Difficult conversations are difficult for a reason, and when you’re anxious or stressed out, it’s easy to say the wrong thing. To keep the interaction from going sideways, avoid these common mistakes.
- Don’t assume your perspective is obvious. Steer clear of phrases like “clearly,” “obviously,” or “without a doubt,” which are likely to insult your counterpart.
- Don’t exaggerate. Skip any statements that start with “You always…” or “You never…” They’re rarely true.
- Don’t challenge someone’s character or integrity. You’ll just make the person defensive if you tell them they’re “unprofessional,” “wrong,” or “unethical.”
- Don’t tell others what they should do. People feel judged by “should” statements. Try saying “You might consider…,” “One possibility is…,” or “Have you thought of…?” instead.
- Don’t say “It’s not personal.” Recognize that even when it’s not personal to you, it might be for the other person.
Ben (Name changed), a research and development director at a pharmaceutical company, was distraught. “A situation happened at work today that I can’t get out of my head,” he said. It turned out that Ben had spent hours preparing for an all-hands meeting with colleagues across the globe. He reviewed the agenda, drafted his talking points, and logged on to the conference software ready to contribute.
Then, things went askew. Ben struggled to be heard above more dominant colleagues, and when he did get an opportunity to speak, he felt flustered and flubbed his words. Afterwards, Ben was preoccupied by the incident. He couldn’t quit beating himself up. Why hadn’t he spoken up earlier or been more assertive? Why did he over explain and blabber on instead of sticking to his talking points?
Ben is a Sensitive striver — a high-achiever who is also highly sensitive. He is driven and demands excellence from himself at all times. But when he falls short of those impossibly high expectations, his innate sensitivity and thoughtfulness cause him to spiral into self-recrimination. If you can relate to Ben’s reaction, then you also may be too hard on yourself. This can take the form of harsh, punitive judgments, overanalyzing your shortcomings, rumination over minor missteps, worry, and assuming fault.
Perhaps you have thought that self-criticism is what keeps you sharp. Sensitive strivers like Ben often use it as a form of motivation, hoping that if they’re tough enough on themselves, they’ll be compelled to perform. But research shows that self-criticism is a poor strategy. When used excessively, it is consistently associated with less motivation, worse self-control, and greater procrastination. In fact, self-criticism shifts the brain into a state of inhibition, which prevents you from taking action to reach your goals.
Being hard on yourself may be ineffective, but it is also a hard pattern to break. It requires consistent attention and practice. Here are a few strategies that can set on the path to taking a more balanced, emotionally equanimous approach to your performance.
Name your inner critic.
Create psychological distance from self-criticism by personifying it. For example, choose a silly name or a character from a movie or a book. Mine is called Bozo, but you might name yours “the little monster” or “gremlin.” I once had a client who called his Darth Vader (of Star Wars fame). He purchased a small Darth Vader action figure for his desk, which reminded him to keep the critical voice in check.
Naming your inner critic leverages cognitive defusion — a process by which you separate yourself from your thoughts. Defusion is shown to reduce discomfort, believability, and the stress of negative thoughts. It also promotes psychological flexibility, or the capacity to steady your mind, manage your emotions, and be aware, open, and adaptive to changing demands.
When Ben found out details about the all-hands meeting later, it became clear that no one noticed he was flustered. In fact, the COO later told Ben she thought his comments were the only moment of clarity in the conversation. This shocked Ben since it did not match his impression. It was a clear example of the spotlight effect — a tendency in which you misjudge and overestimate how much attention others pay to your behavior.
To combat the spotlight effect, consider your performance on aggregate versus zeroing in on a singular negative event. Think of a bell curve: you’ll likely perform average or higher than average most days. Some days will be below average, and that’s normal. Keep an eye on the bigger picture. Ben realised that while the all-hands wasn’t his best showing, he was only paralysing himself further by taking this one unfavourable meeting and generalising it to an ongoing pattern. We avoid using extreme statements like “I always mess up,” “I’ll never get my voice heard,” and “This happens every time.”
Flip the “what if” narrative.
The human mind is wired to make meaning and answer questions. The sensitive brain, in particular, is adept at making connections and anticipating eventualities. Studies have shown that sensitive people have more active mental circuitry and neurochemicals in areas related to attention, action-planning, decision-making, and having strong internal experiences.
This means that as a sensitive striver you have the power to channel your thinking with greater precision. Make better use of your brain power by posing more constructive questions. Specifically, consider what could go right in equal measure with what could go wrong. For example:
• What if the senior leadership team loves my presentation?
• What if this idea isn’t stupid, but is the breakthrough that moves the project forward?
• What if this proposal revolutionizes how we work as a team?
Set a timer and a goal.
Being hard on yourself can ruin your mood, focus, and productivity if you let it. Luckily, shame and humiliation – two emotions that are common with self-criticism — are shown to only last between 30 to 50 minutes. Take advantage of this fact by time-boxing your feelings: set a timer and allow yourself to fully experience and process your emotions during that period. One helpful practice is release writing, in which you free write for three to five minutes to let go of pent-up frustrations.
Once the timer goes off, make a conscious choice about how to move forward. Define how you want to feel and what actions gets you closer to that feeling state. Ben decided he wanted to feel peaceful. We determined several steps that could help him achieve peacefulness, including a short meditation and taking a break to walk his dog.
Expand your definition of success.
As a sensitive striver, you likely have a tendency to define achievement in a hyper-specific way, that is, complete and total excellence at all times. You don’t need to lower your bar, but you do need to broaden your scope of what qualifies as a “win.” Achieving the desired outcome isn’t always in your control, so broaden your definition of success to include:
• Overcoming resistance or fear
• Pushing back and standing up for what you think is right
• Approaching a situation with a different mindset or attitude
• Taking a small step toward a goal
Take a few moments at the end of your workday to reflect not only on your professional highlights (praise, recognition, positive reviews, etc.), but also to consider moments where you made yourself proud. Acting in integrity with your values is the true definition of success.
As a sensitive striver, your desire to be the best is an asset when managed correctly. Once you tamp down the tendency to be hard on yourself, you’ll be able to more fully leverage your sensitivity and ambition as the gifts they are.
A powerful idea makes all the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful person, team, or company.
An idea is “A thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action” – It stresses the process of imagining or formulating rather than the result.
And once an idea is executed properly it gives us a leap of growth in that area of our life, taking us to the next level.
Most of the successful people have constantly found and applied ideas in their life and hence become successful. Be it in science, art , sports, finance, business or their personal life.
How to generate ideas:
Contrary to the belief that it has to do with high IQ, it’s, in general, more to do with the presence of mind. History has proven that grounded people with dedicated efforts generate better ideas. Here are the key ingredients for generating good ideas:
Necessity is the mother of all inventions. We should be motivated either internally or externally. Also should have the passion and doggedness to follow thru our hearts.
Ideas flow in free mind.
It’s not possible to have a good thought process with a cluttered mind. If we are bogged down with stress, tension, or negative emotions, it will hinder the free flow of thoughts.
Only a controlled and focused mind can generate better ideas.
Be it meditation, soothing music, or morning prayers, whatever calms our mind and helps us focus.
Exercise – A healthy body
For a healthy mind, we need a healthy body, and exercising is the best way to keep fit. Whether it’s long walks or running it doesn’t matter as long as physical exercise is part of the daily regime.
Varied Knowledge and Interests
Apart from constant learning in the field where we want to generate ideas. It’s a huge advantage to gain knowledge in other work areas that is not related to ours.
For example, if you are an entrepreneur, it opens a new perspective if you learn guitar or any musical instrument. It broadens our horizons and empowers us to have different thought processes.
Some of the activities that helps:
• Reading Books (Possibly from wide variety of subjects)
• Learning different Languages (Each languages gives different prospectives)
• Learning Music or Creative Art etc (Learning other creative areas of work)
Anything that allows us to dip into and learn other work areas.
To think of an idea sometimes we need to break the mold, be courageous, be stupid and be bold to try things that have never been tried before.
Courage and lateral way of thinking is critical for ideas to flow in.
As they say, you are what surrounds you. Our chances of creating new ideas and pursuing them improve if we have peers, a social circle, or an environment that embraces new ideas.
When you feel overwhelmed, the way you react can actually make things worse. Here are five common, self-sabotaging mistakes to watch out for — and how to avoid them:
You think you don’t have time for actions that might help you.
Stop waiting for an ideal moment, and do something to help yourself immediately, such as finding a therapist, taking a day off to rest, or calling up a friend.
You don’t use your unconscious mind enough.
It’s unreasonable to expect to be focused all the time. Try taking a walk and letting your mind drift and see what solutions emerge.
You interpret feeling overwhelmed as a weakness.
Being hard on yourself will only lead you to procrastinate or become more perfectionistic. Replace your self-criticism with compassionate self-talk.
You default to your traditional approaches and defenses.
Our strengths may not always work to our advantage; for example, thoughtfulness can become overthinking, or high standards can lead to perfectionism. Be mindful of your instinctive reactions in order to stay flexible in your approach to problem solving.
You withdraw from your support system.
Find ways to connect with people even when you’ve got limited emotional energy.
To work towards a goal be it personal or professional we have two choices:
• Take multiple and frequent steps towards the goal – Quantity of steps
• Take infrequent but perfect steps toward the goal – Quality of steps
Here is an experiment that elaborates the difference(Courtesy: Atomic Habits):
ON THE FIRST day of class, Jerry Uelsmann, a professor at the University of Florida, divided his film, photography students, into two groups.
Everyone on the left side of the classroom would be in the “Quantity” group. They would be graded solely on the amount of work (No. Of Photos) they produced. On the final day of class, he would tally the number of photos submitted by each student. One hundred photos would rate an A, ninety photos a B, eighty photos a C, and so on.
Meanwhile, everyone on the right side of the room would be in the “Quality” group. They would be graded only on the excellence of their work. They would only need to produce one photo during the semester, but it had to be a nearly perfect image to get an A.
At the end of the term, he was surprised to find that all the best photos were produced by the Quantity group.
During the semester, “Quantity” students were busy taking photos, experimenting with composition and lighting, testing out various methods in the darkroom, and learning from their mistakes. In the process of creating hundreds of photos, they honed their skills.
Meanwhile, the Quality group sat around speculating about perfection. In the end, they had little to show for their efforts other than unverified theories and one mediocre photo.
Dont get bogged down to make it perfect
It is easy to get bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change: the fastest way to lose weight, the best program to build muscle, the perfect idea for a side hustle. We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action.
As Voltaire once wrote, “The best is the enemy of the good.”
The problem with perfect quality steps is most of the time we don’t even know what’s a perfect step and are scared to “NOT GET” the perfect steps. Hence won’t even start towards a goal. It’s very difficult to find out the perfect steps and leads to analysis paralysis.
Whereas small frequent steps give us confidence, make us more proficient in the skill, giving us a much better chance. So let’s keep taking small but frequent steps even if it’s inaccurate towards our goals and achieve them.
Thinking is considered a waste of time today.
Imagine, if you found someone sitting alone in a conference room or someplace with no laptop, no devices, with just a pad/pen thinking? What will be your reaction?
It will be like – “This guy is a nut case, what is he doing?“
But he is thinking, reflecting and getting things in perspective or solving a problem.
Thinking, reflecting, and getting deeper into our own consciousness have given human beings all the ideas, inventions, & discoveries around the world. In fact, Einstein used to call it “Thought Experiments” and that’s what gave him his best inventions.
How can someone solve any problem without thinking? “Thinking is the most productive work and that’s what differentiates us from animals”.
But still, we spend much less time “Thinking” nowadays. Here is why we stopped giving importance to “Thinking”:
Its derogatory to make time for thinking
Similar to the above scenario (Sitting alone in a conf room), there are numerous examples, where making time to think is disapproved. What are you thinking? Why are you thinking? These questions are asked more as criticizing the person as if thinking is a crime.
The person who wants alone time to think is considered anti-social.
Instead of thinking you should be working or discussing with colleagues etc. Should be doing something productive, why are you wasting time on thinking :). To hell with that – “Thinking” is the most productive work one can do.
Too many distractions
When was the last time you sat down for 20 minutes without doing anything, without mobile/laptop, without TV, without any distractions?
Before the mobile or internet era, at least while traveling, we use to enjoy scenes and in the process think & reflect. Nowadays because of mobile (or a device), we listen to sound bites, watch movies, chatting, texting in media, or on calls.
Can we sit in a room for 20-30 minutes without distractions? When do we have time to think?
Can’t be alone, thinking is so boring, makes us uncomfortable
We can’t be in solitude today. Flexing our thinking muscles makes us fidget and cannot do it for long.
Our excuse is we always have more exciting things to do.
Yes, thinking is boring initially, but as you do more often, you start enjoying it. Thinking is a conversation you are having with yourself, how can it be boring?
It’s just that we lost our thinking cap because it’s considered unnecessary.
Thinking is replaced by copying others or social pressures to conform
Most of our life is spent analyzing & copying peers or doing things under social pressure. What are they doing? What others will say? etc.
Hence most of our decisions are already made by others. Look at your decisions, it’s driven by peers or neighbors or social rules. Yes, I agree, there is nothing wrong with being influenced. But in most cases instead of reflecting whether it is good or bad for us, we just copy or follow.
Copying is easier so why think? But as we mature and reflect on our decisions, we realize that most of what we copied or followed without thinking was not right for us.
The world does not want us to think
In today’s “materialistic world” no one wants us to think, Govt, Companies, Big brands, Social media. In fact, they want us to stop thinking and just listen to them, consume what they say, buy what they want, do what they say.
Look at it from their perspective, if all the decisions you take has to be taken by your independent thinking, will you never keep buying unnecessarily. Nope, if you reflect, pause and think why I am doing this? You will stop it and will become more sensible.
They don’t want us to think but to react, that’s what benefits them the mosts.
So how to get back to thinking
It’s simple – “Start thinking”. We all are culprits of not thinking enough, not analyzing enough, and let life happen to us in a zombie mode.
So relax and start thinking, let it grow on you. Make thinking time, take being alone time and be in solitude for some time daily. Let’s remove all the distractions while thinking, switch off everything else.
Thinking can be in different forms:
• It can mean introspection,
• It can mean sustained reading or writing.
• It can mean the concentration of focused work alone.
• It is something where you brain is driving instead of being driven.
Thinking is the most productive work, and the more you do it..the better you become at life and enjoy doing it!