Relationships

Finding Authentic Voice, Part 4: The 6 Pieces Of A Successful Conversation

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Anger does not get us anywhere. It feels good to let out because anger carries so much energy with it, but it is not a long term solution for either he who lets out the anger or its intended victim. This is why conversations that are fueled only by emotion - any emotion - end up with the participants too distracted by the emotion that mature self-expression goes out the window. Examples include: any argument between drunk people at a bar or a kid crying to its parents about wanting a toy.

The needs of those involved are rarely met because it is an unattractive and ineffective display of self-advocacy. 

On the flip side, relying too much on intellect while suppressing emotion can be detrimental. Several times in the past I suppressed emotion in difficult conversations with significant others so that I could focus on what was being said in the conversation and offer a level, honest response. No matter how honest my response was, I came across as detached and unempathetic. Even though we both were feeling feels, the fact that I suppressed mine in the convo made her feel more alone and dejected. Suppressing mine only made the conversation feel worse in the end.

Luckily for everyone, there is a middle ground where the magic happens. The problem for everyone is that it is a difficult space to navigate. People get anxious about letting themselves feel strong emotions when trying to communicate in a respectful way. It takes practice.

I am here to tell you it is manageable and possible. I had to learn how to do it myself many times.

Whatever it is you have been ruminating on and workshopping with me over the past three weeks, it is time to let it out in a healthy and effective way. 

Last week you defined WHY you want to express the thing you want to express. If you have not, go back now and do it now. Knowing the Why gives you the objective of your conversation. The goal you would like to achieve. 

Example 1: in the scenario where you hate your boss, sure, you likely feel anger, but the reason why you will talk with HR will not be because you hate him. They will not care to hear that. Instead, your goal is to enjoy your workday more without the stress of wondering what your boss will do or say next. That is why you care to hate your boss.

Do you see the difference? 

The past client I described knew that telling HR his boss was a douche would not help his situation. Instead, our work together made him realize that he was going to speak to HR because he cared about his job and the cool ideas he had for it. 

The goal of the conversation is bigger than the person to whom you are speaking.

As a result, tell it as a story. Easy as that. When you sit down with the person to whom you want to express yourself, follow these steps:

  1. PREPARE THE AUDIENCE. Say: I have been having a lot of trouble with something and I want to have a conversation with you about it.
  2. TELL THE STORY. Describe ALL of the relevant data points to set the scene for the person and lay the framework for why you are having this conversation.
  3. LET A LITTLE EMOTION IN. Explain what is affecting you, how it is affecting you, and why. Be specific and honest.
  4. RESPECT THY ENEMY. Even if it is a boss you hate, explain their position, the things they say/want, and why they seem to do that, if you know. Do not whine, though
  5. ASK FOR HELP. Now that you have the context (2), your side (3), and the other party's side (4) presented, inquire as to how to proceed. Ask for advice on how to accommodate all parties involved so that you can move forward. 
  6. REPEAT WHY YOU CARE. Reiterate why you care at all. In our example, it is why you care about your job and what you are motivated to achieve within it.

Follow this outline for any conversation. Practice it. You will still feel quite vulnerable as you are describing the situation. Instead of anger or sadness taking over, though, you will feel the emotion behind your description and it will remind you why you care. 

This form of conversation honors your emotion while respectfully communicating your feelings and needs. 

As I said, I have had to practice this many times. Last year, I had this exact form of conversation with a boss in a side job because the culture amongst coworkers had become sadistic and toxic. I knew complaining and venting would not achieve any change, so I followed the above format in order to present every layer of the situation, of which my boss was not aware. I was able to explain how burnt out I felt and how it affected our work with clients. Because of the fact that I referred to how it was affecting other specific people as well and how we were all at a loss, my boss sought those people out and asked for their perspective the very next morning. 

Remember: if you are polite, honest, and authentic when you express yourself, you will succeed in conversation. If the recipient cannot handle it, then that is their problem. Speak your truth.

Try it out. You will do great.

How To Find Your Authentic Voice, Part 3: What Is The Point?

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If you have not read the past two weeks' posts, a) shame on you and b) go back and read them. As a Sparknoted summary that will not give anything away from the actual posts, Part 1 was about self awareness and Part 2 was putting preliminary words to something you want to express. Now that you have diligently followed my instructions and you have done the homework from the last two posts, you should have a simplified note of what you want to express in its raw form. Some examples could be:

 If you hate your boss: "GAHH he / she is such a self-absorbed a-hole!"

Or if you are mad at your significant other: "GAHH I wish he / she would stop telling me to X"

Or if you have a pitch to give: "Why can't they just tell how incredible my product is? 

That is okay. Let it be pure and angry. Vent into that notebook. It is the starting point. 

Now comes the most important part. The ultimate question: WHY DO YOU WANT TO SAY THAT? What is the objective of what you want to say? Why do you want to tell your boss that you hate him / her? Why do you want to grab investors by the collar and shake them into understanding why your product is so amazing? Why do you care about the way your significant other is addressing you? 

If you can answer the Objective question for your situation, you are at a huge advantage. I asked my client - the one I mentioned in last week's post - that question and, after he stutter-stepped for a second, we got down to the fact that he enjoyed his job, he knew he was good at it and that he had a plan for its success, but that his value of autonomy and innovation was being intruded upon by his manager. Ultimately, it was not solely that my client was mad at the manager as a human being but mostly that the manager represented an obstacle to my client's long term performance and growth as an employee. The next step - which you will read about next week - was taking his answer to the Objective question (and the personal goals and value sets) and crafting a conversation with the HR office in which he talks about his role and his goals for it and how it would benefit the company and how he relates to his manager in a polite and level way...instead of sitting down and reaming the guy out and getting nowhere but angry again. 

Your homework for the week is to think about the thing you so badly want to say and ask yourself why you so badly want to say it. What is the point of expressing it for you? What good would it do?

Spoiler Alert: it is emotional. 

When I discovered my voice for the first time at the Book Swarm in California, I spoke up not because I was angry at my colleagues but because we were not focusing on what was most important for the project in that moment. But why did that matter to me? What was the point of speaking up and getting them back on track? 

It is because I loved what we were doing. In less cliche terms, I was so immersed and so interested in the subject matter and what we were trying to accomplish that I felt like the discussion in the moment was an obstacle to our efficiently completing our task as a team. I cared about the subject, so I cared about my team’s success, and I spoke up to that authentic feeling. 

Truly why, on the deep level, do you want to give your boss a piece of your mind? What value set is involved when you tell your significant other how you’ve been feeling? 

Your unique answer to that question will ground you back down from the raw truth and remind you why you care. That way, you can have the polite, authentic conversation you want to have and express exactly what you want to express. 

Valentine's Day Is Over: How To Start Planning For Next Year

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If you somehow did not hear, yesterday was Valentine's Day (If you are in a relationship and did not know that, let this be your harsh reminder). I am an old-fashioned romantic who put so much more emphasis on Valentine's Day back in high school and college. I loved making the valentines, adding a note, and attaching a sweet treat for the apple of my eye to savor. During a relationship in college, though, I learned that the day itself does not need to be a monumental event like some couples build it up to be, but at its core instead an opportunity to remind someone you care about why you appreciate them. Sure, little gifts can be given, but ones that relate to your connection in some way or inside jokes are best, and simplicity is key. 

Valentine's Day is treated so differently couple to couple. I know many women (sorry ladies) who anticipate it all year and many men (sorry ladies again) who abhor the holiday and dread the moment when they have to remember which colored roses are her favorite (white, obviously). I also know couples who do not put any emphasis on it and maybe borderline resent the holiday for the over-commercialized onus that it prophesies. Netflix & Chill becomes a weapon of their rebellion instead of the activity that concludes the holiday celebration. And then I know couples who are downright realistic about it...and damned adorable as a result. Take my sister and brother-in-law, for example. She is working, is soon to have a baby, had to take their dog to the vet for goopy eye problems, and was overall aware of their energy because yesterday was Wednesday, so they treated themselves to Chipotle and will have a more special night of appreciation tomorrow when the week is officially done (Ummm Chipotle on a holiday, though? Yes, please...). Though it sounds sort of common sense, what sets them apart is the fact that they already express their appreciation for each other every single day and cherish spending time together. Tomorrow will simply be the opportunity to slow down, go silent, and remember even more so why it is nice to be in each other's company. 

As I said in the beginning, simplicity is key. If you are in tune on a daily basis with what you appreciate about another person (or in tune with what you appreciate about being single, if you are not otherwise spoken for) and make an effort to show it, then every day will be Valentine's Day. American society loves holidays and Valentine's Day is just another victim of consumerism. Let us be real, I do not think St. Valentine sat in his prison cell thinking "I'm so excited that my legacy is to inspire millions of men in a couple thousand years to realize it's Valentine's Day day-of and panic-run to CVS to find the best card and heart-shaped box of chocolates."

On the contrary, St. Valentine was sending secret notes to his beloved from a prison cell awaiting his EXECUTION so it is a bit of a conflicting narrative when we ask our elementary school-aged youth to make mailboxes and fold a little Spiderman card that says "Slinging Love Your Way!" to give to their crushes. In my mind, it is instead a bit of an omen. Sure, forbidden love and absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder are phrases in our modern vocab, but he had a MUCH more significant need to say the words in his cards than a guy does today who has only been dating someone he met on Tinder for three weeks and who is panicking because he does not know what she expects from him on the 14th.

Despite the holiday's intense origin and the way America wants us to rejoice as if "it's all good!", one thing we can learn from St. Valentine is his simplicity. I have not read any of the letters he wrote, but I will bet a lot of rose pedals that he did not waste words. They were secret letters that were only for his woman to see. I am sure they were not just 140 characters, but I bet they were more succinct than a marketing E-book too.

Just be specific. Take John Mayer's advice and say what you need to say.  A while back I wrote a post about how saying more  actually ultimately says less and being straightforward and concise with your words more clearly gets your point across as well as boosts your confidence in advocating for yourself. And when do you have a ton of pressure to be vulnerable and say what is on your mind? When you have feelings for someone and the thought of them disrupts your daily functioning...in a good way. 

Then last week we discussed how verbal language is still so limited in its ability to convey what you see in your mind and feel in your body, which is why even those with a broad vocabulary still cannot fully describe an experience with words. Enter the Love Languages: 

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Receiving gifts
  4. Quality time
  5. Physical touch

No pun intended, but I love these because it gives us options. All of our personalities present differently so we all express appreciation and love differently. Animals do not have the same verbal language as us but they still have multiple love languages. When a horse drapes its head over an other's, when tigers rub their foreheads together, and - my favorite - when elephants wrap their trunks together like we hold hands. The beautiful thing about the love languages is that we do not have to choose just one.  We choose and use what is natural and authentic to us based on the love story that we want to express.

The whole goal of my business is to promote people's authenticity in their professional endeavors but also in their relationships and communication. I talk about authenticity a lot because I see it as the ultimate goal. If you are not advocating for yourself the way that you want to, you feel the disparity. If you are telling yourself that you are horrible at a certain skill but your numbers look great and you get a promotion, you feel the disconnect. If you perceive an expectation to express your feelings to someone in a way that is uncomfortable, you feel scared instead of exhilarated. For me, I know that my love languages are in the order of:

  1. Quality time
  2. Physical touch
  3. Words of Affirmation
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Receiving gifts

Quality time with my significant other where there is physical touch and unwasted words is my authenticity. That is not to say that Service and Gifts are not important in my relationship, but they are not a priority for appreciation to be expressed and they are not the most aligned modes of expression. Think about what your order might be. Then think about whether it has changed over the years, maybe even within one relationship. Remember, my authentic place in high school and college was focused on gifts and words of affirmation. 

Now that the holiday passed and Target stores can put all Valentine's Day related paraphernalia on 75% super sale, reflect on how you faced the day yesterday. Did you communicate with a loved one in a way that was reassuring and kind? Did you feel pressure to buy things or do things that did not feel authentic to you? Or did you let the day pass knowing that you and your beau will celebrate it when you can in the best, most aligned way that you can? 

No matter how you answered those questions, for future reference and your future narrative satisfaction:

  1. Be true to yourself
  2. Do not overcomplicate your gestures
  3. Say what you need to say

Thanks, John Mayer.

DECK THE HALLS WITH FIVE QUESTIONS THAT HELP YOU ASSESS YOUR RELATIONSHIPS AND COMMUNICATION STYLE

Andddddd suddenly it is December again. Even though Christmas music has been playing and Starbucks has been using the red cups for over a month, now is when we buckle down and freak out about gift-giving, snow tires, and, of course, even more time with the family.

I love my family and I am lucky to have a family that communicates through an endless group text message, but every family has their own version of pervasive challenges that never quite go away. Especially around the holidays, personalities clash, arguments happen, the house is suddenly THAT MUCH smaller as "grown up, mature" kids try to prove how grown up and mature they are. 

For the majority of families whom I have served in the mental health field, holiday time together is an impassible terrain of anger, sadness, and trauma. In every case, all of the tension is caused by the absence of a single tool: respectful communication. It is very difficult for a child to have a parent or sibling yell at them and relentlessly blame them for something they did not do and for that child to simply shrug it off with a "well, something is going on with them and they are projecting all over me. I wonder what is wrong."

When you are getting berated for no reason, it is human and normal to feel sad, angry, resentful, and defensive because you are being attacked and your self worth is threatened. I am one of the billions of people who have been bullied before, and I still get bullied to this day. Think about bullying, though. It is so sad that a bully is so insecure about him or herself in some way that they have to exert negative control over peers who they deem to be weaker in order to feel less powerless and more worthwhile in the world. What if that bully instead approached some of the "weaker" kids, asked to sit down at their lunch table, and be friends with them, and over time be able to talk about their anger and stressors to friends who would show him or her compassion?  Why does the bully not do that?

Because it is DIFFICULT.

It is difficult to express your feelings. It is difficult to trust others with your vulnerability. It is difficult to be authentic. It is difficult to take a deep breath and remind yourself that it is not your fault. 

Why do you think we had a section in high school health class when we were formally taught how to use "I" statements to express our feelings and have a respectful conversation? Because it is difficult to say "I felt hurt when you said ____  to me." It takes a lot of self-awareness to know how specifically your feelings are hurt, and even more self-assuredness to verbally express them.

And therein lies the big issue.

Not many children or adults know how to put words to their feelings and calmly discuss them. A lot of people know what they are feeling but, because they do not know how to verbalize it, they resolve to believe the only way to express them is through action or argument, leading to fights and resentment.  You cannot change others but you are always able to make change in yourself.

Last week I wrote about gratitude for the connections we make, and respectful communication is the fire that forges those connections into healthy relationships. You see, how you carry yourself day to day and communicate with those around you comprises the story you tell the world. We will never be done working on personal expression and respectful communication, myself included. But we cannot do it alone. I am proud of my own ability to openly express my thoughts and feelings and I had a lot of help along the way. Now I help people identify the stories that they are telling the world, how it is getting in the way of their goals or their relationships and, most importantly, what to do about it.

I have helped clients effectively present wedding toasts, strategize comfortable and authentic networking for their new startups, and hold a respectful conversation with HR about a boss that they absolutely hate.  Our presence is not enough to make a strong relationship. Healthy connections with others comes down to how you communicate. And let me be clear. We all need connections.

So now that we are riding fast toward the New Year, stop and think about the connections you have right now (family or otherwise) and ask:

  • How do I communicate with them?
  • What tone do I use or emotions do I feel during the interactions?
  • Can I feel that I want some kind of change?
  • Is something missing in the connections that I wish was there?
  • Can I put words to what it is?

That is where you start.