The You in Me, A Look At Projection

everything that irritates

To be a truly exceptional leader necessitates that I become vigilantly aware of myself in the moment. In the moment when I am facilitating a team meeting to figure out how to get a project back on track. In the moment when a co-worker enters my office for our weekly 1-on-1 conversation. In the moment of quiet reflection during an annual offsite.

In the video below, I overview a common, often unconscious, phenomenon occurring during these ordinary leadership moments, called projection. Projection raises my awareness to a certain behavior or quality, typically through a negative experience of this quality in someone else. Rather than simply being annoyed or frustrated by this negative experience, projection invites me to consider a deeper purpose. The quality or behavior that has captured my attention mirrors a part of me that is ready to step into the light and be seen clearly. Our projections, if we’re willing to acknowledge them as such, provide a pathway for our continuous growth and evolution.

Any given moment of my day has the power to become transformational as I courageously and honestly look:

  • at my silent opinions of others
  • at my judgments and criticisms of myself
  • at my assumptions
  • at the meaning I am attaching to a situation or circumstance

Watch the video below to learn more. Use the questions that follow to help you look courageously and honestly at the growth opportunities projection may be inviting you into today.

The Invitation: Owning Our Projections

  1. Call to mind the meetings, conversations, interactions you’ve been a part of today. Recall any person who may have caught your attention, whether positively or negatively.
  2. What were your thoughts or feelings about this person? Write these down.
  3. Take a look at what you’ve written. Could any or all of these thoughts and feelings be projections? Keep this list with you and commit to noticing yourself – becoming an observer of yourself in your daily interactions. Always asking, what was I thinking about him/her during that encounter?
  4. Remembering the purpose of projection is to call our attention to a part of ourselves which is ready to be seen more clearly, spend a few quiet minutes each day wondering what within you is wanting some attention.
    • Is it time for you to own a positive attribute that you’ve been denying in yourself (like in my example, my ability to keep myself calm and focused during difficult interactions)?
    • Is it time to own up to an undesirable attribute and take greater responsibility for your thoughts or behaviors?

Doing the honest work of taking back our projections can feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar. We’re entering uncharted territory! Precisely where we need to be if growth and transformation are what we desire. But you don’t have to go in alone. Want a trusted partner for your journey? I’ve got my galoshes on and we can muck through it together! Give me a call.

Dare to Be Personal

deviation for progress


A few posts back, I introduced the Language of Empowerment replacing generalities in our conversations with language that is more specific and more personal. You can read the article here.

A specific language shift that I introduce to my clients and the teams I work with is changing “It” or “You” to “I” in order to:

  • Clearly ask for what I need
  • Own my feelings or my experience of a situation
  • Say what is true for me, even if it is different than what is true for you
  • Share what I want, what I wish for, at the risk of feeling vulnerable

Here’s an example.


“You know how when you are really tired and you just need to take a break?”

Specific, owning my experience and asking for what I need:

“When I’m really tired, I need to take a break.” OR “I am really tired right now and I’d like to take a break.”

Period.  Clearly say what I need.

I was with a team last week talking about this language shift. One of the women on the team commented that she found herself in a conversation recently where the other person was telling her something like the above statement, “You know when you…”  She said she was thinking to herself, “No, I don’t know what that’s like” or “No, I don’t do that.” Rather than say what was true for her – and thereby disagree with the other person and potentially take the conversation in a different direction – she agreed with him.  In her words, “he’d just told me how I feel, so I agreed with him so he’d get to his point.”

This happens all the time, doesn’t it?


Taking personal responsibility for how we feel and for what we need is practically forgotten in our culture today. To say what’s true for me, without diluting my message feels a little too bold. Making a specific request of someone (respectfully of course) in service of meeting my own needs feels “pushy” or potentially offensive to the other person. Sharing with you what I really want, or what I hope for, feels risky and vulnerable.

Boldness, truth, clear requests, and vulnerability are necessary! They are necessary attributes for cultivating meaningful, enriching relationships with other people.

Brene Brown, researcher, author, & speaker says that being fully seen and known by another person is what we fear most. And being fully seen and known by another person is what we want most. Hmm…at once, scary AND satisfying.  Sounds adventurous!

Dare to make your communication more personal. And to take responsibility for what you need, what you feel, and what you want.

HOW?? Start with these 4 steps below :

  1. Replace “you” with “I”. Notice when you use the word “you” when you really mean “I.” (As in the example above). Speak more directly and clearly by daring to own your experience. The use of “You” when we mean “I” is a generic way of speaking that lumps me together with others, which feels less risky. For example, change “When you’re in a meeting and you know you have a different idea, and you…” to “When I’m in a meeting and I have a different idea, I feel ______ and I need ______.” Owning our experience and our needs may feel awkward or vulnerable at first. That’s ok; and often expected when doing something  differently. AND, I’ve found that I feel more empowered and more confident as result of taking responsibility for my own experience. Try it!
  2. Replace “they” and other pronouns: “They won’t have it finished until Tuesday.” “This is how they do it here.” Of whom are you speaking? Replace the generic pronouns with a more specific identifier.
  3. Replace the word “it” in your sentences.  The word “it” is a generic fill-in word for the subject of many sentences: “Thank you. It is helping.” “We planted it in the garden.” “I’m not worried about it.” “It is difficult.” I find this tip especially good to be mindful of when emailing others. After you type an email, go back and re-read your email, looking for the use of “it.” Anywhere you typed “it”, see if you can make your communication clearer or more specific by replacing “it.” Clarity and specificity, especially in emails, helps us have less misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
  4. Replace “it” with “I.”  For example, change “It was good to see you” to “I enjoyed being with you yesterday.” Oooh, the second sentence feels more personal and maybe a bit vulnerable (say the two sentences aloud to experience the impact). Great! I believe more personal, more connection, less distance, less generics are precisely what we need today; And will lead to more empathy for one another.


Ready to lead & live with greater intentionality?  Perhaps a coaching engagement with me is your next step? Let’s talk!

Ho-hum, Humdrum Chinwag – No More!

General to specific

I’m laughing about my title above – “Ho-hum, humdrum, chinwag.” I recently discovered the word chinwag.

Chin – bottom of your mouth; outer part of your jawbone.

Wag – to twitch, flap, move to and fro.

What a great word to describe the wearisome, predictable jaw-movements we can get caught in. We talk, and yet, often, we say so little. Think about the questions you’re asked or that you ask others:

  • Did you have a good time?
  • How was school?
  • How was the meeting?
  • How was your day?
  • What’s new?
  • What have you been up to?

And the most likely answers:

  • Yes.
  • Fine.
  • Not bad.
  • Fine.
  • Not much.
  • Not much. How about you?

Boy that sure tells me…nothing.

One of the foundations of my teaching and coaching is what I call the Language of Empowerment. The Language of Empowerment is about shifting common words or phrases that we use automatically, to more meaningful, more personal, more empowered alternatives. (For example, replacing ‘but’ with ‘and’, which I wrote about here).

A core principle in the Language of Empowerment is to raise our awareness to the generalities we use in our conversations. And to be intentional about replacing generalities with language that is more specific and more personal. For example, changing the general, and banal, questions in my list above to ones that will help us KNOW each other more:

  • What surprised you about the field trip?
  • What happened today that made you laugh?
  • What was the coolest thing that you learned at school today?”
  • What did you hear in the meeting that you hadn’t expected?
  • How did you and your boss/co-worker go about working through that issue today? What worked well for you guys?

Now I have information – insight! Now I’m getting an idea of what’s important to you, what engages you, what makes you happy, what disappoints you… Dialogue like this is incredibly valuable.  And not only for the insight we gain. This dialogue facilitates connection and trust in the relationship as well as our mutual learning.

Give it a try! Today, make every conversation more meaningful. Be intentional about creating connection and strengthening each relationship. Use the ideas below to get you started. And download my reminder card here.

  1. Choose one interaction at work and one at home to experiment with specificity.
  2. Ask about what impacted, inspired, or moved the other? What made him/her laugh today?
  3. When they give you their answer, be curious about it. Take the conversation even further. Examples: If your colleague tells you the meeting was ‘fine’ because she received good feedback about her idea, ask her what it was like for her to receive that recognition. If your direct report tells you he is disappointed that he wasn’t included in xyz decision, ask him what is most frustrating about that? What does he need now?

Make conversation not just for conversation sake, but to KNOW each other more.  I’ll bet your questions will help others know themselves more too. What a powerful way to cultivate connection, trust, and mutual respect.

Needs, Complaints, and Personal Responsibility

Ask for what you need

I published a different version of this article at the start of 2013. Last week, Philly Burbs, an online media outlet for whom I write a regular blog, published this version and it got quite a response. Seems like the ideas herein really struck a chord for a lot of people, so I wanted to share it here with you. Enjoy!


That old saying, “misery loves company” is, unfortunately, very true. Somehow we feel a smidge-bit better when we confer our misery onto others.

I’ve noticed that misery-sharing and complaining have become ‘comfort zones’ that are tolerated and even accepted in many families and workplaces. Yet, in the long run, complaints do not lead to forward movement or to change in the undesirable circumstances.

Think about this: behind every complaint is an unmet need or expectation. When I complain about something I don’t have, something that didn’t happen, what someone did or said, etc, etc, I am feeling dissonant; something I was hoping for or wanting DID NOT occur.

This is important to be aware of. My complaint is not so much about that other person or situation as it is about me and my unmet need or expectation. For example, I notice myself complaining, “I’m tired of you always being late for our meetings.” What’s really going on under my complaint is that I feel disrespected because starting late wastes my time. What I want is to feel that you value my time and that you value ME.

I must change my complaint, “I’m tired of you always being late for our meetings,” to a more empowered statement; a statement that clearly expresses my need, is honest, and asks for you and I to both take personal responsibility:

“It’s important to me that we start our meetings at the agreed upon time. How can we work together to do a better job with that?”

This is a more personal and vulnerable way to engage with another. Complaining about them or to them, is the easy way out. Reaching inside, connecting with what I really need, and expressing that in a clear, non-judgmental way, requires a much higher degree of self-awareness. And a willingness to reveal myself to another person.

When you take the lead in this higher level of honest communication, you make it safe for others to do the same. Over time, you will normalize such crucial, yet disappearing, honesty as:

  • I need your help
  • I made a mistake
  • I want for us to ________
  • I need for us to ________


Light the way for more authenticity and connection in your home and your workplace. Your vulnerability is empowering to others!

Here is an exercise to help you make clear requests for what you want and need

  1. Start by raising your own awareness. Pay attention to the things you complain about to yourself and others.
  2. Write down your complaint. Read it aloud to yourself. What do you feel or notice when you say it aloud?
  3. Can you connect with your deeper need? What is it that you were expecting or hoping for that is not happening?
  4. Think through ways to express your need or expectations. Use clear, non-judgmental language.
  5. Start your sentence with “I have a request”; “I would like…” or “It’s important to me that…” Be careful NOT start your sentences with “You need to…” or “You don’t” or other You-statements that often trigger defensiveness or deflection.


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The Big Miss

Listen and Silent

In my article about blank-mindedness, I wrote of engaging others with a blank mind, which is different from an open mind. Blank-mindedness requires a shift in my focus of attention. I must take the focus off of myself (my agenda, my outcome, my wants) and place my full focus and awareness onto the other.

We don’t do this very often, do we?

I’ll illustrate with an example. I recently overheard a conversation between two co-workers whose company is going through a re-organization and probably layoffs.

Co-worker 1: “I have to re-apply for my own job.”
Co-worker 2: “At least you have a job to apply for. My job is completely going away. I have to apply for other people’s jobs!”
Co-worker 1: Yeah, that stinks. I’m really stressing over this.
Co-worker 2: No kidding. Me too! I have no idea if I even have a job anymore.

This back and forth format is pretty typical. I say something, then you comment on what I’ve said, with your attention on your own perspective, opinion, and how what I’ve said relates to you. Not necessarily wrong, yet a BIG MISS.

What Big Miss?

Validation. Empathy. Connection. Understanding.
Four gifts that we all need to give and receive daily. When we give and receive these four gifts everyday, life feels resonant, in tune, having a sense of “rightness” and fulfillment.  But that’s for another article…

What I want to convey to you in this article is how to avoid the “Big Miss” through a shift in our focus of attention. Through, what we call in coaching, Level 2 Listening.

Contrast: Level 1 Listening vs. Level 2 Listening

Level 1 is internal listening.
My awareness is on myself. I’m listening to the words of the other person through a filter called “What does this mean to me?” My awareness is on MY thoughts, reactions or feelings.

Example Level 1 Responses:

  • I know what you mean…
  • I had a similar experience…
  • Here’s what I would do…
  • What you need to do is…
  • I hate when that happens!

Not necessarily wrong. But it misses the opportunity to validate, empathize, and connect with another.

Level 2 listening helps us take our conversations to a new level. A level that creates deeper connection, new understanding, is engaging and enlivening, and builds trust.

Level 2 is Focused Listening.
My awareness and attention is fully focused on the other. I listen not only to their words, but to their tone, expression, body language, energy, mood, emotions. I am detached from my own thoughts, opinions, agenda. How?? You’ll find a few ideas here.

The key to level 2 listening is a presupposed genuine interest in and care for the other – curiosity about him as a human being or about her experience of the situation. You are no longer trying to figure out THE answer, or your next brilliant statement. You are simply and wholeheartedly LISTENING.

Example Level 2 Responses:

  • I hear your frustration. What options do you see?
  • How did ______ impact you?
  • What do you need in this situation?
  • Where does that feel most aligned for you? Or Where does that feel most out of balance for you?
  • I sense you have a lot of energy around this idea! What’s the significance for you?
  • Where would you like to go with this now?

Level 2 Listening is a skill that comes surprisingly naturally once we’re aware of it. Listening in this way and focusing our attention completely on the other feels authentic, feels true. It reminds us what we already know about how we humans are meant to interact with each other. With understanding. With empathy. With connection.

The Art of Blanking Out

When I work with a team to define Shared Values or Guiding Principles, ‘open-mindedness’ shows up in the conversation every time. We all want it. We often feel frustrated or angry in its absence. We believe we’re doing it well, and we’re wishing others were better at it. What makes open-mindedness elusive? I postulate that we’re asking for the wrong thing. Perhaps it’s actually something else we want, not open-mindedness. Stay with me; let’s break this apart.

Definition: Open-minded – ready to entertain new ideas; receptive to new ideas; not closed or shut
Synonyms include: fair-minded, tolerant, objective, impartial, available
i.e.: I’m receptive to hearing your opinion.
i.e.: I’ll tolerate your views.

What I believe we’re wanting when we ask for ‘open-mindedness’ is:
to be listened to
to be heard
to be understood
to not be judged or criticized
to be free to see things in our individual way
to be validated

Working or living with someone who is ‘open-minded’ does not meet the above desires, though it is a good start. What people really want and need from one another is a deeper level of presence and attentiveness. I’ve been wondering how our conversations would shift if we were BLANK-minded?

Definition: Blank – Devoid of thought or impression, Containing no information, Empty, nothing filled in.

Blank-mindedness implies a complete emptying. My mind is not only open to receive YOUR viewpoint, it is also empty of MY viewpoint. Detached from personal biases, opinions, and evaluations. Having no personal agenda or pre-determined outcomes. The level of listening and conversation flowing from a blank mind cultivates fertile ground for shared understanding, growth, innovation, connection and trust.

Blank-mindedness is not an easily accessed state for many of us. And yet, with intention and practice, blanking out becomes easier and easier. A side benefit of being blank-minded is the authenticity and connection that we experience when fully present with another human being. We listen more deeply. We hear and understand more readily. Offering this quality of presence to another creates strong connection and is at the very heart of trust in relationships.

I present the three steps below as a starting place for experimenting with being blank-minded. In a follow-up post, I’ll write about how to shift our listening to a deeper level to further enable the blanking out process.

4 Steps for “Blanking Out” (who knew it could be a good thing?!)

    1. Be present. Going blank is putting your full focus and attention on only the person and conversation right in front of you. Forget what’s come before. Reel in the thoughts of what might happen next. Philosopher Martin Buber said: “In spite of all similarities, every living situation has, like a newborn child, a new face, that has never been before and will never come again. It demands of you a reaction that cannot be prepared beforehand. It demands nothing of what is past. It demands presence, responsibility; it demands you”.
    2. Listen without evaluating. Stay attentive to your inner dialogue during conversations. Notice when you find yourself evaluating the other’s words or ideas, such as “He seldom follows through on that” or “That won’t be as easy as she thinks.” This is a form of judgment, which is often based in assumption and can lead us to premature conclusions – essentially the opposite of blank-mindedness.
    3. Call on your curiosity. Curiosity is open, inviting, spacious – unattached to any outcome. Curiosity cannot co-exist where there is judgment and assumptions. One clue that we’ve shifted out of curiosity and into judgment is when we find ourselves “knowing”, as in: “I know where he’s going with this…” “I know how she feels…” “I know the way this is going to turn out…” Release your “I know” thoughts. ‘Blank’ your mind to what you know, and expect to learn something new.
    4. That leads us to the fourth step: Believe. Believe in new possibilities. Believe that there is something new for you to learn or experience in any particular conversation. I heard a scientist once talk about the limitless nature of all there is to discover in one lifetime. We could explore, seek, inquire, observe for an entire lifetime, and not come close to “knowing” a fraction of all there is to know about our world and one another. That’s what makes life a magical adventure. Look for the newness, the magic, around you – even in familiar places – and expect to be surprised.

 Print out my reminder card How to Blank Out 1-18-13   or printable picture for your desk!   Be Present Be Curious Be Authentic

Communication Recycling – 3 tips to replace complaints with personal responsibility

Make clear, specific requests. No complaints.

Many workplaces have become breeding grounds for complaint and blame. Behind every complaint is an unmet need or expectation. Often the person voicing the complaint does not own the conversational tools to express their need in a healthy or clear way. Complaining has become a comfort zone that is tolerated and even accepted. When nobody is willing to change the conversation, nobody wins.

Comfort zones convey the illusion of “safety”. But when complaint is allowed to continue, other negative communications sprout. To move the conversation forward requires tools to shift difficult interactions; Tools that the leader teaches and applies in order to:

  • Set clear expectations of behavior that will and will not be tolerated
  • Help team members ask for what they need in appropriate and constructive ways
  • Cultivate an environment where it is safe to ask for help and offer help; and where team members are willing to freely do so.

The first tool a leader must use is that of modeling. Others will know that the leader expects honest communication, not perfection, when he or she models the way. For example, tell your team when you’ve made a mistake or when you’re unsure of something, and then engage them in the problem-solving dialogue. It is important for employees to experience their leader as real, human – even vulnerable. What a powerful way to foster trust, respect, and commitment. And, you’ll also model personal responsibility, which is sadly missing from many workplaces today.

Below are 3 ways that you can minimize the ‘complain and blame’ game and raise the expectation of honest, clear, and accountable dialogue.


  1. Make clear requests for what you want and need

Start by raising your own awareness. Pay attention to the things you hear yourself complaining about, to yourself and others. Write down your complaint and read it aloud to yourself. Then, look underneath the complaint by asking what it is that you were expecting or hoping for that did not happen.

Example, I notice myself complaining, “I’m tired of our meetings never starting on time.” What’s really going on under my complaint is that I feel disrespected because starting late wastes my time. What I want is to feel that you value my time, and I need you to work with me to start our meetings at the designated time. My request becomes: “It’s important to me that we start our meetings at the agreed upon time. Would you be willing to work with me on that?”

I changed my complaint, “I’m tired of our meetings never starting on time”, to a more empowered statement; a statement that clearly expresses my need, is honest, and asks for buy-in from the other.

Think through ways to express your needs using clear, non-judgmental language. Take personal responsibility by using I-language, such as

“I have a request…”

“I would like…”

“I need for us to…”

Be intentional about not using You-language, which may be met with defensiveness, justification, or excuses. For example, don’t start your request with “You need to…” “You shouldn’t…” “You don’t…”


  1. Be Specific & Succinct

Practice succinctness. People tend to pay more attention to communication that is direct, succinct, and to the point. Prior to meetings, presentations, and other communication forums, spend a few minutes silently asking yourself or reminding yourself:

  • What is my point? What are the main things I want to communicate here?
  • How can I best communicate my needs, clearly and succinctly? What words will I use? What words will I be mindful NOT to use?
  • What do I want to get out of this communication? What’s the goal here?

Practice specificity. Being specific AND succinct can sometimes feel mutually exclusive. In an effort to be succinct or to use fewer words, I might say, “That was a great meeting.” However, that really doesn’t convey much about my true thoughts to my listener. Being specific AND succinct might be, “I appreciate how we bounced ideas off each other in that meeting.” This increases confidence in both the speaker and the listener.


  1. Shhhh. Listen. Shhhh.

I’m referring to hearing the other – empathic listening. Empathic listening means shedding our preconceived ideas, assumptions, and judgments. It means listening for the purpose of hearing, receiving, and understanding the human being who is speaking to you. Not for the purpose of providing “fix-it” advice, reassurance, or problem-solving. Philosopher Martin Buber describes this quality of listening:

“In spite of all similarities, every living situation has, like a newborn child, a new face, that has never been before and will never come again. It demands of you a reaction that cannot be prepared beforehand. It demands nothing of what is past. It demands presence, responsibility; it demands you.”

When we listen empathically, we notice body language (theirs & your own), we hear mood, intention, emotion, and what may be left unsaid.  The ability to momentarily set the task-at-hand aside for the sake of deepening the relationship builds trust and creates connection – required ingredients for an organization of engaged employees.

Ordinary Joy

Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies.

– Erich Fromm

Wintery Landscape
Here we are, mere days from Christmas. Our 2012 season of joy and hope has certainly been wrought with sadness, suffering and uncertainty. As we all prepare to “hunker down” and spend time with family and friends, it is my wish that we find solace and rest in these few thoughts:


Joy happens in the most ordinary moments.

There is a great line in a Sheryl Crow song titled Diamond Road: “So don’t miss the diamonds along the way…Every road has led us here today.”

Cherish all the ordinary moments; these are your diamonds. Any one moment – smelling “spruce” as you pass by your Christmas tree, watching the excitement on a child’s face, seeing the beauty of lighted houses as you drive home from work – is an opportunity to choose joy and peace. My Christmas wish for you and for me is that we will slow down enough to experience the joy in life’s ordinary moments.


What you appreciate appreciates.

Begin each morning by placing your awareness on that which you appreciate. What are you grateful for today? Even on the darkest days, surely we can find even one thing to appreciate. By placing our focus or awareness on that one thing, even in the midst of the ten things that may have us feeling anxious, fearful, or sad, we give ourselves a gift. That gift is validation, compassion, and peace-of-mind.


The greatest gift of all is free and abundant. LOVE. Let love and compassion lead the way in all your interactions and relationships. Including your relationship with yourself. Self-love & self-compassion are truly the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and to those who count on us (i.e.: spouses, childrens, parents, employees, etc).


The lines below are from my Manifesto. You can read my entire manifesto here.

Be humble. Be appreciative. Be grateful.
Open your heart. Risk loving.
Forgive frequently.
Expect miracles. They are everywhere.
Start with compassion.
Love extravagantly.


Wishing you and yours love, light, & JOY!



The Magic Relationship Ratio

Focus on the positive

I’d like to share an important statistic with you. The extensive research of Dr. John Gottman, a psychotherapist, world reknowned for his work on relationship stability, has revealed what is coined as “the magic relationship ratio.”

5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions

In relationships that work, there are five times as many positive things going on as negative things. (You can read Gottman’s books or check out his YouTube videos to learn more about his research).

Here’s why this matters to me. There is a lot of negativity in our workplaces. Nearly every team I work with or leader I coach is dealing with the effects of negativity in their workplace, from grumbling employees to unhappy customers to even his/her own attitude or outlook. The negativity is unproductive, contagious, and literally bad for our health.

Unproductive – Negativity reduces enthusiasm, decreases creativity and disrupts communication. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that US companies lose $3 billion per year, due to the impact of negativity on performance!

Contagious – they’re called mirror neurons and we all have them. It’s the stuff in our brains that allows us to feel empathy for others or to automatically smile when we see someone else smiling or laughing. Negative emotional states are transmittable through our mirror neurons.

Unhealthy – There is much evidence that negativity and a negative emotional state contribute to poor health. Probably the most common connection between negativity and health is its impact on our immune functioning. Persistent negativity reduces immune function and can leave us more susceptible to illness.

Think about Gottman’s statistic for a minute: Five positive interactions to overcome or to make up for ONE negative interaction. That’s well beyond a one-to-one ratio. Gottman says that negativity has a greater ability to inflict pain and to damage a relationship than positivity does to promote healing and closeness in a relationship. Therefore, the equation is not balanced. Couple that with what we know about the many constructive, morale-boosting impacts from affirmative interactions*, and we can see the need to take positivity more seriously. It is a leadership imperative and desperately needed now.

*Read my past articles on related topics to learn more:

Focus Forward

Optimists Make Better Leaders

So, how about we plunge in together? What would shift in our leadership (and in our lives) when we meet or exceed 5:1 in our relationships each day? Let’s give it a try and find out!

Focus Forward

I’ve professed a certain “rule” for a long time now: Put your attention on what you & your team want more of. Take your focus off the current, unwanted realities.

In other words, stop telling yourself, “we don’t trust each other”; “they are so negative”; “this project is not going well. I knew it wouldn’t.” The only purpose these thoughts serve, is to keep you right where you are – in this case, a low trust, negative, unproductive environment.

Wise people throughout the ages have understood this:

“As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.”  – James Allen, from As a Man Thinketh

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”  – Henry Ford

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.”  – Buddha


Last week, I was offsite with a team and, as is often the case, current thinking patterns were holding the group “stuck” from moving forward in the way they said they wanted.

A contrast in the group dynamic presented itself, and became quite palpable.

When the group focused on what they wanted more of, there was high engagement in the room. Teammates conversed in a way that was forward looking, life-giving, and creative. There was a hopefulness in their communication that was open, energetic, and expectant of new possibilities.

When the group focused on their frustrations, the problems they were experiencing, broken processes, and what’s not working, their energy shifted dramatically. The experience of the contrast filled the room. Many felt it. A few commented on it: “feels like we just hit a wall” “feels like the energy just got sucked out of the room.”

Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience?

Let’s look at 3 TRUTHS – scientific evidence – as to why this phenomenon occurs:

  1. Our brain’s primary organizing principle is based on moving “away from threat” and moving “toward reward.” We are continuously and unconsciously categorizing EVERYTHING in our environment as either a threat or a reward.
    • When our brain tells us “threat,” that old automatic fight or flight mechanism kicks in.
    • Fight = defend, justify, counter-attack, criticize, blame, etc
    • Flight = shut down, avoid eye contact, change the subject, leave the room, etc
    • Problem-centric, disempowering language (we can’t, we never, she always, it’s not going to work, we’ve tried this before…) is threat language.  Therefore we often feel a very deep, very old, very habitual, and very stuck energy.


  2. The brain has a super-efficient habit-center, or data-bank, that tells us how to respond and behave in familiar situations, to familiar messages, to familiar tasks. The brain also has “working memory” which takes in new, unfamiliar information and works to make sense of it. The difference in capacity between these two parts of our brain is like the difference between the MILKY WAY and a CUBIC METER (respectively).
    • So what? We have limited capacity for taking in and working with new ideas, new possibilities, unfamiliar situations. In other words, for change. We must go forward very carefully and intentionally when desiring change.


  3. Begin the change dialogue in a way that moves people Toward Reward. Researchers in the fields of neuroscience, emotional intelligence, and leadership, have demonstrated that people are many times more likely to move towards change when it is anchored to something personally rewarding:
    • a compelling vision of a better future
    • a set of resonant core values
    • an environment that respects – first and foremost – our fundamental human needs for connection, positive relationship, respect, empathy, authenticity, and vulnerability. In fact, these needs are pretty much the opposite of how we behave when in “fight or flight” mode. Fight or flight has us disengage, disconnect, retreat into ourselves, hold back, self-protect, and is anchored in fear and ego.

Your interactions with others (and with YOURSELF) will be productive and satisfying when you keep intentionally focused on what IS desired, rather than on that which you no longer want.

Put your attention on what you want more of.

Take your focus off the current, unwanted realities.

These brain-based facts apply to all areas of our lives, large and small. Small shifts in our word choice, our phrasing, our focus of attention – and especially our thoughts – can lead to dramatic results, whether you’re fostering a new company culture or talking to your teenager. Keep pointed towards reward.