Communication can make or break a relationship at home or at work.  Let’s view communication from the perspective of the sender and receiver.  How often as a sender of a message have you had to say: “That isn’t what I meant.”  Sometimes the message we try to send does not clearly express what we are trying to say. Examining what psychologists refer to as “I messages” versus “you messages” can help improve your communication skills.

I first encountered the phrase “I message” in Thomas Gordon’s book Parent Effectiveness Training (1970).  While he initially proposed the concept as a communication tool for parents, it quickly became apparent that the use of “I messages” could be generalized to many settings.

An example should prove useful. A wife who is worried about her unemployed husband’s wellbeing tries to check on him by stating: “You look defeated.”  Her husband, the receiver of the message, immediately begins to defend himself.  He responds angrily because he misinterprets her message.  He feels she thinks that he has given up and is not working hard enough to get a job.  He responds sarcastically, “I’m doing just great.  I’m looking as hard as I can.” Remember, the wife is worried about her husband’s wellbeing, not how hard he is working at getting a job. Yet the message she sends arouses defensiveness. From the perspective of communication theory, her mistake was to start her message with “you.” Another approach would be to start with an “I message.”  “I’m worried because looking for a job has to be frustrating and stressful.  I wish there was something I could do to help.”  Response by husband: “It is stressful, but your offer to help is really appreciated.”

“You statements” block effective communication because they often generate defensiveness, resistance or anger in the receiver.  Let’s look at some other examples:

 “You’ll get another job if you only keep trying.”  Receiver gets defensive. “You think I’m not looking as hard as I should.

 “You’ll feel better tomorrow.” Receiver gets resistant.  “No I won’t. Nothing will have changed. “

The above attempts to offer advice or support are well intentioned, but they serve to only block effective communication.

Recently, at a workshop I conduct for people who are unemployed, a participant pointed out that his wife was a “worrier” and frequently found it necessary to check on him while he worked on his computer.  He admitted that he often snapped, “ You keep interrupting me.  You’re driving me crazy.”  When he returned for the second day of the workshop, he pointed out that he had focused on using “I statements” with his wife.  He acknowledged that it took some effort not to respond impulsively.

But now, instead of responding defensively, he tried statements like, “I’m trying hard to focus on searching job boards right now.  I’ll check in with you when I take a break in about a half-hour. “ His response defused her anxiety without hurting her feelings or getting upset himself.

While it takes some practice, starting statements with “I” can eliminate unintended emotional baggage from your attempts to communicate clearly.


Is it how smart we are, or how smartly we react?

In the struggle to succeed, we typically rely on our intelligence to produce positive outcomes to get what we need.  We do research, ferret out facts, think things through, and seek the opinions of others.

Our resumes are geared to promote accomplishments.  We compile references from respected colleagues to show that others believe we have what it takes.  We come to interviews armed with a wealth of information about prospective employers to show we’re prepared to jump right in.  And no one would argue that these are all good ideas and quite necessary in today’s competitive job market.

Even in doing all the right things, we face a lot of rejection. Someone else gets the job.  We get upset, frustrated, and start to lose motivation.  We begin to doubt our abilities and lose faith in ourselves. We begin a downward spiral of not trying so hard and spend less time looking at job boards or networking.  We find excuses not to apply for certain positions.  So, despite being “smart,” our enthusiasm to look for work diminishes.

So, to move ahead it becomes important to get out of – or avoid – the job search blues.  Unfortunately, stress, frustration, and all the negative emotions that accompany unemployment tend to cloud our thinking.  In his book, “Emotional Intelligence,” (2005) David Goleman writes “When emotions overwhelm concentration, what is being swamped is…the ability to hold in mind all information relevant to the task at hand…we can’t think straight.”(p.79) We get stuck. We fail to make progress.

In his book, Goleman discusses how hope and optimism can play important roles in achievement.  He describes the research of C.R. Snyder at the University of Kansas who found that hopefulness among students entering college was a better predictor of achievement than the SAT, which has a high correlation with IQ.  Snyder defines to hope as “believing you have both the will and the way to accomplish your goals, whatever they may be.”(p.87)

Later, Goleman describes an interesting experiment involving Olympic swimmer, Matt Biondi, conducted by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania. Seligman had previously tested the swimmer for “optimism.” Biondi was told that his time during an event was slower than it actually was.  What might have been demoralizing to an athlete who wasn’t optimistic, was motivating to Biondi.  After being given a rest, Biondi tried again and bettered his previous time.  In contrast, when this experiment was repeated with “pessimistic” swimmers, their times were worse when given a second chance.

Seligman defines optimists as ”People who…see a failure as due to something that can be changed so that that they can succeed next time around…”(p.88) Goleman goes on to say, “For example, in reaction to disappointment such as being turned down for a job, optimists tend to respond actively and hopefully, by formulating a plan of action, say, or seeking out help and advice; they see the setback as something that can be remedied.”(p.88) In short, it’s not failure that defines you, but how quickly you regroup and try again.

So being smart (or really good at your profession) is important.  It is equally important to keep your goal in sight, maintain belief in yourself, be persistent, and use your intelligence to find ways to get over your job search obstacles.

Maybe talking isn’t always the answer.  Try listening.

Many years ago while my wife was pregnant with our first child, I took a workshop based on Parent Effectiveness Training by Dr. Thomas Gordon. The book emphasizes active listening, a communication technique, which requires the listener to feed back to the speaker what she/he hears by re-stating or paraphrasing.  The feedback also can consist of labeling the emotion that the listener thinks underlies the speaker’s message.  Dr. Gordon’s approach to communication has been central to improving my parenting skills as well as my work as a psychologist.  Not surprisingly, I have used his methods to help clients improve communication skills with their children, bosses, employees and spouses.  Inevitably, the vast majority reports improvement in their ability to communicate and resolve conflicts.

Unemployment impacts significantly on the entire family.  Men and women sometimes find themselves unsure of how to respond to their spouse.  Should they make suggestions, act as a cheerleader or just stay out of the way?  I strongly suggest one strategy: be a good listener.  A good listener can be as helpful as a good advisor.   Think back, have you ever called a friend to talk about a problem you faced and come to a solution even though your friend said vey little?  Sometimes just having someone listen to you is the best help you can get.

When someone is under emotional strain, – like a person who is unemployed – what he or she says is often distorted by the strong feelings driving the message.  An active listener sometimes restates a speaker’s statement; thereby, giving the other person a chance to hear and reconsider what they are saying.  This can enable the speaker to clarify the message and sometimes identify their feelings.  Talking through what someone is thinking and feeling can help them stay motivated and on task.

Let’s assume the husband is the unemployed member of the family.  For instance he comes into the kitchen and says angrily: “Isn’t dinner ready yet!”  You might be tempted to respond angrily yourself, but try restating his message: “You’re really hungry, aren’t you?” Responding by restating helps the speaker hear what they are saying and gives them a chance to restate their message more clearly. He answers: “I worked all day on the computer looking for a job. “I really don’t think I got anywhere.” His wife responds by identifying the emotion underlying his second message: “Sounds like searching for a job has you really frustrated and angry.” He realizes he is not really angry that dinner isn’t ready but frustrated at the process of looking for work.  Labeling the emotion that underlies a message facilitates the release of emotions.  He responds: “I need to take a break.” “When will dinner be ready?”

The first step for the listener is to maintain good eye contact and focus on the message.  It is important to pick a time and place where there are no distractions so that you can stay focused on what your husband is saying.  While listening, try to repeat in your own words what your spouse says. Avoid trying to provide solutions or advice. The goal is to convey you are there for him/her.  It isn’t necessary to respond verbally to everything they say. Sometimes silence is enough. Use body language like nodding your head  to indicate your interest and attention.

In summary, active listening is a great way to help your spouse through the emotional storm of unemployment.  Do not jump in with solutions, judge or criticize.  Listen intently, sometimes just restating what you heard and, at other times, labeling the emotion underlying his message.  The unemployed often withdraw and feel socially isolated.  Active listening will communicate your acceptance and your willingness to help.

We are all familiar with the hardships involved in being an unemployed job seeker.  Not only is it frustrating and depressing when you can’t find a job, but the feelings become magnified as the length of time unemployed increases.

Rather than be depressed over what you can’t have today, career expert Elena Bajic, founder and CEO of Ivy Exec, is telling job seekers to think of the jobs they can have tomorrow. Bajic is offering eight tips on how to become smarter job seekers and be better equipped for the future job market. Here are her suggestions:

1. Take a hard look at your finances: If you’re currently searching for a job or are about to start looking for a job, immediately look at your finances to see where you can curb costs and expenses.

2. Take inventory & do a full and honest self analysis: Take time to understand who you are and what you can bring to the job table. Really understand your strengths and weaknesses.

3. Set realistic and achievable goals and review them daily: Make your time count when it comes to finding the right job. Make a specific to-do or checklist each day to make sure your job search is productive. Set goals such as “I need to make at least five calls today” or “I’m going to reach out / network with four people today.”

4. Treat your job search like you’d treat a job: Finding the right job requires the same commitment as one would commit to a full-time job. 

5. Network to build relationships, not to find a job: Networking is about building relationships with people who can connect you with people who can help you find a job.

6. Focus on self improvement: For those who are currently unemployed, dedicate time during your job search to acquire new skills and to improve your candidacy. Use this time as an opportunity to build on your existing skills and experience. Make your time fruitful.

7. Develop a job search with professional help: if you can afford it, hire a professional who can offer objective advice and help anchor you so that you’d avoid making common job search mistakes (ie. take the first job offer that comes through, start interviewing with any company that shows interest even if it is the not right fit, etc.) .

8. Stay positive – Interviewers can read negativity pretty quickly, and nobody wants to hire a negative person. By following the first seven tips, you will be a more confident job seeker with more focus, and with a clear picture of the right job that’s the right fit.

Greg Olsten is an Associate in Professional Services at IvyExec.com.

Recently, Ivy Exec CEO and Founder, Elena Bajic, was interviewed by Aol Job’s writer, Vickie Elmer. Below are Elena’s thoughts on some of the ways to stand out from the competition to land a job.

Every time you apply for a job you have the chance to be a standout, a star, or at least a unique individual with a string of talents that may be a great match for the employer’s needs.

But many don’t see themselves that way or sell themselves that way. And they don’t find the ways they can really shine before they send off their resume. They need to assess how their talents and traits could really benefit the person who’s about to read their resume and hire someone crucial to their team.

So this year, give yourself enough time and many opportunities to stand out in your job search. This may mean cutting back on the number of resumes you send out a week or a month. But a few carefully crafted resumes and cover letters that connect the dots may do more to open doors than sending out hundreds of copycat CVs.

“It takes quite a bit of energy” to do some research and become a “standout candidate,” said Elena Bajic, founder and CEO of Ivy Exec, which offers targeted career advice and jobs for members. She agrees candidates need to be selective in applying for jobs; “pick and choose those that are highly relevant” to their skills and expertise.
Then follow these five tips to make yourself a standout as you apply for work:

Know the traits that impress.
Some will be written right into the job posting. Others may be in your future employer’s core values or mission statement. Sometimes they can be identified by reading a few blog posts or an in-depth profile of the CEO or senior executive in charge of the area where you hope to work. Look at industry trends and best practices, too. The American Management Association identified the four Cs as skills employers really want: critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration; communication and creativity / innovation.

Ensure your resume matches your job.
Anyone looking for a job in sales or marketing needs to promote themselves very effectively. An editor cannot afford misspellings or grammatical errors, Bajic said. A manager must show that they are organized and can engage people with their resume. An IT manager’s resume needs a different structure and look than an interactive advertising manager. Different jobs and sectors require varied approaches. So each time you send out your resume, take just 10 minutes to adjust it so it’s a closer match to the job posting.

Follow-up – twice.
After the resume’s gone out, send an email or make a call to promote yourself again. Then another one week later. When one candidate did this with Bajic, she gave his resume a second look, which led to an interview. “I don’t receive that many follow-ups,” she said, “maybe 5 or 10 percent” of job seekers connect even once after applying.

Speed your replies.
When she’s requesting an initial phone interview, Bajic sees those who respond to an email quickly, in a few minutes or so, as “a high energy person who’s engaged.” Someone who does not reply for two or three days may imply that they are less energetic and engaged or not all that interested in the job, she said. Other employment experts say it’s important to show you’re energetic and a quick study, especially if you’re a mature job seeker or one who has been out of the workplace for a few years.

Prepare for phone interviews.
Take care with this and don’t take it on the fly. When the HR manager calls for a phone screening interview, ask to schedule it the next day – and use those 24 hours to research the company and the job you’re seeking. Take time to envision the job and what it entails, Bajic says. Ask yourself: What is the company trying to achieve here? That way your questions will be more in-depth and your impact better.

Remember too that what works to make you a standout with IBM may not be as impressive at Apple or a small start-up in Ann Arbor, Mich. Core traits that work for small entrepreneurial organizations may be miles apart from the ones that turn heads at a Fortune 500 corporation. The key is to draw on your list of strengths and best traits and bring up those that your future boss really values.
It’s knowing what will stand out and shine in the galaxy where you’re hoping to land next that could lead to success.

Over the years I have deepened my understanding of the human experience and improved my skills as a therapist by listening closely to clients.  Recently, while conducting a workshop on coping with the emotional turmoil of unemployment, a participant offered a great suggestion to the group.  When her children were young, she sometimes felt housebound.  She started volunteering to get out of the house and connect with people, as well as make a social contribution.

Once she returned to work she was too busy to continue volunteering.  Unfortunately, because of the downturn in the economy she found herself unemployed and spending hours everyday looking for another position.   After a few months, she started to feel socially isolated.  Remembering the sense of community she got from volunteering years earlier, she decided to try her hand at it once again.

It worked.  She looked forward to working with other people and helping the less fortunate.  Her motivation improved as well as her sense of self worth.  As a result, she encouraged other members of the group to volunteer.  When we met as a group a week later, she had inspired four other people to take on volunteer positions.  One person reported that she was learning new computer skills.  Someone in another workshop was hoping the skills she was gaining volunteering at an animal shelter would lead to a job at a privately owned dog kennel.

Our society is richer and more humane because of millions of volunteers across the country.  For those seeking jobs, it not only enriches their lives but also adds to their resume.  It shows perspective employers that you have a cooperative, sociable nature and are willing to give generously of yourself to support a greater cause.  It helps answer the question “What have you been doing while unemployed?” Interestingly, a recent blog post on Ivyexec.com reported that 20% of hiring managers relied on volunteering as part of their hiring decisions.

Ignoring the stress you may be experiencing is not in your best interest and won’t necessarily get you another job faster. In his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert M. Sapolsky cites research, which clearly indicates that stress has a significantly negative impact on physical and mental well-being.  Its effects on our cardiovascular system, immune system, memory, and mental health are now well documented.

Our nervous system is built to prepare us for danger.   When confronted with a life threatening event, our nervous system triggers the fight or flight response.  Hormones are released and chemical messages are sent to every part of our body.  As a result, we experience short bursts of energy that can save our lives.  Obviously, the stress response supports our survival as a species, but it turns out to be a double-edged sword.  Unfortunately, we are capable of initiating the stress response not only to physical danger, but also when confronted with psychological fears and worries. The stress response, if engaged for prolonged periods, can be devastating.  A survey study entitled The Anguish of Unemployment (2009) conducted by The John J. Heldrich Center for Work and Development at Rutgers University emphasized the impact of unemployment on our mental health.  Long-term unemployment, as we face today, is linked to depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and domestic violence.  Considering the threat prolonged periods of stress present to our well being, it is truly critical that we engage in activities that have been shown to reduce the effects of stress on our bodies and minds.

You can easily find articles and books on coping with stress.  Two strategies that I recommend are exercise and diaphragmatic breathing. Your physician can give you advice on the type and duration of an exercise program that’s right for you. For diaphragmatic breathing most authorities suggest twenty to thirty minutes a session three or more times a week. Personally, I rely on diaphragmatic breathing five to ten minutes a day.  Search the Internet and you’ll find several descriptions and demonstrations. The idea is to inhale slowly, expanding your diaphragm (the area just below your rib cage). Then exhale slowly.  I breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth.  I begin by clearing my mind and concentrate solely on the sensation produced by the flow of air.  The experience not only reduces mental stress, it leaves my body feeling physically relaxed.

%d bloggers like this: