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Filtering by Category: Accountability

How to Cope with Stress, Anger During this Political Season

Ana Polanco

Last week I tried to write this story about empathy for the opposing party and I couldn’t. I was feeling overly anxious and stressed about the US Presidential Elections and the "No" Vote on Colombia's plebiscite to approve the current version of the peace accords. 


With less than 30 days in the national presidential debate, I am feeling, tired, angry, charged, stressed, and like this entire political season is a charade. I also felt like it was hard to disconnect from the political chatter because so many of my values and who I want the country to be is on the line.  I imagine many of you also feel this way and are feeling burned out. 

From race, culture and police relations, immigration reform to sexual assault, women’s bodies and the economy, I feel totally under attack.  Anger and frustration are healthy emotions and we should find healthy ways to express them. 

When I am in this type of angry position, it’s hard for me to cultivate empathy immediately, see the other side and be my best self. Many of you may also feel this stress or anger.  So is it realistic for you to cultivate empathy in this political season?

The truth is that it’s different for everyone. Everyone has different levels of tolerance based on their lived experiences and different abilities to let go of anger. However, cultivating empathy and compassion is truly important, especially when the stakes are high and the issues are charged.

Empathy allows us to step in someone else’s shoes and try to understand the other person's condition and emotions from their perspective. Empathy is a necessary element to understanding immigration reform, sexual assault and race relations. If we cannot put ourselves in the shoes of vulnerable communities, it can be extremely difficult to build empathy for others and even harder to find consensus.

So how do we cultivate empathy in extreme situations like this political debate?


Some conversations and actions are more manageable than others. For me an overload of social media and news, causes me to feel anxious and unsafe. So I have to draw a line in the sand every day for myself to prevent the overload and anxiety from seeping into my own work and relationships with others. After all to make culture shifting changes in my consulting work, I have to work with people all across the political spectrum, so keeping balance is key to my own professional success. For others, attending rallies, unfriending people on social media and not engaging family members in political conversations can be part of the making choices around your line of engagement.  


A friend of mine was having a conversation with two male family members who referred to 1996 Miss Universe Alicia Machado as “the housekeeping.”  She quickly responded by telling them how disrespectful it was to refer to women this way, asking them to consider how they would feel if this were their own daughters. This silenced her family members instantly. As women we have an opportunity to push back on conversations that sexually demean other women. It’s never a good idea to pit women against women especially when sexual assault is at stake no matter what party you are affiliated with.

And If you are a survivor, silence may feel safer than speaking out. I urge you to do what’s right for you. This is also true for people of color who experience other forms of violence (poverty, microaggressions, racism) on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes silence feels safer especially when you are just not sure what to do in awkward situations and when passive aggressive behavior is at play.  Being in your power means owning your choices whatever they are. 


This week I tried to step into Donald Trump’s shoes. I was unsuccessful at first, wondering what would cause someone to have so much hate for others. I then forced myself to imagine Donald as a small child. Children do not know sexual assault, they do not hate other people, they do not suffer from the many social ills we suffer from as adults. Imagining him as a child, allowed empathy to flow through me. I began thinking about what his parents must have been like, his role models, his childhood. This helped me see how sad and lonely it must have been and is to be Donald Trump. While it doesn’t excuse his behavior it does make me wonder about the millions of followers out there, living lonely and scared lives. In some ways we, as a country, are also responsible for engaging them, educating them, making sure they have the tools to keep up with the new millennium. 

Consider how difficult it must be to live in isolation and the amount of work we still have to do to educate and heal communities around race, gender and sexual orientation.  Speaking to opposing sides from a place of empathy, allows us to ask empowering questions to people on opposite sides of an isle and to discover who they are and how they came to have certain beliefs. 


Most failed negotiations and debates in business and politics are because people are focused on strategy and outcome instead of purpose, values and relationships. Focusing on strategy makes conversations small. For example, I have a strategy and I want you to adapt it to fix the problem we are facing. That leaves a limited number of solutions for the opposing party to take. Instead take a wider approach and talk about the impact a situation is having on you -- How you feel, what’s important to you, what your deepest concerns are. Then leave space for others to share the impact the problem is having on them.  Purpose and values will help you know who you are, who the other person is and what’s important to them – creating more avenues and possible strategies for mutual success.


We all have different forms of power and privilege that are operating all the time – education level, profession, income, race, age, gender, migration status, sexual orientation, disability and many others. During this political season, manage that power and privilege, which is always acting and giving or taking away your ability to exert power and influence over any situation. Consider if your family member said something you didn't agree with, would you respond to them the same way you respond to either political candidate?

Our relationships as a country are at stake. A taxi drive said to me, let's vote the people I don't agree with off to an island. No -- that is dictatorial and completely un-American value. We can heal relationships and double down resources and open conversations to those areas where voters have different opinions or are still feeling the economic crisis.  If we don't open lines of communication between different communities, we will find ourselves facing bigger problems of home grown terrorists and breaks in race relations -which are already happening.

In the end, the choice of how you want to walk in the world is yours. They key is to lead from a place of choice as often as possible.

Your turn: How are you coping with the political season? Is it working? What else might you do to cope with stress?

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Are you using work as an excuse to avoid your life?

Ana Polanco

If Adele were here while I was writing this blog her next comment after the title would be Hello…

Okay, seriously. So how do you know if you are using work to avoid your life?

There is not one specific list for everyone, but there are some questions you should be asking yourself:

  • Are you living the fullest version of your life right now?
  • Does your life feel well rounded, whole and fulfilling?
  • If you divided your life into a pie, what percentage would be work?

If any of these questions, are making you even slightly uncomfortable or causing you to pause or rationalize the answer, then you might be using work as an excuse to avoid your life. The reality is that a majority of us spend more time at work than in any other activity. Changes in American work and community life have radically impacted and heightened the ability for people to focus in on work and avoid all the other areas that make them happy and give them life.

Over time we develop a series of reasons to avoid engaging others. Some of the most popular reasons I have given and have heard from others about working too much are:

  • We’re on a project and have to put in long hours
  • My company is reorganizing
  • I want to make a good impression
  • I’m new

And then one year and ten pounds later, you’re still pulling 60 hours a week and haven’t seen or done something you love in months. Oops – that was me remembering. The truth is that work can be the ultimate husband. Think about it. Work is always available for you and needs you. Work constantly asks you to solve problems and you get paid for it. What!!

The problem is work is less like a husband and more like that happy hour deal you can’t quit. Talk about other ways of avoiding your life.

Early in my career I had a boss tell me “everyone is replaceable.” For a while I was concerned he was referring to me, but really he was referring to the work. The work is endless and so everyone is replaceable because the work demands it. No matter how much you LOVE your job, don’t neglect your life, your health and those things that inspire you. It is no one else’s job to take care of your personal life other than you. So make today count in every way possible and do things you love because you truly love them and not because someone expects you to do them.   

So how exactly do we kick the work habit and start prioritizing ourselves?

Set Work Boundaries

As you know work will always be ready and waiting. So the most important thing you can do is set boundaries. This is especially important in the first 90 days of a new job.  This is where you decide what aspects of the workplace culture you plan to take on. Any norms and behaviors you set during this time will define how your coworkers engage with you. Example: If you set a fixed schedule and boundaries around that schedule, your coworkers will learn that these are your boundaries and normally follow suit.

 Don’t Stay Late Unless You Absolutely Have to

While all bosses have their own quirks, your boss doesn’t necessarily equate length of time you stay at work with loyalty, commitment or drive. If you need to work after closing time, make it the exception and not the rule even during times of reorganizations and mergers. As someone who has supervised many people in different situations and roles, I was only ever concerned with the product outcome. The only instance in which time matters is if you are unable to manage your time and it affects other team members. I was always most impressed by staff who completed things in less time and who had a healthy work life balance. Those team members opted for good over perfect. They tended to be the most well rounded staff.

Strengthen your Creativity & Learning Skills

Creativity comes from – not work! Life is what brings creativity to the workplace. Some of the best campaigning ideas that I have had, have come from billboards that I saw on road trips and curious conversations with friends in other sectors. Live your life so you can bring immense creativity and flexibility to the workplace. Creativity and flexible thinking are some of the greatest assets employees can bring to the workforce. Find a hobby or a creative outlet that inspires you to new ways of thinking and solving problems.

Ask yourself the key question

Ask yourself, if you weren’t at work, where would you like to be right now? The truth is that if we weren’t at work we would be doing something that inspires us and even peaks our curiosity. Maybe you would be spending time with family, taking a road trip, getting healthy, taking a class, fulfilling a passion or hobby, volunteering, realizing your personal life goals… The list is endless.

Whatever you do, don’t be a drone. Live your life, before it’s too late. Don’t be the person that looks back and regrets all the time you spent alone in your cubicle. That miracle or great idea you’re waiting for isn’t going to show up with your dinner delivery at work.

Your turn: What are your best excuses for avoiding your life? How did you break the cycle?

P.S. Enjoyed the post? Help us spread the love by sharing it, liking it, tweeting it, or forwarding it to your network. 

Does your leadership style allow for different perspectives?

Ana Polanco

In the last week, I received the most amazing gifts from other women – witnessing each of them change perspective in an instant and beginning to overcome their fears about change. These women are from all walks of life, ranging in age from early 20s to late 50s. When faced with the opportunity to change perspective, they all went for it, still afraid but trusting that change was necessary to feel a sense of fulfillment and personal satisfaction in their professional and personal lives.

The women I’m talking about are talented, articulate, go-getters at the top of their game who were stuck. We rarely hear from women or men about these vulnerable moments when you want to change but you feel afraid. And yet these challenges and the failures we experience are the ones that help us learn how to deal with the crisis and the "stuckness" in our own lives.

Recently at a conference, I divulged to an audience how I blew up an important relationship at a former place of work. In the midst of that blow up, out of sheer exhaustion, I took a chance, showed vulnerability and put my cards on the table. And it paid off.

By being vulnerable with a colleague I had long been fighting with, I changed my perspective and the trajectory for how I work with him. As a result, we were able to exceed the change I dreamed of working on together.  

This difficult experience has made me better able to build stronger relationships. I learned to deepen the connections with others to achieve purposeful outcomes in my social change work and to be open to all the possibilities available to me. Because of my ability to make those authentic connections, I feel greater energy, purpose and joy in every project I take on.

Sounds easy, right? As talented people of color sometimes our engagement plan is to defend our strategy at any cost. Even if it means destroying the relationship in front of us. Now I don’t think we set out to destroy the relationships we are in, but the slope between defending and destroying is very slippery.  As a Latina I bring a whole series of life experiences that influence how I think others might behave towards me. If those experience or pre-judgements are speaking loudly, they can make it difficult to get my point across and win the change I want.

So how do we begin to minimize this slippery slope and instead take a more expansive leadership stance that allows us to shift perspective? Here are a few ways you can get started:

Discover and Manage your Triggers. The Fight or Flight response controlled by the amygdala can be triggered in a matter of seconds, leaving us often regretting things we said or did to others out of fear. Becoming aware of your triggers can help you identify the source of your fears so that you can manage your emotions. Finding your triggers is only the first step. Triggers are often tied to long held beliefs systems or experiences that we have had in our own lives. We won’t conquer them in one sitting. Instead take a long term perspective to discover the root of your fears and learn to manage them. The more you practice managing your emotions, the more you will discover opportunities at every door. Learning to flex this self-management muscle is key to expanding your leadership stance.

Learn to talk to people, not at them. In many sectors we’re expected to contextualize, rationalize and explain our decisions. But every encounter with a co-worker doesn’t require this framing. In order to talk to people, we must try using empower questions to discover their purpose behind a strategy. It is from purpose that we can build authentic, lasting partnerships.

Empowering questions begin with What or How and give the responder the space to give you the underlying cause to their decisions or feelings about a strategy. Questions with a Yes or no answer prevent you from getting to know the person and what they value.      

Begin Eliminating lies and half-truths from daily chit chat. Many studies show that the average person lies every ten minutes in their engagement with others. When people hear this they panic and often think – That doesn’t apply to me. However, lying is a strong commonly used defense mechanism that we pick up as children when we are afraid of the response.

Telling white lies and half-truths prevents others from getting to know who we really are. When you are having a bad day, maybe it’s time to admit what kind of day you are really having.  The more precise we are with our language with others, the more likely we are to gain their understanding, build connections achieve transformative outcomes.

What kind of leader do you want to be? When people asked me what kind of leader I wanted to be in college, I always wanted to be a powerful leader. And yet over time this answer felt meaningless and awkward. What does it mean to be powerful? What kind of power are we talking about?

Nowadays I ask the question differently: How do I want others to see and receive me as a leader? While the questions are similar your responses to each of them might surprise you.  Once you have a clear idea of the answer, develop the skills necessary to become the leader you want others to see.

Your Turn: Find one way you can shift perspective this week and be more open to the unknown. Let us know how it turns out!

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What’s so bad about the “F” word?

Librada Estrada

Failure and SuccessNobody likes to have it attached to him or her and we don’t want our project to be labeled as such. In some instances it may cause you to freeze. We dislike the word so much that we spend most of our time avoiding it like the plague—FAILURE! But is it really that bad of a word? On the surface, folks hear it or say it and automatically think negative connotations. I used to think this way as well until I realized that I was not only seeing it as a dirty word but also thinking in absolutes and focusing on it’s definition of lack of success or insufficient.

I would drive myself nuts, and those around me, by trying to think of all the things that could potentially go wrong on a project and prepare for them. Why? Because I did not want others to point out if I had fallen short or if the product/program was not well implemented.

I would create unrealistic expectations for myself that I would spend so much time on the planning that I would postpone the implementing; I would experience analysis paralysis. This caused a lot of anxiety for me.

I would come across as dictatorial and rigid. Rather than keeping the big picture in mind, I would be narrow-minded and fixate on the little things. Sometimes I would be perceived as not being a team player since I would not engage others or ask for help because I feared being seen as not knowing what I was doing. Other times I would come across as not being interested, particularly when I would not speak up in meetings because I was worried that my ideas or questions were not fully formed.

The story that I bought into was that I was preparing, planning and being thoughtful. In reality I was trying to hide being ill informed or avoiding things like having to be in front of others and being open to judgment. I made up a story that if flaws did not come up, I could stay under the radar and not draw attention to myself.

I had also written a script in my head that I could not afford mistakes because of being Latina. I put more pressure on myself to come across as perfect, particularly if I was the only woman, the only Latina or the only person of color on a project or in a meeting. I decided that I needed to present myself well not just for me but for other Latinas as well. Talk about grandiose stories!

What I also realized is that by focusing on avoiding mistakes, I was holding myself back from risking—at work, at home, in my relationships, etc. I would put off crucial conversations or providing feedback as long as I could because I was afraid of not doing a good job the first time around or that I might be wrong.

Fortunately, I started to work with an awesome coach that asked me some powerful questions. As a result, I learned to shift how I perceived mistakes and to see them as stepping-stones and opportunities to improve. I learned to differentiate between failing and being a failure.

Failures hold us back when we are not open to learning from them. By focusing on failure as a bad thing we end up limiting ourselves. It holds us back from receiving feedback and allowing us to be vulnerable and authentic. We are not open to learning and stretching. Apologies do not come easy to anyone and when we cannot recognize our mistakes, it’s almost impossible to say I am sorry in a sincere manner. We end up not even trying and maybe becoming complacent.

Playing it safe contributes to boredom, lack of creative thinking and staying inside the box. If you are a business, it affects your revenue and being able to compete in the market place. As a professional, it affects your performance and development. As a leader, you don’t stretch or inspire others and end up emphasizing that failing is not an option.

Fearing failure also contributes to having unrealistic expectations of your staff and affects your supervisory style. How can your team grow if there is no room for creative thinking or stretching? What is the incentive for someone to admit an error and ask for help if this may be seen as a negative?

Yes, success is important and don’t let fear of failure hold you back from stretching, trying new things and risking a little. To appreciate the gifts from your mistakes and failures, consider the following:

  • Break the cycle— Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.” Learn from your mistakes. Identify how can you grow from the experience and modify your behavior or process that you use to change your results.
  • Acknowledge failures and move on—We all want to succeed and sometimes we have to stumble or fall down before crossing the finish line. Acknowledge what went wrong, your part in it and then get up and move. Consider them steps moving you toward your goals. If you don’t own it, it will fester and keep you from being able to move forward successfully.
  • Clarify is this F.E.A.R.?—Differentiate between False Evidence Appearing Real (F.E.A.R.) and what truly concerns you. Is your concern real or is it a story that you are buying into and that you are allowing to influence your decisions?
  • Reflect on the following questions: -What is it that scares you about failing? -What stories are you attaching to failing? -What is the worst-case scenario? -What is the best-case scenario? -What are you risking by not trying? -What's possible if you were not concerned about failing? -What are true consequences and which ones have you made up?
  • Learn to say I don’t know AND follow up—Give yourself permission to not always have the answers AND make it a point to take action. Get curious and ask clarifying questions or do some research.
  • Engage others—Reach out and ask for input. Tap into the expertise of others and build on ideas. No one became successful without the help, input or support of others.

Your turn: In the comment section below, share what have you been able to accomplish when you let go of fearing failure.

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What is YOUR brand?

Librada Estrada

STQ Logo_ReducedLast week I had an opportunity to hear Melanie Spring, Chief Inspiration Officer at Sisarina, speak on rocking your brand. She kicked off the conversation by asking the group what we thought makes up our brand. Folks responded values, services, and such. Although these are all good things and important pieces of our business, Melanie shared that what makes a brand is everything that others say about you and not the other way around. Your brand is the reputation you are cultivating through your words, actions and connections. Although the message was geared towards us as business owners, what I learned has application at the individual level as well. Two elements that stood out as being key to building your brand are connecting authentically with others and building trust through consistency.

Connecting Authentically With Others

Whether connecting with people in person or virtually, what do others feel when they interact with you? What are you doing to build relationships in a genuine manner? Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” You are more likely to associate with people that make you feel good, have similar beliefs, and relate to you. When you evoke positive feelings in others, they will be drawn to you and your brand more. The opposite is also true, you stay away from those that bring you down or are negative. Think about whether you are drawing people in with your words, actions, and behaviors or are you repelling them.

I was reminded of when I received some really great feedback early in my career. I am a direct person. When I was much younger I was told that my directness was often perceived as meanness. Hearing this took me by surprise because I shared my thoughts to be of service to others and not to intentionally hurt anyone. Yet, I had to learn to present my ideas in a manner that helped others see my intention so that they would be open to receiving what I had to share and to feel comfortable working with me. It made a world of difference and changed how others perceived me.

The other side of this is considering who is in your tribe. Dime con quién andas y te diré quien eres/Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are. The people that you surround yourself with also influence your reputation. Are those around you promoting or distilling the reputation you want to build? We cannot always choose our family but we can choose whom we hang out with personally or professionally.

Building Trust Through Consistency

It takes time to build relationships with others. Your audience, whether it be friends, family or work colleagues, needs to know that they can count on you in each interaction. They do not want a Jekyll and Hyde nor are they asking for perfection. As I shared, in some instances my directness did not work in my favor and yet, in others it did. Colleagues and friends have learned that if they want a candid response I will give it to them. And, they do not hesitate to ask because I have connected with them in a genuine manner. They want to know that you will be honest with them and that you will follow through. Do you deliver on what you say you will? People want to feel confident that your actions and words are consistent and reliable. This is powerful because you affirm their belief in you through your response. Once you have built that reputation, they will trust you. And, these individuals will become your brand ambassadors.

If you are not sure about your brand or want to improve it, si tú quieres, consider doing one or more of the following.

Reflect on these questions:

  • What do you want to be known for by clients/supervisor/friends/peers?
  • How strong is your brand?
  • What are you currently doing to build your brand?
  • Where is the gap?
  • What do you need to start or stop doing?

If you aren’t sure where to start, consider your most recent review or feedback session at work.

  • What feedback was provided?
  • What did you want them to say about you?
  • What do you need to change?

Think about the topics that your friends or colleagues ask you for advice on or see you as the go to person. Ask individuals you trust:

  • What do you think I stand for?
  • What does my work say about me?
  • How excited or indifferent are you/others about working with me?
  • How do you perceive me as a leader and/or team member?
  • How do you describe me to others?

Your turn: What do you want your legacy to be?

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