Conversations to engage, challenge and inspire
I recently had a conversation with a brilliant, smart, charming young lady, let’s call her Angie.
During our conversation, Angie mentioned that she could not get rid of the negative words a colleague, who is also a friend, said to her.
Their friendship had gone sour and in their last conversation, this friend said to Angie words close to “You will never succeed without me. You just watch. You’ll come back begging for my help.” Angie was taken aback and could not believe that her dear friend thought so little of her to say these words.
It’s been a couple of months since this happened. And unfortunately, Angie can’t stop thinking about what her friend said. She confessed to being anxious that it would all come true. And that she could not shake off the feeling that disaster was just around the corner.
Unbeknownst to her, Angie is living her life looking for evidence of what her friend said would happen. She does not realise that ‘where her focus goes is where her energy flows’ and that in choosing to focus on her friend’s words, Angie is creating the eventuality.
To protect herself from being a ‘victim’ of her friend’s negative words about her, Angie would have had to reject those words as soon as she received them.
This is because the subconscious mind is very suggestible and will accept anything it receives if not questioned. The subconscious brain absorbs the new information and internalises it. It then works hard to align one’s self-concept with this new information by focusing on it and finding evidence that it is true.
Accepting the negative words without challenge is setting Angie up for failure – failure that will be of her own making!
So, we had a chat along the following lines:
- Someone can say all the negative things they want to say about you, that does not mean they are true
- Someone can tell you all the things they want you to believe, but you don’t have to believe a word they say unless you want to and unless you also believe them – do you?
- Someone can say something negative to you and you have a choice – accept it or discard it
Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your permission.
Three ‘must-have’ soft skills
I work with many smart and successful professionals. They are ambitious and keen to move to the next level. They’ve said to me…
- “I am ready for a bigger challenge, but I don’t know what else I need to do to secure my next role”
- “My manager has told me that I need to be more Strategic – how do I do that? What does it even mean?”
- “I’m told that my ideas are great but that I need to get better at Influencing so that I can be heard”
- “I’m stuck! I’ve tried everything and can’t get promoted”
This is where SOFT SKILLS can make a huge difference. Not just the foundational soft skills like Communication, Collaboration, Teamwork, etc but the ones that will give you an EDGE.
Leading workplace economists believe that we need to increase our focus on Soft Skills competencies into the future because ‘soft skill-intensive jobs’ will grow 2.5x faster than other jobs, with demand exceeding supply by 45%.
Well, there are three vital soft skills to master if you want to upgrade your career in 2021 and beyond.
You don’t need them in any particular order, but you need them to elevate your career to the next level.
Here is a simple and insightful 2-pager guide on the Three ‘must-have’ Soft Skills.
Get it now and start implementing the insights at work. You will be glad you took the time.
We’re all super busy.
The typical work calendar is blocked out with back-to-back meetings, huddles, workshops, town halls…so many things to attend.
And, because of this, the only time left in the day to do the work is after hours. This is the only time when you can slow down and find the space to do the thinking required to DO the work.
It’s a reality that can lead to burnout.
A recent Harvard Business Review article concluded that “burnout is a global issue”. The article is based on research carried out in 2020 with over 1500 respondents in 46 countries, across various industry sectors, roles and, seniority levels.
Two key findings that stand out are:
- 89% of respondents said their work-life was getting worse
- 62% of the people who were struggling to manage their workloads had experienced burnout “often” or “extremely often” in the previous three months
When burnout sets in, time for thinking declines and, the quality of thinking deteriorates.
If you’re a leader with a team, department or, an organisation looking up to you for vision, strategy, or leadership you must make time to THINK!
Creating this mental space has many benefits:
- Raising your productivity
- Increasing your creativity
- Enhancing innovation
- Increasing your problem-solving ability
- Learning and growing through reflection
- Evaluating the effectiveness of actions, results and, decisions
So how do you find time to think? Here are a few suggestions…
- Do something physical like walking, swimming or running
- Engage in free form writing or journaling
- Practise thinking out loud by talking with someone
- Take time away from your work or your desk
- Using your commute time to think rather than catching up on work.
What will you choose?
Seems obvious, right? Water the roots to get the fruits.
I heard this for the first time on a podcast when I was out for my morning walk and I was intrigued.
It made me think of the concept of ‘deliberate practice’ popularised by Anders Ericsson in his book PEAK.
Basically, what Ericsson was saying is that to accomplish a goal or to gain expertise at something, one has to expend consistent, specific and focused effort until you achieve the goal or you become an expert. His studies reveal that ‘experts are always made, not born’.
So for example, if your tennis serve is the thing that lets you down during matches and you want to improve it, you allocate time, consistently, go to the tennis courts consistently, and intentionally practice your serve.
You practice your serve over and over, learning and adjusting until you get it right.
It means that during those deliberate practise sessions there are no backhands or forehands. You specifically and exclusively practise your serve!
And when you do this, you are watering the roots to get the fruits.
Which roots do you want to be watering? Go do it! And then let me know how you go.
I came across an article this morning and it made me laugh.
Growing up, we were always told to have a neat and tidy desk.
In my business optimisation work we teach 5-S which is a system for increasing productivity by making sure that there is a place for everything and everything is in it’s place.
And then I find out that a messy desk is a trademark of genius…
So, I feel better now. Why?
It’s because I go through periods of feeling guilty about having a messy desk, especially when I am creating something new or working on a project with a client.
I always know where everything is and when I’m done I do the 5-S process on my desk, ready for the next immersion. It’s very satisfying.
But I’ve always wondered whether I should strive to have a neater desk AT ALL TIMES.
And now, I wonder no more. I could be a genius in the making 😉
Here is the link to the article: https://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/a-messy-desk-is-a-sign-of-genius-according-to-scie.html
When asked the question…can we really thrive at work during the pandemic, I offered three strategies.
First was to develop Adaptability, second was to master the skill of setting Boundaries and now we tackle the art of Communication.
Remote working requires that we pay even more attention to how often we communicate, the way we communicate and the structure of our communication, whether by phone, email, text message or on an online meeting. There’s never been a greater need for practising emotional intelligence and active listening.
So here are some thoughts and tips to ponder.
Note: I’ve narrowed the context to focus on communicating at work (with teams, peers and leaders) rather than with customers and external stakeholders.
As an individual, to enhance communication and more so during the pandemic, it’s a good idea to:
- Provide regular updates to your manager, team leader or project leader so they remain looped into your progress and therefore don’t resort to micromanaging you (unless you like being micromanaged). Proactively let them know:
- What you’re working on
- What you have accomplished
- What obstacles or challenges you’re facing
- When you’re not available
- What assistance or support you require
- Stay connected to your team
- Initiate quick catch ups with your team members just as you would have done in the kitchen, over lunch or on a coffee run
- Be active on any of your work social platforms (e.g. Yammer or Facebook at Work)
- Notice who seems disconnected and practise empathy. Reach out to them and offer your support. On the flip side, if you’re feeling disconnected, proactively reach out to a trusted colleague for support or just a chat.
As a leader, to keep your team engaged:
- Schedule regular team check-in meetings (always include an agenda) and avoid moving the time around to suit your calendar. Remember, people are juggling work and home pressures while working remotely so sticking to agreed meeting times is important to minimise disruptions.
- Catch up with individual team members regularly and ASK HOW YOU CAN HELP THEM. Servant leadership will serve you well during this time.
- Make extra effort to engage with a staff member who has been, unusually quiet or withdrawn during team meetings. Remember, burnout is alive and well and some of your team members may be having a difficult time working remotely.
- Instead of calling team members at any time or even multiple times a day and interrupting their flow of work, email or text them first to ask for time to discuss whatever is on your mind. This is not only thoughtful and respectful, but also efficient, as they will be mentally prepared for the conversation. Ask for the same courtesy from your team members and set healthy boundaries.
As a team:
A major challenge for teams is the proliferation of remote working tools which means that important messages can get buried and missed if you’re not regularly checking each and every one of your communication tools.
It is a good idea for a team to decide which type of communication will be delivered through which specific tool.
Agree on a set of guidelines such as using a collaboration tool like Trello, Slack or Asana for communicating actions and progress on tasks. Facebook (Workplace by Facebook) or Yammer for social conversations, and Email for formal discussions.
This avoids confusion and ensures that important messages are not lost.
Another challenge for teams is the ability to collaborate. Remote working has forced teams to find innovative ways to mimic spontaneous white-board sessions or corridor conversations.
Using online meeting tools such as Zoom means you can not only have meetings, conduct training, run demos and walkthroughs online, but you can also have break out rooms where smaller teams can meet then come back and share with the wider audience – like you would during a workshop.
Finally, a note on written communication:
Text messages, chat and email can sometimes be misunderstood so it is paramount that you watch the tone in your messages and always review and proofread your messages before hitting send.
I know you know this, but how many times have you re-read a message after sending it and have been horrified to discover how it could be misinterpreted. Oops!
You can also:
- Make your emails short, concise and to the point
- Include the aim of the message at the start of the subject line e.g. QUESTION, ACTION REQUIRED, FOR REVIEW, SUGGESTION, OPTIONS etc.
- Use italics for light emphasis and bold for strong emphasis
- If it’s going to require some discussion, it’s best to do this by phone followed by an email summarising what was agreed.
So, here’s a question and a challenge for you…how many of these have you implemented? How many will you implement? Let me know…
And if you’d like to discuss effective communication strategies, how best to structure your messages, or would like to share a remote working tool you’re loving, you can reach me at email@example.com. Speak soon!
One of the impacts of remote working has been the blurring of lines between work and home. Because we’re mostly working from home there’s been an increase in managers and co-workers stretching work time beyond the conventional.
The result is even more pressure to be available, to pick up calls in the evenings or to reply to emails late at night…to be “always on”.
The pressure of working longer hours, of home schooling and zoom fatigue has left many feeling exhausted.
To make things worse, the usual avenues of stress release such as going to the gym or meeting up with friends are not available. It’s no wonder the word ‘burnout’ has been making its rounds during this period.
To avoid burnout and ensure you thrive during this pandemic you must set up clear boundaries. Boundaries serve to remind people how you are, and are not, willing to be treated. They help you teach people how to treat you.
(Side note: the first time I heard that I could actually teach or train people how to treat me at work, I was blown away. I felt like I had been given this super power. Up to then I thought that people would treat me how they decide to and that I had no influence over the matter. Then I discovered the power inherent in phrases such as “No, that does not work for me” and “I’m not going to accept that” and “Let me know why you want me at that meeting”. And I’ve never looked back. It was a profound moment, one that has helped shape my experiences at work and in my career as a whole.)
As I was saying…boundaries are important! If you don’t set your own boundaries, others will define them for you, leaving you stretched, overwhelmed, under productive and eventually burnt out.
It can be tricky to set boundaries and keep them intact for a variety of reasons…
- Fear of upsetting others (especially senior leaders)
- Fear of confrontation (with managers or co-workers)
- Potential of a negative impact on your career (a career limiting move)
- Being a people pleaser (and wanting to be liked)
- Ego stroking (wanting to feel important or indispensable)
- Failure to prioritise our own needs (don’t want to appear selfish)
This last point is so important. It’s the reason we must have boundaries. We create them to take care of ourselves, not to control others. They exist to let people know how they can interact with us and how they should treat us. The clearer they are, the better!
Here are some areas you can set and clarify boundaries to thrive at work during this pandemic and into the new normal.
Space: have a clear delineation between your physical work space and off-work space. Once the work day is done, physically step away from your work space to let your brain (and your family) know that it’s time to focus on other things, like family or self-care. Make it a habit.
Time: make it clear to your manager and co-workers what time you’re available for work and that you’ll be away from your computer or work phone outside those times. That way it’s very clear when they are overstepping and you can point it out.
People: let negative people know that dwelling on the negative during this time does not help anyone and that to protect your mental state you are not prepared to indulge negative conversations.
Self: to stay mentally, physically and emotionally in tip-top shape, establish a routine or a structure for the day. Create time for work, home, family, exercise, relaxation etc. and fiercely protect that time.
For boundaries to work they must be specific and clear and, you must be consistent and persistent. Despite this, people will push or break your boundaries. What to do when people violate the boundaries you set is a whole other discussion and post.
However, here are 3 things you must NOT do:
- Don’t use someone’s personality to justify a boundary violation e.g. brush it aside by saying that they are prone to shouting and that they don’t mean to be disrespectful when they shout at you and treat you unprofessionally. Instead, let them know that shouting does not work for you and that although they are free to behave as they want, if they shout at you, you are going to walk away.
- Don’t make it your fault or doubt your boundary e.g. maybe I should not expect my manager to not contact me at 9pm because I’m really technically available. No! You’ve set a clear boundary (e.g. available till 6pm) so you can focus on other things like family or health. Stand firm!
- Don’t keep quiet, stew about the broken boundary and raise it sometime in the future e.g. remember the time, two weeks ago, when you called me repeatedly after 10pm to send you that file when I could have done so the following morning? Instead, tackle broken boundaries in the moment to ensure they are respected and that you’re not left brooding over them.
Remember, for boundaries to work they must be specific and clear and, you must be consistent and persistent.
If you’d like to discuss setting boundaries and how best to respond to boundary violations, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Speak soon!
We talk about resilience all the time. Especially how important it is to be resilient during periods of change.
Organisations spend a fair bit on ensuring their leadership teams receive resilience training to be able to effectively lead the organisation while facing the challenges of doing business in an ever-changing environment.
Resilience, in its simplest form, is defined as the ability to bounce back following a setback.
Bounce back implies that you know what you’re bouncing back to.
It implies that something has pushed you off a path, or a barrier has emerged that threatens your progress and that you need resilience to pull yourself back, break down the barriers or climb over the bumps so that you can continue towards a specific and known direction.
What is tricky with this pandemic is that we’re presented with a situation where we just don’t know what the “new direction” will be.
- What is “the new normal”?
- What will it look like?
- How will your work, your life, your commute, your leisure or your socialising change?
- What are you bouncing back to?
Since we can’t answer these questions with certainty, we’re forced to look for a complementary strategy to resilience. Something that will help us navigate the fog and discomfort of uncertainty. It’s called adaptability – the ability to be flexible and to try out various options or solutions even as the landscape changes.
We need to be both resilient and adaptable.
We need resilience to be able to bounce back and quickly recover from setbacks while pushing through to achieving a set path or goal.
An example of this is when organisations constantly change priorities or have frequent restructures that force teams to disband, regroup and relearn what to work on and with whom. Employees must be resilient to be able to embrace a new team set up or new leadership style while progressing the objectives of the organisation.
And we need adaptability to be able to adjust quickly and make the most of an unknown future.
An example of this is the switch to having whole offices working remotely. In the process we’ve had to learn to work from home, manage the blurring of lines between work and home, learn to use new tools and interact with our colleagues in new ways. We’ve had to adapt, with no understanding of how long we will be in this state or what the future will look like.
As we move into the “opening up” phase, adaptability will mean:
- Being comfortable with being uncomfortable and moving ahead anyway
- Being open-minded to see opportunities others may not see
- Being calm and flexible when faced with surprises
- Exploring new ways of dealing with new challenges
- Being positive and optimistic that you can find a way despite the uncertainty
- Thinking creatively and exploring approaches not tried before
- Making quick decisions to move you forward while being ready to pivot as you learn
- Being able to take calculated risks
In concluding, here are three quotes on adaptability that you can ponder…
It is a wise person that adapts themselves to all contingencies; it’s the fool who always struggles like a swimmer against the current.
The most important factor in survival is neither intelligence nor strength but adaptability.
– Charles Darwin
Change is the only constant in life. One’s ability to adapt to those changes will determine your success in life.
– Benjamin Franklin
Last week I was asked a question…
“Can we REALLY thrive at work during the pandemic?”
In response, I shared 3 tips:
- the first is a strength we must have,
- the next is a skill we must use, and
- the last is an art we must perform.
I call them the ABC of thriving at work…
A is for Adaptability
🏋️♀️The strength to deal with unexpected change
B is for Boundaries
🎓The skill to protect us from burnout
C is for Communication
🎨The art that helps us get our message across
Over the next three posts I will go deeper and share more on each of these tips, so keep reading.
It’s only 90 days into 2020 and life and work are so different now than they were in 2019.
And as things continue to shift and change you may find yourself asking questions such as why this crisis is happening in the world, or how much worse will it get before it gets better.
I’m sure you have so many questions and find that there are very few definitive answers.
And when you ask yourself these questions notice how down you can get and how quickly you can spiral into negative thoughts and feelings, which at the end of the day don’t serve you in any capacity.
Like me, I’m sure you’ve had such moments over the last couple of weeks.
So, what I’d like to share is what to do instead, to counter those negative moments.
I propose that you focus on getting deeply skilled at quickly shifting your thinking to questions that will serve you better. This is loosely based on some version of the commonly quoted phrase “change your thoughts, change your life” which is also the title of a book by the late Wayne Dyer.
If your mind wants to roam, I’d like you to practice consciously directing it to focus on what I call “momentum-generating” or “action-generating” questions. These types of questions have the result of getting you out of feeling stuck and into action. These questions will end up generating more positive and useful thoughts.
Here are the questions to ask to keep you motivated and focused.
- Where do I want to be when this is over?
- What do I want to be proud of?
- What will I have learnt?
- Who will I have become?
- How will I have contributed to making life and work better for those I can impact?
So, what will your answer be to the question… Where do you want to be when the crisis is over?
Go ahead, create your future now.
PS. If you’re struggling with a current situation, email me for a laser coaching session to help you push through. Send an email with the subject “Laser” to email@example.com