How to simplify your week to reduce stress

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“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Steve Jobs

I’m not one to quote Steve Jobs too much. He was brilliant, no question. But I’m not sure he’s the model to follow for a low-stress life in the workplace.

He seemed to ooze complexity. At least that’s what it looked like from my judg-ey overstuffed reading chair and ottoman.

I think he was onto something here, though, in understanding how we can simplify one of our real stressors at work — our workload.

Simplifying your work helps you do work that matters

If we think about the Apple products we use, they are dead simple.

My iPhone requires almost no instruction. The apps on it reduce complicated processes down to one or two steps I can do while I’m in the bathroom. (Don’t judge me, you do it too. 🙃)

In spite of the challenges the smartphone era has brought us, it’s also made so many things in life easier.

  • Don’t you remember what it was like trying to find answers to life’s big questions on Yahoo using your two-inch-thick Compaq laptop?
  • Remember scribbling tasks in your Monticello-themed, double-binded Franklin Planner?
  • Have you forgotten just how complicated it was to take your own pulse by using two fingers on one hand?

This was the crazy world the iPhone entered back in that dark age.

Apples’ development team started with the simplest version of what they thought could work and built on it from there. I’m sure they had a veritable scroll of features they probably could have included in that first phone (known then sweetly as “iPhone”).

But we’d probably still be waiting for that first iPhone, clumsily walking around with two fingers on our carotids and using hash marks to count our 10,000 steps.

The ensuing versions of the iPhone — all the way to today’s iPhone XR — came about once humans started actually using the phone.

I mean, who knew one day we would rarely even use these things as a phone? Who saw that one coming? 🤷

Use an MVP to simplify your work

You business-minded folks may recognize this process as a principle called “Minimum Viable Product,” or MVP.

(Bear with me. The therapist is using a business principle to make a point here.)

Entrepreneur Eric Ries was the first to toss this definition of MVP around in his book, “The Lean Startup:”

A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.

In regular-people speak:

  • Build the simplest version of your product that will let you learn how people use it,
  • Gather feedback from them while they’re using it, then
  • Add new features from what you learned.
  • And so on, and so on….

This can save you time and energy because you’re not trying to build the best product ever by just guessing what might work. That’s so old school.

  • MVP gives you a real-life lab to build a product that helps people solve the annoying problems in their lives.
  • MVP helps you see what really helps people, not just stuff you and your team think is cool.
  • People tend to celebrate and buy stuff that helps them solve problems.

Maybe you don’t build a tangible product per se.

(Actually you do! Your work is your product. Make work your product!)

Apply the MVP principle on this Monday to simplify the rest of this week

This frees you up to do the work that solves real problems and creates forward momentum.

I don’t know about you, but nothing stresses me out more than doing work that doesn’t matter.

Here’s a little MVP roadmap I made for you:

1. Create and plan a wicked simple baseline for what you want to accomplish this week

I’m showing my INFJ skin a bit here, but planning is essential to reduce stress at work. Sorry.

You have to create some buckets, even leaky ones, to capture your important work or you’ll just end up with a messy pile of pointless doo-doo on Friday.

I know that may fly in the face of your possibly more spontaneous nature, but spontaneity and joy are not mutually exclusive.

Don’t go crazy and overplan (see also: procrastination).

But do plan, please.

Give some thought ahead of time about how you want this week to end up.

  • What do you want to hold in your hand on Friday (besides a cold beer)?
  • What MVP product can you produce this week that you can then build on next week?
  • Put everything else on a “next release” list of some kind.

Be honest about what you can really do. This is an area where we create a lot of our own stress.

Our work eyes are sometimes bigger than our work stomachs, if you will. 😋

Create a workable plan that is do-able with the time and resources you have this week and focus the week on that.

2. Protect your plan by establishing boundaries around your work

I know what you’re thinking. That’s great and all, but what about when my boss runs in with a little project on fire, and I’m the one who’s supposed to put it out? 📝🔥

What happens to my well-crafted plan then, sister girlfriend?

In many cases, you can give your boss some options on how you put that fire out.

“Sorry this project is on fire, Susie. Take a deep breath. Here are a couple of things we could do. Which one do you like?”

  1. Use the fire extinguisher. This will put the fire out immediately but it will also trash everything around us. It will resolve the problem immediately but we’ll spend two days cleaning up. This will delay all our other projects.
  2. Use the sweater slung over the back of my office chair to put out the fire. This will suffocate the fire and ruin my sweater, but it will most likely resolve the problem and preserve the working environment. We’ll need a minute to regroup, and I’ll need a long lunch to go buy another sweater. But we can get back on track today.

(Fire people are going to kill me on this one. It’s an analogy. If there’s an actual fire in your office, please be safe and follow your company’s fire safety plan.)

Of course there are plenty of unexpected things that pop up in the work week. But they don’t have to completely derail your work.

Unless they truly have to.

The best part about having a plan is how you can adjust it to meet changing needs.

But you can also protect it by offering other options besides you always having to set everything else aside.

And you still have a shot at maintaining momentum with your plan while getting credit for helping put out a fire, too.

3. Capture feedback to build your next version

In building an MVP, capturing feedback is what drives the best new version of the product.

Thoughtful and engaging feedback makes your work better.

If you work in a team format, you absolutely should be open to feedback. Unless you’re freakin’ Leonardo da Vinci, you need other perspectives to do great work.

Here’s the dealio with feedback, though.

You’re not necessarily required to convert that feedback into action items. And certainly not this week.

If the feedback is a game changer for where your work is headed right now, then be for real and change your plan.

But don’t feel like it’s always required. Put the feedback on your “next version” list and see how it may fit in later.

Put a little fence around your work and be your own gatekeeper.

This serves to focus your best cognitive energy on the feedback you can use now to do your best work this week.

4. Make it your task to understand how your work ties in to a larger goal

Why do you do the work at your job? I don’t mean to start you on an existential quest here, but really … why are you doing this work?

Part of an MVP is knowing that your work is accomplishing a specific outcome. You can touch it, define it and explain it.

Apple’s slogan for the first iPhone was “Apple reinvents the phone.”

Apple reinvents the phone - 2007 Macworld Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone

“Apple reinvents the phone” by Nobuyuki Hayashi is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Did the developers working then understand that? I hope so because they did reinvent the phone. They absolutely did.

This is where Steve Jobs’ focus on simplicity comes to bear. He was obviously great at painting a vision, not just for customers but for the people doing the work.

And it made all the difference.

Many leadership teams lack the skills to communicate business goals in simple ways.

How does Allison in accounting understand how her weekly report contributes to the company’s quarterly success? To her, it may be just a thing she does on Monday before lunch.

Yes, the burden of that understanding should really fall on Allison’s company.

But remember, the power to reduce stress is in our hands, not waiting for someone else to figure it out for us.

So Allison may have to ask that question of her boss or someone else at her company who’s in the know.

This is an excellent way to make sure the work you’re doing is needed.

If not, you can apply your efforts toward something that will.

Now what?

Companies who use the MVP approach have seen enormous, even overwhelming success. It allows them to put great work out there and let others help them refine it.

You can do the same in your workweek if you resolve to keep your stuff simple and workable.

  • Be honest with yourself and others about what you can do.
  • Don’t be afraid to set boundaries around your work.
  • Let others use their perspective and knowledge to inform your work and make it better.
  • Seek out the larger picture for yourself, and bring it back to your desk every day.

 


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Why being authentic at work matters

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authentic at work

Do you ever feel like you’re trying to be a different person at work? Career literature is abuzz with the call to “just be yourself” and be authentic at work.

It’s true that feeling like you can’t relax and be yourself at work creates a lot of stress.

Maybe because it takes a lot of work and energy to act like someone you’re not. I assume you have real tasks to accomplish today that require your good energy.

Why do you feel like you have to create a persona so that others take you more seriously?

Some of this is good old-fashioned conditioning from the school days

How did your teacher most likely treat the “class clown?” You remember this endearing classmate, the person who had no problem yelling out a hilarious punch line during a teacher’s lecture.

How was that rewarded? Most likely in a punitive way.

While the whole class may have laughed at the joke (maybe even the teacher), the message was clear.

We are doing serious work here. Keep your funny for:

  • recess,
  • lunch or
  • playing in the backyard with your friends (kids used to do that).

In my day, schools even gave awards at the end of the year for “Most Humorous.” It wasn’t as prestigious as “Most Likely to Succeed,” but hey, at least you got some recognition for the special way you brought your game to an otherwise dreary academic setting.

So fast forward to the work setting. You enjoy using humor at work, but how does that fit in a more serious work environment? “Most Humorous” doesn’t get promoted over the more well-politicked “Most Likely to Succeed.”

So you suppress your genuine gift of humor in favor of what you think is more “professional.”

Authenticity in the workplace has come to be known with being obnoxious in telling the truth

You have those people on your teams who are like this. They are always the one to spout off whatever’s on their mind, usually with no filter.

When their comments injure or stir up trouble, what’s their response?

  • “I can’t help it if I just tell it like it is. That’s just who I am.”
  • “I’m not afraid to speak the truth. If people can’t handle it, that’s on them.”
  • “Someone had to say it!”

In turn, what do we say about these people?

We bristle at their words, but we hail them as authentic. Their willingness to say uncomfortable things, in spite of the consequences, seems like they’re being real.

So if you use emotional intelligence and try to measure the words that come out of your mouth, you might feel like you’re not being real.

What does it mean to be authentic at work?

1. Authenticity means leveraging the best parts of your personality in the work you do.

Are you the coworker who lends an ear to others who need to offload some frustration?

That’s hugely authentic because it allows you to show others in a very real way that you care about them. And it might mean that you helped them purge some negative thoughts so they can refocus on their work.

This can be a huge boon to your own productivity simply because it feels good to help others. Because of you, two people at your job feel better today.

Nice job.

Are you the funny one in the office?

Think of how your favorite comedian exploits shared experiences just for a laugh. We consider people “funny” because they find a different perspective to something we’ve all experienced and can all relate to.

Humor is a highly creative act.

Your comedic outlook can help you create and produce work that really stands out. Why would you hide this?

Also, please know that funny people help diffuse the effects of a toxic work environment.

You are our Obi-Wan. Please bring your funny.

We need you.

Are you the one who gets emotional about your work?

If this is you, you know that feeling. You go to bat for a project that your team spent real time and energy on. You feel the shakiness in your voice as you say more than you wanted to about why this project matters and why it shouldn’t be shelved.

You feel your heart in your throat while you’re talking, and you’re embarrassed because you felt like you couldn’t keep your cool.

Congratulations, you’re not a robot yet!

Your passion sets you apart from those who are just trying to check the boxes.

While it may be uncomfortable for you, it’s inspiring others around you who want to be just as brave. You are willing to be uncomfortable because you believe in the work. Don’t apologize for this.

That’s an advanced move.

2. Authenticity means giving real thought to how you speak your own truth. 

Being authentic does mean speaking truth to power. But it doesn’t mean throwing your power in the face of others or calling others out.

Just because you’re louder than me doesn’t mean you’re being more authentic than me.

Somehow we have to lose the idea that activism is the only way to be authentic.

We’re leaving out a whole bunch of people who want to be thoughtful and measured in how they approach the more human side of their work.

So how do you go about being authentic in the emotionally intelligent way?

Always speak to difficult issues from your own experience.

Always.

Your experience is unique to you, and it’s the only thing you know to be 100% true. You will never guess others’ real motives or expectations because you are not in their heads.

Saying something because “Someone had to say it!” is a terrible diplomatic strategy. It doesn’t present a path forward that everyone can feel comfortable with.

Speaking from your own experience also has the advantage of keeping others off the defensive. They might actually try to understand your perspective because you’re not combative.

Even if they don’t, you’ve put an issue out there that honors what you know, who you are and how you like to work with people.

3. Authenticity can be a career strategy.

The very things that make you who you are can actually help you craft an interesting career that you love.

If you are among the 70% of Americans who are disengaged from their work, then listen up.

Your career is less about the technical work you do and way more about who you are.

I would say that again, but honestly, you can just go back and re-read it. That’s how reading works.

Probably anyone can make the same widgets that you make. But they won’t do it with the same vision or passion, if you allow yourself to fly that particular flag.

The technical part gets you in the door. You as the complex human has to do the rest.

Using the skills and traits that come so naturally to you is the best way to stand out because it’s not forced. And you’ll find it pours out of you like melted butter with no effort at all.

Focus on those skills and put them together to create something unique. You may have to do some real work to put the puzzle together but it’s a super hope-builder when you pull it off.

Let’s use me, for example. I was always the trusted sidekick in my corporate career. Honestly, that’s who I’ve always been.

I can’t help but listen to people, ask questions and help them find different perspectives.

While I have a whole litany of more measurable skills in other areas, this is the one thing that people always seemed to appreciate about me.

After a while, I was no longer content to be a marketing professional who happened to be a good listener. As it turns out, there’s a whole profession of people who actually get paid to listen, guide and teach.

I flipped a very big switch to become a mental health professional and start a new career based mostly on the way I interacted with my peers at work.

You don’t have to flip a big switch like I did. You can bring to work those parts of your personality that crack you up or make you feel good about yourself.

People notice this and appreciate you for it. And it may inspire them to do the same because you were brave enough to go first.

You can create a new path where you’re at right now based on who you are. Being your authentic self may create opportunities you don’t know about yet.

You can’t leverage those opportunities if you’re hiding who you are.

So what do you think?

What are three things you can think of right now that ooze out of you every day that you can start elevating to be more authentic at work?

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Master your Monday to reduce stress

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Master Monday to reduce stress at work

One of the best ways to change your outlook on stress at work is to change how you look at Monday.

For whatever reason in our Gregorian calendar setup, we define Monday as the official start of a new week.

If the new work week started on Saturdays, we’d all hate Saturdays. Can you imagine hating Saturdays and feeling that dread on Friday night?

#DGIF (Dear God, It’s Friday) 🤣

Of course not. That would be weird.

We’ve conditioned ourselves to dread Monday, pure and simple.

Where’s the love for #TGIM?

Monday is the starting gate, the tone setter for the week. How you frame your attitude for this one day is the best indicator of how well the rest of your week goes.

If you master your Monday, you stand a chance to master the rest of the week.

Don’t get me wrong, you can always push the reset button if you have a crappy Monday. You just have to work a lot harder to get that Monday mojo back.

Starting your Mondays well is the key to the whole week.

How do you change your perspective on Monday?

Ask different questions about Monday

As a recap for all things mental health: your thoughts affect your feelings, which then affect the behaviors and actions you take.

Whatever you tell yourself about Monday will show up directly in how you live out this day.

This doesn’t mean you should become the Pollyanna who shouts “I  love Mondays and I don’t care who knows it!” when you walk in the door. Be positive, sure, but don’t annoy people, if you can help it.

Think about your morning. What questions did you ask yourself about how this day might go?

  • What kind of mood will my boss be in?
  • How much longer until the end of the day?
  • How many impromptu meetings am I going to get roped into?
  • Why do we have staff meetings first thing on Monday? (my personal favorite)
  • How will I get through four more days of this?
  • When will Friday get here?

In order to change your perspective on Monday, you have to reframe your questions on Monday.

What can you ask yourself on this day that will focus your mind forward?

What will help you look for answers that will move you toward your goals instead of focusing on Mondays past? 🤔

  • How can I find my boss’ pain points this week and help take some pressure off?
  • What are the best things I can do today that will position me well for the rest of this week?
  • What opportunities do I have today to showcase my expertise to a captive audience?
  • Who on my team can I encourage today that may be struggling with their work?
  • When will Friday get here? (I’m not sure we can reframe this one. We just love Fridays! That’s okay!)

Try this flip flop exercise and see if it doesn’t empower you and give you a little hope for the rest of the week.

Look for things that will help you win today

🎩 Hat tip to a great group of ladies I was with last week who shared this strategy. While you’re enjoying your early morning coffee, list five things you can do today that will help you win.

For example:

  1. Making healthy eating choices
  2. Taking a walk at lunch
  3. Sharing an encouraging message with a coworker
  4. Checking in with your boss
  5. Getting that weekly report in before noon.

It’s so easy to let the urgent tasks drive your day before you barely get started. By lunchtime, you’re flailing your arms trying to figure out just how you got off track.

Knowing these five things ahead of time will help you pivot back to what’s important. Taking care of what’s important helps you feel some autonomy over your work and positions you to win.

If you can win today, you can win the rest of the week.

Give yourself a mental health moment

Most of the time we literally race from place to place. That’s how we live now.

If you’re a driving commuter, you most likely drove in the parking lot on two wheels, barely dodged fellow coworkers walking in, lurched into a parking space, piled all your bags on your shoulders (you really need a cart) and raced into the building.

Whoa, slow down turbo. 😫

You most likely just defied death at 80 mph on a busy highway and maybe even took some calls already.

Give yourself a few minutes in the car to reset your focus before you go in.

  • Take some deep breaths
  • Enjoy putting your favorite lipstick on
  • Watch a funny YouTube video
  • Listen to that one song that fires you up (my current one is “Never Give Up,” by Sia from the terrific movie, “Lion”), or
  • Review your “Five Things to Win Today” from this morning.

You get to have a few minutes to shift gears and focus on your best performance.

Athletes and performers do this all the time.

You will never see Tom Brady rush out of his expensive SUV right before the game starts and hit the field with Cinnabon bits still in his teeth.

No doubt he has a specific mental process that helps him stay focused, and I would imagine he has a ton of little refocus moments on game day.

Maybe he puts on his lipstick in the car, too. 💄

If you feel rushed and frazzled, people notice this the minute you walk in the door.

It’s all around you.

A well-placed mental health moment is an easy way to be that person who always brings the calm into Monday morning. Master this one skill and you can absolutely confound your coworkers.

Besides, feeling rushed and frazzled doesn’t help you feel resilient for the challenges that may come your way on this fine Monday morning.

You’ll spend at least 480 minutes at work today. Take a measly five of those minutes to set yourself up for success.

It’s all about you

Want a quick way to reduce your stress at work? Stop viewing Monday as the enemy. Look for ways to make Monday your ally in the workweek.

Monday can be your Winston Churchill, the wise, direct and purposeful elder statesman that helps you soldier through this week with wit and purpose. 💪 (Why are there no Churchill emojis??)

You’ll notice all of these tips have nothing to do with anyone else but you. Yes, you can have a good Monday in spite of your circumstances at work.

This particular ball is in your court.

How powerful is that?

Happy Monday!

Manage stress by living in the present

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Manage stress by living in the present

By default, we are all in the present, but not necessarily present, if that makes sense. This is where much of our stress rears its gnarly head.

We’re burdened with the constant pressure of what’s to come in a world that is almost exclusively forward focused. 

  • Create your own future!
  • Prepare for retirement!
  • Get ahead at work!
  • Develop a life plan!
  • Raise healthy and productive children!
  • Become the ____ you know you can be!
  • Get stuff done!
  • Be happy!
  • Change the world!

No pressure. 😳

What’s cool is that we have more opportunity now than at any other time in human history to actually accomplish these noble tasks. 

Previous generations didn’t have access to the technology and freedom that living today can bring. This particular age would have blown their minds.

To accomplish any one of these noble tasks would have been enough for them, let alone all of them at the same time.

We are in uncharted territory.

We scoot around, sometimes mindlessly, to try to take advantage of it all. We are so anxious to “get there.”

But once we get there, how then do we appreciate who we are in that moment and what we’ve already become?

Where are the master classes for that?

We just keep going to the next task, the next forward motion. ⏩

So many of our anxious and depressive thoughts stem from this constant focus on an ambiguous future moment.

These future moments can feel like a moving target. As we grow, change and develop new abilities, we decide we may want different things. 

So we may change and pivot.

Our future feels like it’s always “out there” because it is.

And even if you achieve all that you want, that future moment you aspire to will — one day — become your present moment.

Ah, the irony.

How will you even appreciate that moment? Have you thought about how you will mark and celebrate it?

Here are a couple of things that work for me:

Enjoy a “Done” list

There are a million and one ways to keep a to-do list. You can track it in a sweet little app that classifies, tags and whatnot. Or write out a list on a steno pad and keep it on the fridge (old school, I know, but it works).

But what about a list that captures what you ACTUALLY did?

Do you feel anxious and annoyed when you see how many things are still left on your list at the end of the day? Where did the time go?

You immediately start plotting those things for tomorrow, giving short shrift to your little worker bee 🐝 tasks that buzzed around so hard for you today.

The things you did get done you relegate to a checkmark or a strikethrough. Or worse, tag them as “Completed” and watch them disappear from your list completely.

Don’t just look at the checkmarks or the line throughs on your list. Separate them and give them their own list. They deserve it!

Those are the things you got done! ☑️

The present moments that you engaged.

So now you know you have the ability to take advantage of your present moments!

Master today

Today is here, and you are apparently already awake and moving around. Nice job! 😎

What are the things you can do TODAY that will move you toward those future goals?

Focus on just those things, and shove the rest aside for now.

Don’t let the future steps, which don’t matter right now, encroach on your present.

If this day is particularly challenging, maybe you can just focus on what you need to do in the next HOUR.

What is the literal next step on your list? 👟

Don’t worry about this afternoon or where you’d still like to be at the end of this day.

Muster your energy and focus toward just this present moment and see where it goes.

Stop moving

Sounds simple, but in order to focus on the present, you may have to stop moving for a minute.

Do you have to go right on to that next thing? 🏃 Or can you take a minute to enjoy a little self-imposed buffer zone?

I like to daydream in these moments. It gives my brain a frickin’ break from all that analyzing and planning and lets me imagine myself doing something ridiculously fun.

Do this when it’s super inconvenient and you feel like you just can’t spare the time.

This is probably when you are feeling most stressed about the future.

The present IS your life. 

Right now, as it’s happening. 

Enjoying the present isn’t hard but it does require intention. There will always be something in the future calling you out of it.

Learn to engage it on your terms.

How do you enjoy your present moments?

 

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Answers from the trail

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Road lined with trees

One of the advantages of having a few professional years under your belt is following the trail of your own actions and decisions.

Sometimes it can be validating to see where your head was in the right place.

Other times, it leaves you scratching your head, wondering how you missed so much that was so obvious.

There’s good data there if you allow yourself to mine it.

We leave breadcrumbs behind with every project, interaction and new venture.

We can go back and discover clues about how we view our work and how we really feel about our work.

That trail usually leads back to our early days in schooling, how we interacted with our classmates or early friends.

And how our parents or caregivers modeled authority to us.

  • Does your boss remind you of a parent? Consider how you respond to them.
  • Does your work environment mimic the playgrounds of your youth? You may see some familiar patterns and behaviors.
  • Maybe you look at your work as a challenge to be conquered, like a science project. Or just a problem to be solved and dealt with, like a math test.

Many of us move through the day in reactive mode, putting out fires we didn’t cause. We’re out of gas at the end of the day, but not sure exactly why.

How can you even think about changing the way you think about your work if you’re just trying to keep the embers from catching again?

You have to be the one to chart your new course.

Document your actions and decisions at work for a month.

Don’t judge it. Just write it down, warts and all.

At the end of the month, go back and read it. See what reveals itself. 

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What worked but singed your eyebrows in the process?
  • How did you respond to all of it?
  • How do you wish you had responded to some of it?

Patterns will jump out at you when you are removed from the immediacy and urgency of a specific circumstance or situation.

Now you know what to work on.

Six ways to get to know someone at work

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How to get to know someone at work

Work can be one of the loneliest places around, besides maybe bars and Tinder (I’ve heard 😜). 

We weren’t designed to sit right next to each other in a gray maze and never connect.

That’s weird. 

But it’s never too late to start getting to know someone you work with every day. Even if you’ve worked with them in mostly silence for five years, you can start a connection today.

And you may find it changes your outlook on your own work.

Does that strike a little fear in your freshly-caffeinated heart? 😱

Fear not

Just remember a few things:

1. Never assume someone doesn’t want to connect with you

Everyone desires connection with others in some way, even if they don’t let on.

It’s one of the top yearnings I hear from clients. There are really very few people in this world who “don’t like people.” That’s a cover for their own fear of reaching out and being rejected.

This is why taking your initiative to reach out to others is so valuable. If you start it, the likelihood of rejection for them is greatly diminished.

And there’s a good chance that someone who thinks you’re awesome has always wanted to connect with you, in particular.

So just know that.

2. Keep it simple

Simply ask a question about their weekend, or just comment on that old standby — the weather. 

Maybe that’s not deep enough for you. But remember, Gandalf,  you’re merely trying to open the door and get an exchange going.

The goal is not to become their best friend or hold hands while running through a tulip field together. 🌷 

Yes, you may find that over time, these light exchanges may eventually turn to slightly deeper matters.

But that’s not your point today.

Building off of these seemingly old-school conversations simply starts to develop a little trust.

3. Be curious, George

Even better, use your natural curiosity to ask questions about something you may already know that interests them. 

Do they have pictures of themselves dressed in fly fishing gear inside their cubicle? Ask them about that. 

I can almost guarantee you will start something, because I’m guessing you are likely not to know much about fly fishing. (That just seems like a very niche kind of thing.)

Watch them come alive and share something with you that they may have learned while fishing in a remote river somewhere. 

Don’t you do this when someone asks you about something you enjoy or have become an expert in? 

4. Listen to understand, not to reply

This means that when someone is talking to you, you’re not having a conversation inside your own head about what you’re going to say next. 

Even if it’s super valuable and super witty. Shut it down for a minute. 

You’re listening simply so that you can get more information about the other person. 

Here’s a fun trick: summarize and restate back to them what they just said to you. They’ll quickly tell you if you got it wrong. 😳

Next time you’ll be eager to pay more attention.

5. When you do share, try not to offer advice

It’s tempting to want to provide advice, especially if you’ve already been there. But you may not have earned this yet. 

Remember, you’re connecting and building rapport. 

And if you’re not careful, it can seem like you’re trying to top their experience.

We’ve all met “toppers.” These are conversation assassins who seem to invalidate your story while telling you how their experience was so much worse (or better). 😒

Don’t be a topper.

Simply offer this: 

“I went through something similar once. It wasn’t easy. Here’s what worked for me.”

Sharing from your own experience has the added benefit of them maybe developing some empathy for you, too.  

6. Compliment them about one thing they do really well at work

As far as I know, we’re still allowed to give compliments at work.

We are awesome at so many things that just come naturally to us, and it’s nice to hear that others notice it.

All the career literature says that being recognized for your good work is one of the main drivers for employee satisfaction. And employees may not be getting that recognition from their management, quoth the same career literature. 

So you can totally boost someone’s day with one positive observation about their work.

You’ve now taken a simple connection and created more positivity in your sphere of influence.

Look at you being an agent of change!

Let’s get it started in here

We can’t always rely on instant rapport to drive how we connect at work. Connection doesn’t just happen.

In many cases it may require an intentional action that starts with you. 

If you’ve struggled to connect with others, know that it’s not a character flaw to beat yourself up with. 

Connection is a skill that can be learned and developed.

Just find simple ways to reach out and look for common interests.

Find a touch point that you can both share, and let it evolve from there.

What about you?

Have you struggled with making a connection at work? Share in the comments!

 

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How anger at work affects you and what to do about it

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Anger at work

Few things are as destructive in the workplace as anger.

And it’s quite stealthy.

I’m not talking about the kind of anger at work that wells up when you open the break room fridge and find your lunch MIA. This has never happened to me. I suspect it’s largely because my lunches contain mostly quinoa and avocado.

I’m not even talking about the yelling, slamming-fists-on-the-table kind of anger. I know realistically we’ve all worked with someone like that at some point. The person who name-calls and yells, is visibly infuriated, flies off the handle when they don’t get their way, and makes everyone uncomfortable.

Some people say you should just let this kind of anger out, that catharsis is healthy. I’m not so sure about that, domestic violence being what it is.

Silence is rarely golden

No, I’m talking about a more silent anger. One that hides behind smiles and professionalism, but drives many of your behaviors and decisions at work.

You may not even realize you’re angry. Maybe it really feels more like frustration. But if left unchecked, frustration can boil up and surprise you when you can least afford it.

Suddenly you’re saying and doing things that are out of character for you.

Then what?

  • Good relationships get pummelled because things were said that can’t be taken back.
  • Trust erodes when anger at work rears its head because we assume the worst about people and their intentions. People like our bosses.
  • Projects don’t get finished because no one can focus on their actual work and companies make less money.
  • Good people quit good jobs when they get angry at work because they feel powerless to make change.

The work game can set you up for anger

Work sometimes reminds me of the game called Keep Away (Piggy in the Middle, for my British friends). Did you play this game as a kid?

There’s one ball and three people. The object of this game is to toss the ball back-and-forth between two people and keep the third person, who finds himself in the middle, from getting the ball.

That’s pretty much the game.

Great laughter and sneering ensues while the third person flails around pathetically trying to catch the ball.

Maybe when you were a kid you were athletic, tall, aggressive, quick, crafty or Lebron James but in my storied past, this is how I looked when this sad game went down.

I remember being seriously ticked off playing this game.

Those two knuckleheads tossing the ball were blocking me from what I wanted, and it made me so angry.

But being a good Southern girl, I smiled and laughed it off while downing my sweet iced tea with lemon.

Anger is an obstacle

Anger usually presents itself when something or someone is standing in your way to a goal or a status you are trying to achieve.
  • You might be angry because you didn’t get the promotion you thought you deserved.
  • You may be angry because a coworker didn’t finish their part of the project and now the whole thing is in jeopardy.
  • You may be angry because you feel disrespected in spite of the value you bring to your team.
  • You may feel angry because you don’t have the resources to be successful.
  • You may be angry because you feel invisible, or you feel like you’re too visible and take the rap for everything bad that happens.
  • You may be angry because you can’t find peace to get your work done.
  • You might be angry because the changes never seem to stop and you just can’t get your legs under you.

No one may even have a clue you’re angry about these things. You’re good at hiding it because you don’t want to be yelling-and-slamming fists guy (or girl, girls can slam fists). That’s unprofessional.

How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.

So if you’re all smiles and giggles, how does this anger show up?

  • Have  you ever dropped sarcastic remarks in response to someone’s input on something?
  • Have you ever removed yourself from others in an effort to “show them?”
  • Have you ever asked deliberate leading questions to get someone to admit something or to make them look bad?
  • Have you ever talked about someone behind their back?
  • Have you ever withheld information someone might need to do their job?

These kinds of behaviors are all passive aggressive.

Meaning, you’re angry, but you act like you aren’t and use unrelated actions to communicate it.

Like when your spouse slams the dishes around while cleaning the kitchen you were supposed to clean. There’s a message there, but she’s not being terribly clear about it. But she is being loud.

And like that game of Keep Away, staying angry and flailing around about what you’re not getting isn’t going to get you anywhere.

At some point, you have to take action or nothing will change. In fact, your anger could give way to things like anxiety and depression.

So what can you do?

Stop letting anger block you

Anger is an excellent indicator that something is wrong. It wraps itself around and protects things like fear, vulnerability and hurt.

Anger can give you useful data to find out what you really need to work on. Anger is a beetle (What!? More on that here.)

Understand what you’re angry about

Take an honest assessment about what is making you angry. Write down each thing that you get upset about.

A good way to know when something has made you angry is if you sit at your desk and ruminate about it constantly and can’t get your work done.

Write. It. Down.

Then, rate from 1-10, how angry that thing makes you:

  • 1=”not so much,”
  • 10=”off the freakin’ rails.”

Look for patterns in the things you rated as off the rails, or close to off the rails. What common elements do they share?

Use this data to find out what you’re wanting and not getting.

You can also review your list and see if you can identify any other possible scenarios that might explain the situation.

Your boss ignored your email?

  • Perhaps it’s in her spam folder.
  • Maybe her daughter had to go to the ER and she’s been a little busy with that this morning.
  • Maybe she drafted a response and got sidetracked and forgot to hit Send. That happens to me soooo much.
  • Maybe she actually doesn’t care about your email. The negative response is always a possibility but it doesn’t have to be the first thing you come up with.
  • Try to explore all the possibilities before you go all Walter White on her.

Be brave and communicate it directly

Now that you have some idea of what is making you angry, give some consideration as to how you might communicate it to others so you can speak honestly about your experience.

In a work environment, this can be tricky. Most organizations have mechanisms to deal with slamming-fist people, but many are not that skilled with the finer emotional events that drive everyday work.

You will have to be the one to take the initiative, and it will be good for you because initiative is the anti-passive-aggressive.

So who should you talk to? Your manager?

You have to gauge this one based on your relationship with your manager. Many managers want to know when their people are unhappy, but just as many don’t know quite what to do with it.

Give some thought as to how your anger might sound on their side of the table and see how you might frame it in a way that will help them help you.

One way to do this is to communicate your concerns using “I” statements.

Speak from your own experience, describing the emotions you feel and how it has affected your situation.

And, this is important: you do this without casting blame or trying to assess the other person’s motives.

For example, NOT this:

“I noticed my accomplishments were not mentioned in last month’s report to the CEO along with everyone else. How could you disrespect me like that? I worked so hard and sacrificed a lot of personal time to get it done. I can’t believe how little you care about me and my work.”

Dang! No…

Try this instead:

“I noticed my accomplishments were not mentioned in last month’s report to the CEO along with everyone else. Gotta be honest, that made me feel a bit angry because I worked extra hours and sacrificed personal time to meet the goals. My goals and my team’s goals are really important to me. Help me understand what you need from me. What could I be missing?”

In the last scenario, you speak to your anger, but not in a way that puts the other person on the defensive. Instead, it’s a call for more information to improve the process, and ultimately, it’s more collaborative.

“I” statements are a powerful way to communicate with anyone who may have a real stake in your life: coworkers, spouses, kids, friends, the geniuses at the Apple store.

If you can’t talk to your manager, is there someone else in your internal network who can hear your concerns? Maybe someone in a different department who has a voice in the organization?

Don’t be a jerk, let it go

Whether you address your anger with someone else or not, you are still faced with the prospect of letting your anger go.

Anger is exhausting and doesn’t really serve anyone, least of all you. You may not get your justice, and you may have to be okay with that.

Letting it go serves to start with a clean slate, for everyone. This is a great foundation to build trust and can actually strengthen your relationships.

There is great value in exploring and processing anger, but the road always leads to the same place: to move forward you have to release it.

This is the part you can control

Letting go of anger is a decision and a commitment. There’s no magic trick that will distract you from it or make it seem better than it is.

It is an act of humility that says the greater good is bigger than my feelings in this moment.

It’s easy to look for others to be the cause of why we’re struggling at work, but we forget that we hold so much power over our emotions.

Anger is tricky because it seems like it’s mostly caused by something or someone else.

But the decision on how to deal with anger is largely left up to us.

That’s not fair, but that seems to be the way that particular cookie fell off the sheet.

We can choose how to perceive others’ actions in our workday, and we can decide what role we might play in the solution.

Who knows how that might change the outcome?

What about you?

How have you experienced anger at work? What has helped you? Please share!

 

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How to weather change at work without stressing out

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How to weather change at work without stressing out

Change has always been a part of the workplace.

But in the last five to eight years it seems it has reached a fever pitch in many organizations. You can expect something big to change every two or so years, sometimes even way less.

Have you experienced this lately? Change can be one of the biggest causes of stress at work.

Reorganizations, leadership changes, new regulations and legislation that require big changes to workflows and processes, automation that makes cherished roles redundant.

Don’t get me wrong. Change isn’t necessarily bad. New developments and innovations can take an organization in a new and exciting direction.

But it’s still an adjustment because motion creates friction. (Hey, look who was paying attention in Mr. Rieger’s 10th grade physics class.)

The catalyst for change runs the gamut but the results can be the same:

  • What’s going to happen to me?
  • When will I know what’s going to happen?
  • What if I’m not comfortable with the changes?
  • Will I have to take on even more?
  • Am I still needed?
  • If I don’t like the change, should I stay and wait it out or get out now?
  • This isn’t what I signed up for.
  • This isn’t fair.

Emotions like fear, uncertainty, anger, and frustration can drown you and your coworkers in times of change.

You may feel powerless, which can cause you to think and act in ways outside of your character.

That certainly won’t help.

And you may lash out at leadership, even as they may be experiencing the same emotions and fears.

Many organizations haven’t mastered how to effectively coach their employees through change. 

So developing a healthy attitude and adaptive responses to changes at work largely falls on your shoulders.

To thrive in today’s work environments, you have to expect that change will come knocking on your door.

And part of that expectation is being prepared ahead of time. You can decide now how you will engage so when the change occurs, you can remain flexible and productive.

Here are a few things to consider as the winds of change start blowing at work.

1. Don’t take change personally.

Reframe your perspective. Don’t be paranoid. It’s not about you.

It really is “just business.”

Change or die is kind of a very real thing now facing organizations (Blockbuster, anyone?).

Change can result from new industry advancements, higher expectations from technology, excitement about the future, or a desperate attempt to salvage something that’s just not going well.

And this would probably happen whether or not you were sitting in your cheerily-decorated space.

Do this instead: 

Choose to view yourself as a business. While “just business” is still “kinda personal” — because, after all, business changes can affect your livelihood — you can decide to use the power you do have to make your own change.

The change door swings both ways.

While your organization is assessing, hypothesizing and consulting, you get to do the same thing.

  • What’s working for you?
  • What’s not working?
  • What skills would you like to continue to develop or deepen?
  • What other levers could you pull to achieve your career goals?
  • What do you want to do?

Honestly, you should always be on the hunt for answering these questions, even if everything is perfect at work.

Exploring these questions can help you feel a little less powerless because you can generate some tangible options for yourself.

You don’t have to act on those options necessarily. But it’s a real mood booster to know you have options, like finding that surprise $20 bill in your jeans on laundry day.

Plus, assessing your skills and experiences is a huge validator. Sometimes in the day-to-day we forget how awesome we are.

2. Don’t ruminate about all the negative possibilities.

Rumination is a dastardly thinking habit that’ll take you right down the road to depression and anxiety. If you only have the mental budget to stop doing one thing, pick this one, please.

When you entertain distressing and negative thoughts over and over and over, without challenging them, stewing over them at your desk and casting blame on others like Thor’s hammer, guess what?

Your mood totally tanks. Your mental state spirals down into a mess of obsession over every little comment, side glance or email.

Now you feel hopeless.

You may look up and realize a half hour has gone by and you haven’t done anything.

So, in a time of great change, you’re not getting your work done.

(If you prefer a description of rumination that involves cows, and really, who doesn’t?, click here.)

Do this instead:

Rumination is a habit and one you can absolutely change. It’s easy.

Instead of fuming, write down your most distressing thoughts, right there at your desk. Then, under each thought, write a possible explanation you may not have considered.

Be a detective. What else could be going on that you haven’t considered, Sherlock?

It can be completely plausible or involve aliens. As long as you’re generating ideas.

Bonus: Now you have distracted yourself, probably made yourself laugh because we all know how funny you are when it comes to aliens, and interrupted the aforementioned dastardly rumination.

You have also considered a different perspective on your experience, which is gold. You get 10 points!

3. Don’t get caught up in the rumors and the riff raff.

Note: If you don’t know what riff raff is, you’re probably part of it.

This one is really, really hard. I know your mother and all the career literature says, “Thou shouldst not partaketh in gossip-eth.”

But in an organizational change vacuum, where reliable information may be like finding a free restroom in Manhattan, sometimes gossip feels like all you have.

However, priming the rumor pump is a nifty way to keep anxiety and fear constantly churned up — for everyone.

Of course, you naturally want to share and process your feelings and fears with others who are going through the same experience. This is normal and healthy, to a degree.

But there’s a point where it becomes damaging and counterproductive. Sharing information that you heard from someone else is one thing.

Fortune-telling and mud-slinging from that information (which may or may not be accurate, usually not) is a whole other enchilada.

And in many cases, your predictions are way off anyway.

Do this instead:

Decide to be a safe person for your coworkers. Determine ahead of time how you will engage with new information that presents itself from unofficial channels.

If you are uncomfortable with something, say so. If a group discussion starts going askew and you start getting that icky feeling, excuse yourself and walk away.

You may not nail this 100% of the time because some conversations just evolve. But do your best.

Most importantly, find simple ways every day to encourage your coworkers who may be struggling even more than you.

Make this your “shtick” as your organization progresses through the change. People do appreciate it, and it will help keep you encouraged as much as it helps them.

4. Don’t abandon your self care regimen.

Now is not the time to stop exercising, eating right or sleeping.

Focusing on these three tools in your toolkit is the key to building resilience for everything life throws your way.

Stress at work takes its toll on you physically by jacking up your adrenal system. When you’re under stress, your blood pressure goes up, your heart rate increases, your muscles constrict, and your pupils dilate.

The hormone cortisol becomes the general who barks orders in your body as it prepares you for the “danger” ahead.

Staying in this constant state of “fight or flight,” though, is too much wear and tear on your adrenal and cardiovascular systems.

This is why at the end of the day you have headaches, heart palpitations, indigestion, irritability and difficulty sleeping.

Do this instead:  

Intentional self care is the foolproof antidote to stress at work. It won’t change your stress but it can change your outlook on it and how you respond.

Exercise: Find time every day for some form of movement. Go for a run or walk, ride your bike, do yoga, play a quick game of basketball with your kids, pull some weeds in your yard, whatever. Just move.

When things get hot at work, take a break and go for a 10-minute walk. You’re allowed.

This is a great way to let off steam in the moment and has the added advantage of reducing your blood pressure on the spot. (I know this because I’m now in that phase of life where taking my blood pressure has become a sport.)

Eat right: Make a planned and deliberate effort to nourish your body with healthy foods. It doesn’t matter if you are doing keto, paleo, Weight Watchers, you’re a vegan or you just eat when you’re hungry (is that a thing?).

Simply focus on making healthier choices every day and staying away from the processed junk and sugars that we all know by now are bad for us.

Don’t make your marvelously adaptable body have to work harder to keep you all together.

Sleep: Sleep is a discipline. It’s not something that happens upon you like bonus fries at the bottom of the bag. You may have to work for it to get it to fall in place.

Make bedtime the main event and focus of your evening. Anything that distracts you from getting to bed on time shouldn’t make the cut. This won’t make you a hit at the parties you’re not going to, but the results will make you feel like a rockstar.

Do we not do this with our kids when they’re young? If you were like me, your whole nighttime schedule revolved around getting your kids to bed on time. Woe be unto any person or activity who tried to impede that.

Make that same commitment to yourself. Maybe your evening should involve more snuggling and someone reading you a bedtime story.

For more grown-up tactics on how to get better sleep, Google “sleep hygiene” and “bedtime rituals.”

Stay flexible, my friends

None of these things will keep changes at work from affecting you. But the secret sauce of weathering change, at work or at home, is giving yourself the best shot at staying flexible.

What doesn’t bend will break. You’re not helpful to yourself or anyone else if you’re broken.

You can’t be adaptable by being paranoid about the future, letting your emotions run amok, giving others room to determine your perspective and allowing your body to get overwhelmed.

You have more power than you know to not just survive change, but to thrive beyond it.

What about you?

What are some ways you have dealt with change at work? What has worked for you? Do share!

 

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How to be a good listener

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Good listening skills are a must in any relationship. But what does being a good listener look like in real life?

Here are some simple tips to boost your listening game.

Is imposter syndrome a fraud?

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Have you heard of this thing called “imposter syndrome?”

Imposter syndrome is the fear of being discovered to be a fraud. You, a competent, accomplished, recognized, high-performing professional.

Outwardly you are crushing it on all levels. But inside your head you’re telling yourself, “Yeeeaaah, it’s basically all a sham. They’re gonna find out soon enough what a big fraud I am. If they only knew! *sigh*”

You stay under constant stress with every project, wondering when the big Scooby Doo reveal moment might happen, leaving everyone pointing and gasping in animated horror.

And so this is how you spend your good mental energy every day: analyzing whether or not you are for real!

I’ll be honest, I’m struggling with how I feel about this one. I’ve certainly struggled with this mindset a lot in my own work life.

Early in my first career in communications, I was the Harbinger of Output. Don’t give me something unless you’re looking to do a silly victory dance with me in the end zone in pretty short order.

There was nothing I couldn’t take and run all the way down the field for you because aptitude is almost never a problem for me (exceptions: math and most likely, brain surgery).

But It took me many years to learn to accept my accomplishments purely at face value: I was, in fact, awesome at my job. At least that’s what people kept telling me.

I seemed always to have a, “Yes, but…” bouncing around in my head. I was unwilling to own my accomplishments and use the little bumps along the way as learning moments.

Instead, I used them to beat myself up, disregarding many of the things that had gone right. I remember always being worried that I had still somehow gravely disappointed people.

Great pattern, Lori. Good times.

So okay fine, imposter syndrome could be a real thing.

But I’m having trouble giving in to the idea of a full blown syndrome.

First of all, we may not need another workplace condition to worry about.

I already have my hands full trying to be one of the 15% who stays engaged, learning to explore my emotional intelligence and trying to keep my “monkey mind” from ruining my day.

So let’s not go looking for another thing to fret about in the workday, shall we?

Second, you’re in good company.

If I peek over the cubicle wall or leer around the corner, I’ll discover plenty of other folks who feel this way. Most of us struggle at some point with competence and skill.

That struggle may be an opportunity to consider investing in some training. This one has always saved me. It’s not that I don’t already know enough to be competent, but educating myself is a super confidence builder. I’m eager to get out there and use my new skills.

It could also be time to look for another position that can challenge you to learn and stretch in different ways.

Sometimes stagnation masquerades as imposter syndrome. If you have enough time to consider your “fraudulent” ways, you may not be challenged enough.

Plus, a job search can engage you to start thinking about your accomplishments and how you can best communicate your great work to others. If you actually snag a new position, you have to fully engage in that new work, which leaves little room for all of this peripheral stuff.

So instead of thinking of yourself as a fraud, you can simply choose to grow.

Third, you can defend yourself against your thoughts.

Let me ask you this. What if someone walked in your office and said, “You know what, sister? I’m on to you! You’re a big fraud! You’ve been fooling us all this time. You aren’t as great as you want us to think you are.”

Would you just sit there and take that? What would you say to that person to challenge those accusations, before you called security? (Feel free to write down what you would say. I’ll bet you would find at least 20 things real fast.)

Then why do you take such unproven accusations from your own thoughts without a fight?

You get to push back on that as hard as you can.

Respond back to your accuser with the reasons why you are great, competent and how you get crap done. (You can use the 20 things from your list. How convenient that you wrote them down!)

I’m being a little cheeky about this, but it really can be that simple. Don’t be lured into thinking you are stuck in a syndrome, especially one of your own making.

Challenge yourself to own and share your accomplishments, keep learning, and use your discomfort as a springboard to the grace and confidence you deserve.

#alwaysbelearnin

Photo: Creative Commons “The Imposter” by Transport Pixels is licensed under CC BY 2.0