Cynthia Barlow is the President and Founder of C3 Conversations Inc., a boutique consulting and training firm in Toronto that helps people communicate in a way that others can better hear, interpret, and respond to the message.
She has designed and conducted leadership development and facilitation programs and corporate workshops, and has provided one-on-one coaching, for almost thirty years. Her clients have benefited from her wealth of people knowledge and process experience and consistently report that after working with Cynthia they have more clarity, energy, and confidence, and experience less stress, emotional interference, and confusion.
Cynthia believes that nowadays, everyone is managing two jobs. “Our first job is what we are paid to do – our function. Our second job is managing how we are perceived by others and the internal conversations we generate as a result.” Cynthia explains. “In the last twenty years I have come to the conclusion that, regardless of our age, stage or position, most of us have a deep, unvoiced fear of not being good enough.”
“This fear negatively affects almost all aspects of our lives and permeates our communications. Many of us are reluctant to have authentic conversations because the perceived cost – reinforcement of the belief that we are not good
enough is too great. This negatively affects all of our exchanges, not just conversations about leadership development or emotional intelligence. Failure to recognize and address these unvoiced fears, blocks our ability to advance professionally and personally.”
In today's fast-paced, smart-phone world, Cynthia suggests we are losing the art of connection, the micro-moments that make or break relationships and the trust upon which they hinge.
“Trust is the currency of the realm in times of challenge and break downs. Trust demands the courage to risk, in real-time situations, and it shows up in conversations, whether in the boardroom or the bedroom. I help people make sense of their feelings, and to get clear enough to have those potentially difficult conversations. It is impossible to build collaboration without trust.”
Cynthia says that we can develop self-confidence and trust through our unscripted, in-the-moment conversations. But, not all conversations are spoken out loud. She suggests that some of the most important talks we will ever have are with ourselves. It takes courage and confidence to become aware of and confront our outdated notions and preconceived ideas that no longer serve us.
“Courage is not reserved for the “big” moments, the home run or the grand gesture. In fact, it is most often exercised in smaller moments, times when it’s inconvenient. And, because it is a learned skill, the more we practice, the more we improve, and the more our courage and self-confidence grow. Knowing the right questions to ask, and then having the courage to ask those questions - hallmarks of a high level of emotional intelligence - are key to finding answers that can propel our lives in new directions,” Cynthia adds.
Her workshops and coaching practice assists clients to explore these and related questions by first, instilling the confidence required to make the journey, and then imparting the skills needed to accomplish it. Cynthia’s flagship program and her raison d’etre, The Trust Program™, is one such vehicle. This intimate 5-day leadership retreat accelerates the process of reflection and the resulting insights.
“Many people feel something is missing in their lives, something that transcends money, career, status and other conventional measures of success. Even if people don’t know exactly what it is that is hampering their progress, through the program’s experiential exercises, participants uncover key stumbling blocks, move through them, open the door to a brighter future, and have a better understanding of themselves and their effect on those with whom they live, work and play.”
According to Cynthia, one immediate way to improve our results is to hone our awareness and sensitivity to the words we use, the body language we display, and the impact both have on others. Again, this takes courage. “Words are the connective tissue of all human relationships. Many of us are not aware of the visceral and long-term impact our words and tone of voice can have on others. Learning how to drive our own behaviours improves relationships.”
For example, let’s look at the difference between but and and. Say you have a meeting with your boss to share some ideas. If, at the end of your presentation, your boss thanks you and says, ‘Great ideas, but we don’t have the budget to move on them this quarter.’ Chances are that what you will hear is that you, and by extension, your ideas, are not good enough. Alternatively, if your boss says, ‘Great ideas, and this quarter, there’s no room in the budget, let’s make it a priority next quarter.’
The words used aren’t that different in the two scenarios, but the unspoken subtext is - the first reinforces our negative self-image, the second uplifts and validates us. These meta messages are interpreted by the listener on an unconscious level. What distinguishes effective leaders at all levels is their use of these kinds of subtle, yet nonetheless impactful, communication tools.
Cynthia also recommends that leaders (and parents) avoid using the word should because all we hear is the unspoken subtext that we are doing something wrong. More importantly, it is proof positive that we’re not good enough. She recommends that, if we want to have better relationships with our family, friends and colleagues, we replace the word should with the word could.
And, let’s not overlook the importance of what isn’t said in a conversation. Let’s say you are meeting a friend for a long overdue lunch and he keeps glancing at his watch, and it’s starting to bother you. Rather than making assumptions about you not being important enough, Cynthia challenges us to ask for clarification. For example, you might say, ‘You’ve been looking at your watch. Am I holding you up from something?’ Chances are your friend is not even aware of his body language and may only be looking at his watch because his mother is scheduled for a hospital procedure at that moment and he’s concerned.
“This example demonstrates how important it is to listen to the silences and become aware of how others may interpret our behaviour. Awareness helps unwind potential road blocks and reduces the potential for conflict,” Cynthia says. “Don’t leave conversations without exploring what has not been said. Silence only brings more silence, distrust and negativity. Straight forward, direct conversations on the other hand, foster trust, truth and transparency.”
There are volumes spoken in silence. “Getting the hard stuff onto the table where it can be addressed is something I’ve been told I do well and gracefully (though forcefully). That’s because I have no interest in cash cows; the only thing I am interested in is how quickly I can assist someone and then lose them as a client.”
On a personal level, Cynthia is passionate about words, water, puppies, and chocolate, which she is certain is a valid food group. She’s the author of three books and is co-authoring her fourth. RESILIENCE: It’s Not About Bouncing Back, helps leaders elevate and energize their teams in turbulent times, and will be launched in early 2019.
Cynthia has two grown sons and two grandchildren that she spoils whenever she can. To help future generations, she supports the charity The Student Unity Project (SUP – www.studentunityproject.com) that focuses on bullying and the scars it leaves. She believes that no matter one’s age, the best antidote to bullying is to teach people how to genuinely connect with others, while building the belief that everyone is ‘good enough’ to be treated with dignity, respect and compassion. She welcomes working with clients who are open to introspection, eager to improve and interested in moving quickly.
Suzen Fromstein is the author of Suits and Ladders, Ten Proven Ways to Keep Your Job Safe - with a few jokes thrown in. Suits and Ladders was an Amazon Best Selling Book in the Career Guides Category.
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