Day 8 Connection Challenge: Tell a Story

In her amazing TED talk on vulnerability, researcher Brene Brown says that stories are “data with a soul.” Whether you are presenting to an audience of 1000 or having a 1-1 conversation, stories help to build trust and emotionally engage other people. Try it today. #beauthentic #betransparent #connectionchallenge

Day 7 Connection Challenge: Find Time to be Alone

Surprising as it sounds, one path to creating stronger connections with others is ensuring you have time alone. Find 15 minutes today to be by yourself to reflect on a conversation, plan for a meeting or simply decompress. You’ll discover you’re better able to focus later in the day. #bepresent #connectionchallenge

Join the 30-day Connection Challenge: www.be-leadership.com/30days

Day 6 Connection Challenge: Look People in the Eye

Technology helps us connect with those far away but it can reduce our attention on those in the same room. Practice the lost art of eye contact while listening to your colleagues and increase connection with others. #bepresent #connectionchallenge

Day 5 Connection Challenge: Say Thanks

Take 2 minutes and write a positive note or email thanking or praising someone. If you make this a daily routine, it dramatically strengthens your social connections, which research shows has side benefits of higher productivity, better health and greater motivation. #begiving #beauthentic #connectionchallenge

Day 4 Connection Challenge: Take Someone Else’s View

We all approach new situations with a perspective shaped by who we are and the experiences we have had to date. Try to deliberately look at something differently today: Take the other side of a debate or consider a situation from a new angle. #beinclusive #connectionchallenge

Day 3 Connection Challenge: Go for a Walk

Instead of holding all of your meetings indoors, schedule a “walking meeting” today. Get some exercise and fresh air while improving the connection with your colleagues. #bepresent #beauthentic #connectionchallenge

Join the 30-day Connection Challenge: www.be-leadership.com/30days

Day 2 Connection Challenge: Doodle During Meetings

Research shows that doodling while you listen can boost concentration and increase retention, ensuring you stay engaged even in the longest and most tedious of meetings. Try it today. #bepresent #connectionchallenge

Join Be Leadership’s 30-day Connection Challenge: www.be-leadership.com/30days

Day 1 Connection Challenge: Ask More Questions

Do you think you ask a lot of questions? Try doubling the number of questions you ask today. Practice asking open questions from a position of curiosity and then listen intently to the answers. #becurious #bepresent #connectionchallenge

Join the 30-day Connection Challenge: www.be-leadership.com/30days

Connecting For Happiness

[This post was originally published on The Happy Manifesto website in April 2016]

Eighteen months ago I left Microsoft, where I had spent 17 years. It was a huge decision for me and one I struggled with. I was really scared of the change. But do you want to guess what I was most afraid of? It wasn’t loss of income, it wasn’t status, it wasn’t instability.

I was afraid I’d be unhappy.

Throughout my years at Microsoft, I felt a really close affiliation with the company. I was proud to work there and it was a significant part of my life. Life and work were very blurred at Microsoft – and I liked that! My workday bled into my evening and my personal life mixed with my work. I was close friends with my co-workers. I even met my husband there – and he still works there today. Microsoft was a large part of my identity and I was afraid that if I left, it would impact my relationships and overall happiness.

Fast forward a year and a half and I know now my fears were unfounded. I love my business, my clients, the diversity of my work. I’m excited about the company I am building. I still feel a strong affiliation with Microsoft and am proud of the successful years I spent there. And – perhaps most importantly for my personal happiness – I still have really strong relationships. My new business has been great for my life fulfillment: Not only do I stay in contact with dozens of past colleagues from Microsoft but I’m building relationships and creating new connections – in different sectors, industries and places.

Joy is Connection
Connection is essential to happiness. In fact, some researchers argue it’s the corner stone. In 2013, Harvard released the results of the Harvard Grant Study, a 75-year longitudinal study that explored the secrets of a happy and fulfilling life. The study, which was far reaching, had 5 key findings, 2 of which relate directly to relationships:

• First, it found that love is an essential foundation for a happy life. George Vaillant, the psychiatrist responsible for the Grant Study for 42 years, said the most important finding was that relationships are the only thing that really matter for a fulfilling life: “Happiness is only the cart; love is the horse.”
• Second, it found that the more areas in your life you can create connections, the better. Relationships, including those we have at work, are far and away the strongest predictor of life satisfaction.

Connection matters.
Connection definitely matters, and it’s no wonder I was scared of losing it. In addition to our happiness, it affects our broader business success. Gallup research has shown that close work friendships lead to higher employee satisfaction, with a claim that people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be motivated and productive. Other studies show that more work connections lead to better health and greater sense of fulfillment.

According to neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman, our need to connect with other people is more fundamental and basic than food and shelter. In his book Social: Why our Brains are Wired to Connect, Lieberman shares his finding that even connecting in the most basic ways makes you happier—especially when you know other people need your help. His research shows that having a friend that you see daily at work brings the equivalent happiness to $100,000 increase in salary.

Now that’s a lot of happiness.

Stay connected.

How to Focus in the Age of Distraction

Today I had six full hours of virtual meetings. Some were on WebEx, some Skype, some GoToMeeting. Others just used standard telephone conferencing. Whatever the technology, the impact was the same: I spent a lot of time sitting at my desk listening, while I wrote in my notebook and stared at my screen or out my office window.

I like to think I’m a good remote worker. After a decade of remote working at Microsoft and nearly two years as an independent consultant, I certainly have many years of practice. As an extrovert, I enjoy connecting with people be it online or face to face. And I know how to get good work done without sitting in one room with my colleagues. I had one Microsoft manager I never even met – my interviews were all done by phone while he lived in the US and I lived in England. We worked together for nearly six months before he changed roles, never meeting face to face. He was a great manager and we collaborated well.

But we live in an age of distraction – as I sit on a conference call, I can see a pop-up window from Facebook on my PC, letting me know a friend has updated her status. I see the banners, badges and alerts on my mobile reminding me of my next meeting, alerting me to a change in weather, updating me on my status on Plants vs Zombies, reminding me to study my Finnish vocabulary for the day. The potential for distraction is huge and extends far beyond the sunny sky, my yowling cat, the postman at the door and my empty teacup.

So how can we stay focused and present with all of these competing data streams flinging themselves at us while we’re trying to work?

1. Write down all possible distractions:

Before I go into many meetings – but particularly virtual ones – I find it useful to actively set aside all of my distracting thoughts. I do this by writing them down. Take 5 minutes before a meeting and ask yourself what is going on that might stop you from focusing on the coming conversation. List everything you can think of. This isn’t a to-do list — write everything on your mind. For example, I may write that I am distracted by a conversation I just had with a colleague, wondering how my daughter is doing in an exam, or thinking about what to make for dinner. Once the list is made, physically put it away for the duration of the call. Just the act of writing these distractions down, and getting them out of your head – and committing to leaving them behind for the course of your meeting – can help you focus.

2. Close all unnecessary applications:

Clearly if we can’t see the notifications and popups we’re less likely to be tempted to respond to them. While it’s obvious, it’s not often practiced: turn off any devices you’re not using, close email, close applications not in use. If possible, move your phone out of the room. There is some evidence to say just having a phone on the table next to you is distracting, even if it is face-down and silent. Unless you really need it, remove it from sight.

3. Disclose your challenge:

I have worked with a number of colleagues who struggle with focus. Sometimes, they mention this challenge before a meeting starts. They say something along the lines of “I am really distracted today, I have had lots of back-to-back meetings.” I tried this once – mostly to get some forgiveness for my lack of energy – and found that I was far more engaged for the following hour! Having admitted to everyone I was struggling to focus, I found myself re-committing to the conversation.

4. Take notes:

Writing is a great way of increasing focus. If you take notes on the meeting, write the questions you want to ask, or even doodle, it can increase your concentration.

5. Use video:

Video isn’t always practical, and sometimes it’s impossible, but when bandwidth and the tool allow, it can really change the engagement levels of everyone on a virtual meeting. Not only do you feel peer pressure to stay focused and engaged when a camera is on, people can read each others’ body language, thus improving the effectiveness of many meetings.

6. Schedule in breaks:

Finally, an obvious tip that is often neglected: Instead of scheduling a call or meeting for an hour, schedule it for 45 minutes and use the 15 minute break to walk around, preferably outside. Fill that mug with tea, check your email, maybe even look at Facebook. Deal with some of those distractions you set aside in Step 1. By creating this window of time when you know you can take care of some of these other things, you give yourself more permission to ignore them the rest of the hour.