After last week’s post putting our heads in the clouds to think and expand our thinking about thinking, I thought it might be helpful this week to come back to earth with a post that is grounded in practical How To tools and techniques. I hope you find something in this selection to enjoy and use with what you are trying to make and make happen in your life and work.
The loudest story to catch my attention this week, turning up across a range of different sites, is Sharon Salzburg’s ideas brought together in her new book:
…In Real Happiness at Work Salzberg discusses eight pillars of happiness in the workplace:
- communication and connection;
- meaning; and
- open awareness.
At the end of each chapter she features formal meditations that take about 10 to 20 minutes, along with mini meditations and practices throughout the book.
Below are some of my favorite tips from Salzberg’s book for helping us have a more peaceful and happier day at work. The great thing about these exercises is that they’re simple, small and totally doable ways we can enjoy greater calm and satisfaction.
- Before starting a project, meeting or even a conversation, ask yourself: “What do I most want to see happen from this?”
- Before starting your day, set an intention. Salzberg gave this example: “May I treat everyone today with respect, remembering each person wants to be happy as much as I do.”
- As you sit down at your desk, spend several moments listening to the sounds around you. Take note of your reactions to the sounds.
- Notice how you’re holding something in your hand, such as a pen or cup. Are you holding on tightly? “Sometimes, we exert so much force holding things, it exacerbates tension without our realizing it.”
- Try to perform a simple act of kindness every day. Salzberg included these examples: “holding an elevator door, saying thank you in a sincere manner, or listening to someone with a clear and focused mind.”
- Pay attention to your feelings. For instance, if you’re feeling irritated toward a co-worker, pay attention to your irritation, “not so much the story of why you’re irritated, but the actual feeling of it.” What does it feel like in your body? Where do you feel it? Identifying irritation as it starts helps you prevent an action you might later regret. “With a more immediate recognition of what we’re feeling, we have a choice as to how we want to respond in that moment.”
- As you heat up your lunch, stop, and simply pay attention to your breath until your hear the ding of the microwave.
- If you’re feeling upset, consider helping someone out. (“The more you help, the happier you can be.”)
- Think about the people who make your job possible, such as a housekeeper, elevator operator or fundraiser – and thank them.
As Salzberg writes, “Being happy at work is possible for all of us, anytime and anywhere, with open eyes and a caring heart. We need only to take the first step.”
Love Your Job’s reviewer ‘Olivia Greene’ writes
In Real Happiness at Work, Sharon Salzberg’s first question to her readers is, “When we took this job did we expect it to make us happy?”
…Stuck in a rut at work, mostly of my own making, I stumbled across this book and I decided to read it every morning on my way to work for ninety days. My subway commute is about forty minutes, so I had time to get into the philosophy of the book and choose an exercise for the day before I walked through my office’s doors.
Using some of her exercises began to change my work day:
So many of us pride ourselves on our capacity to multitask, but that mindset can lead to a lot of stress. Salzberg’s exercises call for us to do one thing at a time, give that one activity our attention and thereby give ourselves a break. Once I tried this, I realized I was happier if I was unitasking, not multitasking. It is exhausting to stretch our attention in two or three different places — and it’s unnecessary.
Notice our Stress
Salzberg writes that every job has stress, but each of us gets stressed about different things. I tried an exercise that calls for writing down every thing during the work day that stressed me. Looking over my list, I found out it was different stressors than I realized — and a lot of the stress came from my own thoughts, which I could slowly change.
Before reading Salzberg’s book, I answered an email as quickly as possible. Responsible for an inflow of hundreds of emails a day, the key for my professional survival seemed to me to be speed. But that was making me harried, unable to appreciate what I was writing or reading. Instead, I tried her mindful emailing exercises: I read emails twice entirely before replying and found out I was missing important points, I considered more carefully how my emails would be read and I added more kind words, and I decided I didn’t need to check my email while walking or riding the elevator. This mindful emailing made me, quite simply, happier at work.
I made lists of accomplishments I hoped for at work, and noted which parts of success I could control — and which I couldn’t. It helped to ground me when I considered that I could set intentions, I could work towards something, but every outcome was dependent on forces beyond my control.
Most work environments are noisy, with sounds we have no control over. Stationed between an employee social area and a crucial work area, I’m surrounded by sounds I can not control and do not need to pay attention to. I learned that when they begin to overwhelm me, I can stop, truly notice the sounds without feeling the need to stop them, and then gradually return to work with more ability to focus.
Take a deep breath!
While it’s core and basic advice I’ve heard countless times, Sharon Salzberg writes convincingly of the power of breath to restore and center us. In moments when I feel afraid and lose my calm, I learned that taking a deep breath can restore a sense of peace and vitality. It only takes three seconds and it works wonders.
I found that using these exercises allowed me, after a year of wishing I had the courage, to point out the amazing accomplishments I’d had over the past years and ask my boss to help those be recognized. I’ve also found the strength to apply for other jobs. I know that something wonderful is on its way, and I embrace what is happening right now instead of wishing it were different. Most importantly, I remember that finding happiness at work is an inside job. Only I can find it. My boss, my colleagues, and my company can not give it to me. I need to reach for it every day by making the time to breathe, to mini-meditate and to remember a greater sense of purpose. That’s my real responsibility — and it’s a big job.
Here you can watch Sharon Salzburg talking about her research and ideas and leading some guided mindfulness exercises in this video talk. When you can give this the time to listen to, there’s lots of gentle wisdom here and a very easy mindfulness experience to enjoy at 23’55”:
“Life is full of surprises when we pay attention…”
And here is Sharon Salzburg writing the illustrative story she tells in this video, extracted from her book:
…before too long, we got stuck in unthinkably bad traffic. I don’t recall ever seeing such traffic. As we crawled along, trying to go cross-town, then trying to go uptown, then cross-town again, trying anything, we barely made any progress. I wondered if I would make it to the talk at all. More than anything, I felt bad for the cab driver, wondering if he would get a fine for returning the cab late. I began to apologize, “I am so sorry. You were nice enough to pick me up and now you’ll be late. I can’t believe this monstrous traffic. I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m so, so sorry.” He interrupted me, “Madam, traffic is not your fault.” Then he paused a moment, and added, “Nor is it mine.”
I just loved that he added “Nor is it mine.” I thought of how many times customers probably blamed him for their own tardiness, for bridge closings and tired toll collectors and wild drivers of other cars. I thought, “That was a wonderful teaching. Actually it would be okay if I don’t make it to the lecture at all” (I did, by barely a second).
When we challenge the habit of unfair self-blame, we learn to focus our energy on areas of the job that we can manage and let go of the rest. When we take time to focus on the part of the environment we can control – most particularly ourselves — working life becomes less emotionally fraught.
Patience is a much-underrated tool for dealing with frustrating work situations. Cultivating a flexible perspective, and the ability to let go, is essential to whatever kind of work we do. As we learn to delay the story lines and mental habits that we typically bring to our work, and simply become available to our circumstances in the moment, we’re able to adapt to things as they actually are. Patience at work begins with the full acknowledgment of conditions exactly as they are.
This includes the restless, critical or stubborn states of our own mind. A student of mine was amazed, on the morning of a job interview, when mindfulness practice enabled her to catch herself in the middle of a long-held assumption regarding her confidence and self-worth (“I’m not good enough! I can’t compete. I’ll never get it!”). Barraged by fear as well as impatience over the interviewer’s response, her mind in the past would have spun out of control, kept her on tenterhooks, and beaten herself up in the interim. Had she not been patient enough to stop, sit quietly and observe her self-defeating thoughts, she would never have been able to notice this pattern — and compose herself enough to land the job.
The more time we spend on meditation practice, the more rewarding it becomes as rather than rejecting difficulties as bothersome interruptions, we can acknowledge our work with all its complications and challenges as an invitation to wake up and live our lives more honestly and fully.
A new survey has found that self-acceptance is the “healthy habit” people struggle with most.
The UK charity Action for Happiness in conjunction with online behavioral change program Do Something Different asked 5,000 participants to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 on ten “happy” habits. These habits, identified as “keys to happiness” via scientific research, plus the questions used to identify them, were as follows:
Giving: How often do you make an effort to help or be kind to others?
Relating: How often do you put effort into the relationships that matter most to you?
Exercising: How often do you spend at least half an hour a day being active?
Appreciating: How often do you take time to notice the good things in your life?
Trying out: How often do you learn or try new things?
Direction: How often do you do things that contribute to your most important life goals?
Resilience: How often do you find ways to bounce back quickly from problems?
Emotion: How often do you do things that make you feel good?
Acceptance: How often are you kind to yourself and think you’re fine as you are?
Meaning: How often do you do things that give you a sense of meaning or purpose?
While questions about Giving and Relating each scored an average of more than 7/10, the Acceptance question scored the lowest of the bunch: an average of 5.56 out of 10, just below Exercising (5.88/10).
“This survey shows that practising self-acceptance is one thing that could make the biggest difference to many people’s happiness,” says Professor Karen Pine, a psychologist from the University of Hertfordshire and co-founder of Do Something Different. “Exercise is also known to lift mood so if people want a simple, daily way to feel happier they should get into the habit of being more physically active too.”
Do Something Different and Action for Happiness have created a Do Happiness programme, which sends people messages to help them practice scientifically backed healthy habits. Some of the recommended actions include being as kind to yourself as you are to other people, spending quality quiet time by yourself, and asking a trusted friend what he or she thinks your greatest strengths are.
In this talk Russ Harris uncovers the real causes of lack of self-confidence, and gives us three rules for building our confidence in those times when we do not feel it naturally:
Rule 1 – Genuine confidence is not the absence of fear and anxiety, it is a transformed relationship with fear and anxiety.
Rule 2 – The actions of confidence come first, the feelings of confidence come later.
Rule 3 – Focus full attention on the task in hand.
And at this point in the talk is where I have set the video to play from, when Russ Harris’s shows a quite different mindfulness technique for doing this…
How many of you are stressed about something right now? Did I hear an overwhelming “yes?” Well, I’m not surprised—a whopping 83% of Americans say they’re stressed at work.
And sure, you can find plenty of advice online about how to manage stress—from working out to using relaxation techniques like yoga or mediation to socializing with family and friends.
But I want to add another, rather unique tool to your stress-management kit. You may not have heard about it before—or you may have, years ago: It’s based on a strategy for teaching math to kids, known as “adding the opposite.”
In the classroom, this technique is used to help explain the idea of subtracting a negative—by adding a positive instead. Instead of 4 – (-6), for example, the student is taught to think of the equation as 4 + (+6).
Turns out, this is a great way to deal with stress, as well: Instead of trying to mitigate the negative effects of stress, think about what you can do to create a positive outcome, instead. Also referred to as “proactive coping,” this technique has worked wonders for my clients and has been proven in studies to reduce levels of worry and anxiety.
To help illustrate exactly how to use this method, read on for three ways you can “add the opposite” in common stress-inducing situations at the office.
1. Focus on the Positive
We’ve all had that kind of day: Your boss was a crank, your co-workers were annoying, you had a killer all-day headache, and you’re about to take this workday stink home and share it with your family. (Won’t they be thrilled?)
Not so fast! According to the University of Minnesota, you can greatly reduce evening stress levels simply by jotting down a few positive things that happened during the day. And they don’t even have to be work-related! Maybe you received a great compliment, nailed a presentation, or made a new friend in the office. Whatever you write, make sure to note why these things made you feel good. This will help you remember all the positive attributes, skills, and people you have in your life, and focusing on the “why” helps you appreciate those things even more.
You see, instead of dealing with stress by rehashing your terrible day to anyone who will listen, you can add the opposite by reminding yourself of what went well.
2. Envision Success
I don’t live downtown, but I have to go there frequently for meetings. And up until recently, I dreaded everything about it. Between the unfamiliar territory, one-way streets, ever-present construction, and full parking garages, I knew that it was always going to take much longer than I expected to arrive, find parking, and get to the meeting on time. It was harried and stressful, and I dreaded it.
Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t keep operating that way, and I started trying to proactively cope. So, whenever I had a city meeting, I’d envision myself leaving the office with plenty of time to spare, effortlessly finding a parking spot, and arriving well ahead of time, relaxed, unstressed, calm, and ready to conduct business.
And you wouldn’t believe the difference it made. I realized that by working myself up mentally and always picturing the worst possible experience, I was creating my own stress. But when I shifted my outlook, I had a completely different experience. I actually did arrive early, find parking, and had time to gather myself before the meeting.
Whether you dread city parking, presentations, meetings, performance reviews, or any number of other stressors, try adding the opposite by shifting your outlook from dread to anticipation and imagining a positive outcome. You’ll be able to ditch the stress—which will put you in the right mindset to succeed in any situation.
3. Start a Conversation
I often work with clients who complain that their managers are a constant source of stress, but they avoid tackling the issue head on. Why? They feel uncomfortable confronting an authority figure, or aren’t sure what to say or how to say it. And so, they take no action at all—and the stress continues.
To add the opposite in this situation, try focusing on the goal you want to achieve in that conversation and taking the steps to make it happen.
For example, let’s say your stress stems from your boss’ tendency to assign projects right as you’re about to leave the office. Instead of panicking about those last-minute tasks, directly confront the issue with a conversation—perhaps asking if you can meet each morning to outline the day’s assignments.
You’re instantly replacing that fear, dread, and avoidance with a proactive with a focus on the desired outcome—and that’s a much better way to replace that end-of-day stress.
The next time you anticipate a stressful event, focus on creating positive outcomes and aligning the resources you need to be successful. Doing this before stress has a chance to get to you has a much better effect on your personal well-being—rather than simply recovering from stress after the fact. That means a healthier body, a healthier mind, and a happier life. I challenge you to take steps to proactively cope with those tough situations by adding something positive. Your well-being depends on it!
The latest water cooler gossip has leaked the news that someone new is finally getting hired, which means your overloaded plate may actually see some lightening in the near future.
But, before you can let out a sigh of relief, you remember what a chore it was the last time someone new joined the team—and your excitement is quickly replaced with a feeling of dread.
Adding a new person to your team in the office can be a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, when he or she finally gets up to speed, your workload should get a lot more manageable, and ideally, your team will become more efficient. On the other hand, new hires—no matter how experienced they already are— require a lot of training.
Fortunately, you’re not necessarily doomed to suffer through a months-long ramping up period for a new hire. Here’s how to handle the inevitable barrage of questions with style and grace—and stay sane.
1. Flash Back
…I reminded myself what it was like when I first started several years before. From accidentally setting off the office alarm after forgetting the code to completely botching one of our daily reconciliation procedures, I was probably a nightmare to my peers. I also remembered how cohesive the team was and how hard it was being the “outsider” trying to break in to the group. With that in mind, I was able to keep my frustration in check and be much more compassionate about what she was going through as she adjusted to life with our tiny team.
2. Set Boundaries
I know, boundaries sound like limitations, but try to think of them less like restrictions, and more like a roadmap for a happy relationship. No matter who you are, there are rules to the road that you just won’t know when you first start out. At least, not until someone tells you. And, that’s where the boundaries come in.
…Sometimes, you can see a disaster from a mile away, so don’t be afraid to head it off as soon as possible. If you’re a tyrant before your morning coffee infusion, make sure the newbie knows not to come knocking unless the office is on fire. Not a fan of the 4 PM Friday afternoon team meeting? Make sure your new hire knows that on day one, and you’ll avoid resenting him for rest of his tenure. Whatever your pet peeves and professional thorns in your side may be, the more upfront and honest you are about your own boundaries, the happier and more productive everyone will be.
3. Get in the Game
Sometimes, you just can’t avoid all the questions. The job is complicated, and the culture is unique, and whoever is joining the team will need the secret handbook if he or she stands a chance at being successful—not to mention, help you out. That’s when it’s helpful to view the newbie onboarding process as a game, rather than an added burden.
This tactic was especially helpful to me when I had a recent graduate join my team. I had well over a decade of experience over her, so looking at her joining as a coaching opportunity just made sense. I knew things she couldn’t possibly know, and it was my responsibility to teach her. And, if I did it well, we’d both come out winners. While I’d have to give up about half the hours in my day until that point, I liked those odds. I ended up sharing everything I knew with her and answered all her questions with the same enthusiasm as my junior high basketball coach had when I asked him to explain a certain offensive play. And it worked.
At the end of the day, a job is just like any other game. There are rules and certain ways to get things done that work better than others. And, in many cases, taking the time to step back and be a coach—even if it’s not necessarily your job—is the only way to make sure your team will work effectively together.
Whether it’s the ins and outs of how to complete the TPS reports or the idiosyncrasies of the coffee machine, your new colleague is going to have a lot of questions, and chances are, you’ll be answering some of them. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll soon enjoy the benefits of having a new, awesome, addition to your team in no time.
The previous two posts both come from The Muse, a new website I discovered by signing up for the free five-day programme they are offering in partnership with The Third Metric. Its a great site and so far, two days in, this has been a great programme.
Is your job leaving you over-worked, over-stressed, tired, and unhappy? It doesn’t have to be this way. This class, in partnership with The Huffington Post Third Metric, will give you smart, research-backed strategies for how to re-think about your daily grind and be happier at work. Starting now.
A bit more about this programme:
Small things can help you be happier at work. It comes down to choices, and you really can choose happiness. The Huffington Post has partnered with the career experts at The Daily Muse to lead the way, putting together a five-day lesson plan on how to be “Happier At Work.”
At HuffPost, we focus on something called “The Third Metric,” which seeks to redefine success beyond money and power. We want to introduce a third metric to success that includes well-being, wisdom and wonder. We explore happiness as part of this initiative — especially happiness at work. For many, career success means working harder, longer, and faster — which tends to lead to burnout, sleep deprivation, and driving ourselves into the ground. Not quite the picture of success and happiness we imagined.
Our lessons will teach you smart, research-backed strategies for how to re-think your daily grind, stop making yourself crazy, and be happier at work every day.
Here is an overview of some of the tips and tricks we’ve put together for you.
Day 1: Is “Busy” Helping or Harming You?
Sometimes, being busy feels good — it makes us feel productive and important. But it can also hold us back from big-picture thinking and even happiness. Learn why it’s so important to take a break and how to do it the right way.
Day 2: The Happiness Booster Sitting Next to You
It’s easy to separate your work and personal lives, but the truth is, having friends at the office can go a long way toward making you a happier (even better!) employee. Learn how to get to know people outside the office and why it’s important to do it now.
Day 3: The Pursuit of (Im)perfection
Do you know perfection is impossible, yet continue to strive for it anyway? It could be bringing you down, big time. In this class, we’ll show you just how valuable a little imperfection can be.
Day 4: The Meaning of Your Work
Even if you don’t love your job, there are still ways to find meaning in it — and get excited for it. We’ll show you practical ways to find purpose at work.
Day 5: Happy Today, Happy Forever
Here’s a secret about happiness: You have more control over it than you think you do. In this last class, we’ll show you small activities you can do every day that can make a big impact on your happiness.
Sign up here.
by Randy Conley
“It all depends on who you’re working with.”
That was the feedback from team members to a recent survey about the state of collaboration within our department. The feedback was consistent. Collaboration is…well…inconsistent.It all depends on who you’re working with.
In all organizations you’ll hear people complain about the difficulty of working with certain colleagues. The common refrain is, “If only they would _____…”— communicate better, be more responsive, give me all the information I need…fill in the blank with whatever reason suits the occasion.
Instead of being frustrated with other people not being easy to work with, shift the focus to yourself. Are YOU are easy to work with? If you are easy to do business with, odds are you’ll find others much more willing to cooperate and collaborate with you.
Here are seven ways to make it easy for people to work with you:
1. Build rapport – People want to work with people they like. Are you likable? Do you build rapport with your colleagues? Get to know them personally, engage in small talk (even if it’s not your “thing”), learn about their lives outside of work, and take a genuine interest in them as people, not just a co-worker who’s there to do a job.
2. Be a good communicator – Poor communication is at the root of many workplace conflicts. People who are easy to work with share information openly and timely, keep others informed as projects evolve, talk through out of the box situations rather than make assumptions, and they ask questions if they aren’t sure of the answer. As a general rule, it’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate.
3. Make their job easier – If you want to gain people’s cooperation, make their job easier and they’ll love you for it. But how do you know what makes their job easier? Ask them! If handing off information in a form rather than a chain of emails makes their job easier, then do it. If it helps your colleague to talk over questions on the phone rather than through email, then give them a call. Identify the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) from your colleague’s perspective and it will help you tailor your interactions so both your and their needs are met.
4. Provide the “why” behind your requests – Very few people like being told what to do. They want to understand why something needs to be done so they can make intelligent decisions about the best way to proceed. Simply passing off information and asking someone to “just do it like I said” is rude and condescending. Make sure your colleagues understand the context of your request, why it’s important, and how critical they are to the success of the task/project. Doing so will have them working with you, not against you.
5. Be trustworthy – Above all, be trustworthy. Follow through on your commitments, keep your word, act with integrity, demonstrate competence in your own work, be honest, admit mistakes, and apologize when necessary. Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship, and if you want to work well with others, it’s imperative you focus on building trust in the relationship. Trust starts with being trustworthy yourself.
6. Don’t hide behind electronic communication – Email and Instant Message have their place in organizations, but they don’t replace more personal means of communication like speaking on the phone or face to face. I’ve seen it time and time again – minor problems escalate into major blowouts because people refuse to get out from behind their desks, walk to their colleague’s office, and discuss a situation face to face. It’s much easier to hide behind the computer and fire off nasty-grams than it is to talk to someone about a problem. Just step away from the computer, please!
7. Consistently follow the process – Process…for some people that’s a dirty word and anathema for how they work. However, processes exist for a reason. Usually they are in place to ensure consistency, quality, efficiency, and productivity. When you follow the process, you show your colleagues you respect the norms and boundaries for how you’ve agreed to work together. If you visited a friend’s home and were asked to remove your shoes at the door, you would do so out of respect, right? You wouldn’t make excuses about it being inconvenient or it not being the way you do things in your house. Why should it be different at work? If you need to fill out a form, then fill it out. If you need to use a certain software system to get your information, then use it. Quit making excuses and do work the way it was designed to be done. Besides, if you consistently follow the process, you’ll experience much more grace from your colleagues for those times you legitimately need to deviate from it.
No one likes to think of him/herself as being difficult to work with, yet from time to time we all make life difficult for our colleagues. Focus on what you can do to be easy to do business with and you’ll find that over time others become easier to work with as well.
Be smart about the way you ask for feedback and you’ll realise you can’t live or learn without it.
Here’s how to ask the right questions and get the answers you need.
by Lisa Evans
Ignoring this feedback can have detrimental effects on your company’s success, yet many of us are still averse to criticism. Sheila Heen, author of the new book Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well says there’s a powerful reason this.
“Feedback sits at the juncture of two core human needs,” argues Heen. While on the one hand, we have a desire to improve and grow, we also have an innate need to be accepted and loved the way we are. “Feedback suggests that how you are now isn’t quite A-okay,” says Heen. High-achievers, in particular, struggle with this. “We think we should be doing it all and handling it all, if not perfectly, at least perfectly enough that other people don’t notice.”
So, how can we embrace criticism and learn to grow from it?
Whether we view feedback as threatening or helpful depends on how we see ourselves, says Heen. Some people view themselves through a fixed identity. They have a mindset that says: “I am how I am. I’m either smart or stupid, capable or not, I’m going to be a success or a failure.” Such individuals take feedback as a verdict about their core being.
On the other hand, people who maintain a growth mindset assume that how they are today isn’t necessarily how they will be in the future. Thinking this way will allow you to accept feedback as a way to learn and grow.
Not all criticism is helpful. “Getting good at receiving feedback doesn’t mean that you actually have to take it. It simply means that you resist the temptation to instantly either reject it or let it overwhelm you and instead work to understand it better,” says Heen. Knowing which opinions to accept and which to ignore means taking the time to fully hear people out.
Since the majority of feedback tends to be vague (“You need to be more of a team player” or “You need to be more responsive to the market”) you might need to push for more specifics. You could ask: “What specifically prompts you to say this?” or “What do you think I should be doing differently?” Getting answers to these questions will help you decide whether the message is useful or not.
How you ask others for their opinions of you and your work will determine whether or not their responses are useful. “Asking ‘Do you have any feedback for me?’ is overwhelming for the giver and it’s not clear how honest you want them to be,” says Heen.
Instead, be more specific in your questioning. For example, asking “What’s one thing we could change that would make a difference to you?” makes clear the type of response you’re soliciting. You’ll be rewarded with more detailed thoughts that can help you and your business grow.
By Laura Pepper Wu, editor, The Write Life Magazine.
In business culture, we often favour extroversion. Yet the latest research suggests introverts make up one-third to one-half of the population. Author Susan Cain’s recent book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, shines a positive light on us more modest individuals.
In fact, Cain suggests that their traits can actually be strengths — personally and professionally.
Are You an Introvert, Extrovert or Ambivert?
The term introvert is often used inaccurately. Introversion does not necessarily equate to shy, though some introverts are shy — as are some extroverts. Instead, Cain defines introverts as “people of contemplation,” who may enjoy the company of others, but are also comfortable with solitude. They are sensitive, contemplative, modest and calm, and spend a lot of time thinking and reflecting. They can enjoy social occasions, but crave restorative time afterwards. They do their best work alone in quiet places since they are easily overstimulated by noise, lights and action.
In contrast, extroverts are “people of action.” They gain energy from other people, are sociable, excitable and light-hearted. Unlike introverts, extroverts can tolerate a higher level of noise and work well collaboratively. And if neither of these temperaments resonate with you strongly, you may be an ambivert, someone who sits somewhere in the middle of this wide spectrum.Whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, Quiet emphasizes that there are strengths that come with your temperament. You can also minimize the impact of the so-called weaknesses with self-knowledge.
Here are a few tips for introverts (and their bosses) to flourish in the workplace:
- Reduce noise. Shut the door to your office for stretches at a time, or wear noise-cancelling headphones. You’ll produce better work in a more satisfying environment.
- Set some rules for your interactions with colleagues and collaborators. If you have the luxury of doing so, let people know that you prefer email rather than phone conversations. Work in a conference room or coffee shop where you can’t be interrupted. Schedule regular meetings into your calendar to limit the need for spontaneous ones.
- Recognize your need for rest. After a big presentation, give yourself permission to restore your energy levels. This is essential for introverted workers to stay on top of their game. While it is important to bond with your work peers outside of the office, focus on quality over quantity.
- Let your temperament shape your career path. Since introverts flourish in quiet spaces with minimal interaction, careers such as graphic design, writing, programming and accountancy are all good choices.
The best tip of all is to commit to understanding more about the strengths associated with introversion. You’ll focus more on what you do best, and stress less about the differences between you and the louder voices who get more airplay at meetings. Introverts are observant, so they’ll often ask poignant and important questions, and see a different angle on something. Managers can respect these quiet strengths by asking questions and allowing everyone to speak during meetings. By understanding individual differences in a team, everyone wins.
What daily habits improve brain structure and cognitive function?
On March 11, the New York Times published an article about the “brain fitness business“ titled, Do Brain Workouts Work? Science Isn’t Sure. I believe the answer is no. Without a variety of other daily habits, these “brain-training games” cannot stave off mental decline or dramatically improve cognitive function.
Most of these brain-training games will have some benefits—but it’s impossible to optimize brain connectivity and maximize neurogenesis (growth of new neurons) sitting in a chair while playing a video game on a two-dimensional screen.
In order to give your brain a full workout, you need to engage both hemispheres of the cerebrum, and both hemispheres of the cerebellum. You can only do this by practicing, exploring, and learning new things in the three-dimensions of the real world—not while being sedentary in front of a flat screen in a cyber reality.
Digital games are incapable of giving the entire brain a full workout. These digital programs can’t really exercise the cerebellum (Latin: “Little Brain”) and, therefore, are literally only training half your brain. These “brain-training workouts” are the equivalent of only ever doing upper body workouts, without ever working out your lower body…
For this post, I did a meta-analysis of the most recent neuroscience studies and compiled a list of habits that can improve cognitive function for people from every generation. These eight habits can improve cognitive function and protect against cognitive decline for a lifespan.
Eight Habits that Improve Cognitive Function
- Physical Activity
- Openness to Experience
- Curiosity and Creativity
- Social Connections
- Mindfulness Meditation
- Brain-Training Games
- Get Enough Sleep
- Reduce Chronic Stress
The secret to optimising cognitive function can be found in daily habits and exercises that flex both hemispheres of the cerebrum, and both hemispheres of the cerebellum. The eight habits I recommend here exercise all four brain hemispheres. If performed consistently, these habits can improve cognitive function and protect against cognitive decline.
NOTE: Definition of a leader: ‘someone who influences the activities of an individual or a group in efforts toward goal achievement in a given situation’. (Hershey & Blanchard, Situational Leadership, 1977)
This is probably you – whatever your job tile reads.
Only you know of course whether you are an ‘old’ or a ‘young’ leader…
Old leaders feel superior to young leaders because young leaders haven’t paid their dues. Young leaders devalue the value of experience when they think, “Paying your dues is over-rated.”
Young leaders don’t appreciate what old leaders put on the line to support them. When young leaders screw up, they don’t realise they diminish the prestige of those who selected them.
Young leaders who walk away when things get hard weaken old leaders who are gutting it out.
10 Tips for young leaders:
- Make everyone around you look good. Nothing good comes from pointing out the bad in others when you’re a young leader.
- Celebrate and thank more. One strength of young leaders is dissatisfaction. But, when dissatisfaction turns negative, influence declines.
- Slow down when you feel barriers lifting. Enthusiasm and good ideas don’t lower resistance – connection does. People won’t see how smart you are when they’re protecting themselves from you.
- Use personal rather than accusatory language. “Our slow progress makes mefeel trapped,” is better than, “You aren’t moving fast enough.”
- Respect and answer the fears of old leaders. You scare old leaders when you don’t appreciate their fears.
- Channel passion, enthusiasm, and excitement into focus and resolve. Calm determination has more power than vein popping enthusiasm.
- Tease out the suggestions of experienced leaders. Say something like, “So, if we go the way you suggest, the next steps are…” Old leaders love to be taken seriously.
- Don’t pressure people to get on your team. Get on theirs.
- Say what you want. “How can I gain respect?” “Will you help me gain a voice?”
- Honour experience.
BUT BUT BUT – there is always another side to the coin…
The hope for dying organizations isn’t found in old leaders who don’t have the guts to say they created the problem.
Organisations reflect the age and attitude of their leaders. The older some grow, the more they lean toward no, and “no” isn’t going anywhere.
Transform organisation by integrating young leaders.
Dedicated young leaders:
- Feel impatient.
- Address issues elders sweep under the carpet.
- Complain when stuck in bureaucracy.
- Consistently ask, “Why?”
- Care deeply.
- Yearn to make a mark.
- Embrace diversity.
4 Tips for maximising young leaders:
- Push them past the “all talk” stage. Let them struggle and support them at the same time.
- Take their perspective. Learn from them.
- They don’t know what they don’t know. Teach rather than scoff.
- Realise many of the qualities you look down on are the ones you need.
Youth alone isn’t the answer. I’m advocating for respectful age integration.
by Julie Sweet
Generation Y is constantly being given a reputation of being entitled and uncompetitive in the workforce that is very undeserved.
But what if I told you, in spite of this public perception and bad luck, or perhaps even because of it, the Millennials are actually the most generous, educated and civic-minded generation since the Greatest Generation? Don’t believe me? The following infographic debunks many of those Gen Y myths.
See for yourself what this generation has accomplished and how hard they work despite the less than favorable job market they face…
by David Grossman
I talk to a lot of leaders who say they want to communicate effectively, but they’re not sure how to. They have questions about how to overcome communication challenges, how to share tough news with employees, and how to measure the effectiveness of their communication. I thought I’d answer the top six questions I get from leaders about communication.
1. If communication is so critical to leadership and business, why isn’t there enough communication in business today?
Communication is often seen as an “add-on” to “hard” or “technical” business skills. Communication is often perceived as someone else’s job. Sometimes leaders spend their time and resources focusing on goals that directly contribute to the bottom line, not knowing that communication does too.
And there are a myriad of myths about communication that get in the way, myths such as “talking is communication” or “people won’t interpret situations or give them meaning if leaders don’t talk about them,” both of which are far from the truth.
2. Why do leaders need to be effective communicators?
Today’s leaders need to be effective leadercommunicators and use strategic communication as a way to achieve the business goals they seek. Leading is communicating; you can’t separate communication from leadership. Without communication, employees lack direction and can’t measure their performance. They lack an ability to see themselves and their work as part of the bigger picture. They can’t add value by contributing as a thinking member of the team.
And what’s most important is that you can’t lead if you can’t express yourself.
Your technical skills and abilities can take you only so far. Leadership is much more. It’s about getting things done and moving a business forward through other people.
3. What traits are most important for a skilled leader communicator?
Asking questions and listening are critical. Leaders create engagement by focusing on productivity, creating morale and building relationships. Before you can understand a business problem or achieve a goal, you have to understand what the situation is. Asking questions is the best way to come at a problem from varied perspectives. If a leader problem solves from assumptions or only the information at hand, he or she won’t be effective.
4. What’s the greatest communication challenge for leaders?
The greatest challenge leaders face is failing to remember that everything they do communicates. Whether they intend to or not, everything leaders do (and don’t do) communicates something, so why not communicate well? It’s no secret that people will read into your behavior. They interpret situations and give them meaning, whether or not you communicate about it. Communication provides the right information and prevents misinformation. Leaders need to remember that they make the weather every day for their people.
5. How can leaders measure the effectiveness of their communication?
You can ask others. You can listen (and then listen some more). You can also use a 360 to assess how you’re actually communicating, as compared to how you may think you’re doing.
We all have blind spots, and most of us tend to overestimate our skills. Leaders who are extroverted typically say and do a lot, but the quality of their communication suffers. On the other hand, introverts tend to think they’re communicating more than they actually are.
Effective leadercommunicators practice just like great athletes. Look at Serena Williams. She’s one of the best tennis players in the world, but she still practices every day. Leaders don’t have to be perfect, but we all need to work on flexing our leadership muscle so it gets stronger over time. A great place to start is to listen to see how you’re doing in meeting you team’s needs: listen to the questions people ask, and look in the mirror and check your reflection.
6. How can leaders inspire their employees when they don’t have good news to share?
The test of great leadership is to ensure understanding in the tough times as well as in the good times. The best leadercommunicators communicate even more in challenging times. They place greater emphasis on two-way dialogue and face-to-face (or at least voice-to-voice) communication, and they’re visible. They listen more than they talk. They ask questions.
They’re genuine, honest, and empathetic.
Be assured, too, that as a leader, it’s OK to not have all the answers. The three best credibility-building words a leader can say are, “I don’t know” (and then go out and find the answer).
And here’s a quirky new piece of science that I loved discovering, not least because it lends weight to the realisation that listening is much more complex and skilled and demanding than merely the absence of talking…
Functional MRI of the listening brain found that different regions become active when listening to different types of music and instrumental versus vocals. Allie Wilkinson reports in Scientific American
Vivaldi versus the Beatles. Both great. But your brain may be processing the musical information differently for each. That’s according to research in the journalNeuroImage. [Vinoo Alluri et al, From Vivaldi to Beatles and back: Predicting lateralized brain responses to music]
For the study, volunteers had their brains scanned by functional MRI as they listened to two musical medleys containing songs from different genres. The scans identified brain regions that became active during listening.
One medley included four instrumental pieces and the other consisted of songs from the B side of Abbey Road.
Computer algorithms were used to identify specific aspects of the music, which the researchers were able to match with specific, activated brain areas. The researchers found that vocal and instrumental music get treated differently. While both hemispheres of the brain deal with musical features, the presence of lyrics shifts the processing of musical features to the left auditory cortex.
These results suggest that the brain’s hemispheres are specialized for different kinds of sound processing. A finding revealed but what you might call instrumental analysis.
And on the subject of music, here is Pharrell Williams’ Happy, which has been chosen to be this year’s song for UN International Day of Happiness on 20th March.
Clap along and enjoy…
All of these stories and plenty more are collected together in this week’s Happiness At Work collection of stories.
I hope you find something to take away from this to use and grow and profit from.