• Nikki Trotter, MS, M.A., SHRM-CP, ACC

Our reality is someone else's perception, and someone else's perception is our reality! But which one is most important to you? Is it what you know to be the truth; or what others perceive as the truth? If we want to be honest with ourselves, we should always be concerned about our level of self-awareness and how we are showing up in the world. We should be worried about how the world sees us and how we are perceived by those we lead.


Understanding how we are moving in the world and having emotional intelligence (EI) is about demonstrating the capacity to have control of, express one's emotions; and handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. And our EI is the internal operating system that tells us we have either said or done the wrong thing in the wrong place and at the wrong time. When this alert goes off, we have the ability to manage our emotions and understand the importance of the moment.


However, when a part of our emotional operating system (self-awareness, social awareness, relationship management, and self-management) becomes dysfunctional, our blindspots are magnified and perceptions, not connections are created instead. Then when perception becomes a reality to others, we are unable to build trust, be effective, and most importantly, lead from a position of strength™.


The "good news" is that we have tools in our arsenal we can use to reboot our internal system of emotional intelligence and reverse those negative perceptions to become a better version of ourselves, for ourselves, and our teams. The most effective tool for this is the Johari window concept. The Johari window is a technique that was designed by two Psychologists in 1955; Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. Their Johari concept posited that if we understand how others see us vs. how we see ourselves, we can work to close those gaps and ensure that our reality matches the perceptions of others.


Here is how the Johari Window technique can be applied to this.


The four quadrants of the window are:

  • “Open” (things known by self and others),

  • “Blind” (thing known by others but unknown by self),

  • “Hidden / Facade” (things known by self but unknown by others), and

  • “Unknown” (things not known by either self or others).

  1. Choose your peers: Identify people who you trust and who you think know you, or members of your team if you’re completing a team activity.

  2. Choose 5-10 words that you think best describe you.

  3. Get your feedback: Ask your peers to complete the same exercise, choosing 5-10 words they think best describe you.

  4. Plot your words: Place words both you and others selected in the “Open” pane. Place words that only you selected in the “Hidden” pane.

  5. Plot your feedback: Place words your peers selected but that you didn’t see in the “Blind” pane. Place the remaining words in the “unknown” pane. Alternatively, you can choose to leave the “Blind” pane empty.

  6. Review your Window: Review the words in the four pains of the window. How aligned is your view of who you are with how others see you? How open are you as a person?

I have used this tool in the past with my coaching clients and used it to change group dynamics and team development to improve inter-group relationships. Because this tool can harm you or your team if it's not applied correctly, I highly recommend it be used with the support or in partnership of a certified and professional coach and psychologist, especially if administered in a professional and organizational setting. Understanding who we are and how the world sees us gives us the information we need to become a better version of ourselves and a much better leader to others.


If you are interested in learning more about this psychological tool or if you'd like to administer this tool in a 1:1 coaching or a structured team setting, please feel free to contact me at nikki@theiopcoach.com; we can get the conversation started.


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Nikki Trotter is the Founder and CEO of IO, LLC., a transformational coaching company. I specialize in coaching professional women in leadership from the front line to the C-Suite. I help my clients master the art of resilient leadership to take control of their careers with courage, clarity, and confidence.

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  • Nikki Trotter, MS, M.A., SHRM-CP, ACC

Updated: Jul 13


Milk on the shelves of a hardware store
Are you shopping at the right store?

When I first heard this saying years ago, I wasn't quite sure what it meant. But now that I have had some life experiences behind me, I truly understand the importance and the relevance of it. Unfortunately, it was a hard lesson to learn because I was taught that it takes a village, and your village should be your most trusted source of information and inspiration in my time of need; personally and professionally. Although I respect and love those that I have in my circle; and those that support me I now know that this was one of the worse taught life lessons. And it is now one of the topics that come up often with my #coaching clients.


There are several interpretations of this statement, but for me, the saying "stop going to the hardware store for milk" simply means that too often we go to the wrong people and sources looking for the answers to our problems that they just don't have to offer. In fact, we often walk away feeling more lost than we did before; and in some instances, our situation is worsened because our village just didn't have the perfect recipe or the secret sauce (not even grandma) for our success. I can only speak for myself, but I am confident that you do not enjoy compounding your hurt and pain by continuing to take this approach and choosing this path. Let me ask you a few questions:


Would you go to a beauty salon to get your teeth fixed?

Would you go to an optometrist to have your clothes cleaned?

Would you hire an electrician to fix a leaking sink?


Absolutely not! So why do we continue to shop in places and spaces for professional, emotional, or psychological help when we know we will not get it? I believe I have an idea because I was once guilty of the same, but only you can answer that question. I think the more important factor is understanding the reasons we should immediately STOP going to the Lowes Home Improvement store, and Ace Hardware for the gallon of milk and START going to Krogers or Publix to purchase that milk for your breakfast cereal. And here are some reasons why:


Your family. They love you dearly; they are a part of you and you are a part of them. However, it will be almost impossible for them to give you an unbiased opinion on certain areas within your life that you want to excel in and propel forward. They are too up close and personal to remain objective.


Your friends. Sometimes they believe that their advice and support are helpful, but oftentimes, their feedback is based on a version of their life's experience or what they perceive to be best for you. But their perception is not your reality and your life is not their story.


Your co-workers. You spend more than half of your life with these individuals, but they aren't able to show up for you because unless they are your "best friend," they don't have (and don't need to have) all of the pieces of information about your life that is needed to help you solve your life's puzzle nor the challenges you are facing. They know and see you through the lens of work, so they cannot relate to or empathize with you on a personal level.


Your spouse. Even the one person that adores you more than anything in this world cannot lead you to the right decision or validate you. It is hard for a spouse to invalidate things that are near and dear to you. Therefore, they may see this as an insurmountable challenge and be afraid that doing so may create an expectation of them that they are not willing to risk or live up to.


So, what should you do about shopping at the wrong store, for the right product?


Let's acknowledge that we have been going to our family about our marital issues, our co-workers about family issues, and our friends about our career issues. And now we need to step back, self-assess, and realize that we have been doing it all wrong; and in doing so, we are not making progress or accomplishing our goals in life. And because of this, we may have missed out on some life-changing opportunities due to their lack of expertise, knowledge, or wisdom. And we must be determined to never make this same mistake again.


Now, don't misunderstand me, I am not saying that these important people don't have a significant role to play in your life, but what I am saying is that you need to start understanding what brand of milk you need to add to your shopping list and then know which grocery store you need to visit to purchase it. This means (1) identifying what you need, (2) why you need it, and (3) who is the most knowledgeable and skillful person you can reach out to that can meet you where you are and help you to get exactly where you want to go.


If you are shopping for milk, again that would be a grocery store. But if you need spiritual guidance; seek out a spiritual advisor, if you are struggling with a mental illness; consult a clinical psychologist, or if you're looking to design your future; hire a COACH.


We fail ourselves and we lose valuable time in our personal and professional lives when we waste time shopping in stores that don't sell the products we need. In contrast, we save our lives and increase our level of success when we can discern not only which stores we need to shop at for milk but also recognize when we don't need another gallon of milk but instead need to walk across the street to the hardware store for those nails.


Does this article resonate with you? What has been your experience in shopping for milk at the hardware store? I would love to hear your thoughts.


Nikki Trotter is the Founder and CEO of IO, LLC., a transformational coaching company. I specialize in coaching professional women in leadership from the front line to the C-Suite. I help my clients master the art of resilient leadership to take control of their careers with courage, clarity, and confidence.




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  • Nikki Trotter, MS, M.A., SHRM-CP, ACC

Updated: Jul 13


We all know a toxic culture when we see it. We recognize it because it doesn’t look right or feel right, yet the toxicity continues to prevail and excel; day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. Toxic cultures grow like weeds and they squeeze the life out of employees, the leaders, and the overall organization. These seeds are planted and watered daily and they grow and spread and become what we call: Organizational Behavior(s). These organizational behaviors are the unspoken norms that are cultivated, fostered, and sustained; and make up the anatomy of the organizational culture. As an I/O psychologist and leadership coach, I have experienced this type of culture; and I know the toll and impact that it can take on the health and well-being of #humanresources, #leaders, and #employees. But I also know that every organization has the potential to be a healthy and productive working environment for all. But if you believe that you are working in a toxic environment, and you are not 100% sure, here are some clear signs to affirm your suspicions:

  1. Leaders have titles but no influence. This means that the only leaders that have real influence and can truly empower teams are the Senior leaders at the very top. All other leaders are just "figureheads." This means that their leadership is usually usurped and they are only in that place to manage the daily operations, and not to truly lead with focus and a vision.

  2. Unhealthy competition. Instead of collaboration and knowledge sharing, teams resort to holding information, backstabbing, and having meetings after the meeting. This is because there is an atmosphere that has been created that says we have that us vs. them mentality, and everyone is for themselves. The employees that are "favorites" know who they are and they use this to their advantage to create this hostile and competitive working environment.

  3. Too top-heavy. I will give some organizations the benefit of the doubt for trying to create growth opportunities. However, this creates bottlenecks and all types of issues for leaders to lead when there are multiple levels of leadership for small teams as well as middle managers that are seeking to stretch their developmental capabilities.

  4. No real diversity, equity, or inclusion. Just look at the DEI numbers and you will see that these initiatives are just words on nice-looking paper and they are great for a company's performative position. But the lack of diversity creates exclusive working environments when all hands are not on deck, and not all seats are filled with diverse opinions of thought.

  5. Too much change. There is a tornado brewing in the organization as it relates to change while upper leadership continues to create tsunamis. This creates a lack of mental and physical self-care which ultimately leads to stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression for team members.

  6. No psychological safety. If you speak your mind or if you are too innovative or forward-thinking, your ideas are deemed as "too risky" or if you make a mistake, you have committed a career-ending or career-limiting offense. You are also reprimanded when you debate issues or disagree with leadership.

  7. Survey fatigue. You know the routine! Every six months an employee survey is sent to everyone within the organization asking for feedback and comments. As soon as the feedback is received, no action is taken and the survey becomes an afterthought until the next time. This is one of the most counterproductive and detrimental moves that organizations make, yet they continue to survey and run. There is probably nothing that creates a more toxic and untrusting environment than this one.

  8. Poor leadership. Companies spend billions of dollars a year on leadership programs, yet leaders are not leading effectively as they can be. This is because most leaders are put in leadership positions. After all, they did well as individual contributors. And we fail to assess the most important question that we should be asking a leader; why do you want to lead?

  9. Overdevelopment but no growth. Organizations are struggling to find opportunities for promotion and succession. Therefore, they are relying heavily on stretch assignments and lateral moves. This creates animous because employees want to grow up more than they want to grow out. More focus should be put on growing up because that is the only way employees will feel safe and valued vs feeling like they have to constantly compete to get to the top.

  10. Selective not objective. Organizations fail to create clear and compelling criteria for what it takes to advance through the ranks to leadership. Instead, they use the "tap" method which posits that they have an employee that they like, and/or one that they have mentored and they become the 'golden child' and the one that is next in line for a promotion even if they are not ready or they don't have the qualifications for the job. This creates an instant culture of favoritism and toxicity. Leaders need to create and communicate their criteria for promotions and make sure that they adhere to those guidelines at all times.

Toxic cultures don't just impact organizations, it also affects the emotional, mental, and physical health of their employees. As a coach, my advice to you is that if you are in a toxic working environment, and you need some relief, don't be afraid to reach out for help. There is nothing that is more important than your health and well-being.


What are some other toxic workplace behaviors that you have you experienced?


Nikki Trotter is the Founder and CEO of IO, LLC., a transformational coaching company. I specialize in coaching professional women in leadership from the front line to the C-Suite. I help my clients master the art of resilient leadership to take control of their careers with courage, clarity, and confidence.


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