Thursday, February 17, 2011


A question on my Coach's forum got me thinking today about communication.

One thing that really improved my communication skills was silence. I know, that sounds weird, right? But I am a talker, and a conversation dominator (at least I used to be). If you find yourself only half listening to others because you are busy formulating your reply, CHANGE this way of being. Make eye contact. LISTEN. Before you reply or add to the conversation, paraphrase back to the other person what they just said to you and ASK for their confirmation that you've understood them correctly. Ask more open-ended questions (not yes/no questions); make fewer statements (although be careful that you don't phrase everything as a question, which makes you look indecisive and weak). And remember that communication sometimes happens very quickly (or at least breakdowns in communication certainly do), but speed is not always a good thing unless we're talking telecommunications! It's not a race. Understanding takes patience. "Think before you speak," sounds cliched but it is good advice. Don't be afraid of silence. Don't feel the need to fill dead air with "uhms" and "ahs." Pregnant pauses, like an actual pregnancy, can mean something very good is about to happen.

Learn to analyze your audience and understand how to mix up "feelings" language with more assertive, decisive language. "I think, I feel" statements are sometimes appropriate, sometimes not. Depends on the audience and whether you're in the position where you might intimidate (supervisor/manager) your audience or be perceived as being intimidated (junior team member). The fact is, you want to avoid intimidating others AND being intimidated BY others.

If you're concerned about your ability to speak publicly and be understood and recognized for your intelligence and assertiveness, join Toastmasters. I've seen people really blossom by working on and improving their public speaking skills.

I work with many brilliant people who excel at what they do (analysis, design, technical problem solving) but who sometimes have a great deal of difficulty communicating effectively, especially verbally. If you are one of these people, I recommend learning how to read non-verbal communication (body language, facial expressions, etc.). You CAN teach yourself this stuff; it's a skill that can be learned just like any other. But don't get mired down in the theory; much of this reading of non-verbal communication cues has to be visceral, so learn to trust your instincts as well. Once I learned to shut my mouth and open my eyes more, a ton was revealed to me; and this knowledge has served me well.

And finally, observe women (how they interact socially and in the workplace, that is) versus men. There's lots to be learned there, good and bad!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Physique Competition: Proceed With Caution

I USED to think that if I could do this (get lean, compete), anyone could. Well, maybe that is true, but the bigger question really is SHOULD anyone? If you're going to do something that can only be called extreme, do you know WHY? What's driving you? And it's obvious that resilient metabolisms are far less common among the general population than the fitness gurus and figure mill svengalis would like us paying customers to believe.

Scott Abel said, "The cognitive association of connecting food-reward as part of the celebration of the contest date becomes more intertwined." That spoke to me. I instinctively felt that a heightened focus on the post-contest glut, the food porn on TV, the anxiety, irritability, and sleeplessness induced by acute hunger, were things that I had to be wary of, manage, and recognize for what they were (I won't go into details, but let's just say that Scott knows what the hell he's doing and Coaches appropriately at these times and, of course, beyond). I remember making a very conscious observation in 2008 that this hyper-focus on food was NOT GOOD. I didn't understand why nor did I know the science behind what was happening to me, but instinctively I knew I was in dangerous territory. I decided, again very consciously, that this hyper-focus was not something to glory in and indulge but rather something that had to be managed. Carefully and mindfully. Did I make mistakes? Yes, of course. Did I learn from those mistakes? Hell, yeah!

Your body is designed to protect itself from harm. So is your psyche. The problem with extreme dieting is that everything about it involves a retardation of your body's natural protective mechanisms, especially for women who are biologically designed to store more fat for reproductive purposes. Some (I'd go so far as to say most) people take it even further and use drugs to aid in that retardation (appetite suppressants, stimulants, sleep aids, and that's just a start) and force their bodies to go where they never naturally would or could. Does this sound even remotely healthy or safe? It's really laughable that we call the "fitness" industry by that name. The result of the pursuit of "fitness" is in reality so often its polar opposite: people who are severely UNfit physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

But there's a neverending string of females lined up with stars in their eyes and dreams of being the next big thing or simply fitting into a size 2. Yes, I feel a sense of outrage at this exploitation, and that's exactly what it is. There's no shortage of trainers out there who'll do "whatever it takes" and there's no shortage of customers out there willing to get stage ready no matter the cost. So there's really no incentive in terms of money to change the status quo. But just because this is the way things are doesn't mean those of us who envision something different and are behind those who are DOING something different should just shut up and accept things.

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. The least we can do is NOT stay silent. So keep talking, keep sharing, keep DEMANDING help. Accept nothing less than exactly what you deserve: understanding, compassion, expertise, and recognition that you are a person first and a client second.