Of a Kind Founders and Work Wife authors Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo join Jenna to discuss the most valuable lessons they’ve learned on effective communication, having difficult conversations, and the loss of ego in a partnership.
How To Be A “Professional Enthusiast”
When Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo were in the depth of building Of A Kind they reached a particularly low point when they didn’t know whether the business was going to survive. Reflecting on the company’s uncertain future, they asked themselves: What are we doing here? What is important to us? What will we do if this all ends tomorrow?
Their Come To Jesus talk, as they describe it, led them to two conclusions. The first being that they wanted to work together regardless of the venture; Up to that point, Of A Kind’s success had been rooted in the success of their partnership. The second stemmed from two more questions: What does this mean if we are going to work together in the future? What are we really good at? They agreed that their strength is being Professional Enthusiasts and that they feel most fulfilled when they're sharing the stories of people they admire. Thankfully, they continued doing so with their brands at Of A Kind, and after nearly a decade of working together, have recently done the same with their new book Work Wife: a book about female partnerships and the future of work.
Being a Professional Enthusiast is the ultimate manifestation of my life philosophy, so I was especially grateful to chat with Claire and Erica. We discussed how through thoughtful communication and being intentional with our time and attention we can consistently maintain our sense of enthusiasm. These are a few of the insights I’ve been reflecting on since our conversation.
— Vocalize your thoughts: The importance of clearly articulating our thoughts to the people in our lives - from your co-founder to your family - is one of my main takeaways from Work Wife. In the book, Claire and Erica share that just because you spend a lot of time with someone doesn’t mean that your thoughts are transferred to them via osmosis; Even those closest to us can’t read our minds.
They emphasize the importance of not only seeing people as their whole selves but actually inviting and enabling them to show up that way. I loved their insight that “to the extent people are willing to share, you should take the time to listen and understand.” When you have a 360-degree view of someone’s life you can better understand the circumstances motivating their behavior and take things less personally, they add. The way people respond to a situation rarely has anything to do with you.
When you spend a lot of time with someone it can be tempting to share these thoughts in passing or assume that they see your current circumstance unfolding. Instead of making assumptions, Claire and Erica suggest scheduling regular times to connect and update each other, which they do personally and professionally. Their weekly Of A Kind check-ins keep them in sync with a consistent running agenda. While their friendship time, which they’re serious about protecting, allows them to nurture their relationship free of any work responsibilities.
— Get comfortable with tough conversations: The willingness to initiate and have tough conversations is one of the skills Claire and Erica wish they would have developed earlier in their partnership. Our natural tendency is to wait until an issue dissolves or becomes so pressing that we can't ignore it. It doesn’t have to be this way, though.
Over the years, they have learned that tough conversations are not only less daunting than we feel when we're anticipating them, but that they often lead to faster and smoother resolutions than we might expect. Like anything, they take practice. The more tough conversations you have, the less difficult they are.
These are a few of their tips to better approach them:
- Don’t be shy about how you feel. Your insecurities are likely shared human emotions that the other person has felt too.
- Every feeling and situation is temporary. When you express a challenge you’re facing, out of care and respect for one another, you’ll both be motivated to ensure it doesn’t become permanent.
- Don’t assume that uncomfortable topics are monumental or insurmountable. Approach them with a problem solving mindset, such as beginning by saying: 'I’m feeling unhappy about this circumstance and would appreciate your help finding a way to improve it.’
- Acknowledge that the goal of a tough conversation isn’t to fight, but to resolve the challenge at hand. It’s never about blame, they share, it’s about asking: How do we make this better for everyone?
- Don’t have the conversation in passing. Instead, when you feel something bubbling up, let the person know and schedule time to talk things through.
Most importantly, acknowledge that while tough conversations won’t kill your partnership, avoiding them can.
— Create a decision making day: The ability to recalibrate decisions is one of the most valuable traits Erica’s learned from Claire. A few days after making a decision, Claire often asks: Did we make the right choice here? Is there a better option available to us? She’s helped eliminate numerous challenges before they manifested, as a result.
“There is a sense of pride in moving quickly and crossing things off your list. Being nimble is important but can also make you feel like everything is an emergency you need to deal with right now. The reality is most decisions aren’t urgent, can be dealt with at a later time, and will benefit from added reflection,” Claire says.
The duo institutionalizes this insight by setting aside a specific time every week, Monday afternoons with their management coach, to talk through any pending decisions they need to make. The practice has been life-changing for them as partners and leaders.
The goal is to allocate a specific time block on your calendar where you plan to sit down, thoughtfully reflect on and make the decisions you need to address this week. Knowing you have a decision day equips you with a filter to assess the things you’re faced with throughout the day. Ask yourself: Does this need to be resolved right now? If it doesn’t, add it to your decision day list and return to the task at hand. Acknowledging what decisions will benefit from deeper consideration will not only allow you to make better long-term choices, but help you be more present and less stressed.