Connecting the dots between customers, colleagues and community
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

February 2012
MP new head shot Greetings Clients, Colleagues and Community,

What I love about the month of February is that the rush of the recent holiday season has passed and we are back in the groove of living our lives and doing what we do to contribute, make meaning, have fun, be healthy and whatever else may come along.

It is the month where we begin to get real traction on our plans, initiatives and ideas. Every other person I speak to seems energized by what is new, the progress being made, and the ideas that are percolating.

In the spirit of February Forward, here are some ideas to help you engage, influence and activate!

Mari Pat Varga

The Introvert Advantage
The Power of Shyness

In TIME magazine's February 6, 2012 issue, the cover story by Bryan Walsh is titled The Upside of being an Introvert (and why extroverts are overrated).

As a self-identified introvert who is often called upon to tap into my extrovert reserve by the work I do, I found the reference to Harvard research psychologist and superstar academic lecturer, Brian Little,  very interesting.  Mr. Little describe that he "pushes through the constraints of his temperament because the value of lecturing and speaking - and truly connecting to his students - trumps the discomfort of his introversion."

He calls this phenomenon Free Trait Theory:  the idea that while we have certain fixed bits of personality, we can act out of character in the service of personal goals.  The key, he says, is balancing three equal but very different identities:
  • Biogenic Identity: Our inborn personality (introvert or extrovert)
  • Sociogenic Identity:  Expectations of our culture, family and religion.
  • Ideogenic Identity:  Our personal desires and our sense of what matters.

Famous "shy person" Garrison Keillor, radio host of a Prairie Home Companion says it differently, "I was a very ordinary sort of shy person-the gangly introverted adolescent from a strict fundamentalist background-an American classic-and what got me out of the downward spiral was a natural craving for attention that spurred me to write, and to go into radio (a perfect medium for a shy person), and then to read my writing in public, and then to do the show. A gentle ramp and there were all sorts of kind people along the way to keep me from slipping off." 


As a speech coach, I often work with client's whose nerves derail them.  I share these tidbits today because I think it is helpful to understand what makes up your placement on the temperament spectrum and recognizing that one can rise to anyway occasion despite your natural tendencies.  Begin by getting on that gentle ramp. 


Can your office communicate?
Use your work environment to tell your story.

What does your office say about you?  Does it adequately convey your personality and interests?

What you display in your office environment can give others a short cut to who you are and can help stimulate casual conversation and break the ice.

Recently I met a colleague at her office and was surrounded by great conversation starters:
  • Family photos
  • A fishing pole
  • Favorite books
  • A childhood stuffed animal
  • A New England Patriots Banner 

Each of these items (some typical, some unusual) represented something to her - her work/ life balance philosophy; what matters most; the value of silliness, and more.  She shared that these items always evoke great conversation and while they reveal something about her, they also bring out stories in others. 

3 things to do before your open your mouth to speak
  1. Take a breath before responding to any question.  It will give you a moment to formulate your answer and the pause will engage your listener more than an immediate response.
  2. Establish eye contact with your listener.  This will create a stronger connection, garner you more attention and demonstrate your sincerity.
  3. Make sure your posture is confident and aligned - whether you are sitting or standing - not only will it aid the quality of your voice it will bring energy to the conversation. 
Keeping a Journal
Your memory magnet

After reading Diane Keaton's memoir, Then Again, I was reminded of the power of keeping a journal.  Diane's mother wrote about her life and those she loved and it provided great perspective and solace for Diane as she reviewed and reflected on her own choices and decisions.

As we enter this New Year, consider doing more journal writing.  Writing, even if it is a paragraph or a single sentence a day forces us to be present and pay attention to our lives.  Our reflections and memories can be a source of comfort and clarity for ourselves and those we interact with everyday.

If you have a hard time getting started, consider picking up a copy of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird - a great guide to entering the world of words.  Here's what she said:

"Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship."
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life


Wake up your readers
Open and close your email messages in new and different ways

We've all done it.  Out of habit we begin our emails with worn and weary phrases like:  "I hope you are well"  "Its been a long time since we spoke" or end with "See you soon" or Until next time."  There is nothing inherently wrong with those sentiments except that they are so common their true intent is diminished.

Better is to surprise your readers with the unexpected.  Begin and end with a phrase that is new and different.  I discussed this topic recently with colleague, Michael Fencil of MKD Wealth Coaches in Auburn Hills, MI. He shared, "Many of the closings and openings I use are based on the nature of the email.  Is it gratitude, confirmation, information exchange, etc?  Here are a few ways I have signed off:
  • Wishing you a peaceful and productive day,
  • Enjoy today,
  • I anticipate your reply,
  • Live with purpose,
  • Make the most of today,
  • Keep building, 
As far as openings to a letter or email, here are a few thoughts:
  • You were on my mind and I...
  • While I was thinking the other day, you came to mind and I wanted to....
  • The days quickly roll into weeks and like that a month passes...
  • I always appreciate                           about you...
  • I'm curious to hear how you are doing...
Thanks Mike, great ideas!  How can you surprise your readers with your next email?


Have you taken your relationship's temperature today?
How to keep your communication flowing

Author and family therapist, Virginia Satir developed a technique for couples to keep their communication up-to-date.  Clear, regular communication is needed to live and/or work together with satisfaction and joy.

Her advice is to take a temperature reading on each other once a day.  The basic format to follow is:
  • Appreciation:  When you see something in your partner you appreciate it, express it.
  • New Information:  Provide routine information about what is going on in your lives -work, mutual concerns, interests or friends.
  • Puzzles:  If there are things you don't understand that your partner could clarify, ask for clarification.
  • Complaints with Requests for Change: Instead of blaming or being  judgmental, simply say, "This thing happened that bothered me, and I would feel better if you did this other thing instead."
  • Wishes, Hopes and Dreams:  Take time to reflect on what you want -- from yourself, your partner and from life.

For more information, read "Passage to Intimacy" by Virginia Satir. 

February Forward!  If I can assist you with any of your communication, coaching or culture building goals, give a call today!

All the best,
Mari Pat Varga
Varga & Associates, Inc.
Chicago / / / (773) 989-7348