Gentle Approach to Building Business and Career

This week, I had a great coaching session. It was nice to be the client and experience the benefits of coaching for myself. I talked a lot about the challenges of building a business. Anyone who has ever been involved in starting or growing a business will know what I mean. There is uncertainty, a huge amount of effort and resources invested, with no guarantee of immediate return.

As an introverted and highly sensitive business owner I feel these challenges really deeply. I find social media to be a busy and noisy environment. I don’t do videos even though I know I probably should. I don’t want to be on the radio even though I have been told I should. I get embarrassed if written about in the paper. I don’t talk about my business on my Facebook page because that is for friends and family. This begs the question, how will potential clients find me and if they don’t, can I even have a business?

During my session we identified that for me to communicate my message in supporting introverts in the workplace I need to speak from the heart. I speak from my experience of being an introverted leader and small business owner for ten years and now as an introverted entrepreneur building a second business.

One of my takeaways is that I need to trust myself, my story and my experiences. They are true and valid and I know from my clients that I am not alone. Confidence is a feeling of self-belief that you can handle it. This comes from valuing and trusting yourself. A powerful question to ask yourself is how much do you value yourself? Someone with high self-esteem might rate themselves an 8 or even a 9/10, for those of us with lower self-worth we might struggle with a high rating.

Trusting myself means owning my story and my feelings. The core message of my business is that you can find your unique and authentic path as an introvert. This means leaning into and appreciating your quieter qualities of listening, empathy, deep thinking, and reflection. If you are an introvert in the workplace you might need a gentler approach to career or business development.

What does a gentler approach look like for you? For me, it is writing blogs like this which allows me to showcase my strength in love of learning. It is in connecting one to one with people I meet through networking. It is investing in online networking which tends to be smaller groups facilitated by breakouts (I hope they continue post pandemic), it is in reconnecting with weaker ties within my network to keep connections alive. Most of all, it is about speaking from the heart on my journey as an introvert in business.

If you work in an organisation as you navigate your career, can you identify your gentler tactics? Perhaps you will proactively build relationships with people in other departments so you hear about opportunities. Or take on an organising role for an event which promotes your visibility, or perhaps sharing your expertise on a non-work related topic, which might be of benefit to your colleagues.

We have to be visible for people to know we are there but there is a gentler more authentic route you can take. Identify your strengths, do what you love, value your contributions and most of all trust you can do it.

Aoife Lenox is an Introvert Coach, Trainer and Consultant who speaks to organisations on her introvert experience of being in business. She runs her quiet series of workshops along with one to one career and business coaching.

Thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person

The persistent toe tapping of your colleague, the smells wafting from the kitchen, the distant hum of a radio in the background. These are all familiar sensual experiences, but for the 20% of the overall population who are described as highly sensitive these experiences can be labelled as painful.

Dr. Elaine Aron defined this term in the 1990’s and Elena Herdieckerhoff in her TED talk accurately describes it as being in a permanent state of osmosis taking in sights, sounds, smells and emotions. Highly sensitive people (HSP’s) feel deeply and about 70% are introverted.

If you are the parent of a child with sensory processing issues you will be familiar with the challenges of getting hair cut, brushing teeth, uncomfortable clothes, overstimulation and meltdowns. It’s not just children feel like this we just learn to mask it as we grow up.

Intuition plays a large role in being highly sensitive and it can be confusing because, it means lots of voices in our head. These voices might want to send us in many different directions. Perhaps difficulty in narrowing down a career, making decisions or voicing opinions or just promoting negative self-talk.

Dr. Aron says, our original social organisations were divided into those that were impulsive and tough, (knights and warriors) and the more thoughtful and learned types (priests, royal advisors). The HSP’s of this world naturally gravitate towards the royal advisor roles, often preferring self-employment or individual contributor roles with a lot of autonomy.

To thrive at work Dr. Aron says we need to first be aware of some potential obstacles. Low self-confidence can present as we compare ourselves to others who seem to have it all together. We can lack an appreciation of our role, qualities and contributions. We can spend excess time searching for our true purpose, sometimes pursuing education at the cost of experience. We are often afraid to ask questions or rock the boat. Aron says as worry prone perfectionists we may be the hardest boss we ever worked for.

Like everything overuse of a strength can prevent us from moving forward. We need to balance listening to that inner voice with taking practical steps to move forward. But strengths are powerful because they are the sails on our sailboat, when we engage with them, they will help us move forward.

Use your skills of perception to make sense of complex situations, understand relationships or identify patterns that might be helpful to problem solve at work. Build presence through empathetic connections with other people. Use your sensitivity to identify opportunities of kindness.

The best way for you to show up is your way. If that seems easy great, it means you’re using your natural talents and strengths, if it’s hard then try listening to your inner voice to guide you on what you should be doing and in finding that voice you will speak your truth.

‘People who are gifted and intuitive, yet conscientious and determined not to make mistakes ought to be treasured employees. But we are less likely to fit into the business world when the metaphors for achievement are warfare, pioneering, and expansion’. Dr. Aron

Changing environments can bring out feelings of anxiety causing too much arousal of the nervous system and for HSP’s this can be magnified. You may not even realise it is happening until you hit shutdown point and then try to figure out why. As countries around the world open up and the movement towards return to workplaces happens this can create quite anxious situations for HSP’s who have possibly been able to manage their work environment better working from home.

Every society and organisation needs all types of people; those that are highly alert and those less cautious and willing to explore every new thing along with lots of individuals in the middle. Yet, in the Western world we have created an ideal that not everyone fits into. A study done between the University of Waterloo in Ontario and Shanghai Teachers University compared most popular traits of school age children. In China, those who were ‘shy’ or ‘sensitive’ were chosen most, but in Canada they were chosen least. This trend continues into our organisations with a 2009 study in the Journal of Industrial Psychiatry which says only 2% of CEO’s are introverted. What traits are we defining as ideal in our students and leaders?

Valuing your unique contributions will help promote your feelings of self-worth and help you extricate that worth from other outcomes such as career or financial. Elaine Aron suggests we make peace and befriend our inner function.

If you are wondering whether are you a highly sensitive person you can take the online test here. In my coaching practice I specialise in supporting introverts, gifted, and highly sensitive people. We work on promoting your strengths, managing your environment and finding effective ways of moving forward. Reach out for a free discovery call at 087 917 5785 or contact me at aoife@insidestrategies.ie

 

‘I don’t want to go back to the workplace’

A feeling of optimism prevails, on a bright sunny morning at the end of April, as the reopening plan for Ireland over the next two months is unveiled, in national and social media. The beginning of the end. Nobody wants the pandemic to continue, but for a cohort of the population there have been some marked improvements in their working lives over the past 14 months, and that primarily revolves around; working from home. Working from home has, facilitated individuals to balance other demands outside of work, but it also meets the often, unspoken needs of about 30-50% of the population who are introverted.

As an Introvert Coach, I have noticed a common theme from clients who proclaim they will quit their job if they have to return back to the workplace. I can hear fear in their voices. With overall statistics showing improvements in productivity the argument for bringing increased flexibility to the workplace has been won. Introverted clients who come to me, tell me they have increased energy, experience feelings of calm, and can’t imagine ever going back. Research statistics show, that introverts fare poorer in well-being and happiness studies and so it is important to recognise the challenges that many introverts face at work.

Our workplaces, cultures and processes have been designed with the extrovert in mind. Busy and noisy work environments are overstimulating for many introverts who have a higher sensitivity to the neurochemical dopamine. Fast responses and quick decision-making suit the internal processing systems of extroverts who, we now know from fMRI’s, process information differently. Continual meetings suit extroverts who prefer to talk to think than the introvert approach of thinking to talk. Many introverts who previously worked outside the home, tell me by Friday they were just spent, with nothing left to give the rest of their lives. The intricate neural pathways of processing in the introvert brain drive a level of intensity that seems to drain all levels of energy. People exhaustion, regularly cited as the number one challenge for introverts has become less of an issue.

Introverts benefit from quieter environments, more structured online meetings, where time is managed and interaction can be facilitated by chat options and formalised breakout sessions to encourage smaller groups and participation. Reflection time is easier and this promotes our creative thinking processes.

Many organisations are opting for a hybrid model and this balanced approach may work very well allowing for some face-face collaboration time, along with the option to balance this working remotely. Many managers and leaders may be wondering how best to manage this. Hoping to create an inclusive environment but also cognisant of the how difficult it might be to ensure people working remotely are not left out if others are in the office. The solution is in changing what you measure. Move away from time spent in the office as the gauge and focus on building the individual working relationships particularly in the area of trust. If people feel safe, feel supported, have the opportunity to use their strengths and have positive and productive relationships at work they will naturally be engaged and location becomes unimportant.

If you are a manager or a leader I suggest treading carefully in the coming months. Check in with each and every employee. If you can’t do that, authors Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall say you have too many people in your span of control. Carry out engagement surveys. Find out what has worked and what hasn’t. The workplace of the future won’t be a one size fits all and will continually change. The platinum rule is; treat people as they want to be treated as opposed to how you would like to be treated. Temperament, whether you lean more towards the introvert or the extrovert end of the spectrum impacts how you engage with work every day and if we want to create workplaces that promote creativity, engagement and performance we have to consider the individual needs of employees and temperament should come high up the list.

Aoife Lenox is an Introvert Coach, Trainer and Consultant working with individuals and organisations to create meaningful work experiences built on strengths. Reach out to me for individual coaching, inhouse webinars or workshops or people and culture support.

Quiet Confidence

While attending a workshop in 2017, the presenter caught my attention when she said confidence can be built. Really? Are we actually in control of our levels of confidence? This was news to me.

It turns out we are in control, at least 50% but probably much more. A study done on 15,000 twins in the UK tested their attitude towards how well they would do on IQ tests at age 7 and age 9. Dividing the twins into fraternal and identical they found that the identical twins were much more likely to have similar levels of confidence about how well they would do on the test. Some of our confidence may be genetic but much more of it is up to us.

What is it?

My definition is, it’s a feeling based on our self-worth which allows us to overcome challenges and keep moving forward. I have learned optimism plays a key role in this. Not the Pollyanna approach where you assume everything will be rosy but based on hope and a mindset shift that whatever happens you can handle it.

Surrender

As an internal processor, aka introvert I do a really great job of self-judgement, self-criticism and over analysing. If I wasn’t so hard on myself I’d give myself an A+ but I’m humble so we’ll stick with an A. Part of my confidence building journey has been surrendering and letting go of this negative self-talk. Easier said than done. It means accepting mistakes, not over catastrophising when they do happen (and they will) using tools such as learned optimism to support me to move forward and letting go of control. Part of my anxiety which contributed to feelings of low confidence was in perfectionism and trying to control aspects of my life. This is still a work in progress but I’m aware of when it is happening. I love a good ‘to do’ list but on the days when I can surrender it’s tearing up the list and just going with it. Amazingly things still get done. Sometimes, over use of strengths can become a weakness.

Jujutsu

Quiet Confidence is the term I use for those of us who are more introverted in temperament but still want to be influential in what we do. Author Jocelyn Davis in her book The Art of Quiet Influence calls this Jujustu. She says Jujustu experts accept the ‘intractable power imbalances and the rules when facing a stronger opponent and act to ‘serve interests not ego’. In other words, they get out of their own head, use strategy and process in developing influence.

‘Hook a figurative foot around a figurative ankle to throw them off balance. Smile as you do it’

The Confidence Challenge

We are confused about confidence. We base it on what we see outside, comparing ourselves to others who come across as more confident. In Yoga, tree pose is a balance posture standing on one leg, that leg is rooted to the ground for stability. To become sustainably confident, we need to build these firm roots. The only way to do that is building confidence from the inside out; awareness, reflection, mindset, surrender, and practice.

If you would like to learn more about building confidence I will be hosting a 3 part workshop in May on Quiet Confidence. Sign up here.

The Weekly Check In

The following is the first in a series of pieces I am writing tackling day to day management and leadership questions taken from a quiet leadership approach.

Problem: I am an introverted leader and find it difficult to run effective meetings or establish influence as the leader.

Good news for quiet leaders; your approach that comes naturally to you, is one that is now recognised as the best way to communicate with a team and that is through one to one check in’s. No need for loud town hall meetings, you can best support your team using your quiet leadership style.

Authors Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall of ‘Nine Lies About Work’ say, that without regular (weekly) check in’s you are only talking in generalities with your team and not specifics. They say your brief check in should include two questions:

What are your priorities this week?

How can I help?

You might be thinking I have too many people on my team to be able to do this but if you do Buckingham and Goodall would suggest you have too many people on your team or what is called your span of control.

Check in’s can be short but must be regular. The analogy of brushing your teeth is used. You wouldn’t give them a good brush twice a year for good oral health, it needs to be regular. Data shows that team leaders who take this approach have higher levels of engagement and lower levels of voluntary turnover.

Colleen Barrett, President of Southwest Airlines is said to have spent 70% of her time interacting with her people. Things change fast in an organisation, information becomes obsolete, goals and plans set at the start of the year can become irrelevant. If you don’t know the specifics of what is going on for your team you can’t effectively support them.

The totality of our work experience comes down to the local interactions we have with our colleagues, managers and within our team. According to Corporate Rebels 50% of employees quit because of bad managers. Don’t let your team members become one of them schedule your weekly check in’s today.

Aoife Lenox is an Introvert Coach and Engagement Specialist. She promotes strategies of quiet leadership to promote meaningful and high performing work.

Reimagine Work

‘People are responsible adults at home. Why do we suddenly transform them into adolescents with no freedom when we reach the workplace?’ Ricardo Semler, Corporate Rebels.

It’s Sunday night, how are you feeling? Are you energised and excited for the work week ahead or is it more a feeling of dread in anticipation of Monday morning?

While catching up (virtually) with some friends earlier in the year I was struck by both their attitudes towards work. Sentiments such as I can’t believe I have to do this until I retire pervaded the conversation. While starting and running a business is no walk in the park and I have many days where I think I will give up I no longer have the dreaded Sunday night feeling anticipating the week ahead. For the most part I really enjoy my work, get great satisfaction from it and am rewarded by its growth trajectory for which I am truly grateful.

What would it look like to reimagine work so everyone could shake off the Sunday night feeling? In the book Corporate Rebels, authors Joost Minnaar and Pim De Morree describe their journey of traveling around the world to visit some of the most progressive organisations who have managed to make work more fun. Some are pretty radical and need to be changed from the top down but others can be done at any level of the organisation and you can try them within your own team.

  1. Embrace a culture of experimentation. Let go of the idea that anything is predictable or planned – never more true than right now. Throw out the annual plans which are archaic and take advantage of opportunities and experience available to you. Give your colleagues autonomy to try new things and ensure that mistakes are welcomed as learning opportunities. From this you will build yourself an empowered workforce.
  2. The higher you go in an organisation the less is known about what goes on the frontline. What impact would it have if team leaders and management viewed themselves there as service to employees? Their only role was to support their team. Traditional organisations often experience the HiPPO effect (highest paid persons opinion) or as the Peter Principle describes ‘in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence’.
  3. Throw out the job descriptions. Hire for personality and train for skills is well recognised but I would suggest rarely implemented, take a look at the ads on any job board and you will see the lengthy list of skills and experience required. In progressive organisations roles are developed around the talents of its workforce. The Dutch home care organisation Buurtzorg got rid of job titles, employees are encouraged to explore their talents in order to reach their full potential. ‘Studies show that employees are 15% less likely to quit if they can use their strengths and 8% more productive when they use their talents.’
  4. Distribute authority. Speed up decision making and promote autonomy by giving pre-authorisation. Employees can make decisions within certain pre-determined boundaries such as within Netflix to ‘make wise decisions despite ambiguity’. Their research found that when employees can make important decisions, ‘they have a greater sense of entrepreneurship and pride’. David Marquet, American Navy submarine commander managed this despite working in a highly traditional and hierarchical organisation such as the navy.

From democratically electing leaders to salary transparency (which btw has a positive effect on gender equality), there are lots of seemingly radical changes that can be implemented. But if your organisation does not start to change it risks stagnation and we know the world of work is changing. The 4 day a week movement is starting to gain momentum. Just this week Spain announced it would facilitate almost 200 companies to offer this to its employees at a 100% pay for 80% work. Countries are measuring their wellbeing rather than GDP. Mental health statistics are frightening.

What is progressive today will be the norm of tomorrow. Do you want to set your organisation apart as a great place to work and start integrating these approaches now? If so, I would love to work with you on gently exploring these changes at work.

Aoife Lenox is a Coach, Trainer and Consultant and works with organisations who wish to experiment with new ways of working to create better workplaces promoting engagement, wellbeing and ultimately resulting in performance. Would you like to take the first step in adapting your work environment? Reach out for a free consultation.

Training, Introverts and Ice-Breakers

For some introverts attending a training session even a virtual one, can be an intense experience and a step enough outside their comfort zone. When the ice-breakers arrive, you might find your introverts wishing they could run for the hills.

Yet, we know as Trainers and Facilitators that developing relationships is an important part of working within a team and even a temporary team for the duration of a training session can benefit from these interactions. Social learning theory emphasises how much we learn from observations and interactions with other people.

Our challenge as Trainers is, through an inclusive approach to find the sweet spot that encourages some openness to promote relationship building but respects the reserved nature of many introverts and the combination of personality types in the session.

How we Differ

We now know from neuroscience that introverts and extroverts differ in their sensitivity to the neurochemical dopamine and have different ways of processing information. The level to which this influences your interactions with others will vary from person to person as we also know personality is very complex and temperament is only one aspect of it. Nevertheless, temperament is worth considering when designing a training session.

Small levels of stimulation can increase dopamine levels in an introvert to the point of shut down. Introverts will say, they find they can no longer think or talk because of this overstimulation. Extroverts on the other hand require larger doses of it and are stimulated by external interactions which is why they often prefer to process externally and interact with more people than introverts. I am categorising for the purposes of discussion but generally these are our two big differences.

The good news is, with some awareness and pre-planning there are ways to build relationships, create trust and openness in a team setting that can satisfy everyone. The following are some suggestions around ice-breakers that should support introverts attending feel comfortable, and be in a position to get the most out of the session. When we feel psychologically safe we are able to contribute.

Independent Activities can also be Ice-breakers

An important part of team building is shared experience and so your first ice-breaker to warm everyone up could be an independent activity that does not require verbal contribution but is done together. I enjoyed a communication exercise done by a presenter which involved him asking us to take a square piece of paper and we followed his explicit instructions in how to fold the paper in half, then quarters, cut pieces off the edge and keep folding. One would assume because we had been given the same instructions that our papers should all look the same but when the 15 of us held it up to the camera, we laughed at how different our designs looked. The lesson of course was that we all hear things differently which can make communication so challenging. The other result however was we were warmed up.

Keep Ice-breakers Purposeful

To manage our energy as introverts we seem to instinctively know to focus our engagement on purposeful activities. Choose ice-breakers that will help move the training session along rather than just to get to know each other. You might consider an alternative independent activity relevant to your topic such as a ‘treasure hunt’ on the internet to find an article relevant to your training or put people in breakout rooms and give them a task or problem to solve.

One comment from an introvert said, ‘To me, the best icebreaker is a task or meaningful goal that you work on with someone’.

A purposeful exercise like this will allow introverts to participate fully but comfortably while extroverts who wish to talk it through afterwards can also do that. The results can be captured on a tool like Padlet.

Keep Questions Concrete

If you’re going to ask some warm up introduction questions, I suggest keeping them concrete rather than abstract. Introverts tend to be quite logical thinkers, fMRI’s demonstrate the differing ways our brains process and increased activity in the frontal cortex contributes to our preference for deep thinking and analysis. In one particular exercise I was asked what type of fruit I would be, this did nothing but sent the cortisol shooting through my body and made me feel anxious.

Small Groups

Introverts will generally be more comfortable in small groups so utilising break out rooms even for ice-breakers are a great idea. Assigning a purposeful task rather than a random topic can focus the group. Brian Little, Professor and Author on personality and well-being says

We are like all of the people, we are like some of the people and we are like none of the people’.

A break out room task could be to find commonalities rather than differences as a basis to build meaningful relationships. The results can be captured on a tool such as padlet.

It can be fun

Even Introverts are not opposed to a bit of fun! Integrate an element of competition such as quizzes or as in the example above perhaps the room who have identified the most in common wins. Or a short light hearted video, relevant to the topic can also relax the mood to get the session going.

Keep it Simple

The tool ‘one word’ allows participants to share just one word about a topic which reduces the pressure to speak up for a longer period and makes it easier to process. It can also be contributed in the chat function too but helps everyone see what others are thinking.

Overall, your ice-breaker is there to build a sense of community and togetherness for the purpose of the training session. Ensuring that everyone is comfortable is integral to that. Keep it simple, concrete rather than abstract, purposeful and a balance between independent activity and interaction, is in my opinion is the key to successful ice-breakers.

The Business of Creating a Caring Culture

Peter Drucker, the management guru is famously to have said, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’, and yet the elusive matter of culture is so intangible it can be hard to describe, create and measure. If you’ve been house hunting you may have chosen your home based on a feeling. Culture within organisations is often very like this; a feeling.

Tony Humphreys in his book ‘Work and Worth’ says work culture is made up of ‘symbols, language, assumptions, traditions and behaviours’. He further adds that when such work cultures are not caring in nature ‘they can have profound affects on well-being’. I often quote Martin Seligman, one of the founders of Positive Psychology who suggests well-being should be our only goal.

While chatting with a neighbour this weekend who has two young children and returned back to work last October after maternity leave. I asked her if her organisation had made any amendments to her work schedule to allow her to care for her children while schools and childcare are shut. Her answer was no, in fact her workload has increased since the beginning of the month. Only 4 of her 20 person team have children and it’s not spoken about. Humphreys says there are very few examples of person-centred workplaces and the emphasis still seems to be on productivity.

Human Centered Approach

A tweet went viral last week which went something like this. A woman approached her boss and asked for her work hours to be reduced to 80%. Her boss refused. That was the headline that caused the tweet to go viral, but when you read on, the poster explained that he refused to reduce his employees pay to 80% but told her take the time she needs to support her family and to do her best in her job. By the way, this could also have been a man making this request but the reality is women take on most of the caring responsibilities in most families. This boss reflects a human centred approach to work.

When we focus entirely on productivity, we treat people like robots. Life is messy, it doesn’t go according to plan and certainly not in the middle of a pandemic. There will be ebbs and flows. There are hours, days, weeks and months over the course of my career when I am really productive and there are times when I am less so and that is life.

Humphreys suggests that many managers would consider the above approach as ‘soft’ and not befitting of leadership. Yet, research shows that happier workers are ‘not only more creative and productive but are supportive of each other and of management, and this especially shows itself in crisis’. This book was written well before the onset of Covid19 but how relevant it is.

I recently learned about Jim Sinegal, co-founder and former CEO of Costco the large warehouse style retailer in the US. His management style was described as benevolent. He would travel each year to every location to inspect them personally. He believed by treating your employees well, they in turn will serve customers well. For example, over 90% of Costco employees qualify for medical benefits as against the US average of 60%. This results in a very low level of turnover.

Characteristics of a Caring Culture

Humphreys identifies some characteristics of a caring culture:

  • Views all employees as unique with rights and needs
  • Listens and responds to these rights and needs
  • Values and affirms workers which takes precedence over productivity
  • Recognises the influence that self-esteem has on creativity, productivity and management
  • Provides special attention to those that feel bad about themselves or lack confidence
  • Affirms the vast intellectual capacity of each of its workers
  • Embraces failure and success as equal stepping stones
  • Praises work efforts and love of work
  • Makes work and management enhancing of an employee’s welfare
  • Stresses caring relationships
  • Creates an environment where people learn to take self-responsibility.

Create a Caring Culture

Creating a caring culture begins with you. You know the metaphor of putting the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others. When you are kind to yourself you are in a better place to be kind to others. A recent study reported on how people felt after performing or observing acts of kindness every day for seven days. Probably not surprising, but it boosted happiness levels by increasing serotonin and oxytocin levels. We all have a choice on how we react to ourselves and to others. If you need convincing on this you might like to read The Choice by Edith Eger or books by many of the other incredible people who have survived harrowing circumstances.

If you currently work in an organisation which doesn’t reflect a caring culture this might sound like an unachievable goal or perhaps even fluff and not real leadership but the evidence suggests otherwise. A caring culture can be the critical ingredient for organisational success. It is important that caring is not just a value on the wall but a part of your strategy and visible at various touchpoints. In fact, research suggests that emphasising caring approaches can improve critical thinking.

Caring approaches can be taught, but people need to understand the why of taking a caring approach. To serve comes naturally to some but not everyone. Learning compassionate approaches can lead to lasting changes in how people think and act. How can you help to create a culture of care where you work? We need it now, more than ever.

If you would like support in creating a more caring culture in your organisation reach out to me for a complimentary consultation.

Creating the Work Experience your Life Deserves.

Flexibility at work has always been important to me. In 1992, as a 16 year old my Dad suggested that I apply for the Morrisson visa. At the time, this was the visa that offered Irish nationals the opportunity to get a green card and live in the US. I grew up on Dallas and Knots Landing so heading to the US was definitely attractive to me. I can still remember walking into Presentation ‘Pres’ Secondary School in Cork on a cold and dark Winters evening where we took our seats and listened to a presentation on the programme. I was young and innocent but my Dad suggested it would ensure I had opportunities in case I had to leave Ireland. We were just coming out of the mass emigration of the 1980’s. At barely 18 I found myself up in the US Embassy raising my right hand, taking an oath and signing paperwork that would change the course of my future. That Summer, I took my first ever plane ride to begin my relationship with America which would result in over 10 years living there full time, and a further 15 commuting back and forth, and as my husband likes to remind me I wouldn’t have met him had I not taken that route.

Yesterday, in an event dedicated to discussing remote work with Irish Network USA, Tracy Keogh of Grow Remote included in her presentation the phrase that those of us who grew up in the emigration era of the 1980’s and 1990’s remember well, ‘There are no jobs here’. In every small town and even big cities this is what young people faced. I was one of the luckier one’s, by the time I graduated college in 1998 the tide had turned in economic development in Ireland and my siblings a few years younger than me, did not share this same experience of lack of opportunity. That phrase sparked the memories of my emigration journey.

Just recently, I came across a piece of paper from 1999 where I had laid out my 10 vacation days and personal days for that year that I received in my job in the US. I was trying to stretch them over a 12 month period to attend my friends’ wedding in Sydney to be her bridesmaid, a trip to see family in Ireland and a short vacation. These were the days before video calls, phone calls were expensive and not everyone had e-mail. The one visit home a year was it and a once a week phone call which was usually abruptly ended by my mother exclaiming how expensive the call must be. We ended up flying to Sydney for only 6 days. Had remote work been the norm back then imagine the privilege of being able to spend a few weeks in Ireland with my family while working. I’m glad my children will never have to make these hard choices.

Remote work will help ensure that no young person in Ireland will ever have to leave our shores if they do not want to. It will open up global opportunities without ever leaving home. It offers parents who want to balance work and childcare increased possibilities of doing that. In 2008, my husband and I decided we would like to raise our boys in both countries and we chose to move back to Ireland to enrol them in school here and divide our time between both countries. I should add this has not been as logistically easy as I imagined back then but we have managed to do this in some shape or form for the past 12 years. Even with the restrictions of Covid, we have just returned from over two months in the US. None of our family situation would have been possible if Steve and I could not work remotely and our boys can currently remote learn.

Whatever hybrid model is developed going forward remote work can be life changing for people. The future of work is now and we have been afforded an incredible opportunity to finally reimagine work. Disruption often does this but we must seize the moment and create the work experience that our lives deserve.

                          ‘You only live once but if you do it right once is enough’. Mae West

Growing my Networking Skin

Did you know snakes shed their skin when it doesn’t fit anymore or because it is old or worn out? Imagine if we could do this. Unhappy with our persona and wanting to project a new one we shed that skin. In fact, we do this as we grow and learn but it’s a far more gradual and less obvious process.

Shedding my discomfort with networking and sales is not easy for me but I know in order to build a business it is a necessary part of my journey. For the clients and contacts who message me to thank me for continuing my work it is because of you that I continue. It is because of you I can see the value in what I do and as a purposeful driven Introvert that is really important.

I learned in Matthew Pollards first book in The Introverts Edge Series that I needed a system for sales and in his follow up book The Introverts Edge to Networking he continues that message. As Introverts we need a focused, strategic and smart approach to networking in order to manage our energy. By the way networking is really important for everyone not just business owners. You never know when you will need to find your next role.

Networking, he says got a bad rap from the ‘churn and burn’ mentality of the traveling American salesperson. He says his system will allow us to ‘walk out of every room feeling like we’ve made powerful connections, portrayed the best version of ourselves, and remained authentically ‘us’ the whole time’.

He describes three types of networkers, the transactional networkers focused on the sale, the aimless networker who builds some connections but it really goes nowhere or the strategic networker connecting with people who value your work and can help you reach your goals. I have certainly been the aimless networker.

In the strategic networking approach 90% of the work will be done outside of the room, music to my introvert ears. I just need to develop my process. It’s about owning my ‘uniqueness, passion and stories’. And I begin the process with planning, preparation and process.

Uncover your passion

I begin my shedding process by focusing in on my passion. Doing this means connecting with the reasons why I was drawn to coaching and training introverts. For me, that comes down to feelings. Feeling like I have said the wrong thing and overanalysing, feeling like I was being judged for not speaking up, feeling left out of groups, feeling like there was something wrong with me. This is ultimately what I want to do, help other introverts to not feel like this. I want other introverts to not hold back from pursuing opportunities. I see so many people with gifts who don’t pursue them because they feel they’re not good enough. I want other introverts to celebrate who they are. Matthew asks what work is important enough for us to make the sacrifices we make. We all have a finite amount of time and to make our work matter we must understand it’s worth. Why do you do what you do?

Niching

He sets a few myths straight about niching. First, it’s absolutely necessary but it doesn’t mean you can’t work with clients outside of this niche or focus on this niche forever but in line with our introvert personality it means we strategically focus our efforts. I am an Introvert Coach and so I have niched but to niche even further Matthew suggests looking to see where my current clients are coming from. Although I am a new business with a small client base, I noticed that 100% of my personal and corporate clients were from the tech or creative sectors. This is not overly surprising as many introverts are drawn to these industries but I had not noticed. This now gives me a focus to cater my message to these sectors.

Next, I have to identify my secret sauce. This reminded of what has been called the best pitch ever on Dragons Den. Levi Roots pitched his sauce to the judges and he made it stand out so much he got the investment. Best way to do this? Ask your clients. Find out what makes you stand out when you do what you do. Disclosure: I have yet to do this.

Stories

Stories are powerful, they target the limbic or emotional part of our brain and can bypass the cognitive where we logically assess what someone is saying. Physicist Stephen Hawkins said ‘quiet people have the loudest minds’. Matthew shared a story of a presentation he did where he created the most informative and detailed presentation he could. He found out afterwards the audience felt it was like a ‘fire hose of information’. This resonated with me because it is exactly what I have done and after a year of many presentations, podcasts and webinars that haven’t yielded much results I now realise I need to master the art of storytelling. Stories are also helpful when we are asked a question, responding with ‘let me tell you about….’ And even better is when we have carefully constructed and practiced these so they roll off the tongue. This is useful in any people interactions not just networking. As Maya Angelou said ‘people won’t remember what you said but they will remember how you made them feel’.

Your job when networking is not to download a lifetime of experience, but instead, tell a powerful story that educates and inspires’.

The next piece in the puzzle is to create our unified message. This should be catchy and create interest. If I introduce myself as an introvert coach and trainer people can put me in the ‘yet another coach’ box and it can stop the conversation, but a phrase that captures what I do but differentiates me creates interest and can open up questioning which is what we want.

Stay tuned as I am currently working on this and taking his advice of using a thesaurus to play around with different words. Matthew recognises it takes courage to take this step and stand out but really that’s what we are all meant to do because we’re all unique. I love Professor Brian Littles quote of ‘we’re like all of the people, some of the people and none of the people’.

The final piece is around our current network. He divides our network into champions, those contacts who are the ‘movers and shakers’ and momentum partners who would willingly help you to connect with others. We all have the potential to help each other out and at the end of the day that’s what networking is all about. It’s about building those relationships, offering reciprocity and supporting each other to reach our goals.

When you hit that networking room virtual or otherwise you will know exactly who you want to meet, your unified message to peak their interest and the stories that capture what you do so no need to have any anxiety about getting tongue tied or not knowing what to say and of course don’t forget the follow up to stay in that persons mind.

Keep taking small steps to build your network and I hope like me you are slowly shedding some of that old skin.