10 Questions To Help You Know If Your Leader Or Manager Is Someone You Should Be Supporting

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “The Most Powerful You”

For 15 years, I’ve been coaching mid- to high-level professionals and leaders in achieving their highest and most rewarding goals. This involves helping them embrace new strategies and approaches that allow them to make the positive impact they long for and become the kind of leaders they want to be. Throughout the process, they’ve told me that in overcoming their own power gaps, they’ve expanded their ability to learn from critique and found new ways to be more inclusive in their leadership approach. They’ve built more psychological safety in their organizations, and reduced the divisiveness and conflict in their ecosystems and work cultures.

It’s very inspiring to observe people mustering the bravery, confidence, and strength to walk through their deepest fears and insecurities. I’ve learned in my time as a therapist and coach that “greater awareness equals greater choice,” and these individuals are intentionally choosing to shift how they’re operating in the world to become leaders of beneficial influence, who uplift and support their followers, employees and constituents as they ascend.

Sometimes, in working with professionals around the world, I also see that they are struggling with their decision-making processes, unable to make a definitive decision on a direction to pursue or action to take. In many cases, their decision processes have failed them in the past—for instance, they’ve taken the wrong career route, or chosen a terrible job, or followed the wrong leader who wreaked havoc on their life. And these faulty decisions make them feel paralyzed today as to what to do next. Or they haven’t ever really trusted themselves fully so they waffle and waver when needing to put their stake in the ground and decide on a course of action.

Overall, I’ve seen that there are 5 key reasons that people’s decisions fail them, and these reasons are:

  • Their decisions don’t support their intrinsic, core values
  • They made the right decisions but due to weak boundaries or insecurity, they didn’t communicate or enforce their decisions with clarity or commitment.
  • Their decisions emerged from a place of disempowerment, fear or weakness instead of strength
  • Their decisions weren’t sufficiently vetted and didn’t take into account the real-life impact and outcomes
  • And finally, their decisions focused on the wrong problem instead of the key challenge they actually needed to address

Today, in these times of greater fear and uncertainty, I’m observing that my clients and course members—and those I hear from on LinkedIn on other social media platforms—are struggling even more in making key decisions that will have a large impact on their futures, including what jobs they should stay in, the career changes they need to make, and now, who they want to vote for in the upcoming local and national elections. These key decisions include which business or political leaders to follow, which organizations to join and which causes and directions to pursue.

In figuring out—and committing to— a vitally important decision that you’ll have to live with for the foreseeable future, that will have lasting repercussions in your life and the lives of those you love, I’ve found there are some key questions you can ask yourself today that will help you make the right decision for you.

These questions will help you cut through the noise and clutter, clarify where you really stand, and help you make the correct choice for who you are, focusing on the issues you care about, and the outcomes that matter most to you in your life and work. And these questions will help you not only choose the leader you want to follow, but also determine the way you want to show up in the world.

As a start, below are 10 questions that will help you identify if a particular leader or manager is truly someone you should be supporting and working for (or voting for):

Ask yourself these 10 questions:

  1. Does this leader or manager behave, communicate and operate in a way that I respect, admire and want to emulate?
  2. Does this leader share my core values and inspire me to be the best, highest version of myself possible, or do I find that their actions and suggestions make me behave and speak like a “lower,” more insecure version of myself?
  3. Does this leader know how to build beneficial, supportive relationships with others that help create sustainable growth and achieve critical allyship that is so necessary for my organization or entity to thrive?
  4. Does this leader believe in the innate equality, deservedness and worth of all people he/she leads, and do they support that core value in their words, actions and deeds?
  5. Can this leader take critique and challenge well, and take responsibility and accountability for his/her actions, instead of blaming others? Do they show remorse when they go wrong, and apologize when an apology or change of course and attitude is called for?
  6. Can this leader respect and like people who don’t agree with their actions and opinions?
  7.  Does this leader show maturity, emotional intelligence and regulation, temperance, patience, empathy, balance, and other key attributes that make a great leader?
  8. In reviewing the communications from this leader over the past six months, including social media messages, public and private statements, emails and memos, and other written and verbal forms of communications, do the communications show more positivity than negativity? (i.e. What percentage of these messages contain uplifting, positive words and sentiments that move people forward and what percentage tear people down, blame or attack others, or contain otherwise divisive or negative messages? Is there a ratio of more than 3 to 1 of uplifting and positive language and messages vs. denigrating and negative ones?)
  9. When this leader takes action, does the action support the growth, safety and success of the vast majority of people under him/her, or just those groups he/she is personally attached or connected to and only those who support him/her?
  10. Finally, are you able to say “I love how this leader behaves and communicates because he/she builds bridges across major divides and differences, and reduces the potential harm, conflict, anger and a lack of acceptance among the people he/she leads?”

Bonus question: The opposite of question #10 is if you often have to say, “Well, he/she didn’t mean it”  in response to divisive, derogatory or discriminatory statements the leader makes. If you find that you have to continually excuse away their behavior and say “they didn’t intend it that way,” ask yourself one final question – Why do I continue to want to make excuses for this leader? Why not do what it takes to choose a leader or manager I don’t have to make excuses for?

If you find yourself saying “No” to many or most of these questions, then your decision is clear. This is not the leader you want to be supporting, and it’s time to make some powerful decisions on what you need to do.

Perhaps now’s the time to finally look for a new job, and leave that harmful manager or leader behind forever. Or perhaps you can pursue working in a different department, working for a different manager within your organization who aligns more closely with what you want. Or maybe it’s time to take the reins and launch your own venture so you can finally become a great leader of your own enterprise. And now is the time to decide clearly who you want to lead you both regionally and nationally, in the upcoming elections.

Base your decision on what you truly value in life, and in all respects—both personally and professionally—choose to follow people whom you respect and who embody the very traits that you want to emulate and bring forward in both life and work.

To make stronger, more effective career and leadership decisions, read Kathy Caprino’s new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss, and work with Kathy in her Career Breakthrough programs this Fall.

The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People: How We Can Apply Them Today

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Today’s True Leadership”

Many years ago when I was in my corporate life, I happened upon the powerful book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and I was very drawn to its simple yet transformative principles and strategies. To me, they just made perfect sense and those rare people whom I found to be great leaders were naturally applying these principles in their lives and work. On the other hand, I saw all around me certain behaviors of colleagues and managers that were in direct opposition to these principles, and it was demoralizing to observe and be a part of.

Later, when I became a marriage and family therapist and career coach, the principles in the book spoke to me in a different, deeper way. And the seven habits remained just as effective whether I applied them to my therapeutic work with individuals and families or in my career and leadership coaching work with executives.

The author of the 7 Habits groundbreaking framework, Stephen R. Covey (1932-2012), has been recognized as one of Time magazine’s twenty-five most influential Americans, and was an internationally respected leadership authority, family expert, teacher, organizational consultant and author. His books have sold more than twenty-five million copies in thirty-eight languages, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was named one of the two most influential books of the 20th century by CEO magazine.

I was very intrigued to hear of the new release of the 30th anniversary edition of the book, that offers fresh insights from Sean Covey, Stephen’s son and president of FranklinCovey Education. With Sean Covey’s added takeaways on how the habits can be used in our modern age, the wisdom of the seven habits has been refreshed for a new generation of leaders.

To learn more about how these habits are still impacting leaders and organizations today and how we can embrace them in new ways in our ever-evolving times, I was excited to catch up with Stephen M. R. Covey. Covey is cofounder of CoveyLink and the FranklinCovey Speed of Trust Practice. A sought-after keynote speaker and advisor on trust, leadership, ethics, and collaboration, he speaks to audiences around the world. He is the New York Times and #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Speed of Trust, a paradigm-shifting book that challenges our age-old assumption that trust is merely a soft, social virtue and instead demonstrates that trust is a hard-edged, economic driver.

Here’s what Covey shares:

Kathy Caprino: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People obviously inspired a new wave of thinking about personal and professional growth. What do you believe sets the original 7 habits apart from all of the other content out there now, during a time so full of advice telling us how to hack our thinking and actions?

Stephen M.R. Covey: The 7 Habits are built on enduring and timeless principles that apply everywhere, and in all circumstances.

It takes an inside-out approach, which is the only way to sustain personal, team, and organizational development. You move from dependence to independence to interdependence. Private victories precede public victories. If you want to succeed with others, succeed first with yourself.

My father had a gift for making all of this accessible, practical and actionable to people. He framed and organized the equivalent of an operating system for human effectiveness that is so usable. People have been able to apply these habits, and that application has created such enduring and sustaining power.

Caprino: Is there any one original habit that you feel is even more difficult to master or incorporate in this modern day than it was when this book was originally published? Conversely, are there any that you feel are easier to master today?

Covey: I think they are all difficult! I could argue all seven individually, but I’ll highlight just one, that I think is particularly important today and that is “Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.”

We’re living in a world that has become polarized in almost every way. Habit 5 teaches us why it is so critical that we seek to understand other people first before we try to influence them. Most people do just the opposite. The test of understanding is not when you tell the other person, “Hey, I understand.” It’s when they tell you, “I feel understood.” That is a gift. It doesn’t mean you agree—you may not. It just means you understand them. Once people feel truly understood, they are far more open to being influenced.

I believe that none of the habits have really become easier. But maybe in some ways “Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw”—the whole idea of renewal and the need for self-renewal has become more evident. The need to reinvent, and improve, as opposed to just keep sawing with a dull saw is even more clear. It’s still difficult, but there’s greater awareness of the value.

Caprino: Looking back at the last 30 years since the book was first released, are there any habits that you feel have been most impactful for business leaders and are there any great examples or stories for business leaders who have credited the book for their effectiveness?

Covey: I’ll highlight just a couple. The whole idea of “Habit 4: Think Win-Win” is a mindset for how to see the world. It flows out of an abundance mentality—the idea that there’s plenty for everyone. Many view the world like a pie—if you win some, there is less for me. It’s limited. The whole idea of an abundance mentality and thinking win-win is that you can grow the pie—we can all win abundantly. There’s more creativity and possibility out there than we might have imagined.

It reminds me of some of the research on a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. Think Win-Win is a growth mindset; it’s an abundance mindset—there’s enough for everyone. I’ve seen many business leaders truly transform their business and their leadership style with this approach.

They give credit to others, extend trust to others, and empower others, and find that none of this diminishes them. It actually grows the organization, grows the people, and grows the leader. In the long run, if you’re interdependent (and we all are), the only sustainable approach is Win-Win. It only takes one to start, and that one can change how the other is viewing the world.

The other one I would highlight would be “Habit 1: Be Proactive,” where we take ownership of our response to everything that happens to us. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi Power had lost power in 23 counties and people thought it would take a huge amount of time to get it back. The entire company was deep into 7 Habits training, it permeated their whole culture. Everyone was empowered, proactive and responsible, they were resourceful and took initiative.

Within twelve days after losing all the power, they were back, a feat USA Today called a “case study in crisis management.” You can’t do that in a reactive culture. So while these habits are about effective people, they apply equally to teams and to entire organizations. In fact, many businesses have built themselves around the 7 Habits.

Caprino: Which do you feel is the most important habit?

Covey: People would ask my dad that all the time, and I’ve heard him at different times say each of the 7 Habits! So how do you pick which one is most important? Maybe a way to think about it is that the most important habit for you is the one you’re having the most difficulty living and practicing.

That way we all have a personal way to look at this—which one is most difficult for each of us? That one is the most important.

Caprino: Are there any habits you have ever imagined adding to the book? Why or why not?

Covey: My dad would answer, “yes and no.” The “no” part is that the entire 7 Habits construct is pretty much all-encompassing. My father always felt like, “I can put almost everything I need to into one of those seven.” So I think, in that sense, they are whole. They are complete as-is.

But my father did later write another book called The 8th Habit. This was less about adding an additional habit as it was about giving a new dimension to the 7 Habits. He described it as this: “Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs.”

The 7 Habits help you find your voice. Then your job as a leader is to inspire others to find their voice. That is what leadership is. My father’s definition of leadership is the most beautiful I’ve ever heard: “Leadership is communicating people’s worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.” That’s the 8th Habit. You help others to see it, and they come to find it for themselves. That’s what my father added as a new contribution.

Caprino: For people who have already read the original book one or more times, and who are loyal fans and followers of your father because of it, what do you think is the biggest reason they should pick up a copy of this new edition?

Covey: Those who already love The 7 Habits are the ones who will love this 30th anniversary edition the most. It has superb additional insights, examples and stories, including behind-the-scenes interactions with my father. These come from my brilliant brother, Sean, who apart from my father, has spent more time and has written more about the 7 Habits than any other person.

He wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens and The 7 Habits of Happy Kids. He has led the work in education with a whole school transformation process, Leader in Mewhere they have taken the 7 Habits into over 5,000 schools in over 50 countries. Sean is a practitioner of the 7 Habits in every context. At the end of each chapter, Sean shares added insights with examples and stories with my dad on his greatest learnings, applications, understandings of the very things taught in that chapter. It’s insightful, it’s profound, it’s fun, it’s engaging. It’s like being taken into the living room with my father and having a dialogue with him.

Caprino: What one of these 7 Habits has been most instrumental in your own life and work?

Covey: While each of the 7 Habits has had a profound impact on me personally, perhaps the habit that has influenced me the most is “Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind.”  This habit reminds us that each of us can be the creative force in our life, and that the best way to predict our future is to create it.

Einstein taught that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” Similarly, a vision for ourselves and for our lives (along with chosen values to guide us), is more important than memory.

For me, applying Habit 2 has enabled me to identify and focus on what matters most to me: meaning, purpose, and contribution. And finding my voice. I feel I have found my voice around my work on trust, and through my book The Speed of Trust.  For me, increasing trust in the world is my life’s work, and deeply applying Habit 2 has led me to this point.

For more information visit 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

To build more strength in your own career and leadership, work with Kathy Caprino in her Career Breakthrough programs and read her new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss.

5 Shifts That Can Help You Expand Financial Well-Being And Happiness

recent study found that happiness among Americans has dipped to its lowest point in half a century. It’s no surprise since 2020 has packed a punch for many of us. There has been upheaval and uncertainty in nearly all aspects of our lives.

But in my work as a career and leadership coach, I see every day that there are two potent ingredients to living a happier, more successful and rewarding life even amidst uncertain times, and those are expanded bravery and power. According to my research and my recent Power Gaps Survey, 98% of professional women are facing at least one of the 7 damaging power gaps that keep us from thriving at our highest level in our work. The research has shown that when we expand our bravery—which in my view is the courage to address what isn’t working and take accountability for what you can change—and when we consciously and intentionally build more internal and external power to become a true change agent for ourselves and for others—then happiness and other aspects of our well-being and success (financial, emotional, physical, spiritual, etc.) expand as well.

To learn more about how mindset can directly impact our financial well-being and happiness, I caught up this week with Michelle Gielan. Gielan has spent the past decade researching the link between happiness and success. She is the bestselling author of Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change and was named one of the Top 10 authors on resilience by the Harvard Business Review.

Gielan began analyzing data on individual and collective happiness at the University of Pennsylvania more than a decade ago, and has since worked with professionals at organizations including Google, Merck, and NASA on how to strengthen a resilient mindset in the midst of challenges. Her research shows higher levels of optimism and resilience are connected with better health and business outcomes, including greater energy, productivity, and profitability, as well as better financial health, according to recent research Gielan conducted with Frost Bank.

To learn more about how key shifts in our mindset can improve your financial well-being and happiness, I spoke with Gielan about what we can all do in the midst of continued, unprecedented uncertainty, to achieve more peace and happiness.

Here’s what Gielan shared:

Kathy Caprino: Michelle, you and I met soon after you had left your job at CBS News as the host of the CBS Morning News. During your time there, one of the biggest stories you covered was the Great Recession. Now we are seeing a similar economic downturn, which is surely contributing to our overall unhappiness. Money is on everyone’s mind. A new study you conducted can give those who are worried about finances some relief from financial stress during this time. What did you find?

Michelle Gielan: Too many of us have been bottling up our stresses about money alone. In a previous study I did in partnership with Frost Bank, we found that pessimists stress about their finances 145 more days each year—that’s almost 5 months!

This year, we conducted research to understand how we can leverage key behaviors of optimists to help people improve their financial discussions. Our study found those who talk about money (largely optimists) are twice as likely to have better financial health. We also found that while nearly all optimists (94%) talk about their finances at some point in their lives, pessimists are 3 times more likely than optimists to never discuss their finances. Pessimists think the conversations are unhelpful, and they often feel upset, dumb, ashamed, judged and guilty. That follows right along with our definition of optimism and pessimism. Optimists expect good things to happen and believe that their behavior matters, including having conversations about money.

Caprino: While the study identified roadblocks for pessimists, it also found actions of optimists that can help overcome challenges. Is that right?

Gielan: That’s absolutely right. While pessimists tend to get caught up in challenges of their current situation, optimists put one foot in front of the other and work toward their goals. For example, in the Frost study, optimists gave us a picture of their ideal conversation: short and sweet, aspirational and complete with goals, and with people we trust.

Optimists are also two and a half times less likely to monopolize a conversation, opting instead for more open-ended and inclusive conversations. Leaving room for others to share their perspective allows for productive financial conversations and approaching conversations with optimism encourages people to turn challenges into opportunities. This applies to other conversations and aspects of our personal well-being, beyond money.

Caprino: This is good to know, as money is clearly not the only stressor Americans are facing these days. Tell us about another study mentioned that found happiness at its lowest levels in 50 years. While that’s not necessarily surprising amid the pandemic, you say it points to something even more important?

Gielan: It does. The study found only 14% of Americans consider themselves “very happy,” which is less than half of what it was in 2018. Happiness being low now is to be expected, but this is not a trend that started in February. We have witnessed a steady decline in happiness for decades, even during times of financial prosperity and less political strife. I am concerned we are going to collectively keep trending in this direction, even when the pandemic is over.

Caprino: If it’s not the pandemic alone that has been the cause, in your research what have you found to be the main thieves of joy?

Gielan: The answer to that is far from simple. In our work with professionals at hundreds of organizations, we’ve found it to be a combination of a handful of reasons including negativity on social media, longer work hours , social isolation and loneliness, overscheduled kids, leaving vacation days on the table, and not enough time for meaningful social connection. I know for my own life, when I am running around too much, hurrying from one activity or project to the next, days are a blur at best.

Caprino: One thing I find very interesting is that there are many people in the midst of this pandemic (including many of my clients and course members) who indicate that they’re very or somewhat happy right now, and that can be an uncomfortable place to find oneself, especially when others are suffering. They’ve discussed how the shifts they’ve experienced because of sheltering at home and working remotely have yielded some true positives in their lives, but they’re very careful in sharing that with friends and try to be sensitive to what other people are experiencing as so many families are suffering right now. How do we hold both of those truths at the same time?

Gielan: What you’re describing is what some people have admitted to me almost like they are telling me a dirty little secret, and I totally get it. Even if life is not perfect, there have been these beautiful moments during this period of time. I’ve experienced a lot of them myself. I became a teacher to our 6-year-old son basically overnight—which was not always easy—but it brought with it all these blessings. We set up “Hogwarts Academy” to bring him the magic of the world, complete with a gratitude practice first thing in the morning.

I got to know a new dimension of my child and see the world through his eyes. It’s hard to reconcile that joy with news of suffering from hospital wards and in families around the world. When I feel that tension, I think to myself, how can I leverage this positive mindset to help others? Negative news tricks your brain into paralysis and overwhelm as you start to believe behavior doesn’t matter. Taking action reminds us we have control over the world in some ways, and we can make a difference.

Caprino: So with people struggling very hard today—to balance what’s on their plates, deal with their financial and job worries and the uncertainty of so much—when is it appropriate to start talking about happiness more openly, especially at work?

Gielan: I say right now. Leaders not having those conversations are fiscally irresponsible. My husband and fellow happiness researcher Shawn Achor and I just shared a case study in Harvard Business Review on our work with an organization that prioritizes happiness. Genesis Healthcare, alongside our partner training organization ITLN, implemented work routines that created happiness, fueled connection and encouraged positive expressivity at work. Following the implementation of these new interventions, Genesis Medical Center-Davenport achieved profitability during the first part of 2019, moving from an operating loss of $2M to a profit of $8M.

Right now I am leading a happiness challenge with 30,000 college students in AT&T’s “Extern” program. It could sound like a “cute” idea to do with students before they hit the working world, but these are the kinds of tools that will scientifically prepare them for any bumps in the road ahead.

Caprino: It’s interesting how connected optimism, happiness and control are with one another. I talk about this in my upcoming book The Most Powerful You, but can you share more about what your research has revealed about how the more we take the reins and control what we can in our lives and work—especially now when it feels like things are a bit out of control—is a key to happiness? And can you offer a few key tips to help us grab those reins on our life and work?

Gielan: Absolutely! Here are five small steps you can take starting today:

Start a conversation: In a time when much is out of our control, we can control our thoughts and actions, and they’re proven to make a difference. While a pessimist might choose to navigate challenges alone, optimists tend to strike a conversation with the people they’re most comfortable talking to. For example, 67% of optimists are most comfortable talking to people around the same age or those with about the same amount of money as them.

Seek progress, not perfection: Don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect, especially in today’s world. We’re all working toward individual goals, and the research I did with Frost shows that optimists take time to celebrate the small victories, leading up to major milestones.

Get aspirational: Optimists are more likely than pessimists to focus on setting and achieving goals. In fact, the Frost study found that when dealing with finances, 58% of optimists have conversations that are goal related and half believe going into a financial discussion with goals in mind makes them most productive. It’s important look beyond the current situation and work toward long-term aspirations.

Expect the unexpected: Optimists don’t anticipate bad things will happen, but they’re more likely to have a plan in place should the unexpected surface. Take the pandemic for instance. Optimists tend to have a rough plan in place, such as an emergency fund, that would help navigate the repercussions of an unexpected event.

Find perspective: Optimists are 2.5 times less likely to monopolize a conversation. Listening to the perspective of others allows a person to expand their mindset and learn from the success of others.

In the end, the happiest among us see the meaning in the work they do, feel connected to other people, and see potential each day to make things better—in whatever aspect of their lives. The more we exercise that control through small acts, the more we remind our brains that our behavior matters—the very definition of optimism. And the more optimism you cultivate for yourself, the more it expands.

For more information and to test your optimism, take Gielan’s scientifically validated Success Scale, and for ideas on how to improve your optimism, try the #optforoptimism challenge.

To take the reins on your career and build a happier, more rewarding one, read Kathy Caprino’s new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss.

One Mental Shift That Will Increase Your Courage And Resilience Today

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “The Most Powerful You”

I was speaking recently to a client who is struggling intensely with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on her life. The changes she’s been forced to make have been extremely difficult to navigate, and include needing to refocus so much of her time to help her three young children with their remote schooling and managing their time, while struggling in her chaotic, high-pressure job. This job has become unsustainable given her company’s poor leadership and lack of organization and a systematized work flow. On top of all that, she is facing the fear and trauma of trying to support her 89-year-old father who now has Covid-19 but is many states away and all alone.

In times like these, our mental capabilities and the strength we possess internally, become far more apparent. When crisis hits, and when we’re faced with deep challenges that we haven’t been trained to deal with, how well do we do?

Do we fall into a deep depression, unable to get out of bed, or are we able to face the challenges head on, with strength, positivity, and resilience? For most of us, it’s almost always somewhere in between—we might have good days when the sun is shining, things are looking up and we feel we’re able to tackle what’s in front of us. But on other days, we find ourselves slipping into despair and hopelessness.

Years ago, after leaving a very unhappy corporate life behind, I embarked on a three-year training process and Master’s degree as a marriage and family therapist, and later co-founded a therapeutic practice. When I look back on that training and experience, what I learned and how it changed my life, I’m forever grateful for all the challenges that led me to leave my corporate identity behind, and make that change, although at times it was very tough.

Of all the therapeutic concepts and strategies I learned during that time, there have been several approaches that have been true game-changers for me and now my clients. One approach that stands out as particularly helpful in fear-inducing and challenging times is the positive reframe.

The positive reframe

Simply put, the positive reframe is a way to look at the experiences and situations of your life in a realistic way that fits the facts well, while at the same time allowing yourself to see greater possibility, positivity, hope, control and expansion in what is happening and what has transpired.

The reframe shifts your “frame” of reference and helps you see your current situation differently so that you can recognize—and act on—new positive opportunities and changes that are possible. And it focuses on what you can control, not everything that is outside of your sphere of influence. Instead of doubling down only on the dark and terrible about what has transpired, and what you’ve lost, the positive reframe lets you recognize—and believe in—the potential future benefits from what has happened. And it helps you focus on what you can take action on that makes you feel less powerless.

As an example, another client of mine who recently reached out for career change help, shared that she has been mistreated and disrespected in her job for many years, but the pace of the job was such that she felt that she could never carve out the time to do the work of getting a better job or changing her career.

Despite the challenges that this new remote work situation has created for her, and a heap more mistreatment she’s getting, she finds that working from home and reducing her daily commute by 2 hours has given her a brand new perspective on life. She has more positive energy and critical breathing room (and additional control over her own time and how she manages that time) so she can finally engage in the necessary steps to pivot her career to leverage her talents to do more meaningful work with people she respects. She has reframed her thinking about this difficult time, and embraced the potential positive—the concept that she can finally now take the reins on her career, and commit to doing something proactive to change her situation.

Other examples of positive reframes that can change your perspective and trajectory:

Pervasive negative thought: My teen son had such a great summer trip planned that he was so looking forward to. Now it’s all canceled and he is completely derailed and lost.

Positive Reframe: Even though Dan’s summer plans have had to be canceled, perhaps there’s a summer internship that he can do online that would move him forward in an exciting way, that might even be better for him. I’m going to help him with the process of exploring that.

Pervasive negative thought: I hate my job but with the pandemic there’s no way I can look for a new job now. I’m too scared about losing my paycheck.

Positive Reframe: Even though the pandemic has changed the face of employment for many people, others ARE landing great new jobs, and are expanding their networks online and finding great mentors and sponsors that can help them find terrific new roles, now or in the future. I’m going to start doing that today.

Pervasive negative thought: I feel so isolated and alone right now. I hate this! I miss my friends and my days just go on endlessly.

Positive Reframe: While I can’t physically see my friends as I used to, or do the social activities like singing or going to the gym together that made me so happy, there have to be things I can do that would fill my day with more meaning and joy. Where can I help out, connect with others, and offer my talents and abilities to people who are in need? What new ways can I be of help?

Pervasive negative thought: I’ve interviewed for 10 jobs and I don’t move forward to the next round. I’m obviously a loser—I don’t have anything going for me.

Positive Reframe: Do I actually, really, want these jobs? Or am I pursuing them only because I think I have to? Maybe I’m not getting these because in my heart I don’t want to do this kind of work anymore and it would be more wasted time in my life if I got them? If that were true, what type of work do I really want to pursue at this stage in my life? Let me do some work now to figure that out.

The key steps to achieving and acting on the positive reframe are:

Gain greater awareness of what exactly is stressing and upsetting you most now and where you feel helpless (the “cost” of this situation)

Understand and recognize what you feel you’ve lost and why you are so upset. What is causing you the most distress? And how is this situation making you feel “less than” or unable to cope? How is it making you feel that you don’t have what it takes to thrive? What have you lost?

Be open to seeing the potential “benefits” of the situation

OK, so you’re clear on the negatives of this situation. What are the potential benefits? Perhaps you’ve been longing to write that memoir or start your blog or podcast. Could now be the perfect time? Perhaps your child lost her chance to go away to summer camp— could it be possible that something better is waiting in the wings for her? Perhaps those jobs in marketing that you’ve interviewed for and didn’t get are exactly the jobs you don’t want and wouldn’t thrive in. What roles call to you now to pursue?

Focus on what you can control

Viktor Frankl, in his groundbreaking book Man’s Search for Meaning, shared this:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

When we feel helpless, out of control and hopeless, we falter, and life because extremely hard to endure. But when we shift our attitude and consciously “choose our own way,” mustering the bravery and power to take the reins and say, “There IS something I can do here, to better my situation, to improve my attitude,” our lives transform.

Decide how you want to feel, then do the things that generate those feelings

My daughter recently shared with me the powerful Isolation Journals—a daily creativity project to help us make sense of challenging times, from Suleika Jaouad (watch her amazing TED talk What Almost Dying Taught Me About Living, for powerful inspiration). One of the journal exercises — Day 51 — was to write a “To Feel” list rather than a “To Do” list. The idea is to name your deepest yearnings and aspirations. Then take time with each of them, “teasing out the nuances of what each contains with depth and specificity…” Then review your list again.

Jaouad asks:

“Are your priorities, habits, and rituals serving these feelings? What steps can you take to honor the items on your “to-feel” list.”

What do you want to feel in your life, and how can you reframe the way you are perceiving your challenges so you can recognize the potential positive and do something different that uplifts and enlivens you? What can you do today to take the control back on your life, and help yourself feel better, stronger and more powerful, even in the face of what you’ve lost?

For hands-on help to build a happier and more rewarding career, work with Kathy in her Amazing Career Project course, and read her new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss.

How To Reduce Damaging Conflict In Your Life, Work And Relationships

Part of the series “Accessing the Most Powerful You”

As we all know, some degree of conflict in our work and personal relationships is unavoidable. Human beings are organisms with very different values, upbringings beliefs, mindsets and approaches to achieving their goals. And living and working together inevitably generates disagreements in how we see life and the challenges in front of us, and the ways we wish to achieve our goals and visions. But some people seem to have a special ability to manage conflict in ways that create avenues for collaboration and success, while others do the opposite—they escalate and exacerbate conflict so it becomes more destructive and demoralizing.

To learn more about this important topic, I was excited to catch up with Dr. Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, an expert in helping teams and organizations experience conflict resolution and freedom. Goldman-Wetzler is founder and CEO of Alignment Strategies Group, the premier New York-based consulting firm that counsels CEOs and their executive teams on how to optimize organizational health and growth.

Author of the new book Optimal Outcomes: Free Yourself from Conflict at Work, at Home, and in Life, Goldman-Wetzler is a keynote speaker at Fortune 500 companies, public institutions and innovative, fast-growing startups, where she inspires audiences of all kinds, including those at Google, Harvard and TEDx, and in her popular course at Columbia University.

A former counter-terrorism research fellow with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, she is a graduate of Tufts University and holds a Ph.D. in Social-Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. In her book, Goldman-Wetzler shares that, in order to free ourselves from recurring conflict, we have to break the pattern of the conflict loop by doing something different from what we’ve been doing in the past.

Here’s what she shares:

Kathy Caprino: What’s the number one mistake people make when faced with a conflict?

Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler: The number one mistake people make when faced with conflict is dealing with a situation the same way we have before, yet expecting a different result. In my work and book, I identify four common conflict habits that get us into trouble: blaming others, blaming ourselves, avoiding others, and relentlessly trying to collaborate even when others refuse to cooperate. We engage in these habits with the best of intentions. We goodnaturedly want to learn from our experiences, or stay focused on what really matters, or achieve “win-win” solutions. But when we habitually rely on these strategies regardless of whether they’re appropriate for the particular situations we face, they become overused and of limited use over time.

Rather than dealing with conflict based on habitual reflexes, the Optimal Outcomes practices help us notice how we’ve been operating, and learn how to take different actions to achieve the results we seek.

Caprino: What drew you to work that specializes in conflict?

Goldman-Wetzler: I was drawn to a career specializing in conflict from a very young age, way before I even knew it was possible to formally work in this area.

My father’s parents escaped Nazi Europe, tragically leaving behind family they’d never see again. This came with the emotional and psychological baggage you’d expect: lifelong fear and grief. Like many immigrants of their generation, my grandparents never had access to professional counselors or therapists to help them process their emotions. Instead, their pain sometimes came out in unhelpful ways; in my grandfather’s case, in bursts of anger and rage.

On the other side of my family, my maternal grandmother was the quintessential “conflict whisperer.” Every Sunday, my grandmother, parents, brother and I would drive from our apartment in the Bronx to the Connecticut suburbs to visit my aunt and uncle. When screaming and yelling inevitably broke out in the car, my grandmother would stop the bickering. She’d simply whisper “Sha, sha, sha,” and then she’d tell us a simple story. Everyone would quiet down. Her very presence and the sound of her voice were enough to soothe our nerves.

Learning to deal with my grandfather’s rage, and through my grandmother’s example, I naturally became the “conflict whisperer” of my family, too. I eventually made it a formal career path.

Caprino: Why do so many people get stuck in what you call a “conflict loop?”

Goldman-Wetzler: Half a century of research has shown that conflict is naturally cyclical. Conflict begets conflict. It’s the nature of the beast.

We get stuck in conflict loops when our conflict habits interact with other people’s conflict habits, forming a pattern of interaction that becomes very hard to break. The conflict loop is self-reinforcing. Unless we introduce something different—what I call “pattern-breaking action”—the loop will continue to go around and around.

But we can identify and revise the conflict habits—our own, and others’—that create a pattern. Using these specific practices helps us think about situations from a different point of view, and take new actions to create breaks in the pattern so we can ultimately free ourselves from the loop entirely.

Caprino: You place a priority on conflict freedom over conflict resolution. Would you clarify the difference?

Goldman-Wetzler: Conflict resolution says that conflicts can be resolved by meeting our own and others’ interests in ways that allow all parties to win. But some conflicts are what I call “resolution-resistant.” No matter how many times we or others try to resolve these conflicts, even using “win-win” principled negotiation methodologies that have been successfully used in complex cases over the past 40 years, the conflict remains.

Conflict freedom is helpful in those cases where conflict resolution doesn’t work. Conflict freedom helps us stop trying to resolve something that has shown itself to be unresolvable. Instead, it shows us how to free ourselves from the mindsets, emotions and behaviors that have gotten us stuck. It helps us achieve optimal outcomes—those that take into account our imagined best-case scenario and the reality of the constraints we face. Optimal outcomes are often different from what we thought we wanted, but more satisfying than we ever imagined possible.

Caprino: What’s wrong with always striving for “win-win” solutions?

Goldman-Wetzler: Striving for “win-win” solutions is often a great thing to do. The problem happens when we always strive for them, regardless of whether our efforts are getting us the results we desire. Seeking to achieve “win-win” solutions when we’re dealing with people who refuse to cooperate, or who are simply not interested in doing so, can be a waste of time, energy, money and resources that could be better spent elsewhere. Brainstorming option after option with others who are not interested in them doesn’t resolve conflict. It just keeps us stuck, unable to move forward.

Caprino: Where and how can anyone struggling with recurring conflict begin to identify the unconscious habits that create destructive conflict patterns?

Goldman-Wetzler: To identify your conflict habits, you don’t need to do anything at all. You only need to stop and observe. It can help to take a pause; in other words, a moment to notice whatever is happening inside yourself and in the world around you.

I’ve identified two types of pauses: a proactive pause and a reactive pause. A proactive pause is when you plan to take a few minutes out of your day to stop and reflect, in this case, on your conflict habits. For example, a proactive pause might involve sitting quietly and asking yourself whether you’ve been blaming or avoiding others, blaming yourself, or seeking to collaborate with others.

A reactive pause is when you take a moment to notice what’s happening while it’s happening. You might catch yourself yelling at your kids, stewing in negative self-talk, or making yet another collaborative overture even though others are not responding in kind. It might feel as though you’re watching yourself in slow-motion on a movie screen, or looking down on yourself from above. This may feel good, or it may feel frustrating, as you watch yourself use your habit and get stuck in conflict. But the good news is that observing how you get stuck is the first step to becoming free.

It is helpful to identify your own and others’ conflict habits, and how those form patterns of interaction that keep you stuck. I’ve developed a free assessment you can take online to identify your primary conflict habit.

Caprino: Why isn’t simply walking away from a conflict, or ending a relationship, necessarily the best way to break free from recurring conflict?

Goldman-Wetzler: Sometimes walking away is the way to break free from conflict. Especially for those of us who are habitually collaborative, walking away can help us break free from a tough situation—because it represents doing something different than we’ve done before. It breaks the conflict pattern.

But much more often, the costs of walking away are so high that it seems nearly impossible to do so. For example, imagine the costs of never talking to your mother again, or of disowning your child. Or the costs of firing your best friend. You’re not going to be free from conflict if you’re living with regret, guilt, sadness or pain.

Walking away won’t help if we realize (either consciously or not) that the costs of walking away will cause yet another set of challenges, or we intuitively know that if we don’t develop the courage to deal with this situation now, it will only show up again in another relationship down the line.

Dealing directly with a conflict situation—rather than walking away—often takes a great dose of courage. It takes a willingness to be uncomfortable trying new ways of viewing things and new ways of operating. But when we do, the outcome can be better than we ever anticipated.

For more information, visit Optimal Outcomes.

To build a more conflict-free and rewarding career, join Kathy Caprino in a Career Breakthrough program and join her Amazing Career Project online course. 

If You’re Engaging In Any Of These Actions, You Shouldn’t Be A Manager

Part of the series “Supporting Today’s Workforce”

Virtually every single week of the year, I hear from at least one professional from around the globe who needs guidance about one deeply challenging problem at work, and that is a toxic or disrespectful boss who is in some obvious and irrefutable way treating their staff in demeaning and demoralizing ways.

The tales of cruel and unacceptable forms of managerial behavior and communication are endless, and it’s a wonder why these managers are allowed to stay in their jobs or aren’t fired on the spot.

Why aren’t these individuals removed or given remedial training? Often it’s because many of these managers are high producers and the organization doesn’t want to address the problem for fear they’ll leave. Another reason is that the organization doesn’t care enough to do something proactive about the issue, or they don’t have their finger on the pulse of the true feelings and levels of engagement of their workforce to understand the situation needs addressing. And in many cases, the organization and its leaders and HR managers simply don’t know what to do to change it. In short, thousands of organizations simply haven’t a clue as to how to ensure employees are being treated with respect and fairness, or as highly valued contributors.

Several years ago, I wrote a post on LinkedIn titled 6 Toxic Behaviors That Push People Away: How To Recognize Them In Yourself and Change Them. To my surprise, it quickly went viral (3+ million views) and thousands of people commented privately and publicly, sharing that they finally recognized the toxicity of their own behavior and were ready to address it. To me, that was very inspiring—that people of all walks of life and at all levels of organization hierarchies were able to muster the courage to finally see how they were negatively impacting those around them , and decided it was time to change.

If more managers engaged in this exercise, the working world would transform overnight. And levels of engagement in the workforce would dramatically rise. Research has revealed that one potent reason people quit their jobs is feeling disrespected—believing that the boss or the organization doesn’t care about them at all.

Based on research I’ve read, and the information I’ve gathered working with thousands of professionals about what makes them want to leave their jobs (and what contributes to the real health and emotional risks of working under a toxic boss and how toxicity spills over into other areas of our lives), below are the 6 management behaviors that need to stop.

If you’re engaged in any of these in your approach as a manager, it’s time to take stock and make significant change before more damage is done.

The six damaging managerial behaviors to address are:

Demeaning and ridiculing your employees publicly or privately

If you put your employees down and ridicule them in any way for their behavior, ideas, communication or other traits—even if you think you’re just being “funny”— you’re not managing people, you’re hurting them. Get some help to transform your communication style from cutting and hurtful, to helpful and encouraging.

Suppressing or not allowing questions to be asked that employees need to, to do their jobs

When people are working on projects, presentations, program execution, administration, etc., all sorts of questions come up, especially for those who are new and just learning the ropes. Employees’ questions need to be addressed as fully and openly as possible. If you suppress questions, refuse to answer them, or make your employees feel humiliated for posing a question, you need to revise your thinking about what it signifies when someone asks a question. It’s not necessarily ignorance or laziness when people offer a query or inquiry. If there are questions you feel shouldn’t need to be be asked, give some guidance and context about why, and fill in any gaps in their understanding so they can do their jobs effectively.

Making employees feel “stupid,” inadequate, or inferior when they struggle or don’t meet expectations

If you’ve ever read a psychology book, you know that when people are shamed, they go underground with their thoughts and feelings. It sucks the energy, confidence and enthusiasm out of them, as they feel the need to preserve their ego and avoid getting hurt in the future. Shaming someone and trying to make them feel stupid or inferior when they’re struggling will get you absolutely nowhere. Or more accurately, it will make you lose the best work and contributions your employees have to give because they’ll experience you as someone who is not safe or trustworthy.

Refusing to make regular time to meet with your employees and give them the constructive guidance, training and feedback they need

Part of the job of any good manager is meeting with your staff and offering constructive feedback, training and information to support their growth. If you say you’re too busy to have regular meetings with your staff members, or don’t understand the value of continuous feedback and support, you are crippling your employees and preventing them from reaching their highest potential. Share your institutional knowledge with them and be the mentor and sponsor they need to have, to thrive.

Blaming your employees for under-performance when you’re actually responsible

Managers who blame their employees for less-than-stellar performance, and managers who won’t take accountability for what happens in their groups, are weak and destructive. Don’t blame the people beneath you for what isn’t going well. Step up and take responsibility. You’re in charge and blame will only push people farther away.

Not eliciting regular feedback from your employees and asking them for (and listening to) their candid feedback on how you’re doing as a manager, and what could be improved

Finally, managing isn’t a one-way street. You’re only as good in your managerial role as how the people who report to you perceive you to be. If you are siloed off and not asking for feedback on your management approach, you’re simply not getting the full picture you need to become the successful, growth-oriented manager you need to be. Regularly ask for feedback about your approach and how you can improve it to help your employees do their best work.

* * * * *

It’s not difficult to become a more inspiring and empowering manager, but when you do, the positive results are dramatic. It involves growing in your compassion, understanding, patience, communication skill, and openness to feedback. And it requires more self-awareness and emotional intelligence than many of us currently possess or have ever focused on developing.

But more than all those traits combined, it requires the bravery to admit that you are not perfect in your role as a manager, and the strength to elicit feedback from others about how you can grow. If you don’t actively evolve beyond these behaviors above, your own potential for success and that of others will be greatly diminished because of it.

To get out from under a damaging boss, join Kathy Caprino in her Career Breakthrough coaching program and take her Amazing Career Project online course.

3 Steps To Building Stronger Boundaries and a Happier Life

Part of my series “Finding Brave To Build Your Best Life”

One of the most powerful concepts I’ve learned in my life emerged from my training as a Marriage and Family Therapist. It’s about boundaries – the invisible barrier that separates you from the world around you. Boundaries define who you are, and they keep you safe and secure, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Having well-developed, appropriate boundaries ensures that you’re protected from behaviors and actions that are injurious, disrespectful, or invasive. People with healthy boundaries know their limits and are able to enforce them with quiet strength and authority. Healthy boundaries—well-established limits regarding what you expect and need from others and what you will and will not tolerate from others’— allow you to move forward on a fulfilling and satisfying path, both at work and at home.

Those who have insufficient boundaries, I’ve found, have almost always experienced some form of emotional manipulation or trauma in their childhoods and upbringing. Children who’ve been abused or mistreated (emotionally, sexually, physically, etc.), for instance, experience a violation of their boundaries before they had the power or ability to advocate for or protect themselves. Unless we recognize this later in life, and do the necessary work to strengthen our boundaries, we experience ongoing mistreatment from others, and a great deal of pain, confusion, and unhappiness as a result.

Of course, we can’t control other people’s actions and words, but we can control our responses to them, as well as our actions in the face of language and behavior that violate who we have defined ourselves to be in this world.

If your boundaries are weak, others can and will find a way to get under your skin and hurt you, invade your privacy, suck your energy, drain your resources, and wreak havoc on your life. Another way to say this is that without strong boundaries, we allow people to drain us parasitically, taking from us whatever we’ll allow them to.

Healthy, strong boundaries ensure that you:

• Experience and demonstrate self-respect and respect of others

• Understand and articulate effectively the limits you’ve set for yourself

• Know unequivocally when your limits have been overstepped

• Determine with surety and confidence the actions you wish to take when your boundaries have been violated

• Live and relate well with yourself and others, and build a rewarding life that matches what you value and believe in

A few basic steps are required to strengthen your boundaries, and for many people I’ve coached and spoken to, particular those who had narcissistic parents or emotionally abusive childhoods, these boundary-strengthening steps aren’t easy or at all comfortable. Boundary development requires courage, strength, patience, and time, but it’s an essential step toward a happier, more rewarding life and livelihood.

The 3 key steps developing stronger boundaries are:

#1: Gain Awareness Of What You Need More Of

First, it’s critical to understand more deeply what you need more of in your life and work, and what isn’t working today.

Ask yourself:

What do I desperately long for? Perhaps it’s more time, energy, honesty, compassion, respect, care, commitment, or power?

Begin the process of exploring when you feel thwarted, angry, resentful, drained, and undervalued. Most likely your boundaries need bolstering in these situations. Is your boss demanding that you’re available 24/7? Is your spouse refusing to do his/her part of the necessary work at home to help raise the children or manage the household responsibilities? Is your friend demanding, selfish, and critical, unable to relate to you in a caring way? Is your parent horrible to you?

Once you recognize exactly what you need that you’re not getting, and what you’re allowing that is no longer tolerable, start setting clear and unwavering limits – both out loud and to yourself – as to what you desire and need from others to feel respected and valued, and what you will no longer stand for.

Take some time this week to think about your boundaries, then write down what your rules will be going forward in terms of what you expect, need, and will allow from others. Then communicate these limits to the outside world calmly, clearly, and unemotionally. Know in your heart and mind what the consequences will be if people don’t respect your limits. And don’t be surprised when people react negatively to your asserting your boundaries. After all, they’ve become very used to being able to walk all over you.

Here’s a personal example: I remember in my 30’s, I made a decision to finally walk away from the habit of gossiping or speaking negatively of others in the chronic and mean way I had done previously.  I realized that in my life, I would habitually engage in  triangulation –  an emotional manipulation tactic where one person who is not comfortable communicating directly with another person or dealing directly about something challenging, uses a third party to relay communication to the second individual, or to intervene and get involved somehow. This allows the first person to relieve his/her own anxiety by complaining about the situation, but prevents the individual from actually taking the brave, direct action necessary to remedy the problem. Instead a triangle is formed.

To ease my own anxiety, I’d speak critically about one friend or colleague who was upsetting me, to the other. I realized finally that this was a destructive habit fed by my own insecurities, and I knew it always came back to hurt me. But since I’d been doing it for years, the people in my life were used to engaging in this with me, and I needed to change that.

The next time a friend spoke ill of another in front of me, I said, “I know I used to do this in the past, but I’m working really hard not to speak ill of my friends, or gossiping like I used it.  I’m just not comfortable speaking about Terry this way. Would you mind if we changed the subject?”

While a few people got annoyed or offended, most not only obliged my request, but also seemed to respect the decision and began to realize themselves how speaking ill of their colleagues, friends or family members just didn’t feel right or helpful. In fact, it made them feel worse.

#2: Stop Pleasing Others In Order To Feel Safe

Many hundreds of women I’ve worked with, especially those who grew up with parents who were emotionally manipulative or narcissistic, discover that as adults they are striving desperately to please others as a way to either feel safe from punishment or to fulfill their own neediness.

Accommodation to others can be healthy and caring in the right situations, but for those who’ve been culturally trained to be pleasing and self-sacrificing (as many women are today in our society), it is a self-demeaning act, and can destroy our chances for a happy, rewarding and empowered life.

Why do people overly accommodate and acquiesce to another’s wishes?

The key reason is fear. People are afraid that approval and acceptance will be withheld if they are their most authentic, truthful selves. They’re deathly afraid that others will become angry or reject them for being honest (because it actually happened to them again and again in the past).

Many people fear too that they are not worthy, smart, or strong enough to stand up for what they believe. They believe that if they stop giving in to the needs of others, they’ll cease to be loved, needed, cared for, or accepted.

We learn this acquiescence in our early lives. Many people have adopted this behavior to survive their childhoods. Narcissism is now rising in epidemic proportions, and thousands were raised in homes that did not allow expression of true thoughts and feelings. Punishment, sometimes severe, ensued when individuals asserted themselves and enforced their personal limits.

Sadly, I’ve seen as a coach and therapist that if you don’t address your habitual pattern of over-accommodation to others, it just won’t change. This damaging pattern will remain for a lifetime, forever tripping you up in your relationships, work and personal life.

#3: Get Help To Break The Cycle Of Mistreatment Or Abuse

When mistreatment is occurring, we often need outside support to help us recognize what’s really going on, and to explore what needs to be changed, and get help to take safe, appropriate action.

If you are experiencing abuse of any kind, help is available. Reach out and get the help you need. In the workplace, if you’re experiencing mistreatment, stop in your tracks, and make an evaluation of what’s transpiring. Also look at how you may be contributing to or allowing the situation. If any of the statements below are true for you, then proactive, empowered action is called for.

• I’m being harassed and made to do things that feel wrong.

• I’m being passed over or not treated fairly continually because I’m ___ (female, gay, African American, middle aged, disabled, pregnant, on leave, etc.).

• I’m being back-stabbed and maligned.

• I’ve been promised things by my supervisors that I’m not getting.

• My work is being sabotaged.

• Money is being withheld from me for no reason.

• I’m being punished or blamed for things I didn’t do.

• I’ve been forced into a position that I don’t want.

• I’m being excluded from meetings and other informational sources and networks that are essential for me to succeed at my job.

• My reviews have been great, but I’m not being rewarded as promised.

• I’ve been asked to do unethical/illegal things for the job/company.

• I have to work around the clock to get my job done, and I don’t want to.

If any of the above is happening, mistreatment possibly is occurring, and proactive measures are needed. But first, try to get in closer touch with who you are, what you will and will not accept, and understand with more clarity what you value in life and work, and what your limits are. Before you can act powerfully, you have to gain awareness of what feels wrong and right. Become very clear now—evaluate in detail anything that feels like a violation, and why, and document it.

The next critical step is to understand the role you may be playing in this negative situation.
Have you communicated clearly your discomfort or your lack of agreement with what’s been happening? Have you said “Yes” when “No” was the real answer? Or have you shared your discontent in ineffective ways (gossiping, self-sabotaging, passive aggressive actions, etc.)? How are you potentially participating in this situation, and maintaining the cycle by not standing up for your convictions or enforcing your limits? What pieces of yourself are you giving away, to be liked, accepted, or rewarded?

Once you have a clearer idea of where you stand, reach out for help to get a fresh, informed, neutral (outside) perspective. This could be a discussion with a mentor, a sponsor, a lawyer, a therapist, coach, your Human Resources representative, your city’s Social Services Department — whatever is called for in your particular situation. Once you share your situation with them, evaluate their perspective honestly and openly. If it resonates as true, then decide what action is called for. If not, seek another source of support. Find help that feels right for you, but make sure you’re open to the truth, even if it’s very difficult to hear.

In the end, strong, healthy boundaries are essential in giving us the strength and power to design our lives and careers as we want them. Knowing what’s critical to you to lead a happy life, then braving up to take the necessary action to enforce those needs and values, is the difference between building a happy, satisfying life versus struggling continually with dismal disappointment and mistreatment.

To develop stronger boundaries, work with me in a personal growth program, read my book Breakdown, Breakthrough and tune into my new podcast Finding Brave.