Be Authentic

Be Authentic

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. (E.E. Cummings)

The dictionary defines authentic as “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character” – why is this important?

This might be one of the hardest skills to master. It’s a lifelong process that you will always have to continue to cultivate.

What are you afraid of?

  • People might not like you… guess what… no matter what you do there will be people who don’t like you!
  • People might disagree with you…guess what… they will anyways!

Think about this.

If you put 10 people in a room and every person is just trying to do what they think is going to please everyone in the group – where would you end up? You end up in a pretty gosh darn boring place. Now… put the same 10 people in a room when every one of them speaks their mind, trusts their instinct, and listens to everyone’s opinion but stays true to what they believe is right? I bet the outcome is a lot more exciting and empowering.

Everyone is passionate about something and it’s so important to maintain passion in the workplace. Employers are looking for authentic people to drive their companies to new places.

 I implore you to take a few minutes after every meeting along with a few minutes at the end of the day to think about times when you let other people’s opinions guide you. Where would you have ended up if you had trusted your gut? Do you think the overall discussion or direction would have been different? Would the outcome have been totally different? Your thoughts and opinions matter and you should voice them. Not in the middle of a meeting with all of the main stakeholders at the company but in the right setting in an honest and respectful manner.

Stop seeking approval on every thought that runs through your head. Your brain is wired differently than everyone else’s for a reason. It’s okay to not agree with others and have your own opinions. They might be wrong, heck they might even be right – what matters is that they are yours. You won’t please everyone and that’s okay.

Get comfortable with making mistakes. It happens. Life is about trial and error.

You know that feeling when you know something feels wrong or maybe it’s the opposite, you know when something feels so right. Trust it. Trust your gut. Trust that feeling with your whole heart. Speak it like a truth. Your mind doesn’t usually play tricks on you. Even if you can’t articulate exactly why you don’t agree, or something is out of line with what you expected – at least give it a shot. Sometimes this can open a discussion that can lead to something much deeper and uncover other issues or the root of the issue that can be addressed. There have been so many times where I have said “I don’t know why but something about this just doesn’t feel right to me and here’s why”. Once we addressed my concerns the entire project changed course and then I knew in my heart of hearts that we were onto something big.

There will be times however that your personal opinions might derail the train. In these instances, it’s best to respectfully take a step back. If you feel like you still need to address the situation do it in a personal and private manner with a manager or your boss. There will be times that you will be right but you won’t be the right person to speak up about it.

In my career, I have also seen the flip side where people live their lives through the opinions and thoughts of others and get very wound up because they feel like they aren’t being heard. In these situations, it’s good to continue to include them in meetings and give them time to address their concerns – you never know if they were raised with parents that didn’t want to hear what they had to say or were just shy.

Someone told me that the most important issues that people bring up to their doctor are usually the questions they ask in the last 2-3 minutes at their appointment. Think about that. These people are going in to get medical advice and discuss everything else under the sun just to sneak in a quick question like “it might not be a big deal, but the entire left side of my body is numb and my heart hurts”. It’s a big deal. You probably should have brought it up at the beginning of the visit. This is the way humans operate. We hold back and aren’t open about the big things that bother us. We can spend hours discussing bullshit but when it comes to our gut feelings and instincts we hold back.

For this reason, I believe it’s always good to go around the room (assuming it’s a smaller room) at the end of the meeting and ask each person if they have anything to add any thoughts or opinions and to ensure everyone is aligned. It can be awkward to put everyone on the spot individually, but I have seen this push a lot of hot topics to the forefront.

Don’t Be Late

Don’t Be Late

Arriving late is a way of saying that your time is more valuable than the people who waited for you. (Karen Joy Fowler)

Life is unpredictable and most people can understand that, BUT when you make a habit of being late it makes it hard to trust you, and people might stop depending on you or delegating tasks out to you.

Regardless of your position, when you are late and hold up a meeting it can lead others to believe that you feel like your time is more valuable than theirs.

It doesn’t matter if traffic was bad, you had to drop the kids off at school or your prior meeting with the executive team ran over. Late is late.

When you accept that being late is not okay and learn how to appropriately handle the situation, the people you work with can adjust accordingly and waste less of their time waiting on you.

If you have CLS or Chronic Late Syndrome, here is one way to get better at managing your time. Every day for the next week outlines your time. Look at your day and everything you have planned in 30-minute increments. Plan out traffic, time to make lunch, time for post-meeting discussions, time to go to the bathroom, time to walk from one side of the office to the other, literally map out time for everything you do. Get good at managing your minutes. Being late can almost always be avoided if you plan ahead.

Make sure you always give yourself plenty of time for the unpredictable. If you realize you are going to be late, make sure to let everyone know as soon as possible. Don’t make excuses or interrupt the meeting when you get there late – just sit down and jump in as an active participant. When you walked through the door late everyone realized you were here. You don’t need to stop the meeting to notify the attendees of your presence. If you are late, own it. Apologize and move on. There is nothing worse than listening to a long story about why someone is late when you are already behind schedule.

If you are dealing with someone who has CLS it’s crucial that you have an honest conversation with them as soon as it starts happening to let them know that it’s affecting their performance. Don’t allow them to derail progress when they are late. Give a five-minute grace period and start the meeting. Don’t waste everyone else’s time on one person. Make sure someone always takes notes at meetings and then sends them out promptly after. If someone is late and asks a question about a topic that was covered when they weren’t there, kindly let them know that you won’t be going back to discuss the topic again and that they can catch up in the notes and reach out to you with any follow-up questions. Include a list of attendees and who was and wasn’t present so that you can refer to this information in the future. If someone is always late to your meetings reevaluate if they need to be there in the first place. Lastly, find out what led the person to be late so you can prepare to avoid scheduling meetings in a way that could cause a repeat issue in the future. If Joe always has another meeting that runs over before yours maybe think about pushing your start time back a half hour.

Tough Decisions

Tough Decisions

For me, the one thing that gets me really motivated is new ideas. I find that I do my best work when my mind has time to roam. If there is a problem that I need to solve, the answer usually comes to me on a long car ride or during my daily shower. I’m not good at making decisions quickly, but I’m great at making decisions and I find that I usually make good ones – if I have enough time to think them through. Everyone is different. For some people, if they have too much time to think through a problem, they end up overanalyzing and can even end up in decision paralysis.

As you grow throughout your career, there are going to be a lot of times when you must make decisions. Some will be small; some will be really big. Some will be easy, and some will be very hard.

It’s important to reflect on how you make the best decision. The best leaders that I have worked with have been the ones that understand their own personal decision-making process and don’t stray from what works best for them. They are comfortable saying “I need time to think it through” or “I’ll get back to you once I consult with the broader group/leadership team”.

Here are a few things to consider when making a big decision:

  • How long do you need to decide?
  • Who do you need to weigh in on the decision?
  • Do you need alone time to think it through?
  • Who is impacted by the decision?
  • What’s the deadline?

Don’t Be The Acronym Asshole

Don’t Be The Acronym Asshole

Every industry has its own set of acronyms, their own set of jargon and words that relate to their field. When talking to your peers regardless of it’s a small group or large group and their education level, I’ve found that it’s best to avoid using “slanguage” as much as possible.

Determine what the lowest education level in the room is and then adjust to that. If you have folks that are younger or newer to the industry always over-explain. I can’t tell you how many times I have left a presentation given by someone on a different team (think research and development or finance) or someone more senior than myself and has felt so incredibly lost throughout the entire presentation that me even being in the room was pointless.

Every presentation, email, or piece of communication is either absorbed and processed or absorbed and confused. If you are going to be digging into deep dives and details be sure to send out an email ahead of time with the information that will allow the audience to be more educated on the subject matter. There are so many times where someone higher up in the company will address a large crowd and use words that everyone doesn’t understand and acronyms out the wazoo and it ends up making the content meaningless for the group at large.

I will never forget one of my first big corporate meetings. I was new to the company (but I had eight years of experience in the advertising agency world, so I wasn’t a total newbie) and I was sitting next to someone else who was much younger. As we walked out of the meeting my head was spinning trying to keep up. About 20 minutes into the meeting I could tell she was embarrassed because she couldn’t follow along and had no idea what anything they were saying meant. After that meeting, I sent a note to the organizer of the meeting and let them know that the material might be too complex for the audience they had assembled but nothing changed. So, each month the company was pulling together about 500 folks and using an hour of their time to spit out words that most of the attendees didn’t even understand. How is that helpful? How is that effective? It’s not.

I’m sure you have heard the saying “write like your talking to a fifth grader” and it couldn’t be truer. The most effective communication is simple and easy to understand. Is it harder to be simple – sometimes, yes – but if your message is important and the people you are talking to need to understand what you are saying than your message better be clear.

Speak Slowly and Give Others a Chance to Talk

Speak Slowly and Give Others a Chance to Talk

Have you ever recorded yourself speaking? I highly recommend it. During presentations, during meetings with your team, during meetings with your boss, when you’re talking to your family? I never realized how I sounded and how I came across until I started doing this. It’s weird, like really weird. I feel like I’m a part stalker and part master creep. I also HATE the sound of my own voice, but this exercise helped me see how others were hearing me.

When I get nervous, I talk fast (like Nascar fast) and I don’t wait for anyone. I was on the phone with a client that lived down south and I was getting irritated because he talked so incredibly slow. I couldn’t follow along because I was getting so irritated and all I could think about was how irritated I was that he couldn’t manage to talk a little faster. I wanted to scream “speed it up” but then I realized something. Not everyone’s life is moving as fast as mine and some people don’t process things as quickly as I do and guess what… that’s okay.

When you go into a big presentation or discussion, it’s helpful to have written reminders in your notes that you need to slow down and take a second to breathe so everyone else has a second to catch up. Giving your team or the audience time to process makes a huge impact. It allows people to formulate their own thoughts and opinions. It allows them to get on your level. It allows them to come up with questions and ensures that you don’t have to put a follow-up meeting on the calendar to talk about the content that you flew through. Allow your team to move through the discussion with you and give yourself a break.

You’re not trying to sell a car on a radio commercial, you don’t need to get thirty disclaimers out in ten seconds.

If you are like me and have a problem talking fast, here are some tips and tricks:

  • Write cues in your notes that say “Slow Down” every few sentences (make sure you don’t read them out loud because that would be embarrassing)
  • Create a symbol that means “pause” and add it in where you can naturally take momentary pauses
  • Enunciate each word, it feels strange, but it helps
  • Try to determine when you speed up. Is it when you get nervous? When you’re upset? When you’re mad? When you’re short on time? Understanding the root issue will help you become more aware of the instances when it might happen.
  • You know that feeling when you get done with a speech or presentation and you are out of breath, it’s because you weren’t breathing. Use your pauses to breath
  • Read books (or anything is written) out loud when you are alone, this just gives you an opportunity to practice speaking. I wouldn’t recommend reading your shopping list out loud at the grocery store, that’s not what I mean but I guess if it’s the only option you have it could still work
  • Know that a three-second pause feels like an eternity to you but to your audience, if feel so minimal
  • Record yourself talking as often as you can and listen to the recordings (you don’t have to listen to the whole thing but it’s a good gut check to see where you are at)
  • Ask your team to help train you. If they notice you are talking too fast their job is to stop, you and make you slow down. It won’t take long for you to break the habit if you are getting stopped and notified of the problem every time it happens.

I’m not going to pretend like it still doesn’t irritate me when people move or talk slowly but I’ve learned that everyone has their own style and I need to accept that and work with them instead of getting annoyed.