Saying YES and meaning it!

Lots has been said – and rightly so! – about developing the ability to say no when we mean it; over a range of different contexts, from parenting to consensual sex to professional authority, we are so often reminded to emphasise, to stand firm and be clear that “No means no!” But choosing to say yes and truly meaning it… that can be hard too!

I’ve been reflecting on the differences between agreement and acquiescence: how do you say a whole-hearted yes, without the simmering discontent or quiet regret that often accompanies a ‘Yes, though I mean maybe’, or the rolled eyes and steaming ears as ‘Okay fine, yes’ is growled through gritted teeth? Or even the hesitation and self-doubt that can plague the thereafter with a “Should I really have said yes?” For me, it comes down to two active processes: before and after each choice, and I’m trying to remind myself to focus on these better.

1. Respecting my own reasoning: Before I arrive at any conscious decision, whether trivial or profound, I’ve invariably weighed several factors: some of which I am aware of (how much pleasure I’ll get from another coffee vs my struggle to fall asleep tonight) while others are background processes (the smell of roasted coffee beans, for instance) that make a choice more obvious or more irresistible. But I reason, I weigh my options, and I choose to be led by my desire or my rationality. What I need to do next is honour that process. Trust in myself better, and accept without regret once I have made that choice. Whether the choice was made by my head or my heart, instinctively or empirically, I need to respect the reasoning that got me there… And stop second-guessing myself!

2. Committing to the decision, wholly: Saying yes is often only the beginning! The real challenge is to follow through with a truly open heart, and participate whole-heartedly in what follows. Whether it means giving up something, giving in to a temptation or giving of myself, a ‘Yes’ can be rendered meaningless without generosity and commitment.  Choosing to work freelance, for instance – one of my bigger professional decisions – would be so much less fulfilling and less effective if I did not commit to it, invest in it and stay true to the decision once I had made it. That’s not to suggest there is no going back or reconsidering a decision when new factors emerge. There always is. But, until something significant changes, I need to remind myself to commit myself fully to each decision I’ve made, and stay generous in spirit as I go along with the decision. (If I agree to cook a meal for friends but grumble through the afternoon as I do it, I would certainly not be much fun by the time the meal is served!)

And the best part of the yes cycle is what follows next: Gratitude. Saying yes, and consciously choosing to live up to that yes, has opened me up to greater gratitude – and I am hoping to get better at both expressing it, and accepting it. But maybe gratitude deserves a separate post all of its own…

Until then, I close with a beautiful Thich Nhat Hanh visualisation technique; use it to approach your next YES!Reflecting on choices

“Breathing in, feel something positive; breathing out, say yes.

Breathe in energy, breathe out yes.

Breathe in calm, breathe out yes.”

(Some of my thinking along these lines has been triggered by my current reading of  The Righteous Mind“. A fascinating exploration of morality related to politics and religion, it prompted me to question how we make the choices we do. I’m only just beginning to read the book, so I won’t/can’t share much more, but I do recommend it highly!)

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The labels we carry

As I say in my introductory ‘About Me‘ page, I don’t care much for labels. Particularly not for people.

But in 2014, one of the better professional opportunities that came my way forced me to acknowledge the labels I carry: I was invited to speak at the opening panel for a CharityComms  workshop on reputation management. But as CharityComms told me, there was a slightly sensitive background to the invitation: a previous panelist had made a considered decision to decline the invitation, as he didn’t want to be part of an all-white, all-male opening panel. Suddenly, my acceptance of the invitation to join the panel had acquired deeper connotations: of gender politics, of racial bias, of affirmative action vs tokenism. I must confess, the controversy took some of the pleasure out of being invited to join another CharityComms event, and I did pause to consider the symbolism of my speaking at the panel. I was no longer speaking (only) as Namrata Chowdhary, communications professional. I was now also the token ‘brown girl in the ring’. It seemed the discussion on reputation management had already begun! So, typically, I fell back on professional, process-driven, framework thinking to guide my decision on whether or not to join the panel. I used the three As frame, introduced to me by a wise (woman) mentor, to shape my thinking on how this communication would reflect on my own reputation, as well as CharityComms’: I had to consider Authenticity, Audiences and Audacity. (I used the same frame to discuss reputation management on the panel, you can hear an excerpt via SoundCloud, and read my reflections below.)

Authenticity

The ‘brown woman’ label, although inarguably appropriate, is nonetheless a relatively new one to me. I moved to Europe in 2006, before which I had lived and worked in India. There, I was simply a comms professional. Yes, I was conscious of being treated differently for being a woman, and yes, I spoke up on women’s issues. But either because I grew up in an all-woman household, or because I worked in the charity sector where the gender balance is far more balanced than in the corporate world, I didn’t feel I needed the ‘woman’ label any more than I needed to wear the ‘brown’ one. Perhaps it is this reality – the fact that these labels are consciously acquired, that I do have a body of experience in the developing world, as well as the perspective of a globalised expat, and am quite literally an immigrant citizen of the developed world – that authentically validates my place on the panel? Yes, I decided, I do consciously represent a different perspective, and yes, it is indeed important that sector-wide discussions on reputation be… well, coloured… by this perspective!

Audiences

The panelist who declined the original invitation made a very valid point about opening sessions at day-long workshops framing the discussion and setting the tone for the rest of the workshop. But equally, the audience for any discussion, and the interaction they have with the panel, can direct the flow. What is your perspective, what values do you bring to the discussion, and how do you frame the discussion? All of these are critical questions to consider at any meeting of the minds. From an audience perspective, I think my presence – and perhaps more importantly, my input – served as an important reminder: to those in the room, that there are perspectives beyond the obvious, ‘white male led’ homogeneity; and, more broadly, a reminder of perceptions, perspectives and reputations being open to far wider nuance when your audience, and therefore the discourse, is rooted in a global context.

Audacity

For communications to be progressive, it is important to encourage audacity: the audacity to challenge ‘spin’, to unhesitatingly present the truth – and versions of the truth! – so we can discuss, debate, and together construct an authentic expression of our values. I was glad to see that CharityComms had encouraged, discussed and responded to the original challenge. I was even more glad to see they had created this constructive space to continue the discussion. I add my voice to the call for greater recognition that expertise comes in diverse forms, and urge you to do the same. Be more audacious about challenging stereotypes, but also about calling out tokenism where you see it replacing homogeneity.

Let’s move our sector towards meaningful, constructive inclusiveness.

 

(A slightly different version of this post originally appeared on CharityComms own website. You can view the original here)