What Are You Wired To Do

For some time, I have doubted that God wanted to use my tragedy, joy, resilience, and miraculous healing, to say something to the world. A little voice in me kept heckling. ‘Who the heck are you? You are just an egotistical woman who really has nothing to offer. And watch this God stuff, you’ll turn people off.’ Until just recently, I could not totally embrace that I am here to champion our ability (my ability) to overcome the worst we are faced with, and allow ourselves to rise above our circumstances.

I know today, what I didn’t fully know last week. It is our innate talents that links us to our purpose and gives us the passion to do what we are compelled to do in this world. My skills as an information specialist and a trainer, are not really who I am. They were developed through education and experience. But what are innate talents? How were we wired before we were even born? What are the gifts we yearn to share, ever single day of our life?

I didn’t learn to be a writer and speaker – these qualities were evident as long as I could remember. Also I have pretty much always had a positive attitude and believed that I, we all, can achieve whatever we put our minds. I believe so forcefully that I see all kinds of creative ways of achieving extraordinary things – like coming back from a stroke that took my voice, body and even my thoughts. In fact, the stroke is my greatest gift. As a result, I see myself owning my innate gifts and joyously sharing all the good I can with you, with the world. I falter only when I allow doubt to creep upon me like a poisonous snake. 

Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book ‘Purpose Driven Life’  speaks about using our talents or gifts to do good?  We can recognize our talents by knowing what he terms ‘what’s in your hand.’ As an example, he used the biblical story of Moses, who carried a staff in his hand. Moses just had to put it down, and God performed great miracles though his staff.

My communication skills, motivation and creativity are in my hand. I now choose, without doubt, to put it down, and let God work through me. What’s in your hand?

I recommend you watch the following talk by Rick Warren about using our talents and influence to do good. The video is 21 minutes. Try to watch the whole thing. For me it was especially powerful towards the end when Rick began speaking about ‘what’s in your hand’ – what are you wired to do. The video had a tremendous impact on me. What about you?

Getting Others to Support You

Soon after I was disabled, my confidence went flat like a deflated balloon. No one seemed to think I was important or worth listening to. When discussing my health, many people (doctors, social workers, friends, etc.) treated me like a dumb pet that couldn’t think. They would not seriously listen to me. They listened and communicated with my mother. It was as though I was incapable of understanding or adding value to a conversation.  I noticed for the first time what little importance was placed on the disabled. However, those who did listen to me gave me the support I needed to gain confidence and see remarkable healing in my body. They are the type of people I (and other sometimes disadvantaged member of society, such as persons with disabilities, seniors, immigrants, etc.) will always support; whether they need customers, listeners, help or just a friend. Could you use more contacts and supporters? Learning to listen to everyone with the whole body is a great start.

So how do we listen with our bodies, and show people what they are saying is important to us? One way is to clearly display that we are paying attention use Attending Skills. Attending, according to Robert Bolton, is having a posture that displays involvement and alertness in a relaxed way. There are several things we can do with our bodies to help us pay attention and display to the speaker we are paying attention. Here are six.

These are much easier said than done.  But it is worth it. Non-verbally saying to someone who is speaking that you are listening and you find what is being said important, can tremendously influence your success in life.






Are You an 18 Second Listener?

Do some people only listen to you for 18 seconds, before they interrupt? Are you an 18 second leader or boss?  You may be surprised at the answer. Here is what renowned management guru, Tom Peters, has to say. 

As Tom Peters states in the video, “the single most significant strategic strength that an organization can have is not a good strategic plan, but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organization.  Strategic listening to front line employees, strategic listening to vendors, to customers…..”

It is not just about what we do in our organizations or businesses. It is about what we do everywhere. For example, when I did Aerobics, I would place myself in the front of the class, listening to and following the instructor like he or she was a master of exercise. When they spoke, my body indicated my respect and appreciation of their every word and move. As a result, many began to see me as a colleague and focus a lot of their attention on me.  When we really listen to people, it gives them energy and motivation. They intern gravitate to us, because they need that support and inspiration.

In the next few week, I will be presenting some skills which show that being a really good listener is an intricate  skill that most of us (including me) do not have and absolutely need to learn. The focus will be on Robert Bolton’s description of 3 clusters of listening skills:

  • Attending Skills
  • Following Skills
  • Reflecting Skills

Like becoming a  superstar athlete or getting  a degree as a  medical doctor, it takes a tremendous effort to develop the required skills. We don’t just say I am a good listener, manager or friend and it is so. We must know how to put our mind and body, as well as our very awareness of our environment, into our communication, if we want to be master listeners. The resulting benefits can overwhelming impact our professional and personal goals.

Next week, I will provide details for the understanding and development of our Attending Skills. The other two will be covered in subsequent weeks. In the mean time, let me know if you have any questions, issues or scenarios you would like to see covered.

Copyright © 2011 M. Dawn Armstrong. All rights reserved.

Listen to Yourself: Own Only What is Yours

In 2001 I went to the International Black Summit  that was held in Memphis Tennessee. As participants, we were working on developing ourselves,  so we could be a better contribution to our community and the world.  That year we were living in the question, “what is available by consciously owning all that I create.”

I struggled with the understanding that my words, behaviours and actions were creating the life that I had. I saw other people as preventing me from being all I could be. Afterall, I was a fairly intelligent and well-educated woman.

With great frustration, I shared with my Summit colleagues that my boss had told me that I was too detailed and I would never get promoted in that organization. I may not have said it, but I really felt I wasn’t good enough.

One female participant told me over and over again, in a chastising manner (it seemed to me), that I was too detailed and too analytical. It was happening again. Someone was putting me down, and holding me back. I couldn’t stand her. She frustrated me to no end. I had to talk to a facilitator about her. The facilitator said to me, “consider that what she is communicating may not be all about you. Consider that she is telling you about herself. Only you can make it about you. Only you can own all that she is saying.” A glaring light bulb went on.

I was certainly detailed and analytical! I owned that. The perception that these were negative traits I did not create, and believing it, was causing me to foster the creation of negative things in my life. Those negative perceptions were not about me. I would not own them.

From then on, whenever the participant said I was detailed and analytical, I would proudly say, “yes, and I am ok with that.”  Once my trigger was gone, I could hear that she was very much like me, detailed and analytical, and she was not ok with it! I became a listening for her and all the issues she was dealing with at home. 

I went back to work owning my detailed nature, and seeing it as a wonderful blessing. I got the promotion my boss said I would not likely have!

So whenever anyone speaks to you about you, consider taking time to listen to yourself and ask if this is truly you. Then accept and own all that is you, and let go of all that is not. Knowing that with the latter, someone is telling you something about himself/herself. This provides a great opportunity to listen to and for others.

Copyright © 2011 M. Dawn Armstrong. All rights reserved.

When Working Hard Isn’t Enough

Before I had the stroke, I believed that I achieved professional success and physical health because I worked hard. I prided myself on putting exceptional effort into watching what I eat, exercising to keep fit, updating my knowledge, and meeting the needs of the employees or clients I served. Whenever something bad happened, I knew what to do. I would work hard to make it a temporary setback. Then came the stroke, and it became clear that working hard wasn’t enough.

My brain accident was a miraculous eye opener. It showed me that my success in life was not all about me working hard. I was forced to be still, quieten my racing mind, accept what other people are offering (not necessarily what I am working hard for), and understand who people are. I have had to really learn how to listen to others, in order to truly understand them. As a result, I now have access to more minds, more connections, more interdependence than ever before.

One of the first steps I had to take, to better connect with others, was to focus on eliminating the things which prevented me from hearing and knowing others. What really helped was categorization of the 12 roadblocks that inhibit communications, outlined by Bolton in his book, People Skills.   

The characteristics listed under “Judging, Sending Solutions and Avoiding Other’s Concerns” kept me from connecting with or really listening to others. Focusing only on the good I thought I was doing, I would never have thought that actions, intended to be harmless or even loving, could be taken in a negative way. Therefore it is important to study all the 12 roadblocks, as seen in the post on Communication Spoilers,  and see how they can unintentionally prevent all of us from connecting with valuable clients, colleagues or the special people in our lives.

The intention of this post is to suggest that perhaps even more than working hard for ourselves, success comes from understanding, connecting with, and developing a true relationship with others. As such, we have to move away from what we think we know, away from our own perceptions, which are often the source of our roadblocks.

Once we are able to avoid the roadblocks, how does it help us to listen? What are some strategies for active and effective listening? What strategies have worked for you? In the next post on this topic of People Skills, I will share some strategies suggested by Robert Bolton, and based on my own professional experience.

Copyright © 2011 M. Dawn Armstrong. All rights reserved.

Communication Spoilers

This article is about knowing what we don’t know about ourselves. Is is not about telling, training, or doing. It is about learning more about who we are being in our communication with each other.

Most people, I communicated with admitted that they are at the stage of “Unconscious Incompetence” on Maslow’s 4 stages of learning, when it comes to many things. Me too, each day, I discover that I don’t know what I don’t know about people. I don’t know what I don’t know about you, why you read this blog, what motivates you, and how I can be the best support to you in living your best life.

How conscious are we of what we don’t know about our communication spoilers? Do we draw people to us, or do we unknowingly push them away?  Robert Bolton, in his book People Skills, outlined the “dirty dozen” of communication spoilers, devised by Thomas Gordon. Can you see yourself in any of these?

  1. Criticizing – a negative evaluation of someone’s actions. Example – I do not think it was a good idea to put him on the team.
  2. Name Calling – Putting someone down or stereotyping their behaviour. Example – You take things too seriously. You are too emotional. You need to develop a thick skin.
  3. Diagnosing – Analyzing someone’s behaviour. Example – You think you are o.k. with his behaviour, but I know you are angry.
  4. Praising Evaluatively – Making a positive judgement of a person, their actions, or their attitudes. Example – Ask Dawn, she great. She never says no, she’ll do it.
  5. Commanding – Telling someone, in a commanding way to do something. Example – I want no comments. Just do it the way I said.
  6. Threatening – Trying to control someone’s actions by warning of negative consequence, if things are not done as desired. Example – Get the work done or we are going to lose business.
  7. Moralizing – Telling or preaching to another person, about the right thing to do. Example – You should not accept that contract. The company breaks all kinds of environmental laws.
  8. Excessive/Inappropriate Questioning – Asking a lot closed-ended questions or ones requiring short, simple answers. Example – Is the business doing well, do you makes good money, how many clients do you have, are they loyal, etc.
  9. Advising – Giving people what you think is the best solution. Example – This is the best one to choose for your situation.
  10. Diverting – Pushing the other person’s concern aside, by switching to another subject. Example – Let’s talk about something else.
  11. Logical Argument – Trying to convince another person by focusing on facts, without emphasis on emotional issues. Example – It’s the best for your business; it’s cost-effective, good quality, and a standard in the industry.
  12. Reassuring – Trying to bring someone away from the negative emotion they are feeling. Example – Losing your job is a blessing in disguise. Now you can find a new job that uses all your great skills, and which pays a lot of money.

So you, like me, may be guilty of a few of these. Maybe we don’t even do them all that often. And we mean well. So what?

Copyright © 2010 M. Dawn Armstrong. All rights reserved.

Optimism and Creating a Great Day

People love people who are optimistic and can be counted on to brighten the environment around them with their infectious mood. Optimism is a soft skill that can move mountains. How do you put yourself in a good mood? Here is how I use exercising and music to celebrate, and see, the good around me.

This morning I was in the basement of my home,  doing my usual thing, exercising on my recumbent bike. I was propelled by Luther Vandross’ album “Dance With My Father.” When I came to the song “Lovely Day,” also featuring Busta Rhymes, I went bonkers. I couldn’t get enough of it. I must have played it at least 5 times, while I danced on the stationary bike, like a woman possessed with joy. I felt the perfection of the world around me, and knew it would in fact be an awesome day.

When I went upstairs, true to Busta Rhyme’s words, there was not a cloud in the sky. The sun shined beautifully on each home, the naked trees, and the snow-covered streets. Moreover, I soon learned that “Justina”, the teenager I wrote about not too long ago, had a very successful brain tumor surgery, and she is recovering well. Somehow, I already knew it. There will be even more to celebrate today; my spirit is open to seeing it all.

Hitting Hard with Soft Skills

As a Human Resource Development professional, who have been involved in numerous hirings, I will say what I have said many times before. Our soft skills or people skills are often the key to getting the job, the client or the support we want. Usually, a lot of people have technical skills, but do they have interpersonal finesse, such as powerful listening, assertiveness, conflict resolution and problem solving; skills that will have employers, clients and colleague stick to them like bees to honey? Most people don’t have it and that may include you. More times than I would like to admit, it certainly includes me.

I have used my interpersonal communication skills to get great positions and clients. When I was being hired for my previous job, I remember the Vice President commenting on what she perceived as my calming nature. Great! But there are also certain roadblocks that can derails these soft skills; these roadblocks at times certainly undermined my calming nature. Robert Bolton outlined one such roadblock, ‘reassuring’, that I could certainly relate to.

Yes I like to reassure folks, like telling my colleague, who gets a little depressed about business this time of year, that everything will be ok. I was avoiding his concerns. What were his main concerns, I didn’t really ask. I was too busy reassuring.

After going over Robert Bolton’s roadblocks, presented in People Skills, I know now that  my constant reassuring means that I need to take my listening skills up a notch. With this recognition, I progressed on Maslow’s 4 Stages of Learning, from Unconscious Incompetence (you don’t know what you don’t know) to Conscious Incompetence (you know what you don’t know). I believe I am at the level of Conscious Competence with most aspects of my listening skills (I have learned the required skill but it is still a conscious effort to remember and apply them).

We can strive to reach Unconscious Competence (the knowledge and skill is so deeply within us, we don’t have to think for it to show up in our lives). An example of Unconscious competence, for many of us, is riding a bike.

Identifying our roadblock will make us more aware of what it takes to develop great interpersonal skills, that influence and impact people. However, before identifying our roadblocks, it is useful to answer the following question.  When it comes to your interpersonal communication skills (soft skills or people skills), where would you place yourself on Maslow’s 4 Stages of Learning? Choose from the following:

  • Unconscious Incompetence – don’t know what you don’t know
  • Conscious Incompetence – know what you don’t know
  • Conscious Competence – know what you know, but have to work to remember and apply
  • Unconscious Competence – know it all so well, that you are completely unaware of all you know.

Please enter your answer or comments in the comments section below. Visit Wikipedia for further information on Maslow’s 4 Stages of Learning.


Copyright © 2010 M. Dawn Armstrong. All rights reserved.

A Prayer for Justina

Good news! I just got into a government program, which for 10 months will be paying me to develop a live web-based learning centre. I will tell you all about it by the new year, and if you like you can come and visit. Since I am busy working on the development of the centre, I will only commit to adding an updated post on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. I will get back to People Skills by Bolton next week. 

Today I would like to send out special energy for a young lady and her family, who are undergoing a devastating situation. Though this is not a religious post, I am compelled to reach out to God and plea for mercy.

On July 11th I was in church, having a great time singing and dancing to the gospel songs. My eyes were drawn to Justina, the 15-year-old daughter of one of the Church’s pastors. I noticed how connected she was to Spirit. Her body rocked gently to the music, as she held her palms open and upwards, as though speaking love and gratitude to all that surrounded her and all that was within her. I was momentarily transfixed by her being, for I have never seen a young girl so spiritually connected.

During the following week, her family found out she had brain cancer. This was also he fate 4 1/2 years ago; fortunately, after surgery and chemotherapy, she had beaten the cancer. Now here it was again. I cried. No, not her, not this beautiful family! (I worked with her father, and I have never seen a man so giving of his time, his home and his love – especially to young people). I don’t know what God is up to, and to tell you the truth, I don’t particularly like it. But I have learned the best thing to do is to surrender to what is happening, and watch and listen, for something wonderful always comes forth (especially in the case of someone so blessed as Justina). Still I know that something wonderful may or may not be what we desperately hope for; nevertheless, I would like to put in my specific request to the creator of all beings. 

I bow down to you, dear God, with my eyes staring into the sky, and my pleading hands clasped together. Give Justina and her family an over-abundance of support in this difficult time. Open our eyes and our hearts so we can fully see your works, in this beautiful young lady and her family. Bring us all through this stronger in spirit, mind and heart than ever before. Provide the most amazing outcome for Justina and her family.

People Skills for Success in Today’s Economy

As described by Wikipedia, people skills are “the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language habits, friendliness and optimism that characterizes relationships with other people.”

With the few success profiles that I have posted thus far, it is clear that people skills are critical to success, despite whatever else may be missing in our life. But how does one develop people skills such as optimism, problem solving, relationship building and networking? Employers highly value and measure such skills; skills which have become even more important in the era of technology. For example, if we put in our job application that we have good interpersonal skills, an employer today may measure if we know how to communicate effectively on the internet.

With the internet included, it’s a different ball game, and many of us will likely strike out. I personally don’t like striking out, and do all I can to help myself and others get a home run. Given that people learn best when learning is in a multi-media format, I am developing a series of people skills courses to be launched on this blog by next Monday.

To enable me to make this change, there will be a short interruption in posts. Other than a new success profile to be posted by Friday, no additional post will be made until Monday. During this time, further changes will be made to the blog to strengthen its focus. Though I love the topic of healthy bodies, its inclusion in this blog makes the focus too broad. Therefore it will be discontinued.

Look out next Monday for the first module of the course “People Skills for Success in Today’s Economy”.

Soaring for Mental Health & Spiritual Well-Being