Stop Trying to Prove Yourself to the World

When you assess your life and become conscious of how you look at the world and how you look at yourself, you may realize that you often obsess about what people think of you.

'Seeds for a Boundless Life' by Blanche Hartman (ISBN 1611802849) In the delightful and poignant Seeds for a Boundless Life: Zen Teachings from the Heart, the Soto Zen teacher Blanche Hartman (1926–2016) explains that freeing yourself from being controlled by what other people think is the key to living life with a composed and peaceful mind:

I noticed somewhere in the early years of my [Buddhist] practice that my big effort was to get people to love me. I really wanted people to love me. And what I discovered in practice was that it really didn’t matter what other people thought. The one whose love and appreciation and approval I wanted was right here, and I wouldn’t give it to myself. What I found out was that no matter how much approval I got from outside, it didn’t count if I was not able to appreciate myself and be willing to be who I am. Whatever this is, it has becomes this over an accumulation of the actions of body, speech, and mind of more than eighty years. It’s my creation in a way. And yet it’s really helpful if I acknowledge it and befriend this being that I have created with the help of all the beings with whom I have shared my life.

Be Your Own Person

Stop trying to prove yourself to the naysayers and critics. Avoid assertive behavior and insubordinate conduct that intends to prove you’re worthy to others. You don’t need others’ approval.

Idea for Impact: Don’t fritter away precious time and energy seeking to prove your worth and worrying that you could fall short. The right people will love you for who you are.

How to Deal with Emotions and Abide by Values at Work

Mindfulness Simply Means Being Aware … Being Present

Mindfulness can help you deal with emotions at work Mindfulness is the watchful attention to what is happening inside and outside so you can respond from a position of wisdom.

Using mindfulness, you can realize that your emotions are signals that can give you vital information about what is important to you.

The next time you face a situation that evokes an intense emotion in you—sorrow, fear, embarrassment, or anger,—take a step back and contemplate what your emotions are telling you. Explore the narrative behind those emotions.

Take an Active Interest in Discovering the Very Nature of Emotion

Suppose that you’re upset at an employee’s poor results; you’re dreading the prospect of confronting her and giving her some corrective feedback. By reflecting on your emotions, you may realize that you’re troubled about being fair to her and her coworkers because, even though she’s had poor results, she is a good employee and she tried her best, but she hurt your group’s performance. Confronting your employee may invoke a defensive reaction in her.

Now, consider your options. By either having or avoiding a confronting conversation with her, you can move toward or away from being fair.

Investigating your situation and the resulting emotions in this light can help you see that giving her the feedback and helping her change is actually fairer to her than yielding to your anxieties.

Observing your emotions more deeply entails looking only not at the story behind the emotion, but also at how the emotion manifests in your body and your mind.

Idea for Impact: Mindfulness Can Help Prevent Getting Caught on the Rollercoaster of Your Ever-changing Moods

Mindfulness allows you to watch your thoughts and make wiser choices Mindfulness can help you uncouple yourself from your immediate emotions and make a wise choice that is true to your values.

  • Mindfulness allows you to realize that you are much more than the anxious, worried, or resentful thoughts that can overwhelm you.
  • Mindfulness allows you to watch your thoughts, and see how one thought leads to the next. You can decide if you’re headed in a unwholesome path, and if so, make a wiser choice.
  • Mindfulness suggests the possibility of finding the chasms between a trigger event and your natural conditioned response to it, and using that pause to collect yourself and favor a wiser response.

Office Chitchat Isn’t Necessarily a Time Waster

When Employees are Happy, They Work Better

Office Chitchat Isn't Necessarily a Time Waster Managers who disapprove and clamp down on impromptu encounters that people have at their desks, in the hallways, by the elevators, in the lunchroom, or by the water coolers can create a work environment that’s unpleasant, even repressive.

If truth be told, what may seems like idle chitchat actually forges links between people and encourages a culture of openness that can help people work toward common goals.

Informal, spontaneous conversations between coworkers, especially between colleagues from different departments, will not only give people a chance to know each other better, but also create a feeling of collaboration. The camaraderie that grows from employees sharing a little fun can go a long way toward fostering a feeling that they’re part of a team.

Chitchat is About Building Relationships

During those inconsequential “idle moments” of office conversations, important information is being exchanged. You’re learning much about others and offering details about yourself.

  • Whom can you trust? Who possesses strong convictions? Who has a broad experience or in-depth knowledge?
  • Who is a stimulating brainstormer? Who has the wherewithal for workarounds to problems?
  • Who can open doors for you? Who can facilitate otherwise hard-to-get connections?
  • Who can influence the leadership decisions? Who can evangelize your project to the right people? Who can bend the leadership’s ear? Who can be your cheerleader?
  • Who can lend a consoling ear in moments of problems or crisis? Who sees the bright side of problems?
  • Who can help you with questions on software, help you decide health insurance plans, or fix the printer?

Casual Conversations are About Networking and Leaving Positive Impressions

Small talk and casual conversations are an important element of collegial workplaces. People like talking about themselves, so if you can remember a nugget of information from the last time you met (kids, pets, and travels are great topics) bring it up.

To be respectful of others’ time, remember this two-minute rule: unless you’re discussing a topic of some importance, try to wrap up your small talk and casual chats in two minutes. Pay attention to your listener’s non-verbal cues and adjust the extent of your conversation. You can always arrange to convene later, “I’d love to hear more, but I’m in a rush. Why don’t I call you afterhours? How about we meet up for coffee this weekend?”

Nevertheless, don’t let chatter go too far and negatively impact your productivity or those of others. If you’re considered as too chatty, others may to resent bumping into you. If you tend to talk too much about yourself, you’ll be judged self-absorbed and interpersonally clueless.

Likeability is Important in How You Will Be Perceived in Your Workplace

Likeability is Important in How You Will Be Perceived in Your Workplace Cordiality is a significant persuasive technique because people are much more likely to feel warmly towards those they like. They’ll do things for you if you earnestly show interest in them, chat with them on a regular basis, and make them feel good about themselves.

Colleagues who don’t chat can come across as arrogant or abrupt. Highly competent but unpopular professionals don’t thrive as well as their moderately competent, but popular counterparts.

Small Talk is a Critical Tool for Creating a Personal Bond with Your Coworkers

Even though an office is primarily a place of business, chatting about non-work topics and establishing rapport with coworkers is important. People who know and like each other tend to have each other’s backs and help out when necessary.

Even if, eventually, you’ll be accepted or rejected based on the more tangible aspects of your work, the fact of the matter is that these interpersonal impressions matter a great deal along the way and can even shape how people judge your more actual work.

Idea for Impact: Balance your dedication to your workload with a cooperative nature, you will gain needed allies to get things done and to help your career progression in the company.

Five Signs of Excessive Confidence

Five Signs of Excessive Confidence Confidence is generally a respectable and necessary workplace trait.

However, there is a darker side to confidence.

People who display overconfidence, hubris, and narcissism engage in self-destructive behaviors at work because their self-aggrandizement blinds them from their personal judgment and their managerial and leadership performance.

If you believe you may be displaying any of the following signs of excessive confidence, you need some coaching and feedback. Ask a trusted friend, colleague, or mentor for some honest feedback. Work to change your attitude—promptly.

  1. You tend to believe that your ideas are the only ones worth acting on. When others contribute ideas and suggestions, you tend to turn them off while promoting only the ideas that you come up with. You tend to get angry with others for their unwise and impractical suggestions. You are resistant to learning from others or from previous experiences.
  2. You tend to act on solutions without input from others. You believe that it is up to only you to supply new ideas and solve problems. You are convinced that you are the only one who knows as much as necessary to do the right thing. When others summon up ideas and suggest watch-outs, you tend to brush them off with “I know that” statements.
  3. 'What Got You Here Wont Get You There' by Marshall Goldsmith (ISBN 1401301304) You tend to express an opinion on everything—even when the topic of interest is outside your area of expertise. You act as if you’ve accepted the reality that you have to work with less-qualified people who just can’t get the right things the right way (i.e. your way.) If only your opinions were considered and if you had your way, your team and company would do “so much better.”
  4. You tend to defend your mistakes and your failures. You don’t recognize your limitations and the mistakes of your ways. You can’t take help. You are closed off to others’ feedback and suggestions for change.
  5. You tend to externalize blame. You’re often a victim of everyone else’s failures or a victim of external circumstances. You gripe that others just don’t understand you or they aren’t qualified enough to see the wisdom of your ways.

If you can’t recognize and accept the problems related to how your behavior comes across to other people, you may be derailing your managerial and leadership potential.

Idea for Impact: Greatness lies in balancing self-assurance with self-effacement. I recommend leadership coach extraordinaire Marshall Goldsmith‘s outstanding What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Addressing already-successful people, Goldsmith describes how personality traits that bring you initial career success could hold you back from going further!

Don’t Be Interesting—Be Interested!

Management Guru Jim Collins’s “Golden Rule”

Jim Collins's 'Golden Rule': Don't Be Interesting---Be Interested! In the December 2005 issue of the now-discontinued Business 2.0 magazine, 30 business visionaries disclosed their “golden rules”—attitudes they swear by more than any other. Jim Collins, the renowned leadership consultant and author of such bestselling management books as Good to Great and Built to Last, recollected a lesson he learned from his mentor, the American intellectual and public servant John W. Gardner:

One day early in my faculty teaching career, John Gardner sat me down. “It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting,” he said. “Why don’t you invest more time being interested?”

If you want to have an interesting dinner conversation, be interested. If you want to have interesting things to write, be interested. If you want to meet interesting people, be interested in the people you meet—their lives, their history, their story. Where are they from? How did they get here? What have they learned? By practicing the art of being interested, the majority of people can become fascinating teachers; nearly everyone has an interesting story to tell.

I can’t say that I live this rule perfectly. When tired, I find that I spend more time trying to be interesting than exercising the discipline of asking genuine questions. But whenever I remember Gardner’s golden rule—whenever I come at any situation with an interested and curious mind—life becomes much more interesting for everyone at the table.

The Technique to Become the Most Interesting Person in the Room is to Find Others Interesting

Becoming likeable requires creating lasting impressions in others by becoming genuinely interested in them In the conduct of life, people tend to focus more on becoming more interesting—i.e., impressing others with their personae and their stories. While trying to become more interesting is a worthwhile pursuit, it is certainly not everything in becoming accepted and well-liked. Becoming likeable requires creating lasting impressions in others by becoming genuinely interested in them.

John Gardner’s advice (via Jim Collins) echoes self-improvement pioneer Dale Carnegie’s legendary advice that the ticket to one’s success in life is one’s ability to make others feel good about themselves. In his masterful manual on people skills, How to Win Friends & Influence People, Carnegie writes, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

It is a common fallacy to assume that you must just be an interesting person to get people to like you. Observe this human tendency in the next networking meeting or social gathering you attend. Most people tend to be absorbed in just one thing: being interesting themselves—blabbing “I did this … I did that … I like this … I’ve been there” and offering bits of information that nobody else but them really cares about.

How to Build a Bit of Intimacy, Even in a Brief Conversation

Become genuinely interested in others and make them like you Making others like you amounts to making them feel special about themselves—making them feel that you really “get” them. The next time you meet someone new at a social setting, try this easy technique to be more interested.

  • The key to become absorbed in a conversation is to focus on being curious about others. So, tell yourself repetitively, “This seems to the most interesting person in the world. Let me discover why.” Look for opportunities to connect.
  • When you meet someone new, make eye contact and smile. Introduce yourself with a simple “Hi, my name is Joanna Kovaleski. I am Megan’s real estate agent.”
  • Pay attention and make them feel like they are the only people in the room.
  • Ask a question or two about the person before talking about yourself. “How do you know Megan and Eric?” “Is this your first time in Chicago?” As I’ve written previously, chatting with somebody in socializing situations should be less about discerning the details of the other’s life and more about building a bit of familiarity to initiate stimulating conversations, debates, discussions, and exchange of ideas about topics of mutual interest. These prospects will all be missed if your initial interaction starts with annoying cross-examinations such as “What do you do for a living?”
  • Ask a follow-up question based on what they have just said. Try to understand who they are and why they are there. Learn about their interests and hobbies.
  • Say more about yourself. Use what you’ve just learned about the other person so far to selectively highlight anything you have in common.
  • Then, ask one question to bring the focus back to the other person.
  • People love to talk about themselves; so, make them. Everyone’s got a story to tell.
  • Don’t talk too much or too little. Try taking your focus off yourself.

Idea for Impact: Become Genuinely Interested in Others and Make Them Like You

'How to Win Friends & Influence People' by Dale Carnegie (ISBN 0671027034) To be interested in other people—and consequently get them interested in you—is a significant social skill you must develop and hone. But don’t feign. As Carnegie cautions in How to Win Friends & Influence People, “The principles … will work only when they come from the heart. I am not advocating a bag of tricks; I am talking about a new way of life.”

The following books have helped me with improve my socializing skills. Perhaps you’ll find them useful too.

8 Effective Ways to De-Stress This Holiday Season

‘Tis the season to feel harried.

The “most wonderful time of the year” can present plenty of reasons to be anxious and stressed—even depressed—during an occasion meant for cheerfulness and celebration.

According to this American Psychological Association survey, 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men reported an increase in stress during the holidays. 59 percent of respondents testified to feeling nervous or sad, and 51 percent reported symptoms of fatigue.

De-Stress This Holiday Season

Here are some practical tips to help you minimize the stress that may accompany your holidays.

  • Plan ahead and take control of the holidays. Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Look back at prior years and identify your holiday triggers (cranky relatives, gifts, financial pressures, and end-of-the-year demands at work, etc.) so that you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. A little planning and positive thinking can go a long way in helping you find peace and joy during the holidays.
  • Get organized. Put first things first. Don’t get engulfed with demands and expectations. Establish relaxing surroundings. Commence each day by writing down whatever is most important for you to accomplish that day. Make decisions quickly and act upon them.
  • Be realistic and don’t pursue perfection. You are only one person—you can only do so much! Let go of your vision of a picture-perfect holiday. Be pragmatic about what you expect of yourself and others. Establish priorities, avoid procrastination, and let go of impossible goals. Relax and enjoy the companionship of family and friends.
  • Holiday Stress Relief Tips Take frequent breaks. When frazzled, take a nap, go for a short walk, read a book, or watch a funny movie.
  • Try adult coloring books. Studies have shown that coloring within lines inspires mindfulness—being in the present moment instead of in the past (associated with depression) or in the future (associated with anxiety.) Coloring books can set you in a relaxed, absorbed, meditative state and help you reduce anxiety, depression, and fatigue.
  • Say ‘no’ generously. You don’t have to attend every holiday party you’re invited to—it’s OK to say ‘no’ to a few or all of them. Don’t skip the office holiday party, however—it’s a great opportunity to “get noticed.” Don’t overcommit yourself.
  • Meditate, if even for a few minutes. Sitting for just a few minutes of meditation can be an incredible sanctuary of calm and relaxation that you’ll seldom find during the holiday season. Meditation is known to reduce the stress hormone cortisol, strengthen the immune system, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Take time out of the day to lower your stress levels and focus on your well-being.
  • Maintain healthy eating and exercise habits. The holiday season is notorious for ruining healthy habits and adding a few extra pounds to waistlines. Fend off holiday weight gain by being mindful of what you eat and regulating portion sizes. Avoid starving yourself in anticipation of eating at holiday parties. Instead, consume some nourishing snacks to fill you up before dinner parties. Try simple, small workouts each day. Maintain a food and workout journal to help you stay committed to your health goals.

Tips to Relax During the Holidays

Idea for Impact: This holiday season, your needs belong to the top

When demands for your time intensify during the holiday season, you need to do more for yourself—not less.

In spite of everything, the holidays are less about gatherings, grub, and gifts—and more about finding peace and serenity for yourself and sharing it with your loved ones.

Happy holidays everyone!

Being Underestimated Can Be a Great Thing

This spring, I attended the 2016 annual meeting of shareholders of Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited in Toronto. Fairfax’s chief executive Prem Watsa opened his remarks with the following joke:

A young boy enters a barbershop.

The barber whispers to a customer, “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it to you.”

The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other. He then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?”

The boy takes the quarters and leaves.

“What did I tell you?” says the barber to the customer. “That kid never learns!”

Later, when the customer leaves the barbershop, he sees the same young boy coming out of an ice cream store licking a wafer-style ice cream cone.

He summons the boy and asks, “Hey, son! May I ask you a question? … Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?”

The boy licks his cone and replies, “Sir, because the day I take the dollar, the game is over!”

Being Underestimated Can Be a Great Thing Although the barber sought to characterize the young boy foolish, the joke was really on the barber.

The barber never suspected the boy’s recurring motivation to seem stupid. Additionally, the barber never learned his lesson or questioned his own assumptions.

Idea for Impact: As the above joke attests, being underestimated, underrated, or misjudged can often have its benefits. Don’t sweat when others think less than you actually are. Don’t let them make you feel small. Embrace their misjudgments with equanimity. Believe in yourself with humble confidence. Then outthink, outsmart, and outperform. Surprise them.

Stop asking, “What do you do for a living?”

How to Start a Good Conversation

I despise being asked “What do you do for a living?” when I first meet someone.

I didn’t like being asked “What does your dad do?” while growing up in India.

Many people routinely use this question as a conversation-starter with strangers. It could be argued that they intend to inoffensively learn of somebody’s area of expertise or interests and then engage them in a meaningful chat.

Stop asking 'What do you do for a living?' about indirectly sizing up people However, this question is often about indirectly sizing up the other’s socioeconomic status. People may be assessing, “How valuable are you? How much money do you make? What is your social status? What is your financial status? Are you richer, smarter, and more powerful than I am? Am I above you or below you in the socioeconomic ladder? Are you worth my time?”

Look, we live in a judgmental world where a person’s identity is at first ascertained by what he or she does for a living. Nevertheless, when becoming acquainted with someone in an informal setting, conversations shouldn’t be about inquiring after the other’s livelihood or about scrutinizing the other’s standing in society.

Chatting with somebody in “socializing situations” should be less about discerning the details of the other’s life and more about building a bit of familiarity to initiate stimulating conversations, debates, discussions, and exchange of ideas about topics of mutual interest—prospects that will all be missed if the initial interaction starts with annoying cross-examinations.

So, let’s try to make a conversation without seeking to interrogate one another.

If you’re looking for clues to a person’s passions or areas of interest to engage them in conversation, start with simple questions such as “how do you know Maria and Joe,” “is this your first time in Chicago,” or “what does your name mean?” Wait for personal details to flow into the conversation naturally. Or, wait further into the conversation before popping the “what do you do?” question.

Party Etiquette: Can you take your leftovers home?

Party Potluck Leftovers Etiquette A reader’s question about party etiquette: at the end of a party, could you expect to return home with leftovers of the food or the drink you contributed to the party?

No, not unless the host offers.

You’re a guest in your host’s home and anything you contributed to the party is tantamount to a gift. Unless the host decides not to preserve the remainder of your contribution and suggests that you take your leftovers home, don’t expect to return with your leftovers. Just return with your empty dish.

At potluck parties, however, you can take your leftovers home, but first offer to leave some or all of the leftovers for the host.

Party Etiquette for the Vegetarian Guest

  • Party Etiquette for the Vegetarian Guest When RSVPing to a party, mention your dietary restrictions and allergies: “Thanks for the invitation. I must tell you that I am vegan and gluten-free. I am also allergic to peanuts.” Be as specific as possible; mention if you can consume milk products and eggs. Elaborate if you can’t eat anything particular: butter, marshmallows, honey, gelatin, chicken stock, or lard in desserts.
  • Offer to provide for yourself and help out: “May I bring my five-bean and avocado salad with baked nachos? That should also cover the appetizer course for you!” If you’re comfortable with meat substitutes, offer to bring the meat-alternative dish that’s most suitable for the occasion: “May I bring a Tofurky dish? I’ve heard it mimics the taste and texture of a Thanksgiving meal.”
  • If the party is in your honor and the host insists upon cooking for you, suggest an easy dish they could prepare for you. Don’t make the host search for a dish that best suits your preferences.
  • Understand that your hosts can’t cater to every guest’s preferences. Don’t be offended if your host forgets about your dietary restrictions. Appreciate that they’ll be spending a lot of time preparing for and cleaning up after the party. If your host hasn’t made any accommodations to cover your dietary needs, just eat salad, quick-and-easy canned soup, or whatever is practical for the host to organize quickly for you. Don’t grumble.