Monday, October 16, 2017

Why Companies Must Foster "Constructive Conflict"

In today’s tumultuous world, many people will call themselves grateful if they have a peaceful, harmonious workplace.
But Jeff DeGraff, whose advice has been sought by business innovators such as Microsoft, General Electric and Pfizer, says the problem with a placid workplace is that it’s an innovation killer. Too many workers getting along because they all think alike – or don’t want to upset the status quo – isn’t the way to generate new processes and products.
“The death of innovation is apathy,” says DeGraff, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. “One of the first signs is that people won’t engage in different ideas – they go along with the company line.”
That doesn’t mean that companies should encourage employees to go at one another tooth and nail. But it is important that teams have members with different personalities, cultures and ideas to keep creative juices flowing and prevent companies from getting in a rut.
The proof that such a strategy works is that there are “about 30 places on the planet that produce the most intellectual property and what they all have in common is an extremely diverse workforce,” he says.
DeGraff promotes the idea that it’s critical to stir the workplace pot, as evidenced from the title of his new book, “The Innovation code: The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict.” At the same time, he stresses that he doesn’t want chaos to be never-ending.
It’s “constructive conflict,” he says, that is the most valuable, an atmosphere (read more here)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Vocal Habits That Like, Hurt, Like, Your Career

Vocal fry. Upspeak. Like, you know, those things are so, like, annoying?

In recent comments about whether or not "vocal fry" hurts women in the workplace, readers weighed in on the story and said that yes, it does drive them crazy. (If you don't know what "vocal fry" is, think of Kim Kardashian and the way she sort of growls and gasps out the end of her sentences.)

But readers also went on to complain about upspeak (the voice rising at the end of a declarative sentence as if it's a question. "I went to work? And got a lot done?") and the overuse of the word "like."

"I, like, went to the mall? And, like, I couldn't, like, finding a parking space? And I'm like, so, like, frustrated?"

There was also some debate about whether these speaking habits hurt women more than men.  Are women judged more unfairly for such irritating speaking habits? Possibly -- even though I find such speaking habits annoying whether it's a man or a woman.

Here's what I do know: Communication in the workplace is a constant landmine and is probably one of the biggest causes of careers going off the rails. If you don't consistently communicate well, then all your other skills will not be as appreciated or utilized.

We always need to work to improve what we say, when we say it and how we say it. Upspeak makes you sound unsure, even if you're the CEO of a company. Vocal fry makes you sound like Valley Girl 2017, more suited for planning the prom than a big international project. Using "like" constantly makes it sound as if you're afraid to state your opinion or ideas and are hedging your bets by using "like" instead of being definitive.

You may not even realize you've developed some of these habits. I know that "like" has become part of my vocabulary, and I'm determined to eradicate it. It won't be easy, but I'm taking it one conversation at a time and trying to speak more deliberately until I can break the habit.

My advice is to record your own voice when speaking to others, to try and spot bad vocal habits. Ask friends or family if you say "um" or "you know" or "literally" too much. Learning to speak more clearly and concisely is a great investment in your career -- and can prevent your voice from getting fried.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Why You Cannot Neglect Emotional Intelligence if You Want to Be Successful

Anthony Mersino was 39-years-old and had already been a successful project manager for more than 17 years when a therapist asked him: “Do you have any idea how dangerous it is not to be in touch with your feelings?”
That was 16 years ago, and Mersino recalls that at the time he couldn’t fathom why it was dangerous not to make a connection with his emotions – but he soon learned and now spends time advising other professionals to do the same.
“The more I talk to people, the more I find others who grew up in ways that they didn’t learn to be in touch with their emotions as a child, or stuffed those feelings down,” he says.
The result, he says, is professionals such as project managers who alienate others with their lack of empathy or emotional awareness and end up hurting their careers and the bottom line of their companies.
Still, Mersino says developing emotional intelligence isn’t a quick fix, and he’s living proof.
“It’s still something I struggle with,” Mersino says. “Even this week I was feeling nervous about a meeting and for some reason I made a joke at someone else’s expense – someone I get along with.”
Mersino says that when the therapist began coaching him on emotional intelligence more than (read more here)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Why Companies Need to Address Loneliness

I don't know about you, but I've had jobs that made me leap out of bed every day, feeling so lucky to be going to work.

But I've had horrible jobs, too. You know those jobs that cause you on Sunday night to start dreading Monday? I've been there. In fact, I hated a couple of jobs so bad I started getting depressed on Saturday night.

I also remember the feeling of isolation I had in those jobs. I began to withdraw more and more from my colleagues, often eating my lunch alone in a park or keeping to myself when other people were chatting around the coffee pot.

I recently read a new study in Harvard Business Review that may explain why I hated those jobs so much. It wasn't just that I didn't really like what I was doing and the boss was a butthead. I think a large part of my problem was that I was lonely. I felt no connection to the boss or my colleagues, and it just made the situation worse for me.

Could I have become less miserable in these jobs if I had been less lonely? The study says "yes."

The study finds that just as you can "start an exercise regimen to lose weight, gain strength, or improve your health, you can combat loneliness through exercises that build emotional strength and resilience."

The study was based on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the "alarming" number or soldiers who returned home and had adverse outcomes, including suicide. Many soldiers, it was found, were struggling with loneliness.

In response, the U.S. Army developed a program focused on social resilience and social fitness, a strategy that paid off with soldiers reporting they were less lonely and simply felt better about life after receiving the training.

Researchers believe that workplaces can reap the same benefits. If workers are taught how to develop greater emotional strength and resilience, they can become less lonely and happier at work.

"It's time for managers to turn their focus from traditional structural inventions that are designed to reduce social isolation -- such as mandatory social activities at work or specialized workspace design efforts -- which studies have shown are less effective," researchers say.

Their recommendation for an entry-level social fitness class includes disconnecting online and connecting with someone in person; doing small favors for someone else; taking opportunities to work with others; and asking questions to engage others.

Finally, there is one step that each of us can take today to boost our well-being at work. Just say "hello" to a friend, colleague or a stranger.

"It"s a cliche, but it's true: We are social creatures," researchers say. "We have a social muscle. The more we exercise it, the healthier we'll all be."

Monday, October 2, 2017

4 Ways to Avoid Working With Jerks

The good news is that as the job market improves, more workers are able to leave jobs -- or bosses -- that make them miserable.

The bad news is that some are taking jobs that are going to make them just as miserable in a very short amount of time.

What happens is that many people believe that once they leave a jerk behind in their old workplace, things will be great. They'll work with people they like or they won't have to put up with a jerk boss.

It would be great if that were true. But even in the best companies, there are jerks and a**hole bosses. There might not be as many -- but you can bet they're lurking among the cubicles.

If you're looking for a new job -- or even thinking of jumping to a new department in your current company -- there are some ways you can figure out if you're about to take a job with another jerk and be just as miserable.

Here are some things you need to think about:

  • Your initial visit. When you interview with a company or department for the first time, are you treated with respect? For example, are you kept waiting for an hour and then no apology is offered as to why your interviewer was late? Does a receptionist or another employee smile at you, or ask if you need assistance in some way? Do other employees greet one another by name, smile at one another or walk like zombies through the hallways? The key is to see that employees seem comfortable with one another and are engaged enough to want to reach out and try to help someone else.
  • Body language. Do employees you speak with tense up when you start asking about the boss? Do they refuse to make eye contact when they talk about his or her management style? Does the interviewer quickly change the subject when discussing the boss? These are all caution flags that may indicate the boss isn't well liked or respected.
  • Ask questions. Interviews are not a one-way street. If you really want to see if a workplace is a good fit, don't ask questions like, "What do you do if someone is a bully?" The standard human resource line will be that such a person isn't tolerated, blah, blah, blah. What you really want to do is ask something like, "Let's say that a client makes a mistake in a delivery date, but blames one of your employees. The client says he will take his business elsewhere and really starts ranting against that employee. What would you do?" Listen carefully as to what will be done. If it turns out later that that the employee really did make the mistake -- what will happen? How does management handle mistakes by employees? How does management deal with such volatile situations? If the boss or the interviewer stammer around without a good answer, then that may be a clue they don't handle such situations well or at least not in a thoughtful, fair way.
  • Check social media. Potential employers use social media to check on you -- why not do the same? Look at what company employees post -- are they obviously unhappy people? Or, do they seem engaged in their work? Does the boss post thoughtful essays on LinkedIn or the company blog? What about podcasts? Was the boss interviewed so you can gain more insight into his or her thinking?
The point is that if you don't want to trade in one awful workplace for another, you need to take more responsibility for ensuring that you've done your due diligence in checking out the jerk factor.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Research Shows Learning Is an Antidote to Stress

There's a lot of stress at work these days, which are why things like yoga and mindfulness are such popular topics.

But new research finds that deep breathing and downward-facing dog aren't enough to really reduce worker stress -- it's on-the-job learning that may lead to better outcomes.

Specifically, the University of Michigan finds that workers felt better -- and exhibited less troublesome behavior -- when they were learning something new as opposed to using relaxation techniques.

“When an individual comes out of relaxation activities at work and realizes the stressful situation hasn’t changed, it may generate frustration and reverse the benefits of relaxation," says one researcher. 

While relaxation can help workers feel more refreshed and calmer, it doesn't do much to quell rude behavior, blabbing confidential company information or even taking company property, researchers say. Workers who were learning new things, however, exhibited much less of that kind of problem behavior, the study finds.

The lesson is that managers may want to incorporate learning into even the most routine jobs in order to lessen stress and promote better behavior in their teams. In addition, those who feel stressed by their workplaces may want to explore new learning on their own to help battle their anxiety.

Monday, September 25, 2017

How to Set Boundaries at Work

We all spend a lot of time at work, and some days it feels like a family get-together gone horribly wrong.

You're tired of hearing about your colleague's dating life. You don't want to be pulled into any more conversations about who was the worst actor on "Friends." You don't want to have 10-minute debate about the best font for email.

But unlike bad family times where you can go to your bedroom and slam the door -- or at least get in your car and drive away -- you're stuck at work. You have to show up and do your job if you want to get paid (they're real sticklers about this).

So, how do you avoid some of the distractions that drive you mad without resorting to blocking your ears and humming the theme song from "Hawaii Five-O?"

Here's some things to try:

  • Turn your back. If possible, turn your work station so that your back is to the noisiest, most distracting colleagues. Better yet, put on headphones if the company allows it, and avoid making eye contact with anyone who passes by or sits near you. You'll become totally absorbed in your work -- or at least look like you're totally absorbed -- and it will be much more obvious if someone interrupts you. If they don't get the hint and stop interrupting you, say something like, "Oh, can I finish this thing first? I'm really on a roll and don't want to lose my train of thought." Or simply say, "I'm on a deadline with this and can't fall further behind. Can we catch up when I take a break?"
  • Follow up. Are you one of those people who says you'll call someone back -- and then doesn't do it? If you tell someone you'll reach out when you take a break -- and then use that break to check out Instagram instead -- then that person will call you again later. So, instead of talking to someone while you are free, you've pushed them into interrupting you again later.
  • Be respectful.  If you want people to honor your request to talk later, then you must do the same for them. When someone is obviously in the zone and diligently working, can your interruption wait? Or, can you possibly find the information on your own or wait until you have several questions that can be asked at one time? You will get more respect for your time if you show the same to others.
What are some other ways to set boundaries at work?