Talk (Kindly) To Me

Do you talk to yourself? Of course you do. But what are you saying? Of all the ways you communicate with people, how are you talking to yourself? For most of us, far too often, the words we say to ourselves are self-criticism. We would never think or say these things to anyone else, but we are fair targets for all our negative thoughts.

We are our worst critic, and we tend to believe every negative we say about ourselves. This barrage is a subtext for our day. Rarely are we conscious of how constantly we put ourselves down. In over emphasizing our weakness, we detract from our leadership.  It fuels our resistance to step out of our comfort zone. How can you move forward when you see so many places where you are inadequate?

This negative self-talk is often the basis for the Imposter Syndrome which convinces even successful people that they are not good enough for a particular task or opportunity. While you may not experience the worst examples of the syndrome, you are likely to find many of its typical thoughts are part of your self-talk.

Art Petty says Success as a Leader Demands Positive Self-Talk and explains what needs to be done. According to his post, we have about 6,000 thoughts a day. As the Pareto Principle anticipates, 80% of these thoughts are negative. That means we have nearly 50,000 self-criticizing thoughts every day. That’s a heavy load for anyone to carry. Petty proposes a 5-step process for “Active Reset:”

  1. Stop and acknowledge: You can’t change anything until you recognize its presence. The number of times you stop may come as a surprise, and you are likely to miss many. But, as James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Take the time to notice what you’ve been saying to yourself.
  2. Question: Now ask yourself, “Why am I thinking this way?” There’s usually a trigger that started the negative spiral. is that true? Chances are fear is the underlying factor. Was it fear of failure? Fear of the unknown? Maybe it’s fear of success – success can bring challenges that will take us out of our comfort zone, and that’s another fear. Once you’ve asked that, ask yourself, “What evidence to I have that supports the negative?” There’s probably not as much as you think – and there may be none.   
  3. Reframe:  Now that you have recognized the underlying cause, you can look at the situation more logically.  Have you succeeded at this or something similar in the past?  Is this related to another person? Petty suggests asking, “How can I reposition this situation and look for the opportunity?” It’s an empowering question.
  4. Act: Action is a positive response to negative self-talk. Having reframed the situation, you can do something about it. The action and result will become part of your toolbox – and stretch your comfort zone. When the issue arises again, it will less likely cause the negative self-talk, and you will take action more quickly.
  5. Reflect: Pause and consider what you have learned. Recognize the exercise as an opportunity for growth. Not only will you be more willing to analyze and change your negative thoughts, but it can help you be more empathetic with colleagues and students when their own negative self-talk is a barrier to their success.

Work on positive self-talk to balance the negatives. Cheer and celebrate your successes. Recognize your negative self-talk for what it is – a thought that can be changed. Leaders don’t only have positive self-talk, but they know how to deal with it. Once you hear your thoughts, you’ll hopefully be willing to be kinder to yourself.

Exhausted

Bone tired. Drained. Weary. Drooping. Pick a word. It all comes down to the same thing – we are beyond tired.

We have been working crazy hours in stressful conditions. We have been flexible. We have pivoted. We have learned resilience. And it’s still not over. Uncertainty about your future as well as the future in general has raised your stress levels. Even if you are a planner, it is hard to determine which approach will best meet what is an ambiguous tomorrow. What can you do to overcome the constant exhaustion?

If you, your program, and your life outside the library are to survive – and thrive – you need tools to deal with it. In a blog post from the Eblin Group, the author explains What to Do When You Are Feeling Exhausted, offering six steps to take. These are all an important form of self-care to help you get through this next stage.

  1. Admit to yourself that you are feeling exhausted – Sometimes pushing through is not the right choice. Yes, you say you’re tired, but you keep on going. You are avoiding acknowledging how much the exhaustion is affecting you. Find a friend to whom you can vent. Have a short pity party. Journal. Take a short nap. Do something that admits the exhaustion. It will help alleviate it and maybe help you find the key triggers.
  2. Get things off your list – Not everything is a priority. What can be postponed, ignored or cancelled? Know what must be done and what must be done now. When you admitted your exhaustion and looked at your life, were there tasks that could be done by someone else – or could be dropped entirely without have a serious effect?
  3. Change up your input – Sometimes the brain needs different input. There is a monotony that comes with his pandemic life and to break that cycle you need to do something different. Changing input changes thinking which in turn changes action. If you read, try an audio book. If you listen to music, try a podcast. Watch a TED Talk instead of a rerun. And now that spring has come to the Northern Hemisphere, don’t forget the benefits of getting outside.
  4. Do things that are fun and bring you joy – From the look of social media feeds, people have turned to cooking and baking, either attempting new things or recipes they haven’t made in ages. Others find joy in craft projects. Make sure you’re taking time for the things that make you happy. This could be solitary, like a snuggly blanket, tea and a book or time to call or Zoom with family and friends. Think about what brings you joy and make sure it’s part of your week.
  5. Pick something that is fast and easy to finish – You’re doing important work, but if your time is all about the work – the work is going to suffer. To balance this, try to find something fun that’s also fast and can be completely quickly. Binge watch a season of The Crown or Schitts Creek. Print some pictures and put them in an album. Find a game to play – solo or in a group – that doesn’t take long to finish. One of the current challenges is that the external stress is never ending. Completing something is energizing.  
  6. Eat, Move, Sleep – Make sure you are maintaining your healthy routines. Watch out for grabbing high sugar snacks for the unhealthy and limited energy boost. With the distruption of routines, you may be sitting more (you don’t even get to walk to a meeting – just a few clicks at the computer and you’re there). Sitting too long is dangerous to your health. Find ways to add movement to your day. And, of course, one of the reasons we’re exhausted is that stress has impacted our ability to get a good night sleep. Just as you did or do with children, develop a bedtime routine that allows you so slowly unwind and be ready to sink into sleep.

I’ve included the graphic from the article to help you remember. Copy it to your phone gallery if you think it will help.

Exhaustion is quickly becoming a secondary health crisis. Ignoring exhaustion only makes it worse. Acknowledge what happening and how you’re feeling, and then do what you can to take steps to help yourself so you won’t feel as though you are slogging through mud. Following this advice won’t stave off exhaustion completely, but it will lessen it and give you some steps to take when it creeps up.

What Communication Is – And Isn’t

My blog last week, Let’s Talk Meaningfully, focused on how to make your conversations produce more positive outcomes. It addressed becoming a Social and Emotional Leader through communication. There is no question that successful communication draws on your Emotional Intelligence. You need to be aware of your emotions and that of others as you guide and respond. The better you become at bringing your understanding of what is going on under the surface, the more skillful you are. Realizing the obvious as well as the subtle nuances of communication is a core skill we need to develop as leaders.  

But what is “communications?” Although we may never pin down an exact definition, Merriam-Webster says Communication is “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior,” and it is also “personal rapport.”  Looking at what communication is and isn’t, is one way to describe communication more fully. In What Communicators Know, and What They Must Teach, David Murray shares what he learned from his former boss, Dr. Larry Regan. CEO and Founder of Ragan Education, and reinforced by his experiences. There is an important mind shift to become a true “communicator.” 

A communicator knows that words are not communication – We’ve heard the expression ‘actions speak louder than words”. This is what Murray wants us to remember. Factors such as body language, voice, and our appearance are part of “speaking,” often before we open our mouth. Also, if we’re not careful, these things can influence our analysis and sometimes the judgements we make of the other person which have nothing to do with what is being said. Be aware of what is being communicated without words.

A communicator knows that communication doesn’t simply mean persuading other people to our point of view When that is your aim, you are not listening and the other person will be aware of that. We need to be willing to listen before we try to make our point. This is essential to good communication. Only when you truly hear with the other person says can you even begin to respond.

A communicator often helps in humble, unseen ways – When carrying a message, unless you were charged with repeating it exactly, you can rephrase it if there are trigger words while keeping the meaning. If you see there’s a possibility for communication to be unclear, do what you can to correct that. It is also what you do when you bring a teacher’s success to the attention of the principal or a student’s success to a teacher.

A communicator knows that there has never been a universally shared truth – While there are facts, truth can feel “elusive.” We see the world, and our truth, from individual lenses, and a communicator/leader must be attuned to how others perceive it. Eyewitness accounts of the same event vary. The difficulties this causes have been increasing obvious. To be a communicator, you need to draw people out so they can recognize how they came to their conclusions and to see where shared truths can be used.

And a communicator knows the limitations of communicationSome things can’t be talked through – some things need to be “worked out.” Sometimes you need to stop talking and get to work. Focus on the product. For a library, this can mean instead of sending well written advocacy-based messages, look for ways to be necessary to others. Let your actions speak for you – and then create a well worded follow up.

Communications has its limits and its strengths. When you think of yourself as a communicator you will find more ways to make connections with those around you, and, in the process, you will be a stronger, more reliable leader.

Let’s Talk Meaningfully

I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again, we need to talk with one another – and do it well. Conversations are integral to how we connect. We are social organisms, and talking with one another is necessary for our survival. No matter that there is text, email, Zoom and phones. For relationship connections to be made, we need to see each other and communicate face to face.

We cannot overlook the importance of meaningful conversation. A great conversation helps build relationships and can make an audience of one or more recognize your value and become an advocate. By contrast, a mismanaged conversation can alienate the person or persons you are speaking with and result in a negative impact on you and your program. When we are tired and stressed, we are obviously not at our best. Those are the times when mishaps – and “misheards” – are most likely to occur. How can we manage conversations that support us and those we are talking to when we are not feeling our best?

From his book Making Conversation: Seven Essential Elements of Meaningful Conversation Fred Dust offers five ways to engage in talks that produce positive outcomes, large and small. They are valuable to incorporate into your daily interactions.

The history of humanity is one long conversation – It’s important to remember how basic conversation is. Conversation is natural to us, and we can conduct aspects of it without words. Hand gestures are part of them. We even have them with those who don’t have words (I’m looking at you, pet owners). It’s how we reach out to others. Think of the first phrases you learned when studying a new language: “Hello.”  “How are you?”   In conversing with others, you may not speak those words, but be sure you are communicating them. They open up possibility.

Silence is an essential component to conversation – Consider those Zoom meetings when people start speaking over each other. Those not competing for airtime, tune out. When you are talking, you are not listening. The pause, the moment of silence, gives you time to digest what has been said and respond to whole idea, not just the piece that captured your initial attention. It also shows you were listening to the speaker which creates additional connection.

Get good at naming – As someone who has always struggled with remembering names, I recognize how important it is to remember as many names as possible of the people you connect with. It tells people that you see them – and are ready to hear them. In a large school, even learning all the teachers’ names can be a challenge since you may not see many of them outside of faculty meeting. It helps if you can “name” something about them. For example, “Janet Quilter” or “Fred Gardner.”  (Interestingly, that’s how many last names were created – and why there are so many Smiths).

Notice change – There’s an ebb and flow to conversations. Be aware of the shifts. Is it moving to the heart of the matter or beginning to fade out?  Is the other person becoming angry or calming down?  If you are using “silence,” you will be more able to tell when this is occurring. It will keep you from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It may alert you to the best moment to say something important or that it’s time to wrap up.

When in doubt, make – Instead of “having” a conversation, “make” one. As in your makerspaces this implies you are building something that matters. And you are. You are building a relationship and when you have the conversation in connection to something that is being done, more is created. Ultimately you are adding substance to a relationship and that’s valuable. When we have meaningful conversations we are the creator and maintainer of that relationship.

We are stressed and tired, but we need to ensure that we use conversations to both strengthen us and bolster the ones with whom we are conversing. Sometimes a meaningful conversation with a student or teacher is exactly what we need to feel energized and more productive. As a leader you never want to lose sight of what conversation can do for you and those you support.

Social and Emotional Leading

You have become adept at incorporating Social and Emotional Learning into your library program, but you also need to consciously integrate these tools when you are leading. The social aspect is more obvious. We are in a relationship-based business, and you can’t build relationships without social skills. It’s the emotional leading that requires a rethinking.

In a profession where women are in the vast majority, it’s important to remember that, with awareness, emotions can be appropriate and important, rather than avoided or dismissed. Understanding and managing your emotions is the key to successful leadership. Emotion is a neutral term that encompasses an immense range of responses. In Social and Emotional Leading, you need to draw on the positive ones and recognize and reduce the negative ones.

In her blog post, Essential Decision Making Emotions: Are You Using These?, Kate Ness presents five decision-making emotions to incorporate into your leadership and five to manage. Starting with the positives, here are her first five:

  • Showing Respect – Recognize the value of others. You do this when you don’t interrupt work with a student to respond to a question from a teacher. If you must, you explain that you will be back. In our world of text messages, we shouldn’t forget the importance of “please,” and “thanks” becomes a perfunctory “thx.” Be more conscious of the little civilities. They make a difference.
  • Expressing Empathy – Recognize what others are going through. Use your ability to read body language and their tone of voice to reach out to them. Send a quiet note. Offer to be a listening ear if they need one. Do it with all the lives you touch, from students through administrators – and parents.
  • Considering Human Impact – Ness’ post references laying people off. We don’t do that, but we do see it happen to others in our educational community – and too often to us. This pandemic has led to all sorts of losses. In any difficult situation you come across, offer help where you can and empathy where you can’t. Let them know you are there for them at some level.
  • Recognizing and Appreciating Talent and Effort – When you inform your administrator of a successful project, highlight the important contributions of people who were a part of the project. When you’re offered suggestions, acknowledge them, and show you are considering it. When you give this type of respect to students, you give them voice and choice and further make the library a welcome place.
  • Valuing Altruism – Look for ways to give back – and acknowledge ways that others are giving. Suggest and lead projects that help the community or an individual. These are hard times. We need to work together to stay strong.

And the five you want to avoid when building relationships are:

  • Anger: Anger is a valid emotion, but you don’t want to speak or act out of it. Most people don’t think clearly while angry which can undo much of what you have achieved when using positive emotions. Remembering to pause will do much to get you back on track.
  • Panic – Panic also stops you from thinking clearly and leads to poor decisions. Once again, a pause helps along with taking time to breathing more deeply. Slower breathing leads to a slower heart rate and a clearer mind. You will get through it. You always do.
  • One-sided Compassion – Avoid being immersed in one emotion and not letting yourself see where there are other forces at play. Be sure you are seeing the whole picture.
  • Fear of Conflict – Fear of causing anger and disagreement is understandable, particularly in today’s very polarized world. But you can’t lead if you keep stepping back. Use your positive qualities and all your emotional intelligence to look for ways to respond in a non-controversial way.
  • Uncontrolled Passion – Being passionate about your work and your core values is necessary for leadership. However, overwhelming people with it is not. People feel you are battering them and that there is no room for their interests and priorities. Find ways of sharing your values and abilities without it sounding as though you demand to be heard.

Emotions are everywhere and always with us. They are powerful but can work against us when we’re not aware. Recognize and work with your emotions and your leadership skills will improve.