Category Archives: Professional Development

How to Play to Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses!

Question on Blackboard-What Are Your Strengths?
Question-What- Are -Your- Strengths? – Image

If you struggle with playing to your strengths or identifying them, you are not alone. Throughout the course of your life, it is highly likely that you might have received lots of negative or corrective feedback that focused on pointing out and fixing your weaknesses rather than highlighting your strengths. The problem with this approach is that focusing on fixing weaknesses does not help you to flourish and succeed and is more likely to drive feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction with self. And while nothing is wrong with trying to understand and address your weaknesses, the focus on weaknesses can distract you from investing time and attention on your strengths and the things that you do really well.

So, do you know what your strengths are?  

Importance of Knowing Your Strengths

According to Marcus Buckingham, “a strength is not what you are good at, and a weakness is not what you are bad at. A strength is an activity that strengthens you. It draws you in, it makes time fly by while you’re doing it, and it makes you feel strong.” Therefore, Buckingham makes the point that “when individuals understand what strengthens them and actively play to their strengths daily, they can lead much more rewarding and fulfilling lives. Knowing your strengths also offers you a better understanding of how to deal with your weaknesses and helps you gain the confidence you need to address them.” In fact, research tells us that employees that receive feedback on their strengths and have opportunities to use their strengths at work are more engaged, productive, and more likely to stay in their jobs and with their organizations.

But before you can you play to your strengths and use them; you must be able to identify them or know what they are.

What Are Your Strengths?

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and these differ from individual to individual. To identify your strengths, pay attention to those areas that you consistently perform excellently in and frequently get compliments about. Your different types of strengths might be related to your character, your talents (natural abilities you are born with) or skills  you developed through training. At work, your strengths can include the ability to plan and organize, solve problems, work effectively with others or IT skills.  In your everyday life, your strengths can include kindness, optimism, listening skills and your ability to communicate clearly and effectively.  

one strength ball among many weaknesses blocks
One Strengths Ball Among Many Weaknesses Blocks

Play to Your Strengths

If you got a list with your strengths and your weaknesses, which one would you focus on first? While popular wisdom would suggest that you focus on what you do best and what helps you flourish, many people focus on their weaknesses because messages about what they do bad are stronger than messages that highlight what they do well. This is partially because negative information and emotions have a deeper effect on individuals than positive information and emotions. For example, think about that time when you brought home a report card to your parents with mostly great grades and one or two bad grades? How did they respond? Which grades did they focus on more?  And if you are a parent, when your child/dren brings home a report card, what do you focus on? In either scenario, chances are the poor grade(s) got more attention as it was deemed more urgent or important to fix. This approach carries over to work and everyday life and results is far greater attention being placed on areas of poor /low performance than areas where individuals and teams perform excellently. And this unbalanced approach causes people to focus more on weaknesses to fix what is wrong, rather than emphasizing or expanding that which is good and great.  

So, does this mean you should ignore your weakness? Not necessarily. It is important to identify your deficits and address those areas where you need to grow, change and improve. However, having an awareness of your faults does not improve your performance or happiness. Gallup reports that  people who use their strengths every day are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit their jobs. Therefore, to become the best version of yourself at work and have a full and meaningful personal life, you need to be engaged in activities that allow you to shine and do the things you love and are naturally good at.

How to Play to Your Strengths

Having established the importance of playing to your strengths at work and in your everyday life, how do you find opportunities to do the things that invigorate you or move you in the direction of positive change? If you are struggling to pinpoint what your strengths are, use the following steps from HBR  to identify your strengths and play to them:

  1. Identify respondents and ask them for feedback: Collecting information on your strengths from a variety of sources (friends, family and coworkers) will provide insights about your special skills and talents and examples of when they have observed in action. Start with 3 persons and ask them for feedback. 
  1. Recognize patterns:  When you receive the feedback, look for common themes or patterns in the feedback. As you do this, observe yourself and notice your patterns and behaviors and then organize all the information into a table where you can review it.
  1. Compose Your Self-Portrait: The next step is to write a description of yourself that summarizes the information you have collected. The description should weave themes from the feedback together with your self-observations and create a portrait of who you are at your best.
  1. Redesign Your Job and Life: Having identified your strengths, be intentional about seeking opportunities at work that will enable you to utilize your strengths or incorporate them in the way you do your job. Additionally, you can use volunteering as a way of sharing your talents and skills, serving your community, and making a difference.

In conclusion, while it might seem strange or uncomfortable to just focus on your strengths, remember that focusing on strengths does not mean you are to ignore your weakness and blind spots. You should always be seeking to improve your self awareness through a knowledge of your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for growth. But by choosing a mindset that focuses on investing in, nurturing and developing your strengths, rather than weaknesses, you are more likely to get better. And you will become more able to recognize strengths in others and lead a happier and more successful life.

Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!

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Crucial Conversations: We Need to Talk!

Let's- Talk- Post -It-Image
Let’s- Talk -Post- It -Image

When it comes to personal and professional relationships, the four words “We need to talk” can sound threatening and unsettling. And while no one has directed them to me lately, I recently had a few crucial conversations with people in both my personal and professional lives.None of these conversations were comfortable, but all of them were necessary. These crucial conversations took vulnerability, patience, a willingness for us to share our feelings and thoughts openly and honestly while listening to the other person’s perspective. I know that the thought of having a crucial conversation might sound daunting or like something reserved for big and important situations- but they aren’t. We have crucial conversations every day on just about everything. So, what makes a conversation crucial?

Importance of Crucial Conversations

In the book Crucial Conversations, a crucial conversation is defined as one where there is discussion between two or more people where stakes are high, opinions vary, and emotions run strong. Based on this definition, a crucial conversation could be about the decision to take the COVID-19 vaccine (or not) or talking with a sibling about caregiving for a family member with a serious health diagnosis. Other examples of crucial conversations we might have include ending a relationship; talking to a coworker who behaved offensively; asking a friend to repay a debt; giving your supervisor feedback they may not like; dealing with a rebellious teenager and confronting a loved one with a substance abuse problem. Regardless of what your issue(s) might be, we can all agree that having crucial conversations can be tough.

According to the authors of the book, when we feel the need to have these crucial conversations, we can do one of three things: we can avoid them, we can face them and handle them poorly, or we can face them and handle them well. But how does the average person usually respond? Ironically, the more crucial the conversation, the less likely we are to handle it well. We often hold things inside by going silent until we can take it no longer—and then we drop a bomb. From my own experience and that of others around me, people usually get upset and lose sight of the issue(s), emotions take over, angry words are spoken, and the situation escalates far beyond what the initial issue(s) might have been.

Therefore, according to the authors, we move between silence and violence where we either don’t handle the conversation, or don’t handle it well. And while we may not become physically violent, we attack others’ ideas and feelings. When we fail to have crucial conversation, every aspect of our lives can be affected (positively or negatively)—from our careers to our communities, to our relationships, to our personal health.

Engage -Ignore -Warning -Sign
Engage -Ignore-Warning- Sign-Image

 The Cost of Silence

Let’s face it, crucial conversations can be challenging, especially when you want to communicate your needs, share bad news, challenge how work is being done, ask uncomfortable questions, or openly discuss matters which everyone knows but no one want to talk about. Despite the importance of crucial conversations, we often back away from them because we fear we’ll make matters worse. For example, how many times have you left a voicemail instead of waiting to talk to the person?  Or texted a decision rather than have a face-to-face conversation? How many times have you seen coworkers send emails to each other when they should walk down corridors to talk to each other? Crucial conversations are necessary for both people and organizations to grow and thrive.

When and where this does not happen – silence kills. This is perhaps best summed up by the quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that says “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Afterall, how often have you observed team members slacking off and no one said anything. Or seen couples in conflict withdraw into from each other due to differences in approaches to parenting or finances? In both situations, it’s not the disagreement in approach or the lack of productivity that will cause the biggest problem and damage. The most far-reaching damage to the relationship and organizational productivity is typically caused by silence -when no one does or says anything.

Final Thoughts

Is there a way to avoid the silence or violence approach? Absolutely. Rather than suffering in silence or lashing out and hurting ourselves and others, the authors of Crucial Conversations recommend that we engage in dialogue to get all the relevant information into the open. While having dialogue can be difficult and risky, it creates a space for people to express their opinions, feelings, and thoughts openly and honestly even when there is disagreement. Because when we do this, we create what is called “a pool of shared meaning.” This pool of shared meaning gives us the ability to talk, listen and act together rather than making assumptions (See last post) and some of the unhealthy communication patterns that some of our crucial conversations fall into.

So, can we learn the skills to improve our ability to have dialogue and crucial conversations?

Yessssss! All of us have the ability to learn the skills that will enable us to have crucial conversations, stop toxic and unhelpful communication practices and habits and engage in more healthy interactions. To learn more about these strategies, check out next week’s article – How to Resist Silence and Violence with Crucial Conversation- Part 2.

Until next time, Remember, ItsaLearningLife!

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Are You Fixed or Growing ? It’s A Mindset Thing!

Fixed vs Growth Mindset-Image
Fixed -vs- Growth- Mindset

You have probably heard the quote “Whether you think you can or can’t you are right.” This quote is typically used to convey the power of our thoughts and mindsets to influence the trajectory of our lives. And though we all have different mindsets, these mindsets determine how we deal with challenges, respond to stress, our personal and professional relationships and the level of achievements and personal success we attain. Our mindsets shape our perspectives on everything in the world around us- from money, health, work, play, to how we deal with adversity. Our mindsets determine our behaviors and responses.

What is a Mindset?

 So, what is a mindset? A mindset can be defined as our way of thinking, what we believe, expect and the lens through which we see the world. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, there are two mindsets:  the growth and fixed mindset. “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.” Whereas “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view fosters a love of learning and a sense of resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Difference Between Fixed vs Growth Mindset

This distinction between the growth and fixed mindset proves the importance of our mindset in how we show up and respond to life challenges. It explains why some less talented people thrive in the harshest of circumstances while their more talented and fortunate counterparts fail or do not live up to their potential despite their privilege. People with a growth mindset believe in their ability to grow, change, and adapt, and believe that others can too. They typically see life as a journey with lessons you can learn every day and are always striving to improve on their last best effort. People operating from a growth mindset are curious, resourceful, innovative and are open to learning new things as well as unlearning old and unhealthy patterns and behaviors.

On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset believe that their talents and abilities and that of others are static and predetermined traits. When people adopt a fixed mindset, they show up as inflexible and with deep seated convictions about how people are. Usually, they are not open to broadening their perspectives to learn something new or to look at an issue through another lens. In a fixed mindset, people can also see themselves as victims and believe that life is always happening to them. Fixed mindset people have a more fatalistic view of their lives and others. They think “This is how I am; this is my personality; you get what you get and no more.”

Another important thing to note is that our mindsets are dynamic. The growth and fixed mindset are present in all of us and can change overtime as we mature and navigate different life issues. Since we are never entirely one or the other, an individual might have a fixed mindset toward dealing with a particular challenge and a growth mindset to dealing with another. And though our mindset impacts everything we do, it is entirely possible for us to be unaware of them because they were shaped very early in our lives. Some people developed beliefs about their abilities from the positive or negative words that were spoken to them and over them during their  childhood and based on how we were treated. While others discovered talents and unique gifts from the praise and encouragement they received.

Mindset -equals- Attitude- Behavior- Action- Success-Image

Why Does Mindset Matter?

So, think of an area that you struggle with, or something you feel strongly about. Where did you learn that self-limiting belief or develop that mindset? Was it a stereotype passed on to you? Was it something you were told? Or did you come to that position based on an experience?  For as long as I can remember, I have always struggled with Mathematics and other numeric subjects and I have the poor grades to prove it. This fixed mindset that I did not like math and was not good at it started in my childhood and travelled with me all the way through to college. However, in my first year of undergraduate studies, I had to do an Introductory Statistics course to complete my degree. The course was widely touted as difficult and had a high failure rate amongst first year students. When it was time to do the course, I found it difficult and intimidating and went through the semester just praying to scrape through with a passing grade. Unfortunately, at the end of the semester, I got my results and found a big F amongst the As and B+s on my transcript.  

The reality of my negative and fixed mindset about disliking any numeric subject finally sank in. I knew that I would not graduate without a passing grade and that I could not afford to keep redoing it, if I failed again. So, I decided to dedicate the entire summer to redoing the course at summer school. I adopted a new “must pass “growth mindset to the course and over the next two months period, I dedicated all my time to practicing pass papers, joined a study group and took advantage of all the resources to help me to prepare for the exam. At the end of summer school, I retook the exam and got a B.  The result surprised me and made me question my long-held belief that I was not good at numeric subjects. Afterall, the course had not changed, the only thing that was different was my mindset and the amount of effort I expended.

When I look back at that time, I now realize that I had always had the ability to do math and any numeric subjects. However, my self-limiting belief that I could not do it, and was not good at it caused me to have a negative attitude towards numeric subjects. That fixed mindset had undermined my performance and willingness to learn math and caused me to miss opportunities to pursue any other subjects that included math. So over to you, what issue or relationship have you developed a fixed mindset towards? And how has that mindset undermined your overall progress, attitude, or ability to form effective relationships? Our mindsets are powerful and real for as the saying goes – “As a man/woman thinketh so is he/she.”

Typing New Mindset, Chapter One -Image
Typing -New -Mindset-Chapter- One-Image

How to Develop a Growth Mindset

Having a growth mindset is generally more advantageous that having a fixed mindset. A growth mindset will help you push through setbacks and cope more effectively with change, stress, and uncertainty. However, we do not permanently or automatically arrive at a growth mindset. For each situation we face, we must intentionally choose to adopt a growth mindset to whatever problem and or situation we are dealing with.  

Here are a few takeaways to help you develop a growth mindset:

  • Step out of your comfort zone: When you have a decision to make, rather than choosing something safe or something you find easy, challenge yourself to take on something will stretch you and require you to learn new things. Afterall, the skills and talents that got you to one level might not be enough to take you to your next. Be willing to learn, unlearn and relearn and believe in others abilities to do the same.
  • Practice resilience:  The next time you are faced with adversity, a failure or mistake, rather than beating up on yourself, taking on a victim mentality or blaming others, show responsibility and ask yourself -how I can grow and learn from this experience and how will I make the best of it?
  • Monitor your triggers:  Fixed mindsets hold us back, so spend some time learning what triggers you and how to manage them. For instance, what happens when you receive criticism? Do you feel resentful or defensive or do you see feedback as an opportunity to learn? How you see it, determines how you will treat it. By developing a greater awareness of your triggers, you will be better able to manage your responses and improve your recovery time.
  • Notice your self-talk?  What do you say to the person in the mirror? Some people have a cruel inner monologue where they speak negatively about themselves to themselves. And because our first thoughts in difficult situations tend to be negative (see previous post on automatic negative thoughts), we must constantly monitor our thoughts to silence the self-defeating and limiting voice of a fixed mindset.
  • Do not dwell on setbacks, failures, or mistakes: Dwelling on your low points and negative life experiences will not move you forward. When you think of yourself as victim, you close off yourself to new possibilities and opportunities. This practice will not help you to become better and will only cause you to feel worse, doubt yourself and undermine self-confidence and esteem.

At the end of the day, our mindsets are not static or permanent and can change as we change, grow, and develop. We can all practice a growth mindset if we choose to be developed, open to new ideas and to pursue lifelong learning. Until next time, Remember, It’sALearning Life!

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How to Practice Self-Care-Tips-Video

Got Conflict? 5 Conflict Styles to Deal With It Right Now!

Clash of Chess Pieces-Image
Clash of Chess Pieces

Do you like conflict? Most people do not like conflict and would do anything to avoid it. Nonetheless conflict is a part of our everyday lives. There is conflict in the news, the movies we watch, in our homes, our relationships, our neighborhoods and even in our workplaces. We also see conflict happening in politics, sports, religion, between nations, the rich and the poor, men and women- conflict is everywhere.

It is important to note that conflict is not inherently negative though many people see it as such. People who view conflict as negative and bad are more likely to engage in conflict avoidance behaviors that ultimately cause more harm than good. But running from conflict will not make it disappear. Conflict can be a healthy and useful part of relationships and decision making. Conflict can signal that people are engaged and provide key insights about people’s wants and needs and flag potential problems or risks. Conflict only becomes dysfunctional when it is not managed and left ignored. Without the intentional efforts (of those in conflict) to resolve it, conflict drags on, creates hostility, stress, and destructive behaviors where people are pitted against in each other in win/ lose situations.

So, one of the most important life skills we all need to learn is how to resolve conflict and how to restore strained or broken relationships. If we do not learn how to deal with conflict, we are fated to spend most of our lives being miserable about unmet needs and being unhappy in our personal and professional relationships. Yet, many of us were never taught how to deal with conflict in a healthy and constructive way. Most of us probably learned how to manage conflict from the unhealthy examples demonstrated by our parents or from what we saw during our childhood. And today, our attitudes and approaches to dealing with conflict is still influenced by those patterns.

Definition of Conflict-image
Definition of Conflict?

Conflict in Everyday Life

It is natural for people to disagree. We all come from different cultural backgrounds with varied life experiences and values that shape the way we see the world and engage with others. So, we are going to have conflict with our friends, families, children, significant other and our coworkers.  To minimize dysfunctional conflict, it is important to pay attention to how we communicate, that is what we say, how we say, to whom we say it and when.

At work, conflict between coworkers can result from unclarified roles, disagreements on how to get a particular task done or because of differing opinions on how resources should be allocated. Conflict can result from how we interpret and apply policies and procedures or the facts of a particular situation. Nevertheless, conflict can enhance decision making by revealing blind spots and minimizing group think. But sometimes, people on teams fail to speak up and share opposing views which can improve the decision making and problem solving process because they want to appear as a team players and fear being seen as divisive. This practice of “not rocking the boat” can hurt teams and organizations in the long run as vital information might be missing when important decisions are taken.

On a personal level, conflict can emerge between people because of different personalities, perspectives, and preferences. With couples in relationships, arguments can stem from differences in attitudes towards money. One person might be focused on how to save and build wealth, while the other person is preoccupied with enjoying the finer things in life. Squabbles in families can also arise from unmet expectations and needs which may /may not have been communicated. In friendships, quarrels can result from poor communication or misunderstood remarks and comments taken out of context. And even in parenting, a lack of agreement on crucial issues on how to approach discipline, education and other lifestyle choices can become a huge source of struggle.

Like you, I have experienced the pain of damaged or broken relationships with family, friends, and coworkers due to unresolved conflict. Sometimes, our best efforts to resolve conflict can still lead to severed relationships, separation and other forms of emotional trauma. The key in those instances is to know when to let go and to guard your heart and energy. But regardless of the nature of the the conflict, we cannot afford to leave it unaddressed. Unresolved conflict can damage trust, encourage backstabbing, increase tension, stress and anxiety while creating toxic relationships and work environments.

Different Conflict Styles
Different Conflict Styles

What’s Your Conflict Style?

Think about a conflict that you are currently dealing with or one that you recently dealt with. How did you approach it? Did you tackle the disagreement head on? Or did you ignore it to keep the peace or hope that it would quietly go away? Your answer to those questions might reveal your conflict style and your level of comfort you might feel in addressing disagreements.

According to research, there are five main conflict styles.

  1. Competing a.k.a. (The Shark): Sharks approach conflict with a “It’s my way or the highway” attitude and are focused on getting their needs met to the detriment of others. Those using a competitive style fear that the loss of such control will result in solutions that fail to meet their needs. So, sharks force others to accept their way and ignore the needs or feelings of others. They believe conflicts are settled by one person winning and one person losing.
  1. Accommodating a.k.a. (The Teddy Bear): The teddy bear approach is to smooth things over or sweep issues under the rug. Persons using this style yield their needs to those of others, trying to be diplomatic or “grin and bear it”. They tend to set aside their needs for the other person and will give in to the other person’s point of view as their focus is on keeping the peace and preserving the relationship.
  2. Avoiding a.k.a. (The Turtle):  This approach is a common response of persons with a negative perception of conflict. Turtles tend to take on the view that “Perhaps if we don’t bring it up, it will blow over.” What happens instead is that feelings get pent up, views go unexpressed, and the conflict festers until it becomes too big to ignore. Like a cancer that may well have been cured if treated early, the conflict grows and spreads until it kills the relationship. Because needs and concerns go unexpressed, people are often confused, wondering what went wrong in a relationship.
  1. Compromising a.k.a (The Fox): Foxes compromise. In this approach to conflict people gain and give in a series of tradeoffs as the fox will give up some goals if you give up some of yours. While satisfactory, compromise is generally not satisfying. We each remain shaped by our individual perceptions of our needs and do not necessarily understand the other side very well.
  1. Collaborating a.ka. (The Owl): Owls confront conflict openly and fairly. Owls are committed to their personal goals and to other goals. Owls begin discussions with a win/ win approach by identifying openly the wishes of both and are never satisfied until a solution is found that satisfies both. Two heads are better than one.”

Understanding your conflict style will help you to assess how you deal with conflict and how you might want to adjust. But here are some key tips to help you engage in conflict constructively and improve your conflict management skills.

Puzzle Pieces- Conflict-Bridge the Gap-Resolution-Image
Puzzle Pieces- Conflict-Bridge the Gap-Resolution

5 Tips to Improve Your Conflict Management Skills

  1. Prioritize relationships: In dealing with a disagreement, it is easy to be self-centered when our ego and pride are involved. When our feelings get hurt our inclination is to distance ourselves, get defensive and demand what we need. But in every conflict, we have a choice to attack or counterattack. Try to think less about you and more about others and forget about winning or being right.
  2. Take ownership and accountability: Instead of looking for a person to blame, look for the root cause of the problem. Take personal accountability and find an opportunity to admit you were wrong or what you could have done better.
  3. Acknowledge the emotions: Beneath every conflict is an unmet or unspoken need or want that needs to be addressed. Rather that focusing on the symptom of the problem, ask yourself, what is going on with me or the other person? Try to get to the heart of what you and the other person might be feeling or need. Recognizing your emotions and that of others will help you to listen and understand the person’s perspective and show empathy (see last post).
  4. Think win /win: When there is a dispute, instead of holding onto feelings of the resentment work together with the person you are in conflict with to come up with a solution that meets  both your needs. Try to keep the conversation focused on the goal you want to achieve and do not get stuck dwelling on past behavior or who did or said what.
  5. Set Boundaries: Minimize emotional outburst and hurtful behaviors when dealing with conflict by setting rules for you and others about what you will not say and do when feeling mad and aggravated. Avoid disrespectful behaviors such as swearing and name calling and other dehumanizing actions. Though conflict can painful, be honest, open, and kind. Damaging words spoken cannot be taken back.

Dealing with conflict requires courage and the best way to do it is to face it. Whether it is personal or professional, unresolved conflict messes with our lives and undermines our emotional well-being and overall happiness. Do not let the fear of being vulnerable prevent you from addressing conflict or having difficult conversations. Rather than seeing conflict as negative and avoiding it, let us commit to engaging in conflict constructively and build better relationships.

Until next time, Remember, It’s a Learning Life!

 It’s more rewarding to resolve a conflict than to dissolve a relationship”-Josh McDowell

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I Don’t Trust You: How to Rebuild Trust

Humpty Dumpty Had A Great Fall
Humpty Dumpty Has A Great Fall

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpy had a great fall, All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t get Humpty together again.”


For me, the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme is great illustration of what happens when trust is violated or broken. Whether the relationship is personal or professional, things fall apart when promises are broken, commitments are not honored, lies are told, information is withheld, confidence is betrayed and people or their actions are willfully misrepresented by others. Regardless of the circumstance, the results of broken trust are division, doubt, fear, insecurity, hurt, bitterness, stress, resentment and unhealthy interactions or relationships.

What Happens When Trust is Broken?

In my last post, I wrote about how everything we do revolves about trust.  I explained the dynamics of how trust works and how it shows up in our everyday lives. In this article, I want to continue the conversation by looking at what happens when trust is broken and what it takes to rebuild it. Whether the relationship is personal or professional, the consequences of broken trust can be high and long-lasting. Violated trust can result in toxic work environments, divorce, broken friendships, terminated business arrangements and an overall suspicion or distrust of others as everything becomes more difficult without trust. I can still remember one of my most painful experiences with violated trust. It happened with a friend I had long regarded as a sister and had never imagined would hurt me in the way she did. Regardless of the motive behind her actions, whether she meant to hurt me or not, the pain I experienced from the betrayal was devastating.

The effect of broken trust is not just restricted to personal relationships. Most of the tensions and problems in interpersonal relationships at work are a product of ‘professional hurt’ arising from a feeling of distrust that a team member(s) might have about another’s willingness or readiness to support them. Distrust in teams can also be a consequence of decisions or actions taken that can seem threatening or inconsiderate of employee well-being or might emerge from a disappointing experience of having been let down by management. Regardless of the reason for the distrust, the cost to business is high as the efficiency of the team and overall performance of the organization can be crippled by the absence of trust. And this can quickly spiral into loss of productivity as employees lose psychological safety, operate in silos and struggle with sharing information and knowledge to work together successfully.

Trust-Road Split in Two-Image
Trust -Road Split in Two

Can Trust Be Rebuilt?

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend about the topic of trust. He adamantly expressed that once trust is broken, it can never return to its original form or level.  When I asked him how so, he explained that his father had once told him that trust and virginity operated on the same principle- it does not come back after you have lost it. I chuckled at his perspective which represented a new and different way of thinking about the implications of broken trust. So, I asked him if he believed that trust once could be regain after it was broken. He then explained that while trust can be rebuilt in a relationship, it would always be limited (and not absolute as it originally was) since the person whose trust was violated would always harbor doubt at the back of his/her mind.

While his perspective on what happens when trust is violated might sound cynical, the implications of broken trust are indeed far reaching, and relationships are irrevocably changed when and where this breach occurs. For example, there are many couples who work through issues of infidelity to forge stronger bonds and relationships while others do not survive. Whether the relationship is personal or professional, the pain and hurt of broken trust can blind people from ever seeing objectively again, hold them prisoners to doubt and fear and render them incapable of moving forward.

Our inability to trust or form trusting relationships can also date back to our childhood days and travel with us into adulthood. Child psychologists argue that babies learn self-confidence and to trust their environment from the very early stages of their development. If a baby cries and is picked up, the baby learns to trust that someone will come to their aid. Correspondingly, when a baby cries and no one responds, that baby will feel unsafe and become wired to doubt their environment and the world around them. Trust issues are also common amongst people who struggle with abandonment (emotionally or physically), loss of a loved one or some other type of trauma during their early years.

Quite often the people who break trust expect the persons affected by their actions to just get over it and move on. Unfortunately, restoring trust is neither that simple nor easy. When one person is deeply offended or disappointed by the actions of another, they might forgive the person and still struggle with forgetting the past and letting go of the pain associated with the experience. This can then lead the individuals to develop deep seated trust issues that prevent them from trusting others and even undermine their own confidence in their ability to make good choices and accurate judgements about people.

Rebuild-Wooden Building Blocks-Image
Rebuild-Wooden Building Blocks

Tips for Rebuilding Trust

Without vision people perish and without trust relationships are doomed. So, since we cannot operate effectively without trust, how do we rebuild trust that has been broken or built it anew? The answer to this question might lie in the same measure we use to determine whether we can trust someone- that is by their character and their competence. For instance, when my daughter messes up, she is always quick to say, “I’m sorry”.  Her apology to me is always met with my standard response which is -if you are sorry, change your behavior.  I then go on to explain to her that while it is important to always say sorry when she does something wrong, apologizing is not enough. To restore my confidence in her, she will need to back up her words with actions that demonstrate a commitment to making good choices regardless of whether I or someone else is watching.  Simply put she must walk the talk and do what she says she will do.

While there are no quick fixes or overnight solutions to rebuilding trust, here a few tips in no particular order which can help you restore trust or strengthen it:

  1. Be honest: I firmly believe that honest is a sign of respect and that we do not do anyone a favor by misrepresenting the truth or lying to maintain the peace or avoid hurt feelings. If you want people to trust you, you must demonstrate integrity and talk straight.
  2. Admit your wrong: You cannot be wrong and strong. “If you mess up, fess up” and hold yourself accountable for your mistakes and failures and ask for forgiveness. Take responsibility for your actions without pointing fingers or making excuses for your actions. If you are unclear about the situation, ask the person- what did I do to hurt you?
  3. Make amends: For the person who caused the hurt, there must be ownership and acknowledgement of the impact of one’s action, backed by strong remorse and a genuine resolve to change behaviors as evidenced by their actions now and in the future.
  4. Forgive:  Making the choice to forgive is not easy and can seem as if the other person is getting off the hook. However, this is about forgiving yourself for trusting the person as well as forgiving the person for hurting you. The key here is to remember that forgiveness is for you. It allows you to let go of all the negativity and toxic emotions associated with whatever was done to you.
  5. Be open: Adapt a mindset that what you see is what you get. Be real about who you are and what you represent. Accept yourself for what and who you are and do the same for others. People will not trust who you pretend to be.  
  6. Communicate expectations: This will require you to be assertive and clear about your needs and expectations of others or what you might need to feel safe. Don’t deny your feelings, name the emotions and share them. Do not expect people to read your mind, speak up.
  7. Keep your promises:  This comes down to your personal integrity. Are you trustworthy? Do you trust yourself? Do you do what you say you will do? Is there evidence in your life to support who you say you are?
  8. Be Patient: For the person who suffered hurt, trusting again will takes time, courage, and vulnerability to open oneself to the prospects of being hurt again. Give yourself and the other person time and a real chance to heal and recover.

In conclusion, can trust be restored?  I believe so. We as humans are resilient and have the capacity to learn, unlearn, love, and forgive. Trust is no different. But bear in mind that there are no guarantees that we will not break trust or be hurt again when our trust is broken. However, if we behave in ways that demonstrate openness, trustworthiness, and consistency, we can regain trust and strengthen it. After all, as Oprah Winfrey says, “In the end, all you have is your reputation.”

Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!

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The Truth About Trust !(Part 1)

Trust and Truth-Wooden Building Blocks
Truth and Trust-Wooden Building Blocks

Everything in our lives revolves around trust. We trust the police to protect and serve us. We trust teachers to educate our children, doctors, and medical practitioners to give us the right diagnosis and take care of us when we are ill and banks and investment instruments to keep our money safe. We trust stoplights to prevent chaos at intersections and other drivers to comply with the rules of the road. We trust pilots and airplanes, GPS, Alexa and Google to provide us with accurate information. And for those of us who are believers, we trust God or whatever name you call that higher power.

Truth is, the quality of our interactions and relationships are based on the degree to which we feel we can place our confidence in others. Supervisors who do not trust their teams are more likely to micromanage. People who do not trust their partners are more likely to be insecure, question their every move or sneak around trying to get information. If you do not trust a product or service, you are unlikely to buy it. And business that operate in low trust environments, spend way more money on security to protect their assets and customers. Fact is- trust affects everything -who we chose to be in relationship with, where we look for for help, who we confide in, who we do business with, where we spend/save our money, the products we consume and even the jobs we leave or take.

Since trust is such a complex and heavy topic to navigate, I wanted to break it down and explore it in two parts. Part 1 will focus on understanding the concept of trust and why trust matters, while Part 2 will dive into what happens when trust is broken and how to fix or rebuild it.

Definition of Trust-Image
Definition- of- Trust-Image

What Trust Really Means?  defines trust as the “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” Trust involves two components: competence and character. Character speaks to the traits or qualities that describe a person such as whether they are kind, honest, reliable, or loyal. Whereas competence describes one’s ability, knowledge, or skill in a particular area. So, if someone is highly skilled and talented but has a reputation for being late and unprepared would you hire them? If you had a friend that was kind and generous but was inconsistent and never kept their word, how would you feel about that relationship? Or what about the person who does not hold him/herself accountable for completing his/her work on time and is always making excuses or pointing fingers? And what about the supervisor or team member who isn’t open or honest? Would you trust them? You can like or admire people for their personality or talent and not trust them. Keep in mind that people will not trust you if you have competence but no character or character and no competence. Trust requires both.

Elephant and Giraffe Walking A Tightrope-Image
Elephant- and -Giraffe- Walking- A -Tightrope-Image

Can I Trust You, Can You Trust Me?

Every day we make decisions on who and what to trust. Our choices are not entirely random because we trust some brands, products, people, and companies more than others. When we trust a person or company, our interactions tend to be more positive, relaxed, quicker and without hassle. The same is true at work. When we work with people we trust, morale is high, productivity increases, turnover is low and team members are more open to sharing information and creative ideas as they collaborate to get the work done. However, things get trickier when we do not trust the persons, businesses, or products that we are dealing with. Where there is little or no trust, people doubt each other and interactions prove to be more difficult, time consuming and stressful. Conversations are strained and are more likely to be plagued by mistakes, communication breakdowns thereby becoming a kind of self- fulfilling prophecy.

Trusting someone can be risky because people are unpredictable, and you cannot guarantee anyone’s behavior. When we put our hope or confidence in someone else, we are hoping for the best outcome. Besides, trust is situational. You can trust someone in one situation and not trust them in another. There are situations and people that I do not trust myself with and there are people I trust to do some things and not others. Afterall, I would not trust my electrician to do a root canal.

Another important thing to remember is that trust is fragile. Trust takes time to build and is meaningful and rewarding by the comfort and security it brings to the different types of relationships. However, this trust can be easily shattered by unfulfilled promises, unmet expectations and when people fail to do what they said they would do. Additionally, trust is not a one-way street, and requires reciprocity since it takes two to tango. And even though you might consider yourself a trustworthy person, from time to time you might find yourself interacting with people who do not trust you because of who you are or what you represent. In those situations, it is important to be patient and try to not take it personally.

My Story-Image
My -Story-Image

Why is Trust Important?

My earliest and most significant understanding and lessons on trust started at about 10 years old. My guardian or Mama was the owner and operator of a small business which was the main Shop & Bar in our small rural community. Mama was a shrewd and respected businesswoman, well known for not tolerating foolishness. The shop was open as early as 6.00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. on weekdays and from 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on weekends. Mama believed in customer service and rarely ever departed from these hours as she strongly believed that the shop should always be open and ready to serve the community. The challenge with this situation was that Mama could not do it alone but she did not trust most of her close family members to help her. Her open distrust of these close relatives was a result of numerous bad experiences where money had been stolen, and goods had often gone missing after certain persons had helped her out in the shop.

As a the informally adopted member of the family, I was loyal to mama and became her de facto shopkeeper assistant. When Mama need to get some rest or to take a break, I was called away from play to operate the shop. When I got home from school in the evenings, I would have to change my clothes, eat dinner and report to the shop with my homework and on weekends when business was booming, I also had to perform my shopkeeper assistant duties to help out. By the age 12, I could run the entire operations by myself and was often required to cover for Mama when she needed to be away. At first, I was resentful of my role since it meant that I could not play all the time with my friends. But as I matured, I began to understand that Mama had chosen me to be her helper because she trusted me and my abilities and that I would do her no harm. 

Over the years that followed, I too learned who to trust and who not to trust. In that, I knew who our loyal customers were, the ones who did not like to pay and would require me to painstakingly go over every detail on an invoice and others who only came to us when they wanted to credit goods. Overtime, our customers realized that though I was young, I was well trained and knew how to handle myself. As my confidence and their confidence in me as a shopkeeper grew, I would have customers approach me to credit them goods to be settled on their paydays. I used my own judgement to decide who I would extend this courtesy to since Mama did not know about these arrangements. Fortunately, I proved to be a good judge of character and did not have any problems securing payments for these accounts when they became due. Our business flourished and so did my relationships with Mama and the people in our community.

Now, when I look back to that experience, I value those early lessons on trust and now appreciate the importance of both character and competence as the foundations of building and maintaining trust and positive relationships . So here are my key takeaways on trust that I hope might be useful to you:

Key Takeaways

  1. Trust involves risk and is built over time.
  2. Relationships are powered by trust and will not grow or thrive without trust.
  3. Trust is fragile and when broken it can be difficult if not impossible to restore.
  4. Trust requires both character and competence. People will assess your trustworthiness based on your ability and your integrity. Do you do what you say you will do?
  5. Life is harder when we are surrounded by people we don’t or cant trust and the cost of doing business is higher when trust is low or lacking.

So, think about someone in your own circle that you trust or don’t trust. How well do you communicate with each other? How do you get things done? How would you describe those relationships? Stay tuned for next week post- I Don’t Trust You: How to Rebuild Trust (Part 2) where I’ll explore what happens when trust is broken and how to fix it.

Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!

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Who-Moved-My- Cheese- 7-Tips- for- Dealing -with Change- Video

Critical Thinking Killers: Are You Guilty?

Fake or Fact-Wooden Building Blocks-Image
Fake- or- Fact -Wooden- Building -Blocks-Image

In this information age where we are overloaded with so much information at our fingertips, our ability to think critically is now more important than ever. It is easy to get to lost at sea or overwhelmed by the avalanche of information that comes to us daily, courtesy of traditional media sources such as TV and radio and social media sources as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. You can also add to that Siri, Google, Wikipedia and YouTube where you can easily find information on just about any topic you are interested in. And if the extraordinary access to multiple sources of information was not complicated enough, the information we receive changes so quickly that what we knew yesterday can become outdated and irrelevant tomorrow.  

Every day, we run the risk of getting caught in a tailspin just trying to keep up with everything that is going on in the world around us. This results in many of us feeling wired, stressed, depressed, anxious and uncertain about the future. So how do we make sense it all of this information? How do you evaluate what we read, see, and hear to determine what is accurate and reliable? How do we wade through the bias, political agendas, and conspiracy theories to form our own opinions, make decisions, and solve problems effectively?  Enter critical thinking!

Critical Thinking Infographic-Image
Critical -Thinking- Infographic

What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is one of those skills we often talk about, believe we do well and can readily identify as lacking in someone else especially when problems are unsolved, issues are left unidentified and poor decisions or choices are made. However, critical thinking is not about criticizing something or someone, finding fault with a process and/or just voicing an opinion you heard from a friend, family member or trusted source.   defines it as “that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it.” Working with this definition, I believe it is safe to say that many of us spend a lot of time thinking and over processing, but struggle with thinking critically. This is partly due to our education and training which taught us what to think but not how to think.

Elements of Critical Thinking-Image
Elements- of -Thinking -Critically

Critical Thinking Killers: Are You Guilty?

Critical thinking killers are those behaviors we do daily which limit our ability to think critically. So, think about the last decision you made or problem you had to solve? How did you go about it? Did you gather the information and objectively look at the pros and cons? Did you ask questions to get additional information? Did you verify the source of the information you were basing your decision on, or did you act on your gut feeling or what a friend or family member told you? Making assumptions, jumping to conclusions, reacting emotionally and not being able to distinguish between facts or fake news are obvious indicators that you might not be thinking critically about a particular situation, individual or issue.

However, some of the main critical thinking killers that we commit everyday have to do with one or all the following:

  • Over Reliance on Authority: This is the tendency for us to see people in authority as the source of all wisdom and knowledge. We probably learned this tendency early in life when most of us were taught to not question or challenge authority- whether it was our parents, teachers, pastors, politicians, or public figures. Critical thinking does not work in environments where you cannot ask questions and challenge ideas or in spaces where people do not feel safe to speak up and express their thoughts.
  • Black/White Thinking: The comes from a us versus them mentality or a either-or way of thinking that embraces the view that the choice of one thing excludes or negates the other. This approach to dealing with people and issues can stifle critical thinking since it fails to acknowledge complexity and ambiguous.  
  • Hasty Moral Judgements: We all have our own ideas of what we believe to be right and wrong. This is normal and fine. However, quick moral judgments become a barrier to critical thinking when we make assumptions about people, places and things on the basis of limited observation, the opinions of others and our personal preferences. These snap verdicts can prove especially problematic when they inform how we treat others and respond to issues.
  • Labels: As we interact with the world around us, we attach labels such as good, bad, healthy unhealthy, positive, or negative to everything. When we do this, we form stereotypes, lump things and people together and make generalized statements that are unhelpful and untrue, thereby by undermining our ability to practice critical thinking.
  • Resistance to Change:  Change is hard and at some point or the other, we have all been guilty of resisting change in both our personal and professional life. We demonstrate our resistance to change by responding instantly and negatively to ideas, beliefs and attitudes that do not line up with our own. When this behavior is driven by our emotions, it becomes hard for us to apply critical thinking to make sound and rational decisions.   
 Questions about the COVID-19 Vaccine-Image
People -Questions About the COVID-19 Vaccine

Critical Thinking and the COVID-19 Vaccine

As COVID-19 vaccines become increasingly more available, we will all have to decide whether to take the  vaccine or not. While this is a touchy issue for some, it is one we will need to think critically about as we determine how to continue to protect ourselves, our families and by extension the community. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increase in people across the world voicing opposition to vaccinations (Anti Vaxxers). But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and scientists and governments across the world scrambled to develop a vaccine to halt the spread of the coronavirus, the anti-vaccine sentiment went up a thousand-fold. Since then, we have been bombarded with all kinds of conspiracy theories about the vaccine, news about side effects, as well as mixed messages from people in authority to include religious leaders, politicians and even trusted friends and family.  

Even in my own circle, I have heard some persons voice strong objections to the vaccine due to the unanswered questions, uncertainty about its effectiveness, as well as genuine fears about how it might impact their bodies and health in the future. On the other hand, I also have friends and coworkers who have taken at least two of the three vaccines available in the U.S. with no complaints or remorse. So how do you cut through the noise to decide on taking the vaccine or any other issue you might be dealing with?

I’ll admit that at first, I also had reservations about taking the vaccine. This was because I didn’t have full information about the vaccines available and I wanted to play the wait and see game to assess if and when anything went wrong. And since I have working from home and have been taking all the necessary precautions, I felt reasonably safe. But recently, I had to reassess my position when I was faced with the prospect of returning to the office and given an opportunity to sign up for the vaccine. Was I going to take it? If yes, why and if not, what was driving my decision? Was it fear of possible harmful side effects or the undue influence of friends and family? What information did I have, or what additional information did I need? And what if I did not take it and got sick, would it have been worth it? What are the benefits? Does my faith affect my decision? After running myself through this process of questioning- I made the decision to register to get my shot.

Though your decision about the COVID-19 vaccine or the variables you might need to consider in your next decision(Or whatever you are dealing with) might be different from mine, your ability to think critically, suspend judgement and process information to arrive at the right decision will be important. Here are a few questions that you can use to strengthen your critical thinking skills and make the right decisions for you:

  • What information or data do I have or need?  
  • What could go wrong if I make this decision? What are the possible negatives?
  • What are the positives and benefits of making this decision?
  • Is there another way of looking at this? What are my alternatives?
  • How do I feel about this? What is my sixth sense/intuition or gut feeling?
  • What will I do next? How will I put my plan into action?

In closing, I cannot make any of your decisions for you, nor am I recommending a band-aid to solve any of your problems. So, the next time you have a problem to solve or a decision to make, I urge you to use these tips to think critically. Should you do so, I’m confident that you will end up much better outcomes.

Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!

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Motivation: Why Do You Do It Anyway?

Love or Money-Image
Love or money?

If you have ever listened to a successful person speak about their achievements or journey towards their biggest moment, whether it was an athlete, actor, entrepreneur or professional, the one thing you would probably hear them mention is the importance of being and staying motivated. You probably would also hear their stories of overcoming adversity, setbacks, the pain of failure, mistakes and even their struggles with self-doubt. You would hear them talk about pushing through obstacles to remain committed and focused on the dream or goal they set for themselves.

Now all of us have dreams or goals that we aspire to and hope to achieve someday. Although our motivations might be different, they generally stem from a desire to fulfill potential, acquire wealth, attain new levels of success, fame, status, leave a legacy or simply to take care of our loved ones. Yet, for some reason or another, not all of us are pursuing our goals and dreams or even actively working to achieve them. Why not? The answer to this question could lie in about beliefs about motivation and where our motivation comes from. For the purposes of this article, I wanted to look at what motivates people to be the best versions of ourselves- personally and professionally.

In my last post, I wrote about the challenges and takeaways of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has and continues to impact us. The stress, fatigue, and uncertainty that we are currently facing have undoubtedly impacted how motivated we feel to pursue our personal and professional goals. But even though hard times bring challenges, they also present many opportunities, and the verdict is not all gloom and doom. After all, people are still making career changes, new businesses are still being started and lots of people are busy making things happen to achieve their goals. So how do we cope with everything that is going on around us and still find a way to tackle our goals or make progress?

What's Your Motivation-Image
What’s your motivation?

Sources of Motivation

Motivation is the reason we get up each day, despite the challenges and carry on. Psychology Today, defines motivation as ” one of the driving forces behind human behavior. It fuels competition and sparks social connection. Its absence can lead to mental illnesses such as depression. Motivation encompasses the desire to continue striving toward meaning, purpose, and a life worth living.”

So, where does your motivation come from? According to the literature, there are two main sources of motivation- intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation refers to those sources of motivation that are external to us. They include praise, recognition, money, and other external rewards and incentives. No one can deny the power of bonuses to influence employee performance on the job or how those rewards influence how we use our time and talents. Nor can we ignore how the threat of consequences (carrot vs stick) can dictate behaviors.

On the other hand, intrinsic motivation is that which comes from inside of us. That is, the motivation one gets from doing something, the learning, the feeling of pride or pleasure, the sense of meaning or fulfillment of purpose that one gets from carrying out an action or the activity itself. One example of intrinsic motivation is volunteering- evidenced by the millions of people across the world who donate their skills and time every year for worthy causes, for the sense or meaning or purpose they get from contributing to the greater good.

Despite the presence of these two sources of motivation, there is a widely held belief that if you want to get the most out of people that you just “show them the money”. This perspective is limited and problematic for many reasons and does not tell the full story. There is no denying the power of money to motivate people to get things done over the short term, but financial incentives and other external rewards do not get people to perform or do what you want over the long term. Fact is, there are a lot of people with money or in jobs that pay them well, who are not motivated or engaged on the job and others who walk away from high paying jobs because it did not meet their needs. Meanwhile, there are other people who do not earn six figures and wake up every day committed to their jobs and excited to do all they can to make a difference. Add to that, the people who walk away from their careers at the height of their success for reasons that some people struggle to understand.

Question About Purpose-Image
Question About Purpose

What Drives Us?

As humans, one of our most fundamental motivation is the desire to have enough to meet our needs and wants and take care of ourselves and families. We all desire to be compensated for the work we do and at a level that will enable us to not just survive but thrive. However, once people are compensated fairly for the work they do, research shows that money cannot be relied on as the main motivator for great performance or results.

So, what truly motivates people to do their best and be their best? Is it internal or external rewards?

In his book Drive – Daniel Pink offers a different perspective of what it takes to truly motivate people to be and do their best over the long term. Pink identifies three main factors which he believes are responsible for getting the best out of people, that is purpose, autonomy, and mastery in their personal and professional lives. Interestingly, these three factors are internal in nature and are described below:

Purpose: This can be described as the desire in each of has to fulfill our “why” or our reason for being. Your purpose or your “why” is usually connected to what you believe that you are very good at and is also driven by our desire to serve something bigger than ourselves. Whether it is your personal or professional lives, knowing and remembering your “why” will motivate you to carry on in your darkest moments and the in days that you are struggling to keep going.

Autonomy: This speaks to our desire to be self-directed or the degree to which we think we can direct your own work and life. People desire to have some say and/or control is what they do, how they do it and when they do it. One of the biggest issues that people complain about at work is micro-management from their boss or supervisor. When and where people feel no sense of autonomy over their lives, motivation decreases, they just go through the motions and disengage. Keep in mind that autonomy does not mean independence and still requires accountability, but it allows people to have some say or choice and they generally perform better when it exists.

Mastery: This one describes our desire as humans to improve, grow, develop or to become better at something that matters to us. Mastery usually takes commitment, dedication, and hard work as the process of attaining excellence requires practice, time, and effort. The desire for mastery becomes a big motivator as we seek to sharpen our skills, distinguish ourselves from others and honor the talents we have been blessed it. After all, did you wake up this morning to be mediocre?

The Verdict

Quote-whether you think you can or can't -you're right
Quote-Whether you think you can or you cant-you’re right

There is no magic bullet for motivation. The degree to which we feel motivated or not can be influenced by what is happening in our lives at the time. Money might be a motivator in one season and become less important after you pass through that stage, giving way to more internal factors like the sense of meaning/fulfillment you get from doing something. Our goals and our best laid plans can also be disrupted by external stressors and unexpected life events. You could be doing your dream job and lose motivation because of challenges that you that you might be experiencing. If you lose your “mojo” in a season (for whatever the reason), resist the urge to give up on that goal or endeavor. Your success will not be dependent on how many times you failed but more so by your ability to get up and begin again.

If you are struggling with motivation in this season, here are few reminders to help you keep going:

  • Just do it: Like the Nike tag says, the simple act of starting is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Whatever that goal is for you, do not get stuck in waiting for all the perfect conditions to be in place or for the right time to arrive. As the saying goes “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step”, so take it.
  • Remember your why: On the days when you feel like giving up, think about about why you started or wanted to do that thing in the first place. As you consider your answer, determine if you still believe in what you are doing or still feel it is the best course of action to take. If so – pursue it.
  • Choose hope: When faced with hardships, it is difficult to see the progress that you have made or how close you might be to the finish line. Take a moment to acknowledge how far you have come and remind yourself that you have you have survived 100% of your very bad days. Your best days are ahead of you.
  • Believe in yourself: It is nice to have people around you that believe in you and what you are trying to do, but this not always the case. If you have a vision for yourself or something you truly wish to do, guard it and be wise about who you share it with. Some people will always be nay-sayers. Find yourself some yea-sayers and when all that fails- encourage yourself. It is your dream and your goal. The only limit is you.

So, keep up the good fight and do not lose sight of our goals and dreams. Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!

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Relationship with Feedback : It’s Complicated

Connecting Heart to Head
Connecting Heart to Head

“It is complicated”- is a relationship status that no one aspires to. It typically speaks to a relationship that is characterized by drama, mixed feelings, and unresolved issues. Yet, when I think about my own history and relationship with feedback- it is complicated are the only words to describe it. If you are like me, you probably have some unresolved issues and questions about feedback. Should I love it or hate it? Should I seek  it, or should I shy away from it? And what should I do with the feedback I have received? Should I act on it, or do I simply discard it if/when the message is not what I want to hear? And what if I do not like or respect the person who gave it to me- is it still legitimate? At one point, does it cross over to – allowing the opinions of other to determine my opinion of myself? These are but a few of the complex questions that surface, as I try to navigate this critical aspect of interpersonal communication and everyday interactions.  

What is Feedback So Difficult?

We cannot grow or improve without feedback. All the research tells us that one’s ability to give and receive effective feedback, is perhaps the single most important way to develop self-mastery and hone the skills needed to successfully lead and manage people and organizations.

And by giving feedback, we help others develop greater self-awareness and understand the behaviors they might need to change or correct. Yet none of this, makes feedback any easier to give or receive. In my personal and professional life, I have felt immense joy from feedback I have received and equally cried many bitter tears from the hurt experienced upon receiving it. I have also observed people at all levels of organizations struggle with- finding the best way(s) to give feedback a coworker or supervisor and deal with the mixed emotions or fall out that feedback can result in, after it has been given and received. So, I get it- the struggle is real for both the givers and receivers of feedback.

How to Get Better at Giving and Receiving Feedback

Given the importance of feedback as a soft skill, I have developed a keen interest in understanding and learning more about what the research says about feedback, with a view of helping myself and others become more comfortable with feedback. Here are a few useful insights to remember as you try to hone your skills and become a better giver and receiver.

Balance between Love and Hate-Image
Balance between Love and Hate
  1. Treat feedback as information: We often attach labels such as positive, negative, constructive, developmental to define the feedback we give and receive. These labels evaluate the content of the feedback and have led some of us to to believe that, feedback messages that highlight the positives are good and feedback that highlights the negatives are bad. As a result, some of us have developed a preference for giving and receiving the type(s) of feedback we want to hear and miss out on opportunities for valuable insights for growth. When we view feedback as information, it encourages us to see feedback as insights on what we did and/or how we are doing (not positive or negative). By so doing, we can use feedback to guide our actions and decisions, reduce some of the anxieties we feel and change our attitudes for the better.
  2.  Separate the message from the messenger: It’s easy to disregard the feedback messages we receive because we do not like or respect the person who gave it. Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant argues that, “how well we receive feedback is determined by our relationship with the giver.” This is true. Our relationship (good or bad) with the giver has a direct impact on how we react to messages we receive. If we trust the person who is giving us feedback, we are much more likely to be open and receptive to the feedback, even if the message is hard to hear. However, if we question the motive(s) of the person giving us feedback, we are just as likely to be more defensive or quick to disregard their feedback. One way of us to improve in this area is to avoid ‘wrong spotting’. Sheila Heen (one of the authors of Difficult Conversation) describes ‘wrong spotting,” as the tendency we have to scan the feedback we receive to find something wrong with it so that we can reject it. Another recommendation is for us to pause and sift through the feedback to determine what is valuable, what we can learn from it and discard the comments that we don’t accept or find useful.
  3.  Value receiving feedback as much as you do giving feedback: We’ve all taken a course or class on feedback. Most of these sessions typically focus on how to give feedback and the common mistakes to avoid, but neglect to help people understand how to receive feedback well. This approach is problematic, because it fails to prepare and equip people with the skills they need to action feedback effectively or use it to grow.

And let’s face it, receiving feedback can be difficult. The feedback we receive can sometimes challenge our insecurities and highlight our deficiencies in ways that threaten how we see our self. When people are not equipped to handle feedback well, communication breaks down, relationships are damaged and performance conversations become a source of staff disengagement.

Instead, we should equally focus on on listening for understanding, ask clarifying questions, say thanks and then spend some time reflecting on what we have heard. This will allow us to respond less emotionally to the feedback and demonstrate to the giver that we are open to feedback, willing to learn and ready to grow

4. Understand your triggers: How well we respond to the difficult feedback we receive and our actions afterwards can have a greater impact on your future career, than the initial feedback given. The key to getting better at receiving feedback is to understand and manage the feelings we have about it. In their article, Finding the Coaching in Criticism, Sheila Heen & Douglas Stone urges us to try to understand the kind of feedback that pushes our buttons. She points to three triggers that we must seek to manage:

  • Truth triggers– this refers to the advice that seems unhelpful and untrue. It leaves us feeling indignant and wronged.
  • Relationship triggers -speaks to what we believe about the giver and how you feel about your previous interactions.
  • Identity triggers– are all about your relationship with yourself. Whether the feedback is right or wrong, wise or not, it may cause you to feel defensive and has the potential to be most devastating. Once we are able to understand our triggers, we will be in a better position to manage them.

5. Ask for Feedback – Feedback is a gift. The same feedback that can make us feel so horrible is the same information that can push us forward. Some of us work in environments and teams where we do not get enough feedback from our supervisors and peers. And we develop blind spots that undermine our personal effectiveness and magnify our gaps. Managers are not immune from these problems either. The research says, the higher up you go in an organization, the less feedback you receive. So, senior managers are often suffering from a lack of feedback. To address these problem, here are two suggestions:

  •  Ask for it– Asking someone for feedback on how you are doing can be scary and awkward. So start by asking for one thing.” Start by asking a colleague or supervisor- what is one thing you see me doing or failing to do that holds me back?
  • Build a challenge network– We all have that circle of friends we call for support and comfort when things go wrong. The challenge network is the opposite. Building a challenge network requires that you to identify one person (Not a friend) on the team(s) you’re a part of that you trust and give permission to provide you with feedback on how you are showing up. Develop this network and check in often. This is guaranteed to give you a perspective you wouldn’t otherwise have and great information to propel your growth.

Feedback is a gift. Be kind and always say thank you. 

 Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!

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Struggling with Negative Thoughts? Here Is What You Can Do!

Stop Negative Thinking-Road Signs-Image
Stop Negative Thinking -Road Signs

I cannot do this…

This will not work…

They do not like me…

I am not good enough…

Nothing will ever change…

Sounds familiar? At some time or another, we have all found ourselves thinking negatively about ourselves, a situation and even others. This tendency, becomes even more pronounced in situations where we are feeling ill, pressured, hurt or disappointed in ourselves, or by the actions of others. Negative thinking can cause us to feel stress, fear, worry, anxiety and trigger irrational behaviors as well. So, if you are struggling with this tendency, you are not alone. The inclination to have negative thoughts is normal and is a part or our natural fight or flight response.

Why Negative Thoughts?

Recently, I was doing some research for a presentation on stress management and came across of the concept of Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) and how these negative thoughts contribute to increased stress and anxiety levels. According to an article written by Dean Alban, the average human brain does a lot of thinking, up to 70,000 thoughts per day. (1)And the majority of these thoughts are negative and seem to pop up out of the blue. (2).  Our thoughts regulate how we feel about ourselves and our surrounding environment. Positive thoughts make us feel good and negative thoughts can dampen our spirits and leave us feeling down. But, oftentimes, our thoughts happen so quickly that we fail to notice them, and they can still unconsciously affect our mood and attitude.

In this COVID 19 era, when most of us are dealing with unprecedented levels of stress, the tendency to think negatively is greater than ever. This plays out in the simplest of interactions to the most complex ones. Our negative thoughts can stem from an unanswered call to a friend or loved one, or an unacknowledged text. Negative thinking can also be triggered by the language in an email you received from a supervisor/coworker, the tone a person used when speaking to you, your observations on how a situation was handled or just a gut feeling you have about something or someone.

Negative thoughts are even more prevalent when dealing with your own health issues of the illness of a loved one. While waiting for a diagnosis, it easy to become anxious and overwhelmed by the fear of a bad report. Anticipating the bad report or planning for the worst-case scenario, can contribute to even greater levels of stress, which can then undermine your immune system. With a compromised immune system, your body becomes more susceptible to illness and your health fails-thereby becoming a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. This is one reason that persons suffering from life threatening illnesses such as cancer, are encouraged to be hopeful and think positively while undergoing treatment.

I remember struggling with negative thoughts when I was trying to purchase a home here in the U.S. Though I knew what I wanted from day one, ( 3-bedroom townhouse with 2.5 baths, in preferred school districts) and how much I wanted to spend, the home buying process took me three years. For each of those three years, I would get pre-approved in January in preparation for the spring market. I would begin to look at homes around February or March. By end of summer, I was feeling dejected and ready to give up. Why? I would see homes that I really liked, put in offers and each would have been met with news from my realtor that, the seller had accepted a cash offer or someone else had lucked out in a bidding war. After losing out on many offers – negative thoughts and expectations led me to abandon the process for the rest of that year. I bought into the logic that it was not my time; it was a seller’s market; the area was too expensive; or maybe I should be looking for something less- like a 2-bedroom, 2 bath condo which was like my apartment.

Over this time, I struggled with frustration, doubt, and fear about whether I would be able to achieve this goal. I felt even worse whenever someone inquired about how the process was going. It got to the point where, my negative thoughts made me feel defensive about, as this was the one area where I felt I was failing and not making any progress. Fortunately for me, I had a few people in my comfort circle who kept encouraging me and nudging me to keep looking. Their advice would help me to reframe my perspective on the situation and eventually – it happened.

Think Positive, Talk Positive, Feel Positive-Image
Think Positive, Talk Positive, Feel Positive

How to Deal with Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)

Now, let me just state that I am not a counselor, nor am I a therapist. If you are struggling with thoughts of, depression, suicide or inflicting self-harm, please seek help. Seeking counseling and treatment is the best and bravest thing you could do for your overall well-being and mental health.

It is important to remember that negative thoughts in and of themselves are not bad. They can be cautionary, giving us cues and insights into the potential risks or factors we need to consider in deciding or embarking on a course of action. Negative thinking becomes an issue when, we spend most our time in that space and end up feeling depressed, dejected, and hopeless. Excessive negative thinking is never healthy for children and adults alike.

That said, overcoming unconscious/automatic negative thoughts will require intentional action on our part. So, how do we get a handle on these automatic negative thoughts to improve how we cope with the stressors in our life and improve our overall mental health and well-being?

1.Catch and stop the ANTs: To do this, you must notice your thoughts. Imagine for a second, how ants (Insects) work together in real life. Whenever I see an ant, there is always a couple more nearby. Imagine then, that negative thoughts operate similarly in your mind. Someone or something happens that triggers you. Your mind automatically has a negative thought, then another and before you know it, the downward spiral begins. To manage these thoughts, you first must catch the ANTs or begin to pay attention to your self-talk. Your self-talk reflects what you believe about yourself (See previous post) and the situations you have to deal with.  Do you speak kindly to yourself about yourself? Your self-talk may be rational and helpful. Or it may be negative and not helpful. Minding your self-talk will help you to recognize your patterns and stop negative thoughts.

2. Challenge the ANTs:  Back to my analogy about the ants, having caught the ANTs, look at it closely?  Observe where it is coming from or what is triggering it. Does that one ant have others coming close behind. Just like you would not allow ants to overtake your food or home, you must find a way to stop the ANTs.  So, for those negative thoughts, ask yourself- is this thought true? Is there evidence to back up the negative thought? Some of us are excellent story tellers, with an ability to either exaggerate or downplay situations. So, check yourself and your thoughts by objectively looking at the chances of whether what you are worried or anxious about will happen.

Many of us have talked ourselves out of amazing opportunities, because we have either been crippled by doubt and insecurities, entertained fear or gotten stuck in an offense. Find yourself some people who love you, believe in your dreams and always encourage and support you- especially when you cannot do it for yourself.

3.Get rid of the ANTS: Here is where you replace the negative thoughts crawling all over your head. The recommended approach is to replace negative thoughts with more helpful and positive ones. You can do this by reframing your negative self-talk and choose more positive way to look at it. Here is an example. I do online presentations all the time. If and when something goes wrong in the session (Murphy’s law), I am guilty of fixating on that one thing, instead of on the the overwhelming positive feedback I received. When I catch the ants (a.k.a notice my negative self- talk) crawling in my head, I challenge it immediately. I refer to the positive feedback I got and then I tell myself- your presentation was excellent and participants found it useful.

I also use this technique with my daughter, who sometimes struggles with negative self-talk. When she makes a mistake, she beats up on herself, generalize her mistakes and say things like – I always mess up. As soon as she says it, I ask her, is that true? Do you always mess up? After a brief pause, she sheepishly says no. I then ask her to reframe what she said to make it more positive and true. She then says something like, I messed up today. I can change my action and will do better next time. By doing this, her mood improves, she begins to feel better and she recovers from these incidents much more quickly.

So now, it is your turn to try it. The next time you find yourself thinking negatively or struggling with automatic negative thoughts, notice your self-talk, question it rather than accepting it and then get rid of it by replacing it with a more positive and healthy one.

Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!

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