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workplace dynamics

I hate managing people. Probably most people do. In my ideal world everyone knows what they have to do, they do it on time, without being reminded, and we all co-exist as a happy, independent – but also bonded – self-directed, motivated working family. Not so hard, right?

Well, it’s a tad hard actually.

Everyone has different skillsets, different brains, and different methodologies. Moreover, not everyone possesses a self-directed, entrepreneurial brain, despite the push these days to cultivate the intrapreneur. There will always be people who need specific direction and those that don’t, and neither is better than the other.

In a typical week I meet with my team to discuss agendas and ideas, then we break for the week, and then re-group the following week. I’m less concerned about adhering to a specific schedule or traditional workday than I am about giving people the freedom to work according to their individual style.

What I didn’t foresee when I started my leadership consulting business though is that:

too much flexibility and independence can set a low bar if not paired with strong accountability.

I’ve had my share of horrible bosses; I didn’t want to repeat their mistakes and bad behavior. I vowed to create a space where people could work and thrive independently.

Everyone was free to work according to their own schedule but when tasks and projects weren’t completed I allowed for further flexibility and understanding, which didn’t yield the desired results. I found myself repeatedly asking for work week after week that I wasn’t getting.

The following are some lessons I learned about how flexibility, understanding, and accountability work with – and against – each other.

1. Be specific about what you want so you get what you want.

It doesn’t make someone weak if they need specific directives. Have an initial conversation to uncover what kind of work style the person has (particularly in remote working situations) and what they expect from you. Maybe run an assessment on them so you get a glimpse into their personality. What you want to avoid is having this conversation repeatedly:

You: This isn’t what I wanted, this is what I wanted.

Employee: Oh I didn’t hear you say that.

You: I thought it was a given.

Was it a given? Or do you need to…

2. Manage your own expectations.

Not everyone is going to think like you. They may have the intrapreneurial gene but that doesn’t mean they will fill in the blanks for everything that needs to be done to carry the business forward. Develop awareness of your own expectations and of your employees’ abilities. Don’t expect someone with an “employee” mindset to be the best independent worker capable of doing what you haven’t outlined. On that note…

3. Don’t expect people to care as much as you do.

Even your hardest-working, most devout employee will never care about the company quite the same was as you. It’s not their baby, they don’t feel the day-to-day pressure that comes with owning and operating a business, and ultimately they can always leave if they want. This is a good starting point so you can…

4. Recognize everyone has strengths and weaknesses (including you) but don’t let them off the hook for their weaknesses.

People will favor their “strong arm” naturally but ignoring your weak arm causes injury to the rest of your body, so to speak. You owe it to your employees to challenge them to work on their weaknesses and hold them accountable for their development. If you allow them to only do what they’re good at, you will only give them certain projects, they’ll only expect to get specific projects, and you’ll end up doing work you probably should have delegated, which will build resentment, which is why you need to make it known that…

5. Flexibility is earned.

If they your people don’t do what they said they would, then they’ve lost their flexibility. They will feel the jarring brunt of that loss when they incur more attention on themselves and find they are being managed to a degree they hadn’t been beforehand. Or you may find it necessary to implement harsher consequences.

Netflix has been praised for having the ideal company culture under the umbrella of “freedom and responsibility.” You get all the vacation you want, you can expense without approval, they don’t have yearly performance reviews, you’re paid well, and you have the freedom to work and innovate without being bogged down by process. They take the high road and treat everyone as adults and as such they expect you to act and work like one.

They have a strong accountability in place: you’re expected to work at a high level or you might be asked to leave. Another way to phrase all this is…

6. The High Road i.e. “Don’t make me manage you.”

If everyone does what’s expected of them, then ultimately there’s no need for a “manager” per se. “Managers” exist when people can’t be trusted. They are carry-overs from the old guard when employees were considered “guilty until proven innocent.” If you set the expectations, are specific about what you want, and understand the work mentalities of your employees, then you state that your policy is the “high road” policy, where as long as expectations are met then flexibility is there for the taking. And if you find that you are not holding people accountable, then…

7. Self-analyze.

Ask yourself some hard questions:

Are you not being direct because you want people to like you?

Are you afraid to manage people?

Do you expect everyone to be entrepreneurs?

Do you in fact know what you want or were you hoping your employees would figure it out for you?

And when they didn’t figure it out did you then realize the onus is still on you to figure it out and now it’s one more thing you have to do?

And now you hate yourself and everyone else and you need go on a coffee run?

It’s ok, you can still…

8. Right the ship.

Start implementing continuous feedback and accountability. Create deadlines and don’t let people off the hook. A lot of pressure rests on the boss – and company – to build the perfect workplace culture, but it’s a two-way street: employees are also responsible for earning the flexibility and understanding. This is especially hard in remote situations, but make it a mantra that “accountability comes before flexibility.”

Create a working relationship where feedback is open and welcome; this is the only way you set the bar higher.

 

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Every year millions of people are diagnosed with Terrible Personality Disorder but nobody wants to talk about it. Even the DSM-5 has not yet classified it as a legitimate personality disorder despite the disease’s prevalence in society. TPD has been unfairly delegitimized while those who suffer from it are oblivious to their condition and the suffering they inflict on others.

If you are not familiar with this personality disorder, it’s because I made it up. There are a lot of personality traits that have no official classification but are just as difficult to work with as those that do (like Narcissism for instance).

Some of the traits I’m referring to are the following:

  • Oblivious to social cues, like talking your ear off and not seeing the lobotomized look on your face
  • Loud Talking in area where others are concentrating
  • Insistence on being right
  • Being the authority on everything that has ever happened or will happen
  • Complaining ad nauseam
  • The need to explain themselves when there’s no reason to
  • The One-Upper
  • Using long-winded analogies for easily understood concepts

This is only a partial list of the criteria that comprises TPD, but no matter the trait, they all share one thing in common: there is an overwhelming need to be HEARD, which points to deeply rooted insecurity. It’s not your responsibility to uncover the cause of their insecurity or to be its depository.

Don’t become their victim, whether it be through having to patiently listen to them, endure their obliviousness, or take the high road to avoid unnecessary conflict. That victimhood can easily turn into resentment if left unchecked, which is why…

It’s important to be patient and have compassion for their plight. Unless you’re dealing with a psychopath, those with TPD don’t realize they’re victimizing you; they’re simply living their lives (while making it harder for you to live yours). There could be trauma behind their obliviousness, their need to be heard, to be right, to win, be first, to get their words into your ears. Something or someone, somewhere, at some time, negatively affected them and now it’s stealing your life force. So we need not be mean or rude, but….

It’s OK to ask for space. You don’t have to do this rudely or meanly. If you have work to do, somewhere else to be, or simply don’t want your life back, you can politely say, “I’m so sorry, I have to get back to something I was working on/dealing with/in the middle of.” And on that note…

Don’t throw yourself into the fray. There’s no harm in avoiding someone when you don’t have the time or energy to spend dealing with their personality. We sometimes let ourselves be enveloped out of compassion, but what about compassion for yourself and your needs? They will drain you to the point where you’re a deflated balloon, and then you have nothing left for work, and it’s only one o’clock. If possible, move to an area that’s more secluded, which falls under the umbrella of…

Focus on what you can control. There is a Buddhist proverb that goes something like since you can’t cover the earth in leather [to make it more comfortable to walk on], you cover your feet in leather. The point is just as astute as it is obvious: start with yourself. One way is to…

Set boundaries. Make it known that for certain periods of the day you do not have the time to deal with anything but that which you are working on. If they truly need to be heard, have them…

Email. This puts the power back in your hands. You can respond when you have time.

 

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When my husband was a child, he couldn’t understand why his older brother would voluntarily go to Hebrew School. Worried he would face the same fate, he asked his mother if he would have to go at some point too.

“When you want to know what it means to be Jewish, then I’ll send you to Hebrew School,” his mother told him. Great, my husband thought, all I have to do is never utter those words and I’m home free.

Cut to:

His brother’s bar mitzvah: a huge, lavish party at an expensive hotel, with dancing, food, drinks, laughter, friends, family, and most importantly…TONS OF PRESENTS and MONEY.

The next day, my husband, eight years old at the time, said to his mother, “I want to know what it means to be Jewish.” And off he went to Hebrew School for five years, at the end of which he got his party, his presents, and some cash.

Cut to the present: He has not stepped foot inside a temple since.

I offer this parable to illustrate the effect of extrinsic motivation in the workplace, that being that the offer of rewards – bonuses, raises – do not create employee engagement, retention, or loyalty. With our eye on the prize, we will work towards the reward dangling in front of us until we get it – we will do the bare minimum to get it – and then we will move on to greener pastures.

This is in opposition to intrinsic motivation, which is inspiring someone from within, when an employee wants to do a good job out of a personal and professional sense of integrity. They want to do a good job for the company and for themselves because they find meaning in their work and that meaning gives them a sense of purpose in life.

It is up to the individual to come to work desiring meaning in their work, but it is also up to the leader to inspire from within.

When an Employee Goes Through the Motions

Neuroscientist Patrick Haggard, at University College London, studied the effects of intentional action vs action that is performed because of directives.

What he discovered is that intentional action creates a warped sense of time. If, for example, you have a button that makes a sound and you intentionally press that button to make the sound you will think the sound comes much quicker than it actually does (a phenomenon called “intentional binding”). This warped sense of time is absent from those who press the button because they’re told to; they have a clear sense of the time interval between the button being pressed and the sound created.

This warped time factor can be neurally recorded and this “neural signature,” as Gopnik put it, is how neuroscientists determine whether an individual feels a sense of agency or not with their decisions.

In their studies, whenever a subject was told to do something the intentional binding neural signature was absent. When a subject acted out of their own free will the intentional binding neural signature was present.

To be clear, If we feel a sense of agency, the neural signature of not being aware of time intervals is present; if we don’t feel a sense of agency the neural signature is absent and we clearly remember the time intervals between action and the result of that action.

The end result is that when the neural signature is absent the subject doesn’t feel as though the decision to, say, press the button was their own. It was an order given to them. And as such they don’t feel like it was they who did it.

How does this affect meaning in the workplace?

The more agency you give your employees the more they will feel that they themselves are doing the work, they are creating and assigning the value to their work, and this motivates them from within because they have a sense of free will.

If their job solely consists of taking orders and doing what they are told they will feel a lack of agency, and this lack of agency will create a gap between themselves and the work being done. They will not feel invested, like their own mind was being used, like they are making their own decisions and creating meaningful work on their own.

They will grow bored, feeling untapped. They will work to not be punished. They will work for the paycheck, and the paycheck only goes so far. You will create employees who feel no sense of loyalty and will not experience any guilt over leaving you high and dry should something better come along.

Inspire from within!

You want to create an aligned, harmonious culture where the people are engaged and feel a sense of loyalty to the work.

Doing so requires replacing our habitual, unconscious day-to-day behavior with a conscious relational philosophy built on heightened social awareness and skillful relationship management. It’s called having a relational philosophy.

Here are some tips for doing just that:

  1. Find out what other interests / passions your people have. And then utilize them. This creates more meaning for their life and feeds back into the company by creating an aligned, sticky culture. Promote individuality so people feel like their specific existence plays a valued role in the organization/company.
  2. Promote psychological safety. Create a comfortable environment where speaking up is nurtured. Feeling safe to be vulnerable, to take risks, to just be can be powerfully motivating. Google conducted 200+ interviews over the course of 2 years looking at more than 250 attributes of 180+ active Google teams. They found the teams that had achieved psychological safety were the most successful.
  3. Create Supportive, Friendly Competition. Focus on how everyone’s individual efforts help the entire team achieve success. Remain alert for unwarranted complaints about others, angry outbursts, backstabbing, finger pointing, and sabotage. Create friendly competition, not an ultimate “win or lose” challenge among team members.
  4. Celebrate Success. Celebrating small wins motivates. It helps teams stay focused on what they are working for, and it gives everyone a chance to reflect on their successes. Take everyone out for drinks or create some time during the workday to acknowledge the wins.
  5. Show Appreciation. Feeling appreciated is a core emotional concern for all humans. It is part of our make-up. A simple thank you, a handwritten note, a pat on the back, or gratitude for someone’s unique contribution can be more motivating than money. If you want to give a token of appreciation, tailor it to the individual: show that you’ve been listening (e.g., a day at the spa, tickets to someone’s favorite band or restaurant that they keep talking about). This makes the gesture unforgettable.
  6. Pay attention to the environment. If you can, build a beautiful, cozy, fun, creative atmosphere for you and your people to work in. Research has shown that environment can be more important and more motivating than money. Our surroundings can inspire our brains.
  7. Hire for cultural fit. You’re building a clan. It behooves you to hire with personality in mind, not just credentials. We spend most of our lives with our coworkers, it thus makes sense for these people to be our friends, people with whom we’d like to get a drink and spend time with outside of work. For proof of concept, look to Zappos. I recommend reading Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness.
  8. Be flexible. For instance, if a remote work situation produces good results from a valued employee, work out an arrangement that works for all parties. Saying no just because it’s never happened before is spiteful. If you can’t reward with money, maybe there are other things you can do to show appreciation – be creative! Think outside of the box.

The tale of Sisyphus is oft-used as a metaphor for drudgery and drone office work. We can all potentially turn into – or feel like we are being turned into – Sisyphus, taking repetitive orders to complete mindless tasks ad nauseum.

But we don’t have to live that way. Our work lives don’t have to be mindless, hopeless struggles. Leaders should play a major role in that pursuit: create meaning in the workplace to the best of your ability, acknowledge successes, and reward the struggle.

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I had a situation recently in my business where employees were sending around group emails discussing the outcome of the election. Unbeknownst to them, there were a couple of employees in the mix that held opposing views and they took offense to the emails. One of the folks with an opposing view spoke with me about it and I found myself in unchartered waters.

Apparently I’m not the only one. Lately, employees and CEOs alike are making their voices heard and the consequences are dramatic:

  • Uber’s CEO was initially on Trump’s advisory council but removed himself after facing pressure from within – and from outside – the organization. Uber’s membership dropped by 200,000 accounts as a result.
  • In Philadelphia, Comcast allowed employees to take off work to participate in marches.
  • Mark Zuckerberg began to address the issue of fake news that populated Facebook during the presidential run.
  • A senior executive at Oracle publicly resigned after the CEO joined the Trump transition team.
  • Nordstrom’s dropped Ivanka’s clothing line; #boycott is trending on twitter.

It’s fair to say at this point that the rule of “no politics in the workplace” no longer applies. This can create conflict for teams and coworkers working under the same roof who need to get along and work toward the same goal.

As I wasn’t entirely sure how to handle the matter in my own business, I felt it deserved some exploration. What’s a leader’s role when a divisive political climate enters the workplace?

Given that I’m a shrink, I looked at why first. I figure if you can get a grasp on the why, it’s easier to understand the best intervention.

There are many factors at play but there seems to be two obvious psychological phenomena that are triggering the intensity.

Us vs. Them – Let’s Get Back on the Same Team

When I first moved to Philadelphia from New York, I went to a Phillies / Mets game. New to the city, I was unaware of the fanaticism of Philadelphia sports fans. As I cheered for my Mets, I found myself on the receiving end of jeers and threats from Philly fans. It was the first time in my life I feared getting attacked by a group of lunatics. It was also the first time in my life that I really understood the “us vs them” phenomenon.

The groups we belong to are an important source of pride and self-esteem. Groups give us a sense of social identity, a sense of belonging: feeling pride for your sports team because it’s where you live or were born; being born a blonde or brunette; being born a man or a woman.

With “us vs them” the “versus” becomes prominent. In order to increase our self-image we enhance the status of the group to which we belong. There is nothing inherently wrong with this except when one group starts to perceive the other group as “bad,” “wrong,” or “defective.”

In a non-heightened political climate “us vs. them” can potentially stimulate healthy workplace competition, but the same aspects that promote healthy competition in an us vs. them team-based work environment can backfire dramatically when politics enter the fray.

Once congenial co-workers can become teams of you versus me, us versus them, and ultimately bad versus good. The current political climate has heightened the potential for these workplace chasms; pushing against each other serves to give more power to the struggle.

But this is not the only psychological phenomenon at play.

Confirmation Bias: The Glue that Keeps Us Comfortably Stuck

Confirmation bias has started and sustained wars, prompted consumers to buy things they neither want nor need, and led to some of the worst (and best) business decisions ever made.

You’ll find no better example of confirmation bias than in the emotionally charged world of political opinion. In 2009, three Ohio State University researchers—Heather LaMarre, Kristen Landreville, and Michael Beam—used the satirical Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report, to investigate the subject.

Stephen Colbert parodied conservative politics and pundits, pretending, for example, to have launched a run for the presidency. The researchers asked 332 participants in the study to describe Colbert’s point of view. Those who held liberal opinions viewed him as a liberal and his show as pure satire. Conservatives, on the other hand, saw him as a conservative pundit expressing honest conservative opinions through his satire. In short, the participants’ own views strongly colored their perceptions of the comedian.

We see things the way we want to see things. We hear what we want to hear. We look for information that supports our views and quickly ignore or diminish information that goes against our views. When something as dividing as politics comes into the picture, it highlights this normal human characteristic more than ever and thus, enhances emotions and fuels conflict.

So at the most basic level, these are some of the things making an already tense situation heightened.

So now that we understand the why, lets move on to what to do as a leader.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers; this is as new for me as well. However, based on what I know about bias and counteracting bias, here are some things to try and think about.

To show your hand or not

Some CEOs have come out in support of the current administration and some have come out to denounce it. Your company’s image will be affected on either side of the coin.

Whether you choose to show your hand or not, you need to weigh the risks and ensure that it’s in the best interest of your people and your company versus your own interests. Taking sides can have an alienating impact on some and an ameliorative impact on others. If a demand for your voice isn’t requested, then your voice might be best served in a bipartisan fashion.

Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton, but also sent a thoughtful letter to the entire company after Trump was elected, urging everyone to choose compassion and understanding as we moved forward as a country.

Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, published a pro-Trump letter prior to the election, confident that Trump would be positive for business growth.

Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, was an outspoken critic of Trump during the election process, but continued to sell Trump-related products on Amazon. Post-election, Bezos offered a conciliatory tweet wishing Trump success.

If you do speak out, personalize your story to clarify your motivation. It’s easier to empathize and relate when the narrative is more personal rather than political. I recommend a recent article in The Harvard Business Review, which offered some sound insight into the matter.

See it as a strange opportunity

The current political climate – if it is leaking into your workplace – is a perfect excuse to confront conscious and unconscious biases: biases of which we are unaware but are responsible for interfering with good decision-making, clear thinking, effective problem solving, healthy relationships and even creativity.

It’s imperative for biases to be identified so everyone can spot them when they rear their ugly heads. If we can better understand our biases, we can better counteract them. Use this as an opportunity to teach and train.

You can implement training and workshops that focus on developing self-awareness around biases, and tools to counteract them. This will only make your workforce stronger.

Use it as a chance to flex your empathy muscle

The bottom line is this is rough for both sides. Perhaps too much time has passed at this point but other divisive issues will surely arise in the future, whether political or other.

Use these times to acknowledge and validate. When you acknowledge and validate, it makes people feel heard and understood. It creates a foundation of safety knowing that it’s okay to have differing opinions, as long as respect permeates the culture. As a leader you have an opportunity to set the climate and to model empathetic behavior.

Use Us Vs. Them as a Chance to Unite and RE-Instill an Ideology

Everyone who works together needs to realize that one’s political affiliation does not make them a bad person nor professionally incompetent. Ultimately, the diversity can only help, both the company and the employees of the company.

A diversity of beliefs in a cooperative culture is what you want; it’s what we all want for our society. You can create a microcosm of the perfect society within your organization where diversity is cultivated and respected.

Why would we want everyone to think the same in our organization anyway? That just leads to groupthink, status quo, and the acceptance of the group’s version of “common knowledge.”

A leader’s challenges during this politically divisive time is to bring everyone together, to validate the realities felt by all, and see it as an opportunity for the company to become something more expansive than it was prior.

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Dear Employee,

As the leader of this team, I want to empower you to really take charge. I want to empower you to create initiatives and run with the ball. I want to empower you to seek out new revenue sources for us. Lastly, I want to empower you take your position and this company to the next level.

___

Dear Boss,

A simple “I want you to do a lot more than you’re already doing” would have sufficed, though it would have been just as equally an unwelcome surprise.

___

Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

“I want to empower you” is a euphemism for “step it up” and it’s transparent. Actually, it’s translucent: the employee will get the point that you’re telling them to step it up but they also might wonder if they were already supposed to be doing said tasks. It might instill insecurity and the word has a note of embedded insincerity.

___

Maybe Try this Instead?

Rather than use the word “empower” just come out and tell your employee what you want them to do. Lay out the specific ways you need them to be “empowered” rather than use that word. Create a joint plan so they walk away with a clear sense of what they’re empowered to do. Save “empower” for 3rd person. You can always tell someone else that you empower your employees if you’re dying to use that word. I want to empower you to use ‘empower’ sparingly.

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You hear a Star Wars ringtone repeat until the call finally goes to voicemail.

Nearby, some coworkers are discussing the logistics of The Walking Dead while the latest Drake album plays through communal speakers.

You stare at your computer screen, trying to remember what you were about to do when you’re asked to join a meeting that will go nowhere and solve nothing.

After the meeting a coworker asks you to help him with something. You can’t believe he couldn’t figure this out on his own.

Your boss has been absent the last few days and suddenly bursts in to alert everyone to stop what they’re doing because the ship is about to go under. This happens every month.

As our offices get hipper and the sharing of information encouraged more and more you might find yourself in an unproductive working environment. Fear not! There is hope.

All it takes is changing all of your ingrained habits and routines. I know, easier said than done. But it’s not impossible. Here are some tips:

  1. Buy noise reductive earphones. I used a pair while I wrote my book, What Keeps Leaders Up at Night. My neighbor’s house was under construction for six months. I would not have been able to write a word without my trusty Bose noise-cancelling headphones. These earphones – coupled with a little white noise or brain.fm – makes a world of difference.

Note: These things really work. If you do this, put a sign on your back to gently approach you because it can be terrifying when you’re not expecting someone.

2. Set boundaries with your time. Every office has a few interrupters who routinely need help, who like to chitchat, who seek advice. They’ll hunt you down. See if you can have some fun with this one: maybe an “ON AIR” light to indicate you’re not available, maybe a velvet rope, or maybe an auto-response you create in the AM that announces you’ll be unavailable for a period of time that day (every day?).

3. Chunk your time: This can be done the night before or first thing in the morning. Assign time periods for your projects so you have a plan in place. It can be very relaxing to look at your daily calendar and see, “OK, I’m doing this until 12, then I’m doing that until two.” Assign a time slot for tedium like answering emails and such and then turn off those notifications for the rest of the time. Tell the people in your personal and professional life to call if there is an emergency, rather than text or email. That way you’ll know it’s necessary to pick up.

4. Divide your day into Creative & Reactive work. To time-chunk more effectively, try this. Creative work is projects that require your undivided attention and the full scope of your mental capacity. You’ll want to schedule those early in the day when you are the least depleted. Reactive work – answering phone calls, emails, unimportant but unavoidable meetings and so on – can be slated for the latter half of the day.

Note: During the creative part of your workday block out everything that is not part of your creative work. No emails, phone calls, texts, social media.

5. Don’t go to every meeting if you don’t have to. If you work for a meeting-heavy company, figure out when your presence is truly required. Maybe you can get exemption if not truly needed. If you are truly needed, see if the meetings can be scheduled for a time that works for you (see: #3: chunk your time). Basically, this falls under the “don’t be afraid to speak up” umbrella. If you never say anything then you’ll never know.

6. If you’re not a fireman, don’t get involved with putting out every fire. There are those reactive-putting-out-fires constantly environments that can tire a soul out, i.e. the whole company might fold any second if we don’t do THIS! Maybe you can implement a grass roots campaign to analyze what’s urgent and what’s not. A nice consequence is you will begin to behave proactively (versus reactively) to abate these “urgent” scenarios from reoccurring.

7. If you’re drowning in work, prioritize. Sit down with your manager/boss to help prioritize your workload. Then you can chunk your time (#3), maybe work from home, and skip some meetings perhaps (#4). To be clear, I’m referring to the overwhelming workload that results because you might work at a company where everyone wears a lot of hats, or perhaps someone was recently let go and their job was folded into yours. This isn’t because you don’t know how to manage your time and/or distractions. Bottom line: don’t assume other people know you are overloaded. It’s your job to speak up.

8. If your boss is inconsistent, ask for confirmation. This can be frustrating. You start to work on something only to be told to change directions midway; something was given top priority and then there’s a new something that’s suddenly an even higher priority; but wait, now there’s something even more important; actually, now that they think of it, the first thing is still the most important and by the way, where are you on that? If you have a boss like this, get confirmation on the prioritization of work.

9. When your colleagues aren’t carrying their weight, do this. Communicate, but don’t tattletale. For instance, you can send a group email to all parties involved, with the boss cc’d, asking for confirmation on who’s responsible for what. That way it’s in writing and there are no assumptions. If the scenario doesn’t allow for that type of communication the next best thing is to speak with the colleague(s) themselves. Again, speaking up is vital!

The only reliable way to get different results in this world is to change your own behavior. Don’t expect anyone to change. Much of being productive in an unproductive work environment involves being communicative about your needs and speaking up for yourself. It’s the only way you’ll know what resources and freedom are available to you.

A great byproduct of all this speaking up for yourself is your self-confidence will improve; your self-efficacy will be bolstered; you’ll feel empowered to ask for what you need; the world will start to work for you instead of against you. Perspective is everything. Don’t presume anyone knows what’s happening in your world and don’t expect anything to change without your effecting the change first.

It all starts with you.

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Dear Boss,

I know you asked me to call our client but I chose to email them so they’d have the time to respond to me at their leisure and thereby leave a better impression.

Translation: I don’t like calling people and avoid it all costs. It makes me uncomfortable to talk to people on the phone and I prefer the security/anonymity of email.

___

Dear Employee,

How considerate of you! What you didn’t know is that they weren’t available via email and asked that we call them. Given that the issue was time-sensitive we’ve now lost our chance to work with them. Moving forward, if you have the urge to email instead of call, still call and then if you still think of emailing, don’t, and instead call. You’ll know when I’ll want you to call because I’ll say – as I did this time – “Please call them.”

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Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

You let your telephonophobia win. This is a fear that is growing in numbers as emailing/texting grows as well. It’s letting people off the hook and in some cases it’s a sign that our interpersonal skills are diminishing. Telephonic communication is still extremely important when you want to a) avoid “plugging in / turning on” and b) make a human connection. Email is a dream – one of the best inventions to date (as far as I’m concerned) – but it lacks basic human connection. Sometimes you gotta get on the phone.

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Maybe Try this Instead?

Call when asked. Yes, it requires more effort but that’s the point. Sometimes that little ounce of effort makes all the difference. If you find you have an aversion to the phone then you need to confront that fear.

To be clear, I’m not referring to cold sales calls. Few – if any – of us want those. I’m talking about when you’re already working with someone and time is of the essence. Don’t risk them not seeing your email if you need to relay an important piece of information.

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If you lost your job and had a family to support you would probably start looking for a new job. Even if you didn’t land the job of your dreams you would take something in the interest of bringing money in ASAP.

That is an extreme example where most people would exercise resilience because it’s do or die.

In the smaller day-to-day life moments, resilience doesn’t always kick in as a reflex. If don’t get the job we want, or our relationship ends, or a stranger treats us rudely it can ruin our day.

The good news is resilience is not a gene. It’s not an “either you have it or you don’t” scenario. One person may have a natural proclivity toward resilience but it ultimately comes down to choice, and choices are voluntary, though they may not always feel like it in the heat of the moment.

So what do we do?

  1. Stop cognitive distortions in their tracks. These are beliefs we convince ourselves are true that reinforce negative thinking. Challenge the distortion to reframe your thinking into a resilient mode. Let’s take a flight delay as an exercise in challenging one type of cognitive distortion (overgeneralizing):

What is my problematic belief?

Bad stuff always happens to me.

What evidence supports my belief?

The flight delay is an inconvenience.

What is a better explanation for what happened?

It’s not just happening to me, it’s happening to everyone.

What are the consequences of this belief?

Anger and stress have sent me into a tailspin.

What would happen if I changed my belief right now?

I could enjoy a nice dinner and catch up on work and calls at the airport.

What are my new core belief?

S—t happens! I can manage inconvenience better.

  1. Reframe setbacks as opportunities for growth.

Non-resilient: I didn’t get the job. I’ll never amount to anything.

Resilient: I didn’t get the job. Maybe it’s not the right place for me. Let me pull my resources together and see what other opportunities are out there for me.

Resilient people recognize the futility – consciously or unconsciously – of fretting over something that can’t be changed. They also look for lessons that might be learned from the setback. Did it happen because of something I did? If so, what might I do differently next time? Did the setback force me to change course? If so, is there a benefit to the new course?

  1. View setbacks as impermanent.

Non-resilient: We lost a valuable employee, so the company is going to hell.

Resilient: We lost a valuable employee, but we can find someone just as valuable who may offer a new set of skills that we didn’t even realize we needed.

Once you realize that setbacks are temporary there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you lose one beloved employee or customer, it’s sad and it’s a setback (I’ve experienced it myself!) but it’s not the end of your success; conversely, nor is it the last time it will ever happen to you. Acknowledge the setback and move on. Stay flexible; change is a part of life.

  1. Manage your strong feelings and impulses.

Non-resilient: I am going to take my anger out on someone.

Resilient: I am angry but I need to move on and stay focused.

Resilient people experience anger; it just doesn’t consume them. We all have this ability, if we so choose. You have to want to move on though. It can feel good to nurture the self-pity, the anger, and the blame. You can go down that road but that road never ends. Acknowledge the feelings and try to move on. In fact, it turns out when you acknowledge feelings it lessens their intensity.

Dr. Matthew D. Lieberman, a research psychologist at UCLA, found that naming an emotion helps to reduce its impact. His lab calls it Affect Labeling. When we name an emotion, activity in the part of the brain that is responsible for vigilance and discrimination (right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex) increases while activity in the part of the brain that processes emotion (amygdala) decreases. Essentially, naming the emotion gives you power over the emotion while indulging the emotion gives it power over you.

  1. Focus on events you can control.

Non-resilient: This traffic is ruining my life.

Resilient: Since I’m stuck in traffic I will sketch out ideas for my next project.

Some aspects of life are out of your control. Accepting this doesn’t make you weak; it makes you smart. You can control what you focus on and how long you allow yourself to suffer. When you focus on the external world – particularly when blame enters the picture – you run into trouble. Start with yourself. Focus on your own reactions and your own ability to influence events.

  1. Don’t see yourself as a victim.

Non-resilient: Bad stuff always happens to me.

Resilient: It’s not just happening to me, it’s happening to everyone.

“Why me?” is another way of saying “This should have happened to you.” Being human means positive and negative things will happen to you. If you experience a series of consecutive setbacks, the resilient thing to do would be to look at your own actions and behaviors. Might there be something you’re doing that is bringing on the misfortune? Even if not, know it’s temporary and stay on course to the best of your ability. This is most difficult in times of loss, so I don’t say it lightly but you don’t have to be miserable forever.

  1. Commit to all aspects of your life.

Non-resilient: Once I have the job I want I will focus on my family and friends.

Resilient: The success of one area of my life depends on the success on all areas of my life.

The success of each part of our lives depends on the success of all the other parts. If our family life is in turmoil it will affect our work life and vice versa. If we do not exercise it will affect our stamina – as well as our mindset. We can set smart, achievable goals for all aspects of our lives so that all parts are working with – and for – each other.

For instance, we can make a commitment to exercise throughout the week; we can ensure that we make time for our family and friends; we can make a little progress each day toward one of our goals. If you experience a setback toward your goals, set a new path toward that goal. The most important part is the commitment.

  1. Have a positive outlook of the future.

Non-resilient: If our marketing budget declines second quarter, we’ll go out of business.

Resilient: What can I do to make sure our marketing budget doesn’t decline second quarter and if it does what can I do to ensure we don’t go out of business?

Cultivate a growth mindset, which ultimately involves the desire to be open to learning and change. Things will start to feel like they’re going your way when you believe that you can effect change for yourself. Remember: you want to be happy, so cultivate a perspective that supports your desire.

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If you grew up in an abusive environment the challenges will be greater and professional help may be needed. The American Psychological Association states:

Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person’s resilience.

We have a lifetime of habitual behavioral patterns that we’re really good at. However old you are, that’s how much practice you have with your current mode of living. That’s the bad news. The good news is look how good you are at it! You can be just as good at resilient thinking with the same amount of practice. It’s a lifetime goal and, believe me, I’m on the path with you.

I leave you with this quote:

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”

–Carl Jung

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Dear Employee,

Went through your spreadsheet and I think this is a great start.

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Dear Boss,

Thank you for those kind, succinct words. I was up late the last couple of nights working on it, hoping to impress you, so knowing I’ve started something great is inspiring. Hopefully you can shed some light on where the finish line is. That way, when I start again I’ll know when I’m done.

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Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

A lack of guidance becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where the employee doesn’t meet your standards because no one – except you – knows what those standards are; maybe you don’t either until you see them met. You have to give guidelines so you get the work you want out of your people. It also creates disengagement as the employee feels unrecognized for the hard work they’ve done thus far, and frustrated by a lack leadership.

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Maybe Try this Instead?

If you’ve been handed some extensive work try not to minimize it with “this is a great start” as that undermines all the effort put into it. Get specific. Clearly explain what you want. If you don’t clearly explain what you want and then say, “this is a great start” the employee’s going to think, “Start?? I thought I was done!” If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want then indicate that you don’t need anything extensive because the project at hand is just getting started.

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Dear Boss,

The reason I gave our client the wrong info is because I was trying to wrap up all of these other assignments that you wanted by the end of the week, all of which were very tedious and draining. It’s no wonder I sent the wrong proposal, given my workload.

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Dear Employee,

Thank you for pointing out I am at fault. It helps me. I’ll try not to give you any more work. I’d hate for you to make mistakes because of work. In fact I’d hate for there to be any work at all for anyone. Let’s just dissolve the company. That way, no one will ever feel forced by me to make mistakes.

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Why Your Torture Plan Will Surely Backfire

Your excuse better be irrefutably great if you intend to deflect responsibility, otherwise you come off as unreliable. You won’t have to worry about not making the same mistake twice because you will probably be given less to do, for fear that it won’t be done. Sure, that may be a motivator for some but for those of you that want to get somewhere in your career, consider it one of the career snafus that can damage your reputation. Most importantly, it reveals a lack of interest in doing better, which is unattractive.

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Maybe Try this Instead?

It’s simple: take ownership. Even if you don’t fully believe you are to blame it’s going to be a hard sell otherwise. Taking ownership at least proves your sanity, your humility, and your ability to admit fault, which – with the right leader – actually garners more respect than deflection, which leaves everyone feeling cheated.

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