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Maybe that’s harsh. Maybe people do read, they just don’t retain information or process it, or synthesize it in order to use it for good.

I run an online and in person collective, outside of teaching communication skills. Every week, I post something for our “Promo Monday” – a day everyone can promote their jam, business, service – very exciting day. Very busy in terms of engagement and very normalizing in these weird times. And every post says, “Start a new thread!” – for the past two years.

And every post, I have to close comments and tell people to start a new thread versus just posting in the comments.

What’s shaking here, and how does that connect to our soft skill development? Many of us will be moving a lot of our communication online for the immediate and foreseeable future. Even if offices get back to some kind of in-person interaction, many are choosing to keep meetings and staff gatherings limited to online interactions. This might be a move to fewer meetings (I’m not hopeful) and more likely will be a move to more Zoom and video meetings and conference calls.

Let’s look at two different situations that I bet you’re experiencing right now:

1) You get an email and you scan it in the interest of time. You click respond (hopefully not reply all) and shoot out an email, plopping the original in a ‘done’ folder of sorts. Someone asks you about the contents of the email in a later email and you realize you have no idea. Not because you’ve been incredibly busy, but because you realize you didn’t fully process the email. You look it back up and realize, oops, your response wasn’t the clearest.

2) You’re on a video or phone call. Maybe you’re taking notes, maybe you aren’t. The meeting wraps up and you have an action item or two from it, so you visit your notes or start those items…and you draw a blank. It feels like you were on autopilot during that meeting and now you have to do something with the information you possibly got during that call or video call…and you aren’t even sure you got all of the info you needed! You realize you’re going to have to either a) ask a lot of questions or b) wing it and possibly have to redo the work.

Sound familiar?

Much like the virus hasn’t gone away while we’ve been in various degrees of shelter in place, your need for active listening and communication skill development is still there – and might be a bit larger than before. There have been plenty of think pieces on why it’s hard to concentrate right now (um, pandemic and global upheaval) or hard to be on Zoom all day (try being in a meeting with a mirror in front of you the entire time. May the odds be in your favor.) Your soft skills, specifically listening, interpersonal communication, conversation, comprehension, and retention, need love too.

A few things you can do immediately:

Take notes on meetings and important emails. I don’t care if you scribble something down or reflect afterward. We’re under stress right now. Retention is hard.

Make a choice to listen. It’s a conscious choice and it’s like turning on a light. You need to say to yourself, “I’m going to listen now” and then actually do it. If you don’t know HOW to listen, try focusing on remembering at least two points and have one question. It might be a question you ask or it might be a question you look up afterward.

Respond versus react. A response requires thought, time, and processing. A reaction is all emotion.

Assertive communication is the best. Try the first step in assertive communication – checking in with yourself in the moment. Are you expressing the emotion you’re feeling and what you want, or are you holding it in and back? If you’re holding, why?

These are just a few reasons to continue to focus in on your soft skills, even when everything else is changing. If you’d like more ideas or some training courses, hop over to The Engaging Educator for our upcoming remote interactive and prerecorded programming!

Zoom: The Energy Vampire

Over the last two months, I have taught over 50 classes on Zoom. By now, we’re realizing how Zoom fatigue is real for various reasons. I believe all of them.

 

I am also convinced it is an energy vampire for facilitators.

 

I’ve used the term energy vampire before – it’s a person that feeds off of your emotion and energy. Unfortunately, those folks aren’t always easy to spot – they lack empathy and emotional maturity, you just feel zapped after talking to them, and seem to happily dump all emotions on you with no reciprocity. 

 

Zoom is the greatest succubus of all.

 

Picture this: you’re facilitating a group in person. You give them a task or an activity, and you let them start on it in small groups. The energy is unbeatable: the hum of conversation, the laughs of discovery, the mildly awkward buzz of interpersonal learning. That energy bounces from them to you – and gets you ready for the second, third, eighth activities. 

 

Now picture this: you’re facilitating a group on Zoom. You give them a task or an activity, and you let them start on it in small breakout rooms. You click the button to open the rooms, the group portkeys Harry Potter style out of the room…and you are alone. 

 

Silence.

 

Staring at your face.

 

That energy is gone in Zoom, no matter how interactive your lessons are.

 

Sure, you can pop in a few rooms, and check things out. Except for this time, it feels like intruding. So you go back to your lonely main room, and after a bit, the group spins back in. They are laughing, smiling and full of questions and reflection. THEY get the energy they need, which is amazing! Post-class, you feel blank inside. You’re happy, yes – but the usual energy spike post teaching isn’t the same.

 

What do we do, aside from being exhausted the entire time?

 

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the past two months about conserving, sharing, and interacting with energy in the group – and – two chances to learn more!

 

It’s Not You

I know this one is obvious but important: it’s not about you! It’s about the students. I had to remind myself that it’s OK to be selfish and want that amazing energy. It’s also ok to be exhausted after teaching. I was teaching a leadership class last week and wow, that group was on point. I haven’t gotten so many thank you emails and notes from a class in a long time! I got done and I was blank, empty, and just wanted to play Animal Crossing and fish. 

 

And that’s exactly what I did. 

 

The self-care that occurs post-class is big. Whatever you need to do to recoup that energy is not just important, it’s essential. There were a few days where I was teaching two or three classes a day, and that was just a terrible choice. Yes, some days I do two – I never do three. Three breaks me. Maybe two will break you, or even consecutive classes! Know your limit, whatever it is, stick to it, and recover afterward.

 

Understand Interaction

Interaction isn’t just between you and them. It’s the connection between you and them, them with each other, them with the material, them after class with the material…good interaction keeps going, post-class! 

 

This might be you facilitating discussion in the room, you allow the space and freedom of breakout rooms (and not creeping on them), you giving them something to do that taps into their personal home situation – remember the modalities of learning, those different ways to take in information that so many people get worked up about? Lean into those as areas of interest, and provide options. Maybe it’s asking them to come up with a song that encompasses their feelings or watch a TV show and check back in or tap into a conversation with folks they live with. Interaction doesn’t have to be in that moment and verbal.

 

It could also be turning off video and listening to prompts – maybe you’re guiding them through a thinking exercise or playing audio for input. Whatever the method is, understand that you’re not going to get the affirmation you’re used to getting – and even some of that affirmation had been fake. Sure, some of those smile and nod crowd mean it – others? Nope.

 

Learn About Yourself Every Time

When this all started I realized what a hypocrite I was – I tell students, remember your glows and grows! You have to pay attention to them! You need an even amount of glows (things you do well) and grows (things to improve on)!

 

And here I was, complaining to my husband how I “messed up” the rooms, didn’t time them “good enough” and talked too much when I was giving instructions…where were my glows? I led an improv workshop to a huge group of first-generation college students! They loved it! They learned a ton about interviewing and communication. 

 

I had forgotten to reflect.

 

After that moment, everything changed. After every class, I take between 5-10 minutes alone, in the chair I taught in, and write down my reflections. Maybe it’s a new activity I tried or a variation on something I thought of in the moment. Sometimes it’s “look this up” or “wow that was bad, how do I make this work for next time?” Regardless, I make sure I have an EQUAL NUMBER of great and “work on” items – because let’s be real, the lack of energy is a major bummer. As someone who also struggles with depression and anxiety, it makes things even worse.

 

 

What have you been doing to keep your energy up? If you’re interested, I’m hosting a free workshop on Wednesday, May 13 at 3 pm EST for educators and facilitators about Zoom, Interaction, and Facilitation – and we’ll 100% discuss this energy zap.

 

On Tuesday, May 19, we’ll be leading an interactive improv-based Zoom program with our friends at UC Berkeley at 4 pm PST – also free!

 

And finally, we’re always running online classes for YOU – because even though you teach others, you need to focus inward sometimes. Use code eefriends50 and save 50% on any program.

It’s a lovely afternoon, and you finally have time to sit down and focus on your big project. You’ve got a snack prepped so you can really power through some of this work, a beverage of choice, and a comfy spot where you can focus.

In my case, I’ve usually got some kind of crunchy snack, a kombucha or tea, and I’m far away from my dogs and plants, because you know I’m going to play with one and check on another.

Finally! You can get through that brain block, come up with something actually creative and interesting. Let’s go!

Writes an idea down.

Stares at the paper.

Writes a different version of the same idea.

Over, and over, and over again. 

This might not even be for a creative task! You might be thinking about a solution to a problem, a way out of an argument or disagreement, a gift for a friend or spouse…you name it, it’s that brain block that allows you to just think of the same thing over and over and over again. Whether you’re stuck in ideation or overthinking a negative thought, it’s the dwelling that hurts.

Worse – even when you think of something different, that “different” thing is somehow basically just a cousin or ancestor of the thing you couldn’t get out of your head in the first place!

If you don’t feel like rolling this one idea through your head until you get so tired of it you just do it or shut your brain off completely, you can tap into the art of improv to get yourself out of it. While many people associate improv with “Whose Line is it Anyway?” the improv I’m talking about taps into listening and responding to the world around you – which is actually the same kind of improv that gets used on stage, just on an elevated level. Here are three improv tips for breaking this rut:

Failure Isn’t An Option

One of the most beautiful parts of improv, in my opinion – failure doesn’t happen. You’re taught to follow the fear; that is, you pursue the thing that scares you the most. By chasing that fear, you’re looking into growth, change, something different – all things that can break your rut.

How does thinking about failure as impossible pull you out of a rut? Well, when you’re convinced that certain solutions and choices are wrong, you avoid making them. By brainstorming with the idea that you cannot possibly fail, and all ideas are possible, you’re pulling yourself out of the loop you’re in. 

Stream of Consciousness

Still stuck? Write down what you’re working on. Right under it, write down the first thing you think of when you read your previous statement. Now under that, something that you think of when you read that next statement. For example:

I need to know what to eat for dinner.

This makes me think: Recipes are really fun.

This makes me think: Oh, I haven’t read my favorite food blog lately.

This makes me think: Remember that easy rice bowl I made a few months ago? I should eat that.

While this example is really simple, you’re following a stream of consciousness and working on breaking the loop of the first two or three ideas – you’re letting yourself have the grace to head down a rabbit hole in a calculated manner.

Yes, And

Perhaps the most powerful phrase in improv, “Yes, And” can help you move forward with the previous two statements.

Basically, you take what you said, add a YES to it to affirm the idea or suggestion, then add an AND.

Using our “failure isn’t possible” as well as the stream of consciousness suggestion:

I really want to come up with a new idea for a work project.

Yes, and that work project idea is going to get people excited.

Yes, and that excitement will be genuine because it will tap into what folks are good at.

And so on and so forth – if you keep this going, you’ll see ideas in a new light and be able to get out of your rut.

Originally published in Forsyth Woman Magazine 5.1.20

I’m not alone or innovative in the idea of upskilling during this crisis.

Heck, this crisis didn’t even introduce the idea of upskilling.

See the GI Bill – a benefit that helped service members and vets, covering the cost of educational training, introduced in 1944, expired in 1956 – and still referred to when programs are created to help.

Translate a loose version to the now: with an unemployment rate that keeps rising, 1 in 6 Americans are unemployed right now – a number that will surely go up. It’s no wonder folks are yelling for upskilling – a focus on leveling up your career skills, education, soft skills, and more while you wait for the chance to snag that job that is “better” (whatever that means) than the one you lost – or equal to. With a highly skilled and accomplished unemployment pool, we’re quickly entering an employer’s market.

And even teams that have the privilege to stick together and not experience loss or unemployment are looking to leveling up. As a learning and development provider, we’re tapping into the same but slightly different focuses on presenting, leadership, storytelling, and more. Excited for the work – a MASSIVE CAUTION.

Ready?

Are you listening?

Focused and present?

Great, that’s the first step. But I’ll get to that.

Hear me out on this first: Learning and Development is TRASH if you aren’t following it up with continuing education. One of one hour, six-hour, two day deep dives – all garbage if you aren’t building it into the daily. It’s like expecting results from one meeting with a trainer. Sound silly? Yep, this is true for any professional development.

“But we had this great one-off a few years ago on [insert topic]!”

How often have you talked about, reflected, worked on, followed up, anything with that training?

It’s gone now. All those great feels and motivations are probably in the wind for most of the participants.

If you are participating in upskilling either on the company clock or not, you need to build it into every day. Don’t try to change everything tonight or tomorrow – think of tiny changes you can keep up with, adding more when you see the improvement. This idea of scaffolding learning is critical to lasting change. Keep it up, keep it sustainable, and remember little steps still get you moving in the right direction.

WHAT you are upskilling is just as important, and where you start. If you aren’t building things like active listening, focus, and interpersonal communication, higher-level skills won’t stick. It’s like building a house with a terrible foundation – I still remember an apartment I lived in for years in Brooklyn. You could put a can on the floor and it would roll to the other side of the room – the foundation was that off.

Same with learning.

If you don’t have the base skills, how can you learn to give feedback, manage conflict, lead from where you are – or any of the dozens of other catchphrases we hear in learning and development?

Step one: assess where you are and where you want to be. Don’t look at it as strengths and weaknesses. Look at it as “Glows” (things you do well) and “Grows” (things you need to work on). Once you’ve got your list, look at those base skills again: how do you – and your team – listen? Communicate? Focus? What are their learning styles? Do they have to participate in the learning for it to be impactful, or simply watch or listen to the class or skill?

When you’ve surveyed both the landscape of learning AND your base skills, start with those changes that are sustainable. Thinking you’re going to commit to a 17 point leadership checklist before every meeting? Good luck. Make a point to not formulate a response before the other person is done asking the question or making the statement? Better. Working on listening versus waiting to speak? Nice.

Take these smaller steps to ensure your upskilling sticks and is effective. Don’t let the can roll to the other side of the floor in 6 months because you rushed the foundation.

You’ve Got to MOVE IT

Welcome to week question mark exclamation point of shut down and Zoom meetings. Long, drawn-out, meeting for meeting sake Zoom meetings.

Are you tired yet?

I am, but maybe not of what you think. I don’t mind Zoom meetings – they are fine. Just like in life, too many of them should be emails or quick calls, but fine. We can’t ask for everything to change and become reflective of how much time gets used and how wisely.

My exhaustion comes from the lack of modulation in voices.

You know what I’m talking about – you hop on a meeting and the droning…the consistent cadence that never changes and feels so much like white noise. It’s one of the easiest ways to make your voice dynamic and for some reason, one of the ways that is tapped last (or next to last).

Your voice can be white noise after a while. Right now just silence everything – if you have music on, the tv, your partner or roommate. Ask them to be quiet for a quick moment and just listen to the sounds around you. What do you hear? If I take a moment from typing I’ll hear my dog breathing (he sits close), some radiator or AC noises (something outside and electrical), the fan in the other room, and some birds. Unless I’m focusing on those noises, I won’t hear them. They are consistent, with a pattern that repeats over and over.

Voices are the same.

If you’re really excited or really low energy or constantly anything, your voice can be ignored much like the sounds of a fan in the other room. If you have a consistent pattern, you’re at the risk of losing your audience.

So what do we do? I was at a conference a few years back and a speaker RAN into the room, YELLING at the top of his lungs to “wake up” the audience. Every few minutes (no joke) he would yell AGAIN.

He would yell.

I was mortified. There are so many better and less…annoying…ways to change up your cadence! They are all going to feel a bit contrived at first, so experiment with these suggested tactics on your next video call:

Speed Shifter
Many of us talk at a consistent speed, even with our filler words. We’ll let words fall out of our mouths at the same pace without ever thinking about changing it intentionally. We might snowball: you start going faster and faster, picking up more speed as time goes on, much like a snowball racing down a hill, picking up more and more snow.

Try intentionally going a bit faster for a short amount of time – maybe you’re showing some excitement or adventure with your pacing. Maybe you’re telling a story or recapping details folks know. The key is to actually start and stop intentionally. Same with going a bit slower – you don’t want to talk like a robot or go so slow we are bored just listening to you talk. Emphasize things and points by slowing down to make a point.

Obama Pause
QUICK! Think of former President Obama’s speech pattern.

Amazing right? I bet you can hear those pauses and breaks. Pausing is an INCREDIBLE tool for cadence. You take one, and it’s a show of confidence, allows your audience to reflect and you get to tap intrapersonal communication. Those questions you ask your audience to think about, the things you ask them to consider – give a silence after you ask to get them to THINK about what you want them to think about!

Take a REAL pause…not one you think is a pause that is just a moment of silence. Ask a question and wait…wait…wait…now speak again. Look at people while you pause and don’t rush to fill the air with noise (your voice).

Big note – do not mimic the cadence of someone you admire. We saw that with Mayor Pete and Obama. He mimicked Obama’s pauses and his cadence, straight up emulated him instead of being inspired by him and came across as a discount version. Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a knock off of someone else.

I get so emotional baby…every time I think of you
Adding an emotional lens to your voice will automatically change your cadence. You’ll change a tone if you smile, pacing if you think about being excited or serious, and you’ll pause if you get reflective. Emotions drive so much of our communication, why not use it in your favor to show some of the passion behind your words? Impact follows intention: by purposely doing something, in this case, showing your emotional cards, you’ll be a bit more impactful with your words.

This one tripping you up? Try saying a few sentences or reading something with different emotional lenses on top. Happy, sad, angry and excited are great places to start – see what changes in your voice when you add that lens. Some of it, trash. Some changes? GOLD.

Repetition. Repetition.
Did you make an awesome point? Try making it again. Repeat what you just said for emphasis, and you will have altered your normal cadence just by saying the same thing twice. Want it to be even more effective? Say it faster or slower that second time. That repetition coupled with a cadence change will snag attention.

Remember, you WANT people to listen to the words and point you’re saying – otherwise, why are you talking, and why isn’t it just an email?

Vulnerability – that super scary thing that so many of us shy away from because we think it makes us weak. Or that super scary thing that so many of us don’t fully understand, and if we don’t understand it, why do it?

If you’ve spent some time listening to Brené Brown, either one of her videos or TED talks, you’ve heard a lot on vulnerability, and maybe even experienced a bit of it…maybe even begrudgingly so! You know the feeling: it’s that sense of being exposed which leads to the possibility of being attacked. Risk is exactly that: the chance of an attack, whatever that attack might look like. Do you truly know what vulnerability looks like in you and in other people?

Physical vulnerability is easy to spot.  If you have a dog, you know exactly what it looks like in animals. I remember when we got our rescue, Pickle (he was not named that when we got him). We were driving home from the meeting point after we signed all of the adoption papers, and he started trembling the moment we got in the car. We were convinced this little shaking creature would be terrified of us for weeks, and while he was excited to see our other dog (they had a home visit) he was definitely scared of us. There was little playing and a lot of shying away when we tried to sit with him. Pretty normal for a new pup, really normal for a rescue pup!

Later that night, we were going to bed. Our other dog sleeps on the bed with us, and we weren’t sure what was going to happen with the new guy. Much to our shock, we ended up with two dogs in the bed, and our little shaking Pickle? On his back, belly up, on the very first night. He trusted us not to hurt him.

Take that, and apply it to your emotions, and you’ve got the vulnerability that most of us are afraid of – being hurt, failure – and the thing we shy most away from. Think about the last time you did something that really scared you. Chances are it wasn’t one of those things that might kill you, but you had to expose your emotional “belly” so to speak. Think about why you were afraid and what exactly scared you.

Brené Brown says that vulnerability is “the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity” and I’m inclined to agree wholeheartedly. This is why it’s scary: because you’re probably trying something new or taking a risk in a way that you haven’t in the past. Think about those areas brought up by Brown. In order to truly experience love, you have to open yourself up to the possibility of getting hurt. Belonging is similar: you’re opening up the possibility of being left out if you don’t “fit in.” Joy falls there, too – you could also have great sadness. Courage, empathy, creativity – all of these offer the chance of amazingness and winning.

Also the chance of failure, heartbreak, and sadness, as well as defeat.

Why be vulnerable then? If we’re constantly trying not to fail, we’ll never succeed.

Think about it! You can play it oh-so-safe and never open yourself up to vulnerability! What does that lead to though? When you are “safe” and playing it safe, sure, you won’t experience hurt, heartbreak, loss, failure. You’re safe, status quo and just “fine.” The little box that you “hide” from failure might be warm and fuzzy…but do you want to stay there forever?

Probably not.

Take the risk and open yourself up to failure, loss, heartache, and sadness. Yes, that chance is there.

And so is greatness.

Originally Published in Forsyth Woman Magazine

Please note these communication strategies are for everyday situations. If you feel as though you are in danger, please call your local police department.

My partner and I get along pretty well on normal days. We have a few disagreements, we fight (because honestly, that’s normal!) and we snip at each other from time to time.

Our current situation is not a normal one.

If you are complying with CDC recommendations (and in NC, state declarations) you’re staying at home as much as possible. Maybe you or your partner are leaving for work as an essential employee, but for the most part, you’re spending a lot of time together. That, plus stress and the grief we’re all going through, and you have a recipe for communication disaster.

Here are a few ideas for making this time a bit easier for everyone when it comes to communication:

Take a Time Out – But Discuss First

If you take nothing else out of this post, this is a gem. Time outs are not just great for kids and students, as long as you talk about it first.

The moment of conflict is not the best time to set up a system for dealing with conflict, so have this conversation sooner rather than when you need to. Figure out what you will do and where you will go if you need space because of high emotions. For example, my husband and I have a rule: if you walk into another room and close the door, you get left alone until you come out.

That’s a time out.

That’s a moment where we’ve recognized that communication is not going to be thoughtful or considerate – there’s a high chance it’s going to be colored by our emotions and whatever else is going on. So, we walk away and cool off, and then come back when we’re ready to have a conversation – or go to bed, and have the conversation the next day.

We set this system up after a fight that wasn’t…pleasant. We both said things we weren’t proud of and knew if we had taken some space without invading the other’s, we would have realized that we were also stressed, tired and hungry…a recipe for disaster.

Check-In…With Everyone

I am a big proponent of reflection. Our emotions are higher than ever, depending on how you’re coping with the current situation.

And emotions can make communication complicated at best.

Take a moment to check-in if you find yourself in a conflict or losing patience with your partner. How are you feeling? Are you upset with someone else, the situation, the moment, your work? Aside from checking in with yourself, take a moment to practice empathy with your partner. Asking them “Are you ok?” doesn’t always yield the best results. Instead, assess their situation. Are they struggling with work? How do they usually deal with pressure? Have they eaten lunch or missed sleep? Take some time to look at the situation before you jump onto communication. It might be a moment where you need the previously mentioned time out.

Give Grace

I have said this so often over the past few days. We cannot change the way someone else communicates, only how we respond to it. You need to give yourself – and your partner – and everyone grace. I’ve seen too many people take things personally, project, explode – and the fact of the matter is, we are all struggling right now. This is new, scary – it’s like we’re headed up a rollercoaster and we have the anxiety of the climb coming and coming – and zero relief with the exhilarating fall.

Give yourself, and everyone around you, grace. This is such a difficult time, and our communication is effected so strongly by our emotions. Take a breath and deal with it later. Grant yourself – and your partner – some grace.

Originally published in Forsyth Woman Magazine 4.5.20

Yahtzee! Or, How We Deal

Walking the dogs this weekend stressed me out.

We live in an apartment complex that is generally very nice. There are sidewalks, lots of grass, plenty of buildings, shared areas like a dog park, pool, clubhouse with a movie theatre, grilling stations – like I said, really nice, compared to my Brooklyn railroad apartment.

Thankfully, many of the shared amenities have been closed – but this weekend we were walking our dogs and looked over at one of the grill stations. A quick count showed more than 10 (our county, and now, our state is under restrictions) and the 10 folks weren’t any 10 – they were our apartment management, maintenance, and staff – literally, all of them, drinking with corn hole and bbq.

My level of anger was…high. I couldn’t stop snapping about it – who did they think they were!

Vectors!

All of them!

Why didn’t they think the rules applied to them as much as they apply to everyone else!

I went as far as to tweet and call my property management company, angrily reacting to the irresponsible behavior that was putting everyone at risk.

So what did it have to do with me?

Stop. Think. Breathe.

In reality, it didn’t. I’m keeping my space “clean” and safe – we are social distancing, we haven’t spoken to others in real life in weeks, we’re wiping down the valet trash can, our outdoor doorknobs, groceries, treating everything like raw meat. We are, in essence, controlling everything we have control over – so why the desire to control what other people are doing?

I know this isn’t just me. I see this stress and fury all over social media – why is this company doing this! Why is this person selling like this! A coronavirus CONTENT CHALLENGE?

That last one is just poor taste, but all of them? I KNOW I can keep scrolling and keep walking away, but for some reason, even though I know this intellectually, I feel like I can’t – and it’s because the landscape, goal posts, end of the tunnel keeps changing Every. Single. Day.

That, my friends, is why we are all losing our minds.

Control is a funny thing – it’s even more ironic that I teach improv for a living and yet I’m struggling massively with control in this very new and scary situation. Improv is best executed when you give up control: one of the rules I rarely talk about is “follow the follower” and it’s a doozy. Essentially you’re playing with the whole team, and your actions affect the larger group. It’s probably why I’m so furious at people that are thinking they are above and beyond the advisements to behave as if you have it.

We experience change and upheaval in everyday life constantly. Things change and we move through transitions and THOSE are difficult – and those are fast, comparatively, to what we are dealing with now. Imagine all of this like a Yahtzee game– in “normal” change, the cup shakes and the dice get dumped out and you deal with what’s there. The moment of shaking is the unknown, and it’s just a moment. During this particular change, it’s like someone is constantly shaking the dice, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly, and there’s no relief from the dumped dice moment.

So what can we do, aside from grabbing our bearings and loved ones and hold tight to something while the world shakes around us? Not much, honestly. Something I hear in therapy a lot ties to what I teach in improv – be in the moment. What’s true right now? Not what could happen, what you could do, what you might be dealing with – what is true right now, in this moment, at this second? For me, what’s true:

My family is healthy.

My boomer parents are staying TF home.

My doggos are happy.

I have support.

I am healthy.

I control what I come in contact with.

That’s it! That’s all I know! No amount of yelling at people in real life or on the internet can change those things – and no amount of wanting them to change helps either. I can only control how I respond – and that’s it.

Other things you and I can control:

Who we interact with – mute, block, take a break.

Who we let into our mental space.

Our feelings.

A quick note on emotions: feelings are INCREDIBLY COMPLEX during times of change and control. This handy feelings wheel always surprises me:

Take some time and figure out where your emotions are falling, and keep those in mind when you communicate and interact with those around you. I was finding myself in the blue, black, red, orange, green space A LOT – until I realized that this was just my control issues taking over. My goal is to keep letting go and focusing on things that directly connect with my six-foot bubble. What’s your goal?

All in all, please remember we can only control how we are responding to this – no more, no less. Find peace in that, and give yourself grace and space to feel your feelings.

You Can’t Change How Someone Communicates

I would like to scream this from the rooftops.

After another online argument (I know, I know! I need to disengage!) I would like to say this major thing: you cannot change how someone communicates, you can only change your response to them.

Yes, I know you might be frustrated with the seemingly tone-deaf emails.

I completely understand that you might find it hard to believe that folks are still promoting their work, their webinars, their mission.

You have a choice.

You can choose to engage. Get angry. Shame them publicly. Screenshot their email and chirp about it online, use gifs that are rude at best, hurtful and insulting at worst. You can dogpile some poor small business or marketer and be terrible. You can tell them how to communicate with their team, write posts, make videos – urge your followers to do the same. You can attempt the impossible – try to change how they communicate from a virtual platform because we’re all staying at home, even the person who is promoting their webinar. You can attempt to teach them empathy by shaming them and telling them how to feel the “right” way.

Or.

You can understand that you can’t change how someone communicates. You can only change how you respond to them. Some things that can make you feel active:

Choose grace over shame.
We’re all scared AF. Fear is wild – we do all kinds of weird things when our safety is being threatened or taken away. Step back when someone is reacting differently than you – do you need to spend negative energy on them? Is it effective? Or are you projecting?

Be active yourself
Angry? Upset? Do something with it. This isn’t to say that you should shame them (which is something) – you can go for a socially distanced walk, play with a pet, call a friend, watch a movie, create something, write King Lear – whatever! Do something with that anger that might turn negative with shaming someone.

Step back and ask why
Why are you going to shame? Why not have a conversation? You can choose to respond directly to them: hey, this feels tone-deaf. Hey, have you thought about this? Hey, let me offer something to you directly and assertively, instead of being passive-aggressive and shaming on social media. Ask yourself why that’s your default – how are you processing all of this?

Discourse is fine. Shame isn’t.
We’re all upset – have a conversation. Be assertive! You can say something like “When you do this, I feel this” to the person, company, organization or entity that is doing the behavior that’s bothering you. In improv, when we talk about people not in the room we usually have issues being direct and assertive with those individuals. Again, shame isn’t ok – we’re all scared.

All, it’s a new world out there. Choose kindness.

And stay the f*&^ home.

 

How Are You?  

How many times have you almost cried in the last week? My number is pretty high. I, like many people, have consistent humming anxiety right now, and that’s marked with moments of dread, panic, and sadness. I know this. I’ve been to enough therapy to also know that this is normal. And yet, my coaching call today asked me how I was doing and I replied, “I’m ok” – because that’s what we are right? We are OK!

We’re pivoting our businesses!
Working from home!
Everything is OK!

Blatant lies. Things are just bad right now. And today, I’m not ok.

I have so many friends that are now suddenly out of work. Small business owners that are pretty sure they won’t reopen. Some having very real questions racing through their brains, uncertain about how long they can manage to stay closed and stay in business. A dad that runs a business at an airport – so he has to go because as long as the airport is open, he has to be open. Speaker friends that suddenly and immediately don’t have an income. I won’t even start to talk about friends who were already struggling. You know how they are doing.

Things are really bad right now.

And you know what? It’s ok to feel bad right now. Like, actually and really ok. Not like, “oh it’s ok to be unproductive right now and look I only made one video or posted one thing!” kinda ok.

No. It’s 100% ok to be completely paralyzed with fear of what next, terrified of the what next next and concerned of the very real possibility that the world we knew will not be the world again. We just have no idea, and that’s scary. IT IS OK TO STOP BUSINESSING FOR A MOMENT. Literally, as I was finishing this, I went to open LinkedIn, and the first post I saw was “Don’t stop! You owe it to your business and work to not stop!”

You. Can. Rest.

It’s ok to sit in your own unknown for a moment. I’m not suggesting you quit – I am suggesting that you rest.

I coach and teach folks how to be authentic for a living. And I ask everyone I work with – how are you feeling right now. Check-in. If we want to get out of this bad place and work back to actually feeling ok, we’re going to have to start being honest with ourselves first.

So how are you?

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