Strong Voices Interview #6: Women’s Day Special with Sabine Altena - author, coach, and speaker
For those of you, who just recently joined our community and haven’t heard of Sabine yet: She started her career as an event moderator (on TV and radio shows), then switched to coaching in 2005 and founded her own training & coaching agency. Today, she offers individual coaching sessions, group trainings and speeches all focused on topics such as leadership, personality and communication (also female specific).
"Start loving yourself! Because when everyone else leaves, you still have to deal with yourself." - Sabine Altena
OUR QUESTIONS FOR SABINE:
With “International Women’s Day” being all about the rights and empowerment of women, we were wondering about your “matters at heart” regarding this topic?
The most important thing for me is, that women start to realize how great they are. Because so many women out there are incredibly great and beautiful (on the inside as well as on the outside), but they don’t see it themselves. And I get to know so many women who try to be “perfect”, but as we all know there is no “perfect”. Additionally, it is mostly the case that those who appear to be even remotely perfect rather incite hatred because people hate it when someone is being perfect.
Men often have a better self-confidence, although they may not necessarily have the better knowledge or skillset. Still, they will appear more self-assured, presenting themselves as those, who will – of course – get the job done (whatever that will be). Women, on the contrary, are doubting themselves far more often, having an attitude of “I would love to do this job, BUT… maybe I should get another qualification first? Maybe I should discuss this with someone else first?” They overthink their opportunities so long, until they conclude to better not doing it at all in the end. And that’s also where I focus my coaching sessions on.
And do you notice that those women who come to your coaching session, afterwards leave with a different attitude and mindset? Which “transformation” do you see?
For me, one very important thing is to give women in my coaching sessions some anchors on their way, which help them to remember the things I said without me actually being present. I believe, it is not about just “pumping up” people for the short term, but really achieve a long-lasting effect by having these anchors to remember and apply when walking out of my coaching sessions. I don’t want my clients to “need me” as a boosting factor, but rather to be capable of enabling themselves, as this is much more sustainable. As with many other things as well, I believe that consistency is key to success. Establishing a routine for the own personal development as a result of this boost from a coaching session can be very helpful and it can take many different forms. The important thing is to set some milestones and work towards reaching these milestones. Life is learning and this learning ideally happens every day and not once or twice.
Which routines/activities helped you to develop your inner strength that makes you shine and self-confident? How did you get to the point so that you can look into the mirror and say, “I’m good”?
Saying “I’m good” is already something, many women are afraid of. But to all of you, who are: You should especially practice these words, because it is a really important quality to be able to say “Wow, I’m really good”, when looking into a mirror – not out of overconfidence and arrogance but simply out of self-acceptance. Never forget, you are accompanying yourself your entire life and thus it is a good start to like yourself. And I really mean it: Start loving yourself! Because when everyone else leaves, you still have to deal with yourself. Of course, you don’t have to feel this “wow-effect” every day. There may be other days where you look into the mirror and say “well, today wasn’t so great”. But never forget that this is only about behavior, the person itself always stays “wow”.
So, how did I get to this point of appreciating myself? Well, I had some difficulties in my childhood (as many others) and this is always not the best feeling during your childhood but looking back this also can be beneficial to some degree. For instance, I learned to take over responsibility at a quite young age, deciding where to go. Then I started my first career as a radio/TV moderator and although the male/female ratio was about 50/50, back in the 1990s the tone was quite “sexist” from a today’s point of view, however it was rather normal back then. But it was definitely something that shaped me, on the one hand to handle the comments I got, on the other hand to react in a “cool”, snappy way. Over the time, I developed a gut-feeling on what is still appropriate and what crosses this boarder and falls into the category “sexist and to be reported”. Many young women today have a problem with this distinction.
What helped you most to find and get to know yourself?
Standing on a stage, dealing with difficult situations, finding myself in situations I couldn’t really prepare and thereby learning that I can still succeed definitely had and still have an important effect for my self-development. For instance, when I first got inquiries for training sessions in Middle East, I was scared (I didn’t know the culture, the language, etc.) but at the same time extremely excited – and of course I said yes. I always say yes in these situations, although I might be scared. But I face them because I have learned that I can do it (even if I’m scared). And knowing that you can something does a lot to your self-confidence. On top of that, in my second career as a trainer and coach I got to know myself better. During my time at the radio and TV I have learned a lot about how to communicate to the point, how to make things exciting, but I didn’t learn anything about the “real” communication, about how we can communicate so that I understand you correctly and you understand me correctly without talking past each other. It happens so often that people do not have a real conversation – they talk about something without really listening or replying to each other. And to lean that, especially to get feedback from other people (without even asking for it and including unpleasant feedback), was also an important step for my own self-development.
I really admire that you have two kids, are self-employed and still (at least to my impression) appear balanced? How do you prioritize taking together your private life with your family, your job (especially during COVID-19 times), time for yourself, etc.?
One first important message: I do not always get this balance right. Secondly, a healthy egoism can help, because if I look after myself and take care for myself (and that’s what I do), then this automatically includes time for myself. Of course, I could spend the whole day rushing around and doing nothing at all for myself (there is always something or someone waiting for me), but at some point this would drive me crazy and thus I deliberately include time for myself into my daily routine. To make this work, communication, coordination, and organization (especially with my husband) is key. For example, during lock-down with everyone being at home (be it home office or home schooling), we decided to get a student to do the homework with our kids, which was a great idea, because for all four of us it resulted in less stress and less disputes. And just like this we are always looking for solutions to have enough quality time all together, but at the same time everyone on his/her own.
What advice would you give to women to gain more self-assertion and authority, especially in a room with men (being rather underestimated and not being heard)?
I can really feel this problem, because when I started to give trainings at the beginning of my 30s, I often faced the situation to stand in a room full of older men, who weren’t taking me serious at first. So, the first thing I did was to buy a pair of glasses (without visual aid) to look a bit more like “Ms. Doctor”. It may sound stupid, but sometimes such small appearance changes already help (and let it be just for yourself). One thing I like to teach during my coaching sessions is about how you enter a room. And I always say: “Enter the room as a queen.” Walk straight, rather slow than hectic, etc.
Often, the problem of being interrupted, heavily depends on the industry you are working in. Especially, in fast-paced working environments (e.g. consulting), where everything is about getting things done, people may face difficulties when meeting with someone who is taking his/her time, which then automatically leads to some sort of clash or interruption. To avoid this, one important thing is to enter a meeting and exactly know what you want to say, be precise with you words and really think about the message you want to deliver before you speak up. And if someone then still interrupts you, you just keep talking as if nothing happened. It may happen that you talk in parallel (which doesn’t sound nice), but you keep going until the other person stops talking again – and this will happen eventually.
Another situation you may encounter during your career is that people are going to call you by names or throw words at you like “You are a cheeky girl” for instance. Don’t take all comments you get too serious or negative, but rather try to see a compliment or something positive in them. Sometimes words are hard to categorize, but one last tip from my side: Men love to flirt with women and they’ll do everything for you, if you are good at flirting with them (of course without any intentions behind!). So sometimes the best thing to do is just to give back a cheeky comment, be charming and don’t feel offended.
One last question from our side: Which exciting projects do you have planned for this year?
I will publish an online training course centered around the topic of repercussiveness – which I’m already really looking forward to! And then, hopefully, I will be able to travel to Dubai again for some training sessions. At the moment, everything takes place online, but I really hope to have some trainings, coaching and speaking in person again.