Quit Putting Yourself Down. Lessons From Julia Child.

I got a text the other day from a colleague.  It said simply, “I suck”.  He had forgotten an important event.   I read this and wanted him to put the toothpaste back in the tube…but he can’t.   He just put himself down.  He belittled himself.  And what should my response be?  “No you don’t”?  “You’re awesome and usually on top of things”?  I feel like when you put yourself down it’s either a billboard sign saying “I have no self esteem” or “Please, please, please….make me worthy”.   I realize, it is a cry for help but this is not the best way to go about it.

I have read practically every book on Julia Child.  She is my gastronomical, feminist hero.  In the book “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child” by Bob Spitz, there is an occasion where Julia has prepared lunch for a friend.  This was when she was first discovering how to cook French food while living in Paris.  She prepared a béchamel (white sauce) which came out like plaster.  She laid the plate in front of her friend and herself, sat down and ate it.  Every last bite.  It was wretched but she never, ever apologized.  As she is quoted, “You should never apologize at the table. People will think, ‘Yes, it’s really not so good.’” Quit putting yourself down.  Lessons from Julia Child 2 jpg

I love this.  I try and live by it. There are lessons to be learned in cooking –  especially when it comes to cooking because it is so easy to roll down that slippery slope of self-deprecation.  You share a part of your soul in cooking; it’s the grand gesture to taking care of someone, of sharing of yourself with someone.  And you can really get caught in – It’s not hot enough.  It’s too spicy.  It’s too thick.  Too thin.  Yada yada yada.

So here are some tips to help you stay away from stomping your guts out every time you make a mistake:

1. Bite Your Tongue.  So if you aren’t happy with how the project came out, don’t sit in the cafeteria and talk about it with your cronies.  Bite your tongue.  The soup you just made is a little too lemony.  Eat a saltine.  Shut up and slurp up.  Having a bad hair day?  Keep it to yourself.  You really don’t need to give a running commentary on every failure of your life to everyone around you.  Bite your tongue.

2. Spin.  Put the positive spin.  If you were your own publicist (and really you actually are), what positive nugget can you find.  Find it and say that out loud.  “The project came in under budget.” “The soup has a bit of zing to it. ” “I love this new blouse. ” “Did I tell you I volunteered at the homeless shelter yesterday and met some wonderful people?”  Something is going well today, so focus on that, put out the positive spin.

3. Implications.  Think through the implications.  There was a study by Dr. Judith Baxter that studied speech patterns at work.  When women are trying to be humorous, in particular, they use self-deprecating humor 70% of the time during meetings.  It falls flat.  Crickets chirping.  Is this the way you really want to come across in the workplace?  Being self-deprecating, even in trying to be funny, only shines the light on your lack of self-esteem.  You are not being modest.  You are not Woody Allen.  You are being weak.  What are the implications?

4. Silence.  Be comfortable with silence.  Don’t feel like you need to fill the space with the sound of your own voice.  Count to 5.  Count to 10.  It will be awkward at first.  Listen to your heartbeat.  The clock on the wall.  The fluorescent light overhead.   Be the silence.

5. Sorry.  Quit apologizing.  This is the crutch of most women I know, including yours truly.  I was helping my daughter unload the car at her dorm the other day and I said “I’m sorry” for not picking up one of the boxes (did I mention I was already laden with two backpacks and  one tripod hanging on my shoulder and holding two pillows)?  And she says, “What are you sorry for?”  I have no idea.  I’m on auto pilot.  If something doesn’t go right in the world, it must be my fault.  Really?  Can’t carry all the grocery bags at once, so the default is to apologize.  Especially for women – the fixers of the world.  Stop it. (yes there is a place in the world for apologies…but 9 times out of 10 it’s overkill).   Don’t apologize.

I have this need to be modest and also to take the ‘blame’ for others (we are taught this as women) and my default can be to put myself down.  Shine the light on what’s going right or smile while you bite your tongue.  Be your own publicist.

My Boss Doesn’t Listen to Me

You probably consider yourself to be an excellent employee, student, contributor or active participant in your life but there still may be one area you’ve overlooked.my boss doesn't listen to me

Listening is an art that starts with you.  It’s ironic but actually true. Be a good listener first; they will follow.  I know sounds counter-intuitive but if you just shut up and listen…I mean really listen… you will end up with followers.  So you want to lead by example; listen by example.

So you’re in the staff meeting and have a brilliant idea on how to address the revenue short fall.   Or your boss is unloading on you about the operations manager from the plant in Detroit.  You probably want to stand on the conference table and get everyone’s attention- bad idea.  Frequently it is just best to bite your tongue and do nothing.  We’ve all worked with the “someone” who constantly interrupts, who has to have the last word, who just can’t let a topic, an argument or really anything go.  Don’t be that person.  Be the listener and they will follow.

Here are the 6 steps to being a better and active listener:

1. Seek first to understand.  If you focus on understanding (instead of your rebuttal), you will be much more engaged with what is being said.  As David Rock writes in “Quiet Leadership”, listen for potential.  Ask questions to expand on your boss’ ideas.  Help her gain insight. She’ll appreciate the space to develop ideas.  I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to vent, merely vent about a work situation and my husband jumped to give me advice. I just wanted someone to vent to; someone to understand.

2. Don’t drift.  If you are thinking about your grocery list or if you forgot to record American Idol – You.Are.Not.Engaged.In.Listening.  Turn off your cell notifications. Put your technology away.   Be in the moment and just listen.  And if you find yourself drifting; ask a clarifying question.  Apologize and say you were preoccupied for a moment and get back into the listening mode.

3. Let there be silence.  It’s amazing how we all feel obligated to fill space up with the sound of our voice.  Let there be an awkward silence.  There is power in silence and more importantly time to reflect and understand (refer to #1).  In fact, those who prefer introversion will appreciate the time to reflect.  Don’t drive the bus over someone’s time to reflect; be comfortable with the silence.

4. Reflect.  Ask questions to expound on your boss’ ideas.  Seek clarity.  Is there something you don’t understand?  Do you really understand the rationale? “So what I hear you saying is that we need to make some difficult cuts and you’re not completely sure where to make them.   How much time do we have to make the decision?”  Reflecting keeps you in the present.

5. Check assumptions.  It is amazing how quickly our mind works and how our internal dialogue will immediately jump to the worst-case scenario.  Like “yeah…this idea will never work.  Last time we did this it was an epic fail”…meanwhile we are smiling and nodding.  Or we immediately discount someone’s ideas, “Nah, tequila shots for lunch is a horrible idea.” Yes, this is a bad idea, just don’t say it and shut down the idea machine.  “tequila shots…OK, what else….” Check your assumptions to stop your inner dictator from running its mouth; and killing the idea before it ever gets launched.

6. Don’t interrupt.  If you are interrupting, you are not listening.  You just put your agenda first.  You just shut the other person down and basically said…”my idea is way better than yours so shut up”.   Your boss’ idea, your partner’s idea, your child’s idea….are all the best ideas, because they own it.  They will see it through. Your idea? Not so much.  Interrupting stops your boss from finding insight.

Full disclosure.  I’ve been working on this for years and it’s not easy.  It won’t happen overnight but if you keep this at the forefront with every interaction you have, you will improve and others, including your boss, will start to follow.