Category Archives: Authenticity

Straight Talk

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[NOTE: This post originally appeared in the April 2017 print issue of Mindful Magazine]

Rear view of man gesturing with hand while standing against defocused group of people sitting at the chairs in front of him

I’ve developed a theory that the biggest driver of mindlessness at work comes from lack of communication. Most times, this is connected to the conversations we’re not having about our values, or about the boundaries we set (or don’t set) around how we live, honor, or uphold these values at work. You know the type of conversation I am talking about: the really uncomfortable one, where you know what you need to say is going to be awkward and might displease or disappoint another person.

Each day we encounter situations where we halfway communicate what we want to express, request, or need. In many cases, we do this because we fear being judged. Think about it: Have you ever edited a response because you felt uncomfortable revealing yourself and your thoughts concerning a certain topic?

  • Not sharing that you don’t agree that the redesign plan is the best choice.
  • Going along with the excitement around a new initiative even though you have serious doubts about its visibility.
  • Keeping silent about how uncomfortable it makes you that your boss brings her dog to the office every day — and it ends up in your space most of the time even though you really don’t like dogs.

So we halfway share, putting off the conversation we know is coming at some point. And, of course, the longer we avoid having it, the more uncomfortable the conversation can become.
The collective impact from having uncomfortable conversations can be truly transformational. Its effect goes beyond communication in the workplace; it can transform communication in every situation.

The path to navigating this territory with ease starts with awareness. Begin to notice when you are withholding, closing down, or not speaking up. Write about it in a private journal if that’s helpful. Then, with that awareness, begin to experiment with expressing your thoughts, needs, and desires one conversation at a time using the following tips to push through the discomfort.

Offer Context
It isn’t just about assigning blame. It is about creating dialogue around toxic and disruptive issues, so all involved can feel heard and choose to create a different reality. Offer context as to what the issue is, in a nonjudgmental way, this kind of sharing builds compassion and allows everyone to get on the same page. It’s when we don’t offer context that the discomfort grows.

Invite Options
If someone is making a request that isn’t possible, say so and invite a conversation about what is possible. It’s important to ask how that might work for the person making the request. Explaining, offering another solution, and inviting dialogue increases the sense of sharing and collaboration.

Be Sincere
Say what you mean with grace, respect, and as much authenticity as possible. When you speak from the heart, even if others don’t like or agree with the message, the energy behind the intention comes through. Odds are strong that your honesty will help things to shift.

With this in mind, what is one uncomfortable conversation you are willing to have today?

 

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Hospitality in the Eyes of an Outsider

By Joanna Fuller, Friend of Simple Intentions

ubeth (002)In 1992, shortly after the end of the Gulf War, I had the opportunity to spend a month in the West Bank, in the Palestinian territories. A relatively new college graduate with an English literature degree, I was there—ostensibly—to contribute to English classes at the University of Bethlehem.

But in the first class I visited, I opened the door to students jumping around the room and onto tables, staging a failed coup against Prospero in a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was clear they had a much better handle on the material than I did. I didn’t have much to teach them about the play, and instead found myself sitting back, enjoying their banter (all in English, rather than Arabic), amazed at how learned these students were, and how much they had to teach me about English literature.

I don’t remember much more about that class, to be honest.  But what I do remember vividly is how one of the students, Fatima, approached me, introduced herself, and insisted that I visit her home for lunch that afternoon. She told me to bring along all of my American girlfriends.

A few hours later, six young women from America joined six young Palestinian women in Fatima’s home. Fatima’s mother had gone next door to ‘borrow a chicken,’ which she magically transformed into platters of shawarma, accompanied by stacks of warm pita bread, mounds of deliciously sour labneh, and overflowing plates of saffron rice. After lunch, in the privacy of her home, Fatima and her friends removed their hijabs, tied them around their (and our) hips, turned on the music and taught us to dance. They told us that all their neighbors would consider it an honor that we’d chosen to be guests in their home.

I was surprised, to say the least. Not only that someone would go to all that trouble for us, but without hesitation, or planning. That summer was the first time I’d traveled outside the West, and I hadn’t yet learned what hospitality can look like in other parts of the world. It was the first time I’d heard the belief that many Middle Easterners share: that you must always treat strangers well, especially those traveling from foreign lands, because they could very well be ‘angels sent by God.’ It was a wonderful new way of experiencing hospitality.

Twenty-two years later, arriving as a newly sworn-in Peace Corps volunteer in Mongolia, I experienced a different but equally surprising reception. I laughed and in truth, bristled a little, when I first heard how the people in my community referred to me: as манай Америк хүн (pronounced manai Amerik hun, meaning ‘our American’). Fellow volunteers across the country shared the same experience, and none of us were sure how we felt about it. It was both flattering and slightly off-putting to feel like a town status symbol, along with the Land Cruisers and modern apartments owned by the wealthier families.

Hidden in that designation, though, is something I failed to realize at first: манай Америк хүн wasn’t so much an expression of possession, but of responsibility. I’d chosen to come live in their community and my Mongolian hosts considered it their duty to take care of me and to make sure I had what I needed to survive—be it a bed, a pair of winter boots, or enough meat in my freezer.

Just like in Palestine, it wasn’t always easy to be an outsider in Mongolia. But if there was one luxury I came to appreciate, it was the special status my American-ness afforded me – one of acceptance.  I could be completely different from the people around me, and it was not only OK, it was expected. There was a reason that explained all the ways in which I diverged from the crowd, and rather than causing people to reject or distance themselves from me, it instead somehow drew them in, and motivated them to take an interest in my well-being.

Today, it’s hard to believe I’ve been home from Mongolia for nearly six months. Since I’ve returned, people have continued to ask me how re-entry’s going. For the most part, I’d actually say it’s been amazing. (The WiFi! The paved roads! The bagels!) But it’s also been fascinating to find that I’ve been using the cultural integration tools taught to me during my Peace Corps training just as much here in America as I did during my time abroad.

In order to join the Peace Corps three years ago, I left a job of nearly twenty years and with it, the comfort of working at a place where I knew the ropes, and where my colleagues trusted and respected me. Looking to forge a different path upon my return home to the U.S., I took a new job in a new organization, with its own unique culture and systems and lingo and social dynamics.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been the ‘new girl’ in an organization. I don’t always know what I’m doing, and often have to muddle through first being bad at things (and people seeing that) before getting good at them. I’ve shown up, ready to dive in and get to work, only to first find out how much I don’t know and how much I need to learn from others. I’ve had to rely on people to show me how to do the simplest tasks, including how to make coffee and how to operate the copy machine.  I’ve gotten lost trying to find the restroom. I’ve had to remember what it feels like to have people make assumptions about me based on my appearance, my age and my title. Not because they’re not enlightened or evolved—but because they’re human and that’s what humans do. I’ve had to catch and stop myself doing the same to others.

The biggest difference is that, here in America, I don’t get the benefit of the mini-celebrity status I enjoyed in Mongolia and the Middle East, the status that made people want to drop what they were doing and take shared ownership in my well-being. In America, people have a lot going on, which means that often, I’m left to my own devices, and to learning by trial-and-error. Some days it feels like much more error than trial, and that’s when I have to remind myself to:

  1. Take time to listen and observe; resist the urge to act immediately and instead focus on truly understanding the situation and how I can best be of service.
  2. Anticipate that in the beginning, anything I try will take three times as long as I think it should, and likely be twice as expensive. Remember this is normal.
  3. Be gentle with and extend myself grace when things don’t go according to plan.
  4. Avoid being an island; while my natural instinct might be to withdraw or turn inward to hide my mistakes or feelings of vulnerability, continuing to reach out to others is the key to survival.

And while it seems sometimes as if every single person in America is time-starved and under pressure, I’ve been so grateful for those who’ve surprised me by their willingness to stop, take the time to connect in a meaningful way, and extend a hand to someone trying to fit into their new surroundings. Our American culture isn’t one that always allows for spontaneous afternoon lunches or dance parties, but there are at least a few hospitality angels out there doing their best. I’ve come to appreciate what a gift they are.

More than that, I’ve realized how important it is to be one of them, and what a difference it can make to another human when you’re able to show up, unhurried, and offer them your time and presence.

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The Power of “No”

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in Mindful Magazine]

Have you ever said yes to a request at work when you knew deep down you had no intention of doing it? Maybe you said you’d meet a colleague for coffee, take someone to lunch, or participate on a committee, but you really didn’t have the time or desire to follow through. That’s okay. We’ve all said yes to things we knew weren’t really going to happen. In fact, this happens a lot, all over the world, in both personal and professional life. Why do we do this, and how can we shift our responses so they reflect our true intention and capacity?

The behavior of saying yes to things we know we either don’t want to or are unable to do is called “hedging.” It consists of using phrases like “I don’t know,” “maybe,” and “we’ll see,” when really your answer is, unequivocally, no.

When we hedge, our intentions (most times) are good. At work, we hedge to avoid disappointing others—like our customers, our managers, and our coworkers. It’s easy to feel that if you say no to a request at work you’ll be perceived as selfish or rude, or that it might impact your performance review. It’s natural to want to be liked and accepted, and to be considered a team player. That said, hedging can have many negative impacts.

For instance, when we commit to too many projects, assignments, and “five-minute favors” and we know we will be unable to complete them, we wind up creating false expectations, and can become the bottleneck in the system—which is the exact opposite of what most people intend when they say yes. Hedging also tends to create more work (that may or may not be part of your role), causing stress, resentment, and frustration. At the team level, hedging erodes trust, damages reputations, and can cause widespread role confusion.

Break the Hedging Cycle

Start by paying attention to when you hedge and get clear on what you really can, and cannot, do. “No” doesn’t have to be dismissive. A strategic no can, in fact, be a powerful productivity tool and a way to set clear priorities. It can mark the beginning of a thoughtful, intentional conversation about workload, role definition, and office dynamics. When you give a mindful no, you contribute even more to your team by being clear about what is realistic, which allows the organization to better understand needs, plan for resources, and set priorities. This is especially important for companies operating with limited resources.

Say It Right

It’s not all about just saying no—the way you say no is also important. Use a respectful tone and provide as much context as possible to the person making the request. Explaining why you’re unable to oblige a coworker’s request can go a long way—not just in increasing efficiency, but also in building trust. A phrase to experiment with is “that’s not going to work for me, because….”

If you know you can get to the request, but just not right now, set expectations up front on timeframe. “That’s not going to work for me right now, can we talk again in three weeks?” Another option is to offer help in whatever way you can: “I know this is important to you, but right now the core priorities for my job are x, y, and z, and I’m not able to support this request. Can I help you find someone else who might be able to help?”

Most times, when people feel respected, they are willing to work together to find a solution that is realistic and supports the team and organization—even if the conversation begins with “no.”

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We Leak Our Truth

By LeAnn Elkins, Friend of Simple Intentions

“MomLeak Our Truth_0630, you’ve been giving the baby about 30% too much formula vs. water.  Please use the measuring spoon I’ve put in the diaper bag and then add the corresponding amount of water.”

Yes, this is my son giving me feedback on how to properly fix a bottle for my grandson. I could take it as a personal attack on my abilities as a grandmother, but instead I know my son. He has, for as long as I can remember, been a factual and data-based communicator. This request was no different than his request as a young boy on how to prepare his sandwich with the appropriate proportion of peanut butter to jelly.  He is simply “leaking his truth!” His particular truth being a strong sense of correctness and order in everything he does and wanting those around him to do the same.

We leak our truth, whether we know it or not, and it’s a steady, unstoppable drip. Our truth is not necessarily what we say is important or even what we think is important. Our truth is:

  • the reaction we have to situations
  • our values in action
  • those inner most thoughts and feelings about self and others
  • how and where we spend our time and money

Though it can be challenging, there are indeed times where we can recognize our leaks. Often it takes others pointing these leaks out for us to truly understand their presence. Try out an exercise to identify your own leaks. Start by writing down some descriptors of self and what you most value. Share this list with a trusted colleague and/or friend, asking them to add to the list using their experiences of you. Have this person share with you how you “leak truths” about yourself as they occur. Look at your list often and compare it to what’s happening in your day to day actions. You may be amazed at how often you leak your truth without realizing it – and you also might find that these truths are not in alignment with your perception of self or stated values.

What this is really about is having the courage to own your truth. Instead of trying to be whom you think others want you to be or who you’ve been told to be (which can lead to so much wasted energy and even stress), just be you – the truth will leak out anyway! LOVE and HONOR these truths and how they are serving you and those around you. Get to really know them and let them shine — this is the authentic you and you are enough!

“This above all:  to thine own self be true.”  William Shakespeare

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The Power of Care at Work

By Sameer Bhangar, Simple Intentions Awareness Consultant

hands caringI met with someone this week who spoke about how much she admired her current leader, a Vice President in a large technology company. I was curious what she admired about him. She described him as a visionary, motivator, excellent communicator, and other goodness associated with capable leaders. She genuinely meant all of them.

Then she paused, and from a more heartfelt place added, “And he genuinely cares!”

This really struck me, that what appealed to her most about the leader of her group, someone she truly admired and respected, came down to his genuine care – for the vision, the work, and most of all, for the people on his team.

In my own experience leading team workshops, I often start by sharing my experience in technology along with my transition into team culture-related roles. I always plan on saying that for me, the underlying motivation for this transition is simply that I genuinely care. I care about how we bring our so-called authentic selves to work. I care about finding greater meaning at work.

What’s interesting is that I rarely actually say this. Something in me, in the moment, totally forgets to share this aspect about genuinely caring. Instead, I stick to the bullet points on my resume. I don’t know why, but sharing how I care about people’s well-being with a bunch of people I’m meeting for the first time feels vulnerable. And yet, the occasions when I do express how much I care – about the process, people, ups and downs, outcomes, learnings, conversation, all of it – it resonates with the group and brings us closer.

Considering this for yourself, I offer two questions:

  1. Do you genuinely care about what you’re working on and with whom you work?
    None of us will care one hundred percent of the time about every aspect of our role. But somewhere underneath the details, is there a thread of genuine care?
  2. If your answer is “yes,” then have you communicated this to those you serve? Do they know what you care about? If it feels uncomfortable to share this in a genuine way, you might be on the right track. It’s often our willingness to step into this discomfort and awkwardness that pushes us to deeper connection and ultimately stronger trust.

And if your answer is, “No, I don’t really care,” then what are you doing about it?

I wonder if what the industry often describes as burn-out, disempowerment, disengagement is in many ways a reflection of how much we truly care. In any case, it might be a useful place to start: If you find you no longer care about the people, project, company, or environment you’re in, then what is the conversation you need to have to create a shift for yourself? Over time, I believe we will all go through natural cycles of genuine caring and some levels of disinterest. The question is, are you aware of this and how are you including it in your thinking and conversations?

Just like the individual I met with last week, you may touch people more deeply with how much you genuinely care than how buttoned-up you are with the details of your vision and strategy.

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Hold Me Able

By Chelsea Elkins, Simple Intentions Marketing Manager

traveling vanThis past summer was one of great learning for me. One of the teachings that really resonated is the concept that speaks to authenticity: holding each other able.

There are two parts to this. First, I hold the people in my life capable of or “able” to voice their needs. And second, I, in turn, have committed to being honest and authentic about what I need and want in the world. Essentially, I say what I mean, and I trust that the people around me are doing the same.

Simple, right? Just be your word.

Applying this philosophy over the past five months has been almost laughably difficult. I have long struggled with expressing what I want, a block that comes from an ingrained desire to take care of others before myself, even when it is completely unnecessary. I also sometimes find I have already decided that the recipient of my request would not want do a, b or c for x, y and z reasons. In these instances I don’t even bother to ask, making the decision for them and potentially depriving them of something they would have enjoyed.

When I am able to work up the nerve to ask for what I want, I sometimes doubt that I am getting honest answers in response. I am one who has the constant desire to check in: “Are you having fun?” “Are you sure you want to do this with me?” “Do you really mean that?” It must be maddening (and I’m putting that gently) to my more resolute friends and family members.

This stems from past instances when I agreed to do something I didn’t really want to do. With this in mind, I tend to give my friends and family members numerous ways out of a plan or agreement, lest the same thing happen to them. The consequence of this is I effectively ignore both parts of the holding each other able promise, and the cycle not only continues for myself but is forced upon those around me.

Simply put, holding each other able is a hard concept to live into.

Holding ourselves and each other able requires both courage and vulnerability, which, as most of us can attest, are challenging to summon. Articulating exactly what we mean, even if it’s not what others want to hear, and trusting that those around us will do the same, does not come naturally at first.

However, if we are able to successfully hold each other able, the benefits would be stunning. It would inevitably lead to lower stress, better communication, and all the other benefits that come when you live authentically. It would eliminate the need for constant check-ins and needless caregiving, which can be detrimental. It gives the responsibility back to each of us to honestly say what we need. This would allow us to live life with more confidence, joy and simplicity. If there’s one thing I hope to master this year, it’s this:

Hold me able, and I’ll do the same.

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The masks we wear

By Jennie Sze, contributing writer and friend of Simple Intentions

My close friend, who resides in the U.S., recently surprised her parents with an unexpected visit home to Asia. She recorded her father’s reaction as he walked out of his bedroom and saw his daughter sitting in the living room. “What on earth is going on?” he questioned, “What are you doing here? What did you come home for?”

I know my friend’s father well. I know how much he loves and misses his daughter. Yet, his reaction upon seeing her was not a loving hug, not “I’m so happy to see you. I’ve missed you.” Instead, in that moment, he donned a mask of strength and composure, even while I know his heart was smiling so bright. At that moment, he was unable to free his heart.

We all wear masks, and often, we wear different masks with different people. Fathers wear masks of strength and dignity in front of their wives and children. Mothers wear masks that show “everything is under control” among other mothers. Young women wear masks of perfection: perfect hair, make-up and dress – a perfect balance of beauty and intelligence. Young men wear the joker or macho mask in front of their buddies.

At work we wear masks of professionalism and responsibility – even if our internal dialog says, “God forbid anyone finds out I have no idea what I am doing!”

We often wear the most impenetrable masks in front of people closest to us. We are so afraid of disappointing them, so afraid they will not like what they see beneath our masks. How many times have we hid tears from close friends and family? How many times have we pushed ourselves to be more perfect, more worthy of the masks we bear?

Sometimes, we have worn our masks for so long, we no longer know what we look like without them. We believe it’s impossible that others will accept us without our masks. Or perhaps we have allowed our true selves out – sans mask – yet shied away from others’ attention, feeling undeserving of their love.

How can we begin to remove our masks and embrace our true beings?

There is a saying, “We leak the truth.” Perhaps the journey of removing our masks begins by looking deeper at how we show up. Are we leaking our truth? My friend’s father may have donned a mask of dignity upon seeing his daughter, but I know he felt loving joy at that moment. It is probably true that none of us is wholly successful at masking our truths.

Ask people how you show up. Have them describe their impressions of you. What specifically did you do to form the good – and the bad – impressions?

When I asked, I first was upset that people only saw my strong, capable side, and not my kind, caring self. But allow yourself to receive feedback without judgement. Accept it, let it sink in. When we embrace what other people see in us, we begin to see our truth.

Let’s put aside our masks and allow light to shine on our true selves.

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