Monday, January 30, 2017

Skis Only Come in Pairs; the Challenges of Being a Single Businesswoman

My son had grown out of his old snow skis and needed a new pair.  New boots, bindings, skis... the whole deal. Not an inexpensive enterprise but something we were willing to invest in, given our desire to ski as a family over the upcoming winter season. However, our first outing, proudly sporting his new racing skis, he went over a small jump and landed tip first snapping of the tip of his brand new skis.

Now, unlike shoes, snow skis typically have no left or right. Therefore, in my ignorance, I assumed that we only had to purchase one new ski, replacing the one that had broken. To my surprise (and financial dismay) though, I discovered skis only come in pairs. I never did receive a good explanation for this phenomenon, the most frequent reason cited being ``that`s just how they come!``

The following week I was part of a women`s discussion group concerning hidden stereotypes and barriers to the progress of women in business when the subject turned to the perceived view that to be viewed as `successful` a woman needed to be part of a `twosome`. This was not the first time I had head this, I`ve had numerous senior businesswomen express frustration with the view that there must be something `wrong` with them if they are still single, the most common belief being that they must be some kind of man-hater, a woman who has perhaps sacrificed her femininity in order to be able to `make it` in the corporate world.

In short, they are made to feel inadequate for not being part of a pair, as though it is somehow indicative of their inability to forge relationships, thereby decreasing their business effectiveness or leadership success.  Interestingly though, single men don`t seem to suffer the same perception in the work world. They are either viewed as being between partners or are believed to be work-focused. Neither view seeming to carry any perceived negative stigma, serving instead to move people to be sympathetic to his situation or to revere his dating popularity. In either scenario his single status was generally attributed to circumstances and not to any `failing` on his part.  Certainly it was never indicative of any potential inability to lead or manage the business aspect of his life.

Many of my single female clients though comment on the fact that their single status often carries numerous assumptions, many of which focus on personal qualities and characteristics they must lack, qualities which are deemed to be essential to lead effectively. Additionally, they find others uncomfortable in inviting them to social events if they plan to attend alone. This is reflective of not only people's reluctance to have uneven numbers at a dinner table (please!) but the belief that a single woman must be 'looking'. If there are only married men present... beware!

The stereotypical belief that all women are earth mothers and naturally nurturing implies that all women want and need to be mothers. Those women that choose not to have children are somehow seen as lacking in some way. The guilt and baggage these women can be made to carry as a result is surprisingly huge, yet men that choose not to enter into fatherhood are not burdened with negative impressions in the same way.

We know though that women who skew too far away from the expected stereotypical image of 'who' women are can find their career stalled or derailed. Many top female CEO's who are relieved of their position have often commented afterward that their biggest mistake was focusing primarily on the business at hand (leading like a man) and not overly demonstrating enough awareness of and interest in the employee base (leading like a woman).

So what is a single business woman to do in an effort to combat the assumptions and stereotypes that may negatively impact their career?  The following are some tips offered by our female single clients that have served them well...

  • For those less-than-secure wives of male co-workers, make a point of approaching them at social gatherings with a comment or two about an activity that they are engaged in.  This not only demonstrates that their spouse is speaking openly and positively about them (a welcome sign) but shows a natural and warm interest in them as a person. This helps to move you out of the 'potential threat' category. You don't want your male counterparts avoiding working with you on projects simply because they are fearful of what their wives might think. (and... yes... according to numerous clients this is a legitimate 'thing'!)
  • Many single people have a pet or two for companionship (so do many married people but we're not talking about them!) Don't hesitate to reference your pets, it can help you appear more caring, but don't overly personalize them. Bear in mind that the 'crazy cat lady' is always seen as single!
  • Don't hesitate to speak about the shows you've seen, the hikes you've taken, the restaurants you've been to. Many times single folks avoid this so as not to make their married counterparts jealous. However, my clients assure me that it helps them to be viewed as someone who has chosen to be single versus someone who has not. The more that being single is viewed as a state within your control, a lifestyle choice, the more accepting others are likely to be. Letting others discretely know that you are doing well on your own is often all that is required to keep them viewing you as successful and competent (and from all the well-wishers from trying to set you up!)
  • It may sound silly, but speaking glowingly about favoured nieces and nephews helps others to see you as nurturing and helps everything fit better in their world. Nothing changes in yours of course but... after all... it's all about them anyway, isn't it?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Tip Thursday - Building Rapport

There are numerous unconscious signals that we use to communicate to someone that we like them. Understanding what they are can help you to watch the behaviour of others and determine whether you are truly connecting with them or not.

1. You are both engaged in mutual eye contact
2. We often touch people we like, on the hand or arm, when sharing a comment, laughing over a joke
3. We are mirroring each others movements
4. We are leaning or angling our bodies toward each other, even slightly
5. We remove barriers between us, even small ones like coffee cups, purses or magazines

Watch for these signs to determine if someone feels connected to you, or use them yourself to help build rapport more readily!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Prime your State for Success

You wake up feeling tired and overwhelmed, dreading the day ahead.
You are in the midst of your day and are struggling with finding a solution to the latest problem to cross your desk.
You arrive home after a long and busy work day, looking forward to crashing on the couch, when your daughter reminds you of her school project you promised to help with.

Sound familiar?  We all face similar situations daily, times when we lack the energy and focus to fully and successfully handle what we must. It is far too easy to allow the overwhelm to over-take us, to allow our emotions to lead us to thoughts of  'I can't', 'It's too much', 'I`m not`.

Instead of being driven by our emotional state though, we need to learn to take control. We don`t need to be at the mercy of our states when we can readily shift our state to be what we need it to be in order to face the challenges in front of us.

Many of the world`s most successful people have a morning routine they follow in order to set their state for the day. They know that how they feel drives what they do and will therefore impact what they achieve that day. These short routines/rituals allow them to establish the mental and emotional mindset they need to accomplish what`s in front of them.

In Psychological terms the actions they take are called Priming. We know that our exposure to various words, images and concepts can have a major impact upon our behaviour. Often this occurs unconsciously.  It is the reason why so many advertisers pay for you to hear and see their messages. They are 'priming' you to buy their products. However, there is nothing preventing us from using this same principle deliberately upon ourselves in an effort to increase our success.

We know that energy is life.  It therefore follows that the quality of our energy will determine the quality of our life.  Starting our day by reinforcing how tired we feel, how tough the day is going to be, how much we are dreading it will only serve to prime our minds to find each task we undertake to be difficult and overwhelming.  Instead we need to start each day with positive energy.  

Many successful people find that engaging in a minute or two of activity (jumping jacks would work but so would a vigorous walk) is enough to get their body feeling awake, energized and ready to tackle the day. You don`t need a full workout routine to produce a change in your physiology, to prime yourself into a positive state.

Tony Robbins, world famous Performance Coach, is a strong advocate of the need to prime himself daily. He has an established 10 minute routine he follows, regardless of where he is in the world, to help him set his mental and emotional state for the day.  He does a cold water plunge, followed by a breathing exercise followed, in turn, with 3 minutes of focusing on 3 things he`s grateful for, 3 minutes focusing on the presence of God and 3 minutes focused on three things he`s going to make happen that day.  This 10 minute routine sets the pattern for his day.
"To me, if you want a primetime life, you've got to prime daily"  Tony Robbins
How do you start your day? Are you dragging yourself out of bed thinking about how much more sleep you need? Are you thinking about the meeting you wish you could avoid, the project you're behind on, the to-do list you can't seem to ever get to?

How's that working out for you so far?

Why not try something different? Why not get out of bed and do 50 jumping jacks (or so) to get your heart pumping and to feel some energy and then take 1 minute to think about what you're grateful for and then 1 minute to think of 3 things you are going to achieve that day.  Note I said 'going to' achieve, not things you 'want' to achieve.  Language here is everything, you are priming yourself to get things done.  

That's a 3 minute routine that no one is too busy to follow. Try it for a week and see how much better you're feeling and how much more you've achieved by only investing 3 minutes each day. A small social experiment that could pay big dividends to you. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tip Thursday - Image

Job hunters take note - if you are being interviewed over a meal you might just want to skip ordering that glass of wine or pre-dinner drink.  Researchers from the University of Michigan and of Pennsylvania found that merely seeing someone holding an alcoholic drink is enough for us to deem them less intelligent.

This is not due to our expectation that intelligent people don't drink, but more an impact of the perceived connection between drinking and cognitive impairment. We tend to assume impairment even if there isn't any. There is actually a name for this association - the 'Imbibing Idiot Bias'.

So, job candidates beware. ordering that drink over dinner may make you appear less intelligent and be enough to cost you the job. A steep price to pay for enjoying a small glass of wine!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Learning to Receive Feedback

When it comes to Feedback, most of the discussion is generally centered around how to deliver your messages.  Equally important however is our ability to receive feedback. We are far more comfortable in hearing 'job well done' but are not likely to grow as far or as fast in our chosen careers if we don't become equally comfortable in hearing and seeking out how we can improve.

Our potential growth is actually a factor of three elements;
  1. our ability to ask for feedback, 
  2. our openness to receiving the messages and 
  3. our willingness to take appropriate action based upon that feedback
Although all of the above are teachable, the barrier to receiving feedback well tends to fall at the juncture between our desire to learn and grow with our desire to also be accepted and respected. Developmental feedback has a perceived negative component to it that leaves us feeling less accepted, less respected and less successful. Wanting to save ourselves some possible pain we then learn to avoid feedback as much as we can. 

Charles Jacobs, in his book Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn't Work and Other Supervisory Lessons from Brain Science, shows that when people receive feedback that is counter to their self-image, they are far more likely to change the information they hear than they are to change themselves. In essence we unconsciously massage and edit the information to make it more palatable to us. The problem, of course, is that we then lose the value of the feedback itself and no longer are to act upon the content given.

We all have internalized sensitivities about ourselves, our values, our relationships that feedback can unconsciously 'hit' causing us to become defensive. Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone, in their book Thanks for the Feedback, The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, highlight three primary triggers to feedback;
  1. Truth Triggers - the challenge to SEE
  2. Relationship Triggers - the challenge of WE
  3. Identity Triggers - the challenge of ME
Understanding what triggers have been activated by the feedback will help you to not only understand your emotional response to it but gain control over it. The following points will also prove helpful in your bid to become a far better receiver...

Just One Thing.  When asking for feedback ask for just One Thing that you could focus on in the next 30 days to improve.  We can typically only really focus on one negative thing at a time anyway so ask for feedback in a way that allows you to truly focus on improvement rather than becoming overwhelmed by too much perceived negative content. Smaller chunks of feedback gained more frequently is easier to process and work on, advancing you faster.

Listen Fully.  Listen to what is truly being said rather than your internalized interpretation of it. Pay attention to your response, both intellectual and emotional, allowing the message to remain intact and not coloured or influenced by your responses.

Time to Reflect.  The more difficult the message is to hear, the more important it is to allow yourself time to fully absorb the message and to balance it with your beliefs and understanding. Don't feel that you have to say or do anything other than offer your thanks to the giver before you have digested the message fully.

Don't Argue. Don't allow your triggers to take control. Don't defend, don't dismiss and don't denigrate. Simply offer your thanks and then take the time you need to process the information given before choosing an appropriate course of action.

As with any skill, receiving feedback well can be learned. Learning to actively seek our feedback on a regular and timely basis may prove more insightful and helpful to your development and growth than anything else you might do. People are going to be far more specific when delivering feedback immediately following an activity and are going to be far more honest and direct with their comments when they learn that you are open to hearing and gracious in your response.

(for your reference, here are links to the books I mentioned above...)


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Tip Thursday - Branding

Although we may focus on the 'big' strategies of branding, there are often small things we can do that help to reinforce our desired messages.  For instance, if you want to be perceived as being 'intelligent' and 'credible', consider including a middle initial to your signature line.

In one study participants were given a copy of Einstein's essay on the theory of relativity but the authorship of the essay was credited to either David Clark, David F. Clark, David F.P. Clark or David F.P.R. Clark.  Researchers found that David F. Clark was rated higher than David Clark and that David F.P.R. Clark rated highest of all.

An additional study found that participants using a middle initial were selected far more often for an academic competition than were those without one.  The advantage may be slight, but it proves to be an advantage none-the-less.

Job seekers may want to take particular note.  It certainly worked for the likes of John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Tip Thursday - Body Language

Research has already shown that all of the facial cues that accompany a lack of sleep make men and women appear less attractive. However, additional research has shown that the droopy eyelids also make you appear less intelligent and mentally agile. When over-tired our mouth corners tend to turn downward which can make us appear sadder. We certainly know that feeling over-tired affects our focus and energy levels, but its impact on our body language signals will also have an impact on our perceived level of attractiveness and intelligence - both of which tend to impact promotional opportunities. Getting a good night's sleep may prove to be one of the best things you can do to assure your success!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Tip Thursday - Productivity

All productivity tips typically focus on optimizing your ability to get things done. However, this is only important if the things on your list are important. Otherwise, you are merely trying to keep busy.

Ensure that you are constantly building in activities that move you toward the fulfillment of a 'big' goal - something that moves you, inspires you, drives you, fulfills you. Without this you will likely always struggle to stay 'productive', simply because you have no interest in working on what you're working on!