Drop-in series: Envision a more powerful you

Inspired by the late Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford University where he shared how auditing a calligraphy class in college inspired him years later to add diverse fonts to Apple computers, we set out to visit classes around campus that make us think differently about what it means to be educated. This is one in a series of drop-ins.

Communications senior Alison Lopez, left, and hospitality management senior Haya Tawil, right, act out a scenario involving the nonviolent communication technique they learned in a personal empowerment class taught by Sandro Formica, center.

A weekend class that starts with meditation? No, it’s not a yoga session.

Students in Professor Sandro Formica’s personal empowerment course take five minutes, guided by Formica, to connect to their inner selves before delving into material that encourages self-exploration.

The class teaches life. The long-term goal: self-actualization.

The three-credit elective course (HFT 3074) is open to all students and takes place over two weekends at the Biscayne Bay Campus.

“I have been on the path of self empowerment for about 25 years. It’s my passion and I have invested everything I have in it,” Formica said of why he teaches personal empowerment.

Throughout the hands-on class, students role-play scenarios that help them understand effective communication techniques.

One technique, nonviolent communication, teaches students how to evaluate an attack statement and turn the conversation around to fully understand the person’s underlying needs.

Nonviolent communication skills are useful in the workplace, particularly when discussing an employee’s behavior.

For example: An angry coworker says, “You are so lazy!” But someone skilled in nonviolent communication understands the coworker is masking an unfulfilled need with an attack statement.

The technique helps reveal that the coworker means to say, “I don’t like that you didn’t finish your task on time. In the future, I want you to focus more during work hours and ask for help if you don’t understand something.”

Using nonviolent communication helps managers, trainers and employees alike to express their needs, or provide constructive criticism, without provoking conflict in the workplace.

“A problem cannot be resolved with the same mindset that created it,” Formica said, drawing inspiration from a famous quote often attributed to Albert Einstein.

Students sit in a circle and take turns looking themselves in a mirror and saying, “I love you” – an exercise that encourages self-love.

Formica, a hospitality management professor, encourages students to try out techniques they learn the first weekend at work during the week so they can discuss the results in class. So senior Antonio Machin introduced meditation to meetings that he leads as a manager at Baptist Health South Florida. Since then, he’s noticed increased productivity among his team at work.

“This is really important because we all have so many thoughts going through our heads – deadlines to meet, pending issues, text messages, social media, etc. This has actually helped our team refocus on the task at hand. It’s like a quick reboot before starting a task.”

After that, students explore imagination – something Formica believes people lose sight of as they progress into adulthood. Imagination helps unlock a person’s creativity, and it helps someone envision where they want to end up in life.

Formica said many successful people, like Steve Jobs, attribute their accomplishments to being able to tap into their imaginations.

“They were not born successful. Their success depended on the fact that they were able to experience the end result of what they wanted before it happened.”

Why is all of this important? Though it may seem easier to just focus on the things that immediately affect you, Peter Bregman, CEO of the leadership development organization Bregman Partners, said this is just “a trick your busy self plays on you to keep you away from the scary stuff you’re not yet good at, and that isn’t yet productive.”

In an op-ed written for Harvard Business Review, Bregman wrote: “You need to spend time on the future, even when there are more important things to do in the present and even when there is no immediately apparent return to your efforts. In other words — and this is the hard part — if you want to be productive, you need to spend time doing things that feel ridiculously unproductive.”

Formica’s focus is to help students determine their destination in life – and once they understand their ultimate goals, planning how to achieve them is easy.

“At the end of this course, students come to me angry because they wish they’d taken the course earlier, as freshmen,” Formica said.

Machin, a hospitality management major, said the class is like none he’s ever taken.

“It takes you out of your comfort zone and gets you sharing with strangers that become friends at the end of the class.”

His advice to interested students: “Go in with an open mind, and do not be afraid to explore your feelings and emotions. You may never get another opportunity to learn about yourself like in this class. Once you get out into the workforce, you get sucked in the routine of life.”

Spots are still available in the Fall 2017 section of HFT 3074, which is scheduled for mid-October. Register now at my.fiu.edu.