Are you getting what you deserve?

Get more by asking for it  

I still remember the day I got the call from the internal recruiter delivering the news. The job was mine! I was pleased as punch. It was a role I wanted at a company I was eager to work for as they had a strong reputation and I had already met the team. But when the recruiter told me the offer over the phone, I was bitterly disappointed. Why was it so low?  The story gets worse – I accepted it.

It was one of my worst salary negotiations. I literally felt cheated. And not by the company but by myself. I later learned they were surprised that I had come on board at that pay. Ugh.

All I can say is that you live, and you learn. I’m glad I made that mistake early enough in my career to recover.

Recently, on The Change Diaries podcast, I chatted with Jenny Ward, a career and transition coach who specializes in supporting women. She wasted no time in highlighting some of the struggles that women face – from not knowing their worth, to not negotiating for better compensation or failing to talk about their accomplishments.

Honestly, I believe this is the result of socialization, and long-standing systems of oppression. Both of which have done a number on us, and I am including myself here. I’ve already shared the mess I made of my early salary negotiations. Later, I also realized I simply didn’t know how to brag about my accomplishments. In fact, I would downplay them.

I recall handling a big change communications project several years ago. Now, if you’ve done this, you know there are several moving parts and a lot to get right with your company’s most senior leaders. Weeks of adrenalin culminated in carefully crafted messaging, along with team calls, and then an all-hands session. My GM was happy and when everyone had left, he gathered up his papers to leave, but not before turning to tell me:

“Arlene, you did a great job. Everything went really well. Thank you.”

Before the last words left his lips, I cut him off.

“No, no it was nothing.”

He literally blew a mini gasket and flung his hands up in frustration.

“Why can’t you just accept a compliment?”

Was that my reputation? Someone who wouldn’t accept a compliment.

It was an aha-moment for me. I felt a little bit sick because he was right. I was always judging myself so harshly that if someone complimented me, I was sure they were wrong. I couldn’t accept the praise because sooner or later they would find me out for the imposter that I was.

I discovered it was a skill I had to develop – learning to accept praise. From then on, I found myself practicing some variation of these words: “I worked hard on that. Thank you for noticing. I appreciate the recognition.”

In Jenny’s experience, I am not unique in this struggle. To support women who tend to shy away from bragging, she recommends having a ‘things I got done list’ every day to remind yourself of your accomplishments. It is critical to know your worth and practice talking about awesome you are.

Coincidentally, I recently came across an article entitled “Savvy Self-promotion”. If this is your challenge, after you listen to Jenny’s episode on The Change Diaries, you might also wish to give it a read. Take it seriously because this is a change worth making in your professional life.

On the matter of getting paid more, Jenny noted that women find it difficult to negotiate a pay increase while men go in with the attitude of ‘give it to me’. Women, she finds, are schooled to be humble while men are comfortable outright asking for it.

An interesting thing happened the week that I taped that show with Jenny. We were having dinner one evening and I made the kids an offer. If they helped me with some work, I’d pay them $50 bucks each. My son, who is twelve, did not miss a beat. He immediately said, “Pay me $70.” I noticed that his sister who is three years older didn’t ask for more.

Credit: Aris Amitirigala, created using Pixar

I waited a day or two before bringing it up with her. Are there any reasons why you think you should earn more than your brother? She pointed out her age, experience, speed, and ability to focus. All great answers yet it hadn’t occurred to her to demand greater compensation.

It was a live example of someone being better qualified yet hesitant to request more. At the end of our conversation, I asked her to repeat this to herself daily for the following week:

I deserve more.

I am convinced that those three words are part of the reason why some people land amazing compensation packages every single time. Yes, they are well-qualified, and certainly they have a great track record but, above all else, they know their worth and they believe they deserve more. This is what makes them ask for it and get it too.

To make this happen for you, I suggest honing your negotiation skills. If you aren’t accustomed to doing this, it takes practice. Perhaps even some rehearsal. Gather your accomplishments, do your research, and then role play with a friend.

Lastly, I highly recommend that you listen to Jenny and all the wonderful coaches featured during my first season of The Change Diaries. They offer great advice for both men and women.

Thank you for stopping by! Please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Listen to my new podcast now available on Apple: The Change Diaries Podcast or you can also listen on Spotify.

And don’t forget to follow and share my blog. I post new content each week.

© Arlene Amitirigala 2021. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.   

Bridgerton Serves up 10 Lessons in Internal Communications

I rarely watch TV, so it was somewhat of a surprise to find myself binge-watching Bridgerton, the Netflix megahit from Shonda Rhimes. Frankly, it made a Covid New Year 2021 bearable. What’s there not to love when you have dazzling costumes, an entertaining storyline, and incredible eye-candy in the form of a smoldering, swaggerific Duke?

Speaking of the Duke of Hastings, I’m sure you’ve heard the news that Regé-Jean Page will not appear in ‘Bridgerton’ Season 2. Don’t despair though, there will still be plenty of the drama that made this series a hit. Here is Everything You Need To Know About ‘Bridgerton’ Season 2.

But setting aside the thirst-trap, Bridgerton was a veritable masterclass in Communication, Inclusion and Change. Although each episode made me reflect on these three areas of my expertise, I’m itching to share my observations related to internal communications, particularly what we can learn from Lady Whistledown, the town’s anonymous gossip columnist. Don’t worry about spoilers below…there are hardly any. Really, though, who hasn’t watched Bridgerton yet?

Be Bold

As a masterful content creator, Lady Whistledown reminds us that, ‘she who holds the pen has the power’. Through tapping into high society’s insatiable desire to be in the know, she gains tremendous influence and a faithful readership. She seems quite unperturbed that her efforts also earn her the unwelcome envy of the Queen and a warrant for her arrest. Although it is generally unwise for communicators to draw ire from their most senior stakeholders, it does speak to the need to be bold with your ideas, content, and your approach. Being disruptive occasionally has its merits.

Content is King

Lady Whistledown provides breaking news, connects the dots, and asks provocative questions. The content is entertaining, and she weaves in suspense to leave her readers wanting for more. Your publication must have great content in an engaging style – the stories, the news and features should fill a need for employees to ensure that they keep coming back for more.

Improve your craft – pick up a copy of Everybody Writes by Ann Handley. It definitely lives up to its tagline, ‘your go-to guide to creating ridiculously good content’.

Write for your Reader

In creating her scandal sheet, Lady Whistledown doesn’t pander to the Queen or any of the powerful aristocrats, which is especially surprising when her identity is revealed.

There is a lesson in this: write for your reader – not the approver. Are you sharing what employees need to know versus what management wants to say? Your job isn’t about spinning stories or making leaders look good. Authenticity, transparency, and openness are all essential. Share information with the people who need it to do their jobs and in a way that they can understand it.

Be Relevant

In Regency-era London, aristocratic society thrived on gossip, and Lady Whistledown cleverly fills that gap. Each week she tells her readers:

  • What was happening in the Ton and When
  • Who was involved
  • Why these events were occurring
  • How people were being perceived as a result
  • Where they needed to be – obviously at the latest ball!

Do you have your 5Ws and H covered? What are the most important topics that you need to cover? As we saw last year when the pandemic hit, information needs shifted and there was much more focus on news related to Covid-19, workplace policies, benefits, and health and wellbeing. Ensure that you are keeping pace as needs evolve.

Feature your People

The gossip rag is all about the debutantes and the aspiring suitors and that’s what makes it sell. A winning ingredient for any internal publication is to highlight the people in your business – interesting feature stories or profile pieces. People love stories where they can see themselves. So, hero a team that delivered a breakthrough, share photos, or video clips of your people telling their own success stories. Featuring real people in your organization doing the right things in the right way can be a powerful way to influence change.

Choose your Language and Style

Lady Whistledown shows us a couple things – the value of writing in a way that mirrors how people speak, and the beauty of nurturing your own style and personality as a writer. Her words float off the page and into the reader’s ear as if it were a conversation.

Are you aligning to the brand voice of your company? What tone will you use? Formal or casual? Chatty or serious? Are you planning to use fun, feature stories or just the plain facts? Check whether your language is laden with leaders’ cliched phrases or ‘management speak’.

Pick your Channels

In 1813 London, the convenient tabloid format was popular. Lady Whistledown prints her gossip rag overnight and peddles it in the morning through newspaper boys making brisk sales.  

Well, it’s 2021 and there are a plethora of channels even for non-desk employees. Digital delivery through intranets, internal social media and company apps are growing in popularity. Take the time to research which channels work best for your audience. This is about them – go where they are!

Be Consistent

Week after week the entire Ton knows when to expect the next tabloid full of the juiciest tidbits. In fact, it is this level of reliability that enables the Queen to plot Lady Whistledown’s arrest – while she on her way to the printers.

Do you have a set day and time for publishing so that your audience can count on getting their news when they expect it? Is the format consistent so that they can navigate it easily? Also, even if you have different writers the tone should not vary wildly.

Measure and Evaluate

Roaring sales is one way that Lady Whistledown evaluates her success real time. But that’s not the only thing that matters. Thanks to her undercover status, our favourite scandalmonger readily discerns how her content is resonating. The Ton is all abuzz after each edition is released and it decidedly influences many an outcome in the feverish matchmaking season!

Likewise, internal communicators must evaluate whether their content is engaging readers and if it is influencing behavior.

What can you do? Run A/B tests for your publication. Analyze open rates, click rates, and drop off rates to see which content resonates most. Test reader knowledge by asking specific questions in an annual communication channel survey. Use shorter surveys at the end of a publication to find out what they valued the most. Analyze engagement, comments and follow-through actions. Use good metrics to help you make informed decisions about your publication.

Have a Purpose

Ultimately your publication exists to achieve an outcome. It shouldn’t simply be a nice to have or exist because you’ve always had it. It takes time and effort to produce so make it worth the investment.

Lady Whistledown not only satisfies her readers thirst for gossip, but she also uses the publication to advance her own interests and sometimes selfish motives – breaking up Colin’s relationship as a prime example.

Know what you are trying to achieve with each content piece and each edition of your publication. Set SMART objectives and use it as a valuable tool to help embed your strategy, inspire your people, and cause positive transformation that translates into business growth.  

Sure, it can come in many different formats, styles and be delivered via various channels. But whatever you decide, focus on what you want to achieve and let that guide your approach.  

Tell me, did you watch Bridgerton? What other lessons in communications would you add to this list? Please share your comments below.

Thank you for stopping by! Visit again soon, subscribe and share. I post new content each week.

© Arlene Amitirigala 2021. All Rights Reserved.    

Get up and dance!

Birthday Celebrations 2021. An original DruBaileyArt

“And if you get the choice to sit it out or dance…I hope you dance…”

A bestie of mine signs off all her emails with that quote from Lee Ann Womack.

Apart from breaking into a smile every time I read it, I am urged to live courageously and fully in every single moment. I barely need a reminder though as I have always lived with a sense of my own mortality. Call it a side effect of losing my parents as a child.

Each time I celebrate my birthday, as I did this past Sunday, I am acutely aware of how many years I have outlived them both and I think of how they left this earth so young. My father drowned at the beach in his early twenties. Compromised in childhood, my mother’s heart gave way before she turned thirty.

My reflections on mortality are not with a sense of foreboding, or sadness, or mourning; they are accompanied by an indescribable joy. The fact that I am still here, that I am alive and that I am surrounded by love is cause enough for celebration on my part.

How can I talk about celebrating at a time like this when we are grieving over lives and livelihoods lost in this lingering pandemic?

Honestly, I’d be the last person to tell you that life isn’t often gritty. You won’t find me donning rose-colored glasses or burying my head in the sand. No, I’ve been in the trenches, hung out in valleys, felt hot tears of despair on my cheeks.

But I also know there is always light in the darkness, even if it’s just a glimmer as we stumble through long tunnels purely by faith.

I recognize that living life fully means that there are times when we will be disappointed. Sometimes things do not go the way we want them to. There may be heartbreak and loss. Or a devastating failure. But each time we gather the strength to find our feet or get a trusted guide to help us rise again.

I think of it like dancing, one of my favorite things to do – at times our steps may falter until we catch the rhythm and hit our stride. Gradually we improve our technique, gain confidence, and continue mastering new routines.  

Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote, “When you dance your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way.”

What I have decided is that whether the music is fast or slow I’ll just move to the beat, song after song. No matter what, as long as I have breath, I plan on dancing.

Today, if you are sitting it out, why not find your space on the floor? Life is too short to not get up and dance.

Thank you for stopping by. Please share your comments below and visit again soon. Check out The Change Diaries Podcast here. And don’t forget to follow and share. I post new content each week.

© Arlene Amitirigala 2021. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.    

The new superpowers that you need right now

What’s your superpower? Perhaps you have more than one. Maybe you have a long list of them.

But somewhere in the mix there are a couple must-haves. If you don’t know what they are, I’ll give you a hint: speaking well is not one of them.

I listened to a conversation this Monday between Van Jones, CNN political commentator and veritable change-maker and Wes Hall, entrepreneur, and founder of Canada’s Black North Initiative.

Van Jones was on fire. He shared political insights, his views on race relations and dispensed advice on the new, necessary superpowers that will not only change the way you lead but improve your life.

Apparently, being able to speak well or present well is the old superpower. No panic if you are a super orator, it’s still useful, but it’s just not a superpower.

What’s the new one? The one that unlocks the door to great partnerships, innovation, mega-deals, marketing campaigns and more?

Being Able to Listen Well.

According to Van Jones, given the diversity around us with different voices, cultures and perspectives, any leader who wants to grow their business must be able to listen well to all. If they don’t, they may be missing out and leaving money on the table.

We especially need to listen to the voices that have been stifled or unheard. Also, listening is a skill that needs to trickle all the way throughout and be part of the culture. Show me any breakdown in any system or relationship and we can trace it back to the point where someone stopped listening.

That system or relationship could be in the home, the classroom, or the boardroom. Listening is an act of love – see my blog post on this subject.

But he said that listening is not enough. You also need the new superpower mindset:

Empathy.

Empathy is essential to building more inclusive communities and workplaces. Especially in this pandemic, it is perhaps the most important leadership skill to hone. To understand different people and collaborate successfully with them, you must be able to see things from their perspective. Read here for more on what empathy does for you and how to cultivate it.

For good measure, here’s a bonus superpower:

Knowing when to ask for help.

My son Aris drops nuggets of wisdom on me all the time. Last week he said, “Mom, it’s great to be independent but sometimes you should be dependent and let others help you.” Good for him. He’s helping with the laundry today. Maybe he will cook dinner too.

On a serious note. Asking for help is a valuable skill. Playing hero isn’t smart. It’s lonely, and you either get less done or you burn yourself out. Letting others help you is key to being able to do more and do it better.

Early in my career while was I working in Jamaica, I landed a new role where I was assigned to lead a project. My manager asked me to include a risk assessment. I wasn’t sure which template to use but I hesitated to ask. I mean, isn’t this why they hired me? Because I know stuff?

So, I pulled something together. When I sat in the room with the Exec going through the presentation, they drew a blank when they looked at the slide with my risk assessment. Clearly it wasn’t what they had expected.

My manager asked me right there, “Who helped you with this?”

“No-one,” I said.

“But why didn’t you ask for help? I would never have expected you to tackle this on your own.”

I called the lead Risk manager. He popped into the session and led a comprehensive risk assessment.

Boy, did I ever learn a lot.

I had pressured myself to have all the answers and do everything on my own to make an impression in my new role – pull together a kick-ass plan with all the research and a comprehensive risk assessment too. How ridiculous was that!

No-one expects you to know everything. But they do expect you to know when to ask for help. People aren’t waiting to trip you up and you won’t be ‘found out’ as lacking. That’s your imposter syndrome having a party with your inner critic. Disinvite yourself.

Instead, believe that help is always out there ready and waiting for you if you simply ask.

Is it time to step back and check your superpowers to ensure these are on your list?

  1. Listen well
  2. Have empathy
  3. Know when to ask for help

No sweat if you are missing any; start building that muscle today.

Thank you for stopping by. Leave a comment and let me know what’s your superpower! Visit again soon, subscribe and share. I post new content each week. © Arlene Amitirigala 2021. All Rights Reserved.                            

Five Ways to Ease Worrying

photo credit: Arlene Amitirigala

How many of us are worried about something right now? Genuinely worried. Couldn’t sleep last night kind of worried. Ate the whole tub of Häagen-Dazs kind of worried.

Worrying is part of the human condition. One of the oldest books in the world, the Holy Bible, talks about worrying. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” (New International Version, Luke 12. 25)

It’s a good question. But it seems as if humans are wired for worry. And it makes us do strange things.

About a decade ago I was convinced I was going to lose my job. Weirdly, my first instinct was to book a dental appointment. As luck would have it, I didn’t lose my job, but in my panic, I managed to find a dentist who damaged my tooth and busted my lip.

I had to pay a hefty sum out of pocket to reverse the mess he made. After that, I vowed to never worry about losing my job again.

A few years later, I had another experience that brought me face to face with worry and forced me to put it in perspective.

One December, during a routine exam, my doctor discovered I had an internal mass. I was concerned but I took it in stride. In fact, I was rather blasé about following up even after he promptly sent me off to do an Ultrasound and then a CT Scan. My assumption was that invariably all these exams point to nothing.

So, I did what any sensible person would do. I went on vacation. And not one but two. The first was immediately after the CT Scan. I spent two glorious weeks in Jamaica celebrating Christmas. And then in March we gladly accepted an invitation to hang out at a time share in Orlando with friends.

My husband’s nagging finally got the better of me and I called my doctor’s office upon my return from an exhilarating but exhausting Spring Break at Disney.

Suddenly, I was plunged into a world of blood tests, MRI and an appointment with a specialist who reassured me that the mass looked benign. He said he could remove it laparoscopically.

But, he said, and there’s always a but, if it was something else, or if it tested positive for that unmentionable word … you can fill in the blanks here.

I took the news calmly yet when I looked at the faces of my children that night, the panic started to surface. I like to devour my worry with a healthy serving of Häagen-Dazs but, since we didn’t have any, I turned to eating slice after slice of brioche dripping with vanilla honey butter.

I tossed and turned at night. I fretted about the future. I became distracted and had a minor accident on the highway that week.

And then, I said, get a grip.

I decided to put my worry into perspective and move to a place of acceptance and surrender. I was at peace.

But I hadn’t taken my husband along that journey. A couple days before my surgery he sat across from me insisting that we should prepare the kids for the worst.

I realized that he was doing all the worrying for me, the kids and then some. I became more compassionate and explained my newfound wisdom to him:  worrying wastes our energy because we are not going to change the course of action that we agreed upon, worrying will not change the outcome and finally, your worrying does not help me.

Uttering those words, I felt centered and relaxed. I had unmasked worry for what it is: a time-consuming, exhausting, distracting and utterly useless exercise.

Worry causes lack of sleep, elevates stress levels, affects performance on the job, ruins relationships and our health. Yet, we continue to worry when there is no proven benefit.

Years ago, I made my worry-busting short list:

  1. Immerse yourself in Mother Nature. I like to head to the beach to listen to the waves or I go for a walk in a beautifully landscaped park. These days, I take a short shuffle through the snow.
  2. Practice surrender. I accept how I am feeling without judging myself. I observe my thoughts without hanging on to them, especially those that cause me distress, and then I consciously make the effort to shift my thinking. Mindfulness and meditation apps are particularly helpful. My favorites are the Chopra App and Insight Timer.
  3. Express gratitude. It’s a proven fact that people who express appreciation are happier. Each morning, I write at least three things that I am grateful for in my gratitude journal.  
  4. Call a friend. Very often our fears are unfounded but when adrenaline kicks in we cannot decipher if a threat is real or not. A trusted friend can pull you back from what a mentor of mine calls “‘stinkin’ thinkin’”, help you uncover a fresh perspective, and decide on the right actions to take.
  5. Draw upon the words of  The Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. There is something soothing about those words which acknowledge that we are strong, wise beings who can rise from adversity.

These five actions still work for me. Tell me, what’s on your list? How do you chase away worry and change your state of mind?

Do leave a comment below to share your thoughts. It’s a challenging time across the globe and your tip just might help this community of readers.

Thanks for stopping by. Sign up to follow my blog and visit again soon. I post new content each week.

© Arlene Amitirigala 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Celebrating Black History Month at Home

Yesterday morning my son greeted me with a question, and our ensuing conversation was short but provocative.  

“Mom did you know it’s Black History Month?” 

“Yeah. What should we do?” I was pretty much a deer in headlights, wondering if I was going to get called out. 

He shrugged. “I guess we can just be ourselves.” 

He turned his attention back to online school while I went downstairs to make my green smoothie, brain whirring like the blades of our Ninja pro.  

I have never willingly made a big deal about Black History Month. Consequently, I’ve also been a bit blasé about it with my children. This might be surprising given that I am a black woman who for the past twelve years has been living in various societies where people who look like us are minoritized.  

Smoothie in hand, I contemplated the root of my ambivalence about this one month. I landed on three things: Identity. Discomfort. And a fear of not getting it right. 

Let me explain. 

Identity

Everyone has an identity comprised of visible differences like race, and invisible ones like religious background.  

I can list many components of my identity: woman, mother, extrovert… but a most important one is that I come from an island in the Caribbean Sea. To be precise, I am Jamaican.  

I was born in Jamaica and lived there for many years. I didn’t grow up as part of a minoritized group. I didn’t have a preoccupation with my ‘blackness’ at the forefront of my identity. Despite our colonial past and its legacy of colorism and classism, I did not feel disadvantaged because of my hue. I was at home and I belonged. 

Immersed in my ‘Jamaicanness’, celebrating Jamaican history was a daily event as natural as breathing. From the first inhabitants encountered by Christopher Columbus, to the enslavement of African people and their journey to our shores, to the fight for freedom, to becoming a melting pot of many nations, to claiming independence, and becoming an international brand synonymous with music, dance, cuisine and athletic prowess, I embraced it all.  

Perhaps the closest thing to Black History Month for me as a child was the public holiday in October when we recognized our National Heroes – fierce warriors for freedom from slavery, both physical and mental.  

Discomfort

When I migrated to live in the US, I struggled to reconcile with how Black History Month applied to me. Just speaking about it made me feel self-conscious. In my mind it was something that America and other countries had to observe because they grappled with ever-present racism.  

In my first year, I accepted the task to help organize an event for the occasion. I was one of less than a handful of Black employees at the office and I did my best to navigate my discomfort. We planned a celebration of the Caribbean region during a cocktail hour –booked a steel pan player, asked the caterer to provide an ‘island menu’ and then delivered a talk celebrating Caribbean heritage and our business operations throughout the region.  

No mention of oppression, inequality, inequity or injustice. Everyone was happy. We danced. We toasted. We laughed. 

Looking back, all I can say is: What. Were. We. Thinking. 

The following week, my friend invited me to a lunchtime event taking place at another company in Miami. I thought it would be a good opportunity to see how other offices observed the occasion. The keynote speaker led a powerful, personal conversation that went straight to the heart of racial injustice in America and left the employees in the packed cafeteria with an unmistakable call to action.  

For me, it was an uncomfortable awakening. This white, middle-aged man had made me deeply aware of something that I had been denying – my life was different now. My identity as a Jamaican was invisible. I was now a black woman, part of a minoritized group.  

Fear of not getting it right

Okay. I now had a new identity to add to my other identities, but I wasn’t sure what to do with that realization. I didn’t feel oppressed. I didn’t plan to start binge watching Roots. I didn’t know how to become an activist. What was I supposed to do in February? 

Over the years, my children did projects and activities at school to ground them in the stories of black American leaders and icons such as Dr. Mae C. Jemison, Muhammad Ali, Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.  

Born in the US, my children identified as Americans. This was their history, and I was learning more about it because of them than they were learning because of me. So, I didn’t interfere because I wasn’t sure of what I had to offer. I let them share with me what they learned at school and each February came and went.  

Where do I stand now?

After a slightly sleepless night and some self-examination I am reassured. Yes, I do celebrate Black History at home. How could I not? I do it every single day. 

There have been signature moments like visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. or the Nelson Mandela exhibition in London and Nottinghill Carnival. There have also been tough discussions after watching movies like Just Mercy, or painful moments talking about what happened to Trayvon Martin and George Floyd.  

But the most important thing is how we live our daily lives – our beliefs and values, our faith, the stories we tell, the leaders we quote, the music we listen to, our food, the books we read, the films we watch, our time with extended family… our history and culture are all blended into who my children are and who I am.  

Maybe I could make a thing out of February and be more intentional about unearthing stories of black excellence and watching films and documentaries, but it is far more likely that we will do as my son so wisely suggested. We will be ourselves. 

Please share your comments on how you are celebrating Black History Month 2021. Thanks for stopping by. Remember to visit again soon. I post articles each week.  

© Arlene Amitirigala 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Allyship Matters: Seven Words to ponder during Black History Month

A couple years ago, Aris and I were in the back of an Uber crawling along Upper Richmond Road in Southwest London. Gazing out the window, I spotted someone whom I thought was dressed strangely and I made a comment. My son didn’t waste a moment in responding sharply, “Not everyone dresses like you Mom. People are different and that’s ok.”  

I had just been schooled by a nine-year-old. 

Me… The champion for inclusion and diversity… The one who preached acceptance and embracing difference… The global communicator. Not to mention that I am a black woman. Raising my voice in advocacy for the marginalized had made me believe I had rooted out any bias lurking in the crevices of my brain. Yet there I was, suddenly feeling as if my allyship had been examined and found wanting. I suppose the only consolation was that Aris was aware enough to call me out! 

As we kick off Black History Month in Canada and the USA to celebrate the contribution and legacy of people with African heritage, I believe it’s the right time to double down on the commitment to challenging the unjust structures that hold us back. This is where we need allies with a strong commitment. If you want to build your allyship, here are the seven words that I believe matter most:   

Seven Ways to Be a Strong Ally: 

  1. Authenticity – There must be a genuine shift in your thinking and desire to transform the structures that limit others. If you are doing it for kudos it becomes performative allyship. To create lasting change or communicate with depth, we must go beyond surface actions or a pre-occupation with image. 
  1. Listening – Listen with the intent to learn and understand someone else’s world. We need to be willing to lean into a conversation that scares us especially if we are afraid of saying the wrong thing.  
  1. Empathy/Respect –Showing empathy is a willingness to show up and sit with people through the darkness and honor their perspective as truth because it is their lived experience. Systems of oppression remove people’s dignity; by showing respect you can play a role in restoring it.  
  1. Validate – Instead of gaslighting, bear witness and refrain from judging. People want to be heard; acknowledge their experience. And do your own research to relieve already disadvantaged people of the burden of educating you fully.  
  1. Risk – Gather your courage to speak out, make your position known and stand for marginalized, minoritized and oppressed groups in tangible ways. It is difficult whether you do it individually, through an organization or from within government. It’s especially hard when you feel as if there is no personal reward but remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  
  1. Active – Allyship means moving from intention to impact. This requires action. Governments and organizations have a huge role to play in dismantling oppressive structures and creating inclusive environments. At an individual level we also must take action. Not everyone has to march at a protest rally; we can make a hiring decision, approve a loan, donate to causes, read and inform ourselves, have complex conversations with others, and take daily actions that address inequity.  
  1. Lifestyle – This is not a 28-day diet. It is a conscious decision made with a critical mind and willing heart. It is a choice to show up as an ally daily regardless of how inconvenient it may be. Allyship is not occasional or transactional. It doesn’t demand perfection; we all make mistakes. But it does require ongoing commitment to use our privilege and power to change things for others.   

I am infinitely grateful that my life learning journey has been made richer through various allies like Hanna Naima McCloskey, CEO of FearlessFutures.org and one of the greatest truth tellers I am blessed to know. Ultimately, I am grateful for the challenge that my children bring to me every day to consciously speak a language of inclusion and to model the change that I so desperately want to see.  

By the way, if you haven’t heard of Fearless Futures check out their website and sign up for one of their workshops or listen to the recently launched podcast series 

Thanks for stopping by. Please share your comments and visit again soon. I update content every week so don’t forget to subscribe.

© Arlene Amitirigala 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Stay Present…or You Might Miss the Magic

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa painting is presented at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France on 6 July 2019. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

For his milestone birthday a couple years ago, I gifted my brother a trip to Paris. Well, first he had to find his way to London, and I’d take care of the rest. He bought his ticket and sent me the list of what he wanted to do on the trip. Naturally, a visit to the Louvre to see the famous Mona Lisa was mandatory! 

It was the first week of September and the weather was gorgeous. We pre-booked our tickets for the Louvre online and we arrived at the appointed time. The line to see Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece started as soon as we entered the museum – everyone climbing the escalator was going to the same place. We eventually advanced into a room where a serpentine line aimed to accommodate as many people as possible. The next room housing the painting was similarly packed. It was an incredible throng.  

To keep things moving, the overwhelmed museum guards were barking instructions in a none too gentle manner. “Avancer…avancer” they hollered. All that was left was to physically shove people. Finally, it was our turn to draw closer. We had about 30 seconds to see the Mona Lisa from within the crowd before we too were being barked at and hustled out of the way. This article sums up perfectly what we experienced https://news.artnet.com/art-world/louvre-mona-lisa-crowd-1613794 

Having seen the painting, albeit briefly, I was glad to escape the madness. My brother and I wandered into an adjoining room. He drew me aside to talk. Here’s how the conversation went:  

“Sis, I have to tell you something.” he said. 

“What’s up?” 

“I didn’t see it.” 

“You didn’t see what?” I was confused. 

“The Mona Lisa. I didn’t see it.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“It was so fast, and I was trying to take a picture, but I didn’t get a good picture and I didn’t see it either. I didn’t actually look at it. Can we go back?” 

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. That was me remembering to breathe but, in my mind, I was like, “What? You flew from Seattle to London, caught the train to Paris, came to the Louvre with seeing Mona Lisa at the top of your list and you didn’t actually look at it? What the France!” 

The chorus from Eminem’s Lose Yourself started playing in my head:  

You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow 

This opportunity comes once in a lifetime  

There’s always noise and confusion, our own distracting thoughts, or somebody throwing us off course. Through it all, we can’t forget our mission. What we have is THIS moment. This moment is a unique time stamp, the next second is a new one, this one will be gone forever. If you’re not present, or not focused, you may miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Maybe you will get another shot but that’s not guaranteed.  

That day in the Louvre was a solid life lesson. It was a reminder to stay present in your life, focus on what you came to do and experience the richness of each moment on the journey. 

I invite you to pause right now, breathe, and ask yourself “where am I?” The answer is “here.” Be here now.  

Just in case you are wondering…I joined the line again with my brother so he could ‘actually see’ the Mona Lisa; it was his milestone birthday after all 😊. 

Thanks for stopping by. Share your comments and visit again soon, I share new content each week so don’t forget to subscribe.   

© Arlene Amitirigala 2021. All Rights Reserved.

How to Cultivate Empathy: Stand in their Shoes

Photo credit: Arlene Amitirigala

This is part of the series Lessons from the Backseat…I remember the precise moment five years ago when I realized that my daughter, Lauren, understood the meaning of empathy. Tears were streaming down her face when I picked her up from elementary school. Sitting in the backseat with her brother, she could barely get the words out to tell me what had upset her.  

Her classmate had said something mean about her to all the kids while she was in bathroom. When she returned to the classroom, they all stared at her and the room fell silent. Later, she found out from a friend what had transpired. Ugh.  

We talked about her feelings. She was hurt that her classmate had made the remark behind her back. “Why didn’t she just say it to me?”  I tried my best to explain that sometimes people are dishonest, and it’s hurtful when that happens. Some people will be kind, and some will be mean. We don’t have control over that, and we have to go on and live our lives. 

She sat quietly for a few seconds before saying, “One thing I have learned from this experience is not to do something like this to anyone. It doesn’t feel good, and now I know what it is like to stand in their shoes before they have even put them on.” Then her tears disappeared, and she started singing with her brother. I drove on, absorbing the lessons of that afternoon and the power of empathy.  

What does Empathy do?

A few examples:

  • It gives us the resilience to bounce back from a hurtful situation without bitterness, and rise from it with the resolve to be more caring toward others.  
  • It enables us to build kinder, more inclusive communities. Last April, during lockdown in London, a neighbor left a bag of gloves and masks at my door. They were sold out everywhere so as soon as she received a package, she set aside some for me. I was deeply touched by her random act of kindness. 
  • It strengthens personal relationships. I had a big aha moment with my husband last year. Working and being alone with the kids meant I had a lot on my plate. When I shared my frustrations over the phone, he started going through all these machinations to solve things which annoyed me further. I told him that all I needed was for him to say, “I know it’s tough babe, I wish I were there.”  
  • It supports us in doing our best at work. Think of how you feel with a manager who lacks empathy. Most likely misunderstood, disconnected, even anxious. It can be the loneliest feeling. Now think of what it’s like to work with a leader who demonstrates empathy. You feel more connection, greater trust and achieve richer professional growth. 

In his inauguration speech, President Joe Biden also gave a nod to the role of empathy in healing a divided nation, “We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts, if we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes”.  

One of the things I’ve learned is that the failure to display empathy isn’t always intentional. We are not born as empathetic beings. It’s a skill that’s nurtured and cultivated, hopefully in formative years through to early adulthood. However, all isn’t lost if we miss out on honing this skill; there is time to catch up.  

How to cultivate greater empathy

 My personal recommendations are: 

  1. Ask yourself how you would feel if this situation happened to you. 
  1. Listen to others in a nonjudgmental way, seek to understand first, not solve.  
  1. Examine your beliefs and question why you think the way that you do.  
  1. Get curious about others instead of making assumptions.  
  1. Lean into uncomfortable conversations so that you can learn more about yourself and the impact you have on others – family, friends, and colleagues included.  

In her bestselling book entitled, Dare to Lead, research professor Brené Brown, writes “Empathy is a choice. And it’s a vulnerable choice…” She also explains what empathy is, what it is not and shares her top recommendations on how to improve your skills in this area. It’s a phenomenal book that I highly recommend. Visit BreneBrown.com and browse the Dare to Lead Hub for a wealth of resources.  

If you didn’t ramp up on empathy in 2020 then this year is your chance because, by the looks of it, things aren’t getting any easier. I firmly believe that as we seek to create more just and equitable societies, workplaces, and communities where people feel a deep sense of belonging and rise to be their best selves, we must let empathy be our guide. 

Thanks for stopping by. Do share your thoughts in the comments box below. And visit again, I post updated material each week.  

© Arlene Amitirigala 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Ask Me: How was my day?

This is part of the series Lessons from the Backseat…Do you make the time to truly see others and find out what’s on their mind?

When my daughter Lauren was in kindergarten, we had a nightly routine. We would snuggle up in her bed and I would ask her to tell me all about her day. She would download events and entertain me with stories, and I would answer questions from her probing mind. Most importantly I would get an idea of what she was learning, how she was feeling and what she was thinking about. I knew how to support her better and if I needed to raise something with her teacher.

One night a little voice piped up from the other side of the room. It was two-year-old Aris. He said plaintively, “Mommy ask me about my day.”

He was in nursery and I figured I already knew how his day went: making craft, singing nursery rhymes, eating fish fingers, having potty time, and playing outside. I didn’t need to ask him anything. I assumed that he was simply fine.

It still tugs at my heart when I think of him waiting and wanting to be seen.

How many times have you made assumptions about people? In a hurried world where time is at a premium, we assume we know how people are doing. We are tempted to sacrifice real connection. We don’t stop to ask the most basic of questions: how are you?

It is normal to use social cues so that we can recognize behavior patterns and navigate our environment efficiently. However, I believe we are at risk of increasing our appetite for generalizations and limiting our willingness to get curious about each other.

Branding experts would surely call this a cardinal sin. And so too would my fellow communication professionals. After all, how can you persuade your customers if you don’t understand their world? How can you be an effective communicator if you don’t get underneath the skin of your audience, or find out what makes them tick and what keeps them up at night? How can you sustain a relationship if you are on autopilot, making assumptions?

Greg Monaco, brand coach and storyteller, said something that resonated deeply with me this week. “People feeling heard is an act of love. Go deeper. Don’t listen in a superficial way.”

We are living in unusual times. Unable to socialize in person, we rely on virtual connections, and have rushed interactions with essential workers. We may assume that our colleagues on the screen are ok. We guess that the grocery clerk is ok. We might even presume that the person sleeping next to us is ok. But have we asked?

Maybe it’s a good time to commit to reaching out even more in the coming weeks as we go deeper into lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid. Ask someone – how was your day? Are you ok? And then…listen.

Thanks for stopping by. Share your comments and come back soon. I share new content each week. If you are interested in more nuggets of wisdom from Greg Monaco, find him at letsgomonaco

© Arlene Amitirigala 2021. All Rights Reserved.