3 ways in which language influences us & undermines our competence

When we hear the words language and influence, we usually think of great speakers like Martin Luther King, Kevin Spacey or Tony Robins…. People who moved hearts, shifted mindsets and inspired millions of people to make a change. What we rarely realize though: the words we say to ourselves everyday – the inner voice – influences us even stronger and with a more lasting impact.

On average, we say 16.000 words per day (no significant difference between men and women, by the way). And that’s just a fraction of the vast amount of words that are living inside our heads.

The words we choose to say to ourselves and to others have two effects:

  1. The words we tell ourselves everyday influence our feelings, behavior and shape our personality
  2. By communicating with the outside world, we show our personality

You are what you tell yourself day in and day out

Language influences us from the very beginning of our lives. Our parents choose the language(s) we learn as a child. With our mother tongue, we inherit a huge catalog of cultural values and socially constructed norms. In addition, we let our experience and our feelings slip into our language – whether we want or not. Most of these things happen unconsciously – but it doesn’t mean we can’t change it!

The language we learn as a child even influences how we perceive the world. Example: In the Russian language, there are two distinct words for light blue and blue. Researchers could prove that native Russian speakers can distinguish the vast variety of blue shades more precisely than others.

The language as a therapist

Our language gives so much away about ourselves – and if we learn to listen and decode, we can understand ourselves better. Words are like a very skillful psychotherapist – they know your struggles and can direct you onto a better path.

Even though we may not be consciously focusing on our self-talk, our subconscious mind is listening to everything we say to ourselves!

The subconscious mind accepts all of our words as the truth without any filter! If you allow bad self-talk like “I’m a failure at xy” it equals junk-food that you ingest daily. Over a certain period of time you get sick!

These 3 tips will help you understand how your language impacts your life – and how others perceive you through it

Read the full article on my LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/3-ways-which-language-influences-us-undermines-our-marina-zayats

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Storytelling is a superpower: Use it for personal branding with these 5 tips

A proverb says: “Those who tell the stories, rule the world”. Obviously history shows that skillful storytellers can use that skill to either create value for humanity or harm.

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of art and communication and while the digital revolution introduced a huge variety of new ways to construct and transport information, compelling narratives are still one of the most powerful communication tools out there.

Why are stories so powerful?

Good stories cut through mountains of content, create meaning where there was only data and have the power to change our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Researchersfound out that character-driven stories shown on video, increased the oxytocin level in viewers. A hormone that is responsible for our empathy. When we hear or see a good story, we feel connected to it in a certain way and we are more likely to share information that is shaped as an engaging story!

No wonder that Marketers have discovered this powerhouse of influence to engage and win potential customers, build their brand awareness and reputation, court new talents like Heineken does impressively or reduce the damage of corporate scandals.

A recent Harvard Business Review article concluded that in our age of information saturation, telling a good story is essential to being heard.

So no matter what kind of business you are involved in, storytelling is an essential skill to build your own personal brand!

How to tell stories to shape and enhance your personal brand!

Whether you are writing a personal branding statement for your website, writing a key note speech or practicing public speaking: these hacks will help you to harness the power of good storytelling!

  1. Start with a message 

When you plan a story, you should ask yourself: Who is my audience and what is the message I want to share with them? Good stories are easy to follow because they have a good and simple storyline. Don’t try to put your entire life in one story! Focus on the key takeaways and your mission! That’s the core that people will remember after your speech or written story. Draw the basic lines first before coloring the rest in and around it!

Practice: Write down words and phrases that should describe your personal brand. Once you got that, you can start building a story around it that encompassed these words and underlines the key message they carry!

2. Make it stick!

We often think that in the business world, only facts and figures matter. But that’s only a small fraction of the things that actually matter. You won’t be heard unless you’re telling good stories because plain facts just don’t stick in our memory! It’s the emotionstransported via stories that make our words stick!

Practice: How does the story you’ve written so far feel like? Are these emotions in tune with the message you want to share? Share the story beforehand with friends or colleagues to see whether they feel what you feel!

3. Tap into people’s curiosity

Questions can be super powerful, especially in a key note speech. People are genuinely curious. Asking (provoking) questions does not only help you to get attention but also to structure a good story! Build in questions where they make sense to give your story a structure, bring listeners back on board who drifted apart for a minute and keep them engaged throughout the rest of the speech!

4. Picture perfect!

Good storytellers take their audience on a journey – even without video or slide support! They illustrate their stories by describing what they saw in that certain situation or what they could smell and hear. Using metaphors is also a great tool to do that!

Example 1: Upon entering the office building, I made my way to the receptionist who asked me where I wanted to go. I was super nervous!

Example 2: Upon entering the enormous, clean and sophisticated office building, I instantly felt even more nervous. I could hear my high-heels making unwelcomed noise on the cold marble floor. The handsome receptionist greeted me with a plastic smile and asked me where I wanted to go.

Pretty much the same facts but a different feeling, right? Through the visual style in example 2, the audience is basically following me and can “feel” the situation more easily. This is very valuable if you want to underline a certain message or make your story stick! Emotions stick as we learned in #2. Pictures do that, too!

5. Play with your voice!

The voice that transports the story can be just as important as the story itself!

When I was 4, I would watch Hollywood movies that were synchronized in Russian as I couldn’t understand a word in English by that time. The problem was: in the early 90s, Russia didn’t had a sophisticated sync tradition yet and therefore there was only one person for the entire movie synchronizing all the characters! What was even worse than seeing a young girl talking with the voice of a man: the tone and speed kept the same throughout the entire movie! You know people who put their audiences to sleep with such a technique!

The cure: play with your voice. See it as a piano! You’re telling a story with ups, downs, highlights etc. Practice this! I listend to audiobooks that help me to use my voice skillfully and consciously. Most of the time we’re not even aware of the importance of our voice – don’t make that mistake.

“It’s not information overload; it’s filter failure.” Productivity in the Industry 4.0

Our work environment is designed to distract us. In a highly interconnected world it feels as if everything and everyone is seeking your attention – you are a small part in someone else’s long supply chain! But not only of one person – but maybe of 10, 30 or 100…If the number of supply chains we’re involved in reaches a certain threshold, we tend to suffer of “information overlaod” and the typical feeling of stress that comes with it.

With around 929 million Business email accounts worldwide and over 100 billion emails sent and received each day in a business context alone, it is no wonder that we juggle with more information than the brain is configured to handle. Our conscious mind can focus on three, maybe four things at once. If we are forced to focus on more things simultaneously, we begin to exercise poorer judgment, lose track of things and lose our focus.

But is it really the information overlaod part that makes us feel overwhelmed, unfocused and stressed? Or is it maybe the fact that most of us haven’t learned yet to establish a proper filter that helps us navigate the many requests, opportunities and informations that we receive on a daily basis? The information balloon is going to blow up over the years tremendously, so what can we do?

1. Clear your mind

Productivity guru David Allen and author of the book “The organized mind”, recommends to throw out everything out of your head that is floating around there. What are the to-do’s, questions, calls etc. you keep thinking about? Ease your mind by creating an extensive list of everything floating around your head.

Also, be prepared to immediately note down thoughts that interrupt either your work flow or leisure time. Writing things down gets them out of your head, just like cleaning your desktop or dropbox. You see a clearer picture and reduce the level of stress.

Once written down, prioritize the items into these categories: do today, delegate, do this week, and drop.  Make those items actionable and break them down in smaller, more concrete tasks if necessary.

2. Combine similar tasks

It may sound tempting to switch after 10 min when doing a routine task that is not bringing you flow but has to be accomplished anyway – everytime you switch though, you loose efficiency and time. In order to use the synergy of those small tasks, group them into categories like “paying bills” or “catch up by email after networking event” – this way you finish them faster and also they disappear from your to-do list, which helps to achieve #1!

3. Be a master over your emails 

Psychologist Glenn Wilson found that having an unread email in your inbox while you’re trying to complete a task can chop 10 points off your effective IQ.  According to his research, multitasking is even more of a detriment to memory and our ability to concentrate than smoking pot is.

Many people have their e-mail programs set to put through arriving e-mails automatically or every five minutes. Let’s assume you’re checking every 5 minutes – that makes 200 times a day!

Set aside 3 or 4 times of day for email. Yes, sometimes there are emergencies which require quick correspondence – maybe that’s the time to reach for the phone instead?

4. First things first – take advantage of your morning energy

Despite individual preferences, our biological clock claims: concentration and focus is highest before noon. Make the best out of it by starting your working day with the most important and difficult tasks on your daily to-do list. It can be also the most unpleasant task – which certainly will clear your mind for the rest of the day.

5. Really do use that timer…

You make have heard of the Parkinson’s Law before: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” or put differently: set yourself a timer for a task that is predictable and try to finish before the alarm goes off. This is not only satisfying when you finish earlier but also increase your productivity and decrease distraction – the same effect as during tests. Many productivity apps and online to-do lists like Trello have an integrated pomodoro timer.

6. Reset your brain

Each decision we make today, consumes a bit of our glucose. Our brains operate in two modes: One mode directs your thoughts, the other has no script so your thoughts run themselves. The directing mode allows us to get work done but we can’t stay in that mode all day long. At some point our thoughts start to wander. In daydreaming mode one thought melds into another without us consciously directing it. You may regard this as an unwelcome thing during your working hours but daydreaming is like a reset button and refills some of the glucose you use up in making decisions and staying on a task.

It can also spark creativity. The thoughts wander from one to the next, creating links between ideas we might not have seen as linked before, and from that may come the solutions to a problem.

Instead of fighting it, allow yourself to daydream if you feel that your concentration is decreasing. Again, a timer can be helpful here. Take for example 10 minutes between tasks…in addition to being more concentrated, you may even come up with an innovative solution!

7. Authorize and delegate

The last one if for managers and/or perfectionists who suffer from information overlaod because they want everything to be “done yesterday” and overdeliver- learn to delegate and authorize others. Trust subordinates and colleagues -you can’t oversee everything and you shouldn’t. Besides, most people like to have at least some autonomy at work – even when they are interns. Learn to trust and – very crucial – to communicate tasks/request accurately and briefly. Also, most people like to help – so get the help from colleagues if you feel that there is too much on your plate. Sometime even the best filters are not enough to deal with the information overlaod processing!

It’s the age of talents: engineer your own job opening

Industry 4.0, talent shortage, employer branding, demographic shifts and candidate centricity. All buzzwords which we see a lot when we read about the labor market of the future and especially in these days, when the world leaders are meeting to discuss the outcome of these trends at the World Economic Forum 2016. Undoubtedly, the world is changing at a speed and scale which we never have seen before, bringing lots of change. As with so many changes, this one poses an opportunity – or an obstacle, depending how you deal with it.

The opportunity for talents lies within flexibility, lifetime learning, mobility, developing an individual career path etc. The downside could be a lack of job security and the need for constant qualification as technology and labor market requirements are changing rapidly. In this new realm, we, the talents, have gained a new power. A power that we suddenly “gained” through the global talent shortage that is about to get even bigger. Already today, about 38% of companies worldwide say they have difficulties filling jobs!

So, what do we do with this power? The first step would be to get a job that excites you everyday, right? Talking of which – how did you get your last job? Was it a contact that could make an introduction to your current employer? Did you skim several hundrets job ads and applied online? Have you attended a job fair?

This is the conventional path that most people choose to find a job – and there is nothing wrong with it – it worked after all for many people. There is only one thing that makes these methods seem quite at odds with current labor market developments described above and therefore inefficient: Talent Shortage, the so-called “war-of-talent” or the “Human Age“, which describes “talents” as the main resource for companies to increase their competitive advantage. Finding, developing and retaining talent is not only part of the HR department anymore. This task started to appear on the agenda of CEO’s, CTO’s, CMO’s and other management departments. Employer Branding is the keyword of the year with many companies trying to identify every benefit they have to polish it and afterwards “sell” it to potential candidates.

So if we, the talents (let it be a good college degree or a good training paired with drive), are so in demand, then why are we choosing application methods that mostly suck? Filling out long application forms on websites that might crash any minute while you’re thinking to yourself: “Why can’t you (#%&/)), (fill in corporation of your choice) just look at my carefully prepared CV? The same applies to tedious career fairs.

“But there is no other way to reach my dream employer” you say? Let’s think about the unconventional path for a minute.

  1. You know what you want to do, in which industry and where. This is enough to find several companies you can imagine working at! Make a list.
  2. Take a close look at the companies. What is their culture, their main topics? Can you find the pain points of the department you’d like to work at?
  3. Define what you can bring into that company. Clear, precise, pro-active and goal oriented! Write it down. Why wait for a job opening for your dream job? But please do not call it an unsolicited application (especially in the subject line) –> it goes right into trash at most HR departments.
  4. Research the head of the department of interest. LinkedIn is a great resource.
  5. Write him or her a message with the content of #3 and explain how you can help – and why you’re the right fit. Explain your interest in the company (which is the reason why you’re writing even if though there is no job ad. Include your CV and some good references. What else can you bring to the table besides good grades? Example: you see that they have a corporate blog or facebook page which needs some polish. Mention it! The trick here is to make is actionable. If you say you speak French but the company obviously doesn’t need it, then it’s useless (for them). This bold approach shows an employer that you have drive, guts and will to take the unconventional path. Innovation is a sought after skill after all!
  6. Take some risk! Include something personal. Of course you shouldn’t go overboard with very private details of your life, but give the other person something to identify with.
  7. Polish it! Your first, second,thirst and probably even 10th draft will suck and still contain grammar mistakes. Take the time to go over it until you feel it’s you speaking in the email.
  8. Comment: Of course this approach works better in certain industries than in others. Finance and management consulting might not be the right industries to try this approach. But many other industries, like HR, marketing, etc. are worth the fun.

How did I came came up with this and why did it work for me? When I just finished my Master’s in marketing in London, friends of mine invited me to spend the summer with them in San Francisco. I was thrilled and ready for the adventure. At the same time I wanted to explore the start-up scene in Silicon Valley and get some first hands-on experience in the marketing world. So I started applying. Most of the start-ups there either did not have the job ads I was looking for or required a US citizenship/work permit. I couldn’t offer neither of it. I had to find a start-up with my envisioned internship opening that would at the same time organize a work permit for me. My chances seemed slim, but I got started. I wrote to more than 80 start-ups, following the steps described above. I got some rejections, but most of the companies didn’t answer at all. Except for 3. I had a skype interview with all of them and then decided on one.The feedback I got from all three of them: we had to talk to you – your “application” was bold! I spend three wonderful month at WahWah networks, a startup in the heart of San Francisco, gaining first marketing experience while enjoying the bay area life.

So, what are you waiting for? The power is your’s!

 

What I learned from 15 years of journal writing

I started writing a journal when I was 12 (now I’m 25). I’ve always enjoyed writing and in the beginning it also served as a creativity outlet (very colorful journals with glitter, stickers etc!). With 16, I started to realize that these little treasures between two hardcovers had more to give than I initially thought. Going back 3 , 5 or even 10 years, allowed me to recall forgotten experiences and linking my present self to my past self by simply reading my thoughts when I was younger. It also turned out to be a very helpful tool to see patterns in my thoughts and my life in general — being aware of those patterns, was the first step to change them or develop them further.

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  1. Journal excerpt: “Now that I think about it while writing my application: I can’t offer the “hard tools” like a large network in that industry or 10 years of experience, but I have many tools in my tool box I can develop further … maybe that’s just as valuable?” Instead of acquiring resources only, focus on resourcefulness! Resources, like money, business partners, etc. can come and go and while its important to keep those in mind, too— don’t forget to cultivate your resourcefulness, too. Resourcefulness is about adopting to new situations, keeping an open mind and just be willing to experiment.
  2. Journal excerpt: “I’m pretty content with my journey so far, but every time I see someone in my network who have achieved way more than I do, I stop and think what I’ve done wrong..” If you feel the desire to track your “success”, don’t let the comparison with others be your ultimate yard stick. Some say “Comparison is the root of all unhappiness” — I felt this unwelcome feeling many times. School, university, hobbies and even advertisements-they all render very potent fields for comparison with others. While it motivated me to accomplish new goals and push forward, it also made me feel frustrated and sad when I was performing poorly comparing to others. When I realized that, I started focusing on my own growth only. This was not only more rewarding but also allowed me to see the next steps instead of feeling lost.
  3. Journal excerpt: “It took me some time to regain confidence in my own abilities and strengths.” Transitions often come with doubts. Sometimes it‘s a break-up, sometimes it’s as new work environment where you feel small and unexperienced, sometimes it’s a significant financial loss. Self-confidence (at least to me) came only through mastering tough situations. I really think of it as a muscle which we can train.
  4. Journal excerpt: “I felt insecure and not at the top of my game that day — I just got refused for a job I felt excited about and didn’t feel any motivation to continue sending applications”. Having a healthy self-confidence doesn’t mean you will always feel confident about yourself. There will always be moments where you feel insecure. It helped me to realize that this feeling comes and goes (just like most other feelings, too) and that I shouldn’t bother concentrating on it.
  5. This goes hand in hand with #1: Ego! Why do we want to compare ourselves with others, why do we want to be “better”? It’s because we have this drive in us to be and do something “special”. Our ego can be a pretty nasty thing — while it can be a motor in life, it can also lead to feelings of depression, frustration and anger (towards others and ourselves). Sometimes, we make stupid decision based on our ego. I studied finance major for 2 years in my bachelors because I wanted to work in investment banking, which I regarded as very prestigious at that time. Pretty soon I realized though that finance is not something that brings me joy. Today, I ask myself WHY do I want to start a new project? If I can’t see any benefit in it beside an ego stroke, I’m out.
  6. ASK many fucking questions! When I was younger, I was too afraid to ask questions. I was afraid at school and beyond to ask questions, out of fear I might be labeled as stupid. Especially the basic questions are crucial. If you don’t get the answers to those one, you are making your further learning pretty inefficient & unpleasant.
  7. Take care of yourself first. Although that may sound selfish , it is actually a prerequisite to help others. You know these security instructions on planes, right? First, you have to pull the oxygen mask over yourself before you help kids and other people in need. This is true for many other situations in life. Like many others, I have a desire to help people in need (not just with 2 Euros but on a larger scale like famous philanthropists) . The truth is though: You can’t help anyone unless you help yourself first (make sure you are in good health, financially stable, mentally healthy etc.).
  8. Journal excerpt: “If I’m honest with myself, I spend the entire evening worrying about the outcome of my Bachelor exams instead of enjoying my birthday party…such a waste!” If you can’t influence it, stop worrying about it! For me, this is the toughest one! Although I would consider myself an optimist, I would sometimes keep thinking about everything that might turn out “worse” than I want. It helps to ask yourself: “Can I do anything about it?” Being aware of the fact that you can’t influence a certain outcome, is the first step to a peaceful mind. Another possibility is to embrace the “worst” outcome and ask yourself, what is actually so “bad” about it. Maybe this outcome holds valuable possibilities to grow or start anew.
  9. Journal excerpt: “The entire room was crowded and everybody looked so sharp! Everybody was super dressed up — except for me! I started to feel slightly uncomfortable and thought about all the possibilities to get a nice dress somewhere near and sometime soon…”. Everybody is way too busy with themselves to care about you or your dress! Especially if it’s at a casual party…the only thing that counts is your own perception. How you feel is how you will look like.
  10. Journal excerpt: “And again I ask myself: what the hell am I doing here? It’s super expensive, many successful people haven’t even studied and my Bachelor maybe already enough to start the career I have in mind right now…” I think I can say I didn’t waste my time by getting a Masters degree. While you’re at it, the hype of the “unconventional” super kids might distract you and make you question your “lost” time on formal education. Our education system is not perfect by far but we are still living in a system, where formal education is required to get into many jobs…a proper degree just gives you more options and it’s worth the time. Plus, these “Wunderkinder”, who started coding at 6 and sold their first company at 16 are rare!