Why being vulnerable is a sign of strength

Last week, my husband Ricardo told me about a bird who was building a nest under our second floor balcony directly over the door to the backyard patio. He was excited about seeing nature in action, especially since we’d just moved from a very urban part of town into Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek National Park neighborhood.

I didn’t think much about it the first time he mentioned it, but a couple days later when he texted me a photo of it, I immediately texted back starting a chain that went something like this:

Me: We should move it. It looks like it could easily fall off the ledge, and I can only imagine all the bird poop we’ll have to clean up.

Ricardo: I’ll clean up the bird poop. It’ll be fun to show the kids their first bird nest. Nature decided to put the nest here, so we should just let nature be.

Me: Nature naturally builds nests in nature, not on brick and metal. I think the baby birds would be safer in a nearby tree. What if they fall out onto the brick patio? That’s not great for the kids.

Ricardo: Ok, so why are you feeling the need to make a decision about something that I never asked to be a decision or conversation? I just wanted to share something beautiful from nature. And maybe the mother bird felt the love coming from our home and wanted to be close to us. It could be wonderful to watch and share with our family.

Here’s where I had a choice in how to respond. The knee-jerk reaction that came to me first was to continue the same line of thought that you see above, probably using different words. I’ve worked in environmental conservation for 16 years and I was being strongly pulled by the logic of the “conversation.” A narrow brick ledge with one wrought iron balcony “branch” over a hard brick patio wasn’t an ideal location for the safety of the little birds. I wrestled a bit with my values…why doesn’t he understand why I care about the safety of the birds? We can still have the family experience with nature if the nest is in a tree in the yard.

I thought about it for another minute and then choose to respond like this:

Me: You’re right. I’m sorry for not appreciating your joy for nature and love of family by immediately focusing on fixing something. I’ll call you so we can make sure we’re all good.

I called him, and not only was everything “all good” between us but he also thanked me for the act of love. He said, “You made yourself vulnerable, so it’s a little example that reminds me that you trust me. And that reminds me that I trust you. Your words also show me that I am the most important thing to you. Way more important than a bird nest.”

I made the right decision that morning but getting there wasn’t as easy as it may seem. Sometimes there’s something inside of us that wants to be right. Fighting that inner urge to keep fighting so you can be right because you believe in your position so much is SO hard.

You’ve heard the saying, “When in a hole, put the shovel down.” So why do we so often keep digging that hole deeper and deeper in our communications with others?

We keep digging when we need to be right. We put the shovel down when we want to win.

Let’s talk about what I mean by winning.

In the story of the bird nest, our relationship came first. That’s winning. It feels so much better than being right.

Why getting good at conflict is the top skill you need to develop NOW

You don’t want to read this. You’d rather not think about conflict, or you know you need to but you think it’ll require a lot of time and skill to do it well.

Think again. While it may not be easy, it’s simple and it’s the most important skill you’re procrastinating on. If you really want to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of these conflict struggles, the best way to do that is to learn these productive conflict basics now.

First, here’s what NOT to do…ever:

  • Don’t criticize
  • Don’t stonewall
  • Don’t condemn or judge
  • Don’t be defensive

Offering a critique of someone or giving feedback with compassionate intention is necessary and very different from these. To learn more about the differences, check out The Gottman Institute’s definitions, which are focused on marriage conflict but apply in the workplace too.

Steve Keating, leadership author and former Dale Carnegie exec, says:

“The very best leaders run to conflict. They know that needing a little time to heal is far better than dealing with a slow burning conflict that never ends.”

Continue reading “Why getting good at conflict is the top skill you need to develop NOW”

Here’s the 3-step user manual for your brain

You’ve heard the saying, “I think, therefore I am.”

René Descartes’ words spoken in the 17th century point to the power our thoughts have over us.

Gaining control over how you interpret the up to 70,000 thoughts that come to you is the first and most important step to mastering your mind and achieving what you want in life.

That’s right. Don’t believe everything you think. We are humans, not perfect machines, so can’t help but to let bias, values, assumptions, limiting beliefs and emotions into our thinking process when interpreting the world, people and events around us. Thoughts can build us up and thoughts can wear us down, stress us out, and yes, even make us sick. Thoughts can build relationships or weaken them. Many thoughts are simply a waste of our time, which is the most precious resource we have.

For instance, let’s talk about that thing called worry. Worry or anxiety is a fear emotion, but it’s a fear of something that HAS NOT HAPPENED. Researchers have studied worry, and to summarize their findings, they discovered that the things we worry about pretty much don’t happen (85%) and when they do happen it’s largely things we didn’t have control over anyway and we do a better job handling it than we thought we would. Worry is a wasted emotion.

So how do you get control of what your thoughts mean so you make better choices with the words and actions that follow them? Here are 3 steps to take now:

1. Be an observer – Listen to your thoughts in a disassociated way as if you are your own coach and question the ones that are negative or not empowering toward you or others. Ask yourself, what do I want to believe instead?

2. Pull out the weeds – Don’t let weeds grow in that beautiful garden of your mind. We have a tendency to have the same thoughts over and over again. When we get stuck in this looping of thoughts that don’t serve us, all we have to do is pull the weed out by saying, no thank you, I don’t need you. By bringing awareness to those unhelpful thought patterns, you can redirect yourself toward my next point.

3. Focus on what you want – We see what we look for, so look for the best. Put all of your energy toward what you want, and stop wasting energy getting exasperated by others or when things don’t go your way. It’s often easier to think about what we don’t want or to move away from something rather than towards something. Please avoid that trap that keeps you operating at a lower level, sapping your enthusiasm and spirit.

What if you reverse the quote above? I am, therefore I think. You are not your thoughts. Nor are you your beliefs, words or actions. You have a thinking mind and you have intuitive mind, and when you learn to leverage both to interpret your thoughts and in communication and decisionmaking with others, you’ll set yourself up for even greater success.

Why you should “own it” vs. blame others

Have you ever felt ignored, blamed or stuck, or like you have little or no control over a situation? We all have, and some psychologists say that our thoughts are in those places (aka, “below the line”) up to 80 percent of the time.


The key is to learn how to be aware of and accept the moments when you’re feeling below the line. Ask yourself, “How did I get here? What has been going on in my life?” And, when you’re ready to move forward, ask yourself, “What can I do to take responsibility for how I feel? What do I want to believe instead.” When you answer the latter, you regain control of your interpretation of the event, which means you regain control of your circumstances.

Yes, mastering your thoughts means mastering your results. Have you heard of the law of attraction? The point is that our thoughts are more powerful than we think they are, and we attract the things into our lives that we focus on. So when we always see the problems, we stay in the problems. When we are waiting for others to do something, we hold ourselves back from moving forward. When we refuse to see our role or our choices in creating the situation we are in, we cannot get ourselves out of it.

Your personal power lies in noticing that there’s a choice in how you interpret the world around you. You have the control, if you’ll just decide to take it. Once you open your curiosity by deciding to learn from criticism or difficulties, and get courageous by seeing effort as a path to success and persisting in spite of setbacks, you are developing a growth mindset, as written about by Dr. Carol Dweck and illustrated below.

Her research has shown that those with a growth mindset reach higher levels of achievement and fulfillment. You’ve heard the phrase, you are what you eat. You are what you think too.

Focus on what you want

Focusing on what you want and interpreting the events around you in the most empowering manner are the first steps to mastering the world and circumstances around you. It’s the first step toward achieving what you want.

It’s also an important part of relating with others. We don’t wear buttons that others can push. Our buttons exist only in our minds, and we are the sole operator. Do you want others to control your confidence level, your mood and your results, or would you rather be in charge? It starts with having an “in charge” vs. victim mindset.


Ask these questions whenever you feel yourself getting worked up by a situation or a person:

  1. What do I want to focus on? (make it something that you want vs. what you don’t want)
  2. What does it mean? (make it the most positive possible interpretation and don’t try to mind read others)
  3. Now, what do I want to do about it? (make your action step decision a thoughtful process so that you don’t react, you respond)

People management is out, people development is in

Anyone can be a manager. To get a job as one, you don’t have to have a degree or experience in management and you don’t even have to have a particular interest in developing people. That’s why there are so many managers out there struggling, and so many people above and below them who are frustrated.

When I coach managers into developing as true people leaders, it is tied to this wise perspective:

“All (of us) are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”    – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Two years ago, I was a member of the executive team of a global nonprofit’s marketing division. As part of my professional development for the year, I sought certification as an executive coach in neurolinguistics. I believed it would help me guide my 15-person team during a time when demands from our growing global programs were dramatically increasing, and many team members were brand new to the organization. I was spending about 40% of my time at work on advising or “people managing” team members. Since HR resources are often stretched thin inside workplaces, I believed that I, as a manager, was in the best position to mentor my team members to career growth.

After completing the first level of the coaching certification, I realized that what team members needed was not my advice, but to each be empowered on their own to problem solve, set achievable outcomes, communicate with clarity, and to model other’s examples of excellence to speed up their own results. I now see that people already have what they need to achieve their goals; some just need a guide to help them learn what’s holding them back and encourage them to be persistent through the process of change.

Through the coaching training, I also gained skills that have moved me forward as an effective communicator faster than 10 years of experience ever could.  I’m now teaching that to others whether it’s how to have rapport with anyone, facilitate productive dialogues, give feedback in a way that motivates others, get rid of limiting beliefs that slow people down, or how to set goals that they’re guaranteed to achieve (with commitment and a confident mindset, of course!). All of these skills help people develop their own leadership, and most importantly, to be a model for the future leaders who surround them.

Every workplaces’ success depends on the performance of its people. There’s no substitute for human performance, so the key is to figure out what more should we be doing to change our focus from one of people management to people development. Everyone, and the organization, wins when we do that.