Monday, June 30, 2014

Live Without Regret: Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

How would you choose to live today - if you knew you only had 6 months to live?

Pretty powerful question, isn't it?  However, despite it perhaps being a somewhat morbid thought, we are all dying.  We likely have significantly longer than 6 months, but our time here is limited and, therefore, so too are the experiences that we can choose to fill our time with.

Are you filling your time with experiences that are meaningful and fulfilling?  Will you be in a position to look back on your life with few, if any, regrets?
I went skydiving
I went rocky mountain climbing
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I'd been denyin'
And he said, Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dyin'                             
 (Tim McGraw lyrics - Live Like You Were Dying)

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent a number of years working in palliative care with patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives.  She began a blog recording her patients thoughts as they reflected back on their lives and ultimately wrote a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.  She found that there were strong and consistent themes that surfaced repeatedly.

1.  I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

All too often we get caught up in worrying about what others might say or think that we hold ourselves back from doing what we dream of.  We don't dance in the rain, we don't sing with the windows open, we don't laugh out loud.  We live a life of unfulfilled dreams.

What would you do if you weren't worried what others would say?

2.  I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

Almost every man Bronnie nursed expressed this regret, of having spent so much of their lives caught up in a race not of their making.  Only you can determine whether your work is fulfilling all of your dreams or not, but it is worth taking the time to assess it's true value to you.

What is working hard giving to you and what is the cost?  Is it worth it?

3.  I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

We often suppress our feelings in order to maintain peace in our relationships and sometimes as a means of avoiding getting hurt.  However, many of us experience stress and illness because of unexpressed and unresolved feelings and, sometimes, we miss out on positive relationships and levels of intimacy because we withhold our feelings.

What feelings are you failing to give voice to that are serving to limit the life you live and the 'you' that you could become?

4.  I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

This is a big one for many people in today's world of never-changing 'busyness'.  We get so caught in the 'doing' of activities that we fail to give our friendships the time and effort they deserve and need to truly flourish.

What friendships have you let slide and what can you do now to reconnect and rekindle them?

5.  I wish that I had let myself be happier.

It is surprising how many feel that happiness is something that happens to them rather than recognising that happiness is a choice.  Old habits and patterns may leave us stuck in our comfort zone rather than pursuing new activities, people and experiences that would open us to the happiness we seek.  Happiness, it seems, is a matter of perspective, of seeing something as an opportunity rather than as a setback.

What steps could you take to reframe the way you are viewing negative or limiting circumstances to free you to feeling happier about your life and options?

Although the fear of dying is pretty universal, thinking about our death should serve not to limit or restrict us, but to motivate us to live our lives more proactively, purposefully and passionately.  Consider this...

What's your greatest regret in life so far... and what will you do NOW to change it?

And... for those of you that have not yet had the pleasure of listening to Tim McGraw's song - Live Like You Were Dying...  do yourself a favor and take a moment now, or you'll regret it!

Monday, June 23, 2014

How to Avoid Push-back as you Lean In

With the relatively recent release of Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In, much has been made of the need for women to advance their careers by learning to lean in to the meeting room table.  This requires women to be more assertive about taking on new responsibilities and opportunities, seeking challenges and taking on more risks. The problem, most posit, is that women don't Lean In enough, that they don't assert themselves and demonstrate the leaderships qualities necessary to get ahead.

As much as I agree that this is an issue for many (women have long unconsciously adopted many behaviours that help them be liked by others that also rob them of leadership presence) there is an equally large barrier for women's advancement that Sandberg fails to give equal airtime to; the Push Back that many women experience when they do Lean In.

When women behave in confident and assertive ways (as a Leader) they often find that they receive Push Back from those around them. Stereotypes still prevail, where women are seen and expected to behave as the nurturers and people-pleasers.  However, Leaning In requires women to behave in ways that may contradict these expectations, behaving in slightly more 'masculine' ways, which isn't as expected and therefore not as accepted.  Thus, they get push-back from others, pushed to once again conform to the stereotypes.

This then forces women to either:

  1. Revert to stereotype, Leaning Back, not In 
  2. Lean In and preparing for the need to confront the Push Back that will follow, challenging stereotypes and the associated systemic discrimination it creates
  3. Learn to walk a tight-rope, balancing precariously between being seen as 'too' Feminine, and thus not strong enough to assume Leadership positions, or 'too' Masculine, and thus get labelled a 'bitch' and ostracized from Leadership roles.
If your goal is to get ahead, then option one does not do it for you since it merely keeps you where you're at. Option two, though a worthy cause, is more likely to help advance the careers of those that follow than it is to provide you with more opportunities.  This is not to say this is not a worthy fight but many of us lack the energy or desire to head off to battle each day.  Option three then is our best bet for getting ahead.  Once we're 'in' power, we can then work to change the systems that kept us down.

The challenge with balancing on that tight-rope successfully is that it is hard.  There are no guide-lines or guide-ropes to help us to remain on our precarious perch.  What works for one woman may not work equally well for another because each of us is unique.  Our physical structure, size, voice and personality all influence how others will see us and therefore shape the behaviours and approaches we need to maintain to allow us to Lean In without the Push Back.  

However, there are some key strategies that all women can adopt that will help as they step out on that tight-rope and begin to navigate their way across.
  • Don't confuse Assertiveness with Aggression.  While both may serve to clearly state your position, aggressive behaviour violates the rights/interests/position of others, while assertiveness does not.  Aggressiveness is stereotypically accepted as more of a masculine trait and will therefore tip you off that tightrope while assertiveness helps you to assume that leadership role without alienating others along the way.
  • Adopt Gender Neutral management and leadership basics such as Collaboration.  Although many may think of Collaborative behaviour as more feminine in style, don't mistake it for a bid to make everyone your friend.  Collaborative behaviour is inclusive, it seeks to involve others, but it doesn't preclude you from making the final decision.  Collaboration is not Consensus.  You can be both collaborative and decisive.
  • Don't Uptalk.  If you want to be seen as a Leader you must sound like a Leader.  Therefore, when giving voice to your thoughts and recommendations you must be able to share them in a straight-forward manner.  Injecting an upward inflection into your voice while delivering your thoughts simply serves to make you sound hesitant and unsure.  You'll sound 'nicer' but you won't sound like the leader you desire.  
  • Network with like-minded women.  Learn from the experiences of others, swap strategies, pick up new tips and techniques to try for yourself.  Others are going through the same struggles as you - don't feel that you need to face them on your own!  
  • Remind people why you're here and what you bring to the table.  Women can get caught up in making friends and making nice and forget that they need to be constantly positioning themselves. Sitting back and allowing your work to speak for you is not enough to give you the visibility that you need to get ahead.  You need not take on the braggart role, but you do need to learn how to brag. There is a continuum of bragging behaviour at your disposal.  Too far on the left tips you off the tightrope onto the feminine side of behaviour while too far on the right skews you too far to the masculine side.  Adopting a few more self promotional strategies. that are comfortable for you. will help you to stay a little more balanced and help you to gain greater visibility.  
Leaning In is all about getting ahead while the Push-back of others is all about keeping you down.  Learning to navigate the tight-rope between masculine and feminine behaviours is all about getting you ahead without activating anyone's stereotypes.  Leaning In without Push-back from others helps keep you from giving up and pushing back from the table.  After all, you have to be able to stay at the table to one day run the table.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Tips for Detecting Liars

We are surrounded by lies all day.  Most are relatively harmless little white lies, what I would refer to as
social lies.
  • I love what you've done with your hair
  • No, you don't look fat in those jeans
  • Mom, these pancakes are delicious
These are the small little lies that we tell others to make them feel comfortable and, let's face it, to keep the peace.  And, lest you're feeling guilty about the frequency of these lies, research shows that social liars are more popular than those who feel compelled to tell the truth - even when we know that they are lying to us about those jeans!

However, malicious lies are different.  These are the lies that are told to mislead or deceive someone else, for personal gain.  This could be the sales clerk who doesn't let you know about the limitations of a product so they make their sales quota.  This could be a company that doesn't reveal all of the known harmful effects of a product, or perhaps a co-worker that deliberately misleads the boss about your contributions so that they have a better shot at a promotion.  

Although we would prefer to believe that others wouldn't lie to us, deception is a fact of life.  It is intrinsic in nature.  Predators camouflage themselves to be able to sneak up on prey or to hide successfully from a predator, birds fake injuries to lead predators away from their babies... and so on.  We learn to lie at an early age.  It has been determined that children as young as 6 months old with 'fake cry' to get attention, or pretend to laugh because of the response of adults around them.  By the time we are adults, lying is a skill we have perfected through practice from infancy.  

How are we then expected to be able to detect lies in others?

Although we are not ever going to be able to detect 100% of all the lies coming our way, there are a few tips you can use to improve your ability to spot a liar.  Bear in mind that you will want to see a 'cluster' of these behaviours in order to raise your 'lie detection antennae' and question more closely what someone is saying... 
  • Nose Touching.  When you lie, chemicals are released that cause the tissue inside the nose to swell, causing the nerve endings in the nose to tingle.  People will often reach up to rub the nose to relieve the itch.  This is often referred to as the Pinocchio effect!
  • Eye Contact.  Despite the popular belief that liars generally have difficulty maintaining eye contact, the opposite is actually closer to the truth.  Habitual liars actually tend to engage in greater eye contact and will tend to lock eyes with you.
  • Mouth Cover.  There may be an unconscious attempt to 'hide' the words that someone is saying, by raising the hand to the mouth, serving almost as a clock or barrier.  (cough, shh, rubbing the upper lip)
  • Blink Rate.  Surprisingly, people who are telling a lie will often involuntarily blink more than they do when they are telling the truth.  Clinton's blink rate increased significantly when he declared to the world "I did not have sex with that woman".
  • Signs of Discomfort.  Lying may be uncomfortable for us, leading us to 'leak' it through various physiological signs such as:  jiggling feet, fidgeting, drumming fingers, rubbing the neck, rolling eyes.  It's important to note though that these are also simply cues of nervousness.  If you put someone on the hot-seat, guilty or not, they will display these cues to some extant regardless.
  • Stalling Clusters.  A group of behaviours that, although they seem purposeful on the surface, are designed to buy the person some time to think through their response (taking off glasses to clean them before responding for example)
  • Parrot Statements.  When someone continues to repeat back your question, they are typically stalling for more time to compose their response.  Note that this behaviour alone does not mean someone is lying, sometimes we use it simply to have a little more time to process our true response.
  • Distancing Statements.  Even liars don't like to think of themselves as liars, so they often engage in behaviours to avoid having to. In this case they will avoid using 'I' references or first names, to distance themselves from the situation in question.    
Use any of the above behaviours to help you to question someone's truthfulness.  There is no one behaviour that is a definitive sign of deception on its own, you want to look for clusters and groupings of behaviours and consider them in light of the situation.  Generally speaking, use them to highlight for you potential lies, and follow up with more detailed exploration to determine the truth.  

(if learning to become more proficient in detecting liars is of interest, check out Janine Driver's book, which is an interesting and invaluable resource)

Monday, June 9, 2014

New Eye Contact Rules for Speakers

We all know (likely because we have been told numerous times) that we must look at our audience when we are speaking with/to them.  This does make intuitive sense given that we do want them to feel that we are actually communicating with them and not simply pontificating.  However, new technological advances, most notably the use of eye tracking devices in psychological studies, provide us with more targeted information concerning the appropriate amount of eye contact necessary to connect.

I have long been telling my training participants that you need roughly 3-6 seconds of eye contact with your audience in order to 'connect' with them.  Shorter is good for acknowledging their presence, but we need that longer time frame in order for them to feel as though we are truly seeing and speaking with them.  As it turns out, I was roughly correct.

When speaking with a group of strangers (such as an audience) then making eye contact for 3-5 seconds to connect with and engage them is the right amount.  However, when we are meeting with someone one on one, then we need to look at them longer to connect, 7 - 10 seconds.  Although this may seem like a fairly lengthy period of time, bear in mind that when we are in conversation with someone, as we likely would be when one on one, we will be both speaking and listening.  We will typically look at people more when we are listening, and less when we are speaking, which is one of the reasons why making eye contact when on stage proves difficult for us.

When we are on stage we are speaking all of the time and therefore lack the opportunity to connect with someone while listening.  We must therefore push ourselves to make eye contact more consistently with others while speaking, which may go against some of our natural habits.  Generally we make eye contact with others roughly about 60% of our conversations, more for African-Americans, less for Asian-Americans.
When we are attempting to persuade someone however, some of the rules shift a little.  If we are making a relatively simple request of someone then our eye contact will be a positive benefit in helping us be more persuasive.  If what we need is a little more complex though, and we will be speaking about it for a longer period of time (like a speech or presentation), then too much or too long of eye contact doesn't serve us. We will likely be seen as being a little too pushy.  Additionally, if our audience has an existing position that opposes our own, then too direct or prolonged of eye contact is likely to strengthen their position rather than sway them to ours.  In this case, more eye contact will be associated with dominance and intimidation.

What to do then?  When you know that you are going to be speaking about something controversial then reduce the amount of eye contact a little.  Fall back to the lower 3 second end of the scale.  When speaking about subjects that are fairly safe, or when speaking with those that you already know well, more eye contact will be appropriate.

Of course it is important to actually look at people when you are attempting to make eye contact.  None of the 'faking it' suggestions such as:  look at their forehead, look between their eyes, look slightly over their heads... works.  People know when you are looking them in the eyes and they know when you are not. It is far better to make a solid connection with some than no connection with anyone.

The easiest way to gain some comfort with eye contact is to begin paying more attention to your current conversations.  Start with conversations you have with co-workers and friends that you know well and are comfortable with.  Pay attention to how you're making eye contact, where you're looking, how long you are engaging them through your eyes.  It is far easier to replicate this behaviour, in moments of discomfort, if you are aware of what you do when you are comfortable.

And for even more tips, check out this great resource...

Monday, June 2, 2014

Failure or Near-Win?

So much of how we experience life is based on how we perceive it.  Shakespeare himself highlighted this in Hamlet when Hamlet says "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so".  It is our thoughts that shape our perceptions and, in turn, our experiences.  When we apply this to the concept of Success, it stands to reason then that the way in which we view our apparent 'lack of Success' will influence the actions we take in the future and, in turn, the level of Success we achieve.

There is a vast difference in our minds between thinking of our 'lack of success' as a failure or as a near-win. Both mean that we have not  hit our target, to have fully achieved what we set out to.  However, the label we apply to that result determines what comes next.  The 'label' will ultimately serve to determine the actions we take, either propelling us forward, turning us in a new direction or leading us to give up the attempt.

Studies have been conducted that look at the impact of achieving silver or bronze in the Olympics.  In many studies it has been found that Bronze medalists are far happier with their achievement than are Silver medalists.  Bronze winners are happy because they medalled.  They tend to compare their achievements against all those below them, all those who did not medal, and count themselves fortunate.  Silver medalists however, compare their achievement against the Gold medalist, the place that they had aimed and fallen short of.  They are therefore not as happy with their result as are Bronze medalists.  If we were simply looking at who is happiest with the outcome of a race we would then find it better to finish Gold, Bronze and then Silver.

However, further studies have taken a longer term perspective, reviewing the impact of the finish on future performance.  These findings have determined that more silver-place finishers go on to achieve gold in future than do bronze.  That 'Near-win' has served to reinforce their need and desire to train harder, propelling them forward.  That near-win leads them to believe they can eliminate the gap existing between them and the gold, cementing their focus on that goal.

How many of us might have pushed a little further, done a little more, had we categorized our lack of a win as a near-win, rather than as a failure?

How many of us would have stuck with something longer if we had felt we were 'close' to succeeding?

Our perspective of an event not only serves to define how we feel about that event, but also our future actions.  It's those near-wins that push us forward, that propel us to do more, to try harder.  This is what true mastery is about, the ongoing pursuit of excellence.  It is about the desire to continuously improve, whether your skill or knowledge, and to use that new-found ability to do more and better.  Masters of art, of literature, of sport, of music... became so out of the determination to improve upon their near-wins, their 'almosts', their 'can do betters'.  It was the constant pursuit of 'better' that led to their mastery.  The desire for 'better' being driven out of their view that they were almost there.  Not being there yet was not a failure, it simply meant they were close, that they were not done.  Success meant being closer today than they were yesterday.

Think of how this small shift in your thinking and perspective might be applied to your life.  Where have you applied the label of 'failure' to your actions that you could replace with the vision that they were all 'near-wins'?  How does this impact and perhaps alter your choices and future actions?

We tend to thrive when we have more to do, not when we feel we've done it all.  What 'more' is there for you to do and experience in your life?  Focus on your near-wins, turning each into a winning strategy for yourself.