Friday, 29 January 2016

3 Reasons Why Being Assertive Can Help You Build Better Relationships At Work AND Greater Professional Success

We all secretely envy people who demonstrate a quietly confident, assured personality. This kind of people seem to mean what they say and say what they mean. They are relaxed yet project an aura of gravitas; they impact others positively and tend to get the best out of everyone around them. They do not hide their needs and do not prevaricate. They also do not impose their needs on others but they remain open to negotiate. In short, they are assertive.

Yet, assertiveness is a poorly understood and rarely well practiced skill. Many mistake assertiveness with aggressiveness and either shy away from it or go to the opposite end of the spectrum, causing resentment, unhappiness and conflict.

Assertiveness is first and foremost a POSITIVE trait. It can only exist and thrive at the presence of mutual respect and ultimately a win-win. An assertive person never undermines another through words, actions or behaviours. On the contrary, an assertive person VALUES the opinion, needs and ideas of others and - whether in agreement or disagreement - always welcomes discussion.

Here are 3 reasons why being assertive can help you build better relationships at work (and more generally in life)  and achieve greater professional success:

#1 Avoid misunderstanding 

Assertive people are not afraid of telling things as they see them. They explain what they need and how they feel in simple, straightforward language. This means that they are self aware and have no problems in explaining with clarity what their requirements are. By doing so they avoid creating uncertainty and the misunderstandings that may follow suit. With assertive people you know where you stand and that can only be a good thing!

#2 Encourage dialogue

Assertive people give other people their time. They do not say ' I matter and you do not' or 'My idea is the best one and only one'. They explain their needs and their feelings, then they expect others to do the same and listen to understand the other's point of view. The negotiation starts when the needs do not align and finishes only when a mutually beneficial outcome is identified, all along maintaining  a respectful behaviour.

#3 Empower others

Because assertiveness is based on dialogue and respect, assertive people never look down on others or treat them as 'inferiors'. Aggressive people may undermine you through negative and abusive language and/or physical dominance. Passive people may make themselves inferiors in order to elevate you, but build discontent and stress until they suddenly, and often inappropriately, release it in a way resembling a 'pressure-cooker'.  Assertive people empower others by encouraging them to vocalise their needs at the right time and in the right way. By expecting others to express their preference they also help them clarify and priorities what really matters to them, raising their own self awareness. This therefore becomes a positive and developmental opportunity for all !

Whether one is naturally assertiveness or otherwise may depend on personality, culture and education. However, we can all benefit by being more assertive in our professional and personal life. What may at first be perceived as offensive or disrespectful is, on the contrary, a respectful and ethical modus operandi, leading to dialogue and eventually a suitable, negotiated outcomes.

Friday, 22 January 2016

What Can We Learn About Gender From the Latest World Economic Forum in Davos?

The World Economic Forum has been taking place this week in Davos, Switzerland - I am sure you could not help but noticing.

This great gathering of all the makers and shakers Worldwide, from politicians to actors from leading scientists to rock-stars, has among other global issues discussed the theme of gender-parity...yes, that increasing hot-potato! It is remarkable actually, how much talking has been done about it. Not only have people like actress Emma Watson fronting the UN Women's HEforSHE campaign been invited to discuss and engage with the rain-makers (actually, she is now clearly one of them!) but many are openly championing the cause.  Some of the powerful messages that have been put across include:

  • The UN Secretary General stressing that it will not be possible to achieve the global sustainable development agenda unless women are put at the centre of economic empowerment
  • Globally, 2.5 women spend more time on unpaid care and domestic work than men
  • Around the world, a woman's salary is around 3/4 of a man's.
  • In the US closing the gender gap could raise GDP by 9% or more than a trillion dollars.
  • In highest performing companies, women have the same influence as men - it follows that more companies would want women in senior roles...(but it is not happening!) 
 Yet, apparently it will be another 117 or even 118 years before we obtain gender parity if we progress at this rate. So the picture remains bleak and in all honesty, it is hardly a case for celebrations.

The very same audience at Davos was predominantly male, 18% being females (1% increase from 2015). Many of those were on stage and panels debate were constructed to ensure that females would be represented. And what a representation it was....  a collection of FIRSTS as a journalist said: Dalia Grybauskaite, Lithuanian first female President, Mary Barra, first female CEO of General Motors, Elvira Nabiullina, first female Governor of the Bank of Russia...together with other well known women such as Cheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund, scientist Fabiola Giannotti Director General of CERN, Inga Beale the first female CEO of insurance company Lloyd's of London, Meg Whiteman CEO of Hewlett Packard and the list could go on. This really is an impressive list and I cannot help but balancing some of the skepticism expressed above when looking at what women have been able to achieve against all odd:

  • Women attendees at Davos have achieved an amazing amount, sometimes despite of their being female. Across science, politics, finance, business, technology, women are now at the top of their game in contexts which until very recently were considered strictly male.  I am inspired and motivated by them and I hope that like me many other women will. They are important role models and should be showcased as such!
  • These women are ambitious, who ever said that women are not!? Undoubtedly these women have the courage to dream big and pursue their passions. They work hard but they are also not afraid to set high objectives and believe that they could achieve them. We must teach this to all our girls today!
  • These women are not worried about being under the spotlight and being vocal about gender parity. These women are not shying away from the lime-light, they did not ask a male colleague to take their place on stage. Their confidence, self-worth and courageous leadership is coming through loud and clear in their stage message, even when they are not talking about gender specifically.

For what we can see, these women are a force to be reckoned with and on that stage, at that gathering they represented all of us women out there.

So let's make them proud. Let's ensure we also vocalise our dreams and pursue our passions and teach young girls that all girls can be on that stage one day, whether at Davos or elsewhere. And maybe, just maybe, we won't need to wait 117 years.     

Friday, 15 January 2016

Ch-ch-ch-changes: 3 Ways David Bowie Continues To Impact Us

M'Ch- ch-ch-changes...ohh look out out your rock'n rollers some days soon you are going to grow older...' So sang David Bowie. So much has been written about him since his passing was announced last Monday. So much I have read on newspapers and magazines, quotes from celebrities, fans, ordinary people. A beautiful piece I highly recommend you to read is this here . 

But I also have something to say about the great artist. Maybe because I grew up with his songs. Maybe because he was a true artist, always ahead of his time and proving a huge influence on people and society, managing to shake it from its core.  

Three things In particular resonate with me but also, I am certain, with many others:

#1 - Change, always and everywhere

Bowie understood with clarity that the only constant in life is change. He was a master at reinventing himself, pushing the boundary, raising the bar. Bowie not only appreciated that change is inevitable, in my opinion he actually felt the urgency behind it. As an artist David relied on change to stay relevant, to surprise and feel alive. As business people, leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators we must do the same: to truly drive change not just embrace it in a rather reactive fashion. Unless you drive the way change is going to go you are merely following change, not leading it.

#2 - Space Oddity

David's sexually ambiguous characters forced society to look beyond black-and-white. Not just a stereotypical woman or a man, David's personae brought on stage many more nuances that society was ever used to. In so doing he began to build greater awareness around diversity, about facing the strange, about the need to accept 'space oddities' . These themes are just as relevant today, but discussing them has become rather more acceptable than it was then. As a woman, I feel I ought to recognise that David Bowie contributed through his music to open up the conversation. 

#3 - Master story-teller

David's told stories of real and fictional characters. His music and his performances were based on lead characters that would engage the audiences with their stories. From the man who sold the world to the one who fell on earth, David understood the power of story telling versus singing a song or even a collection of them. Ultimately life and business are about people and their stories and you must capture them to create a loyal following of fans and, why not?, clients. 

R.I.P. David Bowie 1947-2016

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieveing their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.  

Friday, 8 January 2016

How To Turn New Year Resolutions Into Reality

Happy New Year!

My last blog was written just before Christmas, almost 3 weeks ago and maybe I should be feeling guilty for it. But in all truth I do not. I understand that people say social media never sleeps and you should not let your readers down by interrupting the flow, but I hope nobody feels that way. I needed a break, time away and space to think, 'let my hair down', enjoy family time....and that is exactly what I did and now I feel so much better for it, I am so ready and keen to go again!

I used some of this time to think about what I want to achieve in 2016, both personally and professionally, for Everyday Mentor. I started to make a list - as a matter of fact two of them - of about ten items and went through a process of weighting, pros-ing and cons-ing each of them, thinking about short, medium and long term impacts and finally came up a much shorter, condensed version of each list, about 3 items long on each side. So now it is all about the action planning aspect of it! 

I know that we all like to set Resolutions at the beginning of a new year, but I am sure most of you will agree that after some initial enthusiasm they tend to fade away pretty quickly. The thing is, a resolution is just a dream, unless we go though a proper process to make it happen eventually! Now I am not saying that resolutions are bad, so please do not get me wrong on this. As a matter of fact, having the RESOLVE to do something is the pivotal first step! But after that what do you need to do to ensure your resolve and motivation do not fizzle out by week four of the New Year? 

Here are my top-tips. They hopefully will help you turn your Resolutions into Reality by the end of 2016!

Tip #1 - Make a list, THEN cut it by half!

We all start the new year with plenty of enthusiasm and wanting to achieve world domination...but then life takes over and when by June you realise that perhaps only the top one resolution has actually come true you begin to feel frustrated and disappointed, running the risk of dropping what remains on your list all together! So look at each resolution item on your list carefully and ask your self: what would happen if I achieved that? What would happen if I did not achieve that? As you answer these questions you are going to find that some resolutions are sub categories of others, or are not so important or their impact is not so long lasting. Remember nothing is more motivating than success and while stretching yourself is good, frustrating yourself on an impossibly long list is not conducive to success!

Tip #2 - Prioritise your resolutions

This is about ensuring that your resolutions are approached in the most effective and efficient manner. For example, certain things you wish to achieve maybe easier than others, or maybe be naturally ahead of others. For example if you are looking to change job and learn a language, it maybe that the latter is more likely to happen as a result of you achieving the former. 
Also, if you are naturally inclined toward foreign languages or already have a basic knowledge of the language you wish to proficiently speak, it maybe better for you to start there and progress. 
So be strategic about your resolutions to give yourself the greatest chance of success!

Tip #3 - Time your resolutions correctly

Some of your resolutions may turn into reality at any point of the year. You are in control ultimately, it is about your approach and your attitude, right? Yes, right...for most of them. In some cases, however, other people are involved or necessary for us to execute our resolutions and this means knowing when the time is right to make them happen. Going back to the example above, if you wish to change job you may need to talk to your boss first, or a recruitment agency or similar. Finding the most appropriate time in the month or year to have those conversations ( it may be January for the recruitment agency, it may be the time of your performance review for your boss)  is key to you achieving your end goal!

Tip #4 - Verba Volant...

As the Romans used to say, words can fly away at the first gush of wind, but what is written down stays written! So don't just talk about your resolutions...write it down, make those lists and make an action plan! So how do you go about that? There are some quite simple template you can use, but ultimately any plans should provide the answer to a few simple questions:

Q1-what is my resolution / what do I want to achieve?
Q2-when do I want to achieve it by?
Q3-which 3 steps will enable me to achieve it? ( keep it to 3 if possible to keep it simple)
Q4-what other resources / support do I need to achieve it? 
Q5-how will I know I have been successful?

If you can answer these questions you will be gone a long way already toward making your Resolution your Reality in 2016!

Tip #5 Keep smiling and keep going!

Whatever you do, do not give yourself a hard time! If you are the kind of person who loses motivation quickly,  there are some tricks you can use to help yourself along the way. First, make sure you have an accurate, simple but well written plan that is quite specific. You may need to break it down into smaller steps rather than just 3 to feel that you are achieving and therefore maintaining momentum and motivation. Remember what matters is that you have embarked on the process and not how big your steps are! Secondly, find yourself a buddy to keep going, check on each other's progress and support each other as and when needed. No,doubt you have a friend or a colleague in a similar situation who can fulfil that role. Thirdly, celebrate success! Reward yourself for every step never mind how big or small. It does not have to be an expensive reward nor a material reward. Just sharing the news with your 'resolutions buddy' could be enough. 

Last but not least, this is what coaches and mentors are good for! If you feel that addressing your resolutions and making them happen could be a source of stress or if you could benefit from someone keeping you on track or that little more challenged...that is what a professional can help you with. 

Good luck and much success in 2016! If I can help you in any way just get in touch, or write to tell me about your resolutions and how you are getting on!

Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieveing their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.