All posts by Joanie Connell

REAL Connected Women of Influence: Interview with Michelle Bergquist

Women Lead Radio logo  Listen to Women Lead Radio as Joanie Connell, your host of REAL Life Lessons, has a conversation with Michelle Bergquist, CEO & Co-Founder of Connected Women of Influence, on how you can be a REAL woman of influence.  Listen here.

Highlights:

Michelle acknowledges that business is competitive and gives suggestions for how we can still support each other, in spite of the fact that women haven’t been as supportive of each other as men.

Michelle talks about how she’s had to experience “epic failure” to get to success.

Michelle also talks about how to balance authenticity with confidence.

It’s a great show, listen in!

 

The key to knowing when to be right or let it go

Disagree Or Agree Directions On A SignpostWhat’s negative one squared (-12)?  If you learned math in school before 2009, you probably said “1.”  If you learned math once the Common Core was implemented, you would say the answer is “-1.”  A friend of mine spent an entire 4-day weekend visit with his family arguing about the answer to this problem, trying to prove he was right.  When he returned and I asked him how his trip was, he continued his tirade on me.  Even after I agreed with him, he persisted to prove that he was right to the point where I made up an excuse to leave because I was tired of hearing about it.

Do you ever find yourself so caught up in proving that you’re right that you end up alienating everyone around you?  I hear this a lot when I’m coaching technical people.  Of course, they don’t use those words.  They say things like, “people don’t understand my enthusiasm” or “I don’t understand why people are so sensitive” or “some of the people on my team are not that smart.”  Those who are more forgiving to the people around them say something like, “I just can’t help myself” or “I have to be right; I mean, it’s so important to be right in your work, isn’t it?”

Let’s stop right there because that brings up a very important question.  When is it essential to be right and when is it better to let it go?  We all know that with family or with a significant other, we have to let it go sometimes to keep peace in the relationship.  The same holds true at work.  Yet, sometimes it’s harder to do it there.  Why is that?

Usually we argue for our position at work because we feel we’re hired for our knowledge or expertise and we need to prove that we’re right to prove our value to the team.  But sometimes, the relationship is more important.  In fact, quite often, that’s true.  Research shows better work relationships lead to greater employee engagement, organizational loyalty, job satisfaction, productivity, and prosocial behavior.  Strong relationships also help people get things done faster, more efficiently, and more collaboratively.

You can still be right, but do it in a diplomatic fashion, and don’t keep telling people you’re right.  It’s also okay to disagree sometimes.  There are many ways to disagree without damaging a relationship.  You can say “I can see how you’d see things differently from your perspective” or “I don’t think we’re going to come to an agreement right now so let’s agree to disagree” or “you have some really good points and I’d like for us both to give this some more thought before making a decision.”

happy school girl on math classesSometimes there is no right answer, like with the Common Core math example.  We all learned in school that (-1) x (-1) = +1.  The difference is, that with Common Core math, they follow a different order of operations than people did previously.  Whereas older people were taught to keep the negative number intact and break up (-12) into (-1) x (-1), younger people were taught to break up “-1” into (-1) x (1).  They use the PEMDAS order of operations, which is parentheses-exponents-multiplication-division-addition-subtraction and, since exponents come before multiplication, the problem becomes 12 x (-1) which equals “-1.” So that’s how you get the difference and the answer is there are two correct answers.

For most technical people, it’s hard to believe there can be two opposing correct answers to a math problem.  We, engineers, for example, are used to thinking in binary, in black and white, right and wrong.  But there are two right answers out there and we have to find a way to mutually respect that we can solve things in different ways and it still works.  And there’s no sense in arguing about it.

 

The Missing Component that Nerds Need to Succeed

woman it engineer in network server roomAs an engineering student, I missed out on certain parts of the education that my friends seemed to get in college.  I took the requisite number of core courses, like English and social studies, but my curriculum was mostly filled with science, math, and engineering classes.  While my friends were writing papers, I was working on problem sets and computer programs.  I received a great education in engineering and science, but I didn’t get as much training in writing and speaking.  When I graduated I had to play catch-up.  Does this sound familiar to you?

Honestly, I can’t blame college for my stunted developmentStudent in glasses with books in communication.  It was my own doing.  I wasn’t interested in reading the mind-numbing classics or writing tedious papers.  I wanted to learn how to make things that were useful and solve problems that mattered.  After graduation, I achieved my dream and went to straight to work as a design engineer in Silicon Valley.

But when I got there, I realized that completing problem sets and computer programs didn’t teach me how to communicate with other team members, manage my visibility, interact with sales and marketing, or see the end-user’s perspective.  These were all skills I had to learn to be successful at work.  I had graduated from Harvard and my education was lacking.  How could that be?

It turns out, I’m not alone.  This is very typical of people in STEM.  We become technical experts at the expense of learning people skills.  There’s no blame there.  It’s hard—impossible, in fact—to be good at everything.  We all have to choose what to specialize in.  Some focus on the people at the expense of technical skills.  It works both ways.

Businesswoman talking on cell phone in officeBut we’re finding that we all need to have some skills outside of our expertise.  People-people need to learn technology to survive in today’s world just as technical people need to learn people skills.  We don’t have to be masters at everything.  But we do need to learn just enough to get by.

That’s why I developed the Reinventing Nerds program specifically to help technical people develop communication skills.  I get it that you don’t want to be smooth-talking, manipulative, or touchy-feely.  You just want to be able to work effectively in a team, manage your manager, and understand the end-user’s perspective to get your product designs right.  I know.  I’m a nerd too.

Is Helicopter Parenting Causing School Shootings?

angry kidLet me start by saying that we clearly have a gun problem in our society.  But running with the knee-jerk reaction of banning them and protecting people is only a Band-Aid solution.  It’s what got us here in the first place.

Has anyone else noticed that mass school shootings started with the Millennials?  No, I’m not saying that Millennials are the problem.  It’s the adults who raised them.  That’s all of us—parents, teachers, lawmakers, and so on.  We’re the ones who disempowered a whole generation of children and we’re continuing to disempower the next generation too.  The Z Generation are the victims of the Florida shooting and the shooting every three days since the year started.

Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man to Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.  –Chinese Proverb

We live in a dangerous world with lots of dangerous things.  Shielding kids from the dangers of the world only makes them at higher risk of being hurt by them.  Eventually, they will venture—or sneak—out on their own when you’re not there to protect them and they are more likely to get hurt if they don’t know what they’re doing.  Teaching kids how to protect themselves from danger and why it is important to their well-being allows them to develop judgment which will serve them throughout life.

Sticks and stones may break my bones

But names will never harm me.  –Nursery Rhyme

By protecting and mandating good behavior we’ve set up a situation where there is no tolerance for imperfection.  Kids at school have to sit still, get good grades, and be nice to each other at all times.  Even though competition is fierce, children have to be inclusive and never express a negative sentiment.  Teachers too.  If you slip up even once, you’re out.

Think about the pressure this creates.  Imagine a steam engine with no vents.  If you keep adding pressure with no outlets, eventually you’ll have an explosion.  People are the same way.  Research shows that bottling up emotions can make people more aggressive and that diffusing them may help avoid lethal violence.

Kids need to be able to express their anger and aggression.  They need to be able to fight, to call each other names, to yell at each other, and to cry, feel pain, and get back up again.  This is how they develop a healthy constitution.  Prohibiting kids from feeling any pain and expressing all aggression is what’s leading to unhealthy eruptions.  Boys shoot and kill others.  Girls cut and kill themselves.  Both of these problems are at an all-time high.

Kids are remarkably resilient if we let them be.  When we shield them and protect them and do things for them we are creating little monsters.  Look at Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for classic examples of kids gone awry from misdirected parents.

What our country needs right now is less control and more empowerment.  We don’t need to ban free speech and guns.  We need to teach people how and when to use them appropriately.  Stop helicoptering and start empowering.