Make no mistake

Last week I got to visit the painting studio of a very talented Finnish artist, Fanny Tavastila (check her out on Instagram, I really love her paintings: @fannytavastila). Seeing her space and hearing her talk about her creative process was both interesting and inspirational, but it also gave me food for thought.

One of the things she talked about was how she deals with mistakes. Like when she adds something to a painting and changes her mind, but can’t conceal it completely. Or if something happens and leaves a mark, which can’t be corrected.

What she does is simply let it be a part of the painting. The reason is that any mistakes are part of the creative process and the painting simply wouldn’t be what it is without that process. So she doesn’t worry about it too much. After all, it’s also part of what makes that particular painting unique. It’s part of the story.

This really resonated with me, because isn’t this also true for people? I have made plenty of mistakes in my life – we all have. But when asked what I would do differently if I could do it over again, I’m not sure that I would do anything differently. Even though there are situations I really wouldn’t have minded doing without, without those mistakes I wouldn’t be who I am today. I mean to be honest, the bigger the mistake, the more I learned about me and the world around me.

Besides, I didn’t plan on making mistakes. I was just acting to the best of my knowledge and ability, because that was who I was at the time. Now, luckily, thanks to my mistakes I know better.

But this is actually a problem in society and in many organizational settings today. We aren’t very forgiving of ourselves or of others, and we tend to strive for perfection. We worry about making mistakes at work, even though we are bound to make them if we take risks or develop something new. And we cannot learn new things if we don’t try.

So on the one hand we talk about the learning organization, and on the other hand we don’t really have a lot of patience for mistakes. Although risk taking is seen as a strength, mistakes are seen as a weakness. That, if anything, is a contradiction.

Another thing people often see as a weakness, is asking for help or admitting that they don’t know something. The other night, my husband and I were having another one of our kitchen table discussions, and he was telling me about an article he had read about corporate leaders who struggle when they don’t have all the answers. They often feel alone because they don’t have anyone they can ask for help.

My spontaneous reaction was, well what about their team? That’s why experts are recruited, to solve problems and provide answers to difficult questions so that ‘we’ as an organization can figure out what the way forward is. No one should even expect the leader to have all the answers, but still, apparently, they often don’t feel comfortable asking for help and admitting that they don’t.

Think about it. If you can’t support each other as a team, should it really be called a work community? I mean, to me it doesn’t really sound like a community at all, it sounds more like a random group of people.

But the same goes for others too. It is not only leaders who have trouble admitting they don’t know in the fear of being perceived as weak, or dumb, or just unprepared. What I have found though, is that if you’re wondering about something you should just ask, even if you’re worried it’s a stupid question. If it isn’t clear to you, it probably isn’t clear to others either. And no matter what others may think, the one who actually asks finds out, while the one who doesn’t just continues not to know.

Advertisements

Put your money where your mouth is

Yesterday was the first day of the rest of my life. That’s what it felt like. And Wednesday marked the end of an era. After almost six years with my previous employer, I have changed jobs. Or actually I’m still doing the same job – my research project on men opting out – I’m just doing it at another university.

It feels like a really good move for me. I’m a sociologist and for the first time since I got my PhD, I’m going to be surrounded by sociologists and social psychologists and that feels really exciting. I’ll be meeting new people and finding new opportunities for collaboration. In that way, changing universities before the end of a project is not a bad idea at all, even though it wasn’t originally part of the plan. It will give me the chance to prepare for my next step before I’m actually there.

However, my decision to move was not only based on thoughts of the future. What triggered it all was actually an unfortunate chain of events that made me realize that I simply couldn’t continue working there anymore. The routines (or lack thereof) and practices were so detrimentally against everything I stand for. I make a living researching, writing, and talking about sustainable work solutions, workplace wellbeing, and work environments that are respectful of the individual and their needs. I’ve made it my mission to change organizations for the better, so you can imagine the cognitive dissonance of working in an environment that just didn’t live up to these standards. It felt hypocritical.

Well, I reached a breaking point and decided it was time to put my money where my mouth is. I realized that it was time to expect a sustainable and respectful working environment and culture not only for others but also for myself – for me as an employee.

It hasn’t been easy. Change never is, even if it is good change. In fact, the other day I read something that really resonated with me. It was a post about decision making and how making good decisions can be painful but that you have to push through. And it has been painful, it really has. Especially the limbo I was in before I was able to actually move.

But I know it was the right decision for me. I now look forward to just getting on with it, and to being able to look myself in the mirror and be proud of actually walking the talk.

Shhh… can you hear that? That, my friends, is the sound of me getting back into the driver’s seat!

No offence but… 3 rules of thumb for constructive communication

It never ceases to amaze me how two people who speak the same language can have such trouble understanding each other. I often seem to witness this and find myself translating from one language to the same language. The problem is that people don’t always come across as they intend and the other person doesn’t always hear what’s really being said. It’s a recipe for misunderstanding.

Sometimes we need to raise difficult issues with others, but how do we do this without offending the other person? How can we enable a constructive dialogue? Here are three things that are good to remember:

  1. You’ve probably already learned about sandwiching constructive criticism. This is something that is taught in schools, workplaces, leadership training programs and a number of other places. What you do is sandwich your criticism between positive feedback. By doing so you start by making the other person feel good about him or herself, you then talk about what could be improved, and finally you end with something good, reminding the person that they are appreciated and good at whatever it is they are doing. It’s effective and it’s also just a nice way of going about it.

This is pretty basic, however there are also a couple of other things that are good to remember but that people don’t usually think of:

  1. Pointing fingers really doesn’t help. If somebody’s behavior is irritating or just not desired, you won’t get them to change their behavior by starting your sentence with things like “You always…” or “Why do you always have to…” This feels like an attack and it will most likely end the conversation before it even started. A better strategy is to turn it around and start with yourself. Explain how the behavior makes you feel. For example, try starting your sentence with “I feel uncomfortable when you…”or “”It hurts my feelings when…” or “I get confused if…” or, more for something more work related, “Our business partners don’t understand when…” Talking about your own experience instead of issuing blame is a much better strategy and might even lead to a discussion and a solution to the problem.

 

  1. And finally, one of of my pet peeves. I get frustrated when people say things like “No offense, but…” or “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…” or like what I recently heard, “It’s not that I don’t believe you, but…” It’s amazing how often I hear this and it is a completely disastrous way to start a sentence. When you start with “No offense, but” it makes absolutely no difference what you say after that because offence will already have been taken. When hearing that, what a person really hears is “WARNING! WARNING! What I am about to say is actually going to be very offensive and hurtful and probably also an attack, but I’m trying to be nice about it and I don’t want you to react negatively.” You see the problem here? And ironically, most of the time what follows really isn’t that offensive at all but it comes across as such just by the way it is presented. So if you, for example, don’t love the music that your friend is playing, don’t say “No offense, but this isn’t my favorite music”. Try instead to just say “You know, this isn’t my favorite type of music”. It sounds much less offensive. Because you’re not insulting your friend’s taste in music, your just having a conversation about what kind of music you do and don’t normally listen to. Or instead of saying, “It’s not that I don’t believe you, but could it have been a misunderstanding?” try just saying, “Could it have been a misunderstanding?” Trust me, much less offensive.

So this is something for you to think about and to try. Let’s all do each other a favor and offend each other less so we can start communicating more effectively.

The shocking truth

I’ve experienced something important lately; something I am convinced will finally make a difference.

I belong to a minority; I am a Swedish speaking Finn. That means I am a Finnish citizen, but my mother tongue is Swedish. Of a total population of about 5.5 million Finns, there are about 300 000 people with Swedish as their native language. That is about 6%.

A couple of weeks ago five women from this minority started something big. They felt frustrated by the silence in our community after the #metoo campaign. Although countless women had participated in #metoo and shared experiences of sexual harassment and assault on social media, it didn’t really lead anywhere in our community. It kind of died out and these five women decided something had to be done. In such a small community, where a lot of people know or know of each other, it’s hard to speak out. So they decided to start a private Facebook group and invite as many women as possible to share their experiences of sexual assault and harassment within this Swedish speaking community.

I was added to the group quite early on and just within a couple of days the group grew to over 20 000 members from around the country. That is about 13% of all Swedish-speaking women (and girls) in Finland. Let that sink in for a second, 13% of the women felt this was so important they wanted to be involved. That’s a lot.

People started sharing their stories, many of which they had never breathed a word of to anyone before. For seven days my news feed was filled with almost nothing but these women’s accounts of sexual harassment and assault. It was heart warming to see how members of the group showed nothing but love and support for each other as they shared unspeakable memories and experiences for the first time. But it was also shocking and gut wrenching to read. During seven days over 800 stories were shared and so many of them were horrifying and violent accounts of sexual assault.

During this week it was difficult to even think about anything else. My head was filled with stories of little girls and women of all ages being violently raped, sometimes by complete strangers, but more often than not, by men they knew: relatives, colleagues, so-called friends… I felt sick to my stomach and my heart ached for them. I cried with them and for them when I read about the fear, the pain, and the shame, and although it was incredibly difficult to read, I couldn’t stop. I felt I needed to bear witness to what they had been through out of respect for them. We all need to. We need to acknowledge what they have gone through. We need to understand what goes on in our community and we need to make it stop.

One thing became painfully clear though. It was the fact that whether or not you become the victim of assault really just boils down to luck. Although I have had my share of sexual harassment and been in some deeply disturbing and sometimes scary situations, I have been incredibly lucky because I have never been assaulted the way many of these women and girls had. I realized when reading these stories, that I have been in so many similar situations, but luckily no one ever harmed me the way they had been harmed. What cannot be stressed enough, is that these women and girls did nothing wrong. More often than not it happened in a place they thought they were safe with a person they thought they could trust. The truth is that nothing they did – or could possibly have done – warranted the assault. The only thing that could have stopped it from happening was the assailant himself. The only thing that can stop a rape is if the rapist decides not to rape.

These stories of sexual assault still echo in my mind. Like the story of the woman who was assaulted by a man while his friends cheered him on. Or the countless little girls who were molested by grown-ups they knew and trusted. Or stories of hands and fingers painfully stuffed into underwear and inside bodies completely without warning by strange men. Or the young woman who was pinned down and violently raped by a guy she thought was her friend. Or the woman who woke up with blood all over her bottom…

Gruesome as it is, it’s important that you hear this because if you don’t, you can never appreciate what exactly it is we are dealing with, what it is that so many women go through, and the fear that is a reality for such a large part of the population.

Now imagine that you actually know the people who shared these stories. As I mentioned before, the Swedish speaking community in Finland is quite small, and many of the stories shared were by friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. When it turns out someone you know has gone through something like that, it just makes it so incredibly real.

So look around you. Look at the women and girls in your vicinity. Chances are some of them carry the burden of violent assault, which they are too ashamed to speak about, because this phenomenon is by no means just a Swedish-speaking thing. This is global. Chances are they have never told anyone because they might fear that they won’t be believed or that they will be stigmatized or lose their job. So look around you. How many of the women and girls you know might have experienced such unspeakable things?

Well, after seven days of sharing, empathizing and crying over each other’s pain, many of us – over 6000, more than 4% of all Swedish speaking females – signed a petition and the campaign was made public. Many of the stories have been anonymized and published here: http://www.astra.fi/dammenbrister/

It’s gruesome reading but go and read them anyway if you can (they are in Swedish). These women’s experiences need to be acknowledged and understood. Only if all of us – men and women – really understand what is going on, and the extent to which it is going on, will we manage to create change. Because that is one thing that is for sure, it can simply not go on this way. It has to stop.

#metoo #dammenbrister

You’re not a fraud

I remember when I enrolled as a PhD student and I was in the middle of my own opting out and in process. I had left a career in business where I felt like I knew what I was doing and what was expected of me, and had stepped into the academic world where I hadn’t set foot for years, not since I was a young, inexperienced Master’s student. I went from feeling competent and knowing what was expected of me, to having zero knowledge of what the so-called rules of the game were. Other academics were very welcoming and everyone seemed to take me seriously enough, but still, clichéd as it may sound, I felt like a fraud and that I was going to be found out any minute.

A few months after I enrolled, I was at a gathering at the department at my university and a distinguished professor emeritus wanted to say a few words. She spoke specifically to the new students and verbalized exactly what I had been thinking. She talked about how when she started out, she, like me, felt like a complete fraud, worried that she was going to be found out. She never was found out though, and the reason was of course that she wasn’t any more a fraud that anyone else. With this story she explained to us that this is the way everyone feels. Everyone worries about belonging, about being accepted, and about being taken seriously no matter who they are or how far they have come in their careers. She assured us that we weren’t alone and no matter what we think or feel, we aren’t frauds, that we belong there as much as anyone else, and that we need to remember that always.

I felt so relieved. My worries were acknowledged and I could relax a bit. What a wonderful, thoughtful woman.

A couple of months after that, when I was taking a doctoral course that was taught by a world-renowned scholar, I saw evidence of how this phenomenon that we also know of as imposter syndrome, really does affect everyone. My teacher was not only globally recognized for his research, he was also just a very good teacher. We always had the most interesting discussions in class and he was pedagogical in his methods. He never made me feel like a fraud or that I didn’t belong.

One day during class the energy level had been low among the students. I myself had a severe case of low blood sugar, which just makes it hard to concentrate. By the end of that class, my teacher, the professor, really looked like he was feeling down. It turned out that he felt the class had gone so badly (which it really hadn’t), that he had failed to engage his students, and he started questioning his role in the course (which was central, believe me). I felt bad for him, but it also comforted me to know that even someone, who so obviously has proven that he is good at what he does, can feel that way. It made me see that when I feel that way, it doesn’t mean that I don’t belong or that I’m not good at what I’m doing, but that I’m just human. It’s human to feel that way from time to time.

I was watching an interview with Brené Brown on her new book Braving the Wilderness the other day and she really summed it up quite nicely. She said, “Don’t walk through the world looking for evidence that you don’t belong because you’ll always find it. Don’t walk through the world looking for evidence that you’re not enough because you’ll always find it. Our worth and our belonging are not negotiated with other people.”

So on that note, don’t doubt yourself. Know that you belong anywhere you want to belong, and most importantly, you’re not a fraud.

Who to trust

As I write this, the US is still sleeping with only a few hours to go until they wake up to the day of the inauguration of their new president. I don’t usually get involved in political debates on my blog and neither will I now. However, I don’t think recognizing that what Trump represents and the rhetoric he uses is problematic and often hateful, is taking a political stand. It’s rather adopting an ethical and humanitarian perspective.

But what has been happening in the US certainly isn’t unique. It is part of a trend that we have been seeing for a while now, in the Western world anyway. And with upcoming elections in Europe, I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen the last of it. Although this development has been and continues to be awful and scary, we can only hope that if anything good comes from it, it is a realization that we just have to do something. All of us. We cannot just sit around and think that the problem is somewhere else. It is here, it is among us, and whether we like it or not we are all a part of the society that has created this. So if anything good is to come of all of this, it is people coming together as active citizens, with a will to work to make all of our countries more humane places.

As a citizen I find these developments horrifying and highly worrisome. However as a sociologist I have to say I also observe them with interest, because based on what social theorists have been saying for years, this really isn’t very surprising.

There is something about the way of the world, which is different from anything experienced before. As Anthony Giddens writes in his book Runaway World: How Globalisation is Reshaping Our Lives, “We live in a world of transformations, affecting almost every aspect of what we do. For better or for worse, we are being propelled into a global order that no one fully understands, but which is making its effect felt upon all of us.”

Technology has played a huge part in this. It has made the flow of information instantaneous and without boundaries; it has made the world a smaller place. However technology, the information age, and new forms of media – like social media – have also helped create a new power center. We are all involved in creating and spreading news, and we are also involved in deciding what news is spread. This in turn creates a distorted world image, one effect of which is an overestimation of risk. Ulrich Beck coined the expression ‘risk society’, which he defines as our way to systematically deal with the insecurities and hazards that modernization has brought.

What this means in practical terms, is an inevitable questioning of the very foundation of our society. No longer do we trust authorities. No longer do we trust doctors to know what’s best for our health. The world has become a scary place with an overload of information, and we just don’t know what to believe anymore. On top of this, there is a lot of false information going around the internet, and unfortunately this false information gets a lot of clicks spreading it even further. And let’s be honest, most of us aren’t very good at recognizing what is false and what is trustworthy. So we trust no one. Or we decide ourselves what is true and what isn’t. Or we believe populist leaders who promise some relief by saying that all this is crap and that they will make life (or America in Trump’s case) great again.

It’s worrying.

So we are definitely living in a time of crisis. But a crisis can also bring with it creativity, clarity, and change. Let’s do that. Let’s use this crisis in a constructive way. And let’s do it together.

Reinventing the New Year’s Resolution

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. And every year I’m sort of surprised what a big deal they still seem to be. I’m like, what? Do people actually still make New Year’s resolutions? Even though we know that most of them fail by the end of February? Well, judging by all the campaigns, ads, books, and products for a new/better/healthier you that I see all over the place, they really still seem to be quite hip – or at least a great sales opportunity.

It makes you wonder. Why is it, that come January, so many people want to change who they are and how they live? We seem to suffer from a collective bad conscience regarding weight, habits, and lifestyle choices. And according to Meenakshi Gigi Durham, author of The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It (a very good book by the way, I recommend it warmly), manufacturers depend on this. Through advertising, manufacturers and advertisers create myths and goals, like unnatural body ideals to name one, which by definition are impossible to achieve ensuring that consumers, especially female consumers, keep coming back for more in the hope of finally achieving what has been promised. Even though they are striving for the impossible, if they think and hope it is possible, I guess it is no surprise if they feel that they just aren’t trying hard enough. However, unfortunately, if that is the case, no New Year’s resolution will do the trick either.

But have you considered this: maybe you don’t need to change; maybe you just need to give yourself a break? What if New Year’s resolutions fail so often because they mostly focus on things we may not really want to do anything about anyway? So here’s a thought, maybe we should stop obsessing about ourselves and instead focus on others. Maybe our resolutions need to be about spending more time with family and making a greater effort to gather and keep in touch with friends. Or maybe they should be about helping people we don’t even know but who really need help. This sounds like it might be much more fun and as an extra bonus it may just make us feel so good about things that we end up sticking to our resolutions. Think about it. Instead of turning inwards, let’s make resolutions that aren’t just about us.