Just be real!

Reclaiming humanity in the workplace… that sounds interesting!

A student and I were checking out the website of one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming Best Business Practices Tradeshow to take place in Montreal. Her name is Patty Azzarello and is a northern New Jersey native who has risen to become a Silicon Valley CEO. She also has a couple of books to her credit and now tours as a speaker.  

Reclaiming humanity in the workplace was the title of the TEDTalk posted on her site that caught our attention, so we clicked.

We had time to watch a few minutes before the class was up and being interested in anything that has to do with authenticity in the corporate world, I was curious: How does she propose to bring humanity back into the office?

Quite frankly, Azzarello gave an inspiring talk. Here are her three suggestions:

1. Step out of the hierarchy and show up as a real person.

Being a real person has nothing to do with hierarchy; it takes place outside of the hierarchy, where, as human beings, we are all standing on the same ground, with the same needs, the same feelings, the same experiences. We are all the same.

2. Have a human conversation.

Here Patty challenges leaders to be brave enough to overcome the fear of doubt, dissent and opposition to their authority to ask the simple four-word question: What do you think?  What a demonstration of trust and belief in your colleagues. It is quite simply, the best way to work as a team – mobilizing the collective intelligence around a common goal. It’s a win-win situation for all involved!

3. Be genuinely interested in what the other person has to say.

When Azzarello said this, the audience laughed. Nervous laughter, perhaps? But so true; how many times do we ask another person their opinion, only to block out what they are saying and respond: “Oh, thanks. Guess that validates my solution.” – without even taking the time to listen or genuinely engage with the other person’s ideas.  Experiment: next time you ask your spouse their opinion, take a deep breath and really listen to what they have to say. You may be surprised by the outcome of events!

Azzarello then went on to explain how she applies these three points with her own management team. She meets with her employees and lays out the plan or strategy and then steps out of her position and says candidly: “This is what we want to do, but I don’t have all the answers. What do you think?” What ensues is a genuine dialogue about possibilities, fears and ideas. Together, they work out the details and the timeline despite the inevitable conflict and discussion. Everyone leaves feeling heard and seen, and she leaves, confident that her employees have had the opportunity to share their truth.  

Her mentor simply advised: Talk to everyone, and you’ll know what to do.

But where did this way of dealing with things come from? Patty describes how she met with her mentor when she was about to begin her first major executive position, terrified and insecure about her new role. Her mentor simply advised: “Talk to everyone, and you’ll know what to do”.  Patty took her mentor at their word, and as soon as she arrived in her new position, she scheduled 100 one-on-one sessions with the employees!  

Can you imagine? She sat and conversed with them human-to-human and asked them simple questions like:

  • What do you think?
  • What do you think I need to know?
  • What do you think is important?
  • What do you think is working, is not working?
  • What do you think we need to change?
  • What do you think I’m missing here?

What a payoff! Just sitting and listening and caring to what those employees had to say, gave her wings. (And you thought Red Bull was powerful! Just try asking questions!) She was able to go on and successfully lead that team (and new teams entrusted her as her career evolved) empowered by the mutual respect and trust of her co-workers.

The clincher is what she says at the end:

You don’t have to conform [implying becoming the stereotypical self-sufficient arrogant executive] if you don’t want to. And in fact, if you are willing to show up as your real self and respect humanity of others, you will actually be at your most powerful and most credible. (Patty Azzarello)

I guess the bottom-line is pretty clear: if you want to reclaim humanity in your workplace, then be human and others will be human with you, too. Show you care, and they’ll be there!

So, what do you think? Don’t be shy to leave a comment. Seriously, I’d love to know what you have to say – about this post, the blog, being human at work… Feel free!

  • Thanks for reading and keep learning,  Claire :O)

[TedxAsburyPark, August 8 2017: https://youtu.be/jEzqrnpgEe0)

Who do you choose to be?

Tomorrow is November 11, Remembrance Day; it’s a time to remember the soldiers that gave their lives to counter the forces that were jeopardizing the freedoms we take for granted today. As I ponder their sacrifice, I can’t help but see a certain, though obviously not so dramatic, parallel between the challenges they braved and the future described by the author I was reading today. Those soldiers, and so many civilians, courageously chose to stand up and fight impending disaster to provide a better life for us today.

During a discussion at university on Friday about the challenges of resonant leadership in the face of opposing values or ideologies, my professor dropped the expression islands of sanity as he explained that a leader in this kind of situation needs to focus on what they can do to change things, rather than what they can’t, to create a refuge of hope in a sea of disorder and chaos. Just like those soldiers did during the First and Second World Wars, and our armed forces continue to do throughout the world where freedoms are threatened today.

The expression, islands of sanity, is used by Margaret J. Wheatley in her book entitled Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity (published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2017).  I ordered the book online and was ecstatic to get it already today. I was mesmerized right from the first page. Here are a few challenging thoughts I came across while reading.

Warning: This is no feel-good book; rather, it is a call to arms in an era that is increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous).

  1. Wise leaders are willing to give up the delusion that technology can save us, or that we can master the Universe. We must face the reality of decline and choose actions that support people, not technology. The choice couldn’t be more clear. Or consequential.  (p. 41)
  • A culture focused on individual freedom can only result in narcissism, polarization, conflict, estrangement, and loneliness. What is the meaning of life if it’s all about me? (p. 69)
  • We could have been anything we wanted, yet free-floating individualism has taken us far from community, contribution or connection, the very things that truly give life meaning and purpose. (p. 70)
  • Cultures focused on popularity have no depth or resilience. They are superficial and ephemeral: tastes change; fashions come and go; fads rise and fall. Always changing, such a culture increases our sense of uncertainty and vulnerability. We may be popular now, but beneath the surface our anxiety and stress keep growing. Will you still love me tomorrow? (p. 72)
  • More speed, new apps, artificial intelligence, more connectivity through technology is not the answer. Sane leadership is. (p. 74)

Certainly, we are not facing the same challenges as the generation that celebrated that first Armistice Day in 1918; however, we all have a choice to make in terms of who we desire to be and which values we desire to defend. Personally, I am thankful for the choices made by my own Grandfather Todd (WWI) and Uncle Tom (WWII), and feel challenged by the words penned by Wheatley to our own generation:

Who do you choose to be for this time? Are you willing to use whatever power and influence you have to create islands of sanity that evoke and rely on our best human qualities to create, produce and persevere? (p. 11)

How do these quotes resonate with you? Who are you thankful for this Remembrance Day? Share below.

– Claire :o)  

[Image: musicman/Shutterstock]

When saying good-bye is hard to do

There must be around ten people who have left the company lately‘, complained one of my students this week, as he went on to admit that he found it hard.  

As I asked questions, his colleague joined the conversation and I could feel the turmoil, questioning and well, sadness at the state of affairs.

Although we all agreed that employee movement is a regular occurrence at work, saying good-bye to a well-appreciated team-mate and fellow employee is never easy.

Memories of shared jokes, frustrations and achievements accomplished together add to the bittersweet nature of the event. On the one hand, you’re happy for the colleague who is embarking on a new professional adventure, yet on the other hand, their absence will be sorely missed.

New employees will come in with fresh ideas, different points of view and alternate ways to do things. A period of transition may affect the morale and productivity of the team.

Back home, I was working on translating a guide to grief. I couldn’t help but notice the parallels. I thought I’d share a few thoughts on navigating the post-departure phase of a friend and colleague.

Departures, much like death, are a fact of life.  Each employee, as each person revolving around a lost family member, had their own personal relationship with the co-worker, so each employee will therefore react differently to the loss. It’s important and normal to feel sad, just like in any grieving process.

Commemorating the event is a humane and essential way to mark the start of a new phase of life for the departing employee, but also the employees who are remaining at the job. 

  1. Take time to share ideas on how to best symbolize the departure of the employee. This will permit a variety of points of view that will reflect the different ways the departing colleague left their mark at their workplace.
  2. Allow people who wish to make a special homage or write a special message in a collective card to do it so they can express their feelings in a personal way.
  3. Remind colleagues that it’s normal and okay to talk about the person who has left in the days and weeks that follow. Obviously, the essential thing is that it doesn’t affect their work.
  4. Lastly, no-one knows what challenges a fellow employee is dealing with both at home and at work. A departure can be the straw that breaks the camels back, that triggers existential questioning and perhaps even bouts of anxiety and depression. In that case, it is important to ask the RH department for advice on employee help services.  

In case you were wondering if I know what I’m talking about, I myself had to say good-by to one of my favourite colleagues ever just last week over dinner and drinks. It was sad, but I’m happy for her considering she is going to take on a wonderful new opportunity in a new city with her beau. I’ll miss her for sure, but I’m already on the look out for new colleagues to develop close relationships with – not to replace her (no-one can do that!) – but just to enhance the workplace feels.

A departure needn’t disrupt workplace harmony and well-being. It can be an event that ushers in new possibilities and horizons. 

How have you coped with the departure of a colleague friend? What worked best for you? Share it in the Comments section below!

Cheers to you Charlie, and keep learning!

Claire :O)

Three Questions & A Birthday

Why can’t I say Happy Anniversary when it is someone’s birthday?”, many an ESL student has asked me.

That’s a great question and one that merits a post about to explain the answer – especially since I just attended a very special birthday celebration for someone close who was celebrating 90 years (name withheld to protect the identity of the person in question. Don’t ask!)   

Here’s the deal. The definitions of the words will help us out.  

Question 1: What’s the difference between the words birthday and anniversary?

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, an anniversary is defined as: the annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event.

In English-language culture, this applies to notable event such as the following: the founding of a company, a wedding, a graduation, a natural disaster… however, it does not apply to a birthday! (Unless you want to say: Happy Anniversary of your birth!)  

A birthday, by definition, again according to the online Cambridge Dictionary is: the day that is exactly a year or number of years after a person was born.

So, if you want to wish someone well on the day they are born, the term that is used is birthday, not anniversary.

Question 2: Are there any other ways to say Happy Birthday?

Ah-ha! Another great question. You could say any of these:

  • Best wishes for the day!
  • Enjoy your day!
  • Have fun on your special day!
  • Many happy returns (British)!
  • May your day be filled with love, laughter and joy!

Of course, there are as many ways to wish someone a happy birthday as there are people. I won’t even try to list them here (just google Ways to say Happy Birthday for more).

Question 3: Are birthdays really that important?

I added this as the third question because the person who we celebrated this past week would have preferred us not to celebrate their special day, especially not talk about the number of years being celebrated.

My answer to this question is a resounding yes! Yes, yes, yes! Please celebrate your birthday and the birthday of those around you! A life is important, precious and unique. There is only one day in the entire year dedicated to celebrating the presence of that person on this planet and in your life.

Each person arrives in our existence for a reason. Yes, I believe that those skeptics and cynics may smirk and scoff. What reason you may ask? There is no one-size fits all answer.

The answers to that precise question lies in what makes you so incredibly unique. Your contribution, albeit by your mere presence in the lives of those around you are what make celebrating your existence so essential.

  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your special abilities?
  • What are your talents?
  • What makes you laugh?
  • What moves you to tears?
  • What kind of music makes you want to get up and dance?

Your contribution, albeit by your mere presence, in the lives of those around you are what make celebrating your existence so essential. The number of years is inconsequential to your specialness.

I’ll leave the final point to Dr. Seuss, who always knows how to say things so eloquently!

It basically comes down to the fact that celebrating your birthday is a day to honour you, not your achievements or non-achievements, that you are, not what you are or aren’t.

Thanks for dropping in to read. What do you think: Why are birthdays important to you? Or are they? I’d love to hear what the youer-than-you has to say!

Cheers, and keep on learning!

Claire :o)

ESL Mixologist: What’s the deal?

I am never just teaching an English class! I am on the lookout for new insights or epiphanies I may have while talking about vocab, grammar or functional language.

ESL Mixologist is all about my journey as an ESL teacher who just can’t get over the serendipitous glimpses into the parallel universe of philosophy while teaching language learners.

It is an endless source of amazement for me to see how a verb tenses reveal psychological realities (example: Are you living in the present continuous or the simple past?!); word meanings disclose unexpected portals into past civilizations and faraway existences (example: courage comes from the Latin word cor meaning heart, or as Brené Brown explains, telling one’s story whole-heartedly); and discussion topics (example: If you were a star, what would you ask for from the show organizers?) open the mind to whole new possibilities and dreams.    

Just as a savvy mixologist combines sweet, sour and alcohol to create daring new taste experiences, ESL Mixologist takes you inside my language teacher’s mind where I experiment with continually changing combinations of syntax, semantics and pragmatics, to gain insights into some of life’s more major questions.  

Syntax (Structure)

Language: According to Google dictionary, syntax is “the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.

Life: How can I get my life better organized for optimal enjoyment?  How does this all work?

Semantics (Meaning)

Language: Secondly, semantics (quoting the Google dictionary), “involves the branch of linguistics or logic concerned with meaning.

Life: What is meaningful to me? What is really important? What does this experience mean?

Pragmatics (Use)

Language: Finally, pragmatics (from the Google dictionary again) is “the branch of linguistics dealing with language in use and the contexts in which it is used […] text organization, presupposition, and implicature.

Life: What should I do? How do I deal with this situation? What do I say?

I never thought that teaching ESL could be so stimulating. It is so much more than vocab lists and grammar rules, handouts and tests. For me, it’s all about teaching (and learning) to initiate and maintain connections. What could be more meaningful than that?

Cheers, and keep learning!

Claire :o)

How can grammar improve your summer work experience?

My students wandered in — late, fewer than usual, not as bright and bouncy as usual, but faithful to their weekly summer English class.

“What are the advantages to working during the summer?”, I asked them, perhaps a little precociously. They looked at me like I was out of my mind, so I explained.

“This is the first time in 15 years I’m working during the summer. As a schoolteacher, I usually have the summer off”. They leant in. I continued.

“So, I was thinking about it the other day and was thinking about what was positive about working while others are on vacation”.

I listed as an example, socializing with colleagues, having fun listening to music or playing games while learning, having an extra reason to get up and get dressed in the morning…

The two answers they gave me were a) money and b) there are no positive sides to working during the summer.

Oh boy! Back to the title of the article: how can grammar improve your summer work experience?

What about a little lesson in modals? Let’s take the three-letter modal: can.

What can you do?

I agree, it’s no fun when you have to pick up after your colleague who’s gone to Italy for two weeks, or have lunch in a cafeteria that’s quieter than usual, or go the coffee machine and realize you’re standing there alone instead of having a great conversation about cars, the kids or your latest purchases at Costco.

But on the other hand, if you look a little closer there may be some perks to working in semi-isolation:

You can concentrate more, you can get to know a new colleague or two you hadn’t noticed before, you can catch up (WOW! Yes!), you can find a new way to do things, you can enjoy your lunch outside, and the list goes on.

What do you think? What do you find you can do during the slower summer months that the frantic pace of the fall-winter season would never allow?  

Cheers, and keep learning!

Claire :o)

Have you connected today?

People matter.

With those two words, American psychologist, Chris Peterson, summarized his life research on how to enable people to go from surviving to thriving, discovering and pursuing what really what makes life worth living for them. 

In the Huffington Post Canadian edition today, publishes a video with the astounding title: The most connected generation is now also the loneliest. The ten-minute video draws the portrait of a society gone screen-happy and heart-sad.

The ten-minute video draws the portrait of a society gone screen-happy and heart-sad.

A humorous, but also thought-provoking, Ted Talk by Chris Nice, entitled A Funny Look at the Unintended Consequences of Social Media describes the side-effects of our modern society that lives in a more screen-to-face than face-to-face fashion. He ends with the startling statement: The true question is not whether technology is scary; the true question is how human are you ?

The ture question is not whether technology is scary; the true question is how human are you? – Chris Nice

In other words, the problem is not the technology, the problem is the user. Just pause for a moment to observe people walking down the sidewalk or shuffling along at your local shopping center to see how true that really is. Couples spend together time walking side by side, but both checking their phones obsessively. Mothers (or fathers) jabber animatedly on their phones while their son or daughter whimpers or whines for attention in vain. No need to go on, you’ve been there and seen that, too.

The problem? Not connecting. The solution? Get together, connect. Have you connected today? If not, read on!

The following are a few synonyms for event and some ways to make an invitation

The Event

A supper (or dinner) – some people over for an evening meal.

Gathering –        usually a larger crowd, more likely in a public venue.

Party (or house party) – some people over to chill at your house.

Pow-wow –        more informal, more fun (think barbecue, or pool party).

House party –    an evening event at home with food, drink and lots of music!

Social –               an organized event probably at a public venue.

Celebration –     a group of invited people in a public or private venue to celebrate a special event (think birthday, anniversary, graduation).

The Invite

  • What do you have anything going on this weekend?
  • Do you have any plans for Thursday after work?
  • We’re having a party on Friday evening. Can you come?
  • Let’s meet up!
  • Do you want to get together on Saturday?  

Now you – or rather, we (since I, the Inveterate Introvert, include myself here) have the means to make our weekend a live event, as opposed to a virtual one!

By the way, these lists are by no means exhaustive. What’s your favorite way to call a get-together or make an invitation?

Cheers, and keep learning!

Claire :O)

References: Chris Peterson video: https://youtu.be/DRiIAqGXLKA; Huffington post video: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/ retrieved on June 20 2019; Chris Nice TedTalk: https://www.ted.com/talks/chuck_nice_a_funny_look_at_the_unintended_consequences_of_technology?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare; Photo credit: photo id#300361952/Shutterstock]