How to Deal with Stress at Work

How to Deal with Stress at Work

How to Deal with Stress at Work

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: “Train” by Starcrawler

Dealing With Stress at Work? Help Is Here!

Are you dealing with stress at work? Hey, in this era, who isn’t! Work can always be stressful, but in this particular life space many people are dealing with anxiety at work, dealing with burnout at work, and dealing with difficult situations at work that are simply next level. 

Whether you’re trying to figure out how to stay productive when working at home; dealing with conflict at work (or favoritism); coping with anxiety about needing to go back to work in person; dealing with burnout because you’re understaffed and doing the job of three people; are in a leadership position and trying to figure out how to keep your employees happy; or are evaluating whether to leave your job and carve out a new career path… help is here.

In this episode, I’m sitting down with my dear colleague, Growing Self career coach Dr. Kristi to discuss her top tips for dealing with stress at work, how to deal with burnout, and more. Together, we’re exploring a variety of different career-related stressors you might be facing, and how to deal with all of them. 

She shared so much helpful information during this episode around how to stay clear and empowered in a potentially disempowering situation, how to use mindfulness and self-care to manage stress on the job, how to communicate with your team in order to advocate for yourself, and how to make choices if you’d like to make changes to your working situation. (Whether that’s leaving a job, or working to create a better workplace environment in the position you have now.)

Dr. Kristi works with career coaching clients from all walks of life: leaders and business owners, as well as working professionals, and she has advice for you too. We’re talking about how to juggle work and life, how to set healthy boundaries, and how to stay sane whether you’re working from home or online. So much good stuff!

If you're under a lot of stress, feeling stuck at work, and looking for a way to reclaim your zen, tune in to the full episode!

How to Deal with Stress at Work

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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How To Deal With Stress At Work: Podcast Episode Highlights 

Listen and Learn How To…

  • Pick up strategies for coping with work-related stress 
  • Discover how to use your bargaining power and advocate for yourself in order to feel more empowered 
  • Learn how to deal with stress at work 
  • Understand the importance of self-care for better work-life balance 
  • Know how to manage your stress levels both at work and at home
  • Avoid burnout at work
  • Grasp how career coaching can help you navigate work-related concerns

Tips For Dealing With Stress at Work 

The Stress of Working From Home 

The pandemic has brought about many changes and challenges in our everyday lives. As a career coach, Dr. Kristi has noticed some trends with parents who have to balance working remotely and parenting simultaneously. She points out that you are not alone. Many struggled to navigate through everyday life due to the pandemic. 

However, Dr. Kristi reminds us to look for silver linings in tough situations. She views these things as silver linings: 

  • More family time 
  • Taking stock of what’s important 
  • No time wasted on daily commutes 
  • Increased productivity at home 

About a year and a half into this pandemic, Dr. Kristi shares that more parents have seen more meaning in working remotely because it has paved the way for better work-life balance and more family time. 

Workplaces are slowly opening, but many people don't want to go back to their offices. Dr. Kristi points out that this uncertain time has made people reflect on their priorities and lives. 

Concerns About Work 

Dr. Kristi shares some of the concerns of her clients: 

  • Not feeling safe about going back to the office
  • Missing collaboration and teamwork in a physical working environment 

She believes that it is essential to stand up for yourself and voice out your concerns to your employer or supervisor. She says, “reach out and do some creative problem-solving.”  

If you have a leadership role in the company, listening to your employee’s concerns is crucial in making everyone feel safe and protected, especially during this pandemic. The more creative leaders get, the better everyone seems to do. 

How to Cope with Feeling Unsafe at Work 

With the virus going around, people are concerned about going back to work. They feel unsafe in places that don't strictly enforce health and safety policies. 

Dr. Kristi's advice is to find a workplace that is supportive of your personal safety. If you don’t feel supported, advocate and reach out. If it's still not working, find the best fit for you. Dr. Kristi reminds you to know the following:

  • how valuable you are
  • what you want
  • what is acceptable to you

“You are not stuck. You have choices.”, says Dr. Kristi. It can be a sign to assess your career path and explore growth opportunities. If your job isn't valuing you, it may be time to make changes — or even leave. It helps to assess your work environment to determine what to do next. Don't be afraid to advocate for your salary and negotiate! Understanding your worth is critical to getting what you need.

How to Help People Deal with Stress at Work 

If you’re a leader, you have the responsibility to help your team stay afloat through these uncertain times. Part of the balancing act is to incorporate mindfulness and other stress management techniques. Remember, calmer people make a better workplace

It can be as simple as starting a meeting with a five-minute meditation. “Doing just a little bit everyday can really help overall stress levels, so that you have more clarity, and you’re better able to handle all the unknowns,” says Dr. Kristi. 

Dr. Kristi emphasizes the importance of doing something to keep your stress levels at bay. 

Various tools and techniques can teach you how to deal with burnout at work. When it is hard to control what’s going on around us, it is helpful to focus on things we can control, which is ourselves. 

How to Deal with Change at Work

While working from home is advantageous to some, it can also be a source of stress for others. This setup blurs the lines between work and personal life, especially for parents with small children.

Moreover, extroverts find the lack of social interaction challenging. Remote work also makes it hard for people with ADHD to stay organized and focused on their own. 

There are several strategies you can employ to set yourself up for success. You can hire a part-time nanny to look after your child. It’s also helpful to schedule your day like you would at the office.

If you're struggling with making it work alone, seek assistance from your supervisor. Doing so is understandably challenging for high-functioning people. But you have to remember, “strong is asking for help.” 

How to Deal With Being Overloaded at Work

Because of COVID, more and more people have realized how short life is. Thus, they have become more empowered to leave their jobs and pursue their passions. 

While that’s great for them, it can mean bad news for their co-workers. If you have to fill in for your team, remember to set your boundaries. Nobody can consistently work for 60 hours and not get burned out or sick.

Also, realize that you now have more bargaining power compared to the past. Find the best way to approach your supervisor and communicate your concerns. 

Dealing with Burnout at Work through Self-Care

In these trying times, burnout prevention and recovery are very crucial. Increased stress levels can cause tension in relationships, affect your immune system, and make you more irritable. Now more than ever is where the importance of self-care comes in. 

Dr. Kristi shares some ways to practice self-care: 

  • Get enough quality sleep 
  • Spend time outside or in nature 
  • Take five minutes to meditate, do deep breathing, stretching, or journaling 

There is power in starting your day right through meditation: “You're starting out your day from a place of being centered and calm.” It's a way of training your brain to cope better during stressful situations. 

Taking a moment to pause and collect yourself instead of pushing yourself to run on empty can help you become more productive

Career Development Resources For You:

How to Deal With Stress at Work: Show Notes

The music featured in this episode is by the band Starcrawler, with their song “Train.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://starcrawler.bandcamp.com/album/starcrawler Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Enjoy the Podcast?

Did you enjoy the podcast? What did you learn about how to deal with stress at work? What’s your biggest work-related pain point these days? Do you feel more empowered to use your bargaining power for your welfare? Tell us by commenting on this episode!

[Intro Song: You Bring Me Home by The Sudden Leaves]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you're listening to The Love Happiness and Success podcast. 

[Intro Song]

On this episode of the podcast, I'm so excited to talk to my colleague Dr. Kristi who specializes in career coaching. What I love about Dr. Kristi is that it's above and beyond like, “What am I going to do with my life” kind of career coaching. That's very valid but Dr. Kristi goes deep and really helps people figure out how to navigate a lot of stressful concerns related to jobs and professional development. 

The Stress of Working From Home 

Dr. Lisa: I am so excited to talk with Dr. Kristi today about how to deal with stress at work in this particular point in time where there's so much uncertainty and potential pitfalls and just weird things to even think about thanks to pandemic life. 

Dr. Kristi, thank you so much for joining me today. You with your pretty girl hair, it's always a pleasure. Always a pleasure but thank you. 

Dr. Kristi: Oh, thank you so much for having me. Yeah, it's been just a strange, not even just a year now, it's been going on for a year and a half. Going on to two years of just insanity with COVID. I've just noticed a lot of trends so I want to just sort of talk about those today. One, so people can feel they're not alone. A lot of people are in the same boat. Also to look at ways they can help themselves during this time. 

I think at the beginning of COVID, everybody was sort of… Nobody knew what was going on and then all of a sudden, everybody's remote, right? For working parents, that presented some unique challenges. Many of us also didn’t have kids at home. I know you, me, a lot of people we know. People like you, I think it was even harder on the ones with the younger kiddos. 

My kids are teens, they are old enough that they could discipline themselves around organizing school time and things like that but my clients with preschoolers, kindergarteners, first grade, oh, that’s just such a tough age to have to be navigating working from home and trying to school your kids. It was an especially challenging year. 

I think it was almost harder that things got better and seemed there was a light at the end of the tunnel and then Delta variant hit. A lot went up in the air again. Now, most of us, our kids are back in school although mine was just out again. I've gotten six notices in one week that they were around positive COVID cases.

Dr. Lisa: Really? Oh, Kristi. 

Dr. Kristi: It's not a normal school year even though they're in school. I think the vaccines obviously are helping things move in a more normal direction and I feel better about my kids being in school because they're old enough to get vaccinated, but I've had parents, again, my clients with younger kids have expressed anxiety that their children aren't old enough to get vaccinated. 

Yet, this new variant is hitting kids a little harder than the last one so it's just a lot of anxiety in general, and then now, what does work look like? I think that work has changed and I personally think we're going to see some permanent changes in what work looks like based out of this whole year and a half. I think some of it is good. I really do and I try and look for silver linings in horrid situations. 

So much about the past year and a half has been out of our control and hard but I think some silver linings were people, one, got more family time. We were all together holed up at our homes for a while there, and then, I think we also were able to take stock of what's important. I had a lot of clients tell me they really enjoyed having greater work-life balance without having a commute, especially people that had much longer commutes. They also told me they had increased productivity. 

Sometimes, again, the kid thing was a little hard when the kids were home too. But increased productivity with not being involved sort of in all the water cooler workplace chit chat, they were able to get more done in an earlier period of time. They were able to stop working and then not have the commute so they could be with their families and they really enjoyed that. Now, conversely, after a period of time, some people miss that social interaction. 

Again, it comes down to personalities. I have some people who were so overjoyed to be at home all of the time. They were fine not interacting with a bunch of other people. Whereas other people who are more social by nature and the Zoom thing just was not cutting it for them. The Zoom fatigue thing is real and they were just done and they wanted to get back in the office at least part-time. 

Now, we're at this weird place in time where some companies are saying, “Everybody back in by x date” and other places are saying, “Hybrid, you're in two days, out two days. We're staggering it because we're still following COVID guidelines, things like that.” Other companies have made pretty cool changes. A large company that I just did a stress management presentation for announced they're moving permanently to a four-day workweek because they recognized that increased productivity in people, but also, the work-life balance thing is so important to people. 

I think that companies that are doing well throughout all this are being creative because what's happening, at least what I'm seeing, is the companies were like, “Everybody's back full time starting on x date.” All of a sudden, I'm getting a lot of clients because they're like, “I'm not going back. I'm not doing that.” Because, again, they've realized throughout this pandemic that certain things are really important to them. 

Family time, work-life balance, and some taking stock of what they want out of life because unfortunately, many of us, and I know you dealt with this, have lost family members, right? We're seeing how short life is. I personally was extremely sick back at the beginning of all this. When you realize what's important in life, you're less willing, I think, to make concessions that aren't in line with who you want to be and that ideal version of yourself. 

I've had people reach out realizing through this time, they're like, “Wow, I don't love what I'm doing so why would I want to go back into an office five days a week when I either didn't love the job the begin with or I didn't necessarily love my coworkers all that much either.” 

Dr. Lisa: Right, right, and now, I'm risking my life for the pressure of being there. 

Dr. Kristi: Exactly, exactly. I think that's been nice. People are like, “I get to choose. I get to do something different.” Sometimes, even the act of enough people making that choice has shifted the employer into saying, “Oh, you know what? Okay, we'll go hybrid” because replacing employees is expensive. It takes time. It takes resources. 

Dr. Lisa: It's a new kind of collective bargaining. I don't know how organized it is but yeah, a critical mass of people are getting the attention of leadership. 

Dr. Kristi: Absolutely. Yeah, for the first time, I think, in a very long time. There has been some good that's come out of it. My hope is that people can really look at themselves and what they want looking ahead, and to speak up for themselves. Because a lot of times, people might be unhappy with how their company is responding or a certain policy, and when I say, “Well, did you address that?” “Well, no.” Well, then, first, changing jobs also takes energy and time and applying for jobs and looking for things so if it's something that's potentially is fixable, try to fix it. Speak up. Advocate for yourself. 

Concerns About Work 

Dr. Lisa: What an important message right there is that I'm hearing you say you might be more empowered than you realize. I think historically we're used to kind of doing what we're told in employment situations and you're saying that this circumstance has led you to have more power than you might even realize. What are some of the kinds of things that people listening or the career coaching clients that you've been working with are experiencing as stressful that you've been encouraging them to say, “Can this be different at my job?” What are some of the typical things you're hearing? 

Dr. Kristi: Well, number one is complaints about going back into the office, not feeling safe. That's number one. In those cases, encouraging them to reach out and advocate their manager, their team, because a lot of times, they're not alone and that's where that collective bargaining power comes in. Other times, it's that missing the dynamic. A lot of work environments, even if they don't want to be back full time, they miss that collaboration and teamwork that you don't necessarily get that same thing on Zoom. 

Even if you're having Zoom meetings, which is great to a point, you're still missing sometimes the magic that happens when you're all together in a room talking. I've had clients explain it to me the way they would explain it to their supervisor, and then, again, reach out. Do some creative problem solving and sometimes, it's actually during this pandemic before going back in the office, it's actually even having virtual events that aren't necessarily work-based. 

I've had more people come to me and they are in leadership positions who are my clients. They're like, “How do I get my team to feel good and engaged through all this?” Some of my leadership clients who are executives are doing just more fun online things. Ice-breaking games, fun things such as getting them bonded, and then, engaging in more creative activities. Then, looking at bringing them in one day a week for a joint meeting where they can do some of that dynamic collaboration type activity. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, just a totally different way. Listening to what people are saying and “How can we fill their cup and meet these needs” but do it in a totally different way, not just baked into the daily experience anymore and how can people ask for that even if you don't know exactly what the answer is. Because at the end of the day, and I love that you work with so many leaders and I think every leader listening to this podcast will understand that at the end of the day, it's your problem to figure out the how. You know what I mean? That it's their responsibility, I think, of working people to say, “Here's what I want. Here's what would help this feel better for me.” 

Dr. Kristi: For the leaders, that creativity piece, right? Because creative problem-solving right now, that's made the difference, again, with companies I've seen that have done really well and handled this versus not. I work with some leaders who, their organizations are client-facing jobs so it's this weird balance of meeting the needs of the people they serve, the community they serve with their staff who also need to feel safe and protected. It's an interesting balancing act right now for leaders. The more creative I've seen they get with how they address things and problem-solving, the better everybody seems to do. 

How to Cope with Feeling Unsafe at Work 

Dr. Lisa: Definitely. I'm glad we're talking about that but if I may ask, I know that you work with a spectrum of different clients, many leaders. I know that you work with a lot of medical professionals. Honestly, I know you have a lot of physicians that you see. That's probably a different animal. I'm curious to know, what advice or recommendations you would have for someone who might feel unsafe at their job or that they aren't being protected or supported and how to cope with that kind of stress

Specifically, I'm thinking of, and this isn't even a client, Kristi. This is my sister but I know that a lot of people are in the same boat, I'll tell you. She's a high school art teacher and when she started the school year, it was at a school district that was not requiring masks, and she, with what we've been through with our mom, everything that we can, especially also having unvaccinated children at home and breakthrough cases and all that. 

With her first day back to school, she asked students to put on a mask in her classroom. Not only did the students say now, she got in trouble with the administration for asking and she felt very unsafe and unsupported and it's led her to do some soul searching. I don't know exactly what's going to happen there with her career path but I'm wondering in general, you must have clients who are in similar situations where it feels like they cannot protect themselves and maintain employment. 

Dr. Kristi: Absolutely, and that, the teacher thing just breaks my heart because that's going on in our district too, unfortunately. They're out there, basically, they signed up to teach, not to put their lives on the line. It just seems like a basic respect. At our school, there was at least support from administration so there are, and I know this from my kids who are in there, that there are teachers who have said, “You must wear a mask in my class.” The administration has supported that and actually sent an email out saying, “If your child refuses to wear masks, they will be dismissed.” 

This goes back to the leadership piece. I really hope that more leaders step up to do their part in ending this. Now, if you have an administration, that sounds like your sister did the right thing. She spoke up. She advocated for herself and she got in trouble. In that kind of case, I would absolutely recommend there are districts and it's hard because if you love your district, but then, you have to do that inward soul searching of, “Do I find somewhere else?” 

We have had teachers go to other districts for various reasons due to district-wide policies that it's always an option to look at a different district. If you love teaching, I would say, if that's your passion, absolutely. Yes, you could look for a different career but if it's your passion, try to find somewhere that is supportive of your personal safety. It's sad that there are administrations that aren't supportive of that.

Dr. Lisa: I love what you're saying though, that you're articulating this reminder to know your worth and know that you have so many options and particularly in this kind of climate where many employers are very eager to find and retain and keep happy, talented, great help. That you're a catch and you may have other options, If one place doesn't feel good for you, you find the one that does because you don't have to. 

Dr. Kristi: Absolutely. And I will tell you, again, just from all my clients are career clients in one capacity or another and so many of them have gotten jobs in the last, I would say, a month or so. I have gotten more emails the past month because I work with them on that. If you're not supported, obviously, advocate, reach out, do what you can, but if it's not working, doesn't feel like a fit, oh my gosh, so many places are hiring right now. 

Right now, one of my clients, last week alone, he got three job offers and needed to have a session with me to help walk him through which one, which is an amazing problem to have. Another one of my clients, a physician, same thing. She got offers from three different hospitals. It was helping her navigate which was the best fit. Absolutely know your worth, know your value, know what you want and what's acceptable to you, and if you're in a place that absolutely is refusing to support that, you are not stuck. You have choices. 

Even my son, he's 17. He's been at his same first job for eight months and decided there were things that he did not feel were supportive of him. I said, “Go interview. Everybody's hiring right now. Literally go interview.” He didn't even want my help with his resume. I'm like, “Literally, that's what I do for a living, but okay.” He applied to three jobs. The next day, got two calls, interviewed the next day, and was offered a job on the spot and he's 17. Everywhere is hiring right now. Yeah, it's absolutely in your power to do something if you are not happy. 

Dr. Lisa: I'm so glad we're talking about this and I had another question. I'll ask you that in just a second. Now, I have to circle back around. Just for the benefit of our audience here, say that we have somebody listening who is being showered with job offers because they are amazing and they have so many great opportunities. Do you have a couple of the sort of go-to ideas that you will assist your career coaching clients with in trying to evaluate different positions and which one to take if you have a lot of great opportunities? 

Dr. Kristi: Yeah, so it's hard because everybody's different. A lot of the work I do with people is identifying their personality, their value system. I do a lot of work with people on values and what drives them. A lot of times, you can have a similar job but the mission of the company might be different, or the specific field or way in which you would be using your skill set might be a little different, could be the area. 

Yeah, working with people to make sure whatever choice they make is in line with who they are and their values rather than external factors like parents saying, “You should take that one. It's more money.” Well-meaning family members. But at the end of the day, you are living your life and so you want to make the decision that it's best for yourself so I help people with that. 

Dr. Lisa: Oh, that's good because it's difficult, I think, to look at just hard metrics. What you're saying is even a couple thousand dollars difference in salary, which you could negotiate, is at the end of the day, so much less important to well-being, and health, and happiness, and reduced stress, and more job satisfaction, and a good fit with your personality, and the company culture. 

The meaning that you get from the work and how it sort of creates this whole life experience as opposed to just, “Well, this one has this kind of health insurance and so I'm going to do that.” That can be exactly understandable. All that matters but, I don't want to say short-sighted, but that's the word that's coming to mind. It has to go deeper. 

Dr. Kristi: Yeah, I have them look at it holistically. Negotiating salary, that was something I just had multiple people do. Not to be stereotypical, but I do think I've seen this enough that I think it's true. Women seem to have a harder time advocating for their salary and negotiating salary than men. It's like, “Okay that's what you offer me? Well, okay.” Whereas my male clients are more like, “No, I'm not going to take that.” I'm like, “Okay.” Working with people on how do you go back, so you love the job but you are wanting a higher salary. 

I just helped a woman do this who had never negotiated a salary in her life. We had the next session and she was shocked. She said “They did. They raised the offer” and I was like, “See? Because you're worth it.” I wish women understood their worth as much as men often do. Again, that's not always the case but more often, I think women are not as comfortable advocating for themselves that way. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that's such a great reminder. I know I would struggle with that too. I don't know. It's a hard one. What we're talking about right now, just, I think, reminding everyone of the power of their worth, the number of opportunities and choices that they have, I think that those ideas in themselves reduce stress so much because it's like, “Oh yeah, I don't have to do anything. I have lots of choices.” 

Advice to Deal With Stress at Work 

Dr. Lisa: I'm wondering too if we could talk a little bit about people for whom for a variety of reasons, they are happy enough with their role, their job, they're not making big plans to stay, or maybe trying to find something different is harder than just dealing with the mixed bag of the current situation because nowhere is perfect, but there are other stressful situations that people are facing. 

I know when we were kind of corresponding, you mentioned a unique kind of stress that's coming up where it seems like people in a team are maybe getting different privileges around staying home or having to come in. It's a different facet of office politics. There's a resentment. Can you say a little? I don't know if I'm articulating that well but there are new wrinkles in working relationships these days. 

Dr. Kristi: Absolutely, because with the hybrid model, a lot of employers I think are implementing in more corporate-type jobs with the two days in, two days out, or however they work it. But some places, if people are resistant to coming back in, some of the conflict that's come up is resentment by the in-person workers against the at-home workers, right? They're like, “Well, are they really doing all the work that we're doing? Because we're here and showing up every day and we don't see them.” 

I think there's, again, it's been more of my work with leaders and leadership-type roles where they've described this to me. Part of the work leaders have had a challenge is bringing them together in virtual meetings but also making sure that the work is known. Because it's easy when you're remote that you're doing your thing and working and they are really productive but the in-person team doesn't necessarily know that. It's how you relay that, but then, also, how do you make it feel safe enough? At what time do you then implement people coming back into the office? 

They can't stay home forever by logistics of the job itself. Then, it's been navigating gently, bringing these people back in, and changing those expectations as vaccines have rolled out. Because now, everybody can be vaccinated for the most part. There's obviously some high-risk cases, immunocompromised people, that kind of thing but for the most part, vaccines are widely available, widely effective. That has changed things again. Before, it was certain people it was understandable they didn't want to be in the office because it wasn't safe. Well now, it is much safer, not that you can't have a breakthrough case but they're finding it’s often, if you're vaccinated, not life-threatening. 

Then, it's a challenge of bringing resistant people back into the office, mending some of those feelings of resentment that they've been home longer than everyone else kind of thing. I think that's, again, a challenge that leaders have right now and it's where they've had to be creative. Again, it's where I've walked them through by doing some different activities than maybe they used to do, changing up team meetings in a slightly different way where everyone does a little check-in reports on what they've been working on that week. Again, everybody knows what everybody else is doing. 

There are all kinds of ways until we're all sort of either back. Some places are staying hybrid, which is, I think, great, but everyone's expected to come in at least two of those days or however it works. I think once we get to that point, it's going to take this balancing act basically by managers, directors, leaders, on how to make everybody sort of feel included and decrease that potential for conflict along with just the other thing I'm hearing: overall stress management techniques. It's a stressful time for everybody, whether you're in the office, out of the office, hybrid. 

Dr. Kristi: I've noticed an uptick in people in leadership positions bringing in mindfulness and stress management techniques to the regular team meetings which I love because I teach that to my clients anyway and it's so needed right now. It's just such a stressful time in general. I love that they're incorporating that. Just one of my clients told me they introduce their team meeting and started with a five-minute meditation. That's amazing. That's what we need right now. Everybody's up here with their cortisol levels and that's when you get sick, is when everybody's stress hormones are at a high level so even incorporating more… 

I had a huge national corporation bring me in for virtual stress management training and as a corporation, I would not have thought would necessarily, I don't know again my own thing, necessarily bring in mindfulness training and they wanted that. That was for several hundred people and they loved it and they said they'd been needing those type things just to manage day-to-day stress. I think people also underestimate the power of five minutes of stretching a day or meditation or just even deep breathing, five minutes of yoga. 

Doing just a little bit every day can really just help overall stress levels so that you have more clarity and you're better able to handle all the unknowns. There's so many uncertainties still right now. We don't know for sure what this next year is going to look like. There's new variations coming out every day it feels like, right? All we can have control over is us, not the world around us as much as we wish we could. By taking control of ourselves and engaging in a daily practice of stress management, and again, that can be anything. 

Some of my guys kickbox, that's their mindfulness. I have people who go run, people who rock climb, or whatever your thing is. Just something consistently that keeps your stress levels down during this time because that also boosts, besides your natural antidepressants, your serotonin. All the feel-good: serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, all those feel-good chemicals in your body. That also then increases your immune system so that with all these things going around, you're more likely to be able to handle it without getting super sick. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, definitely but what a great reminder though. It's like there are sort of these all these different spheres and things available to you to deal with stress at work but starting with yourself, taking a look at your personal daily routines, a mindfulness practice, maybe some thought-shifting. I love what you said is like finding ways of taking control, really over your inner experience. I know for me personally, I get stressed out when I feel I'm not managing my time well and when I don't have enough time to do important things and I'm doing all these other things instead. 

It sounds so dorky but my biggest stress management tool is making my list, making my plans, those kinds of… Yeah, it's so powerful. What I love is just this reminder to people that in addition to your personal kind of stress management practices if it's physical or if it's mental, there is opportunity right now to ask for that to be supported by your leadership in your workplace

Say, “Hello, Mr. person or Ms. person, let's have a Dr. Kristi come in and teach us some mindfulness techniques that we can use on the job” or “What are we doing to support mental and emotional and physical wellness in our group right now? Because I need that” and to have that be heard and respected.

Dr. Kristi: Absolutely, and then, that makes for a better workplace because people are calmer. They're not as stressed. It's a win-win for everybody. 

How to Deal with Change at Work

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Oh, that's such a good reminder. Are there other pain points that you've heard your clients describe lately about just areas of stress at work that are kind of unique to this modern experience that we're having that we should address? For example, and this is one thing that came to my mind, many advantages to working at home, cutting out the commute, potentially more time with your family. 

There are some people who experience working at home as being more stressful in some ways because there's this smooshing together of work and life in a way that isn't actually good. Whereas you had this boundary and a different space when we went to work. For some people, it's time management and productivity stuff. Has that come up for your clients? 

Dr. Kristi: Oh yeah, absolutely, especially with small kids in the home, right? I've had clients, again, have to get creative. If both parents are working from home, they've made actual schedules where they trade out. Someone has a meeting, the other one is doing. Some of them have even brought in a part-time nanny into the home so that they're able to do the meetings they need to do but they've gotten creative with putting a sign on the door like a stop sign that their three-year-old knows means daddy's in a meeting or mommy's in a meeting, that kind of thing and but also for them, for the clients. 

They told me they've had to look at that too because they say it's too easy to go out and want to go play with their little one or go read a book or go out to lunch. Again, it's something that you encourage how do you set boundaries around that. If you take lunch anyway, sure, go have lunch with your little one or however that is set up and then you go back into your office as though it's your workplace until your ending time whatever that is. That has been a challenge for sure because for some people with little kids, I think everything about this year and a half has been more stressful. 

I also have clients who don't have kids and it's stressful because they're either super extroverted and social people and it is really driving them nuts now because they've been home for so long or some of my clients have some ADHD tendencies. Staying organized and focused on their own is super challenging if they don't have someone there saying, “Okay, you need to do this, this, and this” or at least other co-workers that are also working, and then it keeps them engaged and focused. 

Some of my clients with some of those attention wandering or they get distracted, then it's working with them individually on creating some techniques to help them stay focused and engaged in the workday, but part of that also has been reaching out and saying, “Hey, I need a little bit extra help” from their manager, supervisor. In fact, one I had earlier today finally reached out. Super brilliant person in a brilliant line of work and I think sometimes, when people are super high functioning, it can be harder to ask for help because they feel they shouldn't need it because they're so smart when really, we all need help at different times. 

Encourage them to ask for this thing that would help them stay a little more on track during the workday and their manager said, “Sure, we'll start tomorrow” and started doing it. It really is going to be really beneficial for this person but it took them… He's also male, which sometimes, males have a little bit harder time asking for help and have shared that with me, that they feel like, “Well, I should be strong.” I'm like, “Strong is asking for help.” 

Dr. Lisa: “What does that mean?” 

Dr. Kristi: Exactly. He was like, “Oh my gosh, it totally worked.” I'm like, “Yes, it did and now, you can keep doing that.” That kind of thing, I think there are challenges based on certain personalities that working at home is harder and that's okay. It's working with that to set yourself up as much as possible to succeed. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, what a growth moment though because I've had that too and I have personally felt surprised. One client I'm thinking of is just phenomenally accomplished. She is also a physician doing so many things. That and working from home, experience is kind of floaty “What do I do next? Let me look at my email again” kind of thing. It's so interesting, this growth opportunity that people have, I think, who have been relying for a long time on this external structure and expectations of other people to kind of keep them organized, keep them on track. 

Then, in the absence of that, really having to develop this internal motivation and this internal organizational system for “How do I prioritize my time and energy? How do I stay focused” and managing themselves in a lot of ways without supervision. What important and cool work, personal work, to have this opportunity to do that. 

Dr. Kristi: Yes, and a lot of the time management work I do is with physicians because they're so busy and with their on-call schedule shifting all the time, it's harder to stay on a regular… Even self-care track with the stress management and mindfulness because their schedule is different all the time. Yeah, they have a special challenge along with dealing with a lot of medical stress right now. 

How to Deal With Work Overload

Dr. Lisa: Well, I'm glad that we talked about just that the work from home stress, different kind of stress. Were there other things that came to your mind when I asked? 

Dr. Kristi: Just one thing that actually came up today and came up with several clients is that so people who are feeling empowered to leave, absolutely. If that's what they're feeling, they should go seek out what's going to make them really happy. I have a lot of those clients. They're like, “Life is short, I want to go do something else.” However, I also have a few clients who are the ones left in a business where multiple people…

Dr. Lisa: Are dropping out.

Dr. Kristi: As it is, yes. Now, they're doing the work of three and four people because of so many people leaving. The stress level is just at the top. With those clients, it's been addressing tools on self-care, stress management. Again, what can be put in place as far as advocating for help during this time and looking at the bigger picture down the road? Are they hiring more people? Are there temp people coming on? Taking on the role of multiple jobs, I've seen more and more. 

I've also had several clients, due to the pandemic, have very unexpected layoffs. They weren't looking for another job but all of a sudden, they found themselves in the position of “Okay, I need to find something.” Again, that just adds to the stress they were already dealing with the pandemic. Yeah, I've seen all kinds of issues cropping up related on all sides. 

Dr. Lisa: I've heard that too and I'd like to talk just a little bit more. Somebody who's working in a job doing their thing, doing a great job, and a couple other related people leave and they're being asked to do their job plus the job of others. I think that there needs to be some balance. With my clients though, I always err on the side of the boundary side, right? But the balance between being able to have boundaries and being able to say, “Actually, no. I'm working 40 hours a week. This is the time I have. What is most important for you for me to be doing? And that's what I'll do.” 

Those kinds of conversations with their bosses versus on the other side, especially, I think, for small organizations, being a team player and having faith that other people are coming and this isn't going to last forever. How do you help people kind of negotiate when to maybe, “Yeah, do a little bit more” and also when to say, “You know what? Actually, no. I'm not working on Saturday. Your problem, boss” without being a jerk about it? 

Dr. Kristi: Yeah, and I think, again, it's a good time that you have more bargaining power to say things like that. Whereas in the past…

Dr. Lisa: I would never actually say that, just for the record, those specific words.

Dr. Kristi: I think you do have more power now than employees did in the past because in the past, they'd be like, “Well then, we'll find someone who will and see ya.” Now, everyone is hiring so they don't want to lose anyone else. I do think places are more willing to work with you than in the past. Again, it depends on the nature of the job and your position in the company, right? Because people who are in leadership positions, a lot of them right now are working 60 hours a week.

Dr. Lisa: And there's nobody else.

Dr. Kristi: There's nobody else to give them the work to but in those cases, if it's someone who just… multiple peers have left and they're taking on that work, we talk about who their supervisor is. One of my clients today, their supervisor is the CEO so it's a little tricky but they have more bargaining power than they realized. Part of it is empowering them and realizing that they have any bargaining power in saying, “No, I don't want to work 70 hours this week.” 

Then, some of my clients, it's very sort of ebbs and flows with that. They'll have to work a lot of hours and then it'll dip back down, but then, based on the nature of the job, if it's a cyclical type job, it goes back up again. Then, it's around stress management waiting for that dip again if it's expected but nobody can stay working 60, 70 hours and not burnout and not get sick. 

Yes, it's teaching them how to approach, again, based on their supervisor’s personality, all those kinds of dynamics. How do you approach them where it would be best received? Then, I actually have them practice with me in session sometimes. If they're really uncomfortable and they are not good at advocating or, not that they're not good at it but they've never done it, I'll have them practice with me just to get more comfortable with doing that sort of thing. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Oh, just the ideas you're communicating too. Yeah, we can all step it up a little bit sometimes but that there have to be limits. The consequences of trying to do everything for extended periods of time is burnout, it has a negative impact on your health, probably your relationships, your mental wellness. You actually can't do it for extended periods of time, then it's unreasonable that somebody would ask you to. 

Dr. Kristi: It would negatively impact your work. You're not doing productive work 70 hours a week. You're just not. In fact, most people aren't even doing really productive work eight hours a day. They've done studies on it. You're usually really productive for four hours out of your day. I think that that's unrealistic, but again, the leaders are in the position of “You don't have anyone.” 

I know my husband, they just lost three people I think. He's actively hiring as fast as he can. Part of it from the leadership position is “Okay, how?” Because a lot of times, there's red tape, and you have to go through HR, and all that stuff, but like, “Okay, how quickly can we get the notice out there that we're hiring to get more people in?” 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Yeah, definitely, and making that the priority. Yeah. 

Dr. Kristi: It's not an easy answer with that because it's a really hard time right now.  

Dr. Lisa: It really is and I'm glad that we're talking about different aspects of this. There's pockets of stress for employees also for employers, so on both sides of the equation, it can be really stressful. It can be stressful to be at work these days, it can be stressful to be at home. There's opportunities for stress in many different areas. 

How to Deal with Stress at Work through Self-Care

Dr. Lisa: Then, lastly, given all of that, my last question for you before we wrap up is lots of stress. What advice do you give your clients for how to manage their stress in such a way that it doesn't come out sideways either in their interpersonal relationships at work, it's easy to get snappy with people, or with other people in your life, your partner, your kids? What do you do with that stress? 

Dr. Kristi: That is something that I've had expressed to me a lot is because of increased stress, people are getting in more arguments with their spouse or their loved ones, or they're feeling just more snappy and more irritable. That's just where the importance of the self-care comes in. It's interesting because when people most need to use their self-care because their stress levels are high is when they tell me they're so stressed, they're not using them at all. 

Dr. Lisa: “I don't have time.” 

Dr. Kristi: “I don't have time. I don't have time to meditate.” That just kind of compounds the issue. It's just sometimes, people think, “Well, I don't have an extra hour a day for self-care. I barely have time for eating and sleeping and all that.” A couple of things: one thing I work with people on right away is sleep because that is the number one self-care thing. It's the foundation of everything else. If you don't do anything else but you get your sleeping right and you're sleeping quality, good amount of hours sleep, or you're rested, that right there is the best self-care you can do. 

I have so many clients that that's where we have to start because they're not sleeping well or their brain is going about all the things they have to do, they're not falling asleep. Yes, so sleep is number one. I work with people on that first. Beyond that, you don't need an hour a day. I would say if you have that on the weekend and you can go for a hike with loved ones or walk your dog out in nature, being outside at all any time of the day is so good. You get the benefits of the sunlight, vitamin D, again, tends to raise the good feeling hormones in your body. 

You only need a few minutes. Walk outside, walk your dog around the block, walk outside to get the mail, sit outside to have a cup of coffee in the morning, whatever it is. You only need five minutes to do a meditation. A lot of my clients, when they get up in the morning before the hectic craziness of the day starts, they'll take five minutes and meditate. They found it's more effective to do it every day just for five minutes than to wait until you have that magical hour and meditate once a week. You get the benefits, all the benefits just from a few minutes which is amazing. 

They've shown MRIs of what meditation actually does to your brain. It changes how your brain is operating so if you start out your day, you have a good night's sleep, you start out your day with five minutes of just deep breathing or meditation, you're starting out your day from a place of being centered and calm. Then, whatever happens in the day, you've set the tone for the day. Even if something chaotic happens, which often, honestly, it does, you feel like you can handle it better because you started out like, “Okay, I got this. Yes, it's crazy but I can handle crazy because I meditated this morning.” It's just interesting how it resets the pathways of the neurochemicals. I'm a nerd with all that stuff so I go into… 

Dr. Lisa: You're a psychologist. It's to be forgiven, right? 

Dr. Kristi: Yeah, I'm a huge nerd but I'm a big believer in looking at how your brain adapts and how you can change the neural pathways of your brain with the chemicals going around based on certain states you're in. If you get yourself in that state even once a day, you're training your brain to get back to that state easier, and then, you can use that when moments of chaos happen. 

You can get yourself calm faster, much faster. I think people think you have to be a monk who meditates for hours in a cave and we don't have that kind of time and it just takes a few minutes a day. I would say sleep and some kind of morning practice for five minutes, whether it's journaling, breathing, meditation, stretching, yoga, whatever. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah, and I heard some time away in there too. I think these ideas are so important, I think, for us to be talking out loud because I think I know that I do this. When you get super stressed and there’s work and there's all this stuff you have to do, it feels like the answer is to do more and to work faster and to spend more hours and to put in more time. What you're saying is that actually, the answer is to do the opposite of the impulse and stop. Go to bed, stop and meditate, go outside and that is actually the path to…

Dr. Kristi:  Absolutely. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, Thank you, Kristi.

Dr. Kristi: In fact, some of my clients, I will tell them to schedule a lunch break if they work through lunch and I tell them, “No, go walk around, go get some water, do something totally non-work-related because you will be more productive in that afternoon than if you had tried to push through.” You get more done by stopping.

Dr. Lisa: Wonderful reminder. Kristi, I feel you and I got a lot done today in this podcast. You shared so much wonderful information.

Dr. Kristi: Thank you.

Dr. Lisa: I really appreciate your time and your wisdom and I'm sure that our listeners today do too so thank you so much.

Dr. Kristi: Anytime, anytime. Happy to be here. Thank you, Lisa. 

[Outro Song]


The Impact of Emotional Intelligence

The Impact of Emotional Intelligence

The Impact of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is The Game-Changer

[social_warfare]

 

UNDERSTANDING THE IMPACT OF EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AT WORK: Emotional intelligence (or, “EI” for short) drives your success at work. On a personal level, your career aspirations can stall or get entirely off track without emotional intelligence. However, emotional intelligence impacts entire organizations too. Without leaders who have high levels of emotional intelligence, organizations are negatively impacted through strained employee and customer relationships, higher turnover rates, and often lower bottom line results.

One Leader's Journey to Emotional Intelligence

As a career coach and leadership coach, I have a front row seat to observe just how impactful the presence or absence of emotional intelligence can be. I know from my work with individual leaders as well as organizations and management teams, that having even just one leader committed to improving their levels of emotional intelligence will affect your entire group. 

How to Develop Emotional Intelligence

Here's a real-world example of how to develop emotional intelligence.

I once had a leadership coaching client I'll call Jim, who was in a leadership position at a large, successful tech organization. Showing toughness and determination were obvious strengths for this leader and had played a huge part in his advancing to high levels in the tech industry.

But, after a certain level, what Jim knew how to do — being firm and direct, hardheaded and focused on results — wasn't working out for him anymore. It was easy to see that this 46-year-old leader had stopped moving forward and was stalled out in their current mid-management job, unhappy, and constantly wondering why the VP position wasn’t offered.

Even though Jim was working as hard as ever and driving his team towards even greater goals, there had been no mention of moving into levels of higher responsibility since joining the company 3 years ago. Jim was genuinely mystified: Couldn’t everyone see his advanced tech skills, his grinding work ethic, his name brand school, and impressive resume?

“Company sales were up, my team likes me, I make sure we do a happy hour every week— so why no promotions?” this executive questioned.  “And it was all but stated in my interviews that with hard work, meeting quotas and building a strong sales team, a promotion to VP was an opportunity that would be there.”

As if the frustration and disappointment that was mounting at work weren’t enough, Jim's relationships at home with his wife and kids were unhappy. His wife suggested they try couples counseling. (Jim felt this was entirely unnecessary…. at first).  

Emotional Intelligence is Often a Blind Spot For Leaders

What was creating so many problems for Jim was that he had zero awareness around how other people were feeling in their interactions with him. This was true for his co-workers, reports, leadership, and his wife and kids too.

Yes, Jim had a lot of impressive tech knowledge, skills, and fun personality (in a back-slapping kind of way) but these positives were overshadowed by his inability to be aware of and manage strong emotions or show empathy to those on the team. He had always viewed his fist pounding, demands, and tendency to talk over peers and customers instead of listening as “his style.”  He did not understand that his way of relating to other people was getting in the way of forming collaborative relationships, goodwill, and cooperation — both at work, and at home. 

Emotional Intelligence Coaching: The Lightbulb Goes Off

The organization had also reached its limits with this leader and suggested that emotional intelligence (EI) coaching and leadership coaching would be beneficial.  Not particularly a happy camper during our first meeting, this changed over time and good things started happening!

Before getting involved in Emotional Intelligence coaching, Jim, like many, genuinely believed that his outgoing personality, and drive for success,  paired with a strong set of software development skills and experience should be enough to advance his career. However, Jim was also a smart guy, and he was open to trying something different when he could see for himself that his usual way of doing things wasn't working out. [For more on this, check out “How to Get Ahead at Work“]

The first step of our emotional intelligence coaching work consisted of  360 emotional intelligence survey assessment called the ESCI, which would help us to understand the impact Jim was having on those around him. As part of my assessment process, I interviewed Jim's current manager and had his sales team, peers, and several customers all complete an online survey providing invaluable (anonymous) feedback.

In the first meeting to review survey results, a lightbulb went on for this leader.  Though it was tough to hear that the ambition, drive, and force that were self-described strengths could also be viewed as limitations, it was obvious that this leader’s behaviors were getting in the way of a high-level promotion and success at work. It wasn’t the ambition and drive that was negative; it was the expression of those (impatience, yelling, over-focus on output at the expense of people) that was a problem. However, with Jim's newfound self-awareness he could now understand them as the career-limiting behaviors that they were and change could begin.

Emotional Intelligence Can Be Learned

Through coaching and determined practice, this manager improved key leadership skills. One skill area that was notably low on the assessment (and a total “blind spot”) was mentoring and coaching employees. What a great change on the sales team when they began to see their leader had more interest in how they could each grow at work and made sure they got what they needed to be successful. Jim's sincere interest in how people were doing (and the ability to listen and understand) went much further towards building moral and positive relationships than his happy hour.

Most importantly, Jim learned that leaders need to manage conflict effectively.  This manager’s emotional intelligence survey results were clear: a better way to handle inevitable work conflicts needed to happen, especially with the sales team and customers. (Interestingly, survey outcomes showed this leader managed conflicts more effectively with peers and with his own manager.) Being more self-aware meant better self-management, which meant no more fist-pounding or loud-voiced demands, which meant far better workplace relationships. Instead, Jim learned to recognize and manage his own feelings, and show (and feel) empathy and consideration for the thoughts, feelings, and ideas of others.

It took a lot of practice to change old habits and stitch together change, but Jim was able to put his core strengths of intelligence, determination, and hard work to great use. He was successful.

The Benefit of Emotional Intelligence Coaching

As is my process in emotional intelligence coaching and leadership coaching, I checked back in with Jim and his company. According to the organization some months later, company-wide positive changes had been experienced because of Jim's turnaround. Customers were more satisfied (at least in part) as a result of this one leader’s understanding of their impact in the workplace. Key employees were more productive. They'd reduced turnover. Leadership was happy.

Jim was happy too. Because of his long-standing ability to be resilient and manage change, he was able to drive his career to the next level. He got that promotion. But perhaps even more importantly, he'd also strengthened relationships with his wife and family. Jim's new understanding of the importance of emotions, how to be more sensitive to the feelings of others, ability to listen, and to communicate more respectfully touched every area of his life in a very positive way. 

Jim can do it, and you can too! I hope this story inspires you to develop emotional intelligence in yourself. It's worth it.

Sincerely,

Linda Pounds, M.A., LMFT, Certified EI Coach

 

[social_warfare]

HEALTHY PERSONAL & PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS | Linda Pounds, M.A., LMFT is a relationship expert and certified emotional intelligence coachwith years of experience as a marriage counselor, executive coach, and leadership coach. She’s here to help you cultivate positive relationships in every area of your life. Learn more about Linda…

Let's  Talk

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Career Pathing: How to Find Your Passion

Career Pathing: How to Find Your Passion

Finding a career that aligns with your passion can be difficult. Often, fears and outside factors can make it hard to commit to moving forward with big picture plans and career goals. Nonetheless, it is possible with self-reflection and self-awareness to develop a plan that truly aligns with your passions and goals. In this interview with certified career counselor Megan R., we will discuss how to make your passion your career. 

In this episode, you will learn how to get clarity about your passion. You will also learn the other factors and hindrances that stop you from pursuing it. Knowing these can help you better understand yourself and the path you have to take.

Tune in to the full interview to learn how to make your passion your career path in the happiest and most successful way possible!

In This Episode: How to Make Your Passion Your Career

  • Learn how to take inventory of what’s going on in your life
  • Learn how to break out of choice paralysis
  • Understand how to reflect on your past experiences and make meaning out of them
  • Find the importance of work-life balance in choosing your career
  • Value yourself and practice self-care
  • Discover the power of career counseling and how it can help you
  • Find out why you feel burnout

Episode Highlights

Choice Paralysis and Getting Unstuck

While 2020 and the pandemic resulted in sudden changes in our lifestyles, they also gave us plenty of opportunities. This time at home allowed us to take inventory of what's currently happening in our lives (and what isn't). For some of us, this past year has been a form of an awakening – realizing what we may be missing or seeing potential areas of growth both personally and professionally. When it comes to “getting unstuck” and “getting started,” here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you managing your time in the best way possible?
  • Are you on the right career path? 
  • Is your work in line with your passion?

While the answers to these questions can lead to a more precise understanding of where you're currently at and where you would like to be, they can also lead to choice paralysis (and more questions!). Now, we don't want to deter you from exploring these questions and really diving into your answers because this is an important step in the process of discovering your passion. However, it's important to be aware that this feeling of choice paralysis is common! And you're going to get through it!

As Denver Career Counselor, Megan R. puts it, “Sometimes we become so hopeful and so excited about what could happen next, [we] start to grapple with…paralysis analysis. Saying things like, ‘I put all of these options in front of me. And I don't even know if half these options are viable.'

So, how do you get unstuck when you want to move forward in your quest for find the perfect career path? It helps to understand the problems that hold you back from making a choice.

When you want to get really clear about your next steps and make sure they are in alignment with your overall goal, career counseling can assist you in that step. A career counselor can help you unravel the worries and fears that you may be experiencing and help you find a clearer understanding of what your next move should be. They can also help you set things in motion once you find the right path.

Finding Work/Life Balance On Your Career Path

Some of us may be scared to pursue our passions because of the needed dedication that would take away from non-work related life. The best way to prepare is to have a plan. When it comes to work/life balance, it's important that you understand what changes may need to take place, especially temporary changes. This way you can be prepared for any challenges that may show up when you begin your journey on a new career path. Here are some questions to reflect on:

  • Does your career change require additional schooling or higher education of some sort? If so, do you need to keep your job while in school?
  • Do you have a spouse and kids? How will you balance your most important relationships?
  • Do you have a roommate that is also sharing your workspace at home? How will the effect your experience and how can you set yourself up for success?

To better understand how your work/life balance may be affected by these changes, Megan suggests asking yourself, “What kind of timeline are we working with here?” Knowing the answer to this question will help you understand how to pace yourself through these changes and will help allow you some wiggle room along the way.

Megan refers to this process as “identifying the landmines.” Landmines are the sudden changes that may happen in your life. It can also help you prepare you when suddenly facing these challenges, making it easier to move forward. 

Career Pathing: What Is It?

Career pathing is the process of determining the career development course of an employee inside an organization. Initially, the trait-factor approach determines where a person should work. It factors in your traits and the job you are most likely to succeed in based on other's experiences. While this may have helped before, it is essential to acknowledge that human beings and society are getting more complex.

Career counseling is beginning to shift into a life design paradigm. In this design, you take into consideration that your employee is a complex human being. So you must help them understand the answers to these questions:

  • What are the roles that I hold?
  • What are my long-term goals?
  • What are my values?

When the answers to these questions are taken into account, the “employee” who holds a particular role, is now seen as an individual on a particular career path. This way of thinking can help employers better understand their employees career goals and help support them on their career path.

How to Find Your Passion

For some, their passion is clear as day. Others find it hard to understand and define what it is. The most straightforward approach is to start at the beginning and ask yourself these questions:

  • What went well in my past jobs and hobbies?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What would you like to replicate from previous experiences?
  • What would you not like to happen again?

It is easier to work from the past because these are events that already happened. You don’t need to think about creating new answers; you only need to reflect. You need to make meaning of the past first for better self-awareness. Reflecting and brainstorming on the past can also give you a roadmap to follow when choosing your career path.

Burnout: How Does This Happen?

Unfortunately, many people don’t know what career counselors are. Even Megan shares that she didn’t know about them until she is already in the field of counseling. Because we skip this process of taking inventory of ourselves before we even pick our college degrees, we lack self-awareness. And so, along the way, only some of us stay on the path we chose. In contrast, others get bored or experience burnout.

Why does burnout happen? There are typically one of two reasons for burnout:

  1. We stop finding joy in what we are doing because we stopped reflecting. When you stop reflecting on your experiences, it's easy to lose sight of what you enjoy and what you don't. You can quickly find yourself in a monotonous cycle of going through the motions. By setting time aside to reflect on your day or week, you're allowing room for growth and understanding. You get to learn a little more about yourself, your passions, and even your dislikes.
  2. Outside factors also influence this lack of motivation. These outside factors could include sudden life changes like marriage, children, or sickness. When important life changes occur, we can revert to working out of necessity and not because we love what we are doing.

By finding meaning in your past experiences you can foster hope and make looking at the future easier.

Changing Your Career Path

Are you ready to make a change to your career path? Congratulations! This is an exciting and hopeful time. To best set yourself up for success when changing your career path here are some important career path tips to take into account.

1. Begin working with an expert career counselor. By connecting with a career counselor early, you can receive expert advice on setting up your career path, your timeline goals, and putting together the steps for achieving these goals.

2. Reflect on your experiences. When you reflect on your experiences you better understand what it is that you enjoy (and what you don't!). Setting aside time daily or weekly to reflect on your experiences will help you make more confident choices moving forward on your career path.

3. Know that it's okay to move slow. Instead of jumping into these drastic changes, know that it's okay to move slow and take small steps as you move forward. You don't have to have it all figured out on day one.

4. Make space for a healthy work/life balance. If quitting your current job means financial instability, then maybe it's better to wait to fully quit your current position until you're more financially stable. Also, keep in mind your most important relationships. How will these changes affect your family, your partner, your friends? Make space in your career path for those you care the most about. Although your time together may change a little in the meantime, it's still important to maintain these relationships throughout these changes.

Resources

  • Interested in learning more about Megan R and her career counseling services? Read her bio and schedule a free consultation with Megan here: Meet Megan R!
  • Growing Self – Learn more about our free online career resources for you!

Megan R., M.A., LPCC, NCC, CCC has shared invaluable information about finding your passion and choosing your right career path. What did you connect and relate to the most? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

Did you like this interview? Subscribe to us now to discover how to live a life full of love, success, and happiness!

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How to Make Your Passion Your Career

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: So Many Things by Aurora D’Amico

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast

[So Many Things by Aurora D’Amico plays] 

Dr. Lisa: That's So Many Things by Aurora D’Amico. Beautiful song, and perfect for our topic today. Because today we're talking about how to get clarity when you could literally go in any direction, it seems like. I think that's one of the weird benefits, almost, of this experience that we've just been through together, of having it feel like the world is basically just falling apart. Now we all have to regroup and rebuild. But in the kind of hidden opportunity there is that it disrupts things, it creates space. It's harder, I think, to make major life changes when you're already in this like, really clear, entrenched path, and everything is just moving in one direction. It's hard to get off that train sometimes. But when things feel a little iffy, and when there's not a ton of clarity about what exactly is going to be happening next, it can create this space, this opportunity to think about, “Well, what do I want to have happen next? And how can I potentially design it?” 

I think a lot of people are in the space right now. And some people it's showing up in their relationships, some in the sort of existential what am I doing with my life thing. And there can be many components of that, certainly, but an important one of those is, “What am I doing with my career?” 

I think that's why, I mean, here at Growing Self, we've seen a ton of clients showing up with an interest in talking about their careers. So, we do career counseling, and career coaching, professional development, coaching, and that's a lot of what we're doing lately—is talking with people about how to either make a pivot in their career, or go more deeply into their chosen career path. But the most important thing that I'm hearing over and over again from our clients is, “I need meaning. I need this to be in alignment with my passion and what I really want to be doing with my life, because I know there's sort of this renewed awareness that life is short, and that we need to make it count.” So that's the theme. 

In addition to that part, been seeing just a ton of really smart, resourceful, successful people, who are in a decent place, but they're, they're saying, “I feel like it could be more,” right. They're also saying that they feel like they have a lot of different opportunities that they could go in many different directions. And that in itself, while it's a good thing, can also feel really paralyzing, because people get very anxious about, “Okay, so I could do 10 different things, but which one is the right thing?” Especially when they're all, maybe kind of interesting or kind of good and they have to choose one, in order to make it happen. Then there's this stress. They wind up getting stuck, an indecision, where they feel like it's hard to make any choice at all, which then just perpetuates more of the same. As we all know, we can stay stuck in the same place for quite a long time without that energy to go in one direction or the other. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Choice Paralysis

So what we're talking about today is how do we begin to break out of that paralysis, especially with new opportunities on the horizon and pick not just a path, but the “right path.” To help us with this, I have invited a colleague of mine on today's episode. We're going to be speaking with career counselor and professional development coach, Megan Rankin. Megan is my colleague, here at Growing Self, and she is amazing. She is a legitimate expert on this topic. She has a whole master's degree in career development. And I mean, so this is what she specializes in. She's a certified career counselor. She's been doing this for a while and she is also has a background as a therapist, too. She's here today to share her perspective on what it takes to get clear about that career path and start putting things into motion, especially when you have a lot of options. So Megan, thank you. 

Megan Rankin: Of course, yes. Yay. Well, absolutely, no, thank you for having me. This is definitely to kind of piggyback off of what you shared. A lot of my clients come to me at that point. It's not necessarily a crisis, or “I don't know what to do,” but they do have a lot of options in front of them. A Lot of times, it's “I just need someone to talk this through with, and I would love a little guidance on how do I take that next step. How do I even know a next step is warranted?” 

Yeah, absolutely. There's a lot of that going on. I think COVID stirred a lot of that up for us. And as a career counselor choosing to see that as a great opportunity, right, take inventory of what's going on in our lives. And make sure we are using our time well, when we're working from home or maybe unemployed or whatever COVID brought for us in our career. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, definitely. Well, I love your positive spin and that idea that it's an opportunity, and that—I mean, I know, it sounds kind of trite but hidden in difficult life experiences, there usually is an opportunity of some kind, but we just have to have to find it.

Okay, so if we go into this more deeply. Say that you have a career counseling client who's showed up and is in that situation. They're stable, maybe it's not a bad situation, but they're really having that sense of wanting more. They want a career that is in alignment with their passion, and they're doing something that they kind of like, but it's not as good as it could be.  I'm wondering, if you could just, maybe you could start by just taking us into what are some of the things that you see these clients grappling with? I mean, not so much specific choices, but like, how does it feel?

Megan: Yeah, absolutely. It's interesting, it's a catch 22, right? Because if we do have a positive spin on it, and say, “Okay, this is a nice time to take some inventory and look through some things.” There's hope in that, and we love hope. We want to see hope. It's where I start a lot of time, let's foster help, if that doesn't feel like it's kind of readily available for us. 

You were mentioning, it almost creates paralysis. Sometimes we become so hopeful, and so excited about what could happen next, that clients start to grapple with, oh, my gosh, paralysis analysis. “I put all of these options in front of me. I don't even know if half of these options are viable, if I should even be researching any of these options. Do I even like half of these options? What about all the other people this might affect?” I have a lot of clients that kind of forget. It's very normal. 

People are affected by your job, right? Yes, it's a very personal experience, your career, because you're the one showing up doing the work advancing or not. But what about the family? Who are you living with that's impacted by this career choice? Do you have kids? Do you have a spouse? Do you live with roommates, they're also working from home, and if you make a career pivot, now you're going to work from home with them. 

Definitely, grappling with just the context of their career. That is something that I don't take lightly as a career counselor. My therapy background kicks in and says, “Hey, what else is this spilling into?” Yes, you've got a 9 to 5 self that we're going to explore, your career self. What about when you close your laptop, or you hang up the phone, or you get back in your car and drive home? So not only are they grappling with just the options that are out there, we're also grappling with what kind of transition are we actually embarking on? If we do choose to shake some things up, and what's going to kind of be different if we do take a step in the next direction. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that's so important. I could see how that's a really necessary place to start. It's like, not even just what you want to do, but like the context of everything. That's a great point because I hear from people all the time that their career can become so consuming. So, like much of their life, it's almost difficult to have anything else. They get home at the end of the day, and they're so wiped out or exhausted. Or if your career pivot is going to require graduate school, and you have to maintain your job through that, how will that impact your personal life? Having that kind of conversation first to map it all out can be necessary.

Career Pathing

Megan: Right. Well, we hope it saves us from a little heartache, right? Because if we do have the beauty of we’re not rushing into jobs. Sometimes that happens, we do have timelines, we do have families to support. But in exploring the context, that helps us determine what our timeline is. 

Often when people come and meet with me, and then we start exploring the options, one of my very first questions is, “What kind of timeline are we working on here? Are you looking to be working with me for a long time? And we can take this, bit by bit? Because the salary that you're working with, or the paychecks you've got coming in cover you?” Or are you looking at me like, “No, Megan, this change needed to have happened yesterday. We're trying to move the ball really, really quickly here.” 

So in establishing a timeline, it does give us a little wiggle room. It also helps us when we think about that long term. I call it identifying the landmines. Right, when we're looking into our future and what's out there, it can be really helpful to anticipate some things. It doesn't take away. Right? Landmines happen, big transitions happen in our lives, I think we could all agree with COVID, we all experienced probably one of the biggest transitions that we could not anticipate. But even just a little work around. “I might struggle with networking. It tends to make me feel a little bit uncomfortable” If we can anticipate that, when it comes to the networking piece, we've already known, “Hey, that's going to be a little scary. Maybe we take some of the scariness out of it.” And we now spend a little extra time in that field or in that arena of job searching, makes it a little easier moving forward. So in looking at context, we can anticipate sort of what’s going on. 

Dr. Lisa: That makes sense. Because it's like there's a difference between somebody who really just needs a different job, like stat, versus somebody that you're working with, and it's conversations around, imagine like, “Do you want children? Where do you want to be living? What does your partner think about?” The phrase that's coming up is that designing a life type conversations compared to getting a different job, because those two things are really different.

Megan: Yeah. Well, and you're kind of actually speaking to some really big paradigm shifts that we did see in the career world. For a long time, moving forward, it was kind of that trait factor approach, right? Where if you have these skills, these aptitudes, well, here's a job that you can do. We've seen success for people like you in the field, go for it. There's still some really great knowledge we can glean from that. 

As we're getting more complex as human beings, our society is getting more complex, so as our context, right? And you're kind of pointing out the kind of this life design paradigm that career counseling is really shifting into, and that takes in consideration, what are the roles I hold? What are my long-term goals? What are my values? It takes the employee and makes them into a human, rather than just an employee. Because good career counseling acknowledges the human in you. And says, “Hey, where are we getting this information from? What information is important to you when we are looking for jobs?” 

Absolutely, life design is—that's where I feel most comfortable operating. And that's actually how I'm able to act as someone who honors her therapy path while being a really good career counselor. I kind of blend the two in that way. 

Dr. Lisa: That's perfect. Because I think sometimes that's what people think is going to happen when they show up for career counseling. It's like you're going to give them a couple of tests, and then you're going to compute their scores, and then say, “Okay, you should be a forest ranger. Here are three places that you can apply and go do that.” Right. And, but yours. 

Megan: See you when you’re done. 

Dr. Lisa: There's that old school mentality. But what you're saying is that there's so much more to it, that it's not just what you could do, or that you would enjoy doing, or that has the benefits that you would be interested in. It's who are you as a human and what's your “Why?” Why are we doing all of this? 

What Is My Passion?

Megan: Absolutely. The “why” is huge. That's what we focus on a lot of times, and especially  when that word passion comes up. I have a lot of clients, “Megan, I want to do something I'm passionate about, I'm passionate about it.” 

In kind of determining passion, first, we're starting with defining passion, because my passion is going to look a lot different than your passion, versus the guy walking down the street, he has a different passion than you do. So we're really spending some time defining—what does passion even look like. Because if we don't know, we're just shooting in the dark. Right? So we start with that. 

Then as we're kind of moving forward and figuring other things out, I'm asking you about, “What did your parents have to say about career? What did your teachers have to say about career? How is that influencing the work that you're doing? Is that playing a factor in this?” Maybe you receive some negative information about the world of work and about career and that's actually holding you back, and we didn't really understand that just yet. That kind of matching approach would neglect that. 

But looking at the person as a human says, “Hey, let's check out the messaging around this.” Or even, “What does the culture say about this? What messages are you intaking from our culture, from our society? Are you disqualifying yourself before we even put it on the table? Or do you have preconceived ideas about, “Well, I have to do that because of X, Y, and Z.” Right. We want to define passion. Those pieces, that's part of understanding your passion and getting clarity around the why.

Dr. Lisa: I think I'm hearing you say, the first step is to do some exploration on how you got to where you are right now, almost. It’s did you create this? Or were you sort of bending in the direction of these cultural forces and messages? Sort of differentiating what's you and the authentic self-directed part, versus what your mom thought you should do, or where your mom thought you should be when you are 31. Is that what you see happening? 

Megan: 100%. Absolutely, yeah, definitely. In that connection, you’re really surprising for people, when I do ask questions around their past, they're like, “What do you mean? We're preparing for my future, five years?” “Yeah, we are. We're going to hold space for that.” And they've got a lot of cool questions oriented around that. The conversation around that, though, is so much more fruitful if you trust me for just a little bit and allow us to kind of pivot and turn back and say, “What brought you here? How did that go for you? Do you have some thoughts about your career?”

I also a lot of times in job searching, maybe when we are kind of getting into the more tough—kind of what we will call hard skills, right? Are you interviewing well, is your resume in line? Does your cover letter look good? When I kind of explore a lot of that, sometimes there's parts of our job past that we actually haven't made peace with. We need to spend some time around that. Right? So let's say you were in a job, you had a really negative experience, maybe management, you didn't enjoy management. 

Dr. Lisa: It’s toxic environment kind of thing? 

Megan: Toxic. Yeah, absolutely. Yep. Something that may be dragged you down. Maybe you got fired, or you got let go, and you haven't done any healing around that experience. When we kind of move forward and work on those hard skills, that actually might come up a little bit. If we can do some work on it before we get to that resume and cover letter, it's going to make that resume and cover letter work really fruitful. 

That can be a surprise for people when I say, “Hey, tell me about what brought you here? How did you get to sitting in front of me from the start to the end? And let's pull some of that apart.” Trust piece comes in, because I asked them, “Can you trust me this is going to be effective?” Because sometimes, people are like, “This is dumb, I don't want to talk about it.” And I honor that, it can be hard, right? That typically indicates to me though, we do need to do a little work around what brought you here, and make sure we kind of make sense and meaning, right? The life design. When we're thinking about you as a human and how you've designed your life, I got to know what artistry and craftsmanship you do.

Dr. Lisa: Oh my gosh. I have never actually thought about it in that way before. But it's almost like shifting from a career or a job. I am such a relationship person. I'm running it through my relationship filter right now. But it would be impossible and not wise to jump into a new relationship without doing a little bit of an autopsy on the last one and how did that impact your… Even the dating coaching clients around talking about relationship history, where have you been, and certainly for couples, because these life experiences are so impactful. 

What I'm hearing you say is that you're slowing people down sometimes to mine the growth experiences out of like, “What did you learn about yourself and your values in this situation with this toxic narcissistic boss?” What are you going to take from that, right?

Megan: Everyone's had one. Additionally a nice add on to this, not only do we kind of understand our past a little more and make some meaning out of it, there's some—you said the word kind of mining, right? I think of hidden gems. So when people talk to me about, “Hey, I want to do something I'm passionate about.” You kind of stare at the abyss that is your future, how hard is it to define passion? Oh my gosh, you could spend 45 minutes sitting in silence and never fully defined passion. 

So when I have clients that give me that blank stare of, “I don't really know,” I say, “Hey, let's take an easier approach. Let's start with your past. What went well, what didn't go well? What would you like to replicate? What could you do without never occurring again in your future?” Looking through those past experiences can be a very, very comfortable place to start. It's already happened, you're not having to create new answers. You're just reflecting what occurred. And it raises self-awareness, it kind of flexes—I use the kind of gym analogy a lot with clients—we're flexing muscles together. 

The big muscle we work with in the beginning is reflection. Can you reflect on what's occurred in the past and make meaning out of it first, like we just chatted about? But can we also glean some really cool gems from it? “Did you really like working with kiddos in that last place? Really, you did? How are we going to fit that into our definition of passion? What does that mean for your future when we plan and kind of strategize and brainstorm together? What’s the past?” To see if that can give you kind of a roadmap.

Dr. Lisa: That's great. It's really that exploration and the mining to figure out who you are and what is important. 

Okay, can I ask you a question? This is somewhat random, and I'm sure it's probably different for every person that I know. Here, in our practice, what we see a lot of, the types of clients are people who are sometimes fairly well established even, in careers in which they are objectively successful. They're okay. Nothing terrible is happening, but they're just not feeling it. They're bored sometimes, or they're like, “Eh, is this all?” 

Question one related to that, how do you think that happens? Usually it requires at least some intention to get on a trajectory. A lot of times, it happens when we're so young. We need to choose college majors when we're 18. I don't know about you, I didn't know if I was coming or going when I was 18. I mean…. 

Megan: I got a lot to say about college majors, don’t even worry about it.

Dr. Lisa: I mean, do people just like get on this trajectory before they even truly know themselves? Is that how the situation is created? Or do you see other things lay there when you have a 29 year old who's dreading going to work on Monday? How does that happen? 

Megan: Yeah, a couple of different things. And you kind of, you touched on it right, with each person there’s a little difference. But college, absolutely. If someone does go the kind of “traditional route,” where they finish up their secondary schooling, they finished high school, and they are going to move into a university setting. And yeah, there's a lot of pressure in those four years, if you do a four-year degree, if you do a two-year degree, to kind of make a stamp right? And say, “This is what I'm doing. I picked this major.” If you're one of the really great people, and you go to your career center, awesome. Maybe you've done a little work around that. 

Fun fact, I'm a career counselor, and I never once went to my career center. No, it happens, yes, we're the—oh my gosh, we're bad. The bulk of us are like this, we didn't even know this field existed until we got into it ourselves. 

But what happens a lot of times, there's nothing wrong with picking that trajectory, sticking to it, moving forward. That shows dedication, that shows commitment, I think that's great. What I noticed when that happens is a lot of times, there's just a lack of self-awareness. Because when you think about that, there was really no pause that was required of you to take inventory. So when you let's say, do pick that major. And let's say I'm going to pick on human development, because that's what I majored in, right. So I picked that trajectory. I get into my very first job, I keep moving, I keep moving, I keep moving. 

When I'm motivated by just getting the next job, never am I required to pause and say, “Why the heck did I pick human development in the first place? Why am I even enjoying this anymore? Am I enjoying this anymore? When my self-awareness and my reflection muscle, like I was talking about that exercise analogy, when that gets weak, when I'm not working out reflecting, it's not going to be my go-to exercise. I'm not going to reflect on what's happening. I'm not going to kind of initiate my own pause and say, “Am I actually enjoying it?” So that sometimes happens. That's one of the first things I see. 

The second thing that I see for people, when they are let's take that 29-year-old, just don't even want to get up and go to work today, outside factors can influence that. Some people get married earlier than they had anticipated. They have children earlier than anticipated. They experience a cross country move that they had never thought was going to happen. They have a parent who gets sick that they now have to be the caretaker for. 

A lot of times, what I just say, life happens. And it was by necessity that you just had to keep moving from job to job because that paycheck was really important to you. That's just as valid of an experience as someone who picked a major and stuck with it all the way till the end. That’s why when I'm with my clients, I'm taking time to figure out how I got there. We can make meaning around that. 

I want to know when you tell me, you had kids earlier than you expected, tell me how important they are to you, though. And did you still use that time really well because I'm sure you did. Even if you were moving paycheck to paycheck, let's make some meaning around it, maybe take some of—I find when people are at that spot, there's shame. Right? They're looking at themselves at 29 thinking…

Dr. Lisa: How did I get here? 

Megan: “I really envisioned something different.” Exactly. And there's a lot of despair, actually, that comes out of like, “Man, I don't really know how this even happened.” When I mentioned hope, right, it's really hard to do any kind of career work without hope. We're going to kind of figure out at that age 29, I hate this spot. “Okay, let's make some meaning of how you got here, though, first. That fosters hope, it's going to be a little easier to look forward.” So those are kind of the two big, I would say, processes that I see people get in there. It's dependent on each clients. 

Dr. Lisa: It makes so much sense. But I could almost see how like having it make sense to your clients, too. You brought up words, I mean, big words like shame and despair. But to be able to tell the story about, yeah, “Here's what was actually going on in my life when I made this decision. And this is why it made sense at the time. I could see how, many times, these decisions are like the path of least resistance in some ways.” And then over time, it kind of snowballs because your work experience, your work history qualifies you for more of this situation. And so you’re like, you keep growing and developing in a field that you are sort of ambivalent about, to begin with. And then, at a certain point, like, you have a great income, you have all the things and it's hard to let go of, because there's almost a lot to lose without idea of—I mean, it's not always starting over, certainly, but I think it can be scary.

How to Find Your Passion

Megan: Yeah, but it can feel that way. It can feel even if it's not fully starting over, you're still probably for one of the first times in your life, out loud saying, “I'm not happy where I’m at.” And that alone can really be—it's jarring to kind of admit that though, sticking with this 29—I’m sorry for all the 29-year-olds out there, I'm sure people are doing well at 29.

Dr. Lisa: It's a crossroads that that age, yeah, 28 to 32. 

Megan: And we love them, we love them. That can be—imagine having to reflect on your whole life and say, “Wow, my choices got me here. Okay, but I'm doing all right, I'm going to make some changes. It's a really scary part to be in.” That's why career counseling can be so wonderful. You finally have somebody to have that feeling with, if despair comes up, if shame comes up. A lot of people though, it's excitement. And it's, “Okay, I'm ready to do it. I can't believe we're finally—we get past that panic of oh my gosh, everything shifting, the excitement kicks in, the hope kicks in. The what's next? 

A lot of people get really ambitious. They're like, “Okay, I've been waiting all this time, right?” There's this energy in them that comes up.We just got to make a little meaning of it first, and something that I really enjoy kind of letting people in on when we do start talking about “Okay, what's next, and how can we do this?” When we're making meaning of that past, or when we're naming some of the feelings that we're having, and we're just getting language around it, we're actually kind of using a double-edged sword. Not only are you going to feel a lot better about it and find some hope, you also just practice articulating that to an employer. 

Let's say we are in an instance where 29 years in the making, you've been working on this career, your resume shows that. Nw, let's say I'm in human development, and I'm shifting the business. “Oh my gosh, my resume doesn't look at all like what it should look like to get me into business.” So, when I'm in that interview, and they're asking me, “Hey, Megan, there's a pretty big gap between the direction you're headed and where you've been. Help us understand.” You've already spent time working with me, putting language to this experience, articulating it, understanding it, taking the shame out of it, taking the fear out of it. It's a really, really, kind of hidden skill that I try to get my clients to enjoy with me of, “Thanks for doing this hard work.” First, you feel better, benefit number one. Second, these employers are really going to enjoy what meaning you did make out of it, and you just kind of without knowing it practice interviewing skills. So, I’m little sneaky about that, but it’s good. 

Dr. Lisa: But before somebody can sell themselves to another person or an employer, it's like they have to have sold themselves on “yes,” they have to get that cut that type of clarity. That is like working through it with you and having those conversations and yeah. Wow. 

Megan: Absolutely. 

Career Counselling

Dr. Lisa: Okay, so now, I don't know if this has come up in your career counseling conversations, but I have talked to clients who sometimes struggle with the situation, because I think it can be difficult to have to figure out how bad is bad enough for me to want to burn this all down and go do a different thing. But it's almost—let's see, what are the words? How can people get clear as to whether or not they are really unhappy with this job specifically, versus what is kind of normal and expected when it comes to any career path? 

Personally, I feel like I'm quite passionate about the work that I do. I had to have a couple career iterations before I figured that out. I'm sure you feel the same, like, there are some days where you're like, “Oh, can I do this today? Yes, I can. I can do it. I'm drinking my coffee, I'm going to do it.”  There's always ebb and flow, and I think that it can be difficult for people to sometimes be, “Okay, so if I feel this way sometimes, does this mean that I'm in the wrong career? Because there's something that it could be more passionate about? Or is this just what it feels like to be in a long-term career?” Like a long term relationship, you know? There are times when your partner, like the rest of us, is a mixed bag. It's not always fun. Just sorting through, doesn't mean I need a different career, or is this me needing to work on myself? How bad is bad enough to make—and I know that this is a big, complicated, probably incoherent question that I've just asked of you. I'm sure your clients probably come in, with some kind of download that’s similar around with that I said. 

Megan: I am so used to, right making sense of the—I get a lot of “I'm sorry, I just thought about it.” That’s fine. 

Dr. Lisa: Exactly. That’s what we do on this podcast, which is I just word vomit.

How to Find a Career You Love

Megan: Yeah, yes. Let the thoughts roll. Yes. You know what? That can be a really hard to kind of define that threshold, it’s a really challenging threshold to define. It is. A lot of times it's client to client, circumstances to circumstances. 

First thing we're looking at, how secure is that job making you? Before we do any craziness, is this a job that paycheck to paycheck, if that paycheck were to go away, things would not be looking good? We have to take in the reality of the situation first, when we think about that, once we've done some work around that. For some clients, that's a really quick answer of like, “I'm good, it's time.” For other clients, we're going to have to kind of reach that threshold, get some skills around hanging in that threshold because we need to stay in this job for a little bit longer. That's okay. 

Let's take the great scenario of I'm ready, “My savings is set. I'm good to go.” When we think about ebbs and flows, and kind of how we tackle them in a day-to-day situation, the first thing you're going to look at, and this is actually a really fun activity you can do with somebody or on your own: envision your life at a 10 year mark and a five year mark. Start as far out as possible. For some people that far out mark may only be two years, and that's okay. Some of my younger clients, when you're just getting out of school, it's going to be that, you're, “I don't really know this field just yet.” So, we're only looking at two years, that's okay. 

Pick your timeframe. I'll do 10 years, and we'll use my personal life example. In 10 years, I've got a lot of goals around it. When I reflect on where I'm at currently, I asked myself the question of “Does this job align with my 10-year goal.” Typically, thankfully, right now, my answer is yes. So, when I'm pouring that cup of coffee with a sleepy man in my eye, because it's Monday, and I don't want to go to work, I say to myself, In 10 years, you're going to have done so much work to get here, it's going to be worth it.” 

Now, let's say you have your 10-year vision, and when you think about that 10-year mark, I challenge you to think about where are you living? Who are you living with? What car are you driving, what groceries do you have in your fridge? Think about the lifestyle you want when you think about that 10 year goal. Not just “I want to have this job title.”Got to get more specific. When you think about and you detail out that vision, let's say the answer actually is, “Wow, in 10 years, no, my life looks a lot different. And the current role I'm in now is not getting me there. That's maybe how we're determining the threshold. 

Dr. Lisa: that kind of difference there, is this a vehicle to get me to where I want to go. But first, you really have to be clear about that—where do I actually want to go? As opposed to just waking up every day and doing the same thing over and over again.

Megan: Yeah, right? Well, because we don't want to make any crazy decisions, just because we're not feeling happy at work, right? And I think the word burnout has been tossed around so much at COVID. And I work a lot with the symptoms of burnout, and it can be really challenging to kind of define it and look at it. When we're experiencing symptoms of burnout, it can be really easy to want to pull the plug and say, “Forget it. I'm going on to Indeed, I'm going on to LinkedIn, I'm finding a new job, I don't care. I don't want to do this anymore.” It's okay to have those feelings. Bring those feelings on in, sit with those feelings, journal them out, cry them out, scream them out, do what you got to do. Don't make a decision when you're in that specific moment, right? 

Dr. Lisa: That’s a good advice. 

Megan: Because that's when we see kind of the “Ooh, maybe we could have avoided some of this toss up that's happening, some of this uncertainty now that we just quit a job that was actually really stable, and maybe did align with our 10 year plan,” right? Having that 10-year plan and goal and vision already designed for you. Though, sometimes it can be nice just to escape to that for a couple minutes a day, enjoy your vision, enjoy it. Remind yourself why you're doing the work you're doing right now so those crazy kind of quick knee jerk reactions aren't dictating too much of your life. 

Dr. Lisa: What a good point, and we could talk so much more deeply about this topic. Our time is limited, but that's a wonderful resting point and a reminder that, when we're not really well, like in burnout. I mean, there are a lot of symptoms of burnout that really do mimic depression. It changes that way you think, it changes the way you feel. What you're saying is, when you're in that sort of mental and emotional space, it is not the best time to make major life decisions with major life consequences. It's almost like, slow down, take some time to get real clear. Yeah, thank you for saying that. 

Especially I think right now, in this day and age, people probably need to hear that because who is at their best, right now? In this particular moment?

Megan: Very few.

Dr. Lisa: Give it some time and space, and thank you.

Megan: Well, and it also kind of touches on another word that even prior to COVID got tossed around a lot, is self-care, right? How are you taking care of yourself? Now, if we think about, maybe you are kind of reaching close to that crisis point of I'm ready to throw up my hands and just quit. Yeah, what happens if those symptoms of burnout that you're feeling are because of a lack of self-care? If you just move into that next job and don't really address kind of the root of what's going on, we're just going to replicate that almost crisis moment again, right? So taking pause, and reflecting and allowing kind of the dust to settle, we're able to more clearly define what's going on and get to the root of that concern. When you do move into this next position, again, we're not repeating old habits. 

Coming right back to me, “Well, Megan, I'm still just as bummed.” Well, the reality was, you weren't sleeping, okay, and we didn't fix the sleeping concern. So no matter what job you take, you're not going to show up healthy and rested, because you're not taking care of yourself. So kind of pause. 

Dr. Lisa: That idea that if you don't work on yourself, you will, even subconsciously, wind up replicating the same sorts of patterns. Again, I'm thinking of relationships right now. That people have an influence on their environments, and a lot of times without even realizing it. You're saying that people could do that in their career, and you were talking about self-care, but I'm sure there's ways of thinking and feeling and ways of communicating and ways of leading and productivity stuff. 

Megan: Well, and when I'm talking about that exercise metaphor, right, of are we flexing and exercising, self-reflection, self-awareness? The ability to just name where we're at. If we're not kind of checking in on some of those core—I would call them, soft skills that are really important for being a successful employee, or being a successful human being, shoot. We're going to jump the gun. If we don't really spend some time working on those things and getting those muscles strong. Because inevitably, and I tell a lot of my clients this, you're going to end up right back with me and that's okay, I love spending time with you, and I want to make you a self-sufficient, self-sustaining human being, who if and like when you reach these career transitions again, you kind of pull your tool belt back on. 

You've got your strong muscles, and you get to do the work yourself because you already know how to do this. Instead of kind of letting it get to that negative almost crisis point where self-care has gone out the window and burnout symptoms are happening everywhere. We want to prevent that, preemptively, if at all possible. 

Dr. Lisa: Wonderful reminders. Megan, this was such a fabulous conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time to be with me today.

Megan: Absolutely, this is something I could have all day long.

Dr. Lisa: You're Passionate. 

Megan: That's the best part, because some people are like, “Well, how did you get to where you're at?” I'm like, “If only you knew, there's been a lot of work to get here.” So thank you so much for letting me kind of chat your ear off and just share the world that I feel so comfortable. And I really appreciate it.

Dr. Lisa: Thank you again, Megan.

Well, you guys, I don't know about you, but I am feeling so inspired now after talking with Megan. If you are, too, and if you would like to talk to Megan, you can cruise on over to growingself.com to learn more about her. I know that she has a couple of wonderful articles up on our blog right now, at growingself.com. You can take advantage of those and our other online career resources that are all there just for you.

Of course, if you would like to speak with Megan, you can always request a first free consultation and get that party started. So, thank you again for visiting with us today. And I'll be back in touch next week with another episode of the podcast. 

[So Many Things by Aurora D’Amico plays]

How to Relax (When You’re a Type-A Stress-Case)

How to Relax (When You’re a Type-A Stress-Case)

How to Relax (When You're a Type-A Stress-Case)

It's Hard to Relax When You're a Superstar

[social_warfare]

Here at Growing Self our therapy and life coaching clients are generally successful, high-achieving people on a path of personal growth. Because of this, I have a soft spot for the superstars, and I know that being a go-getting, productive, conscientious, high-achieving, intelligent, successful person has many, many benefits. You get things done, you're on top of it, and you are probably extremely successful in many areas of life.

And… it's probably hard for you to relax.

How to Relax When You're an Over-Achiever

Because you are so conscientious and successful you probably do everything you're supposed to. You take vacations, you exercise, you have a healthy diet, and you practice self-care. But it still might feel hard to let yourself truly relax. Even when you're having fun you are thinking about the next thing, and doing “nothing” (as in the Dutch practice of Niksen) feels like a waste of time compared to all the important or goal-directed things you could (probably feel like you should) be doing.

Believe it or not, learning how to relax is a very important life-skill. Just like learning how to manage your emotions, making it a priority to exercise and sleep, managing your finances, having satisfying relationships, practicing good self care, and eating healthy foods, learning how to relax — how to truly relax — is a skill set that is acquired through education and practice.

Real relaxation, the kind that restores you and allows you to be more productive, more creative, more resilient, and happier, is much more than about taking a bath once in a while. Real relaxation requires a high degree of self awareness and commitment, as well as the development of specific internal skills. (Ha! You can always recognize a fellow Type-A over-achiever when they describe relaxation skills as a project — hello my friend.)

Yes, I know from both professional experience in working with extremely successful, high-achieving people as well as from my own personal experience, that being a Type-A superstar has a very real dark side including exhaustion, agitation, anxiety and overwork. Burnout is an experience that many hard working and conscientious people can succumb to if not careful. Without vital relaxation skills, you can start to experience a lack of motivation, tiredness, emotional numbness, and loss of joy and creativity in your day to day life. FYI, “Burnout” is real: It's finally gotten recognized as an occupational phenomenon by the ICD!

The Keys to Authentic Relaxation

Today's episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast is just for you, my high-achieving compadre. We'll be discussing:

  • The mind-body connection that makes you feel stressed out even when you're relaxing
  • New ideas to help you prioritize your self-care and relaxation
  • The real source of stress (it's not what you think… except when it is)
  • Why “relaxing” behaviors (massages, hot baths, vacations) won't help you truly de-stress
  • How to combat the stressful thinking styles that will interfere with true relaxation
  • The skills and strategies that will actually help you reduce stress, relax, and restore your mind, body and soul.

I hope this discussion helps you achieve the rest and relaxation that you deserve, and that it helps you (paradoxically) become even more productive, creative, forward-thinking and successful as a result!

From me to you,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

[social_warfare]

Listen to the Podcast

How to Relax (When You're a Type-A Stress-Case)

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: Damian Jurado and Richard Swift, “Hello Sunshine”

Enjoy the Podcast?

Please Rate, Review & Subscribe to The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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More Love, Life & Career Advice on the Blog

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Life Design: How to Construct Your Pathway with Hope for the Future

Life Design: How to Construct Your Pathway with Hope for the Future

Life Design: How to Construct Your Pathway with Hope for the Future

Design Your Life

As a certified career counselor and life coach, I’ve had the unique opportunity to connect with folks from all around the world this year through 45-minute Zoom coaching sessions. What I love most about what I do with clients is helping them build hope by understanding their career narrative and how it’s impacting them so they can move forward with new strategies for success. 

Many of my life coaching and career counseling clients – and myself included! – are experiencing a deep upheaval of what we know about ourselves and the world of work because we’ve needed to adapt so much of our lives this year. 

Work is foundational to our lived experience because our careers really impact every other aspect of our lives! Have you thought about it this way before? In fact, I bet you can’t think about a day where you haven’t thought about your career! That’s especially salient as we round out 2020. So, let’s start by having a quick check-in with yourself: how are you thinking about your career? What’s your current career narrative and how is it impacting your day-to-day life?

A Year That Changed Everything

I remember at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us were adjusting to working from home and trying to understand how to be in quarantine with family members, roommates or on our own, all while attempting to find toilet paper products and hand sanitizer that had somehow vanished overnight from every store within a 50-mile radius. Our basic physiological needs – the foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid – including access to things like food, water, and shelter, were drastically impacted due to a health crisis that changed the world in a matter of a few weeks. 

In modern society, the way we meet our basic needs is through having a sustainable income (aka having some sort of a job) and the rates of unemployment skyrocketed across the board because a virus prevented us from conducting business in the ways we were used to. 

And, yet, we were doing our best to cope by baking bread, watching Tiger King, and learning how to host Zoom happy hours to connect with our people. We went on springtime walks to get fresh air, read books or did DIY projects, and watched as social media transformed into an information sharing platform and a vessel for social change, rather than a place to simply view cat videos and share photos of our weekend escapades. 

I recall checking news headlines more frequently than I ever had, even though I knew things were bleak, and watching case numbers rise seemingly exponentially day by day. Every large group gathering from concerts to weddings to places of worship were cancelled or closed to protect us from this devastating virus. Workplaces were shut down, entire industries and supply chains affected, and millions faced unemployment. Anxiety and fear were commonplace as we awaited some sort of hope to grasp onto.

One of the highlights of hope from March to May was seeing people doing what people do best in times of crisis: showing kindness, rallying together in support of our essential workers, and staying at home as much as we could to flatten the curve. John Krasinski hosted the popular YouTube series, Some Good News, during that time as well and we watched dreams come true in magical ways, participated in virtual prom, and found inklings of hope in the uncertainty.

Flash forward to the end of 2020 and those days of quarantine seem like eons ago! Since then, there has been a continued deep sense of turbulence felt with no end to this global health crisis in sight. And, now that it’s December, we’re also continuing to address systems of power and privilege, dealing with an election year, and trying to figure out what the holidays look like in the middle of a pandemic. (Thanksgiving dinner on Zoom sound familiar, anyone?) Maybe the hope we need is that we’ll get a glimmer of hope in the coming months; but hope seems to be in short supply.

I share this spiel to shine light on the layers of the 2020 experience because nothing really looks the same nowadays as it did before. We’re settling into this “new normal” and reflecting on the immense losses we’ve faced collectively while also trying to envision what we want 2021 (and beyond) to look like. 

So, how do we plan ahead when nothing is certain? As a career counselor and life coach, I argue that the answer is through a process I like to call career flow and life design. Here’s what you can do RIGHT NOW to amp up your hope and construct your pathway forward!

Using Life Design to Construct Your Career

We are in the midst of the third paradigm of career development known as life design. But it hasn’t always been this way! Don’t know much about career development? Here’s a very brief history: 

  • Vocational guidance: workers have certain traits that link them to certain jobs, where it’s assumed that our skillsets remain static over time

     

  • Career education: people should pursue certain educational opportunities to train them on how to launch their career in a certain industry, where it’s assumed that industries and jobs will remain stable
  • Life design: individuals can gain understanding of who they are and what they have to offer the world, where it’s assumed that nothing is static or stable so we must design the future ourselves

Which paradigm does your career currently exist in? If it’s vocational guidance, you probably knew that you were good at something from a young age so you pursued a pathway that lined up with that skill. If it’s career education, you probably have some sort of educational background that linked you with a certain career path. OR, if you’re like most of my clients, you thought you had an idea of your skills and pursued certain training options like we’re “supposed to”, but aren’t finding a fit in the modern world of work or are overwhelmed by the options.

What you need is career flow experiences to build your hope and life design strategies to build your future!

And, as you can imagine, finding hope and designing your life is more relevant now in 2020 than it’s ever been before because the way the world used to be is no longer the reality – at least, for now. We’re creating a “new normal” for how the world operates and it’s met by a need for creative solutions in how we think about our options.

The following tips are for those of you reading this who are currently seeking work (or know someone who is!) and who are trying to plan for the future. My hope is you can use these tools to refresh your current narratives and beliefs about careers, knowing that regardless of the struggle, you can do this and you’re not alone

Career Flow Job Searching

If you’re currently job searching and finding yourself feeling frustrated by the process, you’re not alone. It can be so debilitating to put in so much effort to fill out job application after job application with no response from any employers. Oftentimes, when I meet a new client who’s experiencing this hopelessness about their job search, I want to check in on their process that led to where they are now and help them focus on the specific aspects of their search that are stifling their progress.

To do this, we talk about career flow, which includes six competencies that help us build hope in our process. Career flow is not like psychological flow – it’s recognizing that our careers will evolve over time and our task is not to simply “go with the flow” but to “be the flow.”

To evaluate your own career flow in this moment, use the following prompts:

  • Hope
      • If I’m feeling stuck, do I believe I can solve this problem and find a job?
      • Do I believe there’s hope for my career future?
      • Can I make a difference in this situation?
  • Self-reflection
      • Can I identify what makes me happy right now?
      • Do I reflect on what’s important to me before I make important decisions?
      • How are my career circumstances influencing me right now?
  • Self-clarity
      • Have I thought about what motivates me in my career or studies?
      • Do I know what I’m good at, what I enjoy, and what is important to me?
      • Can I identify the life roles I hold, besides my career?
  • Visioning
      • Can I imagine future possibilities for myself?
      • Have I thought about what my life and career could look like in 5 years from now?
      • Do I have a clear vision for my future?
  • Goal Setting & Planning
      • Have I set any long-term goals for my future?
      • Do I have several things I’d like to accomplish on my way to seeing my long-term goals achieved?
      • Can I set specific goals for myself for the next month?
  • Implementing & Adapting 
    • Am I currently monitoring my plans and actions so my goals are met?
    • Have I evaluated the effectiveness of my plans recently if I’m not meeting my goals?
    • Do I know how to adjust my plans – even in the midst of uncertain, trying times?

 

If you answered NO to any of the questions posed above (very common!), here are some useful action steps you can take to develop your career flow:

Take the time to reflect on the outcome you’re hoping for from your job search

Are you looking for a long-term position but having no luck tracking one down? With the uncertainty in many industries, or if you’ve been in job searching mode for months on end, it might be time to find a bridge position. 

What I mean by this is landing any role that you’d be willing to do for the next few months as you continue to look for a long-term job in your field. My best advice is not to worry about what the job is itself; think about it in terms of the types of skills you have and the experiences that would be enjoyable to you.

Tap into your network and build connections 

We’ve all heard it: network, network, network! But how many of us actually know where to start on that front? Networking is important, as it’s been found that around 80% of available jobs never make it to a job board. So, think about who you’d be interested in connecting with to learn more about a job or an industry from: you have a warm network (folks who you know or who know someone you know) and a cold network (literally anyone else!). Ask for a virtual informational interview and see what you can learn!

Tailor your resume when applying for positions through job boards

Job boards are still a great place to keep your eyes on, because you never know what will be posted. Ensure that if you’re applying to a position through a job board that you’re tailoring your resume to that job and company. 

To do this, look at the keywords in the ‘required qualifications’ section – take 5 minute to list them out and include as many as possible on your resume and cover letter. The best way to do that is to use what you already have written and then switch up the keywords as necessary. 

Many employers and recruiters use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and will see how much of a match your materials are to the job search. You won’t have to worry about that if you’re able to tailor your resume!

By implementing the strategies of career flow, you’ll be more intentional about your job search and have a direction to go in. Take the time to think about what your end goal is, who you might be able to network with, and how you can tailor your current materials to any jobs you apply for. And, consider working with a career counselor if you’re feeling a bit lost on where to begin. It’s completely normal to be feeling this way and we’re here to help you build the career that you’re hoping for! We can also help you navigate a tricky job market and find your confidence in that process. 

Life Designing for the Future

I’m a firm believer that career development work requires a sense of creativity to truly access breakthroughs. The things we subconsciously believe about careers based on our experiences or the experiences of those around us really do impact how we progress in our career development. 

Let’s use the Great Recession from December 2007 to June 2009 as an example. In terms of careers, many families experienced job loss or money insecurity, so a recent graduate who’s entering the world of work during that time frame might have the belief that the job market is unstable and uncertain due to a challenging and long-term job search process. This could impact their current career beliefs in 2020 when that instability and uncertainty is back in full force. So, if they’ve lost their job this year, they might find themselves in the same headspace as they did more than 10 years ago because they’re experiencing yet another tumultuous job search. 

We repeat what we don’t repair.

If you’re holding onto tough career-related experiences from your past, it’s time to see what can be healed in this current moment. Or, if you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed by your career, it’s time to move from this passive suffering into active mastery and see what advice you can lend yourself in times of struggle. And the way to accomplish that is to tap into your career story and narrative and to construct your career with hope for the future, while also developing career adaptability to take you into the uncertain future!

Whatever your career or life situation is as we approach the end of the infamous year of 2020, I’m here to strategize with you about how to create a hopeful career pathway that will allow you to plan ahead and continue to dream, all while developing your career resilience in the face of uncertainty. As a career counselor and life coach, I help clients from all over the world create a hopeful career narrative that allows them to confidently move forward and build momentum through my three step coaching process of exploration, clarity, and action. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck in your career, this article was written for you and I’d love to connect to provide additional support in your own journey!

Best wishes, warmest regards,
Elise Ross, M.Ed., NCC, CCC, LPCC 

 

 

Dr. Rachel Merlin, DMFT, LMFT, M.S.Ed.

Elise Ross, M.Ed, CCC, NCC, LPCC, helps people get unstuck! Whether it’s a career concern, personal challenge, or the need for something new, she will partner with you to identify strategic ways to achieve your goals and be your best self.

 

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

Start your journey of growth today by scheduling a free consultation.

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How to Have Difficult Conversations

How to Have Difficult Conversations

How to Have Difficult Conversations

How to Have Difficult Conversations

The hardest conversations to have are the most critical conversations for a relationship…

“People almost never change without first feeling understood.”

― Douglas Stone

[social_warfare]

HOW TO HAVE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS: “I don't want to talk about it right now.” “It's not going to change anything.” “It will just start a fight.” “I'm just going to keep my mouth shut and my head down.” “I don't want to hurt their feelings.”  We have all, myself included, used these kinds of mental excuses to avoid having difficult conversations. We all have “trigger topic” conversations we’d rather avoid — from opening up to your partner about sex, to having different opinions on politics, having an issue with someone's parenting styles, or gently pointing out subconscious bias in gender roles or racist stereotypes. These tough conversations are hard to have.

While there is something to be said for knowing when to mind your own business and respect the healthy boundaries of others, it's also true that if you're avoiding having conversations about things that are really, really important to you it will eventually damage your relationship — whether or not you address it directly.

Having unresolved, unspoken differences that feel vast, and “un-discussable” will lead to disconnection. But the sad irony is that it's often people's hope to protect their relationship that leads them to avoid difficult but necessary conversations in the first place. 

Crucial Conversations Training

Crucial conversations are essential. But once you embrace that new idea, “Yes, we do actually really need to talk about this,” then what? Unless you've already gone through communication skills training, relationship coaching, or emotional intelligence coaching, you might not know how to have a difficult conversation productively. That lack of skills and know-how is one of the biggest reasons why most people tend to tiptoe around difficult conversations, OR — on the flip side — engage too aggressively around triggering topics, both of which can damage a relationship.  

Now, more than ever, I believe that we all need to learn and intentionally practice compassionate communication skills that can help us understand each other and build bridges to the center of shared meaning. In this episode of the podcast, I'm shining a light on what it really takes to courageously engage in difficult (and necessary, and respectful, and healing) conversations with the people you care the most about.

Having Difficult Conversations

I hope that this episode leaves you with some actionable ideas for how to increase your confidence in high-stakes conversations, and provides you with strategies for increasing your emotional intelligence and communication skills in the process. You can use these strategies with your partner, kids, friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, and more. I hope you do! 

In this episode:

  • Discover how refusing to have difficult conversations damages relationships.
  • Learn essential skills in having constructive and productive conversations. 
  • Gain a deeper awareness of your own feelings and motivations.    
  • Identify relationships where it’s worth having these conversations and those that require clearer boundaries. 
  • Embrace the discomfort of having difficult conversations.
  • Avoid common pitfalls and knee-jerk reactions in difficult conversations. 
  • Learn to listen with compassion, respect, and empathy. 
  • Find out how to reciprocate openness and willingness to exchange ideas. 

Listen right now to “How to Have Difficult Conversations” on Spotify, or on the Podcast App, or by scrolling down to podcast player on the bottom of the page. If you're more of a reader, you can skim through the show notes and / or find a full transcript at the bottom. 

Thanks for taking the time to listen to this episode and triple-thanks if you're one of the courageously kind, heart-centered people in the world committed to having respectful, difficult conversations that heal. The world needs you!

“How to Have Difficult Conversations” Episode Highlights:

How People Usually Respond to Tough Conversations:

When faced with a difficult conversation, most people respond in two ways.

  1. The first type demands understanding from the other party, stating their beliefs but refusing to hear the other person. As a result, it becomes a one-way discussion that usually ends up in a fight.  
  2. On the other hand, some people avoid having the conversation at all. This may come from their fear of conflict or not being able to handle the situation once it blows up.

Either way, we risk damaging the relationship when we fail to approach difficult conversations healthily. 

Courage and Emotional Intelligence

These two skills are useful in having difficult conversations and achieving the best outcome. 

  1. Courage — If the other person is avoiding the topic, you have to take the initiative and broach the subject. We have to be brave and be the ones who bring difficult things out into the light with the people we love so that we can have relationships that are based on authenticity, respect, vulnerability, compassion and connection.
  2. Emotional Intelligence — If you can understand your feelings and underlying motivations, you can have more productive conversations instead of full-blown confrontations. Having high emotional intelligence means you can step back from an emotionally charged situation and assess the steps you need to take. 

Ask yourself these questions to build and strengthen your emotional intelligence:

  • How am I feeling?
  • What are the thoughts behind these feelings? 
  • What do I need to do right now to shift my thoughts back into a constructive and compassionate mindset? 
  • What do I need to do to bring myself back down emotionally so that I am in a place where I can speak respectfully?
  • What are my intentions for this conversation? 
  • How would I like this conversation to end? 
  • Who do I need to be right now to make that happen?

That said, you don’t have to have difficult conversations with everyone. Identify key people in your life and let the rest go. When a relationship becomes toxic or abusive, set clear boundaries. Having difficult conversations is an investment in the people you want to have a future with. Thus, you need to focus on people worth doing this hard emotional work. 

Creating Connections Through Difficult Conversations

Once you’ve identified the people who are worth the emotional investment, the next step is to embrace the discomfort that comes with these conversations. Disrupting the status quo is the only way for you to grow as a person and for the relationship to evolve.

We grow through difficult moments. When the alternative of staying the same is ultimately less comfortable than the discomfort of growth, the only choice is to change. We can do hard things when we're motivated to do so.

The goal of having difficult conversations is not to have the same conclusion. Rather, it’s about appreciating the other’s point of view, going beyond your motivations, and trying to understand why they think the way they do. We need a sense of mutual understanding to look at a situation through the lens, beliefs, experiences, values, and expectations of another. 

Keeping Your Emotions in Check

Before you start a difficult conversation, you need to understand how your brain processes emotions.

When we are overwhelmed, a part of our brain tends to shut down to protect itself. This part, where empathy is housed, becomes inaccessible during emotionally charged situations and confrontations. 

Thus, you need to develop social and emotional awareness to bring yourself back into a better headspace and continue difficult conversations. At the same time, you have to be aware if the person you’re talking to is emotionally flooded as well. When you notice that either or both of you are at your limits, take a break to calm down. 

The Difficult Conversation “Pre-Game Checklist” 

Before engaging in a difficult conversation, mentally prepare yourself through clarifying your thoughts and intentions. You can try talking out loud or journaling so that you enter into the conversation without too much negative energy. 

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • How do I feel about the situation? Why do I think that way?
  • Why is this important to me? 
  • How is the situation impacting me? 
  • What would I like to communicate? 
  • What is my desired outcome? What would I do if that doesn’t happen? 
  • Do I want something to change or just to feel understood?

The Importance of Empathy in Difficult Conversations

After you’ve gone through your “difficult conversation pre-game checklist,” the next step is to move past your internal narrative and run a mile in the other person’s shoes.

Here are some key points to help you in empathizing with others:

  • What are the core values of this person?
  • Where are they coming from?
  • What do they need to hear from me so that they feel respected and understood, even if we have some differences? 
  • What do I need to say for them to understand that they are valuable to me?

It’s not about achieving your desired outcome but looking at the situation from their perspective and understanding why it makes sense. When you really listen to another person with compassion, respect, and empathy, they do make sense.

What to Avoid in Difficult Conversations

These are some habits you should avoid when you’re in a difficult conversation. 

  • Refrain from the fundamental attribution error. It’s when you ascribe a person’s bad choices to character defects instead of considering the unique set of circumstances that led them to that choice. 
  • Avoid going into conversations seeking only to persuade someone or change their perspective. 
  • Keep away from judgmental and self-righteous lines like, “If you only knew what I knew . . .”
  • Be aware of micro-habits like eye-rolling or scoffing.   
  • Don’t go into a space of judgment and blame. Avoid interrupting and take the time to ask open-ended questions, listen, and understand. 

If you refrain from these lines of thinking and habits, the other person will feel heard and respected. Since they feel emotionally safe in your presence, you can have more productive conversations, and they will be just as likely to extend the same grace to listen to your side.   

Remember: If you are in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you and cares about you as much as you love and care about them, it turns into an openness and willingness to exchange ideas. And if you have done a really good job of listening and understanding, that will be reciprocated

More Resources

I sincerely hope that this discussion about how to have difficult conversations has provided you with not just an understanding of why tough conversations are so critical to have, but also some concrete pointers about how to have those hard conversations go well.

To continue learning and growing in this area, here are a few more resources for you:

  • We have so many articles and podcasts featuring expert advice both from myself and my amazing colleagues on the subjects of communication skills, empathy, emotional intelligence and more. Use the search bar below to enter the term you'd like to learn more about to view and access them. Here are a few of my favorites: 

I hoped this episode provided a roadmap for having difficult conversations that strengthen connection and understanding in your most important relationships. 

Wishing you and yours all the very best in these perilous times…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. Speaking of difficult conversations, I'd love to hear from YOU. Which part of the episode was the most helpful? (Least helpful?) If you try any of these ideas I'd love to hear how they went. Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

How to Have Difficult Conversations

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast

How to Handle Difficult Conversations

We all have conversations we’d rather avoid — from opening up to your partner about sex to having different opinions on politics or parenting styles. The reality is, most people tend to tiptoe around difficult conversations or engage too aggressively, both of which can damage a relationship.  

In this episode, I identify what it takes to engage in difficult conversations and explain how to look inward and recognize the other person. I also emphasize that the goal of difficult conversations is not to come to the same conclusion but to reach a place of mutual understanding and respect despite your opposing views. 

Tune in to the full interview to learn how you can engage in difficult conversations effectively and compassionately.

In This Episode, You Will . . .

  • Discover how refusing to have difficult conversations damages relationships.
  • Learn essential skills in having constructive and productive conversations. 
  • Gain a deeper awareness of your own feelings and motivations.    
  • Identify relationships where it’s worth having these conversations and those that require clearer boundaries. 
  • Embrace the discomfort of having difficult conversations.
  • Avoid common pitfalls and knee-jerk reactions in difficult conversations. 
  • Learn to listen with compassion, respect, and empathy. 
  • Find out how to reciprocate openness and willingness to exchange ideas. 

Episode Highlights

How People Usually Respond

When faced with a difficult conversation, most people respond in two ways.

  1. The first type demands understanding from the other party, stating their beliefs but refusing to hear the other person. As a result, it becomes a one-way discussion that usually ends up in a fight.  
  2. On the other hand, some people avoid having the conversation at all. This may come from their fear of conflict or not being able to handle the situation once it blows up.

Either way, we risk damaging the relationship when we fail to approach difficult conversations healthily. 

Courage and Emotional Intelligence

These two skills are useful in having difficult conversations and achieving the best outcome. 

  1. Courage — If the other person is avoiding the topic, you have to take the initiative and broach the subject. We have to be brave and be the ones who bring difficult things out into the light with the people we love so that we can have relationships that are based on authenticity, respect, vulnerability, and compassion and connection.
  2. Emotional Intelligence — If you can understand your feelings and underlying motivations, you can have more productive conversations instead of full-blown confrontations. Having high emotional intelligence means you can step back from an emotionally charged situation and assess the steps you need to take. 

Ask yourself these questions to build and strengthen your emotional intelligence:

  • How am I feeling?
  • What are the thoughts behind these feelings? 
  • What do I need to do right now to shift my thoughts back into a constructive and compassionate mindset? 
  • What do I need to do to bring myself back down emotionally so that I am in a place where I can speak respectfully?
  • What are my intentions for this conversation? 
  • How would I like this conversation to end? 
  • Who do I need to be right now to make that happen?

That said, you don’t have to have difficult conversations with everyone. Identify key people in your life and let the rest go. When a relationship becomes toxic or abusive, set clear boundaries. Having difficult conversations is an investment in the people you want to have a future with. Thus, you need to focus on people worth doing this hard emotional work. 

Creating Connections Through Difficult Conversations

Once you’ve identified the people who are worth the emotional investment, the next step is to embrace the discomfort that comes with these conversations. Disrupting the status quo is the only way for you to grow as a person and for the relationship to evolve.

We grow through difficult moments. When the alternative of staying the same is ultimately less comfortable than the discomfort of growth, the only choice is to change. We can do hard things when we're motivated to do so.

The goal of having difficult conversations is not to have the same conclusion. Rather, it’s about appreciating the other’s point of view, going beyond your motivations, and trying to understand why they think the way they do. We need a sense of mutual understanding to look at a situation through the lens, beliefs, experiences, values, and expectations of another. 

Keeping Your Emotions in Check

Before you start a difficult conversation, you need to understand how your brain processes emotions.

When we are overwhelmed, a part of our brain tends to shut down to protect itself. This part, where empathy is housed, becomes inaccessible during emotionally charged situations and confrontations. 

Thus, you need to develop social and emotional awareness to bring yourself back into a better headspace and continue difficult conversations. At the same time, you have to be aware if the person you’re talking to is emotionally flooded as well. When you notice that either or both of you are at your limits, take a break to calm down. 

The Pregame Checklist 

Before engaging in a difficult conversation, mentally prepare yourself through clarifying your thoughts and intentions. You can try talking out loud or journaling so that you enter into the conversation without too much negative energy. 

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • How do I feel about the situation? Why do I think that way?
  • Why is this important to me? 
  • How is the situation impacting me? 
  • What would I like to communicate? 
  • What is my desired outcome? What would I do if that doesn’t happen? 
  • Do I want something to change or just to feel understood?

The Importance of Empathy 

After you’ve gone through your pregame checklist, the next step is to move past your internal narrative and run a mile in the other person’s shoes.

Here are some key points to help you in empathizing with others:

  • What are the core values of this person?
  • Where are they coming from?
  • What do they need to hear from me so that they feel respected and understood, even if we have some differences? 
  • What do I need to say for them to understand that they are valuable to me?

It’s not about achieving your desired outcome but looking at the situation from their perspective and understanding why it makes sense. When you really listen to another person with compassion, respect, and empathy, they do make sense.

What to Avoid in Difficult Conversations

These are some habits you should avoid when you’re in a difficult conversation. 

  • Refrain from the fundamental attribution error. It’s when you ascribe a person’s bad choices to character defects instead of considering the unique set of circumstances that led them to that choice. 
  • Avoid going into conversations seeking only to persuade someone or change their perspective. 
  • Keep away from judgmental and self-righteous lines like, “If you only knew what I knew . . .”
  • Be aware of micro-habits like eye-rolling or scoffing.   
  • Don’t go into a space of judgment and blame. Avoid interrupting and take the time to ask open-ended questions, listen, and understand. 

If you refrain from these lines of thinking and habits, the other person will feel heard and respected. Since they feel emotionally safe in your presence, you can have more productive conversations, and they will be just as likely to extend the same grace to listen to your side.   

If you are in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you and cares about you as much as you love and care about them, it turns into an openness and willingness to exchange ideas. And if you have done a really good job of listening and understanding, that will be reciprocated

Resources

I hoped this episode provided a roadmap for having difficult conversations that strengthen connection and understanding in your most important relationships. Which part of the episode was the most helpful? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

Did you like this interview? Subscribe to our podcast to discover how to live a life full of love, success, and happiness!

 

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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How to Have Difficult Conversations: Podcast Transcript

.
Access Episode Transcript

 

How to Have Difficult Conversations

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.

[playing Plastic and Glass by Keshco]

Dr. Lisa: The band is Keshco with a song that Plastic and Glass—I thought a nice mood setter for our topic today. Today, we are talking about how to tackle difficult conversations in such a way that they go as well as possible.

It is important for us to talk about this topic because there are a lot of difficult conversations to be had lately. Particularly as we are heading into the holiday season in the midst of a contentious political season and with so many stressors and strains and angst and very real issues that people are facing. There is tough stuff to talk about with friends, with family, with partners, with siblings, with ourselves. And how you handle a tough conversation has a lot to do with the results you get.

So today we are going to be talking about why conversations feel so hard sometimes and strategies that you can use to face those moments not just courageously, but also with confidence and a sense of competence. And understanding some basic do's and don'ts that will allow you to talk about important things we don't want to hide, but do so in a way that helps you create the ideal outcome, which I think for many of us is to strengthen your relationships, increase connection and understanding and have it be a positive thing for all involved, as opposed to an unproductive conflict, because I think we've had enough of that in our lives. Right? So that's what we're doing today.

And if today is your first time listening to the show, I'm so glad that you are here. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. My background is as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Also, I’m a licensed psychologist, and I am a board-certified life coach. And I am here with you every week to talk about different facets of the life experience and offer you ideas and strategies and support that help you create the love, happiness, and success that you deserve in all the parts of your life.

And so today's topic, we are going to be talking about a number, a number of things. We're going to be, certainly, a lot of relational issues when it comes to difficult conversations, but also I think a lot of intrapersonal issues. You know. I mean, we have to get ourselves in the right kind of headspace, an emotional space, in order to handle these moments effectively. And also, I’m going to put on my life coach hat and offer up some specific strategies as well. So hopefully you leave our time together today with a plan.

Difficult Conversations: Why They're So Important

So, jumping right in. Why do some conversations feel so hard? Think about the conversations in your life that you would maybe rather not have. Right? Think about what those are. Having conversations with your partner about some aspect of your sex life that you would like to have be different. Considering a necessary conversation with an employer or an employee around, “I don't like what is happening here and we need to figure out a way to handle this differently together in order for this relationship to continue.” Right?

Many times, there’s, you know, married couples or partner couples, particularly with children. There are so many crucial conversations to have around parenting—“You can't talk to me or the children that way, this is not going to work.” Or, I mean, my goodness, people who have very well-developed and sometimes even aggressive opinions about politics, social justice, issues around racism, and how to handle those moments in a constructive way.

It is very easy, when we're faced with these kinds of moments, to fall into a way of communicating that can be very almost ultimatum-y. “This is what I want. This is what has to happen. And you're going to hear what I have to say right now, whether you like it or not.” And that often doesn't end well. That is a quick path to a fight, in all honesty. And there's a way to handle this constructively that creates not just communication, not just collaboration, but, really, authentic connection. And that's what we're doing on this show today.

I am going to be loading you up with all kinds of resources today. So, either grab a pencil and notebook or open up a note app. Or you can also, if you haven't already, bookmark the blog at growingself.com, because a lot of the resources that I'm going to be giving you is kind of follow ups. So here's where you go to learn more, are already on the blog there. In addition to these podcasts that I make for you, I have so many people, therapists and coaches on my team with me at Growing Self who are always cranking out articles and advice and tips on our blog at growingself.com. And there's so much around how to be a better listener, tips to communicate more effectively, how to manage your emotions when you're starting to feel angry or stressed out. So, so much there. I just wanted to mention that as the go-to resource so that I don't have to say it 150 times over the course of this podcast. 

But now that we've gotten that out of the way, when we think generally about what are the things that feel particularly difficult to talk about constructively, the things that we might even want to avoid or fear talking about, those are often the things that feel the most important. Those are the things that really need to be attended to, or resolved, or at least addressed. Because without that honest and courageous reckoning, our relationships will be fractured, and distance will grow. And unfortunately, that will happen whether or not we talk about it.

Avoidance Leads To Disconnection in Relationships

Many people avoid having difficult conversations because they are afraid of conflict. They don't want to get into a fight. They don't want to have an ugly interaction with someone that turns into a throwdown and wisely so—that is not ever helpful. And they don't know how to handle the situation so that it won't turn into a yucky feeling fight. So, they try to protect their relationships by not talking about hard things.

But the other side of this is that when you don't talk about hard things that are bothering you, it will increase feelings of resentment, emotional distance. There becomes this feeling of separation and disconnection in your relationships—the relationships that you're trying to protect by not talking about things. So, either way, there is a risk to your relationship, either through unproductive conflict or through avoidance.

It happens all the time. I can't tell you how many clients I speak with, especially lately, who have perhaps a family member with a very vocal social media presence that is kind of diametrically opposed to their own political views. And say this family member is putting out lots of information that is incredibly triggering to say my client. And they feel like they can't talk about it because it will create this conflict. It will turn into a bad conflictual moment. So, they don't, and instead, they avoid their family member. They make up reasons to not go down for a visit. They mute them on social media so they don't have to see what they're saying, which actually, just between me and you, may be a helpful strategy in this day and age. But they feel like they can't talk about who they are and what's important to them and kind of know and be known.

And so there's this distance and avoidance and it will atrophy relationships in a very real way, especially for couples, too. If there's issues going on in your relationship that you're not talking about because you want to avoid the conflict. Those will breed resentment and this feeling of hopelessness and helplessness and, “Well, it'll never be different.” And all of these kind of narratives around, “Well, that's just the way they are.” That is incredibly destructive to a relationship.

So, I just mentioned all of these because when it comes to difficult conversations, the number one thing that we need, first of all, is courage. We have to be courageous and brave and be the ones that bring difficult things out into the light with the people that we love so that we can have healthier, more connected relationships—relationships that are based on authenticity and respect and vulnerability and compassion and connection. And it's hard to do. It's hard to do.

One of the reasons I have found that people often avoid confrontation. Well, first of all, what I mentioned is having, like, assumptions that it will turn into a conflict. They doubt their own competence to handle the conflict. They, and sometimes rightly so, believe that it'll just disintegrate into an argument because they don't know what to do to make it not be an argument.

So, let me talk about that for a second. There are ways of communicating with other people that will very predictably lead to an argument. For example, when you communicate with another person in such a way that is perceived as attacking or critical. The other person, just like the sun rises in the east, they will become defensive with you and they will start coming up with all the reasons why you're wrong. It is very, very, very difficult for anyone to stay in the ring and have a constructive conversation when they feel attacked. And so, one of the things that's really important to think about in these moments is how you are bringing up topics and how you might be perceived by others.

And so as so often the case in so many of our conversations here on the Love, Happiness and Success podcast, one of the most important skills that you can cultivate to have constructive conversations is the skill of self-awareness, particularly as it relates to emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence means understanding, first of all, how you are feeling and what is going on inside of you that is leading you to feel that particular way.

So, for example, if you are high in emotional intelligence, you have more constructive conversations because you will be self-aware of the fact that, “Ooh. I’m feeling kind of angry right now.” And “I'm feeling a little bit upset. I am feeling morally justified in telling this person exactly what I think about them for all of these different reasons.” And you will be able to have that kind of meta awareness around, “Oh, my heart is starting to pound. I can feel even a little shaky. I am having all of these thoughts about why I'm right and why they're wrong. And I know that I need to get myself into a better place before I attempt to have a productive conversation. Because if I go into it the way I'm feeling right now, the way that I'm thinking right now, it is not going to end well.”

And so, the core skills of emotional intelligence are being able to recognize: how am I feeling? What are the thoughts that are creating those feelings inside of me? And what do I need to do right now to shift my thoughts back into a constructive, compassionate sort of mindset? And what do I need to do to bring myself back down emotionally so that I am in a place where I can speak, not just speak respectfully, but also really genuinely maintain my ability to have compassion and empathy for the human that I am attempting to connect with right now, who is important to me? And coming back to, “What are my intentions for this conversation? How would I like it to end? And who do I need to be right now in order to make that happen?”

All of those are very deliberate things that people who are good at difficult conversations do very deliberately to keep themselves calm and kind of soft and centered and emotionally safe, even, to have constructive, connecting conflict—constructive conflict, believe it or not, is the thing. 

And I would also like to add that this is hard. It takes a lot of work on yourself in order to be able to get into this place and learn how to do these things. And you don't have to do this with everyone. You might decide that there are some relationships in your life that are actually easier for you or even healthier for you to set boundaries around and go ahead and let that distance grow. As opposed to wading into this kind of emotional space with someone who is not going to reciprocate with you.

I wanted to bring that up because we're talking about having difficult conversations with people and in relational contexts that are important enough and that you care enough about to do this kind of hard work, and those are the relationships that you want to invest in. That's your family, your spouse, your child, a colleague or an employee or a boss who you really want to have a future with. These kinds of conversations, this kind of emotional work is an investment in your future—an investment in the future, in the well-being of others.

Healthy Relationships Are Mutually Respectful

And I just would like to say that it is important to use discernment in your life and in your relationships to kind of assess where do you need to invest and work harder to understand, to be compassionate and connect. And where is it actually, not just appropriate, but important to set very real and firm boundaries with people and protect yourself.

So, for example, if you are with someone who is being overtly racist to you or others or who is using abusive language or treating you badly, you can go ahead and leave. You do not have to tell them why. You can just be done saying no. “No,” is a complete sentence. You don't have to explain yourself, and you don't have to do anything to make that person feel better about it. It's your responsibility as a healthy person to protect yourself from toxic people, abusive situations, and to do what you can to protect other people who need protection from toxic, damaging, and abusive situations.

And so, I just want to say that out loud, because sometimes I will write things in the blog about how to be a better listener or how to have more empathic communication or situations like this, how to have difficult and important conversations. And we'll get a comment on the blog about “Well, what about a narcissist who does these horrible things to me.” And it’s like no, that is a person who you need to set very firm, clear limits with. That is not a situation that is likely to be mended no matter what you do. And to be able to develop kind of the judgment to know the difference.

If you would like resources on boundaries, how to set boundaries, how to have healthy boundaries and still have friends, how to set boundaries with family members, how to avoid unhealthy guilt when you've set appropriate boundaries, again, I would refer you back to the blog at growingself.com for podcasts and articles on all of those topics.

But this, this is how do we create connection through difficult conversations. So, we want to be courageous, but not indiscriminately courageous and putting ourselves into bad, bad situations. One of the things that I have found when it comes to these moments, when a relationship is worth investing in, it's important to me and I know that I have to be brave and talk about something hard, I have found a thought that helps me, and it might help you, too. So, I'll mention it. The idea that this is how we grow. We grow through difficult moments. We grow when we are challenged to grow. We grow when the other alternative of staying the same is ultimately less comfortable than the discomfort of growth. We grow, we change, we do hard things when we're motivated to do so. And so I just want to offer that as an idea to you, that embracing the discomfort of these moments and breathing through it and reminding yourself that this is what growth and connection feels like is being authentic, being vulnerable, feeling hard feelings and doing the right thing anyway. This is the path of growth.

And also, I think sometimes reminding myself, if I want to have a high-quality relationship with this person, this is what I need to do. We have to talk because I know that if I don't talk, I will withdraw. That's something that I need to remind myself of personally. And I see a lot of my clients struggling with that. The tendency to avoid and withdraw can be pretty significant and to just be very explicitly reminding yourself, “No, this is important, I have to do this. If we don't talk, we will become distant.” Those are ideas that can help you find the courage to do it.

Another idea I'd like to share that is really helpful for many of my clients, both individual clients and also a lot of the couples counseling clients that we work with, is that the goal of any of these conversations is not necessarily agreement. We do not have to agree with each other about the solution or the perspective or what is the truth with a capital T. What we do need is a sense of mutual understanding, to be able to say, “When I look at the situation through your lens, through your belief system, through your set of life experiences, through your values, through your expectations, I can understand why you would feel the way that you do. That makes sense to me.” And for you to feel the same. That even if someone doesn't come to the same conclusions that you do about the same situation, that you feel that your perspective is understood and respected as being valid because it is. That ultimately is the goal. 

If we want to take that a step further and get bonus points, we could even move in to a space of appreciation that it's not just “Yes, I can see why you would feel that way.” It is “You know what? I appreciate the values and the perspectives that lead you to feel that way. Thank you for sharing those with me.” Appreciation is even more, I think, affirming and conducive to emotional safety and constructive conversations.

And then, in addition to these ideas that can sort of help you grapple with conceptually what needs to happen in these moments of difficult conversations, a lot of my clients, either life coaching clients, relationship coaching clients, therapy clients, often find that it is much easier for them to have difficult conversations and be appropriately assertive when they've gotten really good at managing their emotions and going back to the emotional intelligence skills that we talked about in the beginning.

And so being able to have strategies in place to help you manage your emotions, understand what kinds of thinking or behaviors lead you to feel anxious or angry, and having a little toolbox of skills and strategies in place to help you feel calm is half the battle. If you can stay calm in a difficult conversation, chances are very good that it will be a productive one. Resources for you in that, I mean aside— you’re always welcome to do individual counseling or coaching. But if you have found that those are, let's say, growth opportunities for you, I would refer you to the Happiness Class on growingself.com, which is essentially an online cognitive behavioral skills training course that teaches you what are the kinds of thoughts that will make you feel angry, sad, or anxious. How do you shift those into more productive ways of thinking? What do you do with big feelings so that you don't always have to be reactive or withdraw in these moments? 

So, to kind of boost up your skill set for being able to do that, because it's really, really important when anyone gets flooded—you, me, everyone we know—gets emotionally flooded and begins experiencing intense feelings of anger, pain, fear, anxiety, what happens is that their brains, our brains, change in the way that they function, like literally. When you are flooded emotionally, you go into a fight or flight space that is very much prioritizing your personal protection. And what it looks like is that people will withdraw and not be able to talk anymore, or they go into attack mode.

Interestingly, the way that your brain changes in these moments is that the most highly evolved and most human parts of our brains—the newest parts of our brain structure, the neocortex—the part where we're able to have empathy for others, the part where our language skills are housed, the part that allows us to take a big picture perspective or do any kind of if-this-then map kind of advanced planning, our executive functioning skills. All of that in very literal ways, shuts down and becomes inaccessible to you. And so, it's incredibly important to be able to regulate your emotions during difficult conversations so that your brain doesn't turn off and you turn into some sort of like crazed defensive or hostile, like lizard brain activated person. Because that sounds crazy, but that is actually what happens.

Beware of Emotional Flooding

You see it all the time in couples counseling. A partner will say something that is clearly very triggering for their spouse, and that spouse will not— it's like they just freeze. They can't even continue in the conversation. In addition to managing your own feelings in these moments so that you don't become flooded, it is incredibly important to develop the social and emotional awareness skills to notice when the person that you're talking to is becoming flooded because they won't be able to have a constructive conversation with you if they kind of go past a point of no return.

Some people, it's pretty obvious when they become flooded. Their little faces get red. They might even start like shaking. But interestingly, men often become flooded and you would never know to look at them. They just kind of shut down. If you put a pulse monitor on their finger in that moment, it would be going at like 110 beats a minute. But to just look at them sitting in a chair, nothing has changed. You can't tell the internal experience that they're having. And that that is certainly true for many women as well. But being aware of when people are getting flooded and noticing that and having a plan in place to attend to it and help bring everybody back down is another incredibly important concrete skill to have in your toolbox when you are wading into difficult conversations. And being able to say, “You know what, I think we're both getting tense. Let's take a break. I'm glad that we started talking about this. I hope to continue the conversation with you. But I think, yeah, let's go get a lemonade. Come on. Let's go get ice cream.” Or something like that. Just kind of like shift away and let everybody calm back down again.

For more on that subject, the growingself.com blog has a fabulous article written by one of my colleagues, another family therapist named Lisa Jordan, who has written an article on emotional flooding and has even more strategies for what to do in those moments when you become flooded or when your conversation partner becomes flooded.

So, there is a lot of pre-work to do to prepare yourself to have a difficult conversation. The pre-work involves the emotional intelligence skills we've been talking about and being able to regulate yourself, keep your thoughts in a good place, have the most noble intentions in the forefront of your mind, and also have a lot of empathy for the person that you're talking with and an awareness for them. But also, I think when a conversation is really important, it's always a good idea to do a little bit of almost pregame pre-work around, “Okay. How do I feel about the situation? Why do I feel the way that I do about the situation? Why is this important for me? How is the situation impacting me?” and get really clear around what's going on inside of you and what it is that you would like to communicate to the person that you would like to communicate to.

It sounds so silly, but thinking through this stuff in advance will help you be able to not just communicate your truth effectively, but take some of the emotional energy out of it so that when you say, “I'm feeling really hurt and disappointed that we haven't had sex in three months, and I miss you, and I would like to be with you.” If you've kind of written through what's going on with you, why it's important, what you want, when you say that out loud, it will be often like just a more gentle kind of way that is more understandable to the person that you're speaking with. If you wade into a difficult conversation without getting clarity around that in advance, it is very likely that the energy and intensity that goes along with saying those kinds of things for the first time will be perceived by the other person as critical, blaming, or even hostile or attacking.

That is one of the reasons why talking about what you want to talk about in advance with a coach or a therapist can be so helpful. And that is not the only way. You can also certainly do journaling and get this clarity on your own. But if you've said it a time or two to someone, then you can go into the real conversation just from a space of calmness. And since the intensity is already less, it sets you up to be in a position to be a much more receptive listener, I think, because that's hugely important.

So, doing some pre-work around, what do I feel? Why is that? What do I want? And getting really clear, too, around what is my desired outcome when we are done talking about this, what would I like to have be different? Would I like something to change? Would I like to feel understood? Would I like to have more understanding of this other person? Would I like just to feel more connected and like we're not tiptoeing around each other or not talking about the elephant in the room? Is that my goal? It's all okay. But to get clear about that ahead of time.

Now, you think that's hard? Let's talk about what's really hard because the other critical piece of having an effective, constructive, difficult conversation means moving past what's going on with you and how you're feeling and what you would like to talk about, and what is your desired outcome, and setting that aside. And before you even get to that conversation, doing some very serious work around, what do they feel? This person that I want to talk to about these things that are bothering me, what's probably bothering them? Why do they feel the way that they feel? What are their core values? Where is this coming from? What kind of relationship do they want to have with me? What did they need to be hearing from me in order to feel respected and understood and validated and valued and that they're important to me? And what do I need to be doing, and not just saying, in order to show them that I care about them and that I love them and appreciate them, even if we have some differences.

And that, my friends, is hard work, it really is. It requires a lot of not just compassion and good intentions but also really accurate empathy to be thinking about how someone else probably feels and their thought process and in a way that allows you to make sense of it. This, I think, is particularly important in this day and age when there's so much polarization around political kinds of things. It's also very, very easy for couples to get incredibly polarized around who's right, who's wrong, what should we be doing. And it's difficult to get on to the other person's side of the table, and that is also a crucial skill and well worth your time doing some soul searching around in advance.

In my therapy and coaching sessions lately with clients, there's been a lot of discussion around either both with couples who have different perspectives and belief systems or individuals around how do I maintain a relationship with someone who has a very, very, very different belief system than I do and one that I might even find morally offensive and just absolutely wrong? That feels like an affront to what I believe people should be. How do I stay connected to this person? And I would invite you to go into a compassionate, empathetic stance that allows you to understand the noble intentions and the highest and best of the belief systems that create the outcomes that you see, even if those outcomes are in practice, sometimes really damaging, damaging to others.

So, for example, and I do not want this to turn into a political conversation at all, but I just wanted to provide you with a model just for ideas to think about. A stereotypical Republican say, kind of belief system at the highest and best says something like, “I am a hardworking, responsible person who I have tried really hard to make good choices and I have a pretty good life because of it. I believe there's a right way to live. And if people take the hard and narrow path, they usually have good outcomes. And that I believe in my belief system and I think other people should too. And I think that when I look around and see other people having bad outcomes, it's often because of their own doing. And I shouldn't have to pay for it or have government swipe half my paycheck in order to support the bad behavior and poor choices of others. I think they can do better. And I think I have the right to defend myself against people who want to take advantage of me. And if I work hard and make good choices, I should be rewarded. And I have all these other belief systems that place value around life and family.” All these other things that when you go into it, noble intentions, noble intentions. And to be thinking about how does this make sense from this person's perspective?

And on the other side, the same person on the other side of the couch, who maybe has a more progressive orientation would say, “I believe that human beings have inherent worth and that there are many different perspectives and ways of being that are all worthy of respect and appreciation. I don't think any of us have a monopoly on the way, you know, ‘the way things should be’ or who is valuable in our society and who isn't, because there is a bias and a hierarchy of value that is often based on race or socioeconomic status. There's an unequal playing field. And the people with enormous privilege have a much easier time and often take credit for things that are handed to them. They think it's about their character and their hard work, when they're actually standing on a platform already.” Progressive people would say, “I think it's the responsibility of an ethical community to provide support and assistance to those less fortunate in order to help build a large and fairer body of productive and valued members of our community. And that when we invest in people and things like education and health care, mental health and social services and firemen and police and roads and schools, everyone is lifted up. And that I'm willing to participate in that and help create that.”

So that's one little example. And me just kind of like shifting from one side of that argument to the other. But in doing so, the hope is simply to share what the internal working narrative of people is often who are on different sides of this divide. And how when you look at the same situation from each point of view, it does make sense, even if you don't agree with a belief system or the outcomes or the values. When you really listen to another person with compassion and respect and empathy, they do make sense, they always make sense. And I personally believe that we all could benefit from having intentional conversations with the goal of understanding those perspectives and seeing the good and the humanity in everyone, as opposed to reinforcing our ideas about why I'm right and you're wrong.

Same thing for relationships. And as a couple’s counselor, I can assure you that when I am working with a couple and each person on opposite sides of the couch is feeling victimized and mistreated and hurt and uncared for by their partner, when you walk into their perspective, you can understand why. You can absolutely understand why and that none of us has a monopoly on the truth. And that it's very, very easy for us as individuals to get caught up into our perspective and our way of seeing things. And there's a very well-documented bias in social psychology where when we see other people doing “bad things” or making “bad choices,” or experiencing difficulty, we view it as because of character flaws, bad choices. It's very easy to judge others.

When we make mistakes and have consequences or negative outcomes, the tendency is to say, “Well, but I was tired.” “Well, yes, but here's the situation that led me to react that way.” We have all kinds of reasons why we do the things that we do because of the context of what was going on, the circumstances that made us feel that way, all of the reasons why we did what we did. And I think it would be to everyone's benefit in this day and age to bestow the same grace to others that other people who are saying things or doing things that you disagree with have reasons and have a context and have feelings that make those actions or ideas make a lot of sense to them. And our role in difficult conversations is to learn what those are. Not have the focus on necessarily being understood, but putting the emphasis on understanding.

I know this sounds paradoxical because often the thing that motivates us to have difficult conversations in the first place is the hope that we could be understood, that we could change somebody's perspective, that we could have a different outcome for the benefit of ourselves. And while that is certainly valid and generally the motivation that leads us to have courage and wade into these conversations, I would like to offer you a perspective that is much more likely to help the situation end well and lead to all of those desired outcomes. And that is putting your attention and effort on understanding the perspective and feelings of another person. Asking open ended questions where you invite them to talk more about their perspective, without being ready to be like, “Okay, well, thank you, because that's why this is wrong.” And arguing with them or blaming someone else for the way that you feel or this one conversational strategy I often see, which is taking the sort of pedantic tone, which is that “If they knew what I knew, then they would change the way that they believe and, you know, all this stuff would stop. They would finally see the light.”

But again, like coming into that with a sort of judgmental and self-righteous idea, which is “My way of seeing things is better than yours and so, you should be more like me.” And this is true for everyone. It is true for progressives who really want to talk about diversity and inclusion, unless you're an evangelical Christian, because that is not okay, right? And on the other side of this, for people to be absolutely resistant to any ideas about social justice issues or race or culture and the very real impact on people because of that and how they, by virtue of their own privilege, are participating in those things, whether or not they know it consciously, shutting all that down. It's when we get very, very polarized and like, “No, I will not tolerate this point of view. I will not let in what you're saying.” That is when conversations just go down the tubes.

And so, to be very, again, self-aware of how when you were having a difficult conversation and feel yourself going into that sort of space of judgment or blame or criticism or “let me rebuttal your idea,” would encourage you to move into a space of listening and understanding, open ended questions that are really focused on helping the other person feel heard and respected and cared for by you so that they feel emotionally safe with you and are able to talk about who they are, what they believe, the things that are important to them, and finally be moving into a place of what kind of relationship they would like to have with you.

Practice Emotional Safety Skills

And also in that space of compassion and emotional safety that you create, it creates an environment where if you are in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you and cares about you as much as you love and care about them, it turns into this openness and willingness to exchange ideas. That if you have done a really good job of listening and understanding that in a healthy relationship, that will be reciprocated. To be able to say, “Thank you so much for telling me how you feel when I see it from your point of view, I understand why that makes sense. Is it okay if I share with you how I have been viewing this and what my values are and why this sometimes feels distressing for me when these things are happening, particularly in the context of our relationship, which I care very much about, by the way.” It's hard to have someone be like, and rare, I will say, to have someone say like, “No, uh-huh. Nope. I have just told you how I feel and what's important to me, but I will not actually be reciprocating that.” That is very, very rare.

And if it actually is happening in your relationship, I would invite you to consider how mutually respectful and healthy that relationship actually is because relationships should not be one way. And if you are going into interactions with people with very not just sincere intentions, but strategies and skills like the ones we've been talking about today, you have the right to be respected and to also be heard, not necessarily agreed with, but understood. There needs to be reciprocity there.

So, there are so many other little micro-skills that I'd love to give you. And it's beyond the scope of this podcast. But go back to the blog at growingself.com and look— communication strategies and you'll find all kinds of podcasts, articles, little things that you might not even notice there. Like, are you making little faces when other people are talking? Are you rolling your eyes without even realizing it?

You would be amazed at how many times in a couple’s counseling sessions, I have to say to one partner, “What are you doing with the faces? Come on, let's stop that.” And really, they're not even aware that they're doing it, but making little faces or the eye rolls their partners being like, “Never mind, I'm done. They're not listening to me. Why even bother?”

So, it's these little micro-moments. And again, it requires so much self-awareness to stay in a good place, stay open, stay receptive, not make the faces. You know what I'm talking about. Certainly, things like interrupting, jumping to conclusions, rushing to defense. I mean, there's so much. There's so much. If you are in a relationship that is very important to you and you are trying really hard to have constructive, productive conversations, and it is just not going well over and over again, that would be an indication. It's probably time to get some professional help so you can be sitting with a relationship coach who's saying to either of you, like, “Stop with the faces, what's going on?” And help with some of the core beliefs or jumping to conclusions or helping around, like listening skills, developing empathy for each other. If that's feeling super-duper hard to do on your own, always okay to reach out for help.

And also be generous with other people who may not have had the benefit of listening to this podcast or doing the kind of personal growth work that you are so clearly invested in. Just the fact that you're listening to this right now and thinking about how to have difficult conversations with courage and competence just says so much about you and realizing that I think when you grow in this area, it becomes really obvious when you see other people struggling in these moments. You can see them becoming flooded. You can see them becoming defensive or shutting down or feeling blamed, not knowing how to calm themselves down or switch back into more noble or empathetic thoughts. So these skills are hard one, but yay to you for doing them. I know there's so much more that we could talk about on this topic and maybe I will record another podcast along these lines again in the future.

But if you have been someone who has recently emailed me or gotten in touch through Facebook or on the blog at growingself.com or Instagram with a question about how do I handle talking to my elderly white aunt about her sort of internalized racism? How do I have a very difficult conversation with my boss or my best friend about something that is really bothering me and feels like it could tank our relationship? Or how do I broach a very important subject with my partner who I love very much, but about a situation that feels kind of unsustainable for me in our relationship?

I just want you to know that I have heard your questions and considered them very carefully. And I hope that the information that I shared with you today has provided a roadmap for how you can have the kind of conversation that you want and have it go well and lead to increased connection and understanding in some of your most important relationships.

And to thank you so much for listening today, if you have questions for me or anything that I can help you with, you are welcome to get in touch with me on the blog at growingself.com. You can also track me down on Facebook, facebook.com/drlisabobby, Instagram, @drlisamariebobby.

I would love to hear from you so that I can make a podcast for you. That's all for today. And I'll be back in touch next week with another episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.

[playing Plastic and Glass by Keshco]

 

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