Dig around in the vault and see what you uncover.

Are you relatable?

March 2020

Are you relatable? Have you ever thought about this? I recently told a woman who was serving us appies and drinks in our favourite local pub how much I appreciate her and how relatable she is. She was incredibly moved and said no one had told her that before. We talked about what it meant, and I thought about it and here's what it came down to. She is such a great listener, doesn't interrupt when someone's talking, maintains eye contact with an open interest in what's being said, has empathy and genuine interest in our conversations, and shares in our joy and laughter when we tell her quirky little stories about our day-to-day fumblings, sometimes sharing her own examples to show that she understands. She relates. Without overshadowing, oversharing, or making it about herself.

I later got to know her personally, and am honoured to call her my friend. She's probably 20 years younger than me. Young enough to be my daughter. She just invited me to her baby shower. She is beautiful, with thick blonde hair down to her waist, a smile that lights up the room, and a spirit and energy that makes people gravitate towards her. She's a real sunbeam. I invited her out for breakfast and as we got to know each other, I revealed a mental health crisis a family member was going through, and my feelings about it, and she opened up, too. She lived on the street. She was homeless. She learned to hustle to survive. Today, she has recovered from addictions and lives a simple life with her partner. She is a survivor. And she resonates with openness and acceptance for other people, with no judgement or shame. She opens her heart and hears people, truly listening. She is relatable. 

If I were to ask 20 people who know you how you rank on being relatable, I wonder what they would say. I wonder if you know. Really, the only way to find out is to ask. Okay, that sounds easy. Just stop reading this and go ask them. Or you could also think back to cues or indicators you've noticed when you communicate with them. Do people slow down and enjoy a conversation with you, opening up and sharing their authentic feelings or thoughts? Do they seek you out for advice or to share news with you? Do they tell you personal things about themselves or their lives? Do you have a shared feeling of connection and sort of just both know it? That's kind of what relatable feels like.

I think it's about empathy, attention, other-focus and self acceptance. It's not about needing to be seen, needing to be heard, needing to be right. It's about being open, listening, caring, being curious with other people. It takes courage to let go of these needs, especially if they haven't been met for you, in your childhood or your adult years. Sometimes we feel unnoticed, unimportant, lacking in value. It shows up sometimes as imposter syndrome. That's a good one to google if you're not aware of it. And we compensate by either shrinking and hiding, or by turning our volume up. I know I tended to turn my volume up, to be the first one to speak, interrupting others and finishing their sentences. I needed to be important. It turns out it was because of my fear, when I dug in with a psychologist after my divorce, was that I wouldn't matter, that I wouldn't exist. That I wasn't needed. So I showed up too much. And I wasn't relatable. Instead, I looked like a perfectionist who needed to be right. I am so grateful to have had this painful, and life-changing feedback from my mentors, my supervisors and trusted colleagues and friends. It allowed me to transform. To become who I really am. Someone who cares deeply about others, listens well, who wants to belong and relate to others.

Last month I was having an intake session with a new coaching client. After about 15 minutes, my lizard brain tried to take over, and luckily I shut it down. You see, he had a need to be heard. It showed up to my lizard brain as interrupting, talking over me, not listening to anything I said, and having his next comment ready before I'd finished saying anything. You know that behaviour, when you're telling someone important and you can tell they've stopped listening and are holding their mouth ready to say their next thought. They've checked out. I'm so grateful to have learned some of this about myself, as it allowed me to turn my lizard brain thoughts into empathy, and act on it. I listened. I nodded. I listened more. I allowed space for him to get out what he needed to. I sensed that he was nervous and anxious and that there was more below the surface. I paused when it was my turn to speak and asked him if he would do something with me. He agreed and sat up straight. I asked him if he would take a deep breath with me. I didn't tell him to take one. We took one together. His shoulders came down a bit. I took a second breath and we talked about those breaths that go right down to the bottom of our stomach.

He opened up some more. Let me in. He said that he wasn't quite there yet, but had been working on it since a mental health breakdown that put him out of the game for a few weeks a while ago. Now we were getting below the surface. He was letting me in. I let go of my own need to bring him value, my own intentions in doing our intake. I met him where we was, I listened for feelings, and let us create space together to get to know one another. Our one hour intake turned into a two hour visit, getting to know each other, building trust. And relating.

A beautiful thing happened the next time we met, which was in a supportive group setting. He opened up with the others and talked about how he sometimes listened to respond, rather than listening to understand. He was already aware of this! I felt so relieved I hadn't mentioned it, but had chosen to focus on trust and relating. He shared the technique of listening to understand, said he was working on this, and in doing so, granted trust to the others, and became more relatable. More real. 

People inspire me. We all want to be our best versions of ourselves. We want to be understood, to connect, to bring value, to relate. I hope you can learn to Bring Your Own Best to the party of life!

I sometimes S.U.M.O. but I usually W.A.I.T.

Still haven't shared this one widely...it seems like a fun one!

I used to sit in meetings wondering why no one else was speaking up. Come on, people! Pull up a chair to the table, lean in, speak up. Admittedly, I was a keener, always have been. I get pretty excited about work, about generating new ideas, making things better. And like Fred, a VP I had the good fortune of reporting to for several years, I also have 15 new ideas in the morning before my first coffee. Keener alert!

Little did I know, my keener-ness was part of the reason others weren't pulling up to the table. I didn't realize this until years after the damage had been done. And I'm not being overdramatic in saying that. The damage this caused, in retrospect, was lost opportunities to have more peer relationship, to make more friends at work. Don't get me wrong. I do have some lifelong friends I met through work. But I also had others who made it clear that I wasn't their cup of tea. I think I put the 'me' in team. My story went like this (see if you can relate, or maybe see signs of this in people you know): my clients loved me, my managers loved me, external stakeholders loved me. My peers…lukewarm, at best. Rolled eyes behind my back. Competitive with me. Not responsive to my ideas for collaboration. Can't say I blame them, looking back. Good old hindsight.

Enter Kellie, another amazing VP who mentored, coached, molded and continuously challenged me, whether I wanted it or not! And I did…most of the time. Kellie is the embodiment of the phrase 'get comfortable being uncomfortable'. She's willing to do it herself, she's highly attuned to behavioural blind spots, and happily points them out. I will never forget when Kellie pointed out that I was 'overly vigilant about other people's moods.' It blew my mind. It made me find a good psychologist and understand why. On this particular day, she took a piece of paper and had me draw a quick mock-up of the last meeting room I was in. A round table, an x for each spot where someone was sitting, a happy face for myself. Looked a bit like a basketball coach's game plan on a clipboard. Not by accident. I played basketball in my younger years, and she knew this. She had me put the pen tip on the x of the person who spoke first, the meeting chair, and draw a line to the person who spoke next, then to the person who responded, and so on. I had just come back from the meeting, and remembered the conversation flow. I talked through the basics of the conversation, drawing lines between each of us as we spoke, or metaphorically 'passed the ball' back and forth. After a few minutes she said to stop. We looked at the paper together. In a chipper voice, Kellie announced "Cristine, you're a ball hog". 

There is was. She's entirely right. And she told me she knows this because she sees it when she's in meetings with me. And she knows it because she is too. She is so freaking relatable and honest with herself. Makes it hard to be all defensive, hey? Yes, she nailed it. Often the first to put up my hand or add my two cents. Summarizing what's been said to move the meeting forward. Acting as coach, referee, point guard, offensive, defense and fans all at once. My new plan of attack, based on Kellie's advice? Wait until others have a chance to reply before speaking up. Count to 10. Get comfortable with the silence. And dig deeper to figure out why I had a need to be heard. Kellie rocks. This advice was a major turning point in my self awareness and my own growth.

Years later, I came across a model called W.A.I.T. or why am I talking? Not sure if Kellie was aware of it. Probably was. It's been around for years. I use it now regularly in my coaching, and you may be surprised to know that coachable leaders, from the front line to the C-suite, use W.A.I.T. every day. Some write it on the top of their notepads (or even on their hand!) to remind themselves to do what Kellie was helping me learn: leave space for others, don't be a ball hog. The combination of positional authority, confidence, outspokenness and ball-hog tendencies is a recipe for disaster for leaders who want to be relatable. W.A.I.T. is a lifesaver for many leaders. Do a Google search for: W.A.I.T., why am I talking. You'll find some interesting flow chart models that help people decide when to W.A.I.T. and when to speak. W.A.I.T. did more for me than help me make more work friends. It untapped this amazing resource: quiet people. If you haven't read Susan Cain's book, Quiet or watched her TedTalk, there's some cool new stuff going on as introverts reclaim their space in the world. The new quiet revolution. Check it out.

And speaking of quiet, like most people who learn about W.A.I.T. my initial experience with this cool tool was to become very quiet, never put up my hand, and hold back my ideas. For most of us, this type of feedback kind of hurts or feels embarrassing. We tend to shrink for awhile and the pendulum swings too far to the sit-there-and-say-nothing side. Just knowing this and having self compassion can help you make sure you find a comfortable middle ground. Speak up when it's going to have the right impact. And if you're into self awareness, self actualization and becoming the best version of yourself (see my earlier post on Bring Your Own Best!), consider digging deep to see why you sometimes speak up too much. When I dug down, I uncovered some insecurities or needs that made me seek external validation. I needed to be seen, heard, to know I was important and mattered. Plus I really do have a lot of ideas and energy. That doesn't need to stop. But giving space to others fits better with my core values of acceptance and accountability. Today, at 51, I'm much more comfortable with silence, thrilled when quieter folks speak up and share their ideas, and have become an effective coach who helps others, sometimes by sharing my own growing pains.

So then, what the heck is S.U.M.O., right? It's a new concept. It's my own original idea (remember, I've got a million ideas!) to solve an imbalance that surfaced in my mind. Why were we picking on the extroverted folks? Well, not really picking on them, but putting the focus on them. Shouldn't quieter folks speak up? Isn't it their accountability to claim their space, to be heard? It sure is. And they each likely have their own insecurities or needs that cause them to stay quiet. Imposter syndrome, fear of looking silly, paralysis by analysis, excessive rumination. We uncover lots of stuff in this vault when I help clients dig down to find their root causes. So I came up with S.U.M.O. It's the counterbalance to W.A.I.T. The yin to its yang. It stands for speak up more often. Does this resonate more for you than W.A.I.T.? Are you someone who could put yourself in the ring more often (the sumo wrestling ring, that is!). Do you leave meetings or conversations feeling like you would have had to interrupt someone to make your point, or that you needed time to think, or that you just couldn't get a word in edgewise? Or are you thinking instead that 'it depends'. It might depend on the meeting, the people in the room, whether you've had your coffee, your own mental health that day, how safe or toxic your work environment is, or more. I find that most people identify more strong with either W.A.I.T. or S.U.M.O. as a strategy, and at times you might need both. 

Here's my favourite story about S.U.M.O. and its transformative capacity. It happened at the end of my intensive week-long retreat with the Leading Ladies, the first cohort in the annual leadership program I developed five years ago at a German university. One of the female professors stood up to take her turn in sharing her learnings, her takeaways and her next steps. She is an elegant, tentative, intelligent woman. She is known for being careful, respectful and poised. She carried herself gracefully to the front of the room, faced the group, said a sentence or two to recap her learnings this year. Then she stood quietly for a moment, looked down, then looked up with a changed face and said quietly and calmly that there was really just one thing, a simple thing, that she would focus on going forward. I want to take you to the room so you can experience it with her. It took all of five seconds. Her face transformed to a look of fierce determination. She thrust her arms down, grabbed her skirt hem in both hands, and shouted these words as she stomped both feet into a bent-knee sumo wrestler squat: "From today forward, I am going to…stomp, stomp…SUMO!!!!" We leaped to our feet, and erupted in cheers and tears. Life changing stuff. 

People, you amaze me with your courage and your will to Bring Your Own Best selves to work, to your lives, to the world.

Bring Your Own Best - BYOB to work each day

09 February 2020

Typically, BYOB means to bring your own booze to a party. Well, let's give it a refresh. How about "Bring Your Own Best" to the party of life. Your own best version of yourself. Set your own bar. Carve out your own destination. In a world where a focus on self-esteem has contributed to anxiety, competition and isolation, it just feels like there's room. Room for a new, gentler approach to defining yourself. I hope you can come to figure out that there's room for you. And figure out how to manage your own energy, maximize your strengths, how to find your sweet spot. To focus on the gifts and strengths you bring to your world, and get your swagger on. To learn to laugh at your foibles, uncover your blind spots, and appreciate yourself, bumps and bruises and all that makes you YOU. 

Have you heard about Kristin Neff's work that's getting attention recently? She has a PhD and focusses on mindful self compassion. I first heard about her from one of my clients from Germany who sent me a link to her Ted Talk, called "The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion" and as I watched this gentle, intelligent woman talk about how we don't all have to be above average, I felt so hopeful and relieved. I had spent my career trying to be someone else's definition of 'successful' and was recently embarking on launching my own consulting and coaching practice by being my authentic self. I'd decided to stop climbing and instead focus on what I do best: position myself beside people and customize my approach to their unique needs. I help people. I build trusting relationships with them and together we figure out how they can be, well, their own best self. 

The picture I chose for this blog post stood out to me because I was alone in Europe for the first time, in a country where I didn't speak the language, figuring out how to board a train and get to the university that wanted to hire me to teach them how to be their own best. Eek! I was scared and excited. Heart fluttery stuff, folks. Now, I develop and lead an annual leadership program for professors and administrators at a German university and it is truly a way to Bring My Own Best. This was 100% new territory for me. We're now on year five, with three cohorts of courageous leaders digging deep to understand themselves so they can BYOB, German-style. It is a dream come true. No wait. I never dreamed this would happen. It's the result of focussing on my own strengths, being open and honest in sharing my own experiences, and connecting soulfully with people who want to improve and understand themselves. I stopped trying to be a leader, and decided to help leaders. I wonder what your best self looks like? I hope you find out. 

Now, here's an interesting side note. Since this all started, I've fielded dozens of questions on behalf of North American culture. It's interesting to be seen as the spokesperson for your country. "Cristine, why is there such a focus on individualization in America? Why is everyone so focussed on themselves?" These academics and senior leaders are fascinated with the leadership culture of accountability and vulnerability I'm sharing with them, if somewhat dubious about some of the other things they see about us. "Why are Canadians so positive all the time. Awesome, awesome, awesome, everything is awesome. Honestly, Cristine, sometimes things are shit!"

I love the dash of German realism that has been infused into my life and my work. And Kristin Neff's focus on self compassion, rather than self esteem, has further shaped my approach to life and to my coaching. I help people to uncover their OWN best, rather than focussing on being THE best as they climb the corporate ladder (or as they don't climb it and beat themselves up for not attaining the lofty goals they thought they had to attain to be considered 'successful'). Not everyone can be the CEO. And everything is not always awesome. Sometimes things are shit. Then we get up, brush ourselves off, and keep moving forward. Or we sit under a tree for a bit to rest. 

I help people set realistic, attainable goals, to lean into the best aspects of themselves, to know how to pace themselves, and to find their swagger in life. You know what a swagger looks like, right? Like when a cowboy walks into a saloon, head cocked to the side, eyes a bit squinty, confident and calm. Oh yeah. I've got this. 

People amaze me. They openly share what they are working on, what's getting in their way, what is stressing them out, their fears and their dreams. For those of you who have already let me in, thank you for allowing me to act as a mirror for you and reflect back your beauty, to help you heal your bumps and bruises, and to help you bring your best self to each day. To each of you, I hope you find your swagger.