The Right Questions Can Change Your Life

In our roles as consultants and coaches, we’ve come to understand that finding the right question in a conversation with a leader, a team, or even an entire organization can be a game changer.

The right question grabs people’s attention, it helps them see and think in new ways, and it demonstrates genuine interest in their wisdom and perspective.

Let’s go through that list in more detail. 

The right question:

  • Grabs people’s attention.
    • So often when we’re in discussion, we focus our concern on saying the things we want to say and saying them in a way that we feel good about.
    • We’re all for growing in your ability to do that, AND we find that if you can also get others (individuals, teams, whole organizations) to explore their thinking with you, you’ll often be more powerful.
  • Helps people see and think in new ways.
    • Think of it this way: if you go into a meeting and start building a case for your perspective, it’s likely that you’ll get either agreement or disagreement.
    • If you go in saying, “I’d like to ask that we all share our current perspective on this initiative,” you’ll learn so much more about others’ perspectives.
    • You’ll also have a better chance at having a shared sense of what needs to happen to gain alignment and commitment to move forward.
  • Demonstrates genuine interest in people’s wisdom and perspective.
    • As a leader in your life and your work, you’ll always be more effective and influential if you have a genuine interest in others’ wisdom and perspective.
    • Think of your own experience: If someone tells you what to do, you feel very differently than if you had a voice in the decision and determined together what you should tackle next.

Questions are powerful – not to grill people, but to invite them to influence you as you influence them – to invite them into shared leadership on moving forward together.

Next week we’ll share some guidelines for figuring out great questions, and then the following week we’ll share some great questions you can grab for yourself!

If you’d like support in creating an environment of shared leadership, contact us today about our Executive Coaching.

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Life Saving Relationships

At Carpenter Smith Consulting, we’re passionate about supporting you in creating success and satisfaction in your leadership, your work, and your world. And, to do that, we know that you need to take care of yourself. No self = no success or satisfaction.

So, this week we want to encourage you to read this thought-provoking article in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology, Life-Saving Relationships by Kirsten Weir, March 2018, p 46 – 53.

The author does a great job describing what we’re learning about the importance of relationships to our health. We often encourage you to sleep, take time for yourself, move and connect with others, and the newest research is showing definitively that connecting with others is as important as the other aspects of self-care.

Early in the article, Weir describes the research on early family life and how more supportive families can buffer kids from future health issues.

While that’s helpful to know, if you haven’t had a supportive childhood, all is not lost. As we grow up and age, relationships remain important for physical and mental health.

There’s more research to be done to fully understand the physiology; but why wait for more research when you can take some time this week to ask yourself:

  • Do I have people in my life that I do fun and nurturing activities with?
  • Do I have someone who can help me think through my goals and the paths to reach them?
  • Do I have one or two relationships where I feel safe, respected, and cared for?
  • Is there someone I can reach out to when I’m challenged or distressed?
  • Do I have enough people in my life who support my need for connection and respect my need for time alone?

There is no right number or type of relationships you should have in your life. What you need depends on who you are, how you refuel, and how you get comforted, but most of us need to know we are seen, respected, and valued.

Think about how you can build those relationships into your life!

~ Linda, Stephanie, and Heather

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I Hate Everyone!


This is Linda writing to you today about something that recently happened with me.

Last week, I shared with the executive assistant at a client’s office that, “This morning, I hate everyone!” The EA’s response? “I do too, this morning!”

As I was sharing this experience with the team at CSC, I laughed and said, “Don’t worry, I don’t hate you guys . . . yet.”

Again, we all laughed but recognized that there are days when the world is frustrating. We don’t have the same resilience we do most days, and we experience everyone else as “the problem.”

As we talked about what had me hating everyone, we decided that this would make a great post.

What can you do on those mornings when you hate everyone?

Now to be clear, I’m not really the hating type, but I’d woken up very tired. I was worn down by some recent dental work and the accompanying ongoing pain, and then traffic was nuts, someone cut me off and threw me the finger, and then I heard some national news that was wholly disheartening . . . all leaving me feeling like I just hated everyone.

Even as I thought it and said it, it made me laugh and gave me perspective because what I understand (most of the time) is that I’m responsible for my life and my satisfaction, so even when others are doing things that are irritating, they aren’t to blame for my emotional life.

I, and I alone, am responsible for my emotional life
and when I began to believe that (sometime in my 30’s or 40’s)
life got much better.

By being responsible for my emotional life, I can take action on my own behalf to create greater satisfaction and self-care. If others are responsible for my emotional life, then I have to wait for them to change. I have to wait for them to treat me differently, or care about my internal world in order to get back to my center and to the work of creating a life I love.

I become much more powerful when I own that I’m responsible for my emotional life.

So, what can you do on those days when you start to feel like you hate everyone? How can you claim responsibility for your own emotional life?

  • PAUSE. Always pause. Ask yourself what you need, what would nurture your soul, what would be caring for you.
  • Take yourself seriously, while not taking yourself so seriously that you actually hate everyone. Recognize that life is feeling hard right now and it’s OK to know that.
  • Remind yourself that you matter. Knowing that this is hard and reminding yourself that you matter will help you take care of yourself during this time.
  • Take care of yourself.

Life can really challenge us – all of us, and it’s not that there’s something wrong with you. But you may find that you need the support of a therapist or coach to get back to your center and grow in your ability to take responsibility for your own emotional life. This, like everything else you must learn, takes practice and patience.

We are sending you hugs!

~ Linda, Stephanie, and Heather

If you’d like support in learning how to take responsibility for your emotional life at work and at home, contact us today. We’re here for you!

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What Does Teamwork Even Mean?


In the USA it’s Labor Day, a time each year when we, as a country, recognize the contributions that workers have made to the success, strength, and well-being of our country.

Our last few posts have been focused on the challenges people face when working.

Last week, we offered some coaching in “It’s All About Teamwork”. Since that post we’ve heard from a number of you asking what the word teamwork even means in our current work world. So today, we want to weigh in on what we mean by teamwork.

Truth be told, there are teams everywhere, whether we call them teams or not.

There are teams in companies that provide everything from healthcare to smart phones to waste management to consulting. There are teams in big companies and tiny ones – even solopreneurs create teams through collaboration and partnering. There are soccer teams and lacrosse teams and gymnastic teams. There are neighborhood watch teams and neighborhood gardening teams. And, actually, many families function as teams as well.

From our perspective, the thing that makes a team is the commitment to fostering an environment of shared ownership for the success of the business (and sports team, neighborhood, family, etc.) as a whole, not just the individual in their area of responsibility.

Great teams understand that, together, they own the success of the whole and as a result, they’re all more successful.

Yet, when you ask people to describe the teams that they’re a part of, few describe a team that works together to create organizational or departmental success while also creating success for their individual areas of responsibility. Few understand the kinds of information they must communicate to others so that they’re making decisions with an awareness of how those decisions ripple through the rest of their organization.

Developing a great team happens over time as individuals build trust and a shared history, succeed in the face of significant challenges, fail together (even miserably at times), and learn to disagree in ways that support them working together to create success.

And while building a great team does take time, we have found a simple action that can accelerate this movement toward greatness: a simple, almost silly-seeming, action that has a profound impact on team success.

Place a volleyball-sized ball at the center of the table when your team meets.

Sounds crazy, right? But in truth, your organization is like this volleyball on the table.

There are areas of your organization that are hard to see, just like the part of the ball that is sitting on the table and the part of the ball at the top in the center. And, as you sit in your seats around the table, the areas opposite from you are impossible to see. Actually, from your vantage point, you, individually, can only see about one-third of the ball. As is true in your day-to-day role, alone you actually see a very small slice of the overall organization.

With the volleyball (your organization)–at the center of the table–you can see that:

  • You need enough people, and the right people, at the table to ensure that someone has eyes on all aspects of the organization.
  • If you aren’t communicating with your team members regularly and thoughtfully, you’ll be missing two-thirds of the data about what’s going on.
  • If you make significant decisions without collaborating with the members of your team, the ripples of those decisions could impede the success of other team members and the organization.
  • If you’re the leader of the team, you need your team to be engaged, to understand that they hold the whole, and to communicate effectively with others. Then, at those times when you meet individually and need to decide quickly, there’s wisdom about what’s happening to arrive at the best outcome.
  • The “we” of the team matters more than you could imagine.

We’re passionate about supporting the workers of this world in creating success and work satisfaction so we’ve brought volleyballs to more organizations than we can count.

Meeting after meeting the ball sits in the middle of the table and the team begins to have different conversations about the whole. They start sharing information that could have rippled problematically through the organization. And they understand that having one another’s backs means supporting as well as challenging each other to create success in both the individual areas of responsibility as well as in the whole.

Give it a try–put a volleyball on the table while your team meets. Try having the ball on the table for 6 months or a year. We’ve seen, over and over again, that great teams are built by collaborating to ensure success of the whole, and the volleyball is a way to remind people of the importance of that collaboration. If your team is struggling let us know–we would love to help!

~ Linda, Stephanie, and Heather

 If you or your team is struggling with collaboration, contact us today about our coaching services.

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It’s All About Teamwork

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about leadership, and how to handle a situation if you become labeled the problem, and then how to stay engaged and not take others’ actions and reactions personally.
Today, we’d like to continue the conversation with some thoughts about the importance of teamwork.
While personal talents and individual contributions are vital elements of organizational success, your ability to engage collaboratively on a team, and contribute to a successful team outcome is arguably more important.
More than ever, sharing information in a team setting is vital to generating new ideas and solving complex problems. Ultimately, companies want to make the best us of their resources, and one of their fundamental resources is their personnel.
If you want to succeed and get recognized for your contributions to your organization, or if you’re considering a move to a new position in another organization, you’ll undoubtedly need to demonstrate times when you contributed to the success of a team effort.
As you go through your day, look for opportunities to actively team up with others. Watch how you interact in the team and, when possible, push yourself to develop and broaden your team skills.
Some skills you may want to develop or refine:
  • Think about the people on the team as your “we” rather than as a group of people you need to work with. They are very different perspectives.
  • If you typically wait for others to get things started, challenge yourself to speak first. If you always speak first, hold back and allow others to contribute their thoughts before adding your own.
  • Share information about what you’re working on and its status and ask for updates on what others are working on.
  • Consider ways that working synergistically will be of benefit to your department or organization and share that with potential teammates.
  • Observe yourself in group and team meetings – are you a team player in the eyes of those around you?  If not, consider getting some coaching on how to become more effective in fostering the success of the team and elevating every member of that team.

Taking the time now to understand and hone your ability to work on a team will serve you tremendously now and in the future.

~ Linda, Stephanie, and Heather

 If you’d like some support in identifying your strengths and skills,contact us today about our Career Coaching. We’d love to help!

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It’s Not Personal

Woman and man having a discussion.
Last week, we talked about how to handle a situation if you become labeled the problem. We heard from many of you that similar scenarios had played out in your lives and that you were hurt by the experience.
So today, we’re expanding last week’s post to talk more about this issue.
We know it doesn’t feel this way, but it’s important to remember that most of the time other people’s actions and reactions are not personal to you. Other people are busy being themselves and you’re but a minor player on their stage.
Consider last week’s post, Janet was frustrated with Harvey because he kept “getting into the weeds” when she was trying to plan for the future. She experienced him as derailing her, and so she started to work around him. She experienced him as personally impeding her ability to get her job done.
Yet, Harvey was just being Harvey. His brain is wired to look at details. He gets lost when asked to look into the future, so he brings the conversation back to the place where he is most comfortable.
As a leader in this situation (even if that wasn’t her title) Janet needed to pause and remind herself of her goals and explore Harvey’s behavior.
Pausing could have helped her to not take personally Harvey’s preferred way of thinking. Pausing could have helped her shift the conversation from antagonistic to productive by naming what was happening and creating a process to support Harvey in thinking with her about the future.
Often, when you can name what’s going on, in a non-blaming fashion, you influence how the conversation unfolds.
In this instance, we coached Janet to say, “Harvey, I appreciate your desire to get to the process of how this will happen. From my perspective, we’re still working together to decide where we will go in the future. Once we have that nailed down, I would love your thoughts on the how.”
Janet was trying to talk about WHERE they were going (vision, goal, etc.), and Harvey got caught in talking about HOW they were going to get there (steps, processes, etc.). Both are important parts of the conversation and they needed to be accomplished in the right order. They couldn’t talk productively about HOW until they understood WHERE they were heading.
It takes personal leadership to keep yourself on track and to help others stay on track with the conversation. 
If you’re a person who likes to visualize the big picture, you need someone in your court who sees the detail required to enact that vision. But, you need them on your side of the court – not playing against you.
This week, see if you can identify your preferred way of thinking – are you a big picture thinker or are you a detail thinker? And then think about your colleagues and how they think.
Understanding how others engage the world with their brain will go a long way in helping you not take things personally and be more effective in all your relationships.
~ Linda, Stephanie, and Heather

 If you’d like support in becoming a more effective leader in your world, contact us today to learn about our Executive Coaching.

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What to Do If You’re Labeled: THE PROBLEM

As coaches for over 20 years, in businesses of all varieties, we’ve seen many examples of people who have concerns about someone else’s behavior; and yet, they themselves are seen and experienced as “the problem” in the office. How can that be?

Let’s take a look at Janet. Janet is a confident and competent businesswoman who came to us on the brink of being let go. She was distressed and angry, and she was looking for an ally to figure out how to deal with what she described as “the craziness in my work!”

Janet was a mid-level manager in an organization. She got along well with her subordinates and most of her peers, but she struggled with Harvey. Harvey reported to someone else within the company.Janet believed that Harvey was incompetent and not suited for his assigned role. He took up far too much of her time on inane problems. Out of frustration, Janet decided to work around him.

She seldom returned his emails in a timely fashion, she avoided inviting him to meetings, she was curt in her conversations, and she often “forgot” about meetings that they had scheduled.

Harvey complained. He went to his boss with records of dates of emails not being returned, proof that he was not invited to meetings, and dates and times of when Janet had blown off meetings he had scheduled with her.

Janet was called into her boss’s office and told she needed to turn her behavior around or face greater consequences. SHE was seen as the problem.

Janet came to us for help in sorting out this mess.

Janet’s mistake was thinking that ignoring Harvey was going to change his behavior. Won’t happen. Not in a million years.

We coached Janet on how to work with her boss to share her concerns without sounding defensive. She had indeed done the things that Harvey was complaining about, so she needed to own this.

She also needed to learn how to give feedback to and about Harvey in a way that provided information to her boss and that wasn’t retaliatory.

We worked with Janet on building a professional relationship with Harvey based on accomplishing goals for the organization. When he failed to perform, she gave him feedback on her concerns and shared that data with her boss so that her boss could use it in conversations with Harvey’s boss.

Janet stopped “forgetting” meetings and started to respond to issues in a timely manner, and she raised issues that Harvey wasn’t addressing. The only way to be effective with Harvey was to manage herself and her reactivity – by taking action in a professional and effective way.

This week notice if you’re avoiding anyone or behaving in a way that results in you being seen as “the problem” in the organization. Then consider doing some of the following – depending on your situation:

  • Pause and reflect on how you can take professional action.
  • Own the ways that you have behaved unprofessionally – if it has reached that point.
  • Communicate your concerns unemotionally, with the department’s or organization’s success as your goal.
  • Determine how you and your boss can work together to move your efforts forward.
  • Help the challenging person to succeed in the same way you would offer support to anyone else.

Taking action to solve problems (even problems you don’t like)
is the mark of a good leader.

Janet saved her job by taking steps to correct the misconceptions about her and to build a better relationship with her coworker. It didn’t happen overnight. It takes time to rebuild trust and credibility, and, usually, it’s well worth it.

Let us know how it goes. We’re here for you!

~ Linda, Stephanie, and Heather

 If you’d like some support in taking action to solve problems, contact us today to learn about our Executive Coaching.

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Choose the Right Mirrors

“As humans, we know who we are by looking at the mirrors of others’ eyes.
For that reason, it’s important that you choose your mirrors wisely.”
~ Dr. Linda Carpenter

To be a successful, powerful leader, it’s critical that you regularly reflect on who you are, what matters to you, and how you want to engage others in your life and your work.  

It’s equally important that you’re willing to understand your impact on others, the way they experience you in real time, and how closely your impact on the world aligns with what truly matters to you.
One very important way that we know who we are and how we are in the world is by looking into others’ eyes to see what they see. 
Despite all of the messages in Western culture that suggest we shouldn’t need others, we are intricately and neurologically connected with the people in our lives, and their reflection back to us can help us know our truth or distort our knowledge of ourselves. 
Our first mirrors were the adults who raised us. We learned a lot about who we are from early interactions. Some of us have had great adult mirrors and others of us were raised by people who, themselves, had bad mirrors so are incapable of providing us a clear view of ourselves. 
Who you have as mirrors in your life matters because, just like actual mirrors, some are crisp and clear – reflecting back an accurate image of who you are and how you’re showing up in the world. And some are distorted and warped – like a funhouse mirror or the glass from a hundred years ago; you can see a reflection but it’s not an accurate one.
Accurate mirrors reflect the many sides of you. They’re not distorted to show you only the good nor are they warped, showing you only the bad.

You are human – wonderful, special, messy, and flawed.

The goal is to be aware of your gifts and of your messy so that you can more consciously and thoughtfully choose how you manage yourself to create the success that matters to you.
So how do you assess who in your life is an accurate mirror and who presents a distorted view of you? Consider the following three questions:

  • Is this a person who you respect because of their integrity and clarity in the world?  
  • Can they put aside their personal agendas when they engage with the world or is it always, somehow, about them?
  • When you see their view of the world, is it a view that is thoughtful and wise?

Staying close to people who are clear mirrors in your life supports you in seeing the ways that you’re showing up just as you planned and differently than you imagined.

We all need a range of mirrors in our lives. 

Looking into different peoples’ eyes can help us see ourselves more clearly so we can take the steps to live in the ways that truly matter to us.

This week, consider the mirrors in your life. Are they clear and crisp or warped and distorted?

A good friend, family member, or coach can help you know more about who you are, and with that information you can move forward to create the successes that truly matter to you.

~Linda, Stephanie, and Heather

Do your mirrors authentically and accurately reflect the full-dimensional you?
If you want to gain more perspective on how mirroring impacts you and how you impact your world, contact us today to learn about our Executive Coaching.

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What Burdens Is That Other Person Carrying?

This week, we want to share with you an article that we read recently. The article is written by Carl Richards and appeared in the New York Times. We’ve pasted the article in the body of the post, but you can also click to read the article here.

As you’ll see, the article is about empathy, and understanding that all of us will–at some time–be dealing with something that rocks us to our core. The trouble is that for most of us that pain is not always visible to others in the moment.

Despite all of the ways that we’re so connected in this day and age, we can still be so alone with our pain and grief.


“Ask Yourself This: What Burdens Is That Other Person Carrying?”

By Carl Richards

I was in the airport when I found out that the mother of one of my best friends had just died quite suddenly. She was at dinner with a friend, felt sick and was dead within a few hours.

I learned this through a message from my mom, who heard about it on the local news.

I called my friend. Imagine this scene for a second: There I am in Terminal 2 of the San Diego airport, calling someone whose mother had just died.

He answered. He was crushed. We cried.

His mom was one of the few people who always saw past my stupid behavior in high school. She always loved and accepted me, despite my being quite unlovable at the time. She gently influenced me to be better by not trying to influence me at all. She was amazing.

My friend knew that better than anyone. He told me about her last moments in the hospital. He told me about begging the doctor to do more.

Life. Is. Heavy. And then I boarded a plane.

I thought about everyone else on the plane. I wondered if the airline employee scanning my boarding pass could see that I had been crying. Were my eyes red? Swollen? I wondered if there would be room for my bag in the overhead bin. If the person next to me would be nice.

In that moment, I couldn’t help but think about how odd the situation felt. All around me were strangers. I knew no one. And as far as I knew, no one had any idea what I was dealing with.

I thought about the airline employee who had just checked my boarding pass, the man sitting next to me, the woman across the aisle. Did they have a sick child, or a friend in the hospital? Were they on that plane in a race against time? What about the person who had been yelling at the gate agent or, for that matter, those who were yelling on Twitter while I checked it standing in line?

As I turned away and stared at the Pacific Ocean through the little window from my seat on the plane, I was left with a bunch of grief and two big questions.

What burdens are all the people on this plane carrying? And how would I treat them differently if I knew?


As you go through your week, we encourage you to think about what might be going on with others around you. What was once deemed a soft skill, empathy is now recognized as a critical skill of successful leaders.

~Linda, Stephanie, and Heather

If you’d like support in Pausing to create better engagement with your teams,

contact us today about our Executive Coaching. We’re here for you!

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If You Toss Someone a Grenade…

If you toss a group a grenade…they will run for cover.

Starting a conversation with accusations or anger is akin to tossing a grenade into a room and expecting people to want to play “catch.”

No matter how valuable your insight or how accurate your concern, the act of grenade tossing will result in people not hearing you because they’re consumed with ducking for cover.

In talking to a client about his accusatory behavior he stated, “But the grenade isn’t real. I’m just trying to make a point!”

Maybe so, but the receiver has no way of knowing how “real” the grenade is, so they’ll assume it’s lethal.

We recently saw this when we were brought in to support a board during a challenging time. The board shared difficult financial news with an explanation of how it came to be, and they noted that a follow-up meeting was planned to discuss the situation further.

One of the board members believed, and was correct, that they were missing a key point but instead of bringing that to the attention of the group with respect and calm he responded by disparaging the integrity of the other board members.

And, as you would expect two things happen when you toss a grenade, people leave the room – even if they remain at the table – and others will fight back.

As a result, no one could work with the point the grenade-tosser was making.

One of the lessons we teach leaders—and anyone who struggles with anger—is how to PAUSE before they speak so that what they’re about to say is in alignment with their goal. If their goal is to be heard, then Pausing to take the anger out of their leading sentence will increase their chances of being listened to.

If you think that your message is getting buried beneath the rubble of a grenade then we encourage you to practice the PAUSE. Getting your message heard can be a challenge in the best of circumstances; don’t hinder yourself by wrapping it in explosive language.

In this day and age when people seem to be swift to anger, we invite you to foster your curiosity and see if you can invite others to do the same.

We’re here for you,

~Linda, Stephanie, and Heather

If you’d like support in Pausing to create better engagement with your teams,contact us today about our Executive Coaching. We’re here for you!

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  • About the Authors

    Carpenter Smith Consulting

    Linda Carpenter and Stephanie Smith started Carpenter Smith Consulting in Portland to support individuals and teams who dream about having the power, impact and influence to create success and meaning in ... Read full profile
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