Words That Empower You

I’ll never forget the first time I was called on in class after moving to Portugal. It was the ninth grade geography class. I studied hard. But, having recently moved from Canada, my teenage mind was still in French mode: I read in Portuguese, but my brain worked in French.

So after clearing my throat to talk, nothing intelligible came out. A huge laugh from everyone was the result, including the teacher! That day I understood (the hard way) that words play a big role in communication.

Similarly, language has a powerful influence on relationships. The words we use to express ourselves – and before that the words we use to think of ourselves and others – shape the way we feel when we relate to others.

When we feel empowered – calm, clear and confident – we relate to others in a rewarding and dynamic manner. When we don’t, relationships are unproductive and toxic. Words play a major role in this.

Here are 2 ways to use language to empower relationships:

  1. When facing a challenge, use sentences where “I” is the subject instead of “you”. I’m not saying we talk about ourselves all the time. I mean that when we describe our reality with “I” sentences, the power to influence and change that reality increases greatly.
 “You” sentences tie your hands. You depend on others.

Imagine your coworker Emilia has the ball, the ball being anything you want. Consider the sentence: “Emilia has the ball and won’t give it to me.” Here, Emilia has all the power because she’s the subject: She has the ball; she won’t give it to you.

“I” sentences give you agency,
the power to shape your reality and relationships.

Now consider this: “Emilia has the ball and I haven’t found a way yet for her to give it to me.” Here, power is balanced: She has the ball but you haven’t yet found a way to get it. Now there’s something you can do (find a way), which means you have power. Subtle but very effective.

  1. In difficult situations, use the verb “to do” not “to be”:“to be” is disempowering because it focuses on the person; “to do” is empowering because it focuses on the event.

For instance, you turn to Emilia and say: “You are uncooperative”. This suggests a negative feature about her, which might provoke a defensive reaction on her part.

Instead “you did something uncooperative” might avoid that because it describes an action, not her. Moreover, “to be” suggests more permanent traits; while “to do” leaves room for things to change.

The language of “I” and “to do” is empowering.
It enables us to feel calmer, clearer and more confident.

Sometimes the influence of language is not evident and can be tricky to use. Leave a comment with what is on your mind. You can also send me an email to t@tobiasrodrigues.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.

By the way, there was someone in my geography class who actually thought my attempt was kind of cute: the pretty sister of one the real popular guys in school. It was my first “Portuguese” crush.

It’s Always My Fault!

On Tuesday, a client and I met to discuss a session we’re going to do on relationship management. One of the topics was how the corporation’s managers sometimes can’t stand some of the people they work with. They feel it’s useless and case closed.

I love this topic, especially when it comes up in my seminars. It’s always interesting to see the look on participants’ faces when I present the commitment ratio of the relationship building system I created: 80% you; 20% the other person. What?!

Yep, that’s the look on their faces. You do 80% of the work and the other person does 20%. “That’s not fair!” — some might say. Relationship management at work is not about fairness (that comes later), it’s about effectiveness.

The ultimate challenge is not
how you relate to others. It’s how you deal with YOU!

Relationships need to function for everyone to get their jobs done. An 80/20 ratio assures your commitment produces functioning results that guarantee performance. “But it doesn’t make sense: the other person is the problem, not me!” — others object.

This reminds me of a story back in my university days. One late night, as I was making my way home, I saw a man literally banging his head against a street post. I kind of recognized him, so I walked up to him.

After a long monologue, I came to learn his tragic story. His wife had left with another man and took the children. His partner was no longer a partner. His business was crumbling. He was drinking… I almost felt sorry for him. But then I didn’t.

It’s a tough lesson: either you take on the responsibility
of being in charge of the events of your life or… you don’t.

When he finally asked if I wasn’t going to say anything, I asked: “You expected people would behave in a certain way, right?” What?! — was the look on his face. Then silence. Then a smile.

“That’s right”, he said. “I’ve blamed everyone around me for everything that has happened to me. That puts the power to lead my life in their hands, not in mine. To be in charge, I need to accept it’s my fault.”

That day, that man began to understand that it will always be up to him  to take charge of how relationships affect his life and how he will proceed. He understood that the outcomes of our relationships start with us.

Today, that man leads a fulfilling life — lots of challenges no doubt, but fulfilling. Today, he is an 80/20 man, committed to producing functioning results that guarantee performance. His approach is: regardless of what happens, it’s always my responsibility.

Could this work for you? I’m eager to see how the managers will respond!

Chew Before You Swallow, she said

Young Artur could not have been much older than 10 when he was first sent to boarding school. This meant moving from Graciosa to Terceira, in the Azores Islands, Portugal.

Today, at almost 90, Artur or Cunha de Oliveira – he prefers his surname – is a renowned figure of the Azores. In him you’ll find demanding wisdom and generous compassion. He is a good friend and a mentor.

Standing on the pier that day before he boarded, his mother gave him a lifelong piece of advice:

“Son, remember to chew before you swallow”, she said.

“Mom, I’m not a baby. I know better than to swallow food without chewing”, he replied.

“Oh, I don’t mean the food, my dear!” And with a kiss and a smile, she bid him goodbye.

She was referring to the many things he would be taught and would learn. This principle has guided him on a journey that has been unique and fascinating (for instance, service as a Member of the European Parliament).

Sometimes, what is most evident goes shockingly unnoticed.

His mom’s advice is one of those cases – commonsense usually is. I often wonder how many things I accept to be true without pausing to ask: Is this really so?

Believing everything you think is not a freeway to freedom.

Trusting everything we are taught and told is no diploma of wisdom. Accepting things at face value proves to be a mask that conceals disillusion. Instead, to nurture the routine of pausing to test the strength of our truths is a practice of growth.

One question you might want to keep in your back pocket for unexpected situations is: “Why not?” For, now and then life might kick us in the buttocks. And with a righteous claim in our voices, we’ll jump up to object: “But why? Why me?!”

I’m quite sure there won’t be an answer. This might be life’s way of asking “Why not? Or have you swallowed something without chewing?”

Who do you know who’d enjoy Artur’s mom’s advice? Share it!

39 Days, 11 Hours And 30 Minutes Of Bandage

On June 29th at 10:30 pm, while I was out enjoying an evening jog, I tripped and broke the 5th metatarsus (the main bone of the pinky) of my right foot. On August 8th at 10:00 am the cast was removed.

That’s a photo of my nephews painting my cast.

The following are some of the things I learnt during those 39 days, 11 hours and 30 minutes.

 1. Not getting in the way already great help

Performing everyday activities took a little longer and was a bit more complex to carry out.  In practice, this often meant it was harder for those around me to go about performing their own everyday activities.

Using a cast helped me learn to consider beforehand whether I would be of greater help staying out of the way instead of getting in the middle and making things messier. Often, the best way to help was just not getting in the way.

I extend this to other areas of life. Though I may want to lend a helping hand with my advice or expertise, it is wise to first ask whether this will actually make things better. At times, staying still or silent is the best option. 

2. Accepting dependence is tough

I also got used to the idea that some things I would just not be able to do on my own. For ex., I could not walk around with our daughter, Irene. For five weeks, I was a “sitting daddy” and relied on others to attend to many of Irene’s needs.

Life is a circle of interdependence: though autonomous, we rely on others and the services they provide for large amounts of our happiness.

3. Accepting restriction is also tough

Not being able to take a walk, run, swim or shower normally were tough for me. I even had dreams where I’d be walking and then noticed in shock that I still had the cast and shouldn’t be putting my foot on the ground.

One the principles we use in my conflict resolution seminars is that a conflict with no solution is a solved conflict. Accepting my limitations proved to be a challenge. Once accomplished, it’s also a blessing.

4. Non-empathetic remarks are scary

It wasn’t on purpose. In fact, they were not even aware of it. But the truth is that, in an attempt to be sympathetic, some people would tell me their own stories of broken bones. And they didn’t spare the dramatic details:

“My cousin broke his foot and had a cast for THREE months!!”, “I also broke my foot and it never really healed. It gets sore when I run and hurts on rainy days.”, “Be careful with the doc’s advice. Sometimes it makes things worse!”

My experience tells me it is not empathetic to share your ”horror” story with someone who is going through one of their own. They don’t need to hear the ups and downs of your experience. It doesn’t help cope.

5. Vulnerability introduced me to nice people

On the other hand, people were very kind. Just an example, when my wife, Claudia, Irene and I travelled on vacation, we anticipated a stressful and rough ride. Not true.

The services for passengers with mobility constraints were great. At every airport, we were assisted with great effectiveness and extreme kindness, at no extra cost. I take this opportunity to express our gratitude to all those who helped us.

A cast taught me that vulnerability can bring out the best in those around us.

6. Love makes loved ones endure

Another aspect was that my wife had extra work on her hands.  As the days went by, I could see the fatigue growing, and an increasing effort was required to endure. But she endured. And then she endured some more. My love for her has grown.

I am fortunate to have seen that love fuels faith and strength in tough times.

 7. Life withers and dies when trapped

 Finally, the day I had the cast removed I noticed that my right leg was very thin. Even some of the hair on my leg had died (of asphyxiation?) and fallen off.

This made me think about how we, as humans, are not built to be trapped. Whether a relationship, the past, a job or even a dream, whatever imprisons us, weaken us and eventually kills the life in us. 

My foot is almost fully functional and the vacation will soon be over. So expect to hear more from me from now on. 🙂

Break Free From Frustration

Life isn’t going to be perfect and there’ll always be a good reason to feel disappointed. So what do we do? We sometimes complain. Now, this may seem appropriate, but in fact it’s not. To complain leads to disaster and I’ll explain why.

Most of our complaining is senseless,
and has a disastrous effect: it fuels our frustration.

Aristotle said that “Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and that is not easy.” The same goes for complaining:
To complain to the right person at the right time for the right purpose in the right way is not easy! The opposite is easy: to my friends I’ll complain about my partner, to my partner about my boss, to my boss about my colleagues, to my colleagues about the government and the weather…

Every time we express our discontent – including when we silently complain to ourselves – we’re telling the mind that something is wrong. This feeds our frustration. Then, there’s really not much we can do to stop the Hulk in us from coming out.

In other words, complaining leads to frustration, and frustration to anger and grumpiness – a recipe for disaster. To avoid complaining, even to myself, I follow two guidelines in both my personal and professional life:

1) Do not allow yourself to complain about things you cannot or are unwilling to change – it’s a waste of time. Change the subject.

2) Do not allow yourself to complain without suggesting a better realistic alternative. Until you think of something better, keep quiet. 

By breaking free from the habit of complaining, we increase our tolerance to frustration. I’m not going to begin to tell you how rewarding and refreshing that is. Instead, I’ll challenge you to try it for just one week. Then, please tell me how you feel!

Remember: There’s always going to be a good reason to complain. Be nice, and let someone else use it. 🙂

The Pyramid Of Fulfillment

What are the first six words that pop into to your head when you hear the words fulfillment, success or happiness? Before I tell you why, please write them down.

The other day, my friend and fellow coach at IESE Business School, Tony Anagor — Cofounder of LifestyleDMC and Lifestyle Barcelona, companies that specialize in organizing unique events and experiences — was invited to give a talk to MBA students from around the world who were in Barcelona as a part of the University of Manchester’s European Summer Study Programme.

When Tony asked me if I’d like to share the stage with him, I immediately jumped on board: for me students mean the future, and I like being in touch with the future.

During my presentation, I asked the students this same question and shared with them my six words. They describe the decisive pieces to living a fulfilling life. I call it “The Pyramid Of Fulfillment”. Let’s have a look:

 

 

Resources: This includes money, but not predominantly. Seth Godin gets it well in a blogpost:

“Don’t get caught confusing money with security. There are lots of ways to build a life that’s more secure, starting with the stories you tell yourself, the people you surround yourself with and the cost of living you embrace.”

 

Time: Plenty of resources and no time to use them is not worth much. So, how much time do you have for you? Not for personal obligations apart from work, but time for your thing? I find that sometimes even my free time is booked.

Autonomy: Resources and time are useless if you’re not free to do with them what you desire. In the end, the goal is to live and work like you’re your own boss. Self-determination is a key factor for lasting motivation.

Balance: Juggling the different areas of your life is an art. It can also be your dismay. A fulfilling life is like an orchestra. It’s not enough to play one instrument well. You want all of them to do well and to do it together.

Meaning: With the resources, time and opportunity to live life on your terms and balance in doing so, you’re also going to need meaning. Life needs to make sense. What good is a wonderful orchestra isolated in a soundproof room where no one can hear it?

 

A life that does not contribute

 

to something bigger than itself lacks purpose.

 

Suspense: This is one of my favorites. I wrote about it in a previous post. Fulfillment is not about reaching the finish line. It’s about learning the game, keeping it going and ultimately becoming a game changer! This ongoing process requires excitement and energy. And without suspense, that’s really not possible.

What does your pyramid look like? I’m sure there are other significant pieces we could add. Love to hear about it.

 

Never Relinquish Your Power

It’s easy to be cool when things are cool. It’s easy feel down when things aren’t going well. What is hard is to bounce back when things just plainly SUCK!

Let me put you into context: So someone stole my briefcase — yep, the computer, the wallet, the whole shebang… Sweet irony: I had just finished giving a workshop on conflict management. How about that for “practice what you preach”?

 

A distinction: You don’t control a reaction.
But your response, that’s entirely up to you.​

 

How did it happen? That’s not important. Just skill and opportunity (more skill than opportunity I must say).

How did I react? Not important either (though I must say I didn’t lash out in accusations. No, I just said: “F***! Someone stole my briefcase!” And then followed standard procedure: notify security, leave name and number, report the theft… Boring!).

What is important, though, is the aftermath, the response that comes after the reaction in the following hours and days.

​Another distinction: You don’t control
someone’s action. But you can minimize its impact.

 

So how do you tailor your response so as to minimize the impact of an action? Let me tell you what I did:

– First, I sheltered myself: Family. Friends. That’s what they are for. I sought them out and told my story. I got the support I needed and even a computer to use! Then I thought: “If I’d lost one of them, I’d really be in trouble.” I felt a bit better because I didn’t feel alone.

– Second, I pampered myself. Yep. Like mom and dad did when I was little and tripped and fell down. I indulged myself in something I enjoy. In this case, it was a nice (strong) glass of wine (maybe two). Now, that started to feel better.

– Third, I reassured myself. I avoided feeling worse than I already did. When your stuff is stolen, you feel vulnerable, insecure. And that on its own is more than enough.

You don’t need to tell yourself: “Who the hell leaves a briefcase unattended in a big restaurant?! What an idiot!” I replaced that kind of talk with: “I’m the same guy I was yesterday. The same pretty self-confident positive guy. Let’s keep it that way.”

 

This doesn’t make me a hero.
But it let’s me know I don’t accept going down as a loser.

 

​In other words: If you don’t stop to decide what your response will be, you give away any power you have to minimize the impact that other people’s actions have on you. That means they’re in control, not you. And that — I assure you — REALLY sucks!

By the way, today a fellow human and fine citizen named Sergio called saying he had found a wallet with my ID in a trash bin. Thank you new friend!

[Sergio Estevez specializes in wine and premium liquor tasting events in Barcelona. Follow him @LoCatamos]

The Sound Of Suspence

Do you like to meet interesting people? I love it. And it always surprises me when I notice this:
– excitement and energy in the lives of people that struggle;
– and dullness and demotivation in the lives of people who prosper.

Why is this? Wouldn’t you expect the opposite? It seems there’s more to self-fulfillment than “making it”.

 

Self-fulfillment is when you feel proud

 

to truthfully share any aspect of your life.

 

Imagine life is an orchestra. Self-fulfillment is when each part of our life creates sounds that all together result in something nice. It’s not enough to play one instrument well. We want all of them to do well and to do it together.

This means self-fulfillment is a state of combined harmony of the different areas of our life. And we can’t achieve this on our own because our lives involve other people and their self-fulfillment.

 

Self-fulfillment depends on the amount of suspense

 

you’re willing to allow into your life.

 

What makes a good story? Suspense resolved. No suspense, no story. Too much, and we might asphyxiate. Not enough, and it’s boring. From time to time, we’ll want to stir things up in life to make sure the story continues to be interesting.

So, self-fulfillment will be that ongoing fluctuating process in your life where you deal with some areas first, while others wait unattended. And that’s okay.

What is not okay is if the process comes to a halt, because stagnant streams stink. This is why just “having it all” isn’t enough.

In the end, the question that matters is: What suspense am I resolving and who is part of it? So, the next time you meet new people, be sure to feel proud and share the sounds of your suspense!

 

Let’em Rock The House

The room is packed — over four hundred hungry hearts. The excitement has visibly surfaced on the expectant faces of untamed smiles and craving eyes. Silence… Silence… Then a loud, proud and potent “HELLOOOO…” and the crowd bursts into an eruption of euphoria.

It was the official opening of the Toastmasters District 59 Spring Conference. Three intense days of speaking, of connecting, of sharing. And it was A BLAST. Believe me… I was there.

Many elements contributed to the huge success of the event. I’ll mention just one: the secret to organizing and moderating events like these.

 

How can we tell apart good event organizers and moderators

 

from the truly great ones?

 

Great event organizers and moderators are like light. The purpose of light is not to be looked at, but to make the surroundings shine.

No one stares into the light. And if someone shoves an intense beam of light straight into your eyes, what would you do? Exactly. Like light, the purpose of great organizers and moderators is to work so that others may shine: the participants, the speakers, the guests.

I gave a workshop at the event and can testify first hand that that is how the team and moderators worked throughout the entire conference.

Their aim was not to shine under the spotlight. Nop. Their attitude was to be the spotlight and give it all, which included a persevering sincere smile of availability.

And all that so that when the time came for us to burst onto the stage, we could rock the house. And so we did. That wouldn’t have been possible without the sensitive team light of organizers and moderators. Thank you! Chapeau!!

If Ever There’s A Purpose

Who am I? And why am I here? These are questions, specialists say, that assist us in the process of creating our identities. These questions have entertained a great part of my youth and adult life.

My quest to answer them, which somehow always seems to have a sequel, has been intense, exciting and at times unpredicted. Funny enough, meaningful results have come not by way of books or theories, rather by way of experiences and people.

The stories and relationships of life have helped me understand that:

 

For what matters, we get to choose who we want to be.

And a universal purpose, if there is one, might just be to be together.

 

If you live in those parts of the planet where August means vacation, you might be enjoying a few days of rest. Out here in sunny southern Spain, my wife and I enjoy the company of unique friends who dedicate themselves to a “universal” purpose.

For them, home is a distinct place called Murtra Galilea, a resort like compound for retreat and tranquility. The purpose you breathe here is rather palpable: kindness.

Here, it quickly becomes obvious that people were made to be kind, to extend warmth, to intensely enjoy the experience of being nice. It’s a wonderful feeling and I wanted to share it.

Kindness, if ever there’s a universal purpose!