The Art of Listening

I cannot count how many times I have been asked to answer the question, “how would your friends describe you?” The number of times I responded that people would describe me as a good listener is probably triple that. But if I am being brutally honest with myself (and you), the fact is that I am a lousy listener. Lousy!

At a board retreat last week, the facilitator shared a wonderful guide to having fruitful conversation. The guide provided several tips for intentional listening which included, resisting the urge to jump in and interrupt because you had a similar experience, resisting the urge to judge, categorize or formulate solutions/suggestions for the other person, and resisting the urge to tell your own related story. Instead, for intentional listening one is to be intensely tuned in to the words, the flow, the person’s energy, and their facial and body expressions as they share their story. As I went down the list of the DONT’s of good listening, my counts of “guilty as charged” approached the 95th percentile.

I was ashamed at my bad listening habits so I decided that this was an area I was going to improve. I made a mental note. It seems that the universe read my mental note and decided to show me how good listening works this week. On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, I am reflecting on what I learned from these experiences. I share with you these reflections, not because I believe I have mastered listening (I am still a Lousy Listener) but because writing about it can help me codify the process of forming new habits that lead to more fruitful conversations.

My first experience was at work. I was invited to a meeting with a potential partner on a project. There were five of us and meeting for the first time. We were pitching our services to a potential client two hours after that initial meeting and it was critical that we nail down our presentation strategy. We talked about a number of things like alignment, experiences and strengths and anticipated some of the client’s questions. We listened intently to each other’s ideas, asked clarifying questions and in a short time we were on the same page with a clear plan. We were excellent listeners! But, when we met with the clients, we realized that the setup was less than ideal. One person was on the phone, the other was on video conference, and two were in person. This scenario was challenging and presented obstacles to deep listening. We could not read the body language of the people on the phone. We had to pay attention to tone, and what they were not saying was just as important as what they were saying. But, as often happens with an “invisible” participant, one forgets that they are there. To have fruitful conversations, we need engagement and acknowledgement. Though our meeting went well, what I wished we had done differently was to acknowledge the “invisible” person much more, and I would look directly at the camera to engage and acknowledge the person on video conferencing.

One of the challenges of good listening for me comes when the person is asking me a question. Normally, I begin to work on the answer before the person is finished asking the question. Do you see how this could be a problem? I assume that I “get” the question and half listening to what the person is saying.  Instead of tuning in to my answer, I have to concentrate on what is being said to assess why the question is being asked? What is at the root of the question is important to understand so that the answer can address the specific need.

It was an eventful week for me. I received compliments for a blog I wrote this week and I signed a new consulting client for Yaya Speaks. Practicing good listening contributed to those accomplishments. I am hoping that with more practice, I will be better at it and that it will get easier with time.

Much Love

3 Beauty Secrets, For Real

photo Neem leaves by lalithamba, from flickr

by lalithamba, from flickr

The idea to write a blog entry about beauty secrets came to me in that stage between sleep and cloudy awareness that I had forgotten to set the alarm clock. Beauty in general, and its secrets in particular, are not my area of expertise. But, I am sharing these three beauty secrets because that’s what Yayas do. I have used some of these secrets for over a year, and others for a few months. These beauty secrets can be used by anyone – man or woman, so please share with your friends.

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This first secret is my newest discovery and the one I am most excited about. I have to give all of the credit to my friends Vicmar and Janeth for turning me onto this natural product that I now consider amazing for cleaning my teeth. It is call Neem. I had never heard of this herbal medicine until last year. Actually, Neem has been used for centuries, and it India it was known as the “healer of all ailments.” Neem is a tree, and its bark, leaves and oil are used to treat or prevent all sorts of ailments including cancer, flu, and viral infections. Neem is also used to boost the immune system. I recently used Neem oil to treat my cat’s ear mite infection, and her ear has cleared up significantly. That’s the extent to which I have tested Neem’s curative properties.I am excited to tell you about Neem oral care. I was having problems with my gum after having a cavity filled on one of my molars. The gum was sore and it felt like my gum had been stretched during the procedure so that food was getting caught in between the gum and the tooth. This was very uncomfortable and it required that I floss after every meal, which was highly inconvenient. My dentist’s proposal was to drill the filling and put in a new one. I decided to try the Neem toothpaste instead. After about a month, I noticed that I was having less problems with food and the pain had disappeared. Now, my gum is back to normal and I don’t have to floss at every meal. So, I decided to also try the Neem powder and Neem mouthwash. You know how clean your teeth feel after you visit the dentist? The reason I love this stuff is because my teeth have that ultra clean feeling – every single day!! I have never been more excited about brushing my teeth. The less appealing side of the mouth wash is that it has a bitter aftertaste – a small price to pay for a good healthy smile. You can buy Neem products at Whole Foods, though they have a limited selection of products. I bought my products at this website: http://www.neemtreefarms.com. If you decide to try it, please let me know what you think.

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The second secret is almond oil (I believe I owe the credit to Dr. Oz for this beauty secret, though this was not his expert’s exact recommendation). I bought almond oil because it was recommended for hair sheen and strength. I used it for a couple of weeks and was applying it to my hair. Then I noticed that my nails looked better. So I began to use the oil on my hands and feet. The almond oil totally transformed my nails (fingers and toes) and restored them to their natural luster. I had noticed that my nails had become dryer and more brittle. My toe nails were the worst. They had lost their luster and showed cracking and scuff marks from my shoes. I had stopped wearing nail polish over a year ago because the dyes in the nail polished stained my nails. Thanks to the properties of almond oil, I would comfortably walk out of the house right now with open-toe shoes, sans nail polish. Last January, I would have been hiding my toes. Here is how I use it. I pour about ¼ tsp of almond oil on my hands and then apply it to my face, hands and feet before I go to bed. My hands and feet absorb the oil almost immediately so I can continue to do other things, like read on my iPad. I have not used it on my hair anymore because it was too much hassle for me, but I am sure it is good for that too. I found my bottle of organic pure almond oil (no perfumes or additives) at Whole Foods, but I am sure you can also find it at any health food store.

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The third secret will not seem like a secret at all because you have probably heard this already. It is water. One of the issues I have is dry lips. There are innumerable remedies to relieve lip dryness. We all have one, two or more little tubes of these remedies in our purse, desk drawer, pockets or car. But, I want to share how drinking water can glam up your look for a special evening. Whenever I have a special event, I begin drinking water early in the morning until my lips are hydrated from the inside. Depending on how hydrated you are, it may take 3 or more glasses of water before you notice the difference. Water is the only natural product that gets my lips to look smooth. And, smooth lips is what you want so that your gloss or lipstick shade will look the best. With proper hydration, the rest of your skin will look great too. Though your lips may be hydrated, run your finger along your lips to feel for dry dead skin cells. Remove these by gently using an exfoliating sponge or gently brush off those cells with your toothbrush. For me, cold weather and the sun do the most damage to my lips. I use almond oil or pure cocoa butter on my lips to protect them from these hazards. I used to hate water and would only take my fluids in the form of tea, coffee or soda. Now I drink water all of the time and I recognize how great water is for your health, and for how good you look.

Our beauty is shared with the world in how we treat others and in how we treat ourselves. For our full beauty to blossom we must strive to care for more than our external parts. We must strive to have a beauty-full mind that is clear of negative thoughts; a beauty-full heart that is clear of resentment and judgment; and a beauty-full cared-for body that is intentionally connected to the other two.

If you have any other real beauty secrets – please share!

Much Love,

Running for Office Politics

Campaign_buttonFor most of us, tomorrow marks the beginning of our first full week at work and we might be thinking about how we plan to exceed our career goals this year. Will 2013 be the year for that promotion you’ve been waiting for? Perhaps you see an opportunity for a more visible role at your job and want to put your hat in the ring? You might have a solid plan that includes putting in extra effort, working longer hours, taking on new a project, anticipating your boss’s every need. But, if your plan does not include navigating office politics and running your own campaign, your plan may not get you to your ultimate goal.

The definition of ‘Politics’ (in its non-government form) is the aggregate of relationships of people in society, especially those relationships involving authority or power (www.dictionary.com). My career started in a large company and as my tenure progressed, I began to understand the importance of office politics. I didn’t like it because there were “rules” that, though unofficial, carried a lot of weight. I learned quickly that I could not predict how things would go because it often depended on who was involved, and their relationship to the project, to a team or a team member. Sometimes the real decision makers were people I never would have expected. Power, I found, was not always wielded by a person with the highest position but by someone with a larger sphere of influence. When I transitioned to the nonprofit sector, I was naïve in believing that office politics were out of my life for good. The truth is that politics play a part in every organization.

As important as it is for us to understand how the “game is played”, we won’t find a playbook anywhere in our organizations. Politics often dictate the direction and culture an organization will follow and have, this is why it is imperative that we piece together the hints and clues that are woven into the organizational culture in order to figure out how politics work where we work.

So how do we figure it out? We need two skills. The first is intelligence – of the emotional kind. EQ, or emotional intelligence, is our ability to perceive and interpret people’s emotional and nonverbal expressions. You already have EQ if you are a mother, spouse, or if you have a family. Our families are our training grounds for our abilities to sense how someone is feeling or reacting to what we have said or done. But at work, we need to utilize this skill much more, and beyond the small group of people that we work with. In meetings, you will perceive when some of those “rules” are at play by observing how emotions and reactions drive the agenda and stall or propel decisions. The second is people skills.  We need to get to know people and figure out how they are connected. Those connections sometimes reveal how things get done. Strive to develop relationships with people in different areas of your organization, and at different levels. Be genuinely interested and curious about how things work, why they work the way they do, and ask questions. Have fun sharing a lunch or coffee with people outside your work group and simply get to know them and their history with the organization. The more people know, the more you will learn about how politics work, and the larger your sphere of influence.

The next step is to become a politician (please stop screaming, I promise, you will be okay). Imagine that your office is a community where you are running for a political seat and ask yourself, what would it take for a majority of the people here to vote for me? How could I earn an overwhelming win? You know that people vote for people they like and who they feel are trustworthy, reliable, honest and care about the things that are important to them. For the people in your office community to vote for you, they have to know you. Share with people you meet what you do, your achievements and your aspirations. To win their votes you must build a glaring (and lasting) reputation for being reliable, trustworthy and honest. This requires discipline to steer clear of office gossip, keep your word and meet deadlines, and collaborate and help others to be successful. To win their votes you must be honest. Strive to be a master of communications by being clear and direct, and not leaving anything to assumption. Don’t avoid difficult conversations and always seek clarity and understanding. Of course you cannot befriend or get to know every person in the organization. But, your deeper understanding about the politics in your office will inform you about who are the key people you need to know and who need to know you. They may not necessarily be the person with the highest position.

To reach your career goals you must go beyond working harder. Navigating office politics and running your own campaign as a politician within your organization should be part of your career strategy.  Be social and use your EQ and intuition to read people’s social cues. Become genuinely interested and curious about the relationships and connections in your organization, learn who are the real decisions-makers, make connections and build good relationships with people outside your work group, and win the vote of others by earning a glaring reputation for being trustworthy, reliable, honest and caring.

You have my vote!

Much Love,