing out is there are people in our lives that we ignore, don’t acknowledge or don’t see, and we are missing such great opportunities.

When I worked in corporate America, I spoke to the security guards, maintenance people, and receptionists every day. I am name challenged and worked very hard to remember as many names as I could but I got really good at glancing quickly at name badges. They seemed to appreciate that “hello” or “how are you today?” I’m not suggesting you have long conversations; a simple “hello,” “good morning” or a smile will suffice–simply acknowledge their presence.

Lastly, with your waiter or waitress, you may want to consider saying, just as a common courtesy: “When you have a chance…” (then make your request) or “May I please have….?” It always amazes me that people make demands of servers, forgetting courtesy and forgetting that you are not their only customer. And you are never aware of conversations they may be overhearing.

So in closing, please be more aware of the “invisible people.” It will be all to your benefit.

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Before You Give Advice…Ask Permission

Recently I have gone through a few big, personal changes, and people have felt the need to start dispensing advice and suggestions without asking me what I have done, where I stand, if I want advice. I have found myself becoming annoyed at times. I have to remind myself that they mean well.  And then I thought, in the past, have I done this to people?

I’m reposting below the article I wrote last year on giving feedback/advice because I feel it may help people during a time of change for any of us at any given time.

Nowadays, people have access to a lot of information and often like to share that information with others.  Sometimes people think they know more than they do or even feel they are an expert at something because they have accessed that information. Some people feel they are experts because they simply feel they know what’s best.  I believe that most people have other people’s best interests at heart.  I also believe that people honestly want to help others.  Sometimes people don’t want your help or are not ready to hear what you have to say.

When I am working with coaching clients, we have an agreement up front that I can give them feedback on what I am hearing.  Even with the agreement, I still say, “Do you mind if I tell you what I am hearing?” Or, “May I give you some feedback about what I’m hearing?”  I was meeting with a manager when I was in corporate America.  She was sharing her concerns about a situation she was experiencing.  I asked her if I could give her some feedback based on what I was hearing.  She said, “No, I’m not ready to hear anything right now. I just need to vent.”  I said, “Okay” and continued to listen.  She came back later and asked me what I had to say.

Sometimes people start dispensing recommendations on what to do or how to handle a particular situation without even asking you what you have already done.  This can be exasperating to the listener.  It can also feel like they are not given credit for figuring out things on their own.  “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.”  Robert Frost

When I am interacting with people who are not my clients, I’ll ask permission to ask a question or to give feedback.  Often I’ll say, “May I ask you a question?”

Suggestions for Giving Advice:

  • Listen to understand the situation. (“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Stephen Covey)
  • What has the person done already if possible action is needed?
  • Summarize/acknowledge what you are hearing.
  • If you feel you have information to share, ask the person if they mind if you share some information with them. Honor their response if they say no and don’t take it personally. They may not be ready to hear it, and it is a good thing that they are being honest with you, rather than you talking and they are not listening or hearing the information.

Sometimes people just need to vent and need a good listener.  Sometimes they need additional information.  By listening and asking if they would like you to share some information with them, the situation can be beneficial for both parties.

“Before you give advice, that is to say advice which you have not been asked to give, it is well to put to yourself two questions—namely, what is your motive for giving it? And what is it likely to be worth? If these questions were always asked, and honestly answered, there would be less advice given.” John William Mackail, “On Giving Advice”

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The Power of Words: Ugly Words are Draining

I’ve written several articles and taught many workshops on the power of words. I’ve said words paint pictures and we need to think about what picture we are painting in our own mind and the minds of others.

 At work we need to set clear expectations and make sure that people understand what is expected of them. Clarity of understanding, expectations, and meaning is key to positive conversation and productivity. Clear expectations are not just about work but also about home and school. People usually want to know: What am I to do? What is expected of me? What will be the consequences? And most importantly, people want to feel acknowledged and appreciated.

Recently I watched a segment on “What Would You Do?”  An employee with Down syndrome is bagging and the scenario is a man and then a woman (both actors) are complaining about him being slow (speed wise) but then they start calling him slow (mentally), retarded, “these people”, etc.  Words hurt.  Many words have taken on negative and hurtful meanings. There are debates on what words meant in the past and what those words mean now. People in the store stood up for the employee and called the “actors” out about what they were saying about the employee.

Bottom line: We need to look at the content of our speech, the intent of our message, know our audience, and the delivery of message.  My mother used to say, “It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.”  And I will add, “What is your body saying?” If I have a screaming face, though my words may be appropriate, my face may be adding emphasis to what I’m saying.

There is a huge discussion on the use of certain words in the press right now (I won’t go into detail as it is political and I would need a lot more space to cover it). The point is, the use or not use of certain words and phrases has set off a major firestorm, has hurt many people, and has caused polarization, losing the true issue.

I think the quote below by Gerry Spence encourages us to remember that we are all people, individuals. We have feelings. We get hurt. We love. We have goals. We often are products of our environments. Yet, we are people. I think this point has gotten lost in so many areas…in our streets, communities, businesses, places of worship, and the media.

“We are not our profession, our bank accounts, our status in life.  We are people first.”  Gerry Spence

People first.  Words are powerful. They can lift up or tear down. They can help or hurt.  They can encourage or discourage. You have a choice. Choose wisely!

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It’s Not Where You Start, But Where You End

One of Stephen Covey’s principles of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “[b]egin with the end in mind.”  There is also a saying (paraphrasing) that it’s about the journey, not actually achieving the goal. 

As the year comes to a close, I encourage you to look back over your journey. Review what you have learned/gleaned from the 2015 journey as opposed to what you may have accomplished or not. Many people will start to look at setting goals for 2016. I suggest you look at finishing the year with a sense of positive intention. (Nancy Lewis of Progressive Techniques has been focusing this year on encouraging people to be intentional.)

WORK:

  • Review deadlines. Review processes.
  • Clean up loose ends.
  • Follow up with clients to get meetings, sessions, etc., set up for 2016.

 PERSONAL:

As you end this year, consider the following:

  • Be intentional at holiday parties and gatherings.  Don’t overeat or overindulge. Eat a little something healthy before you leave. Go for the healthy goodies. If you choose non-healthy items, eat only one of each. Eat slowly. Drink slowly.
    You can end the year with healthy eating.
  • You can get back into a workout regimen.
  • Go to bed earlier.
  • Spend more time with family and friends or spend more time with yourself.
  • Read a book.

So look at where you’ve been, what you’ve learned, personal and professional growth, whose lives you have touched, and how you made a difference, just to mention a few things. If you are a goal setter, this will help you to “begin with the end in mind” as you set your goals for 2016.

My holiday wish for you is that you slow down and take time to enjoy and be with friends and loved ones. But, if you are able, reach out to someone who might be alone at the holidays and invite them to share these special days with you.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

 

 

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The Sandwich Generation and Having a Career

It is more common nowadays that adult children are becoming caregivers for their parents. According to Family Caregivers online, “The majority of caregivers are middle-aged, 35-64.” Thus, the “sandwich generation.”  Couple that with being an entrepreneur and you have quite a challenging, stressful situation on your hands. 

Being an entrepreneur/having a career requires discipline, focus, planning, organization and commitment. You know this.  However, it is very difficult to manage all those areas on a daily basis. When you add in caring for a loved one, usually a parent or a differently challenged child, everything is heightened – taken to a new level. What’s a person to do?  Lost productivity is in the billions.   

Real Example: Working from home as an entrepreneur…on a conference call with a client and you are interrupted by a call from your parent’s assisted living facility. You handle that situation, get back to business and receive another call.  Your daughter-in-law is asking for your assistance to watch your 3-year old grandchild.  This is a four-generation challenge while still trying to get through your workday.   

              First, step back and breathe.

              Second, pack away your superwoman/superman cape. 

              Third, understand you can’t do it all by yourself and at the expense of yourself.

              Lastly, you need to take care of yourself. 

Where to start?

  • Define what being a caregiver means for you.
  • Understand your role will change and what that will mean for you.
  • What kind of caregiver do you want to be?
  • Consider your options.
    • People or agencies that can provide support/assistance.
  • What resources are available?  Seek help.  Accept help.
    • Health Care
    • Housing
    • Legal Needs
    • Financial Needs
    • Transportation
    • Meals
    • Caregiver Assistance
  • What role will other family members play? (Yes, involve them. You can’t do it all.)  It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village for the child to take care of the parent.
  • Let go of guilt.
  • Set boundaries and keep them.

There is a lot more about being a caregiver in and of itself which I will not cover in this particular article. The main thing I want you to know and think about is that as a caregiver and career person/entrepreneur, you need to have a plan on how you will be both a caregiver and manage your career while taking care of yourself. You already have many balls to balance as an entrepreneur and now you will have several more balls in the air to balance. It is important to take care of yourself or you can’t run your business/manage your career and be a caregiver and do either well. 

The highlights above will help you to get started and then you need to develop a plan of action. 

Know that you are not alone. You may also want to look into support groups to get ideas and encouragement.  It is extremely important that you find a way to take care of yourself.  If you don’t, you will have trouble managing your business, being a caregiver and maintaining your own health.

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Sometimes You Need to Step Back and Reevaluate

 I would like to believe that all of us are passionate about something.  As entrepreneurs, we are passionate about our business.  As employees, I would hope we are passionate about our work and whatever other passion we may have.  As people, I hope we are passionate about life and making a difference in some way. 

There are times, however, when our passionate fire may be burning us out.  The heat may make it difficult for us to see clearly, to be creative or to be productive.  Sometimes we don’t believe we have our passion or feel it is waning.  

There are times we may need to step back, take a break and reevaluate where we are and where we want to go.  We need to be still and listen for the inner voice to guide us.  There may be times when our passion takes on a different persona or looks a little different than it did at first.  Sometimes our passion may grow, change shapes or shift entirely. 

We need to be open to possibilities and follow what may be a new path.  My focus has shifted from predominately staff development to coaching.  It does not mean I’ve lost my passion for facilitating workshops and working with staff on their development.  It means I use my passion differently and my focus has shifted.   

A friend of mine is an amazing creative person.  She designs/sews, gardens, sculpts, paints, draws, cooks and decorates.  She plans amazing trips to Europe and could be a historian.  She became a nurse.  She also teaches nurses.  Over the years, she has done all, some or none of her creative talents. She is an amazing nurse and we could use more nurses like her.  My point: this is an amazingly talented woman.  At various times in her life she has used her talents, or not.  The passion has never died.  It comes forth when she is ready to let it in whatever form comes forth.   

I want to believe our passions don’t die.  Sometimes we need to step back and reevaluate where we are and where we are going.  Sometimes we just need a break. 

Be still!

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Lessons From Vacation in Italy: Unplugging

 I have an annual day called “Innergize Day.”  It encourages people to take one day a year for themselves to do something they enjoy or rarely take time to do.  The goal is that you will take a day a year, a day a month, and a few hours a week for yourself.

A few years ago, I attended a panel discussion comprised of women at the level of CEO.  They talked about the importance of learning to unplug; they were reminded of this when their children started commenting about them conducting business on the phone while on vacation. 

Lastly, there was an AT&T commercial where the child asked the mother when they could become a meeting.  The commercial, of course, was about being able to work from anywhere when you have your phone.  The message I took away was the child was asking for more time with the mother.   

 I recently spent 11 days in Italy.  It was beautiful. The food and drink was amazing.  I love Italy and would live there if I could.  What I learned from this trip is that people really do have trouble unplugging.  There were 13 of us as a group on this trip.  I only used my phone to take pictures, and I didn’t take that many.  I took magazines to read and my journal to write and reflect.  Several people had their phones and tablets.  They were taking pictures nonstop, and at dinner they would be on their phones and tablets uploading pictures to Facebook and sending pictures to family and friends.  Some even took calls at the dinner table. I believe they missed experiencing the beauty of the moment.  They missed out on truly tasting the savor of the many courses of authentic Italian food.  And they missed out on interacting and getting to know others.  Now, I’m an introvert but at dinner I had conversation with the people sitting around me. 

 After the first day, I didn’t miss being on Facebook or texting.  I enjoyed being in the moment.  We stayed at a bed and breakfast on the second leg of our trip. The hotel had a room that had a fireplace in it.  When we returned from our day’s excursion, I would sit in the room and just enjoy the fireplace.  Sometimes I would read a magazine or journal, but most of the time I was still and just looked at the fire. 

 Europeans take vacation every year and they do not work during their vacation.  They enjoy their vacation, family and friends.  We, as Americans, can learn from this.  I remember on  one of my corporate jobs my message said I was on vacation and would not be checking for messages.  People left me a message saying a novel idea and then they left me the business message.  They actually thought I was still going to check my messages even though I said I was on vacation and would not check for messages.  Why?  Because in that corporate culture people worked during their vacation.    At another panel I attended, a male CEO said he was in Italy and his daughter looked at him when he took a call and said, “Really, Dad?  You are going to take a call while we are here in Italy?”  She shook her head and walked away.  He didn’t take any more calls the rest of the trip.

 Whether you have family or not, you need to unplug.  You need to enjoy vacation, time at home, lunch (without working).  If a business cannot run without you for 30 minutes, two days or a week, what does that say about the people you have chosen to be part of your business or what does it say about your leadership style?

 I encourage you and challenge you to try to unplug.  Start small.  Take lunch and do not have your phone.  See what happens. 

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Fireflies, Bubbles and Sandcastles

I’ve often written about the importance of taking time for YOU! It is important from a business perspective to rest your brain and body to increase creativity and productivity. It’s especially important if you are an entrepreneur or solo-preneur because if you burn out, you have no energy for the business and usually no one to run the business.

From a personal standpoint, it is also important to take time to rest, relax and rejuvenate. When you take care of yourself, it makes you a better person on all levels.

I’m now going to challenge you: take time for you to a new level! Stay with me. I’d like you to take a break from being an “adult” and do the things you liked doing as a child. Here are some things to jog your memory (since you may have forgotten):

  • Catch fireflies (release them back to nature)
  • Blow bubbles (I always have bubbles on hand)
  • Build sandcastles
  • Swing
  • Color
  • Play ball
  • Read
  • Watch a movie
  • Play Frisbee – with a dog is even better
  • Eat an ice cream cone
  • Call a friend and catch up on all the things that have happened since you last spoke and/or reminisce about the past
  • You get the idea..

The benefits of playing will:

  • help you relax
  • relieve stress
  • feel young
  • increase your energy
  • connect with others
  • free your brain and ultimately help you to be more creative and more productive.)

 Don’t judge.  Just try it–you’ll like it!  If you feel weird doing some of these on your own, grab your kids/grandkids or borrow someone’s child and given them a break.)

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We Are Our Sisters’ Keeper

             We have four to five generations of women alive right now. In the workplace we have supervisors, mangers and leaders in their 20’s responsible for staff that are older and have much more work experience.  When I was a corporate trainer, I often advised more senior workers (work wise and age wise) on how to work effectively with their younger supervisors and colleagues.   

              This is not about generations though. I want women to understand the value of encouraging, teaching and sharing your experiences with younger women. Conversely, more experienced women can learn from the younger women as well.   

            I have had many mentees and our relationship has been mutually beneficial, as I would hope all mentor/mentee relationships would be.  I’ve asked them what they wanted me to share with them, I shared what they wanted and more.  I also learned tremendously from them.  One thing I learned from my INROADS advisees was to lighten up.  I have stayed in touch with all my mentees and many of my INROADS advisees.  Several of them have brought me in to their organizations and/or companies as a speaker or trainer.  They’ve also referred people (not just women) who became my coaching clients.  When I moved to North Carolina, many gave me names of people they knew to network with.   

            I conduct workshops for youth.  My two oldest granddaughters have given me ideas, information and helped me to understand so much about high school and middle school aged behavior and their thought processes.  I have learned so much from my granddaughters and I have a great deal of respect for the two oldest.  I have imparted much wisdom, knowledge and experience to them and I have gained so much from them.  Again, during my transition to NC, when I was grappling with some things, my oldest daughter reminded me of some of the philosophies I have shared with her over the years.  

            There are more women in higher positions, in different industries and trailblazers than there were when I was growing up.  In fact, when I was growing up, the only women I saw were actors and actresses.  I was blessed to have good role models about life.  My grandmother was even-tempered.  My aunt Gerri taught me the importance of the image I projected by the way I dressed and took care of myself.  My aunt (by marriage) Joan showed me that you could be assertive and graceful.  She was (is) beautiful, worked in corporate America, had a great sense of humor, was (is) a wonderful cook and was able to stand up for herself.  I still look to her for advice.  My mother, though I struggled with our relationship as many mothers and daughters do, taught me the importance of education, having a strong work ethic and taught me about accepting cultural differences and exposed me to so many cultural aspects of life.  My mother was a concert pianist and an opera singer who never realized her dream.  She was a civil worker in Detroit and I don’t remember her ever missing a day of work for illness.  I have developed wonderful relationships with some of my younger cousins and continue to learn from them.  One cousin has pursued many of her dreams with much success.  She has been a news anchor, a director of diversity and now is the president and founder of her own company, Lothery and Associates.  Another cousin of mine is a cancer warrior and survivor.  She was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in two areas of her body.  She has gone through all the treatment, fought the battle and is now cancer clear.  She did it all with style and grace and a smile. She now speaks to women who have been newly diagnosed with cancer.  The nurses and doctors couldn’t believe how she always came to treatments looking glamorous and with high energy and a positive outlook. 

            We have a responsibility to mentor, sponsor, and guide, encourage and support the women that are following in our footsteps and creating their own paths.  We also, even as the older person, can learn from them as well…it’s not too late.  We are our sisters’ keeper. 

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The Three C’s of Working Together: Connecting, Communicating and Collaborating

In March I spoke at a Sisterhood Celebration weekend at a church in Raleigh, NC.  I spoke on “Taking Off the Masks in Roles and Relationships.” This article is not a replication of my presentation; it is, however, another train of thought about our roles in relationships. I’m focusing on work relationships in this article, although I feel the points can also relate to personal relationships. 

Connecting:  We meet people under various circumstances. We never know what will come out of our meeting. There is a saying, “People come into your life for a reason, season or a lifetime.” I suggest that we are open to meeting people without expectation of the purpose of the connection.   

Though I am a speaker, presenter and life coach, I am also a very strong introvert.  People are surprised and don’t believe it when I tell them that. The point is, I understand that some of you may be thinking “I’m shy” or “I’m not comfortable meeting people”, etc.  I suggest that you just allow yourself to be open to whoever may come your way. When I go to events, I set a goal to meet at least three people I don’t know.   

Communicating:  Communication is very important. Think before you speak. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” (Stephen Covey) Set expectations up front as to how you are going to interact/work together. Listen. Many people don’t listen to understand, they listen to respond (you’ve heard this many times). Become a good listener. Be open to hearing, and clarify what you have heard. 

Collaborating is being able to work with another and to cooperate. Basically, each person brings his/her knowledge, experience, skills, thoughts, etc., to a situation and, through connecting and communicating, infusing what each person brings for the benefit of the agreed upon goal.   

  • Don’t get locked into what always has been, even if you think it has worked.
  • Be open to hearing from others. Ideas can come from people you least expect. To make informed decisions, you need information; we don’t know it all.
  • Moving from “me” to “we” thinking nets better results.  Appreciate style differences. 

Ebony Speakers came together in part by using this formula.  We connected at several NSA conferences. We communicated what we were doing and where we wanted to take our messages/businesses. We collaborated and created the Ebony Speakers.   

What makes all of this work together for the good is being authentic, open, honest and vulnerable. Collaborating is very prominent these days. Connecting, communicating and collaborating can open many doors, opportunities and possibilities. 

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