Communication

Show up for your team without depleting yourself

You are doing a lot. 

As the world continues to shift around us, our commitments require a lot of energy.
The pandemic and the continued fight for racial justice serves as a reminder of the need for action on so many fronts.

So maybe you find yourself run down and tired at the end of the day. Maybe you find yourself on autopilot. Or perhaps you are cranking up the speed to stay ahead of the next change.

Wherever you find yourself, I know how much people depend on you.

When we are committed to creating positive community change, connection, inclusion and love in our work lives and at home, we are tasked with offering up our time and attention to others.

Your team needs you. Your coworkers need you. Your friends and family need you. People depend on you to show up every day and make space to plan and strategize with them. 

Everyone needs to be seen and supported. 

I know that when I am already at my max for energy and capacity figuring out just how to offer myself up can be a real struggle.

I promise you – you can have the energy you need and stay connected with people on your team (and in your life) at the same time.

Here is a simple checklist that can help you stay connected and be supportive of your team WHILE feeling less stress and more energy.

Before you dive in – take a grounding breath. (Inhale, exhale.) The key is simple, small, consistent check-ins with yourself and others. It just requires you to slow down a tiny bit.

  1. How is your own energy and capacity? What are you doing to boost your own capacity? Once you’ve given yourself a boost – you will experience more energy to do the work of supporting others.  
  2. Where can you carve out specific time out in your day for your own breathing room, and space for the people on your team?
  3. What everyday practices can you build into your workflow and conversations that allow you and others to understand each other better and communicate more readily?
  4. What open-ended and curious questions can you add to your repertoire that force you to slow down and listen deeply? (For example – “Can you tell me more about that?”, “Do you have ideas for what you want to try next?”) 
    (For example – “Can you tell me more about that?”, “Do you have ideas for what you want to try next?”)
  5. What simple actions can you (and others) take that actively demonstrate your support for your team and what structures can you build to allow your team members to support each other?
  6. What consistent gestures can you offer that weave in appreciation, acknowledgment and celebration with your team?

    (P.S. If you don’t work with a team sub out the word “team” for any person or small group of humans you are in a relationship with.)

Want a more detailed guide? I made one just for you here.

You’ll find that teamwork is more effective when people feel actively seen, acknowledged, and supported. As a leader, both you and your team will experience increased creativity, vision, and willingness to take risks once you take the time to tend to your team. You’ll encounter less harmful, unaddressed conflicts because trust, relationships and communication allow issues to surface. 

Over time, well-tended teams become more efficient and build capacity to problem solve, generate new ideas, and take on more responsibility… which eventually frees up your own energy.

When we are tired or pushed to the limit, we can miss the opportunities to nurture our relationships.

Take good care of yourself and find one easy way to check in with your people.

Rheanna SmithShow up for your team without depleting yourself
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How I am preparing before we open back up (it might not be what you expect)

Here, in the Pacific Northwest, flowers are beginning to peek up out of the ground. The days are getting longer. A smattering of them have been without rain. Which means there are less mud puddles. That means a lot less loads of wash for me to run. 🙂

Thankfully, some of my family have managed to get their Covid shots. In most places, infection rates are reducing as opposed to rising. 

I find myself thinking… perhaps I should be feeling more relief. More hope. 

Yet, I find myself sitting with a strange mix of emotions these last weeks. Here are the words that come to mind as I try to name them: exhaustion, wariness, nostalgia, sadness, hope, gratefulness, and grief. As we face the prospect of returning to gather in person, my hope and relief is mixed with powerful reminders of what family, friends and community have had to endure this past year – the loss of time spent together, the loss of jobs and security, the loss of loved ones. 

That’s when I begin to notice my posture of “just put your head down, Annie, get through it, push on.” This is not the first time in my life I’ve used this survival technique. It works. For a short time. But it takes a toll when I do it for long enough. 

You see, in order for me to “push through” I must also actively avoid feeling my own emotions – both negative and positive. That includes empathy, grief, tenderness, and gratefulness. This year provided me with moment-to-moment opportunities to both experience and avoid my feelings. Because of the intense magnifying glass our lives have been under this last year – I am noticing the moments I’ve avoided my feelings in order to simply “push through”.

The key for me moving towards hope and accessing my ability to open myself back up to people and public space, is to move myself from a posture of avoidance into a position of allowing myself to experience my own feelings. I am doing this now… ever so gently.

Here is how I am opening myself up to the feeling of hope and the learnings of the last year:

I am focusing especially on my feelings of grief and gratitude.

I am noticing in a specific way. It’s a technique coming out of mindfulness and Buddhism. 

I try to be aware of any feelings I may be experiencing in the moment. Then, I see if I can slow down and acknowledge the feeling, whatever it may be. It goes something like this:

“Hello there, sadness.” 
and 
“Whew, here it comes again… I’m missing someone…” 
and 
“Wow, I am so grateful for…”

I say to myself or (if appropriate) to those around me, just what it is that I am feeling.  I offer appreciations out loud when I am experiencing gratitude. 

I try to offer some variation of Valerie Kaur’s offering around grief if I am grieving with or because of something someone else is experiencing, “You are grieving, but you are not grieving alone. I am here with you.”

I let the feeling remain with me. Till the next one comes.

Then, I am practicing being quiet and present in the moment. (You know me – this is taking a lot of practice!)

This is not new information. It is centuries old and across traditions. However, there is a reason we continue to strive to learn it – it is hard work & it is life changing.

Here is what happens when I allow myself to notice & experience my emotions, especially grief and gratitude:

  • I experience more love and connection in my life, and less resentment.
  • I give love and acknowledgement to those I am with, allowing them the opportunity to feel loved and appreciated.
  • I can stay in the present moment, which reduces worry, anxiety, and fear of the future,
  • I feel human and notice the humanity in others.
  • When I notice gratitude – it expands and unearths more appreciation. Gratitude and appreciation can coexist with pain and grief.
  • I move through the emotions so that unexpected emotions are less likely to surface later, which reduces the harm I enact on myself and others.

It can be hard. 

I am still head down, barrel through at times. And that is okay.

However, the more I drop into my emotions and the lessons they point to, the more prepared I am to keep showing up as a human being.

As I practice feeling more, I process more of the incredible lessons and hard moments of the last few years. As I sit with the grief and the gratitude, I find myself learning how to be a better friend, partner, and teammate. I recognize that I have more capacity than I imagined. 

And that gives me hope.

What are you feeling right now?
What emotions are you paying attention to? 
What are they teaching you?

May we allow each other the space to feel as we enter a new time of transition.

Feelings and emotions too overwhelming right now? Here is a place to go for support: NAMI Hotline

Want more resources to support feeling your emotions, supporting others in their grief, and practicing gratitude? 

Here are a few offers:

See no stranger, Valarie Kaur, The People’s Inauguration  and other learnings
A guide to transition from winter to spring, Kirin Bhatti
Lama Rod Owens – Acknowledging emotions meditation
Tara Brach – Pause for Presence
Untamed, Glennon Doyle
Emotional Agility, Susan David

Need examples? Here is what this looks like in real-time:

Grief

  • I am feeling grief for the lost time with people I love.
  • It hits me in a pang in my chest.
  • I sit with it and I say to myself, “Whew there is that feeling of missing and loss.”
  • I send a message or call when I can to tell the person I miss that I love them.

Gratitude

  • There is always more to do in our house, with our child, in my work. It is easy to get bogged down.
  • I am practicing noticing when my family is actively working on supporting someone else in the house or helping with a household task (which is actually very often).
  • I try and see it in the moment or shortly after and let them know I am grateful for what they are doing and/or I am grateful for them.

Grief

  • I am feeling grief for the people I care about who have lost loved ones to Covid.
  • I am feeling grief when I hear stories of people who have lost loved ones, including their children because of hatred and violence.
  • I offer my love and feeling of grief in the form of a mediation. 
  • When I can I drop into the moment with the person or the story and practice listening not solving.
  • I look for actions I can take afterward, in response to the grief – learning more about the story, taking a direct action, and supporting a person or organization.
  • For individuals in my life I am grieving with, I look for simple ways I can show up in support (and ask them first).

Gratitude

  • I notice when my heart is welling up with tenderness. It can be when I watch Lino and Rob dance in the living room or play cars. It can be when Lino is creating a hilarious made-up scenario or when Rob or his sister Lisa is preparing a warm meal.
  • When I feel the tenderness rise up, I notice it if I can.
  • I set down what I was doing just for the moment and take a mental polaroid.
  • I say to myself “THIS” and I say to myself or out loud, “I see you, I appreciate you”


What are the ways you acknowledge grief and loss?
What are the ways you offer appreciation?


I’ve created a guide to help you move forward during this time. Grab the guide here.

Rheanna SmithHow I am preparing before we open back up (it might not be what you expect)
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Simple ways to connect with each other, even virtually

Connections to each other are critical right now. All of us are experiencing a pandemic, along with many accompanying worries and struggles. 

We need each other.

And we can’t see each other… in person or up close. (And some of us are seeing a few people a LOT, up real close… all the time!)

I’ll be real, I fit less into a day than I used to. I am moving slow and I engage less. 

It makes sense that this is where I am at in this stage of a pandemic.

Yet it is a tricky place – less capacity and more need for humans and connection.

If you are like me, you need some new ways or simple reminders of how we can still connect with each other.

Here are a few from me + more ideas from awesome women in a business group I am a part of. (And looking for ways to be alone… I’ve got ideas for that too!)

Ways to connect with family & friends you live with:

  • Play cards, a Board game, do a craft or a puzzle… non-screen activities without high stakes
  • Set aside coffee dates or date nights and turn off the screens & any household tasks or to-do lists
  • Slow down a bit when you are doing things for those you live with – while cooking or making a pot of coffee, think about who you are doing it for, and the care you are offering them
  • Build a short, doable family ritual in the morning – a song you always listen to at the beginning of the day or a brief walk you take together

Connect with friends & family you aren’t seeing in person:

  • Set up longer video calls over dinner or over a morning with a cup of coffee in hand (Zoom, WhatsApp, Houseparty)
  • Send real snail mail – perhaps pictures you have doodled during a zoom call, look at these blank postcards my son & I are decorating. Have a few cards already stamped and ready to send
  • Send short voice texts with text messages or WhatsApp (quicker than texting and fun to receive)
  • Start a picture sending project via text with a friend or group (think of it as the original Instagram, right now I send a real picture of the chaos of our messy house to two friends every few days)
  • Create new groups in text to stay in touch with & give them fabulous labels
  • Play games long distance with friends & family (Jack Box, Psych! etc.)

Connect with your team & co-workers:

You may be with your co-workers or team all the time on Zoom, and some of you are in person in stressful high stakes situations with your co-workers. However, neither of these scenarios guarantee real connection. Take a minute when you can to connect in small ways outside of the immediate work and it will make the work less stressful.

  • Have a co-working day with folks on Zoom, hang out and get work done
  • Add a few enjoyable activities to video meetings like share & tell or playing “highlights” or check-in question (only takes a few minutes and slows down the nonstop work meeting vibe)
  • Set up opportunities for folks to discuss and work in small groups and pairs while on video calls (we can forget that smaller groups even virtually create deeper connection) 
  • Offer office hours on zoom for folks to drop in & ask any questions they have
  • Offer coffee hour on zoom for folks to drop in and connect or other optional group gatherings like games or a poetry writing session
  • Drop off small care packages at your team’s door
  • Check out these helpful reminder phrases to build connection on Zoom work calls
  • In-person (and virtual) – find one small appreciation and offer it to folks on your team, make it a practice to seek out one appreciation per day for a different co-worker

Connect with yourself!

It is quite possible you need time alone and a reminder that it is totally a-okay to burrow in when needed. It is OKAY!

  • Take a walk in the middle of a workday
  • Plug into your earbuds to do the dishes or household tasks and give the fam a heads up that you are checking out for a minute
  • Set aside 4 minutes a day to breathe in and out, use a timer and hide as needed (bathrooms & closets work great)
  • Slow down and make simple things you do already more of a ritual – the coffee making, the egg frying, the teeth brushing
  • Turn off the screens for a few minutes a day

It is OKAY to be less in touch & need to be alone. If you can, let the folks around you or in your community know what you need – you could offer a simple – “I know I have been out of touch, I care about you & just doing my best right now to keep my head above water.” Or to your in-house humans, “I love you and I need to grab some alone time to recharge.”

Feeling alone in your work or community? 

Reach out, send a text, and let someone know you need to talk.

May you find moments of connection with the people in your life and may you find moments of rest and quiet.

What else simple ways are you building connection with others?

Rheanna SmithSimple ways to connect with each other, even virtually
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How to stay open when you are ready to shut the conversation down

My throat tightens and my neck and shoulders pull in toward my back.
She says to me again, “I am wondering if we can talk more about what just happened?”

Everything quickens, my mind jumps, and I think, “What did I do? What is wrong?”

I begin to feel nervous and a bit ashamed.
I do not like feeling ashamed.
And I know for me nervous often leads to anxious.
I do not like anxious… I want this feeling to end quickly, now.
 
I blurt out “oh I know, I know… I didn’t mean to” before she has even finished her second sentence.
Whew that took care of that – now we can move on!
 
Or another time… my heartbeat quickens, my face flushes hot.
This person is telling me their opinion and whoa are they so wrong!
“Oh no you don’t,” I think… “you have no idea… you do not understand the reality of the situation in the least.”
 
I jump in and interject my opinion, explaining the correct way, of course!
 
And they fly back with an even hotter remark about the way we see it. Game on!
Or they clench their jaw and stop talking. And I have won.
 
These could be hypothetical examples of moments when we lose our cool, are about to receive tough feedback, or hear a viewpoint that is completely different than ours.
 
However, they are not hypothetical for me – both instances happened in the last four weeks.

You may relate.
 
My quick response to protect myself from feeling anything does not help anything change nor does it lead to better relationships.
I am working at not going into these states of behavior immediately.
I try to slow down and stay open.
 
When I can stay open, non-defensive and listen, I can: 

  • deepen my connection with colleagues,
  • develop the muscles to stay in moments that are uncomfortable,
  • learn that I can become a more aware & empathetic version of myself.

Here are the steps I take in the middle of a challenging conversation to stay open.


(Oh, did you miss part 1? Check out this video about why we shut conversations down.

I made a downloadable guide just for you (and me) – with the steps I use to stay non-defensive when the conversation gets sticky.
 
A few of my favorite resources are in the guide too!

May we all deepen our ability to engage in rich, fruitful, world changing conversations with each other.

Rheanna SmithHow to stay open when you are ready to shut the conversation down
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Why we shut down when the conversation gets difficult & what to do about it

There is one skill I am using more than any other in this time of Covid, US elections, & racial justice movement building, and no it is not bread baking (although Elino and I are making a scrumptious focaccia these days). 

The skill I continue to need is “how to stay open & non-defensive during a difficult conversation.” I need this skill to maintain relationships with those I love, and to work toward change through long Zoom calls.

Staying open and non-defensive is not always easy for me. 

I continue to learn, practice, fail, & try again. 

I keep trying to change how I show up because I believe if I can be open and non-defensive, I will hear more, learn more, and be a part of bridging the divides in understanding that exist in our world & nation (instead of creating more of them).

I believe this is one of the most important skills for being in loving relationships, building a high-functioning, honest team, and moving toward racial, climate, & economic justice.

I am excited to share what I do and the resources I use to deepen this skill!

Start here with a video about why we usually shut down when the conversation starts to feel hard. And what you can do before you are in a tricky conversation so you have the ability to stay open when it gets heated.


Next week be on the lookout for part 2 with tips for how to stay non-defensive while you are in the middle of an important conversation, plus amazing resources I love, and a cheat sheet!

Rheanna SmithWhy we shut down when the conversation gets difficult & what to do about it
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