This is not me.

Photo by Aljoscha Laschgari on Unsplash

In the last five years, I’ve gone back-and-forth between self-employment and “regular” jobs a couple times. Often these transitions were preceded by a concern that I had become “too corporate” and maybe had not taken enough time to figure out what and where I was supposed to be. I was convinced that maybe I wasn’t the all-business looking person you see in my headshot photo so I would ditch my usual reading list in favor of health and wellness titles on the fringe of mainstream and start buying clothes a little different than I’d normally wear.

After I took a few online marketing classes I thought maybe it was time for me to start promoting myself a little more and not just hide behind my corporate clients. I created my website and envisioned as the months progressed I’d be adding functionality and cool design and the occasional jaunty photos like all the gurus do. Then when I really thought about it, it kind of made me feel ridiculous … because it wasn’t me.

At the end of the day, most of us DO really know what our natural set point is when it comes to our public persona. We don’t need to search too hard for it. It’s kind of like fitness; you know where you feel best. You know the size you like to pull from your closet. Similarly, with communications and our personal brands, we know when we are in our element. We know the kind of people who make us feel good about the interaction, the groups where we feel welcomed and the venues that help us feel most comfortable. It just doesn’t take too much work and feels pretty effortless.

News flash: I am not the jaunty photo type. Despite my flirtation with other job descriptions, I know what my personal brand is and it’s pretty corporate. And that’s okay because most days, I feel pretty darn good about that.

I also learned that I already know what my set point is for networking because when it’s real and authentic, the interaction I have with the person or people gives me way more energy than it takes. When it’s really working for me, I will leave an event with a handful of business cards in my pocket or my bag practically skipping back to my car brimming with the possibility of scheduling a meeting and getting to know those people better. On the ride home I’ve often got a half-written blog post rambling around in my head.

Additionally, I can almost always find a place for the people I meet in my professional or even personal life. It’s no stretch or hard sell to get to the point where I say “I’m going to do business with this person.”

Last year, though I really intended to create a refreshed personal brand, a different kind of network, and a new direction in my career, it never really felt right while I was doing it. I could tell because I ended up accepting any and all meetings and after a while, some of the interactions didn’t feel all that energizing or productive. I drank a lot of coffee, got on a lot of new mailing lists, but can’t say that I moved the needle.

There is nothing wrong with being generous and open to meeting people outside your normal circles; in fact I try to generally live my life and career that way. But it’s a problem when you realize you are accepting meetings and coffees out of guilt and obligation rather than intent and desire. What I learned is that there’s an important balance to strike between being decisive, prescriptive, planned, and results-oriented with being open, generous, flexible and creative.

My set point is somewhere in between those two scenarios.

Ironically after all those meetings, coffees, business plans, website copy edits, and list building, I ended up almost right back where I started. Just a little clearer, a little more accepting of my corporate self, and a little more disciplined about how I use my time.

Excellent!

Photo by Karolina Szczur on Unsplash

When I was in college, I had a part-time job on campus at one of the dining facilities, a take-out deli. In addition to the customer-facing duties like making sandwiches and staffing the registers, sometimes we did behind-the-scenes chores like restocking the lines, portioning supplies for later or cleaning up in between crowds. While our deli mostly served out of paper and plastic, a few times per shift we’d have to bring a few sheet pans or trays of serving pieces upstairs to the main dining hall’s dishroom.

The dishroom was a pretty gross place, TBH. I am pretty sure I almost wiped out a few times due to the grease on the floor and lack of tread on my shoes. There was a big long conveyor that would take all the dirty pans and trays of flatware through the cleaning and sanitizing and one person would need to collect pans as they came out clean, yet steamy, and either finish drying them or put them away.

In addition to employing us workstudy students, our dining services also employed a lot of adults from surrounding communities in the non-culinary positions. Some were retirees looking to stay active; some were part of a program for developmentally challenged adults; a few I suspect were just people down on their luck and being given a second chance at success in a part of the facility where they could excel relatively unsupervised. One such place was the dishroom.

I often saw Dishroom Guy (I never knew his name) as I brought pans upstairs. He would be jamming to whatever music was on the radio, hustling and bustling the dishes. Without fail, he would be the first to speak “Hey, how are you doing today?”

Me: “I’m good, how are you?”

Dishroom Guy: “Excellent! Just excellent!”

Being a pretty self-sufficient person, each time I planned to run the dishes through myself and wait for them but he never let me. He took such immense pride and ownership in his job, each time he said, “I’m here for my shift, and this part’s my job. I’ll do it. Hey, you need me to bring these back downstairs? ‘Cause I can do that, ok?” I’d nod in acceptance and he would always say, “Excellent!”

When he reappeared downstairs with our dishes, we would say thank you and he would say, “You have a great day okay? Excellent!”

Over the last year I’ve thought a lot about some of the things I lost along the way climbing the ladder of my career and for a long time I lost that “excellent” feeling. It was hard to feel that way about my daily workload when I was the only one going the extra mile or when I was the only senior person digging deep and working outside my comfort zone. Eventually (I suspect this is normal) instead of just doing the work I spent a lot of time thinking about “why I am doing X, Y and Z in my role? Why isn’t so-and-so doing it too?”

With time and distance I realize now that being “forced” to ditch the title, dig deep and work like I’d never worked before was such a great gift because it has made me a better PR person and will eventually make me a better boss when I am in that position once again.

For starters, being employed – getting a regular paycheck – is excellent. Knowing with certainty that the work product going to the client is excellent is, well, excellent. And the feeling of competence and a week well spent while entering time sheets on a Friday is excellent. Getting my hands a little dirty reminds me how important it is to stay current, and not get too caught up in titles and roles because everyone is replaceable, and I don’t want to be the one replaced!

There are many who think that getting a big title, having an assistant (or some direct reports) or managing a large budget is a harbinger of success. I used to think that. But I’ve had all those things, and none of them ever provided me with the feeling of “job well done” on a Friday that I usually feel now, when I am fully engaged in all my work, doing everything from the most senior-level strategy down to pitching trade media like I did when I was in my twenties.

I would bet Dishroom Guy felt that way about his job. Every. Single. Day. So if a guy who works in a steam-filled smelly commercial dishroom with little room for advancement can see the excellence in his job, then so can all of us. Even when we are lacking an assistant, don’t get the promotion, are doing work that our peers aren’t, working harder than the boss – whatever. Sometimes I catch myself mid-thought just about to gripe and moan and I remember that guy, and it humbles me a little.

I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Google “increase job satisfaction” and see dozens of posts like this about how to build job satisfaction yourself rather than waiting on titles and worrying about what others are doing.

Here’s to an “excellent” week!

 

 

 

 

Labeling ourselves

I have always been a dependable person. In high school I followed through on the commitments I made to clubs, earned pretty good grades and had friends from all groups around school. In my professional life I showed up at the right events, talked about topics people expected to hear and joined the type of professional organizations one would expect. In those settings, I often volunteered for roles that fell into the category of – you guessed it – dependable people you can count on. Even in a leadership role I’d often find myself doing work in the background, coordinating events and inviting others to speak.

While I did this and basked in the relative comfort of being known as a capable and thoughtful team player, there was always a little piece of me that wondered what “those other people” knew that I didn’t. The people who raised tons of money for good causes, won awards and effortlessly accumulated (and sometimes declined) speaking opportunities.
Last year during my mini-sabbatical I finally figured it out.

No matter where you reside as you read this, you probably know the people I describe above. They’re the handful of people who are ubiquitous around charitable, civic and business circles. This is the soundtrack that would often run in my head about this group of people:

“When I get that next promotion, I’ll have the right title to join that group.”

“I said yes to the role this year because they didn’t have anyone else. I’ll just keep the trains running on time for now and let next year’s chair address those things because he’s more knowledgeable.”

“I’m just a PR person; not a lawyer, investment banker or corporate executive. I can support the effort but I don’t really have access to the kind of contacts I need to make that happen.”

How much B.S. is that? It’s a lot.

Each time I said something like that I gave myself permission to stay in that dependable role of “doer”. I never gave myself permission to be a person who makes things happen. Even though I could. How many times did I hear myself say, “Give me a job. Sure I’ll do that, I’m a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of person.” Yes that’s true but I really didn’t give myself much credit for my other pretty significant contributions. I’m also a strategist, an adviser, a connector, a speaker and a probably a whole lot more.

Last year’s break from the corporate world was very eye-opening for me on so many levels. Once I was stripped of my corporate creature comforts like a job description, a boss who could bestow an “attagirl”, business cards with a fancy title and a recognizable employer; the only thing left was me. I had to figure out what I was willing to say about myself; how much credit I was willing to give myself, and how seriously I was willing to accept myself as a contributor to the business world. Unfortunately I realized I’d been labeling myself as that dependable doer for a long time. I wore it like a badge of honor.

And the irony is, when I asked friends and colleagues as part of a business planning exercise what they thought were my best attributes the words that came back were creative, strategic, results-oriented, polished and even risk-taker. Not one person said dependable!

So the secret to cracking the code on that inner circle? There really isn’t one. One of the best lessons I learned being my own boss was that if you think you’re capable and deserving, you are.

Sometimes it takes a major jolt to our routines or forcing us out of our comfort zones to learn this. While the last several years have not been without bumps in the road, I’m grateful for the learning opportunity. It has made me realize I can be peers with lawyers and accountants, I can write confidently about non-PR topics, and I can network with the best of them.

To be honest I’m not sure I would have done this so determinedly if I were still in my comfortable surroundings in Boston. As much as I loved the roles I occupied there, I also realized I had gotten so comfortable I may have wrongly imposed limitations on myself.

We already know slapping labels on others is bad, yet many of us do it to ourselves. I’m ready to give myself a break from that!

Now when I get ready to attend a networking event I think a little less about being dependable and little more about being creative, strategic and results-oriented!

Graceful transitions

Photo by Braden Barwich on Unsplash

Graceful Transitions

With the 2018 Winter Olympics just behind us, I was thinking about what I heard a skating commentator explain about pairs skating. I don’t know much about the sport but the commentator said pairs need arrange their choreography in a way that allows them to make a distinct transition right in front of the judges so they can evaluate their precision and ability to shift gears so to speak. It got me to thinking about our own transitions: in my case, good thing there’s no panel of judges watching me all the time!

Whether we are changing jobs, moving into a new phase of life or have moved to a new geography, sometimes we stumble. It’s not always graceful and seamless. But, as long as we put 100% into it and are clear about intent and desired outcome, usually we can feel good about it.

Speaking of graceful-or-not transitions, starting today I’ve moved the blog to a new schedule. Instead of two Thursday afternoons a month I’ll be queuing up each post to hit twice a month on Monday mornings to offer some perspective on the upcoming work week.

The timing switch is driven largely by my big transition: I’ve accepted a new full-time job with a pretty amazing PR firm. It’s not what I envisioned doing twelve months ago, yet when I inventory what I wanted most out of my career at this stage it’s all there: firm leaders truly want to help their team succeed, there’s flexibility, a chance to contribute at the highest level and be creative as I build a book of business.

As I’ve been making this gradual transition from part-time to full-time over the last six months, and I’ve been keeping up a heavy networking schedule, it hasn’t always been easy to make graceful transitions. I wasn’t always sure what to say or what I even wanted to do at certain events. Was I inviting someone to read my blog? Partner with me? Learn more about my PR firm? Was I approaching corporate types or individuals?

When I launched this business last year, I thought I had done a lot of work figuring out my “why”, developing my ideal customer profile and really honing my offering and my story. As the year unfolded, I realized while my story resonated with a lot of people it might not be ready to be a standalone business. Eventually I found myself having a really hard time giving the elevator speech I created. It stressed me out for a while but then I realized sometimes life leads us right where we are supposed to be. After this “sabbatical” I’m now armed with some great insights to apply to the way I work. As a result, I thought I’d share a few.

Always assume every new experience will present you with the opportunity to learn something new. Once I passed the 25-year mark of my career (wow – yikes) I wondered what I would learn. Had I only known! Every new assignment is an opportunity to learn. Maybe it’s not a subject but it could be about a person, a trait, or a new way of working. I’ve made a promise to myself that I will learn something new from every facet of my work every week.

Know your why for networking. Or doing anything for that matter. Otherwise why do it? For a long time, I worked WAY too hard in my new area to make friends, establish a professional niche and get my name out there. Networking was sometimes forced and I felt like I had to accept everything that came my way. Once I had time to think during last year’s transition, I realized my approach wasn’t working because I was trying to replicate what I had in Boston rather than create something new and amazing where I am. (And btw I’m still not sure exactly what it will be like here but it’s taking shape in a really exciting way. And that’s a good thing!)

It’s okay to return to your normal. This is a tricky one; we are all so primed to advance, better ourselves and change that sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to enjoy what and where we are. So as we climb the ladder, advance in our career, we don’t stop to think “Do I like where I am?” “Did this promotion do for me what I’d hoped?” Interestingly, to the outside world my new role is a little bit of a step back; less responsibility, less senior in title and smaller organization. Yet, it comes with more creativity, latitude, personal responsibility to make things happen and support from the top than most of my previous roles dating back almost a decade. It will allow me to contribute at a truly high level rather than moving through each day with my hair on fire.

People say change is the only constant and I can say with certainty the last five years have proven that for me. But today, I’m much better equipped to handle it all even if I stumble.

Have you stumbled and recovered? I’d love to hear about it.

What a difference one word makes

Spurred by my pre-holiday season post, I’ve been thinking a lot about how Iapproach my career, achieve personal growth and pursue building a new network. After a lot of change, I feel like I’m finally settling comfortably into a new phase of work and life. Last year at this time, I wasn’t quite ready to embrace it all. There was too much to learn, too many habits (both bad and good) to either make or break and also a lot of external factors complicating the picture. As a result I think I skipped almost all the work-related holiday events I usually attend.

This year, armed with new awareness I’ve approached the holiday season and the impending New Year with a completely different outlook. With a slight shift in word choice I feel like I show up and present myself a little differently.

Photo by Henri Pham on Unsplash

Last week I explored the difference between “interesting” and “interested.” This week’s post explores the idea of “I have to” and “I get to.”

Old habits die hard

Even the most spontaneous of us are creatures of habit on some level. For evidence of this just pick up any women’s magazine in October and you’ll see articles almost every year about “surviving the holiday season at your parents’ house” featuring tips on presenting ourselves as the adults we are and not as the 12-year-olds our families remember.

We form habits in childhood (including communication habits) and they’re reinforced however positively or negatively in our families and circles of friends. Then we grow up, move away, gather accomplishments and show up differently with our new colleagues and friends, yet when we return to familiar surroundings we slip into old habits. While it’s familiar it might not always be the best for us. Sometimes it takes a jolt from the universe in the form of a supportive friend, job change or geographic move to make us realize what our unique patterns are and why they might not serve us well.

The allure of “have to” …

My recent insight on this topic, made possible by this past year of solo practitioner life, was that I have always been a big “I have to” gal. Rarely “I get to.” You would think my entire life was an endless to-do list or a prison sentence:

I have to go to the gym today.
I have to finish this PowerPoint.
I have to take my daughter to basketball practice so I can’t attend that event.
I have to commute into New York tomorrow.
I have to get all my performance reviews in by Friday.

Womp womp womp. Negative and a little depressing, isn’t it?

While this concept had already been pointed out to me by my own coach Erin Elizabeth Wells and I had read materials from a well-known online entrepreneur Marie Forleo, it took living it for me to fully get it.

Living the life of long commutes and negative water-cooler chitchat can make “I have to” very alluring. We are a culture fascinated by the idea of negativity. We all want to feel like our situations are more difficult, days more full, office environments more negative. Sometimes, it’s not fashionable to show up and be really, really excited and positive about the work we do. When we get stuck there it’s really hard to see things as opportunities.

Negative speech patterns like that are probably what kept me from attending all those holiday parties last year. And they’re probably what kept me from embracing a lot of opportunities in the past, if the truth be known.

Ditching it for “I get to” …

So this year I made a conscious effort to view everything – and I mean everything – as an opportunity. A most extreme example is if I caught myself saying “I have to go into New York for a meeting tomorrow,” I would sometimes go so far as to correct myself to the other person: “Well, I don’t have to I am going to, because it’s a great opportunity to meet a new person.” Saying it out loud somehow strengthened my resolve to squeeze every bit of possibility out of the meeting.

There’s a professional organization holiday party I attend every year without fail. Regardless of what city I’m in, I go to that chapter’s event. Last year, I vaguely remember my week being upended due to an unexpected late-day meeting. And, true to habit I found myself grumbling in the car on the way to the event, after reciting to a friend my long litany of what I had to do” and then that “I had to attend” the party. Instead of “It’s great that I get to attend this party tonight as a break from the busy season.”

The problem with “have to” is that when we “have to” do something, it not only makes us feel burdened and makes it harder to show up enthusiastically, but our focus remains on ourselves and not others. (See last week’s post.)

This holiday season, I purposely took a few hours one day before Thanksgiving and registered for all the events I wanted to attend. And, I blocked off time to commute so I can be sure to be fresh, focused and ready for each.

Sure, things might come up in the meantime that either delay my arrival or shift my plans. But, so far, so good. With my thoughts firmly rooted in “I get to attend this” and “be interested, not just interesting” I’m off to a good start.

With that in mind, it’s still mid-holiday season. There’s time to shift your communication patterns too, if any of this resonates. Does it? Feel free to share your comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Interesting vs. Interested

I can’t believe the holiday season is almost upon us. Beginning next week (if not already) our inboxes will be flooded with invitations to work-related holiday events. If you’re like me, you belong to a few organizations and socialize with work friends, which adds up to a lot of events in just a few weeks. If you’re in a client-centered organization you may also be hosting one. I always enjoy these events to see familiar faces, reconnect with the business community and possibly meet some new friends in the process.

A few months ago I wrote a post about effective networking. Now is a good time to take a refresher (*wink*)

In addition to bingeing on personal and professional growth books this year I also dove into networking in new and different ways. I’ve attended events large and small, official chartered organizations and ad-hoc meetups. Not surprisingly, people show up with varying degrees of preparation and seeking a range of outcomes. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we show up to these events: “interesting” or “interested”.

Building a network seems to have taken on a very transactional quality the last few years. It used to take a much longer time to form a relationship: first meeting, then exchanging ideas and brainstorming, connecting with each other’s networks, and finally maybe doing business together at a later date. Or not; sometimes the connections were just connections to great people we then shared with others.

Today the process feels accelerated to the point that getting a business card is a tacit approval to do business together. I suspect this all has something to do with social media and technology and secretly I’m hoping we eventually land somewhere between cringe-worthy 1990’s business practices and today’s swipe right culture. (But I digress. More on that in a future post …)

Within this context of networking being a transactional exchange, let’s look at this idea of being interesting vs. being interested and which approach works. There are a lot of people out there with interesting things to say and they’re likely to be great conversationalists. We all tend to rev ourselves up to have that first conversation but after that, what’s next?

By definition:

Interesting: having something unusual to say, attention-grabbing, arousing interest, fascinating, enthralling

Interested: showing curiosity or concern, attentive, eager

Interesting is all about YOU. What you bring to the conversation. Interested is all about your conversation partner and what you do that brings THEM closer.

So what approach works? The answer is BOTH. We all need both of these qualities: to attract attention we need to be interesting, but to retain attention and ultimately form a relationship we need to be interested in something other than ourselves and our own gains. The interested part is what I don’t experience as much these days.

Being interesting can be many things and it’s very specific to you. Think about what makes you interesting: your unique focus area at work, your hobbies, your backstory, your previous career, the books you last read. It takes time to figure out your own elevator speech and I’m a big advocate of practicing it and updating it frequently as you gain new experiences and grow.

Being interested is even easier. It just requires you suspend your own expectations for a few moments and focus on the other person. Something as simple as walking up to a new person and asking whether they are enjoying the party can do it. Bonus points if you can ask a few more questions of that person without launching into your own pitch. It’s challenging because networking makes some people nervous and it’s easy to fill empty space with your own story but in the end, I think a big dose of “interested” will secure your spot in that person’s world much faster than if you’re just “interesting”.

Will you show up interested or interesting this season? Or both?

Thanks for reading! Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Bright-eyed & bushy-tailed

Recently I had some business in Washington, DC where I lived in my 20’s. Interestingly I met up with the rest of my team just blocks away from where I once lived. Of course memories flooded back and I thought about how new and exciting every day seemed when I lived there. Regardless of what I was doing or where I was going, everything was an adventure. My next thought was “When was the last time I let myself get that excited about something?”

I had to think about that for a good few minutes. Why didn’t I have that same spring in my step now? No one told me to stop it. So: what if I practiced being that enthusiastic now, and arrived at every interaction with the wisdom of my 40-something years plus the exuberance of being 20-something?” Wow, talk about a powerful combination!

Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

When I think about all the people I admire professionally and personally, they usually share a few common traits: they are completely authentic, open, and importantly, enthusiastic regardless of how long they have been in their role or their profession. I always try to model those who walk into every situation with that type of energy and openness.

Enthusiastic people also command a room; inspire teams, motivate employees and build trust. Being around them is contagious. I like that they view every situation as an opportunity to meet a new person, gain a new insight or learn a new way of doing things. The meeting, event or conversation is never something to check off a list.

I think many of us deny ourselves the permission to be enthusiastic. Pack mentality sometimes encourages us to be unimpressed or blase.

When I was reading up on the body language of enthusiasm (queue up Amy Cuddy’s TED talk if you missed it in my earlier post) I also found this interesting post from a coach who notes that confidence is about ourselves; enthusiasm is about others. And naturally, we are always most drawn to people who are interested in us.

Next time I find myself defaulting to a “been there, done that” mindset I’m going to rewind and remember that the only way to be that person who inspires and builds trust is to bring some of that bright-eyed, bushy-tailed attitude from a couple decades ago to my present situation!

Who inspires you? Is enthusiasm part of their appeal? I’d be interested in your take!

 

Music to my ears

View from the Mindbody BOLD conference & expo

I had to include the above shot, even though it was grainy from my recently dropped phone. I can’t think of a better place from which to write a blog post! I was all prepared to share a post on resilience this week and then I heard Arianna Huffington’s keynote talk at this conference for entrepreneurs in the fitness and wellness industry. I knew I’d enjoy this event but when I heard the following line, I was hooked: “Now is the time for a wellness revolution. Corporate wellness is so focused on the downstream, addressing things we already have, what about upstream to focus on preventing it in the first place?”

That’s exactly the kind of thinking that led me to relaunch Gem Strategic Communications as a wellness-focused presentation skills offering. Hearing the opening remarks today I was reminded there’s so much more to this journey: it’s a bit of coaching, a bit of career advice, some community building and networking. Ultimately I want to bring similar content, thought leaders and methodologies I applied to my own work-life and wellness to you and others like you.

To that end, I’ll be organizing a few informal after-work gatherings to crowdsource ideas for Gem over the next few months in New York, Boston and Philadelphia and DC. If you’re interested please reach out!

I already have three pages of notes from BOLD for future blog posts ranging from how technology impacts communication (which I’ve covered here in a previous post), sleep, and the idea of an “entry interview” to set expectations on what kind of work-life management you need to be successful. That’s all from just this morning!

Before I switched up today’s focus I had planned to write a post on the topic of resilience which is a favorite of mine. I just finished reading Elise Mitchell’s Leading Through the Turn: How a Journey Mindset Can Help Leaders Find Success and Significance, and it really resonated with me for that reason.

I admire Elise’s business savvy, drive and vision. She’s a leader in the PR industry and among women entrepreneurs generally. She’s the kind of leader I aspire to be. In fact I’m pretty sure I Fan Girl-ed her at a conference to introduce myself and she proved to be gracious and generous with her time to a virtual stranger. We still keep in touch occasionally.

Her book details the building of her business and her eventual rise to the top of a global agency but more importantly her evolution from destination leader to a destination leader with a journey mindset. She presents the idea that you can still focus on the destination (the win, the outcome, the prize) while enjoying the journey, being present, and mindful. I believe that’s how you build resilience. The more things change, the more they … keep changing. Right? I’ve personally been through a ton of job changes and life changes in the last several years and I’m sure I’m not the only person. The less I focus on “Oh that’s not where I was supposed to be” and “Oh, let’s see where this goes!” the better I feel and the more prepared I am.

I can’t wait to keep up these posts over the next few months, there’s so much to share from this conference, Elise’s book and other topics. If you enjoyed today’s post please reach out or share.

Thanks for reading!

The company you keep

Have you ever noticed how much your communication style is influenced by those in your immediate surroundings? Think about how easy it is to get sucked into toxic conversations at work when it’s all around you, at your cube, at the water cooler, getting coffee. Suddenly you start to drag, or slouch, or gripe. In contrast, you spend lunch with someone who’s positive and upbeat and suddenly you feel great about the whole afternoon.

I noticed this influence recently while trying to be productive at the end of our holiday weekend. I was trying to get ahead of a few things for the workweek while listening to my daughter in the background: “I’m bored, I want school to start.”

After a few hours and a few times hearing that same phrase where did I find myself? Staring at a blank word doc, next to a pile of receipts that hadn’t yet been made into an expense report, while wearing workout clothes though the gym had already closed and I missed the window of opportunity. Later I heard myself say to a friend: “I don’t know what happened to me, I was motivated this morning and planned to get ahead of a few things and yet I did exactly nothing today.”

Well, guess what? I do know what happened.

I listened to all the background noise in my house. I heard the words “bored” and “want school to start” then I became bored, and I too wanted school to start! Yes this is a minor, non-toxic example of the power of others’ words to influence our own. But wow did it prove to me that those closest to us really do influence behavior and thus, word choices and body language!

Travis Bradberry is a workplace culture and emotional intelligence expert whose articles I read often. Earlier this year, he discussed research done at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany that shows how spending time with negative people can provoke the same fight-or-flight biological stress response that any other stressor would. That stress response can cause us to make bad decisions, cloud our thinking, and change our posture and a number of other things.

Once I realized I’d been influenced by the “I’m bored” phrase, I took a few moments to self-reflect and there it was: bad posture, irritability, cloudy thinking and suddenly every challenge facing me in the next month was an insurmountable hurdle not just a learning opportunity. Once I realized it, I was able to quickly snap out of it. But it made me realize how easy it is to be influenced by those closest to you whether those are cube-mates, friends or family.

So … the company you keep is important not just for the way you’re perceived by others, but the way you perceive yourself and your current situation. This insight is important: if you perceive yourself as competent, successful and engaged in the work you do, the words that you use will likely reflect that as will your body language. If you perceive your situation to be impossible, uninspiring or boring it’s highly likely that your words and actions will reflect that, too.

Next time you approach the water cooler, or pick up the phone, or join a group for drinks after work … think about how you are feeling about your present situation, and choose to use words and body language that reflect that state you’re in, not the one occupied by the person next to you.

Put your shoulders back!

Photo by Becca Matimba on Unsplash

It’s a common refrain many of us heard throughout our childhoods: “Stop slouching.” “Put your shoulders back and sit up!” Slouching is even more common today with all of us hunched over our phones from early ages.

I really never gave much thought to how posture influenced the rest of my life until I arrived at the doorstep of my gym looking for a personal trainer. After a few decades of desk-sitting, stroller-pushing and screen-watching, to my surprise and dismay I couldn’t do much of anything with my upper body when we first started working together. All that slouching left my shoulders and upper back locked. “We need to open you up!” were her first words after my initial fitness evaluation. While I started a new workout regime as a stress-reducer and vanity project, what it resulted in was a huge impact to my presentation skills. Posture is something that truly affects our entire being.

The amazing byproduct of my fitness reboot was that I realized not only had I been letting this “work posture” dictate my fitness level, but that same work posture was holding me back from feeling confident, assured, and most likely communicated to the people in the room that I was not open to the ideas or the dialog. Which couldn’t be farther from what I was trying to convey!

Try this yourself: envision yourself pitching an idea to someone. Sit up tall, place your hands comfortably on the table, with your shoulders back. You will likely find this posture promotes even breathing and a more relaxed and open demeanor. It’s easier to engage someone in a dialog and feel more passionate about the material you are presenting. Sitting upright, you almost have to make eye contact. Now, assume what I call “phone posture”. Grab your phone and sit naturally as you would scrolling through your social feeds at your desk but then put the phone on the table leaving your body in the exact same place. What happens? It’s likely your shoulders are rounded, you take up less space visually and you appear introspective and closed off. Even our breathing can be different when we are slouching vs. sitting upright. Basically, we are not very energized while sitting this way so think of what we must be conveying to the outside world. And I think we do this a lot more than we are willing to admit!

At least once or twice during a meeting I find myself completely aware of my posture, breathing and overall body language. It’s very easy to slip back into bad habits, I know. The key is being aware of what you are doing and when. That hyper-awareness for me always results in a slight shift in my posture, shoulders back, a good deep breath and an overall opening of my upper body. As a result what the other people see is a relaxed and confident woman who is receptive to listening and absorbing all that is going on in the room. I get a lot more out of meetings when I do that.

This awareness is such a vital tool for me. It helps me move from dependable participant to engaging thought leader. Who doesn’t want that? And it’s the easiest thing to do: no extra research, no prepping meeting notes and no rehearsal needed! Next time you find yourself in a room full of people, notice how you are sitting and interacting with your surroundings. You might be surprised what self-awareness and a few small adjustments can do to your performance!

Keri Mantie is the genius fitness coach whose smart advice and common-sense approach helped me get back into great shape after years of lackluster workouts. My renewed commitment to fitness led me here to entrepreneurship: it’s all connected. If you’re interested in her POV check out her blog. And, for additional proof that body language can influence how you feel, check out the TED talk by social scientist Amy Cuddy.