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.

Crush it at the podium

Credit: @kanereitholdsen on

Crush it at the podium

Despite our preference for more relaxed business environments, there will still be times in our careers (particularly in corporate jobs or large groups) when we’ll need to get behind a podium to introduce a speaker or give a presentation of our own.

I find the speaker introduction the most difficult to master although it is the shortest in length. Why? This role is generally a byproduct of a sponsorship or some other paid/official reason. You stand between the official host/convener of the event and the main (read: most interesting) speaker. We’ve all probably sat through five minutes of cringe-worthy introductions and likewise we’ve also probably witnessed a graceful two-minute introduction from someone who is comfortable in her own skin and who has mastered the art of the intro. (Envious.)

For me, evolving from awkward moments to polished presenter involved a few small tweaks to my style and a greater awareness of the substance (and noise) behind it.

My cringe-worthy moment
In 2011 I had just accepted a role in a new organization. The company was in the throes of transition and my boss left less than a month after I arrived. I was offered his job, and accepted. Both an exhilarating and chaotic time, I juggled the good with the bad. As part of our organization’s sponsorship of a women’s business advisory board and as the newly-installed office leader, I was offered a spot in the group. As a perk of sponsorship I was allowed introduce the main speaker at three events per year. Unfortunately my first time up at the podium was preceded by two weeks of general office meltdown: four employees leaving, a portfolio of clients on the warpath and a general haze of negativity surrounding our company.

I took all that negativity, internalized it, and skulked up to the podium. I had spent all my mental energy just getting there and being okay with the public-facing role that I had neglected to do enough research on the speaker. I didn’t have an interesting tidbit beyond her bio, a personal connection or a link to a current trend. Unwittingly and by not stepping outside my own thoughts, I made it all about my company and our crisis. I didn’t have enough conviction to deliver a crisp one-liner about our organization’s commitment to women leaders and the local business community, either.

It’s hard enough to be dazzling in this awkwardly-placed role, but this was a disaster: not only had I missed an opportunity to represent the organization well but I had neglected to represent myself well. I’m sure I was apologetic, flat and generally uninspiring. While I’m sure no one saw it as an epic fail, no one was admiring me either.

And then I crushed it

A year later, after the initial turmoil had settled and we had even dealt with a big merger in the meantime, I had my next opportunity to introduce a guest speaker. This time I happened to know the speaker as we were tangentially connected in my previous job. From memory, my intro went something like this:

“Thank you all for joining us today. It’s great to see you all out on this gorgeous morning. I’m Meghan Gross with [insert company and descriptor] and today I have the absolute pleasure of introducing a true leader in the Boston business community. I have a personal anecdote connected to today’s speaker, because I had the opportunity to meet her waiting for the elevator at [last job]. While we hadn’t been formally introduced, I took it upon myself to make a connection and we chatted until our respective stops. I returned to my desk feeling more accomplished, empowered and inspired by being in her presence. Making her acquaintance I felt like I had finally arrived and had become part of our business community. So it gives me great pleasure today to introduce [speaker and her bio … ].”

So how do I know I crushed it? Most importantly, I felt it.

Then: she opened her remarks by talking a bit about that interaction and the importance of strong business connections. She incorporated my introduction to her opening. Boom.

The evolution of it all

What was different?

Getting there wasn’t all about my stress, my insecurity or my clients: it was about connecting with the audience and what they needed at that moment.

I dropped the “I’m getting this opportunity because we paid” attitude and replaced it with “This is a moment to connect and share an experience with the most high-powered women in our city.”

While it wasn’t about me, I still shared something personal. There’s a big difference.

I let some feeling flow into the delivery: pride, humor, vulnerability.

I stood more erect and had better eye contact. I’m sure there was another crisis du jour happening but I didn’t let it affect me: I stayed in the moment.

It’s funny how delivering a few lines can be experienced so differently depending on where you are in your career and your life. The secret to success is to get outside of your own head, drop the fears, insecurity and noise and be in the moment with your audience.

Have you faced a similar situation? I’d love to hear!


Unfortunately we all face a potentially volatile conversation at some point in our lives. I recall a few times earlier in my career when I lost sleep worrying about how a conversation would play out. One time I even had myself convinced that I had lost all credibility at work and my career was over … that from one dreaded conversation!

As humans, we always bring bias to a conversation, so the potential for misunderstanding will never completely vanish regardless of how well we prepare what we say. And, there will always be people who are not satisfied or angry with outcomes. We can’t create a foolproof solution. What we can do is diffuse or at least mitigate them. Developing the skills to navigate tough conversations is an often overlooked part of our professional training and it’s something I wish I had done earlier in my career.

When someone verbally pounces, it’s tempting (and I know this from personal experience) to try and make a point and push back just as hard. That rarely, if ever, worked in my favor. As I grew professionally, became more self-aware and learned how to listen, potentially explosive conversations became much easier to navigate and eventually diffuse. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way about navigating tough conversations.

Zip it. Yes, it’s common to have a knee-jerk emotional reaction when we learn someone is angry. We want to defend our position. But it’s important stop talking and just listen to the other person. What are they actually angry about – the outcome, the product, or the way you handled the communications? If you truly listen, you may find the root cause is relatively minor and the anger is a result of lack of understanding of process or big picture. You may also learn that there was extreme tension in the meeting immediately prior and the person is dealing with the residual effects of that. Just listen and get as much clarity as possible as to why the person is angry. Clarity results in better solutions.

Toss it. (The big chip on your shoulder.) Let’s face it; we are all human. When we aren’t feeling our best (stressed, bored at work, unhappy with our life direction) we tend to be very skeptical, unforgiving and critical of others. When we bring that mindset to a conversation our word choice and even body language reflects it. Yet, when we’re crushing it at work and filling our off-hours with fun and worthy pursuits, life is full, life is good and we tend to give even the most challenging personalities the benefit of the doubt. Recognize and be aware of where you are in your own life as you respond to others. If you do, you’ll find that more often than not, you can reach the middle much more easily.

Accept it. One of the best ways to disarm a potentially volatile conversation is to acknowledge the other person’s reaction to the situation and his/her emotions about it.  When we lead with “I know you’re dissatisfied/unhappy/angry with me… let’s talk so I can learn more and then together we can figure out how to fix it …” it is much harder for the other person to continue ranting and raving. Doing this does not mean you are admitting the other person is right. You are only acknowledging the other party’s feelings and reaction. It is a much more positive and solid place to start a conversation.

Reframe it. It’s rare that two people cannot find any common ground. Generally in a work situation and often in personal situations you’re both invested in the same positive outcome, you’re just reaching the destination from a different approach. So reframe the conversation, and ask solution-oriented questions that force you to figure out how to do something proactive rather than dwell on why something happened.

Following this approach feels awkward and difficult at first. I used to think if I didn’t “stand my ground” or advocate for myself people would view me as less credible, ineffective, maybe not tough enough to succeed. Later, I realized that by listening more, being aware of my own bias and forging strong connections I became a more skilled negotiator, better relationship manager, more successful salesperson and a more compassionate friend and colleague.

Here’s hoping all your summer fireworks take place in conjunction with backyard barbecues only. Happy Fourth!

How to show up ready, even when you’re not feeling it

It’s June and that means two more weeks for companies and organizations to squeeze in events before people start heading out on vacation. Weeks are full. I’m an avid networker and I love being out with people, but add busy weekends, family responsibilities, duties around the house, taking care of pets and suddenly that Thursday evening cocktail event doesn’t seem as fun as it once did. And don’t get me started if it happens to rain on a day when I signed up for something.


So how do I show up ready even when I don’t feel like it? I have a three-part “pregame” strategy that I use before I walk into a room. It involves a phone call, a bottle of water and an eye-catching accessory. Confused yet? Read on …


Phone a friend: I’ve written in the past about my introverted tendencies. When I get really busy, sometimes the networking can feel like a chore. Then I have moments of self-doubt and the narrative in my head goes like this: “Everyone in the room is smarter/older/younger/more accomplished/titled than me. This is not worth the time. I’d rather catch up on my e-mails and go to bed early.” When I’m not feeling it, I call one of my trusted sources. We’ve worked together or known each other for years, they’ve seen me shine in professional situations and they’re always available for a quick text or phone pep talk. Really take the time to figure out who makes you feel good about your work and seek out positive people. They’ll make you feel confident walking into a crowded room.


Hydrate and power up: if you’re in a service-based business, you’ve likely got stacked up conference calls, client meetings and staff meetings over lunch. I used to return calls or read e-mails right up to walking into an event. You can’t be a good conversationalist if you’re hungry, dehydrated and haven’t had time to decompress. Easy solution: stash a bottle of water in your desk and keep some healthy, protein-based snacks on hand. (This helps us avoid the sugar-and-caffeine trap which is not a good foundation on which to layer a glass of wine!) This also forces you to slow down and take a few minutes to get your head in the game. I even hold myself accountable for eight glasses of water a day using my Fitbit app. I am rarely tired before walking into an event, even on my busiest of days. It works!


Wear a conversation piece: it can be hard to start a conversation if it’s a new group, or you’re older/younger than a lot of the attendees. Sometimes conversation just doesn’t flow as easily. While I’m usually a big proponent of having a few classic, timeless outfits for big events or new business pitches, sometimes if I’m just not feeling it, I find the biggest, bling-iest accessory in my closet and wear it. It provokes questions and often draws other people into the conversation. Suddenly, you’re not talking accessories you’re just … talking.


Last night, I attended the PRSA New Jersey Chapter Pyramid Awards which was a terrific night honoring the best PR campaigns of the year. This, after having house guests for five days, enduring 90-degree temperatures and driving more than an hour to attend. Using the three-step pregame strategy I came away with two potential lunches, connected one friend with a new business opportunity and may speak at an undergraduate class in the fall. Networking isn’t rocket science. Mostly, it’s about feeling really good about your authentic self before you walk into a room.


Happy networking!