Conversations to engage, challenge and inspire
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- Make extra effort to engage with a staff member who has been, unusually quiet or withdrawn during team meetings.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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
And do you focus on boosting and leveraging your strengths at work, in your business or in your life?
Or are you like most of the population that spends inordinate amounts of money and time trying to improve their weaknesses?
I don’t blame you.
We work so hard on our weaknesses hoping to get better, or even good because we have been conditioned to do so through the schooling system. We are taught to become, and rewarded for being, well-rounded individuals!
Tom Rath, author of StrengthsFinder 2.0 and Strength Based Leadership uses years of research to assert that “If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything.”
Indeed, decades of research by The Gallup Organisation found that “each individual has enduring distinct abilities” and that “individuals can develop most effectively by building on their strengths.”
When I first came across this concept many years ago, I realised that my success will be based on amplifying my strengths rather than struggling to fix my weaknesses.
So, when I worked in corporate, I focused on building teams around me with skills that filled the gaps I had. Leading with my strengths resulted in more moments of success and has contributed to building my overall confidence and sense of achievement.
When you focus on fixing your weaknesses, it’s usually a hard slog that takes time and can be quite demoralising. That’s because more often than not you won’t achieve mastery, you won’t enjoy the process or the work, and at the end of the day, you’ll probably just become average in that specific area.
Imagine if we could spend more time working and expanding our expertise in our areas of strengths instead. In other words, working on our talents or on what come to us with ease and joy.
We could become phenomenal!
So, how about you focus on your strengths and outsource the rest. That’s what I’m doing this year and it’s working out great.
Doing something you’ve never done before can be scary.
Because you don’t want to experience the pain of failure.
Doing hard things that you don’t want to do, but know that you must do, brings up all sorts of fear-based thoughts…
- What will it mean if I don’t succeed?
- What will people think of me?
- What will I think of myself?
- How will I recover?
- How will I regain the wasted time?
But it’s only by doing those new things and doing those hard things that we give ourselves the opportunity to learn and grow…and a shot at success
So, how do you do those new things or those hard things and stick to it until you succeed?
You test and learn.
You’ll get some things right.
And other things may go horribly wrong.
And when, not if, that happens…
You find the courage to tweak or pivot and give it another go.
YOU PRACTISE TILL YOU GET IT!
Huh? What do you mean? What does Uber have to do with Thriving at Work?
Okay, let me clarify…I’m not talking about Uber, the multinational ride-sharing company, but about you ‘being uber-’
Like being uber-efficient, uber-productive, uber-resourceful
Also known as ‘super’, ‘outstanding’ or ‘excellent’.
I know I could have just said “how to be super at work” but I want to have some fun here.
So how do you become uber- at work? Here are two things you must do.
1. Practice, practice, practice
The aim with practicing should be to practice until you cannot get it wrong. It is about being able to try and fail multiple times until you get really good and cannot get it wrong anymore. Professional sports people, professional dancers and musicians are great at this type of practice.
Another way to think about practice is the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. This translates to roughly spending 20 hours a week for 10 years on a specific task to master it. Hmm…if you’re like me, you want to get there faster.
So, to become uber-, I prefer to embrace the concept of ‘deliberate practice’. This is the skill of focusing on a specific thing, task or skill that you want to master and consistently practicing that thing with purpose. It’s a cycle of consistently trying, making mistakes, learning, tweaking then trying again until you get it right each time. This is very different from the often-observed scattered effort or mindless action.
2. Get coached
A coach is especially impactful if you find yourself stuck at a certain level in your quest to becoming uber- and just can’t figure out where to go next or what to do next.
CEOs have executive coaches to help clarify their thinking and decision making. Sports people work with coaches to achieve peak performance, so why not you?
Another reason to get coached is that we all have blind spots. Even the most self-aware person may stumble on their journey to becoming uber- at work due to behaviours they are either just not conscious of, or are conscious of but have no idea how to get rid of, or are resisting to make a change and it is holding them back.
In your quest to become uber-, enlist the help of a coach. Try it out. Why? Because it often takes an outside perspective, someone who is committed to your success, to point out behaviours that are holding you back, to develop strategies to overcome those blind spots and to hold you accountable for making the shift to get you to uber-.
BONUS…If you want to go even faster, add the following to the two above:
- Ask quality questions – it is said that the quality of your life depends on the quality of the questions you ask
- Model success – look at successful people and do what they are consistently doing to get results
- Stretch yourself – get out of your comfort zone or expand your comfort zone
- Invite feedback – as the saying goes…feedback is the breakfast of champions
AND, if you’re uber-determined, get the free How to be uber- at Work Guide
Here’s to you becoming uber- at work!
I’m thinking specifically of transitions as a result of:
– A restructure that changes the composition of your team
– Redundancies that impact people you work closely with, but not you
– New management, where you get a new boss you’ve never worked with before
These can be times of heightened stress and uncertainty. So how do you protect yourself so that you can thrive during such times. Here are 3 strategies…
1. Keep things in perspective
Remember that change is constant. It can be planned, which makes it easier, or it can be unexpected and thrust upon you, forcing you to go down a path you had not anticipated.
As things around you change, consider how you can make the most of the new reality. Focus on how you would like the transition to work for you. Look for opportunities that are presenting themselves and how can you make the most of them.
Think of the lessons you’re learning through the transition – the new skills you’re gaining or what you’re learning about yourself. What weaknesses are showing up for you and what you can do about them. What strengths are surfacing that you were not aware of and how can you build those up. Forced transitions are more often than not an unwelcome situation, but are also full of lessons for the future.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer
2. Let go
Periods of transition signal that it is time to let go of certain situations, circumstances, experiences, thoughts, habits, rituals and even people. This can be uncomfortable, even painful. But the sooner you can let go of how things are “supposed to be” and embrace “how things are”, the easier the transition will be for you.
A useful strategy is to focus on finding the positive aspects of the “new way” and appreciating that instead of dwelling on the past.
“Cry. Forgive. Learn. Move on. Let your tears water the seeds of your future happiness.” – Steve Maraboli
3. Upgrade your self-care
Protecting your wellbeing is paramount during periods of transition. Keeping yourself away from spiralling into negativity when fear, doubt and uncertainty pervade the workplace is a must.
Surround yourself with positive people who will lift you up. Seek the support of your close friends and if required, of professionals who will help you process your thoughts and feelings to shift into a more resourceful state of being.
You’ve heard it a million times before, and I’ll say it again…exercise often and spend time outdoors in nature, in a state of gratitude.
Taking care of your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing during periods of transition is non-negotiable. Full stop.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you’re struggling with a current transition, email me for a laser coaching session to help you push through. Email me at email@example.com
“I believe if I do a good job, my work should speak for me and I will be recognized for the great work I do. I’m not comfortable self-promoting.”
Then I ask…
“So how is that strategy working for you? Are you getting the recognition you believe you deserve?”
I inevitably get a sheepish look, followed by the words “hmm, not so well” or some version of that.
At that point they are open to addressing their discomfort with self-promotion and we can move forward.
How about you? Are you comfortable self-promoting?
Yes, I’m asking you.
Don’t run away. Stay with me.
I’m not talking about the type of self-promotion that makes you feel like you’re boasting or bragging.
What I’m talking about is Authentic Self-Promotion.
It’s the type of self-promotion that feels true, congruent, ethical and uplifting to you.
It’s the type that lets you showcase your gifts to the world, and leaves you feeling fulfilled.
And it makes people want to engage with you and learn more about you.
It’s an art that you can learn.
Here are 3 tips to get you on your way.
1. Change your thinking about self-promotion
If you stop thinking about self-promotion as this dirty, awkward or comfortable thing and start to see it as a way to make you visible so that you can get the recognition you deserve, it becomes easier to master.
2. Observe others
Look for people who you think self-promote in an admirable way. What can you learn from them? Make it your mission to deeply and curiously study what they are doing right and model that.
Now that you’ve observed a few things that you can model, look for opportunities to take a turn. Keep practicing authentic self-promotion, get feedback, adjust until you can do it without discomfort.
Don’t be afraid to blow your own trumpet – in the most authentic way.