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I used to be terrified to speak up for myself.

Funny huh? I teach folks how to be confident and speak up for themselves, and yet a few years ago I was such a people pleaser that I never spoke up for myself. I let everyone else get what they wanted and sacrificed what I wanted in the process.

I’m not quite sure what broke me – I do know that it wasn’t some movie moment where I got fed up and yelled “I’m looking out for me now!” and stormed off from the narcissist I was talking to. That would have been a pretty amazing story, but it was much more of a slow burn to finally look out for myself. When it clicked into place, I haven’t looked back since.

Here are four things I tapped into that helped me speak up for myself – and a client story to go along with it. Give them a whirl and see how they work in your life!

  1. Figure out what’s actually bothering you

    Getting to the source of the issue is a tough one. A client of mine was really upset a few weeks ago because of a negative review on her performance report. She was near tears when she came into our coaching session, and I wasn’t convinced it was actually THAT that was upsetting her. Turns out, the more we talked the more she realized that it wasn’t the report that was bothering her, it was the massive amount of work that a coworker kept throwing on her that led to the missed responsibility, that led to the performance report ding.

    It’s often not the thing that sets you off. The core is usually deeper! Take a moment to WHY your discomfort or anger. When we talked about it, I first asked, “Why are you mad about the performance report?” and she replied, “I didn’t deserve it!” and my response, as you might guess, was “Why didn’t you deserve it?” It only took a few “whys” to end up at the source.

  2. Do your homework and write some notes

    After we tapped into what was really bothering her, we started to bullet point out ways to talk to her coworker. She knew that she should have been more assertive in saying no in the beginning (more on that later) but since she couldn’t go back and say no, she had to move forward and say no. Instead of placing the blame on the coworker, she decided to develop a plan to say no for future situations where work might get passed off on her.

    Taking a few notes in advance and taking time to dig into what you want to say – and removing emotions from it – is critical to get your point across. She was so furious she cried, remember? Going into a situation with that level of emotion is only going to end poorly, or cause you to forget what you’re about to say! Jot down critical points.

  3. Pull them aside and make time

    Nothing good comes from those movie moments. This one is straight and to the point – don’t just attack someone because you’re ready to stand up for yourself. There is a chance that person isn’t a complete and utter sociopath, and they aren’t being malicious with you – and while you still need to stand up for yourself, you don’t need to drop a giant bomb on your relationship with this person.

    My client reached out to her coworker with a meeting request – when they asked for the purpose of the meeting, she said it was about changes to her workflow. Short and simple always wins.

  4. Use statements like “I think” – assertive communication

    We planned for this moment by creating assertive statements from her notes. By using phrases with “I think” she created factual statements (because, she thinks it! It’s a fact, and she owned it!) These are also hallmarks of assertive language – an I statement and ownership of thoughts.

How did it all go? Well, she no longer has to do the work of her coworker – and again, it wasn’t some big movie moment. Whether her coworker was aware of it or not, they accepted that she wasn’t taking on more work than she could handle, and she started to build the habit of speaking up for herself using these four easy steps. If you’re feeling a bit too much like a doormat, try these! As usual, figure out how to adapt and edit to make it work best for you, and let me know how it goes, or if you get stuck, always feel free to reach out!

Hysterical laughter erupts post scene – two students created a picnic moment that turned into a horror movie with a cult leader that believed ants were Gods. I was even in tears, laughing so hard my stomach ached – and truthfully, I can’t remember a time I laughed so hard before or since. The best part? These folks weren’t actors or comedians – they were entrepreneurs, in all different stages of their business from startup and ideation to folks who have been in business for 10+ years.

All of the entrepreneurs were taking this improv class to make them better at running their business – and for good reason! Aside from improv being the best boot camp in listening and interpersonal communication skills, five major improv rules are used daily by entrepreneurs.

  1. Say YES!

    Denial is death to improv. When you say no to a reality, an offering, a suggestion or idea in improv, you’ve killed the scene and the moment. Negation is the first thing you’re taught to avoid. While you’re not saying YES to being a doormat – you are saying yes to the possibilities.

    When you start a new business or want to grow, you have to say yes. If you’re constantly making excuses and saying “no that won’t work” or “no we can’t do that” or “no, that’s not the way we work” you’re shutting down possibilities. Business 101: stay open to possibilities when you’re growing!

  2. Make Statements, Mind Your Questions

    Questions pass the buck. If you’re asking questions in improv, you’re confused: you might not know where something is going! Makes sense in real life, right? Ask a question and you can get answers from the people around you. Full stop: you’re passing the buck to the other people when you ask a question. When you make a statement, you’re not only taking initiative in a conversation, you’re also adding to it, and pulling your weight.

    In business, there is a time and a place for questions and a time and place for declarative statements – and if you’re managing a team or making big choices (even smaller ones!) you have to take some initiative! The responsibilities around making choices for your business need to fall on you – sure, you can get help from folks, but in the end, a LOT of those decisions have to come from you.

  3. Be Real, Not Funny

    Probably one of the biggest misconceptions is that improv makes you funny. Nope, not one bit – when you try to be funny, you’re not, unless you ARE FUNNY. It’s pretty awful when someone who isn’t funny tries to be funny or tells jokes, but doesn’t understand comedic timing. What makes improv funny is the truth – when people are real, living the reality they create, THAT is funny. Not bad comedic timing – reality, and heightened reality at that is hysterical when you’re watching.

    Fake and inauthentic entrepreneurs are, for lack of a better word, gross. You’ve read their posts, heard their talks and been bothered by their social media campaigns – probably all while saying “how are they still in business?!” When you’re running a business, your clients will be able to tell if you’re being real or pretending. And fake it till you make it can only get you so far.

  4. Fail Freely

    When I was an improv performer, I performed off-Broadway. Know what one of the worst feelings in the world? Bombing in front of a full house. I still remember when I was running in as the ref of a competitive improv night and I tripped UP the stage. I didn’t fall down, I fell up.

    And I can tell you after that night, I never once bit it jumping up on stage again.

    Improv is best when people fail freely – you risk it all for the moment, and maybe it works, and maybe it bombs and you trip up the stage. You’ll never do it again.

    The best entrepreneurs are the ones that risk failure: starting a business is a risk! You might lose time, money, friends – and you might gain everything by risking that failure. Even if you only lose face, it’s more than many people risk. The status quo? Not for you.

  5. Follow the Fear

    Quite literally, the phrase “Follow the Fear” comes from the great improv teacher Del Close. In improv, victory is on the other side of what makes you uncomfortable. That thing that scares you? Probably where the funny lies.

In entrepreneurship, things are going to scare you – from going full time to scaling up to hiring someone. Victory is on the other side of what makes you uncomfortable. That thing that scares you? Probably where your version of success lies.

Originally Published in Forsyth Women Magazine

According to a recent study by LinkedIn Learning, 75% of respondents believe feedback is valuable, 60% reported they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis and less than 30% said they actually receive feedback.

That last one is not a typo.

Feedback is hard – people could get defensive, we don’t quite know how to give it (or how to take it) and when it doesn’t happen it’s often not followed up on or given with action items, so it’s like giving someone an IKEA bed without instructions. You might figure it out, and you might get frustrated and throw a wrench.

Here are three tips for giving feedback.

  1. Good and Bad
    If you are only giving someone feedback when they do something wrong, feedback is going to be a scary looming monster on a professional – or personal – relationship. Think about it: you hear nothing until something fails. What will you remember? The silence leading up to it or the negativity?

    When giving feedback, remember that it can be given when something is going right and when something isn’t going according to plans. I like a “glow” and “grow” idea – if something is great, tell them about this glow! What are they doing right? If something needs work, that’s a “grow” – it’s not a failure, just something that needs time to develop.

    The side point here: make feedback a regular occurrence. It becomes part of your culture and life if it happens all the time, and that makes the negative feedback that much easier because it’s all part of the same system – not just something scary that comes up when folks are in trouble.

  2. Specific and ImmediateThis one is simple: when you’re thinking about giving feedback, don’t wait too long. If you do, you’ll end up either forgetting what it was for or not associating it with the behavior you’d like to either change or affirm.

    The slightly more complicated side: it has to be specific. “You did a great job” is very different than “Your empathy with that customer was great, they seemed to feel much better after talking to you.” Being specific is HARD, and that’s ok! Start with the simple statement and give it the million question toddler treatment. What does great mean? What was great? Can you describe what they did that worked well to someone that wasn’t there?

    The specificity works for negative feedback as well: if you aren’t clear and concise with what you want to be different – or what you’d like them to “grow” – then how will they know what to change and how to change it?

  3. Plans Please
    You’ve made feedback a regular thing! You’ve got specific, concise and immediate! And…nothing changes.

    If you’re not following up on the feedback with a plan and then following up on that plan, why would it get done?

    Sure, we like to think we’re all independent workers in the remote day and age – but, sometimes we aren’t the best at accountability, which is why so many people look for coaches and trainers when they go to the gym. At the same time, if no one is giving you a plan to improve – or to grow – how can you? Many of us can figure something out on our own, but when you’re stuck in the trees it’s hard to see the forest.

    If you’re giving “grow” feedback, take a moment to step back and also think of a plan, or at least a few action steps you can work on with this person. Even if it’s as simple as “let’s follow up in a few weeks to see how this is going” you’ve given them a point to work towards and a date to check in – which creates accountability.

Feedback doesn’t need to be a scary professional moment – use it to your advantage to rise above the status quo!

 

Lead Like A Women

Originally Published in Forsyth Women Magazine

In 2017, Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer created a third cofounder for their online e-commerce platform: Keith Mann not only got more email responses from potential investors and partners, he got more respect. Never mind he didn’t show up, ever – and ONLY communicated via email. Gazin and Dwyer faced everything from investors refusing to acknowledge them by name to developers threatening to delete everything if they didn’t get a date. No wonder they created Mr. Mann.

Unfortunately, this is consistent throughout leadership and entrepreneurship: women are just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs, and those statistics are reflected across the board. Women aren’t being seen as leaders in organizations, and if they get there, they often end up feeling imposter syndrome. As funny as Mr. Mann might be, it’s not a recommended strategy for leadership. Here are three ways you can start leading like a woman:

  1. Find your best qualities
    Repeat after me: stop trying to be a second rate version of someone else. You’re wasting the first-rate version of yourself. Not all leaders have the same qualities! Gone are the days of every leader wearing a suit and walking in with their briefcase and coffee in the morning, off to sit in their office and order from on high. Leadership looks different on everyone!

    Take a few minutes thinking about a leader you admire. Write down a few of their qualities that you also possess. You can definitely strive for being better and improvement: build your foundation first with your qualities. Maybe you’re an amazing delegator or a great listener. Note those qualities and bump them up! You can build additional skills on top of your foundation: you need something to build on first.

  2. Listen first, talk second
    No matter what kind of leader you are or strive to be, you need to listen. Spend as much time as possible developing your active listening skills – and using them! If you find yourself losing some of those critical listening skills, step back. When someone is talking, try to remember two bits of information and figure out one question to ask to get more information about what they are saying. Before you even start tasking yourself while you’re listening, be sure you’re actually listening and showing it through non-verbals: nodding, making eye contact and facing another person are simple and powerful ways to show that you are indeed listening to the person talking.

    If you know you are not a great listener, remember listening is a choice: it’s not something that you naturally do. When someone is starting to talk to you, take a breath and make the choice to listen.

  3. Professional Development
    Remember that list you made about the qualities you admired from a leader in your life? Take stock in that and start growing. Professional development programs can be in person, online, created by you or by someone else – the sky is the limit! Do your research before you jump in.

    The larger focus with professional development: growth. Great leaders don’t stagnate. You have to keep learning, evolving and changing with your team. Professional development isn’t simply recreating another great leader: it’s staying up to date with what’s happening in your field, with your team and with leadership as a whole. Find articles, read books, have a conversation and talk to your team. Pay attention and again, make a choice to be engaged with the process. Your work doesn’t end when you get the leadership position, it begins.

Now that you’re at the end, the jig is up: there is no way to lead like a woman. You have amazing qualities that you need to succeed!

Setting Boundaries

Originally published in Forsyth Women Magazine

Boundaries used to be one of the hardest things for me to set and stick to, and to this day, I still struggle with them. As a people pleaser in recovery, I hate disappointing people. As a business owner and freelancer, if I don’t set boundaries, I will explode.

Boundaries are often described as

“guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.”

While Wikipedia and Google can give great definitions of boundaries, you have to set your own and practice upholding the boundaries you set.

One of the biggest lessons my therapist taught me is that boundaries aren’t meant to feel good; they are meant to keep you safe. I think we often forget that when we’re holding up a boundary and the other person is pressing – it feels awkward and uncomfortable, and we think, oh! If we just give in, it will be fine. (It won’t.) Here are three ways to set and keep your boundaries for the last few months of 2019 and well into 2020:

  • Start Small

    New to boundaries in your life? Start small. Maybe it’s something as simple as not answering work emails after a certain time, or not accepting work texts. If you set one boundary to start with, and get comfortable with that one boundary, others will follow and will get easier.

    I use a gym or working out comparison a lot – you can’t expect to wake up one day and just run a full marathon if you haven’t been training. If you’ve always been the ‘yes’ person, you can’t expect to have incredible skills setting and holding to boundaries.

    Do a few easier ones with yourself and your time. Maybe you only take personal calls between 9 am and 7 pm, or you don’t text after 8 pm. Build your skills!

  • Be Clear

    The “best” boundaries are clear and specific. If it’s complicated, with loads of clauses and possibilities, people will either find loopholes or misunderstand it, creating a lot of opportunities for you to either hold the boundary strong or give in. If you’re just starting to set boundaries in a situation, use the first-grader rule of thumb: be so simple that a seven-year-old can understand it.

    Here’s an example that comes up with my entrepreneur friends: being asked to do things for exposure. Yes, you should do some things to add to your business and the social capital that comes with exposure. No, you can’t do everything for free because Duke Energy does not accept exposure bucks. Say your boundary is five “free” events a year. This is clear, specific, and concise. When you’ve done your five, and someone asks for your number six, and you physically cannot do that because you need to work, you can simply say, “I’m sorry, I’ve committed to all of the free events I can this year. I’m happy to chat with you next year.”

  • Take Time

    If someone is pushing on a boundary, don’t be afraid to say you need some time to think about the decision they are asking you to make. That bit of buffer will give you the time you need to think about a response. If they keep pushing when you ask for some time (even if it’s five minutes), stop and think: this isn’t respectful for you, so feel free to say no.

    An example that I hear about a lot is working extra hours above and beyond what you already have to do and outside of the scope of work. This happens more in non-profit work, I think, but I’ve seen it across the spectrum of professions. If someone is asking you for something like this, feel free to say, “Let me look at my schedule and get back to you tomorrow,” if you are feeling like you can’t immediately say no, or are struggling with the no. Then, take some time to practice the no, or send it in an email to avoid the conflict you might be adverse to.

There’s one overarching lesson I’ve learned about boundaries over the past few years of developing mine: the people that have the most trouble with other people’s boundaries are those who don’t have any themselves. Remember that, and you got this.

 

OK Boomer Snowflake

Our interpersonal communication is not good. Not one bit.

As a whole, we’re not great at listening to one another. We hear someone talking and we immediately think about what we want to say in response. Never mind paying attention to what the other person is saying, we’re too busy figuring out what we want to say next – or worse, how we can spin a conversation in our favor, pivot the focus and move along.

Putting it that way makes us sound like a bunch of self-centered jerks, doesn’t it?

Add name-calling to the self-centered jerk tag and we’ve got a fraction of the workplace drama of today – and Ok Boomer and Snowflake Millennial are both name-calling efforts akin to playground bullying. If we keep going in this direction we’re going to crash and burn even further with our one on one communication skills, and we might as well just resort to written communication. At least we can edit that and delete our disrespect.

For my purposes, I’m going to focus on Ok Boomer and Millennial Snowflake aggressions. To note: this doesn’t supersede aggressions and microaggressions that are related to race and sex. Different conversation.

The actual words are almost fine: Boomer and Millennial refer to the labeling of generations. Nothing new to see there…the problem comes with the sentiment behind “Ok Boomer” and the add of “Snowflake.” Now, “millennial” itself can a negative connotation if the feeling behind the word is less than neutral – same with “boomer” actually (especially now). What’s the point of the negativity?

Sure – boomers ruined the environment and student loans and the ability to buy a house. Millennial wrecked basically everything else, and feel like they deserve more than what they get. Right? Depending on what bracket you fall in, you’re probably nodding at once sentence and incensed at another.

Wild idea: check yourself and stop projecting.

In conversations, four things influence us:

  • who we are (the relationship we have with the person we’re talking to),
  • where we are (physical location and place in life),
  • what we want (and what our conversation partner wants),
  • and finally how we feel (about the other person as well as the situation.)

Usually, folks have a lot of issues around what they want and fighting for this. Here’s the problem: if your feelings are getting in the way of your communication, you’re never going to get to a point that you can fight for what you want. And then the conversation and interaction don’t even matter, because what’s the point?

Workplaces will always be made up of folks of different ages, and we’re going to disagree with people we talk to. That’s obvious. Disrespect? That’s optional. Is the boomer you’re upset with actually the cause of you being upset, or is it someone else – or something else? Is the millennial acting overly sensitive and “special”, or are you anxious about something else that’s going on in your life? Take a moment to check in with that “how you feel” part of your interpersonal communications. Identify it clearly and specifically – even use simple language like “I feel mad” or “I feel excited”. Now, ask the larger and potentially scarier question – why do you feel the way you do? Are you mad because this person doesn’t listen, or you feel like you’re picking up their slack or that you don’t make enough money?

Out of all of that, what has to do with the person you’re talking to, and what has nothing to do with them?

Sure, sometimes this will be directly related to the person you’re talking to – there are terrible, sociopathic, selfish, malicious and lazy people of all ages.

And sometimes, we throw out these aggressions because we have a lot of other things going on.

Do I propose we all play nice and stop insulting each other? Yes, absolutely that. Is the snarky comment worth it? No. Will it cloud the actual issue? Like what if the boomer refuses to report to the millennial that is actually in charge, and what if the millennial feels like they are “too good” to do a certain job? When you’ve resorted to name-calling, you’ve already lost the issue at hand and you’re never going to get to your want, which should be the crux of your conversation.

Don’t sacrifice what you want – what you want to get accomplished – for passive-aggressive name-calling. It’s not worth it.

You’re Too Much.

You’ve been told that you’re too much.

You’re too emotional.

You just need to calm down.

If you weren’t so sensitive.

So loud.

So abrasive.

I’ve heard it all. I’m often too much of something for someone else. For a long time, I used to think something was wrong with me. If only I wasn’t so direct, then people wouldn’t tell me I was too much, and I would be like everyone else.

Now, I’ve been told I’m “too much” since I was a kid. It took me well into my 30s to realize this isn’t my problem: it’s someone else’s issue. If you’re struggling with the same kind of feedback from people in your life, here are a few ways I realized that “too much” wasn’t the problem and how I dealt with it:

Check In

When someone says you’re “too much” of something – or really any of the things that I listed above (or anything that kind of sounds like it) how do you feel? And how did you feel when you were being “too much”? If you were comfortable, happy, joyful, the best version of you – and someone says something, it might very well be their own insecurities and have absolutely nothing to do with you.

Consider the source…

Who told you this? Do they have a reason to feel like this? Take a few moments to reflect on what’s going on in their lives. Is there a reason they might not be comfortable with you being yourself? Are they playing small, or living for someone other than themselves.

…and your journey
Where have you been? Have you started feeling more confident, more excited about your life, or even more like yourself? Something I hear a lot: when a person in your life changes in any way, it’s like a dance partner changing the steps. It’s going to take a bit of time for your partner(s) to catch up, and sometimes, they don’t like the new dance.

Keep your goal in sight.

The world is changing for women. I think, now more than ever, we’re getting permission to truly be ourselves. One of the beautiful parts of modern-day feminism: you shouldn’t tell another woman how to woman, and they shouldn’t tell you how to woman. If you’re working on being the best version of yourself, and someone is telling you “wait, not like that!” there’s a big possibility that they are not looking towards your goals: they are basing what you’re doing off of what they think they should be doing. Keep yours in mind.

Create Boundaries or Cut Ties

I think there are two ways to deal with people who think you’re shining a bit too brightly. Boundaries are the first: you can limit the time you spend with that person or how you interact with them. Remember, boundaries aren’t there to make anyone feel good: they are there to keep you safe. Set some boundaries with this person if you still need them in your life.

If all else fails, there is little more to do than to cut ties with a person who believes you should be playing smaller than you’d like to play. While walking away from a person is never fun, sacrificing who you are and who you’d like to be is far less fun – and far less fair.

When we are being the best versions of ourselves, the people around us should see the joy and authenticity that is only present when people are achieving that truth. Shine bright, supernova. You do not need to be a beige, square peg version of yourself.

Originally published in Forsyth Woman Magazine

Dating in 2019 feels like a mess. Aside from the overwhelming experience of online dating and meeting people, possibly one of the most nerve-wracking experiences is the inevitable first date.

No matter where you go, how long the date is, what time of day or what you wear, there is one thing that will happen at every single first date: a conversation.

Conversations are the make or break in dating, especially in the beginning. It’s how we show who we are! If you’re not communicating, no amount of amazing dating profile photos can save you.

There’s a phrase from improv that can immediately improve those first date conversations: Yes, And. Here are three things that Yes, And add to your first date conversation:

Yes…shows you’re listening

When I’m talking about using Yes, And in conversations, I’m talking about saying the literal words of Yes and And! Yes is a great way to show that you’re listing. A study I love to reference is one out of Harvard from 2013 where research shows that when a person is being asked about themselves and another is actively listening, the person speaking starts feeling great. Dopamine starts flooding the speaker’s brain. And you, being the person listening? Chances are those good feelings will be associated with you!

You can use this to your advantage because remember, you need to be actively listening for this to work. You can’t just ask someone about their day and tune out, waiting for your chance to talk. Ask a question that seeks more information about the other person, and actively listen – and try to use the word Yes when you are recapping some of the information they just said. For example, if the other person is talking about a hard moment at work, maybe a lost file, you could say, “Yes, losing a file is the absolute worst!” You’re doing more than simply smiling and nodding to show you’re listening.

And Adds

And can be used in two different ways: both add information. Back to our lost file, you can add information to the conversation and your listening hack by using the word And. It might sound like:

Yes, losing a file is the absolute worst, and it’s my worst nightmare.

See how this confirms that you’re listening and then adds your feelings and perspective? You might be thinking, I already use And all the time! Do you use it intentionally? That’s the game-changer – do it, and mean it!

The And becomes powerful with that intention and with the second way – ask for more information. It might sound like:

Yes, losing a file is the absolute worst, and it’s my worst nightmare. What did you do?

See what this does? It not only shows you’re listening, it also adds your feelings and it asks for more information! Conversation, in the end, is a consistent back and forth with two people and both people are moving it along – not just one ongoing droning monologue. This is also a nice litmus test to see if the other person is capable of conversation – if they are rambling about themselves the entire time, not asking you anything about yourself or showing that they are listening? Hard pass.

Beware of Buts

Yes, And draws attention to another word: But. The word But halts the conversation and makes one statement more important than another. If we take the same example from above and use But instead of And:

Losing a file is the worst, but it’s not as bad as losing everything from the cloud.

You’ve lessened the emotion of the speaker – which is not a good look. It’s also combative:

Losing a file is the worst. But you can redo it.

What if they don’t want to redo it? What if they actually can’t? What if the word But shows zero empathy and connection, and sounds like a brush off in conversation?

If you find yourself on a date with a But-er, try to use And as much as possible. It very well might be a big old red flag – take note, and act accordingly.

Yes, And to your next first date! May it be full of fun, good food, and lots of wonderful conversation.

spoiler – probably always

Interpersonal communication is dicey enough the way it is – add in email and text communication (not to mention actually connecting with others on social media, and not just yelling into the void) and you have a recipe for a mini-disaster in miscommunication if you aren’t careful.

This article goes out to folks who have the choice to text, email or call. In some cases, text communication is the method of communication, and in those cases, that’s the best way. For folks that have the choice: this one is for you.

A quick primer: interpersonal communication refers to the sharing of information between two or more people. I hesitate to say that social media is interpersonal communication (it should be! You should be having conversations!) Texting definitely is. Here are three quick text tips that might seem obvious (but aren’t always!) for the next time you hit send:

Work Texts = Meh

I might be in the minority here, but I don’t care. If it’s outside of work hours, don’t text. If it’s inside of work hours, maybe – definitely stop to think, “Huh, do I need to text this or can I just talk to the other person?” If you don’t need to work text someone, don’t.

Why? Because that line of professionalism can move from “once in awhile texts when important” to “texting after 6 pm about work stuff that can definitely wait until the next day.” I’ve seen WAY too many clients tell me about folks they work with texting at all hours, things that are 100% not time-sensitive and could be an email. If it can be an email, let it be an email.

Before you hit me with “but we’re all friends here!” or “but we’re family!” stop. That’s toxic behavior. You’re not friends or family, you’re colleagues and coworkers. In improv, relationships are critical for conversations to be effective – same with interpersonal communication.

Don’t be the boss that texts when your employee is off work, and definitely don’t be the coworker that thinks that something can’t wait until the workday. If you’re not facing life or death or a fire, don’t text.

Emotional Texts = Call or In Person

The last one was more on the professional side of things, so to tap in the personal – if you’re finding that your text is so long it takes up the whole screen with emotion – don’t text. Call the person or meet them in person.

Improv conversations are built on four primary principles: who you are in relation to the person you’re talking to, where you are, what you want and what they want, and how you both feel – and if your feelings are limited to text and emoji/gif use only, you better believe you’re losing some of that emotion. Also: you probably don’t want someone to have the same feeling seeing your text as they would looking at the breakup email from their college boyfriend (ahem).

If you have a lot of emotion going into a text – and especially if it’s long – ask yourself why you’re texting and why you aren’t connecting with them in real life. (Or at least over the phone!)

Things on Fire = Don’t Text

Do you need something NOW or even YESTERDAY in the grand scheme of time? Do not text. Is there an actual emergency? Like something is currently on fire and you need assistance? If you can call and you truly need an answer as quickly as you think you do, call.

Repeat after me: you cannot control how someone responds to you – only how you respond to their response.

Next time you fire off a text, think about why you’re sending it and if it’s better suited to be an email, call or in-person conversation. Good luck!

Whenever I hear the word teenager I think of Sebastian from Little Mermaid chastising Ariel.

Getting teens to look up from their screens to have a conversation might be a daunting task, but trust me, it can be done. We work with students A LOT – whether it be a school program or an extracurricular group, and let me tell you – teens make conscious choices not to communicate sometimes.

When you’re working on teaching teens interpersonal communication skills, the chiding and chastising of a certain singing crab won’t work. Here are three quick tips to help you on your noble journey:

Practice having conversations

If you aren’t working on conversations, you’re going to get nowhere fast. Work on having those conversations with a teen – this means all of the great skills of listening, asking questions, talking about something that is interesting to both of you as well as knowing when to stop. Conversations have an expiration date, and too often we let it bleed out far too long – to the point it’s dead on arrival – especially with teens.

Try this next time: bring up a topic you both are interested in and have a short back and forth conversation. You’re not teaching in this moment, aside from leading by example. There’s no way to build empathy skills or any of the higher-level interpersonal skills that you might be seeking without some baseline conversation!

Model good listening

If you don’t listen, why should they? I see this all too often: people getting irritated at students for not listening, and yet, they aren’t listening when the student is talking! If you’re lucky enough, they might tell you that they can see you aren’t listening…but often, they just stop talking.

This isn’t just when you’re talking to them – this is when you’re having conversations with other people around those teens! If they see you paying attention and listening to the person you’re talking to, you’re setting a good example for them to follow. What if you’re not being listened to, or realize that you weren’t listening and they were around? Well…

Call out glows and grows

Be transparent and call yourself, and your teen in question, out. Call them out for good wins and things they need to work on – and be sure to bring up moments that you weren’t the best, or when you felt proud of your listening skills.

Glows and grows are labels we put on things in our classes – glows are things you’re doing well and grows are things that need improvement. By being aware of what you’re doing well and what needs additional work, you’re not only showing transparency for your teen, you’re showing them that yes, sometimes this whole “growth” thing can be hard, and no, we aren’t all perfect! By spending a little time leading by this example, you’re showing them that they too can learn from a culture of reflection – and chances are some of these tips might be hard for you too!

What do you think? What’s worked with your teen in question?

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