Addicted to Work? Getting Past Clichés to Recognize Your Tipping Point

We all know someone who cannot put their phone down. Ever. At dinner parties, at concerts, on vacations, the phone is always on and they cannot help but look at and answer the super-important emails.

And even though it’s hard to recognize, and even harder to admit – aren’t we often that person?

It makes sense – the super-turbo speed of our days, the jam-packed schedules and the non-stop digital stimulation has made most so many of us addicted to our work.

What’s worse, since we don’t really have time to stop and think, we aren’t often aware of or acknowledge our behavior, we continue to rush our way around the crazy treadmill of life and thus jeopardize our productivity and creativity and increase stress and frustration.

We recognize what this does to others, we don’t always recognize it in ourselves. This is not good for us, our work, our families, or for our society. And it’s expensive: one well cited study showed that job stress costs the US economy $300 billion dollars a year!!!

In this economy, we are our biggest assets – our futures and peace of mind rely on our ability to reinvent ourselves, to create, to execute with laser sharp focus. And true creation and insight comes from having “white space” in our lives to recharge, to idly let our brains make random connections and to be grounded enough to fly high mentally. So keeping balance is a key skill.

Culture Consultant and Millennial Engagement Expert MaryBeth Hyland has a great set of questions she uses to help clients understand their relationship with work that she has kindly allowed me to share with you.

As MaryBeth says, “One thing should be clear in life: We’re not meant to just pay our bills and die”. What are you meant to be doing?

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 10.13.23 PM

So let’s just lift our heads up from the tedium for just one second and start to understand how we relate to work. Only then can we start to do anything about it. As always, I am always interested in your thoughts and comments.

Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 6.04.50 PM

Imposter Syndrome and Uncertain Times

Recently, we all saw the stock markets drop.  Some investors panicked.  Others set about looking at the fundamentals in companies in order to start investing in those that they knew would come back up.

It’s the same with people.

Today, with seismic changes in almost all aspects of our society occurring regularly, the sense of instability and shakiness are heightened in us all.  Most of us have heard about the famous “imposter syndrome” and yet  no matter what we’ve heard, we all still feel it sometimes and find ourselves worrying about when the world will find out the truth about our insecurities and worries.

As many wise investors find, in a falling and uncertain market there are significant opportunities to invest.   I believe that, in these uncertain times, you need to invest in yourselves and, in doing so, you lessen your instability by building a stronger core.      What are you doing to grow?  To stay updated?  To take time to reflect and understand the seismic changes going on in the world around you?

For me, developing a mindfulness practice – something so against my dynamic and action-oriented personality – had been a game changer.  I’m not a meditator – but by taking 30 seconds – a couple of minutes before each client session, meeting or even before sitting down and researching/writing articles, gives me a sense of focus, and stills the sensation of “being all over the place”.

Being centered, feeling purposeful, helps you become more accurate and succinct in your work….which reduces stress.

And what combats imposter syndrome?  Grounding.  Achieving more, and doing even “greater” things, will not quell imposter syndrome.  Only shifting your focus from external validation to internal grounding will.

Even the great Maya Angelou suffered from Imposter Syndrome: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “

So what did she do?  When she started to panic, she worked on her core strengths and got better at them – by writing more.  So take a page out of her book: “write more” – invest in yourself.

5 Ways to Master Difficult Conversations

Many of us will go a long way to avoid conflict.  But it is a natural part of work life; my clients estimate that up to 30% of their time is spent dealing with conflicts.  In fact, if managed well, conflict can be a source of innovation, creativity, and connection.  Sure, disagreements and arguments can take up a lot of time and energy, but conflicting ideas can be a source of creative ideas that bring about positive change.

So the key is how you manage those tricky situations.  Mastering difficult situations can be the difference between a good leader and a great one.  Ignoring the problem can leave people feeling stifled or excluded; going after it too aggressively can heighten tension to such a degree that no one cannot move forward. So what can you do?

Here are my 5 Bs to mastering difficult conversations:

  1. Begin with the other person’s concerns. Listen twice as much (if not more) than you speak; try to understand what is at the heart of the problem by clarifying meaning, asking questions.  Like a wine-opener, delve deeper into the matter with questions such as “tell me more” “help me understand that better”.
  2. Become an expert people reader. Pay attention to both what they are saying as well as what they are not saying by reading non-verbal behavior as well as listening to the actual words. Listen for the emotional message being sent.   Don’t assume you understand what they are feeling and thinking – check your understanding by asking questions.
  3. Be Super-prepared and careful about how you frame the discussion. Be clear on the outcome you want — how you frame this determines the quality of the conversation.  For example rather than “I would like to ensure my idea gets passed” try “I would like to ensure that the best ideas get passed”.  If it doesn’t come easily, think ahead of what kinds of questions you can ask to get the heart of what is really going on.
  4. Build the tone of the conversation: Intentionally create a welcoming tone to the conversation that will foster genuine sharing and trust. Make an effort to be open, curious. Visualize yourself doing so
  5. Be of Service to others – first help them get what they need from the conversation and then, offer your point of view.

No one loves conflict situations, but managed properly they can be vital in changing culture and creativity in an organization.

Emotions Are Contagious – Who’s Infecting You?

My family and I spent a wonderful New Year’s Eve at the Blue Note in Milan listening to great music, enjoying a fabulous 7 course meal with specially selected wines.  And of course, since it is Milan, everyone was fashionably and festively attired: men in dark fitted, tailored suits and women in sumptuous outfits.  On the next table sat Marco, beautifully attired like everyone else, but with a little something extra:  he had on the most magnificent sequined dinner jacket, which matched his ebullient personality.  It made me smile.  And, you know me, at first it was almost a knowing smirk – I mean who would wear such an ostentatious jacket.

But here’s the thing, the very exuberance of the jacket – and the person wearing it – seeped out to the next table (ours) and we found ourselves, smiling, clapping and becoming exuberant ourselves.  And then so did the next table, and the one on the other side of him.  His cheerful contagion was infecting us all.  By then end of the evening, we were all very happy.  And although I’m sure the setting, the wines and the music helped, I really attribute much of the spirit and ambience to Marco, the “Patient Zero” of the situation.

Countless years of research have produced a huge body of studies that demonstrate how quickly and deeply humans, usually unconsciously, absorb and then mirror the emotions of those around them and how these emotions impact our state of mind and relationships.

And it’s a two way street.  Just as we are impacted by the emotions of other people, our emotions are impacting those around us.  When we hang out with positive people, research shows that we are more likely to be cooperative, energized and less stressed.  And the opposite is true. When negativity permeates our relationships, our stress levels, anxiety and general outlook in life can profoundly change for the negative.

I’ve seen this countless times with clients — where  “prevalent culture” was defined heavily by the personality and emotions of the person in charge – some created stressful, anxious and draining environments while others created friendly, upbeat and fun environments.

And this should be an easy one to handle, right? Not always.  We are often not very good at recognizing changes in our feelings early enough to do something about it.  So the best thing to do is to start paying very close attention to the emotional climate around you.  For me, when that climate is negative, I feel a tense, sudden malaise, but am not sure why.  That’s my cue to start paying attention to what is going on around me and how I’m reacting to it.  This then allows me to modulate my response.  Learning to listen, understand and react to these weak signals gets easier as you do it more.  The same thing applies for behavior, so start recognizing when your emotions are impacting those around you.  Over the years I have started to recognize when my voice starts heating up, and I get shriller and faster in my response. That, for me, becomes the cue  to slow it down and examine what it is that I am communicating and the impact it’s having on those around me.

So my question is how can we, as leaders, create more a harmonious environment around us?  The key is in being highly aware and attuned to the emotions of those around us so that we can recognize and surround ourselves with relationships and environments that impact us positively and that we, in turn, energize and inspire other with our emotions and behavior.

On New Year’s Eve, I decided that I was going to be more like Marco!

Doing vs. Being – Leading with Balance

Most leaders have a long mental, if not written, “to do” list.  In this pre-festive season, that list can seem never-ending.  But sometimes we are so focused on what we have to do as leaders, we forget about who we have to be as leaders.  As the world spins faster and faster, and pressures continue to mount, the ability to focus is outpacing most other leadership skills as being the key to moving forward.  

But focus on what?  When I think about it, the people who really influenced or inspired me through the years did so because of who they were, what they stood for, not just the accomplishments they achieved.  I want to be like them, rather than just do what they did.   I was and am inspired by people who are “real”, who are visionary, engaged and honest.  I am drawn to people who care about me and my success as well as the organization’s. Genuineness and Caring are palpable.  

I believe that one of the things that really differentiates a Manager and Leader is that one focuses more on doing (better, faster, in newer ways etc.) and the other focuses more on being (inspiring, motivating, stable, consistent).  Not that one comes at the cost of the other.   Clearly Leading also involves delivering results. But being seen as an inspiring, authentic leader is equally, and usually more, important.

So what can you do to keep your authentic self in the forefront?  

  1. Practice the Pause.  Before speaking, reacting, judging, advising…pause just a few seconds to think about the intent of what you want to say.  Who do you want to be in this interaction?  Crystallize what you want to sound like, come across as and express.  These few seconds of pause/visualization goes a long way in making your words and manner more meaningful and to ensure that they are aligned with your intentions.
  2. Listen to understand. Of all leadership skills, I find listening the one that is least leveraged by leaders.  Authentic listening aims to understand what the other person is really trying to say, to understand from their perspective. Often we listen at the surface – just the words they happen to use as heard from our perspective.  Feeling listened to boosters a sense of engagement and belonging.  According to the Kotter International, 71% of the workforce is actively disengaged but companies with engaged workforces have 5 times higher return to shareholders.
  3. Remember the Magic Ratio – Substantial research has been done showing that growth and performance increase when balanced with praise or recognition.   If you want to really change behavior, research shows the magic ratio is a 5:1 ratio (Positive: Negative).   Focus on building strengths, if you want to boost connection. I read in a recent Gallup survey that two-thirds of employees worldwide feel that their efforts were not really recognized.   Just imagine what a difference focusing on the positives can be for them.  

In this hectic period leading up to big holiday, I send you my very best wishes for a peaceful and joyful holiday season!

Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 6.04.50 PM

A Meaningful Goodbye

As I left an energizing client offsite in Budapest last week, I realized how often I find myself in the position of saying goodbye. As a coach, I find often myself in the position of starting or ending relationships – whether with individuals, companies or even in the MBA classes that I teach. The nature of my work is cyclical, where for a few months or even a few days, in the case of workshops or seminars, I enjoy a productive, deep and intense relationship and connection with people. And then we say goodbye. Sometimes for good. In our work lives, saying goodbye is getting more and more frequent as we move through departments, countries, teams and companies.
Most of us fall into two categories of saying goodbye:
1) Dreading it – we hate the feeling and so just avoid saying goodbye
2) Rushing through it – we go into a default mode, as we rush past what is ending to the next thing that is beginning.
As a result we often miss opportunities to truly engage and connect with people by saying goodbye in a meaningful way. So what can you do to make this less grueling? I have found three tips that help me the most:
1. Prepare for the occasion. All of us know when the end is near, but we hate the uncertainty and abruptness of it all, and so we gloss over it. Is this all? Can l move on? So actually take a few minutes to think through these questions: How does this training/meeting/relationship fit into the larger picture of my life? What was the takeaway and how do I feel about it? I’m not suggesting a big long process here – just a couple minutes of intentional thinking which will give you clarity. Preparing in this way allows you to make visible the full range of emotions you are feeling and to react or behave in a manner that is consistent with your true feelings and character. It allows you to behave intentionally rather than through default behavior of fear and awkwardness. As you continue this practice, it gets faster.

2. Manage and Express the Emotions. Just identifying and giving a name to the emotions has a calming effect. However, expressing your true intent to the rest of the team or business partner is what creates the “sense of an ending”, to use Julian Barnes’ term. With individual clients, I send a short worksheet before our last meeting to help them think about what they have learned/gotten through this process, how they have changed and what it means in the context of their lives. And I do the same. Depending on the person, we can spend from 5 minutes at the end of the last session to over an hour discussing this. But when we leave, there is a connection — a sense of belonging and purpose of our time together. And this is the purpose of closure. In bigger groups, taking a few minutes of personal reflection and then sharing with a partner achieves the same purpose. On a personal level, just acknowledging gratefulness for the time spent together with another person goes a long way in creating a connection and is always well received.

3. Accept that things move on. When we are working successfully with others, we enter into a rhythm, a flow. We feel connected, energized and powerful. Unfortunately, when that relationship comes to an end, we feel a let-down, a sense of being empty and so perhaps that interferes with our readiness to say goodbye. This is a normal feeling, and if we accept that the emotions we are feeling are actually appropriate to the occasion, we are less anxious about it.
As a society, we tend to avoid things that make us feel uncomfortable or awkward. But learning to stand in discomfort is not only a key skill to acquire, but it has a high ROI with respect to personal closure, wisdom and poise.